Chicago trip

aka lost in Chicago

aka Google Maps stinks

What an adventure we had in Chicago!  It was fun but also crazy and stressful at times.  I don’t believe my feet have ever been in so much pain as they were on this trip, but it was worth it.

Forewarning: this will be a loooong post with lots of pictures.  But think of it as your very own “Chicago visitors guide” to refer to in case you ever decide to take a trip.  If you just want my recommendations of what to do/what not to do, skip down to the end of the post for the summary.  If you want to hear the whole recap and see pictures…

Here we go…

Friday

We flew out of Nashville Friday.  We experienced literally (every time I say or type “literally” I hear Chris Treager from Parks and Rec in my head) the easiest flying experience ever.  We got to my parents earlier than we expected, so we left their house (Mom dropped us off at the airport so we wouldn’t have to leave our car) earlier than we expected, traffic was much lighter than we expected, and so we got to the airport about 30 minutes earlier than we planned.  Then it took less than 10 minutes to check our luggage and go through security!  The lines were so short – that has never happened to me!  Then we found out that our plane was going to be a bit delayed, so we had over two hours for a nice, leisurely dinner (which turned out to be not so nice because we had terrible service, but at least we weren’t in a rush).

However, right before we left we found out that the NATO Summit was being in held in Chicago on the exact same three days we were going to be there!  That meant many foreign dignitaries as well as the president and first lady were going to be in town – talk about increased security!  Plus there were supposed to be tons of protestors flying/driving in from all over to protest…something.  We had planned to take buy a three day trolley pass to a hop-on-hop-off trolley (they drive you around to all the major sights, provide you with info about the city, you can get off at any stop, stay as long as you want, and then just get back on to continue your tour when the next bus comes along).  The company had great reviews and we thought that would be the perfect way for us to get around Chicago and see the major attractions since we’d never been and had no idea what we were doing.  But guess what, because of NATO the trolley tours were closed for the three days we happened to be there and want to use them.  Also, several of the museums and the Shedd Aquarium were closed too.  So we had to drastically change our list of things to see/do and figure out another method of transportation.

We got to Chicago around 10:00.  Again, all was well and we quickly got our luggage.  We had planned to take the “L” (short for “elevated” – aka subway or metro) to the stop nearest our hotel and then walk from there.  However, we didn’t count on the eight million flights of stairs that we would have to lug our suitcases up and down!  Then once we got off the L we were completely confused about how to get to our hotel and ended up dragging ourselves and our suitcases all over creation trying to find our way to the hotel.  But we finally made it (after asking for directions many times and getting hustled by a guy who I thought was just being helpful when he asked if we needed help but actually wanted money).  By that time it was after 11:00 so it was straight to bed for us!

Saturday

The Field Museum was going to be closed Sunday and Monday because of NATO so we decided we better do that first thing Saturday morning while it was still open.  So we hopped on the L and went to the closest stop to the museum.

Except when we got to the museum it was surround by these tall metal barricades and we could not figure out how to get to it.  We were already soaked with sweat from our hike from the L to the museum, then we were wandering around like dummies trying to figure out how to actually get there.  I think I now know how babies feel when they’re one one side of a crib/gate and see something on the other side that they want and just.can’t.reach.it.

some pier we stumbled upon while searching for an entrance

But we finally figured out how to get to the entrance, where we were promptly searched by the secret service (not that we looked suspicious or anything, they were searching everyone as they came in, just wanted to clear that up…) and then finally able to make it to the museum.

first of many Chicago skyline pictures – this one taken outside the Field museum

Here’s a trick we learned about many of the museums and exhibits in Chicago – they have multiple tickets you can purchase: a general admission ticket (usually around $15), and all-access ticket (usually $30-$40), or an a la carte where you purchase the general admission + extra add ons.  That was a little annoying because unless you purchased the all-access you sort of had to pick and choose which exhibits to visit.  Later I’ll give you my suggestion in case you ever decide to go.  For the Field Museum we chose to do the general admission + an add on to see the Ghengis Kahn exhibit.

Sue, the T-Rex

There was a neat little exhibit about shoes – I was fascinated with these “shoes for bound feet” – they were absolutely tiny!  I cannot imagine an adult women with such small feet!  The ones in the first picture looked like baby shoes to me.  The ones in the second picture are next to a pair of “normal” sized shoes for comparison.  Crazy.

So our thoughts about the museum: kinda boring.  For me, museums are too overwhelming.  I know that there is not enough time to look at everything and read every little piece of information, but it’s hard for me to pick and choose.  So I end up just meandering through just so say I “saw” everything and not really looking at stuff.  That probably just means I’m weird, but it’s the truth.  But seriously, this was ok but definitely not our favorite thing.

On our way to to museum we passed a Trader Joe’s – I was so excited because I’ve always heard of them but never been to one (it’s a grocery store, by the way).  We stopped in to take a look, and then on the way back to downtown/our hotel we went in and bought some stuff to take home, including the famous cookie butter.

For lunch we went to Giordano’s for some Chicago-style deep dish pizza – yum, so good!

After lunch we went into Nordstrom Rack – I’d seen that listed on some What I Wore Wednesday posts but never been in one so I had to check it out.  Verdict: not as exciting as I thought, I did get some super cute earrings though.  Then next door I saw Anthropologie and just about died from excitement.

I had never heard of this mythical Anthropologie unit I started reading blogs a few years ago.  And it seemed like people talked about Anthro all the time: clothes from there, home goods from there, re-creating crafts based on their stuff.  But the only Antro anywhere close to me is a mini one at Green Hills Mall in Nashville that only has accessories – no clothes, no home stuff.  So I was thrilled to check it out.  Most of the clothes were way more than I wanted to pay, but some of the jewelry and home stuff wasn’t too bad.  I probably would have bought more but I knew we had to fly home with whatever I bought so I limited myself.  I ended up with these latte bowls – I’ve loved them ever since I saw them on NieNie’s blog.  Hers was one of the first blogs I ever read, and I loved how she and her husband had all kinds of colors of bowls.  So I was pretty excited to get some for myself.

big ones and baby ones! (sorry for the el stinko phone pic)

After my impromptu shopping venture, we dropped our purchases off at the hotel, I changed shoes (my feet were in some major pain!) and walked to Navy Pier.

Navy Pier is just a pier with lots of shops, restaurants, and a little park thing (with a ferris wheel, merry go round, etc. – you can see the ferris wheel in the picture above).  It was just so-so for me; we walked to the end of the pier and back but had no desire to get on the ferris wheel (Michael would have enjoyed it but I would have been terrified so we didn’t go).  We were going to check out the Chicago Children’s museum but it was already closed (another lesson learned: all the museums and attractions close really early!).  We took a little boat “tour” – it didn’t leave the harbor but we got a little commentary about the various buildings we saw as we circled around.

I love this picture Michael took while we were on the boat

We grabbed some supper (Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville) and then dragged our exhausted, sore selves back to the hotel.

Sunday

Ah yes, another adventure in the making.  Saturday night we picked out the church we wanted to go to, figured out where it was, how to get there, how long it would take, and what time we needed to leave.  So we head out Sunday morning, get on the L, get off at our stop, and make the trek to where the church should have been.  But guess what, we couldn’t find it.  We walked up and down the street it was supposed to be on but couldn’t find it anywhere.  We stopped and asked multiple people and they had no idea what were were looking for.  We finally figured out that Google Maps had sent us to the completely wrong place – they had sent us to 55 (whatever street name, I’ve forgotten by now) when the address was really something like 11538-55 (that street name).  We were miles from our destination, about an hour away by bus, already late, and our Sunday clothes were soaked with sweat.  We just ended up going back to our hotel and having our own little church service.  Then we changed into more comfortable clothes and headed out for sightseeing.  So our church finding efforts, while valiant, were a total bust.  Thankyouverymuch Google Maps.

After the church fiasco we headed off to the SkyDeck (aka Willis Tower, formerly known as Sears Tower).

We passed the library on our way but it was closed so we didn’t get to check it out

We also passed this little wall with all kinds of quotes about reading.   I loved this one “Read something luminous at night” – Edmund Wilson

We also finally saw some protesters.  And fortunately, this is the only time we saw any.  And they weren’t even protesting, they were just on their way to their site.  In fact, other than the NATO summit shutting down some of the places we wanted to go (Shedd, etc) we really didn’t have any problems.  We only saw protesters once.  We did see a few motorcades but it was no big deal, the buses were re-routed a few times but again, no big deal.  And the best part was that the police were out in droves all over the city to prevent anything crazy from happening so I felt more secure seeing them everywhere.

see the whole block of homeland security vehicles?

Willis Tower (Sears Tower)

Willis Tower is about as tall 315 of me

headed up to the top – they cram you in there like sardines!  and it goes so high so fast that your ears hurt and pop like being in a plane

view from the top:

We went out on the Sky Deck (if you don’t know what that is – it’s a glass or plastic ledge thing, fully enclosed, that it at the top of the tower – you can walk out on it and look straight down).  I’m not a fan of heights so I was a bit afraid, but I did it!

but only long enough to grab a quick picture for proof

We also found this book, Larry Gets Lost in Chicago, that seemed very appropriate for our experience

When we left the Sky Deck we went to Gino’s East for more deep dish pizza.  It was delicious, but the service kinda stunk.

Next on our agenda: Lincoln Park Zoo.  Verdict: loved it.

we never figured out what this bird was (I think it looks like a stork, but it was in the “birds of prey” exhibit and I don’t know if storks were birds of prey or not.  I thought they just, like, carried babies and stuff…) but anyway, it had a bunch of babies in the nest and it was really cool to watch.

Sun Bear – fascinating little creature that looks like a miniature bear crossed with a sloth with ginormous claws

polar bear cuddling with a rubber boot

it starts with an A, Ardvark, Ardvark, and ends with a K, Ardvark, Ardvark…

We stayed until the zoo closed (at 5:30!  why?) and got to see pretty much everything but the “farm” section (which we figure we’ve seen enough of in real life).

Then we headed to Millennium Park and Grant Park to see “The Bean”, the face fountains, and the Buckingham Fountain.

The face fountains were cool (and a little creepy) – the faces will randomly “spit” water at you – it was definitely a fun place for kids

I love this picture of the skyline reflected in the bean

 Buckingham Fountain

Sunday night we went to the Weber Grill for supper.  My food was just fair, but Michael’s salmon was absolutely the best salmon either of us have ever tasted.  It was incredible!  After we stuffed our bellies we took our yet again exhausted and sore selves back to the hotel.

(worst part about the trip was all the walking – even though I brought pretty comfortable shoes, my plantar fasciitis feet just couldn’t take the walking – by the end of the day I was hobbling around like a granny)

Monday

The Museum of Science and Industry wasn’t on our original list of things to do, but with some of our other plans shut down, we decided to check it out.  And I’m so glad we did – it was phenomenal!  Hands down our favorite thing we did the whole trip.  I can’t even begin to describe how cool it was!  It was about an hour bus ride from downtown, but it was so worth it.

On our way there we saw another motorcade

Ok, this thing was so so neat.  It was a screen with falling colored “sand”.  When you stood in front of it, the sand changed so it looked like it was falling around you, or you could “catch it”.  I have no idea how that works, but I was fascinated with it.


One of the things there that Michael really wanted to see was this “green” house (i.e. energy efficient and eco-friendly).  We were the only ones signed up for our time slot so we got our own little tour.  We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the house, but here’s the outside.we got to see some eggs hatching

and some already hatched chicks

there was a storm section where Michael made a tornado

The whole museum was incredible.  We could have spent all day there.  There was a really cool exhibit about the human body, an exhibit about planes, one about where food comes from, and more.  There are tons of hands-on experiments in all the exhibits.  Definitely a must-visit.  The only downside was that this was apparantly everyoneinChicagotakeafieldtrip day and there were bajillions of kids running around and hogging all the cool experiments.  But we still had a blast.

Even though we could have stayed all day at the Science and Industry Museum, we left so I could do some shopping on Michigan Avenue.  We ate lunch at the Grand Lux cafe then headed out to shop (well, I shopped and Michael walked around with me, reading on his Kindle while I browsed).  Sadly, it wasn’t quite as exciting as I expected.  Most of the stores were way expensive  (Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Coach, Tiffany’s, Burberry, Swavorski, etc.) and all I did was walk in to say I’d been there, but there’s no point (to me) browsing when I know there is no way I’ll pay those prices.  Then on the opposite spectrum, a lot of the stores were things we have here (Macy’s, Gap, Old Navy) – why on earth would I want to spend my vacation time buying things I can get here and then having to lug them home?  I did check out Crate and Barrel (I love home goods!) and H&M (much less exciting than I expected).  The main thing I wanted to see on Michigan Avenue (and in fact, the only thing I knew about in Chicago before we booked our trip) was…

The American Girl Doll store!

Be still my beating heart…

I loved my American Girl Dolls (still do, and sometimes get them out and change their outfits just for fun…shh, don’t tell)

I cannot even tell you how many hours were spent playing with them or how many dollars I saved to buy their little accessories.  I was stoked to get to see the store!

I was thisclose to bringing one (or more) of my own dolls so they could go to the American Girl Doll salon and get their hair fixed.  I just could not justify bringing another suitcase so Samantha could get a new ‘do.  Maybe next time.

I wanted to buy every stinkin’ thing in that store!  It was fantastically fun!

My Chicago trip was complete after that.

After that I had one last place I wanted to go – Filene’s Basement.  I’d heard about it from friends, and one of the very stylish bloggers I read frequently has clothes from there.  The one on Michigan Avenue had closed, but I had seen a sign for one elsewhere so we hopped on the bus and headed over there.  Only to find out that it had closed earlier this year, too.  Boo!  So no Filene’s Basement for me.  By that time (7:00) all the stores had closed (seriously, what is up with that?  The stores around here are open until 9 or 10, why on earth do the stores in Chicago close so early?!?).  We decided we wanted more of that delicious salmon so we went back to Weber Grill for supper and then to the hotel.

Oh yes, I also forgot to mention that despite the massive sweat inducing 90+ weather on Saturday and Sunday, we awoke Monday to a very chilly and windy day – I wore my jacket the whole day and we were quite thankful that most of the day Monday was spent inside.

Tuesday

We had done everything we wanted to do, plus there wasn’t really time to fit anything else in before we left, so on Tuesday we slept late, packed up, made a quick trip over to Anthropologie (which was pretty close to our hotel) so I could get some earrings I had seen on Saturday, and then headed for the airport.  This time we took a cab thing (not a limo, but not really a cab, maybe a shuttle car thing that our hotel provided?) so we didn’t have to haul our luggage all over creation.  We had another super easy check in at the airport, ate some lunch, and flew home.

random pictures that don’t fit anywhere else in this post…

I really loved seeing all the architecture in Chicago.  That surprised me since I don’t usually notice those things, but I thought it was so cool to see all the different types of buildings right next to each other.  It truly is a beautiful city.

If you’re still with me, pat yourself on the back – that was quite the long post.  If you’re a cheater and jumped to the bottom to see my trip advice…

In summary:

  • Wear comfortable shoes.  Maybe even take several pairs of comfortable shoes so you can switch them up when you start to get blisters.
  • Wear comfortable clothes.  Don’t be like me and try to wear cute clothes.
  • Eat some deep dish pizza at Giordano’s or Gino’s East
  • Museum of Science and Industry – quadruple yes!
  • Lincoln Zoo – definitely (plus it’s free!)
  • Skydeck (Willis Tower) – yes, unless you are terrified of heights (I very much dislike heights, but I wasn’t really scared except on the actual Skydeck, so it’s not that bad)
  • Field Museum – only if you really like museums, we didn’t care for it
  • Don’t trust Google Maps.  I only mentioned a few of the times that it got us lost, but it actually happened multiple times every day
  • We didn’t get to do the Trolley Tours or the Shedd Aquarium since they were closed (boo NATO!) but I think we would have really liked both
  • Oh yeah, don’t go during the NATO summit.
  • Weber Grill = best salmon ever
  • Michigan Avenue is not worth your time unless you are a hard-core shopper.
  • Except for the American Girl Doll store.  Best store on the Magnificent Mile.  Enter at your own risk, though, because daughters, mommies, and wives alike will desire many items from this store.
  • Navy Pier wasn’t that exciting but that could have been because my feet hurt so much that I just wanted to go home
  • Get a pass for the L (it can also be used on all the city buses).  It definitely beats walking everywhere.  I’m not a fan of public transportation but it wasn’t too bad.  We only encountered a few crazies.

Thanks for reading my ridiculously long vacation recap!  I hope it’s at least a little bit helpful for those of you ever planning a trip to Chicago.

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Comments

  1. I love chicago pizza… i was there a month or so ago and had Gino’s east. It was great but I was sad that i didn’t have time to try giordano’s or lou malnati’s or pizzeria uno … i want to try and do a pizza tour and try all of the pizza joints in one trip

    • A pizza tour would be so fun! I hadn’t heard of lou malnati’s of pizzeria uno so I’ll have to check those out if/when we go back.

  2. Michelle says:

    If you want to play with another one of the interactive screens then come to UK’s ER. They have one on the pediatric side. You can chop bubbles into smaller ones and butterflies will land on your hand….pretty cool.

    • That sounds like a blast! I had never heard of these interactive screens but since we got back I’ve seen/heard of other ones two separate times – I’m so behind! That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I think I’m feeling a field trip to the ER…

  3. Pam Barron says:

    Thanks for sharing your trip. My family will be there Monday, May 28 through Thursday, May 31. We are staying mid town and riding the El into town.

  4. Rita Burchett says:

    I have always wanted to go to Chicago so this is very helpful. Yes, I did read every word! My advice to everyone – get an old fashioned paper map when traveling.

    • I agree. Several times during the trip we would say that we needed to get a “real” map but we never got around to it. Definitely learned our lesson! We’ll be getting maps from now on when we travel :)

  5. found your blog through a comment on five days…five ways blog. i am SO glad you posted such an informative and detailed account of your trip! i’ve never been to chicago but will be going in july with my husband. he will be in meetings so i get to explore the city and i’m so excited! thanks so much for all your recommendations!!

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