Have you ever gone to a place you love so much that the simple act of reviewing photos of past trips simultaneously bringing you joy and the angst to return? I get these pangs from time to time and they come from a handful of places. Chicago is at the very top of that list.
I love Chicago. It is that simple. I have said as much at the very beginning of my first blog about The Second City (http://bit.ly/2lqL7ds). This love has only grown stronger since my most recent visit about a year ago. That weekend was extra special because I was showing my brother around a place I love as we jointly celebrated our December birthdays.
On my birthday a vacation is always my first inclination as a way to celebrate, it the gift that keeps on giving. When returning to a place I love there is a whole other level of happiness as I revisit the places I love to eat at, streets I yearn to roam, and this time to show my sibling how easy Chicago is to fall in love with.
For this brief trip I did something quite unusual, I did not make one single plan. Okay actually that is a lie. I made one dinner reservation but that was my only planned activity. More about that next time. I knew vaguely where I wanted to go but when and in what order I would find out. I was taking this relaxed approach and it turned out to be one of the very best weekends and trips of my life. You know how I said I wanted to revisit a place I love? Well I would like to revisit this particular weekend moment by moment. Blogging is the best way I know how too.
As far as activities go, after checking in to our hotel, and having a bite to eat, we hit up a bit of Michigan Avenue. The Magnificent Mile was in walking distance and I was eager to see the sights in their Christmas best. I love looking up at the skyline and seeing the John Hancock building, The Water Tower, and other Chicago-centric views.
From there it was off to a site I had never been to and one that had an expiration date, HARPO Studios, former site of the Oprah Winfrey Show. The building had been sold and the company moved out of that building but for that moment it was like stepping into television history. A few snapshots are all that remain. Sadly I hear that location is now a McDonald’s.
My second to last activity on that first day was a return to the Willis Tower a.k.a. the former Sears Tower. This was my fourth trip to Chicago since 2007 and I hadn’t been to the Willis Tower since my first time in town. The Willis Tower is the eighth tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, towering 1,450 feet above ground.
Since the time of my first visit the Tower they created a new attraction on the observation tower where clear glass extends out onto the air where you can stand and take photos if you dare. Officially it is called The Ledge, standing out at 1,353 feet above ground, on the Skydeck way up on the one hundred and third floor.
It was approaching nighttime and the sun was setting. The views were incredible. As our visit was nearing an end I decided I would brave The Ledge and take a step out there. However the line was impossibly long and after waiting a few minutes I was over it. We had a long day including traveling and I was too beat to stand there and wait for something I was half interested in and half terrified of. That experience will have to wait for another time.
Just recently the Willis Tower announced a massive renovation including office, tenant, and outdoor spaces. It seems that once this transformation is complete the Willis Tower will be the most desirable piece of property in Chicago, or so goes the hope.
My last activity after this sightseeing marvel wasn’t anything Chicago specific but it was a first for me. After some happy hour drinks and snacks we saw a movie in a theater that had plush leather seats and food you could order and have delivered right to your seat. It was a much-needed break from my busy day and a great way to relax watching a movie that was funny and certainly out of my normal realm, as was this pitch perfect day one.
On the morning of my second day we hit the Starbucks up on the corner and off we went to hit up the other half of Michigan Avenue, my favorite part of the city! The weather this December weekend was absolutely gorgeous especially for the Mid-West. It was about fifty degrees and sunny. I was in heaven and so was my migraine brain.
By far my favorite part of Chicago is the area right near the Magnificent Mile Bridge close to the Chicago Tribune building. I love the architecture and the way I feel, like I am right in the center of town when I stand there. I can look out over the Chicago River endlessly. On this trip I got to see how my favorite section was getting all dolled up for the holidays.
From here we walked until we hit Millennium Park, stopping at any shops that struck our fancy. Once we reached the park there was an adorable shed where Santa was waiting to hear the wishes of children and an ice-skating ring where many where out enjoying the gorgeous weather. It all took this original park where art comes alive to a whole other level.
While this walk was pleasurable the main event of the day was also our last, The Field Museum. Actually aside from sibling birthday related quality time this was the reason I was so thrilled to be in Chicago. Ever since I read the book, “Rex Appeal” by Peter Larson, the man who was head of the team that found Sue the T-Rex, I knew I had to see this legendary dinosaur up close. Sue was found by Peter Larson’s team from his South Dakota Black Hills Institute and she is to date the largest, most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found. The story of how she ended up in Chicago is a sad story that involves science, law, and personal sacrifice. The story is much more than I can explain here but it is one that has long stayed with me.
Seeing Sue up close brought such strong and opposing feelings. On the one hand I was thrilled she was in a city I could so easily visit but on the other hand I knew she didn’t belong here, she was stolen. That will never leave my mind. But she was the reason I was making my first pilgrimage to The Field Museum.
Sue is the first thing that comes into your line of sight while you are online purchasing your entry ticket. This proximity only made me increasingly antsy. As I rushed in to get to her side I was in awe the closer I got. This famous fossil seemed to have made a human connection with me.
The sheer size and near completion of the skeleton makes you want to look over each and every part. The skeleton on display has all original parts except for the skull. The real skull weighs over six hundred pounds and the risk of damage means that the real skull is in an exhibit on the second floor in a glass case, while the one on display is a replica.
While Sue was the reason for the visit I also managed to hit up the rest of the dinosaur exhibits. I can never resist seeing the remnants of those exotic creatures (http://bit.ly/2klY1ck) whenever I am in a museum that has them.
After a Sue related film it was time for us to head out. I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time exploring all that The Field Museum has to offer but that was okay because Sue was my main goal for this initial visit. However I have big plans to go back to see the many things I missed such as the Terracotta Warriors. I saw them when they were on display in New York City (http://bit.ly/2lK75UT) but the fact that these two thousand warriors, of which no two are identical, were found under a farm in China so many years after their creation boggles my mind. I value any additional chances I get to see them.
I feel like every time I am watching “Mysteries at the Museum” on the Travel Channel they provide me with another reason to return to The Field Museum and Chicago in general.
On my final day in Chicago the fun continued. We hopped the very cute and very free trolley that stops all over the city, which ultimately leads to the Navy Pier. It is a place for food, shopping, entertainment, and the best views of Lake Michigan. It is also a great place to hop on a boat and get a tour of the city from the sea. Oh those tropical looking blue waves of Lake Michigan seem like a work of fiction if you have never seen them up close. Despite taking several of these tours I will never ever tire of the views they provide.
At the time of this last visit the infamous Ferris Wheel had been taken down for repairs and upgrades but I am happy to report it is since been restored and once again available for a ride which is a must!
All of this activity created quite an appetite so next I will tackle the foods you must have, or at least what I had to have, this most recent time I was back in Chicago.
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