Tuesday I flew into O'Hare, landing at around noon. I rode the Blue Line downtown to my hotel, but it was too early to check in, so I left my suitcase there and headed over to Grant Park. I perused my Not For Travelers book and decided to take a free trolley to Navy Pier and get some late lunch. That turned out to be the one and only time I rode the free trolleys, since they had no air conditioning and were always way too full. I had a 3 day transit card, making the busses as free as the trolleys, so I got off at the next stop and walked north over the river. I caught a bus that brought me right to Navy Pier. I checked to see what was playing at the IMAX theater, which turned out to be Batman Begins. I had thought about seeing it while I was in Chicago, since I always see a movie when I am on vacation. It was very crowded, they had assigned seating and it cost about $22 after ticket soda and popcorn. Despite all of that, I loved the movie, especially Liam Neeson and Gary Oldman. I headed back to the hotel after stopping in the Crystal Gardens. It was very hot and humid while I was in Chicago, but as long as you could get into the shade, it wasn't that bad. The wind from the lake keeps you cool. I waited a bit too long to head out for dinner, since it was about 8:30 by the time I headed back into the Loop to find a restaurant. I ate at a bar and grill called the Exchequer, which looked like it could have held a few Mafia meetings in it's heyday.
Wednesday was my 28th birthday and I went to the Field Museum since I was disappointed I'd missed it last time. Although the Maccu Picchu exhibit was gone, it was still an eye opening place. They have a hall of gems with all kinds of precious stones, metals and even replicas of famous diamonds. There is an entire section of jade artifacts, a mock up of a whole African village, and more stuffed and mounted animals than you can imagine. They even have the skeleton of a black right whale on the ceiling. I was resting on bench when I overheard a security radio someone to call 911 and then a man yelling, "I just had to use the washroom." and "I just got out of jail." He was the same guy who had tried to sell me copy of the Onion by the jade stuff earlier. The special exhibit that I picked was the dinosaurs from China. They had about 15 skeletons of dinosaurs that ranged in size from eagle to horse that were all found in China. Behind most of them is a mural depicting what they think the animal looked like when it was alive. The best preserved and most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found, "Sue", is also at the Field. It is freaky to look at something that is not only so ancient, but was also alive at one time.
In the gift shop, I came across a book called 'What Every American Should Know About the Rest of the World'. I expected some partisan slant, but it has turned out to be pretty neutral while pointing out that most of the world's woes are related to oil, religion or the arbitrary borders and leaders that were inflicted on each country in the last century.
For dinner that night, I went to a place downtown that is 3 Italian restaurants in one building, and I went to the one in the basement, La C.... I had some of my favorite foods: scallops (with tomato, garlic, pasta and olive oil), Chianti and cannolli.
Thursday I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo, which is free and located in, you guessed it, Lincoln Park. They had an entire building filled with smaller primates, including sugar gliders and colubus monkeys. The polar bears and seals both have an underwater viewing area where you can watch them swim, and they seem to put on a show for the visitors. The big cats were all inside due to the heat, and most of them were sleeping, except the tiger. The weirdest animal was probably the Sand Cat, which looks like a regular housecat with a slightly larger head and more muscles. As I was heading back downtown, I saw the same huge group of tourists you see everywhere waiting for the free trolley and looking jealously at those of us who got on the bus instead.
Friday I went to the Adler Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium. At the planetarium, I saw a show called The Stars of the Pharoahs, which was the best part. They discussed what the Egyptians thought of the sky, some of their legends about the gods as well as the many ancient buildings that are aligned with various constellations. The other exhibits seemed geared mostly towards kids, but also seemed to bore most of the kids I saw there.
Sitting in front of the Shedd Aquarium is one of the most vivid memories I have of my trip to Chicago in 1991. It was just as I remembered, and all week I had been enjoying the view of the Lake from the Museum Campus, which juts out on a peninsula. When looking back to the Loop from the campus, you see some of the tallest buildings in the world right next to a calm, picturesque lake. I got some good pictures of some jetskis playing around near the harbor.
Inside the Aquarium, I ran out of room on my digital camera that holds about 250 pictures. I had to delete some duplicates every once in a while. The coolest animals are always the rays, Skate and Sting, in the Caribbean reef. There is a hallway that is set up like the Amazon, complete with different tanks showing the varying water levels and reptiles in the Amazon. I saw poison frogs, a caiman and an Amazonian Python that was so big you couldn't find it's head. I saw a show with Pacific White-Sided dolphins, which look like the Atlantic Bottle-Nosed but have a big white stripe on their side. They also had Beluga whales, sea otters and a huge sea lion in the Oceanarium section. The penguins were being fed and monitored when I saw them, and a tour guide walked by and explained how penguins cool themselves by raising their wings. He also said that a penguin is full grown by the time it is 3 months old, so it's hard to pick out the younger ones. As I headed out to my hotel near the airport on Friday evening, downtown was getting more crowded by the second, since Taste of Chicago had started that day. That was obviously the reason I couldn't find a hotel in the city on Friday night.
My camera is being fussy about sending the pictures to my computer, so I can't upload any of them right now. I'll post them as soon as it behaves.