Back to da Old Country - Chicago

Dude! Look out behind you!!!

The second stop on our Midwestern tour was Chicago. After taking lots of group shots at my parents' house we left to drive down to Chicago. We were going to spend the weekend visiting Shannon. She had moved to Chicago a few weeks before after graduating from the Universtiy of Iowa. She started working for CNA, a large corporate insurance company, that is in downtown Chicago. She was able to find a place to live close by so that she doesn't have to deal with a long commute. Sandy had helped her to move in but I hadn't seen her new place yet.

We had an easy drive and got to Chicago about 4 pm. We were early enough that traffic wasn't much of a problem until the very end. Shannon lives in the Gold Coast neighborhood on the near North Side - an upscale neighborhood. She is only three blocks from the Magnificent Mile and the John Hancock building. Her building rents out their model apartment so we were able to stay right in the same building. We even got to park in their garage so we didn't need to drive anywhere all weekend if we didn't want to. It was a nice arrangement.

The main hall of the Field Museum

Shannon's apartment is on the nineteenth floor and she has a nice view of the city to the north. Her building is quite a bit taller than the other buildings near her so she can see a long way. It's very pretty at night when the lights are on. It would be perfect if she had a balcony.

Once we got our stuff into our room and had a chance to check out Shannon's place we went for a walk. It's only fifteen minutes from her apartment to the lakefront at Oak Street Beach. It was a nice evening so we walked south along the lake to Navy Pier. There was a nice walkway all along the water and there were lots of people out walking, running or riding bikes. We only walked a short distance along Navy Pier when I spotted empty tables on a second storey patio of a Mexican restaurant. Everything on ground level (or whatever you call it on a pier) was taken so we went upstairs. We were lucky and got a nice table right by the railing looking out over the pier, the lake and the city. We had a round of margaritas and some chips and salsa to hold us till dinner. It was a good spot for people watching. At one point there was even a group of Chinese people with a dragon parade with a guy in front beating a drum. Not sure what the occasion was but it was a poor imitation of Chinese New Year in Singapore. We enjoyed our drinks and the fine weather for quite a while before deciding to move on. We retraced our steps along the lakefront and back to Shannon's apartment and started from there to look for a place to eat.

Shannon and Sandy with their stylin' glasses for the 3D movie

We started by checking an Italian restaurant a block away. They said an hour wait so we kept looking. The good news is that there is at least one Italian restaurant on every block in downtown Chicago. That's my kind of town. The bad news is we went to four or five of them and they were all jammed. Finally we walked about a block off the main drag and found a place that wasn't crowded at all, Bella Luna. We had a nice dinner on their patio. It wasn't expensive and the food was good.

Saturday morning we went to the Field Museum of Natural History. We left early because Sandy had encountered big crowds at the Shedd Aquarium on her last trip and it was right next door to the Museum. We took a cab to save our energy for exploring the museum. There weren't many people there at all and we got in easily. Although there were a lot of people in the museum there wasn't any problem with seeing the exhibits. It's a big building and there is a lot to see.

Even the statue is a Blackhawks fan

The star attraction as soon as you enter the main hall is a huge skeleton of a Tyrannasaurus Rex named Sue. The skeleton was discovered in 1990 in South Dakota. At 42 feet long it is the largest T.rex ever found and it is also the most complete and best preserved. The museum calls the dinosaur Sue but the sex of the animal is not known. It was named for Sue Hutchinson, the woman who discovered fossil. It is known that the dinosaur was 28 years old when it died, a ripe old age for a T.rex. The size of the skeleton is indeed impressive. The skull alone weighs 600 pounds, so much that the real head is on display upstairs and a replica is mounted on the skeleton. The real skull would have required an extremely heavy iron framework to support it. It is amazing to stand in front of Sue and imagine the real animal living 65 million years ago. The exhibit is definitely popular and everyone crowded around on every side to get their picture taken with Sue.

After seeing Sue we checked out some of the other special exhibits. One was on the cave paintings of Lescaux. These are paintings that were made on the walls of a cave near Lescaux, France almost 20,000 years ago by Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) humans. The cave has been closed indefinitely but the French government produced the traveling exhibit that we were able to see at the Field Museum. There were models of the cave system, a full size reproduction of two sections of the cave complete with paintings, and various artifacts from the cave. Especially fascinating was a bust of the Magdalenian Woman. These remains were from a woman who lived in France about 15,000 years ago, about the same time as the Lescaux paintings were done. Near the bust was the actual skeleton. It is part of the collection of the Field Museum. An artist studied the remains carefully and used forensic techniques to craft a statue of how Magdalene Woman appeared when she was alive. She looked like someone you might pass on the street. Quite different than the neanderthals that were also on display.

Sue the Trex - up close and personal

Next we went to a 3D movie on Great White Sharks. Then we grabbed some lunch before continuing our tour. We found an interesting display of gems and jewelry with some very impressive pieces. We saw an ancient Egypt hall complete with mummies. That was the only section that was a little too crowded so we didn't stay there long. We did take our time touring the evolution of life section, which had an impressive collection of fossils and reconstructions of ancient animals. It was all fascinating but eventually our brains were saturated with incredible stuff. We headed home.

It was a nice afternoon so we walked all the way back to Shannon's place. Most of the way we walked along the lake shore so it was cool with a bit of a breeze. Since it was a nice Saturday afternoon the lake shore was mobbed. It wasn't bad except for the people on bikes who insisted on riding as fast as they could. There must be some serious accidents there. You had to stay alert for high speed riders. But we made it back in one piece.

Sandy tried to start another Great Chicago Fire at dinner

For Saturday night Shannon had made dinner reservations. This time we went to Quortino Ristorante, another Italian place near her building. It was a good thing that we had reservations because it was a madhouse. But it was a lot of fun. The dinners were semi-family style. Each person ordered there own things, but each item came whenever it was ready. So you would share some of it with everyone else. We had three different people waiting on us, taking orders and bringing food at different times. The place was packed and noisy. I don't know how they kept it all straight but somehow they did. And once again the food was excellent. At dessert I introduced Shannon to profiteroles. They may take over from tiramasu as her favorite Italian dessert. We did our part to add to the crazy atmosphere when Sandy accidentally left her (paper) menu over the candle on our table. Next thing we knew it was on fire. Blowing on it didn't stop it so I had to shove it into my waterglass to finally put it out. Good thing that I don't usually drink my water in restaurants. The people at the nearby tables were impressed.

Next morning we had breakfast at Eggsperience. Fortunately for me they had some dishes that didn't have eggs. Since it was Sunday morning traffic was light. We drove Shannon to do some shopping at places that would be tough for her to reach by public transportation. By 2pm we were back, packed up, and ready to head to Madison for our last stop.