I just got back from a fabulous week in Chicago spent with a friend of more years than either of us will admit in public, her charming husband and their newest addition; the best behaved baby in the universe. (Also, just about the cutest thing in diapers. And he has that new baby smell. Altogether, a groovy little dude.)
Here is the coolest family in Chicago, standing outside the entrance to the Lincoln Park Zoo; a zoo which is free to the public, and just one of the outstanding number of public areas, parks, venues, etc. that are scattered throughout Chicago. I was also astounded by the sheer amount of statuary, art and exhibits that are everywhere in this town…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The whole time I was in Chicago, they were filming a new Transformer’s movie, and most of the shooting happened right around my hotel. This made for some interesting traffic issues, but the most startling thing would be to hear random explosions, see huge clouds of dust, and hundreds of people completely ignoring it. I jumped and squeaked the first time it happened, but by the end of the week, I was doing what the locals were doing; checking the news for the filming schedule, and then planning routes and schedules around them.
The trip started by leaving the Dallas area, and heading into Houston, with a stop by the peach farm to grab a basket of peaches to take to grandmother’s. (Hey, you never know when you’ll need Big Bad Wolf bait.)
Traffic was way better than expected, and we made it there in plenty of time to grab a quick swim, a canoe trip around the neighborhood, and a quiet night before handing off the Boy to his excited grandparents, and heading for the wilds of airport security.
A brief aside about security; are they just trying to make travel so miserable that everyone is willing to be sedated and put in a sealed tube and shipped like high-tech cattle? Because air travel has become about the most miserable thing you can pay to do. The entire theatre aspect of walking barefoot with your little plastic baggie of toothpaste is just absurd, and I cannot believe that millions of Americans are willing to go through this farce every single day. It’s ridiculous.
But moving on. I got lost a bit in the Chicago airport, but was rescued by the driver sent from my hotel. Thank goodness for cell phones. After a bit of confusion, we made it to the Amalfi Hotel, in downtown Chicago. I prefer boutique hotels above chain hotels, and at the price point, the Amalfi was a fantastic value. The interior is trendy, yet not obnoxious, the rooms are well appointed and sizable for a downtown hotel. My complaints about the hotel were so minor as to be insignificant for most travelers, I think.
(The towels were scratchy, and I never realized how important room service breakfast was until I had to wander the halls looking for coffee. Their heavily promoted breakfast buffet is probably lovely for a one night stay, but becomes redundant and tiresome. We visited the “cocktail hour” once, but quickly decided it was too annoying to bother with.)
Those quibbles aside, the staff was magnificent, the room was nice, and the price point was more than reasonable for a hotel with such a great location.
Edie and Mark met me at the hotel not long after I arrived, and took me to dinner at the historic Hotel Burnham, also in downtown. The Hotel Burnham had been scheduled for demolition, as happened to a lot of the really old and fabulous architecture downtown. Fortunately, the renaissance of the area happened in time to save this treasure. Many of the structure’s original details—marble wainscoting on ceilings and walls, terrazzo floors, mahogany trim, and ornamental elevator grills—were preserved during the 1999 renovation.
Best thing heard at the Hotel Burnham? Edie and I were standing in a hall like the one above, waiting for Mark, and two dapper elderly gentlemen in suits came hobbling out of the restaurant towards the door. They both took in the marble and the stunning wrought iron grillwork and one turned to the other and said “You know, this is the sort of hotel you take Someone Else’s wife.” And with that, they linked arms and toddled off into the gloaming. Edie and I were initially shocked, but then couldn’t stop laughing. Well played, kindly old gents, well played.
The next day started bright and early with a walk from my hotel to the Art Institute of Chicago…one of the coolest museums I’ve seen in a long time. We got there as the doors opened, and they had to throw us out at the end of the day. We saw maybe, MAYBE 10% of the collections there in that time. Although, to be fair, we did spend an extraordinary amount of time in the Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century exhibit because it was so utterly and absolutely fascinating. The exhibit is touring, and if it comes within a few hundred miles of where you are, it is worth the trip to see. Stunning. Not to be missed.
Somehow, I seem to have lost most of my pictures from my cell phone of the day at the museum, but their online collection has much better representations than I could have captured. Bigger images from this mosaic can be seen at my Chicago Trip flickr page.
It was astounding to see American Gothic and Nighthawks in person, as well as the truly amazing collection of other American painters like Ivan Albright, O’Keefe, and an astounding array of modern artists.
We were all pretty wiped out after a day of trooping up and down stairs and around galleries and generally playing art tourists, so we pretty much called it a day and went off in our respective directions to soak our feet and let our brains recover from that much culture.
The next morning, while Edie and Baby had plans, I began my adventures bright and early. After getting directions from the concierge, I headed in the general direction of Navy Pier. Which I was assured was only a 10 minute walk from my hotel. I guess that’s true, if one assumes that a marathon runner is doing the walking, and not a short, fat lady with a sprained ankle. Who gets lost. Didja know that GPS doesn’t work underground? Yeah. Me either. On the upside; there is this whole freaking city under the city. It’s amazing. Part of the journey was a little spooky, but I don’t generally stand out as a tourist, and because my basic wardrobe is black, accentuated by black, I think most of the panhandlers assumed I was a staff member at any number of the hotels/restaurants/service industries that have service entrances underground. I didn’t get harassed at all.
Eventually I found Navy Pier. Which is surrounded by more astounding sculpture. You’ll have to look at the big image of this picture to see all the texture and whatnot, but this couch is so realistic looking that I watched a number of people go sit down on it before they realized that metal under direct sunlight is HOT. Were I a crueler woman, I would have found this even more amusing than I did. Navy Pier itself is a bit of a tourist mecca, with a plethora of overpriced restaurants, gift shops, amusement rides, and tour docks.
The history of it, however, is pretty amazing, and like a whole lot of Chicago, has a secret tucked away in the basement. The pier itself is about 1.5 miles long, and terminates in a man made reef of sorts with a lighthouse at the end…although I never found a way to get to the light house. The idea of the pier was the brainchild of Chicago’s foremost planner, Daniel Burnham, and has been in continual operation since 1916, including a stint as the nation’s primary training ground for fighter pilots in WWII. They estimate that more than 200 fighter jets are at the bottom of the lake around the pier.
But the most astounding thing to see at Navy Pier is the Smith Family Museum of Stained Glass. In a trek that seems to stretch on forever, you can view more than 150 exquisitely displayed stained glass windows and other pieces that were rescued from demolition by the Smith Family. Included in the collection are some of the most astounding and huge Tiffany pieces I’ve ever seen. Truly, this is an awe inspiring collection, if you have any interest at all in this art form. Clicking on the image will take you to a flickr page that should just have the stained glass images, if you wish to see them in ginormous OMG size. The mosaic tends to clip the images, whereas my original shots seemed to work amazingly well for a cell phone camera. HTC really did a great job with the Incredible.
After my jaunt on the pier, I was starving, but not at all interested in the tourist grub. Fortunately, when I grabbed a cab, my driver was Polish, and upon my requesting his recommendations for a real Polish meal, took me to a tiny little Polish place tucked away in a little residential neighborhood, where I stuffed myself silly on chłodnik, perogis, kołduny, cabbage and poppy seed pastries . The cab driver came back for me about 45 minutes later and helped wedge me into the backseat where I made it back to the hotel just in time to get ready for:
We saw Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies, and it was hysterical! Hysterical. The show cast included Allison Bills, Shelly Gossman, Timothy Edward Mason, Sam Richardson, Tim Robinson and Emily Wilson. It was great fun. I only wish I’d had time to see more improv or go back for one of their improv only nights.
Goodness, this cast was funny. It’s easy to see why so many of our comedy giants have come from this troupe. They were astoundingly tight, even though they cracked each other up on a regular basis. (Which really, just made it even funnier for the audience.)
The next day dawned cloudy and cool, and Edie and I set off for one of the greatest shopping meccas of all time: The Macy’s on State Street. Housed in the old Marshall Field building, this store is a baroque homage to consumerism.
Vaulted mosaic tile roofs tower over you, supported by gold leafed columns, and marble floors inlaid with rare metals. Truly one of the more impressive historical retail places I’ve seen in America. The lunch restaurant is legendary amongst the “ladies who lunch” set, and Edie and decided to do just that while we were there.
Really great food, good service, and at probably the most rational prices I’d seen anywhere in Chicago, surprisingly enough.
After Mark picked up Edie, I set out for a night of jazz, and had the best time at a little tiny place, tucked away near my hotel called Andy’s. The bar had been in that location since prohibition. They had pictures on the wall of the some of the true jazz greats that had graced the stage over the years…Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis. I fell into conversation with a charming old man I called Mister Will. Now, when I say old, I mean OLD. Older than his birthday. Tribal Elder. Ooooold. He proceeded to walk me through all the pictures and told me stories about the history of that area before the gentrification. It was a fabulous night. I only wish I could replicate his speech in text, so I could share the magic. It was amazing. After a long night of stories and jazz, I wandered home so I could be up in time for:
Architecture Boat Tour!
Hosted by the Chicago History Museum, the tour took us all over the river running through the city, looking at new and old architecture and talking about how the city has changed over the years. The weather was cool and overcast, which made the time on the water so enjoyable, as it had been smoking hot most of the week I was there.
Critics say that no other city has influenced and embodied the state-of-the-art in high-rise design and modern architecture as prominently as Chicago: virtually every major architect has a signature building here.
We also got to see the construction site of the Chicago Spire, an ethereal 2,000-foot
tower by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. If it is ever completed, The Spire will be the tallest structure in North America and the loftiest residential building anywhere. Currently construction is suspended for lack of funding.
It’s amazing how much there is to see if you’re an architecture junkie, especially when you realize that if it hadn’t been for the Chicago Fire and the architects who decided to go Up instead of Out, we’d have no skylines like Manhattan or Dallas. The visionaries of plate glass and structural steel such as Jenney, Root, Burnham and Sullivan (Wright’s mentor) and Frank Lloyd Wright were responsible for the Chicago School of ingenious grillage foundations and steel-frame construction techniques that lifted all architecture heavenward.
I have to go back, just so I can go up in some of these buildings to try and get a closer look at the flourishes and decorative touches that were so much a part of the early building of this city.
After the boat tour, Edie and I headed to Millennium Park to grab Mark (who is the sound engineer there) and kidnap him for the few hours between shows he had. And promptly made him get in Chicago traffic and take us to the zoo. Where much fun was had by all.
Except possibly the tourist who gave his life so this bear could have noms. The Lincoln Zoo is another one of those free public spaces that Chicago seems to have in such plenitude, and on a Saturday afternoon, the zoo was filled with families and children and laughter. It was lovely.
After that, we stopped by their fabulous walkup apartment by Lincoln Square. The building is a grand faded lady with gorgeous facade touches and an almost vertical staircase. How Edie made it up and down four flights of those stairs while pregnant is a mystery. That she can do it with a baby and a stroller just proves that she’s superwoman in dreads.
After I returned to the hotel, I got dressed for dinner, and went to Keefer’s. Which, if you’re ever in Chicago, I recommend. The foie gras was he most amazing I’ve had anywhere, including Paris. The waiter recommended that I have the veal special as an entree, but I had to explain that unless it came with a Dalmatian coat and a chorus line singing “See My Vest“, that I couldn’t possibly have that much cruelty for dinner. He didn’t understand. Some people just don’t get me. However, if you go, have the sabayon lemon parfait. It may be the best thing I’ve ever eaten. So good.
I spent the rest of Saturday night retrieving all my crap from the various corners of the hotel room where they had landed and packing up for my flight on Sunday afternoon.
Sunday – Leaving Chicago:
Sunday morning, we all headed to the House of Blues for the Gospel Brunch. Edie and I remarked that it was the closest either of us had been to a church in decades. My opinion is that if church served bacon and waffles instead of wafers, I might show up more often.
I got to the airport hours and hours before my flight, but after the security nightmare, just barely got to the gate before it was time for boarding. They were absurd at O’Hare. I had to take off all my jewelry, remove the hair pins from my hair…they even took my Kindle apart and swabbed the interior. I don’t know what the hell they were looking for. My checked luggage obviously got the same going over; everything was all muddled together and streaked with grease when I picked up my bags in Houston. Seriously people, do you really think housewives from Dallas are your primary vector for terror? Oh…wait… well, *that* kind of terror? Really? Sheesh.
Was so glad to see Boy! We snuggled up all the way to PawPaw and Grammy’s house, even after he passed out in the car.
The next morning, we packed him up, loaded up Nanny Ogg (the Minivan of Dooom), and headed north. Whereupon, we were greeted with this:
Because nothing says Welcome Back to Texas like heatstroke.
All in all, it was a fantastic trip. I can’t wait to go back and visit Chicago again. What a great town.