Earlier this month the husband and I made a trip to Chicago – I was due to be there for a conference (Museums and the Web 2015 – read about it here) so we decided to take advantage and go early for a holiday, the husband heading back early so I could focus on work.
The trip had an ominous start – our flight with Air Canada via Montreal was first delayed by 2 hours, then another 4 hours, and then until the next morning. There was no point heading home since we would need to be at the airport for our 6am flight the next morning, so we agreed to be put up by the hotel, disappointingly the Holiday Inn! It was fine, clean and comfortable, but not exactly how we planned to start our trip. I no doubt compounding my annoyance was choosing this opportunity to give up caffeine. I was beginning to develop a rather serious, at least one a day, energy drink habit which I thought was becoming a problem, and I figured I would be tired and grumpy anyway, and don’t have to be productive on a flight, so may as well go through withdrawal then. It wasn’t too bad, but after all the waiting and travelling, by the time we got to our hotel in Chicago – I booked the Hard Rock Hotel since I thought the husband would enjoy the novelty – I enjoyed 12 hours of sleep before getting started with the trip.
One of the highlights of the trip was the food! I didn’t anticipate that being the case – you go to China and Italy for interesting food, not America – but we had so many great meals.
Our first proper meal was brunch at a restaurant called Yolk, which came highly recommended on all the travel websites, so it was unsurprisingly busy! This was our first taste of how Americans do meals – massive. Still feeling a bit delicate from my lack of caffeine, I went with the berry and granola yoghurt, which was a generous portion and came with a muffin on the side (which I switched out for an English muffin). The husband got the full breakfast, but instead of coming with toast, it came with crepes! He upgraded the Nutella crepes – for the fun – but they made a mistake and brought out normal ones, so they just brought out another plate of Nutella crepes, it was food overload!
We went back to Yolk for our last meal in Chicago before the husband had to head off. That time I went with the Eggs Benedict (one of my favourites) and the husband had some sweet cinnamon apple pancake things. I don’t mix sweet and savory so I didn’t pay too much attention but he said they were fantastic, and sweet breakfast seemed to be the flavour of the day!
Also in our pursuit of brunch we went to a highly recommended locations called Wildberry. It was so well recommended that we had to wait and hour and a half for a seat. It was really good though – the atmosphere and the staff were wonderful, and the food was just damn good.
I had an omelette with goats cheese, spinach and bacon, which of course came with a side of pancakes and hash browns (which I traded for fruit). The husband had a skillet, again with a side of pancakes – as you do.
With such big portions, we didn’t manage lunch or dinner after any of these meals, so on most days skipped breakfast and just grabbed a bit of fruit at the hotel and waited for lunch. On one day we headed down to Chinatown for Dim Sum – one of my favourite eating past times. One things I really miss living in Oxford is good Chinese food – there are one or two really good Chinese restaurant about, but it is nothing like as accessible as it is in any city in Australia. Again we had to wait a good half an hour to be seated, and this seemed to emerge as a theme, I guess there just aren’t enough restaurants in Chicago. Afterwards we also wandered the streets and went into a few Chinese bakeries – I miss Chinese bakeries!!
We also made a point of visiting a place I found online called Pierogi Heaven! My mother is Polish, so she and my grandfather regularly made pierogi for special occasion – another thing I miss living so far away from them, so this was a taste of home (when I make them myself, they never taste quite the same…). There seemed to be lots of Polish restaurants in Chicago, and I was disappointed we didn’t make it to any more!
Our food tour would of course not have been complete without a trip to the Cheesecake Factory, which in no way resembled the one in the Big Bang Theory, which admittedly is meant to be in California. Again the portions were huge.
And we were defeated…
We only managed dinner on two nights. The first we went to a place called Sweet Water not far from our hotel. The food was pretty good, you can’t go wrong with a burger. What I actually remember most about the experience was a couple sitting at a table just near us. I couldn’t see the man, only the woman. They didn’t speak the entire time, she ate with her burger in one hand and her phone in the other, and she spent the whole time switching her attention between her phone and the television screen (which was playing either basketball, baseball or hockey – we indulged in watching all these sports during our trip). It was kind of depressing.
Buddy Guy’s Legends
The only other place we ate out during our trip was Buddy Guy’s Legend, a music venue where they served ‘New Orleans inspired’ food. So some pretty good crab cakes for me and some chicken smothered in some deep, dark sauce for the husband.
We headed here at the recommendation of a friend and it was open mic night. Clearly it was a well respected venue, with guitars on the wall reporting to have belonged to the likes of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.
The ‘house’ band that introduced the evening were great. Led by Jimmy Burns, he was joined by Mike Wheeler and E.G. McDaniel, who were both amazing, and Bryant T. on the drums – I swear I have never seen someone look like they were having so much fun as that guy!!
A major highlight was a fantastic version of Cold as Ice – loved it!
The open mic acts were more touch and go. There were some really strong acts that I definitely enjoyed, but it is the off the wall ones that stick out in my mind. There was an older female singer who was provocative to the point of being disturbing, and a young band led by a very enthusiastic young man who suddenly started playing his guitar behind his head and with his tongue – interesting skills but didn’t seem to gel with the location and the audience. But it was an amazing night, and I’d definitely recommend it.
Book of Mormon
Being on holiday, we wandered down to the box office to see if we could get any decent show tickets. Amazingly, we got two tickets to the Book of Mormon at the Bank of America theatre – just six rows back from the front. I think they might actually have been the best tickets I’ve ever had.
If you haven’t seen the show, I highly recommend it. Hilarious and thought provoking, you can’t walk out without a smile and a lot of questions. Also worth paying for the fantastic seats. I overheard someone saying at the interval what a difference it made being able to see and interpret the facial expressions of the actors, and I could not have agreed more!
And the actors were fantastic! I couldn’t believe that it was the first play ever for the guy who played Elder Cunningham, Cody Jameson. He was so funny and has such an amazing presence. Also, turns out we had the understudy for the role of Elder Price, Declan Egan, her was so good. The whole ensemble was fantastic.
I also couldn’t believe the advertising in the programme – ‘seen the show, now read the book.’ They were actually advertising the book of Mormon in the programme, good to have a sense of humour about it.
As what we in the biz like to call a ‘museum professional’, I dragged the husband to a lot of cultural venues as part of the trip. Though he dragged me to the Navy Pier and made me go on the Ferris Wheel with him. Some nice views, but it was so windy I was freezing. The place was also a bit creepy. We went early in the day before things really go started, and so it was empty as we walked down to get to the end, and kind of worrying when we had to let trapped families through locked doors on a number of occasions. Also, there was a lot of construction happening at the site, it seems that they are revamping it, but you could just walk straight through most of the construction zones. Also there was 90s music blasting out of speakers all over the building. It was all a bit surreal.
We also visited the Crystal Gardens at the Pier, with this fascinating fountain.
We also noticed that there were flags on everything, and I mean everything, including this random tractor…
Our first museum of the trip, and also my favourite, was the Field Museum. I did find it a bit confusing though. Known as the Field Museum of Natural History, it also had loads of cultural heritage and art. American museums are so different from museums in the UK, so it was fascinating to compare and contrast – they are much more ‘visitor attraction’, something museums in the UK shy away from. Also, they had a really great app, which among other things had a scavenger hunt programme. Nevertheless, despite being a museum digital person who works a lot in mobile and visiting with my husband who is a gamer and doesn’t really like museums but goes because I make him, we looked at the app, said that’s really cool, and then didn’t use it at all. I think it says something about the way that adults use museums, especially tourists, there to see the highlights on a once in a lifetime visit.
I was pleased to get free entry into the museum for both me and the husband. After queuing for about 20 minutes we got to the front to order our tickets, and the nice attendant started rattling off a list of people who get discounts – students, fireman, teachers. Light heartedly, when we got to the end of the list I said, “I’m not any of hose things, but I work in a museum, does that count”, and it turns out it does. He even took my workdon it since I didn’t have my ID with me.
They had an entire food court in the museum. I perhaps should not have been surprised by this. Last year I went to Washington and they had a McDonald’s inside the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum…
It was good to see Sue. Sue is apparently linked to the dinosaur in the main court in the Museum of Natural History in Oxford, and they are facing each other over the sea – I said hi.
Not natural history, and very reminiscent of the anthropology displays in our Pitt Rivers Museum.
There was an interesting exhibition of art by a Native American artist looking an the ‘Indian’ or ‘Savage’ in modern culture – this Yoda portrait caught my eye…
Both the special exhibitions looked fantastic, but unfortunately both were also completely sold out. I took these pictures to remind me what I missed so I could look them up online. Check out Vodou and Vikings (again, nothing to do with natural history).
More what I was expecting from a science museum, they had open labs where you could watch people at work.
I just thought this was cool…
In addition to the museum’s main shop, Sue had one of her very own! I wanted to get some souvenirs for the guys back at work, but had to abandon the idea when I saw the prices!!
Art Institute of Chicago
Also on our cultural tour was the Art Institute of Chicago – there was so much to see and take in! Despite my professional calling, I’ve never considered myself a good museum visitor, unless there is an exhibition that I really want to see I like to wander around, only stopping to take a closer look when something really grabs my attention. This isn’t usually problematic in a stuff museum, because I really like stuff, but is much harder for me in an art museum, but this place had a lot of good stuff!
I love a pandeiro…
Who knew this was here!!
This isn’t the type of thing that would usually appeal to me, but the faces just evoke so much emotion – times like this I wish I had some kind of artistic talent…
We also went a bit off the beaten track to the Oriental Institute down at the university. This was a much less commercial affair, and reminded me more of a UK museum experience, though not necessarily in a good way.
Most of the interactives we encountered were out of order.
But they had some fascinating stuff!
So cute, love the eyes!
The shop was quite cool, it had a bit of new agey feel (and smell) about it – someone was burning the incense. So close the collections, hmmm…
We wanted to make it to the Shed Aquarium, but we were looking at a 2 hour wait, so instead made our way up the very windy path to the Alder Planetarium. Unfortunately all the shows were sold out, but it was interesting to look around. I was particularly taken by the statues of all the animals of the Chinese zodiac out the front. This was also the first place I noticed the sign prohibiting hand guns, which I then saw everywhere. Not at all worrying that we need a reminder…
Although lots of people told me before I went to take advantage of the shopping, when I was there I found what was on offer underwhelming, and didn’t find anything to actually buy. We did come across the a great shop called the Art of Dr Seuss – a childhood favourite with a special place in my heart due to our connection – but unfortunately a little beyond my price range.
There was also an amazing candy story, which sold bacon flavoured chocolate (worrying) and M&Ms by the colour, and as someone who only really likes the brown ones this was a revelation. Unfortunately they were regular rather than peanut or I would have filled myself a bag!
Finally we went to Whole Foods, a wonderland of foodie goodness. I was actually sad to leave the shop, wishing we had access to such a thing in Oxford (since I understand they do have branches in London). Freshly made salads on site, meat with a proper history of where it came from and how it was farmed alongside it (my book for the holiday was called Farmageddon, so this was suddenly very important), and even a station where you could make your own peanut butter. I need one of these local to me!!
Another highlight of the holiday portion of the trip was training with the local Capoeira groups, but you can read about that here.
It was sunny if windy for most of our trip, introducing me to the surprising delight of rotating doors to keep the wind out. Locals make their was through these swiftly, and I quickly picked up the habit. So much so that back in the UK I was trying to push my way through a rotating door with an attendant waving at me, as I made it through they told me that the door was automated (at a very slow pace) and there was no need to push.
We said goodbye to the city on a cloudy day, waving good bye to Trump International…
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