Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Home from the Windy City

It has been a while since my last post, partly because I was finishing up end of term marking and then my guy and I went on vacation to Chicago for a few days before I started back at work. Yesterday was my first day back at full-time, go-to-the-office-everyday work in about 2 years. Between getting my master’s degree, working part-time and work at home jobs it’s been a whirlwind couple of years. So trust me when I say getting up early in the morning, wearing “work clothes” and packing a lunch has been quite the shock to the system. It’s a slow start to the new job but I know it is going to pick up soon, so I am trying to ease myself back into the “real world”.

Onto pleasanter things, the guy and I had a great time in Chicago. He’s not accustomed to going on “vacation” so it was a nice treat for us to go away for a few days away from all the stress that has been happening on the home front lately. I have wanted to visit ever since reading Erik Larson's book, Devil in the White City. We stayed downtown Chicago for 4 days and had a wonderful time sightseeing around the city, going to museums, shopping and doing otherwise touristy things. I even got to go to a wonderful yarn shop called Loopy Yarns. I could have spent all day browsing here, but I behaved myself and only picked up a few things that they had on sale, partly because the suitcase was already very full and partly because the Kitchener-Waterloo Knitting Fair is this upcoming weekend (squee with excitement!). 

My small stash from Loopy Yarns: A cute pouch for knitting notions, a very cool German sounding sock yarn meant to be knit 2 at a time, and a Malabrigo silky merino in the lettuce colourway

Interspersed with pictures, here are 10 things I discovered about Chicago:

1) The Museum of Science and Industry is not only cool because it is housed in one of the few remaining buildings from the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, but is also a place where you can run on a human hamster wheel, see baby chicks hatch, check out the Apollo 8 command module and witness and indoor tornado. I definitely channeled my inner child and got really excited about getting to sit in a big John Deere tractor. I’m about as “city” as they come, but for some reason this really thrilled me.  My other favourite thing was Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle, a huge dollhouse that was constructed by the silent film star Moore in the late 1920’s. The dollhouse contains real artifacts, gemstones and tiny furniture all inspired by various fairytales (it even has a secret treasure room for Ali Baba!). Even the guy couldn’t help but be impressed by the detail in the castle.

Awesome stuffed toys in the gift shop: sun, earth and moon. The shopkeep must have thought the guy and I were total nerds as we giddily rotated them around each other in the store. 

I had a lot of fun with the shadow screens, in which you can manipulate the video feed by using your body's shadow. 

A baby chick that I watched hatch moments before this picture. Her shell remnants are off to the left side as she takes her first breaths. 

The guy runs on the human hamster wheel. He was very proud that he got up to 10 miles and hour. 

2) The “El” (elevated trains, part of Chicago’s public transportation system) is slightly terrifying. Especially for a gal afraid of heights and going at a brisk speed. Seriously. Scary. I remember seeing the El on ER many years ago and thinking, “that looks a bit frightening”. And it was. The guy thought I had officially lost my marbles as I clung to him with a look of terror on my face as we went about 5 miles an hour saying "We're going to plummet to our death!". I’m not proud of it.

Entrance to the dreaded El train. This was one of the more rickety stations. I have rendered these photos in black and white to signify my fright.
The El heads over a bridge. Notice the absence of side rails. This shot really reminds me of Gotham City (Chicago was the scene for Gotham in The Dark Knight)

3) When it comes to fireworks, American’s do it right. We went to Wednesday showing of the twice-weekly fireworks at Navy Pier and it was outstanding. By far the most impressive firework display I’ve seen. On Navy Pier we also browsed at the shops and checked out the small section of old-school rides: a carousel, tilt-a-whirl, and Ferris wheel. All lit up at night, they were truly magical. Another interesting Chicago fact is that the first Ferris wheel in the world was built here for the World’s Fair in 1893. According to my friend Wikipedia, this first wheel was 80.4 meters tall and could seat 2,160 passengers. What a sight that must have been in the 19th century!

Gold raining from the sky
Green lightning! 
The park on Navy Pier featuring the Ferris Wheel
Lonely horses waiting for riders
The tilt-a-whirl in action

4) The architecture in Chicago is truly awe-inspiring and reflects the changes in this infamous city over the years. On our last morning we went on a river cruise put on by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Over this 90-minute cruise a docent told us all about the styles of architecture in Chicago and we saw some of the iconic buildings from the water. I am not known to be a lover of boats, but paradoxically I do love being on the water so its a risk I often take. This was a lovely cruise and despite the heat and inevitable sunburn I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the architectural details of the Chicago skyline. One of the things we did not have time for was to see a Frank Lloyd Wright building, so if we ever go back that will be my first stop. Ever since I read the book Loving Frank by Nancy Horan and saw the retrospective of his work at the Guggenheim a couple of years ago I have been fascinated with his work.

A view up the Trump Tower. The dark lines that encircle the building are at strategic points the mimic the height of surrounding iconic buildings. 

Chicago skyline from the river. 

Look up, look way up! I can't remember the name of this particular building, but this circular style of skyscraper really caught my eye. 

Prarie-style architecture that inspired Frank Lloyd Wright.

A view of the skyline at the other side of the river, showing the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) and the Stock Exchange Building. 

The Civic Opera House on the right with other skyscrapers in the background. 

Loved this gothic style architecture on the Tribune Building. 
5) The impressionist collection at the Chicago Art Institute IS all its cracked up to be. I was most excited to see Georges Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, or as I called it as a child "Sunday in the Park with George" (after the Sondheim musical). My grandmother had a print hanging of this in my childhood bedroom and I remember staring at it with wonder. I loved the lady walking with her monkey and the clothes worn by its subjects. I marvelled at how this image was really made up of tiny dots. I didn't know that this work was in the CAI collection so when we turned to corner and saw it tears welled up. Its truly impressive in person and the size of it astonished me. Other highlights were Van Gogh's The Bedroom,  and the Renoir and Monet Collections. Outside of the Impressionist galleries, the CAI did not disappoint with icons like American Gothic and a couple of gorgeous Rothko and Pollocks. The guy loved the Arms and Armour collection as well. But my favourite stop was the Chagall stained-glass windows. I could have stared at them all day. Chagall's use of colour always smacks me in the emotion centre of my brain. Love it. 

One of the three panels for Chagall's stained glass windows.

A close-up of one of Monet's Water lilies

Van Gogh's The Bedroom 

A crowd clustered in front of Seurat's, Sunday in the Park. Can anyone else spot the accessibility problem here?

As the guy looked at the armour collection I got creative with the camera and lighting effects to make these time-travelling knights. 

A noble steed charges into the future.

6) Chicago is a city dedicated to public art. I can't remember the figure off the top of my head but on our architecture tour the guide told us that a penny for every x amount of development money must go to public art. My favourite public sculpture that we saw was the iconic "Cloud Gate" by Anish Kapoor in Millennium Park. The park was full of many other neat installations, and there were more at Navy Pier and scattered throughout the city. I wish that we would have had time to explore them all.

The Cloud Gate, known to locals as the "bean"

The skyline reflected in the Cloud Gate

Inside Cloud Gate

A public art installation/water park in Millennium Park. Water would squirt out of their mouths from time to time. 

A 26 foot tall sculpture of Marilyn in her iconic pose from The 7 Year Itch. 

7) The Shedd Aquarium is the home to Granddad, an Australian lungfish that is reportedly 86+ years old. He was acquired by the aquarium for the 1933 Expo! He looks like a sunken log. In addition to granddad, the aquarium is home to over 25,000 fish from around the world. I visited my first aquarium, the Boston aquarium, when I was about 7 years old and have loved visiting them ever since. I love being in the water and the mysteries of the deep both fascinate and terrify me. The aquarium also had a special exhibit on Jellyfish which we both really enjoyed.

View of the city from the aquarium over lake Michigan.

A jelly undulates across its tank.

From the size of those brains, these fish must be destined to take over the world. 

A variety of corals.

Tiny sea snakes pop their heads out of the sand.

Think these are all corals. Look again. 

I couldn't resist a Finding Nemo reference. 

8) Chicago is beautiful lit up at night. I love night photography and getting another perspective of a place once the sun goes down. Chicago did not disappoint. We stayed to the main strips in the evenings (Magnificent Mile, Michigan Ave, and Navy Pier), and enjoyed people watching and seeing the buildings all lit up.

Michigan Avenue bridge at night. 

A night time view of the Chicago River. 

The view of the city from Navy Pier at night. 

9) Chicago is home to Sue, the most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found. She lives at the Field Museum, where there is also an incredible jade and gem collection, and Egyptian tomb, a Fossil Prep lab and other fun exhibits aimed at kids and adults alike. I loved that the exhibit curators have a sense of humour and the written descriptions and illustrations of the exhibits made me chuckle more than once.

Rawr! Meet Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Gotta love the illustration on the left. 

An amber pendant with a bug preserved inside. Jurassic Park anyone?

Inside the Maori Meeting House.

The Grainger Hall of Gems includes this beautiful Tiffany stained glass window. 

An opal sun broach.

Yes, please! My birthday is just around the corner. 

10) My guy and I are geeks no matter where we go.


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