Chicago Tuesday

Here we go with a Chicago wrap-up.  I meant to get to this earlier, but I have been sidelined with a bad sinus cold.  Today is the first day that I have stayed awake all day.  Hopefully I am over the worst of it.  These entries will be very long and probably very boring for you.  They are more for me to remember what I did than an exciting narrative for my blog.  You have been warned!

Tuesday 7/14

Up early for an 8:30 a.m. flight.  I sincerely can't remember the last time I flew on a plane.  Part of me feels very strongly that it was before 9/11, but it seems I may have flown once since then. Let's just say hardly any at all in recent years.  I will admit to being very nervous for various reasons.  Even though I have a passion for airplanes I have become scared in recent years about dying in an airplane crash.  I know all the statistics and know that it is more dangerous to drive, etc., but I'm still scared.  It is out of my control and that is what I don't like.  I like to be in control.  I feel marginally safer on Southwest who has a good safety record so upcoming trips for now will need to be where Southwest flies.  Except of course Panama, which I am already nervous about flying. The other reason I was nervous was because I wasn't sure if Southwest was going to make me buy a second airline seat because of my size.  I'm not exactly skinny and I was worried about having to face that humiliation, not to mention expense if that happened.  I am sure that this recent story is part of the reason that it was on my mind so much.  

Anyway I was off to the airport a little later than I had planned and surprised at the long line both to check in the luggage and at security.  Luckily I got through both in about 30 minutes and was still at my gate an hour early.  I made it onto the airplane just fine and snagged a window seat.  Then off we went with me reminding myself to breathe and having to look away from the window when we would bank or when I would feel the plane slowing down.  When the plane slows down I can feel it and it really freaks me out.  I read some and looked out the window at other times and it certainly felt like the trip was shorter than the 2 1/2 hours on the schedule.  As we got closer to Chicago I marveled at how green everything was.  I don't know if it was farm land or just the non-urban run up to the city, but there were so many beautiful shades of green.  We flew over wind farms which was cool because I see those blades leaving the Port of Houston all the time.  I know how big they are and they were miniscule from the air.  As we got closer I was noticing all the pools in the suburban homes. From my height I could tell they were pools, but it was so strange to me that almost everyone chose a round pool.  Not until we got lower did I figure out that they were all above ground pools.  As we got closer I couldn't help breaking into a smile.  I did it!  I can't believe that I set out that goal and there I was getting ready to land in Chicago.  Sometimes I really marvel at myself.  I wish that this determination was with me all the time.  I could certainly use it in the areas of self-confidence.  As I was walking through the airport I was vacillating between feeling so excited and proud of myself for making this happen and a little freaked out that I was on this big trip all by myself.  I found the airport express and was on the way to the hotel.  I was entertained in the car by the passengers behind me discussing this chain of restaurants they heard about, Popeye's chicken.  

The check-in to the hotel was a breeze.  I was there at 11:30 a.m. and check-in wasn't supposed to be until 3:00 p.m., but no problem.  The Hyatt Regency is apparently the largest hotel in Chicago in terms of rooms.  They have 2,019!  The guy at the desk asked me if I wanted the one with the King size bed or the one with the two full size beds. I told him I wanted whichever one had the best view.  So that's why I got this room with a view of the Chicago River, a hint of Navy pier and Lake Michigan beyond.  Woot!

I freshened up a little bit and headed out immediately for the first thing on my agenda, the Art Institute.  First I had to find my way over to the CTA train station.  My hotel was situated right on Wacker Drive and a block from Michigan Avenue.  What a terrific location.  The only thing that would have been better is if it had been closer to a train station.  One of the things I had done in advance was figure out the closest CTA stop to the main attractions that I wanted to see.  I then used this app to get me from whatever station I was at to whatever station I needed to be at.  I used it heavily through the trip and it was a real life saver.  Between notes I had already taken, Google Maps which showed the CTA stations and this app I easily moved around the city.  I have to say that I can't imagine what it is like for someone from a small town to visit Chicago.  I am NOT from a small town and I felt distinctly overwhelmed my first 24 hours or so there.  There is just so much going on all around you and massive buildings towering over your head.  After the first day it was much easier and by the end of the trip I knew what I was doing but I distinctly remember feeling at a little bit of a loss for those first couple of hours.  I got off at the Art Institute stop and walked the block to the museum, but I didn't go in.  I needed to eat and here is where another app helped out.  Yelp.  I'm really surprised because I do NOT use Yelp and I am not a Yelper and I don't plan on becoming one. I don't like writing reviews.  But the Yelp iPhone app is VERY helpful in finding places near where you are.  I found a write up for a little hot dog stand and walked the two blocks over to it.  So the first food item I checked off my list was an official Chicago hot dog at Max's.  And of course I ordered it with everything on it because that's the point right!  The perfect definition of hole in the wall with a tiny counter along the wall and maybe five or six stools for people to sit on.  Most of the orders were to go.  After I left Max's I happend to spy a Currency Exchange which is great because I needed to get a multi-day rail pass.  $14 and I could ride as much as I wanted for 3 days.  Definitely worth it.  Then on to the museum.

What can I say about the Art Institute of Chicago.  It is a magnificent museum with a magnificent collection of masterpieces.  I'm still in awe at all the works that I got to see in just one afternoon.  The impressionist collection is just breathtaking.  Room after room after room of beautiful works.  And pictures!  I could take pictures EVERYWHERE!  What a refreshing change from the draconian policies of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.  The Art Institute has a My Collections page and I listed some of the pieces of art that I saw on my trip here at this link.  These are just the pieces that stood out in my mind.  This isn't near a list of everything I saw.  Pissaro, Sisley, Manet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Monet.  Room after room of beautiful works.  I had to work to keep myself from crying.  One of those moments was in sat in the Monet room. Monet is my favorite painter.  Water Lillies on one wall, Haystacks on another wall, Parliament paintings behind me.  I just sat there filled to the brim with emotion.  And that's just the Impressionist section.  I wound my way around and got myself over to the American section so I could see American Gothic and Nighthawks.  American Gothic, yeah, I'm glad I saw it, but Nighthawks.  Oh my goodness, Nighthawks.  I loved it.  There is something so different about standing in front of a work of art versus looking at it in a book or on your television or computer.  That piece was one of my very favorites of the day.  

But wait there was more.  For see good people when I was young I had a doll house.  What a wonderful doll house it was with two stories and six rooms.  The house was made for my mother and her sister and passed down to me and a lot of the items in the doll house (the furnishings, etc) were hand made by my grandmother.  I love that doll house and it is still at my mother's house waiting for me to get a real house so I can have it with me.  I used to dream of decorating it with the most elaborate furnishings.  In fact someone from my childhood just recently told me on Facebook how they remember my doll house.  Well the Art Institute has an amazing collection of miniatures.  While this may not be exciting to everyone, for me it was a stand out.  I didn't get to spend nearly as much time there as I would have liked to, marveling at the amazing detail of each and every room.  The museum has 68 English and American rooms that span from the 13th century all the way to the 1930s, all miniatures and all in amazing detail.  Each room is a work of art.  What a treasure this whole museum is for the city of Chicago.  There were many rooms that I ran right through without looking and some where I didn't even step a toe. There were many times when I wondered what it would be like to live in Chicago and I can tell you that that museum would make it worth it. What an absolutely fabulous place.

I finally left the art museum after about three hours.  When I walked in it was bright blue skies and a warm, bordering hot, sun.  I walked out into a cool breeze and overcast sky.  I went back to my hotel and rested a little bit before my next venture.  I don't go on trips, or at least I didn't used to, so I don't know what the etiquette is, but it was amazing how just an hour or so at the hotel would completely refresh me and get me ready for the next venture.  The other thing that I tried on this trip was some Daniel Pink advice, so for this whole trip, the WHOLE TRIP, I did not turn my TV on once.  Woo!  I was much more efficient with my hotel time both in the morning and the evening.  Many times while I was resting I would pull the chair to the window and just watch the boats on the river.  I highly recommend it to anyone traveling.  The one thing I had that helped was the Weather Channel app for my iPhone.  That would be the only reason I could think of for turning on the TV, but since I could check the weather on my phone, I didn't turn it on once.

Next on my agenda was Millennium Park, but I was a little bummed because it was cloudy.  I should not be surprised how much I loved that park.  In fact I'm starting to realize that I really like parks, especially parks like Millennium Park.  It's funny but Discovery Green in Houston is so much like Millennium Park except that Millennium Park is on a much grander scale than Discovery Green.  But they both have such a great vibe. Even though it was cloudy I took pictures anyway just in case it was my only chance to be there.  The clouds and threatening rain did keep it cool and refreshing.  Millennium Park has an audio tour which I had downloaded ahead of time and so I was able to get a guided audio tour of the notable features of the park.  That was a wonderful way to explore the park.  I was thrilled to see my very first Frank Gehry piece in person since he designed the Pritzker Pavillion performance venue. I walked on his bridge that snaked its way over Columbus Drive and acts as a sound barrier for the Pavillion.  I got to walk in the amazing, AMAZING Lurie Gardens.  It is a 5 acre garden with two large hedges that block out the rest of the park.  It is the strangest sensation but you feel like you've entered a cocoon when you walk into that section.  That evening there weren't many people there and it was so calm and peaceful and was absolutely in full bloom with the most beautiful and vibrant perennials.  Color, color everywhere.  Just check out this plant list.  From there I found my way over to Cloud Gate otherwise known as the Bean, the object in Millennium Park that I wanted to see the most.  Not great pictures because of the overcast day, but what a fabulous piece of art.  Do you know it weights 110 tons?  TONS?  At this point it really looked like the clouds were going to open up and of course I didn't have my umbrella.  I went across the street to a Walgreen's and bought one and some water so I could keep going. My feet were killing me because I don't really have good walking shoes.  That is item number one before I take my next big trip.  Good walking shoes.  A theme through this trip will be my feet killing me, and me slogging, shuffling, forcing myself to keep going because I had to.  I had so little time.  I finished the park with the Crown Fountain.  You've probably seen pictures of the large blocks that shows different Chicagoan faces and spouts out water every 5 minutes.  By this time it looked like maybe, just maybe, the clouds might break, but I was so tired from my day, I was operating on only 4 hours of sleep and I still needed to get dinner.  So I slogged, shuffled, and wobbled my way to the station and then to my dinner stop Al's Italian Beef.  Of course what looks like a few blocks on the Google Map is really many, many, LONG blocks when you are dead on your feet, but I made it and got to check off another Chicago food item. Italian Beef with sweet peppers.  I really liked it.  It is so different than anything down here and that is what makes it fun.  After recovering I got back on my feet and began the long shuffle back to the hotel.  I still hadn't figured out the transit system exactly and ended up getting on the subway going the wrong direction, but I got back off and figured it out.  It amazed me that no matter how tired I was, and I was dead tired, I would still shuffle a few feet out of my way to get a photo I wanted.  I'm determined that way.  Finally back to the hotel to get things ready for the next day.  Crash.