Thursday, October 02, 2008

Trip to Chicago: Part IV, Downtown adventure

The week after the big wedding was really fabulous as we were all able to relax and enjoy downtown Chicago.  I have to admit that I really loved the city; it was clean, stylish, fun and the people were really friendly everywhere. 

Another unexpected bonus - the food was also really good.  I have had many previous trips to the US before and encountered food that really wasn't so good; however, Chicago has a reputation for being a real foodie city and rightly so.  Here we are on the final night in Chicago, after a really enjoyable Thai fusion meal.

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We stayed in the Conrad in Chicago, right on the Magnificent Mile, the main shopping avenue downtown.  It was probably the loveliest hotel I've stayed in for some years.  We were shown to a pretty spacious room with two double beds and a large bathroom with a massive walk-in shower.  The finish in the room was impeccable.  Most impressive of all was the huge widescreen TV with the Bose surround sound system!  Below is a picture of the room we stayed in.

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Everything was well thought out and the staff were amazing.  The concierge especially couldn't have done more to help and recommended some fantastic restaurants for our evening meals.  Below was the excellent antipasto which we devoured at a restaurant they recommended called Quartino's.

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We did quite a lot of sightseeing despite having to cater for and entertain the two little girls.  In fact, they seemed to really enjoy going to see new places with us.

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My cousin Margaret arranged for all of us to go on a boat trip to see the architectural sights of the city from the Chicago River.  We felt that this was very fitting since my great uncle is a professor of architecture.

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It really opened my eyes to the beautiful buildings in the city and we learned quite a lot about the city's history.  I think of all the great buildings we saw, my absolute favourite was 333 West Wacker Drive.

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Sitting on the bend of the Chicago River, this post modern building echoed the curve of the riverbank and its green glass windows almost rippled like the water in the river.  Gorgeous!

After the boat trip, we took in the sights of Navy Pier.  It was a very hot day, well into the 30s with quite high humidity and no wind.  Lauren enjoyed looking at the bronze statues there.

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However, we were all a bit disappointed to find that the Children's Museum was closed for the week following Labor Day.  Later in the week, we took the bus to the famous Aquarium, only to find that it too was closed for the holiday week.  What bad timing!  I probably should have made sure it was open before setting out, but since we were already there we went to the nearby Field Museum instead, a large natural history museum.

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Jocey enjoyed the exhibits and pointed at all the animals and birds on display.  Lauren enjoyed everything apart from Sue, the large T Rex dinosaur in the atrium.  It took a long time to convince her that it wouldn't bite and that it was actually fun to look at dinosaurs!  I really laughed when she told me back at the hotel at the end of the day, "Mummy, I like dinosaurs!"  All that brainwashing clearly helps - well, eventually.

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We also had to go to the famous John Hancock Centre to see the city from the observation deck on the upper floors. 

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95 floors up is a restaurant where we had a rather average meal but were surrounded by an amazing view.  Unfortunately, on the day we went it became quite foggy whilst we were up there, so the view disappeared after a while.  This photo was taken just before the fog descended and is looking north from the John Hancock at the beaches of Lake Michigan and towards the Lincoln Park area.

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Another highlight of the holiday was our visit to Millennium Park.  This fabulous outdoor space is a green retreat for the city, despite having a massive car park in the ground beneath it.

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Lauren and Jocey loved running around in the park and being given freedom to explore.  Jocey, who is now very close to walking unaided, loved getting close to the birds we saw at the park.  In the photo above, she was pointing and saying "Uuggh! Uuggh!" excitedly at some passing pigeons.

There are two outstanding sights to visit inside the park; one is the massive sculpture by British artist Anish Kapoor called "Cloud Gate" (nicknamed "The Bean" by locals).

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The other is the equally impressive Jay Pritzker Pavilion, an auditorium for open air concerts.  It looks almost like a giant seashell with these enormous steel poles arcing outwards from the mouth of the pavilion to form an open "roof" over the grassy space beyond the fixed seating.

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We were lucky enough to be at the park when the soloists from Chicago's Lyric Opera were rehearsing for their big Millennium Park Concert with the great conductor Sir Andrew Davis.  It was amazing, even though they were obviously holding their voices back for the big night.  We sat in the audience until their rehearsal finished at lunchtime and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Even Lauren sat captivated by it all.  I haven't been able to go to the theatre or the opera since the girls were born, so it was a real treat.

After the park, we took Lauren and Jocey to a toy shop within a big department store (now a Macy's but originally it was the famous flagship Marshall Field store in Chicago).  Lauren fell in love with a bunny called Lollihop, which she brought home.

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Jocey also fell in love.  Initially this was with a big pony which was too big for Mummy to fit into her suitcase!

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Later, she spotted Eebee and only had eyes for him after that.  My parents bought Eebee for Jocey as her birthday present.  Every day, she comes downstairs and on seeing him will go over and give him a big hug.  She loves soft toys as much as her sister, and gives the Eeyore and Piglet which also came home with us (courtesy of Hubert and Bonnie) daily hugs too.

We also managed to pay a visit to the Lego store.  Outside the store were some interesting Lego figures.  Lauren was captivated by this little old lady with her doggie (must remind her of Bob).

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Daddy, on the other hand, loved the man with the bird's nest on his head.

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They also had a full size Darth Vader and R2D2 in the store, which Daddy particularly liked.  Lauren refused to go in the store at first because of the green Lego dinosaur attacking some poor Lego construction workers!

Our final day in Chicago was Jocey's first birthday.  We went out to a barbeque grill place for lunch and were surprised to see the waiter bring three little cakes with a candle on for her dessert.

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Lauren was very excited to be helping Jocey blow out her candle on her first birthday!

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Jocey had a great time and loved all the attention.  Lauren couldn't understand why Jocey hadn't had a birthday before...

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All in all, we had a fantastic time in the Windy City and hope we can go again soon.  Funnily enough, apart from at the time this picture was taken, it wasn't really all that windy!

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I was most disappointed when I found out that the "windy" part of the nickname refers to hot air and rhetoric rather than inclement weather!

All our photos from the week in the city can be found here (family photos) and here (architectural photos).

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