Friday, May 20, 2011

Lincoln in Chicago: Day 2

So I woke up this morning and took the day very leisurely -- waiting until about 8:30 (Central, 9:30 Body Clock) to become perpendicular to the floor, taking a shower, and packing up and checking out of my room at the Hilton Chicago and storing my luggage for my later departure from the city.

Walking out of the hotel, I ventured across Michigan Avenue and then followed the shore of Lake Michigan to Chicago's "Museum Campus" -- home to the Field Museum of Natrual History, Shedd Aquarium, and Alder Planetarium. Though I considerd throwing caution to the wind and ignoring the faded "no swimming" markings on the sidewalk, I figured damp clothing may crimp my plans for the rest of the day.

A low layer of fog was hovering over a portion of the lake, but the day was otherwise beautiful and I followed the sidewalk to it's end at a sandy beach. Cutting back I passed Alder Planetarium (eh, planets and stars don't really hold my interest) and decided to pass on the Field Museum for this trip (I haven't ever really loved a natural history museum, but the Field has such a reputation I feel that I owe it at least one visit).

I can't say what particularly compelled me to visit the Shedd Aquarium -- though I hate seafood -- there's something beautiful about the fluidity of aquatic life. Unfourtunately it was not a meditative experience, the facility was literally overrun by poorly chaperoned school groups making a horrendous amount of noise. Though the layout was quite sensible, navigating the acquarium without stepping on a 10-year-old proved difficult. Once you made your way through the mob, though the exhibits and variety are beautiful. The varieties of size, color, habitats, and native environments were amazing.

I'm quite partial to penguins, and polar bears, dolphins and sea otters -- and three of the four are well represented (and I'd probably be slighthly disturbed if an aquarium started hosting polar bears) -- one penguin in particular was quite playful swimming right at the edge of the glass, diving, then surfacing. Two sea otters were locked in what appeared to be a spat of sibling rivalry, looking quite like two dogs fighting with each other under water. The "aquatic show" left me wanting, but having grown up with Sea World San Diego and the outdoor shows, seeing dolphins perform indoors wass unique.

I had planned my second attraction of the day to be a visit to the top of the Sears, ahem, pardon me, Willis Tower just because, you know what, I'm playing tourist. So I left the aquarium and headed that direction, arriving in the lobby with about 90 minutes before I figured I needed to be back at the hotel to collect my luggage and head towards O'Hare. The gentleman in the street-level lobby indicated that it would be a 30 minute journey from that point to the top. Upon arriving in the basement to purchase tickets, I found that he had neglected to include the estimated 35 minute wait to purchase tickets in that time. Now math isn't my strong suit, but 35 to buy + 30 up + 30 down leaves -5 minutes to enjoy the (slightly foggy) view from the top. So I passed for this trip.

I walked back to the hotel via an inland route and just enjoyed taking in the sights, though my feet were starting to act up. Along the way and about two blocks away from the hotel I stumbled across a CTA Red Line station. Mental note made. I got back to the hotel, retrieved my luggage, and checked the CTA route map on my phone.

Hilton's official directions for mass transit from O'Hare are to take the CTA Blue Line from O'Hare to Jackson, then walk six tenths of a mile from Jackson to Michigan and to the hotel -- which is the route I took when I arrived in Chicago, and it's not bad, but when you've already done a few miles of walking in dress shoes you start to look for ways to avoid doing it unnecessarily. With an extra hour and a half of time to kill I figured as long as the Red and Blue lines came together at some point I could use a few more minutes off my feet.

And, it turns out the Red and Blue lines share the Jackson station. So I walked from the hotel to the recently-discovered Red Line station hopped on the next train going in the right direction, and I found my next stop being Jackson. A lengthy subterranean tunnel walk later I found myself on a Blue Line platform waiting for an O'Hare Bound train. Settled into a seat with my luggage for the hour-long ride back to Ohare.

The rest of the trip home was uneventful, but the Continental agent at the next gate in O'Hare over was obviously having a bad day based on her snippy public address announcements; I would have hated to actually need help from her.

Generally I like Chicago... it doesn't have quite the energy of Manhattan nor is it a hipster as San Francisco can be, but it has the "real city" feel that I crave... I want to come back, but at least so far it's not a city that I crave a return to, like Manhattan*--in that regard, it's really not different enough from Cleveland.

* - I've often said that there's only one city besides Cleveland I could see myself living in if I could afford it, and that would be Manhattan. If I ever win the lottery a pied-a-terre in the city that never sleeps would be at the top of my list.

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