All posts tagged chicago

We actually got back late Thursday night, but I had to (a) pick my cat up from boarding early yesterday and (b) work until pretty late last night, so this is the first time I’ve had it together enough to post.

The Picasso, Chicago, 2016

An untitled sculpture by Pablo Picasso, in Daley Plaza downtown. Chicagoans just call it “The Picasso.”

What I noticed about this photo of the Picasso, for what it’s worth, is how low my perspective is.  I mean, I know that I’m short, but somehow I always imagined that I was seeing the Picasso from something like the same angle that it’s usually photographed in, and not from an angle where I would be looking up her nostrils if her nose were three-dimensional (and “her” is correct — the Picasso is, in fact, a sculpture of a woman).

We spent most of the time in downtown Chicago on this trip, but we did go out into the suburbs once, to visit the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. The trip was only four days, but we visited four museums (the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium, and the Shedd Aquarium) and three parks (Millennium Park, Grant Park (which we actually visited in two chunks — we walked down the east side of Columbus Drive on our way to the Museum Campus and back up the west side of Columbus Drive on our way back to our hotel), and Lincoln Park (while we were there, we visited Lincoln Park Zoo). I also dragged Alex to some landmark buildings, including but not limited to the Marshall Field and Company Building (which currently houses a Macy’s), the Chicago Cultural Center, the Chicago Board of Trade building, and the Water Tower. I suggested that Alex and I go into Water Tower Place (a shopping mall across the street from the Water Tower), if only for the air conditioning, but he didn’t want to.

I took over 600 photos and saw two childhood friends while I was there. It’d been six years since my last visit and I don’t want that much time to pass again. One of my friends and I almost didn’t recognize each other, it’d been so long since we’d seen each other. I’ve started a fund to save up for another trip back. I’m thinking that we may rent a car for part of the next trip (which looks like it’ll be late in 2018 or early in 2019) because I’d like to take Alex to see the Black Hawk statue in Lowden State Park and Grosse Point Lighthouse in Evanston, both of which would be much easier to visit with a car.

But I think I’m going to take a five-month hiatus on that topic.  It seems weird to be talking about Chicago destinations right now (particularly since almost all of my photographs of Chicago have disappeared down the rabbit hole) when I just booked a trip to Chicago for August.  I haven’t been home in six years, so this will be nice.

Chicago Harbor Light 2010

Chicago Harbor Light, 2010. Taken with my old Palm Treo phone, if I recall correctly.

At the moment this is the tentative schedule:

Monday: Fly into Chicago.  Grant Park, Art Institute of Chicago, pizza.

Tuesday: Museum Campus during the day and Navy Pier in the evening.

Wednesday: Chicago Botanic Garden (Navy Pier if we fail to make it on Tuesday).

Thursday: Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park, fly home.

At some point, I want to visit some of my favorite architectural sights, including (but not limited to) the Chicago Cultural Center and The Store Formerly Known as Marshall Field’s.

As I’ve said before, I haven’t spent that much time in Lincoln Park, personally.  I think I’ve been to Lincoln Park Zoo maybe five times in my life (my family preferred Brookfield Zoo) and while I’ve driven past the park on Lake Shore Drive probably a dozen times or more, I haven’t spent much time in the park itself.

While researching this post, I found one thing that was surprising.  Lincoln Park is apparently 150% the size of Central Park.  It probably wouldn’t take as long to explore, however, since, at seven miles in length, Lincoln Park is four times as long and, at 1500 feet wide, is only about half as wide.

Lincoln Park is home to the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Chicago History Museum (formerly known as the Chicago Historical Society), the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, a conservatory (the plant kind, not the music kind) and the usual park amenities — sports fields, playgrounds, public art (including statues of Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln), a field house, and things of that nature.  The city website says, in part, “The Chicago Park District is committed to making its facilities accessible to and usable by all patrons and visitors. This commitment is ongoing, proactive and intended to meet the needs of a diversity of individuals with disabilities.” So the park itself should be wheelchair accessible.

Much like Milam Park here in San Antonio, Lincoln Park is built on land that once was the city cemetery (there was also, like with Milam Park, a Catholic cemetery across the street).  The story I was told was that they dug up the bodies (with the exception of the Couch family — their mausoleum is visible from LaSalle Street where it intersects with Stockton Drive).  The truth is messier than that.  The land that was chosen to become the city cemetery was, as so much of Chicago was at the time, swampy and disgusting.  The residents worried that they might come down with cholera or something from the corpses stewing in the cemetery, so they started to agitate to have the cemetery removed.  Some of the bodies were removed, but then the Great Chicago Fire hit.  the fire spread as far north as Fullerton Avenue, which means that the land that had been the city cemetery was in the path of the fire.  Many of the grave markers were wood and burned as a result.  Near as I can tell, if no one came forward to say “Great-uncle Fred is buried here,” they just left the body there. Artist Pamela Bannos, in her Hidden Truths project, estimates that there are at likely thousands of bodies still left under the park.

I have to admit that the title of this post made me roll my eyes. Because, of course the Art Institute of Chicago is in Chicago.  Except not really.  Just as two examples, there is the Chicago Zoological Park, which is located in Brookfield, Illinois (and which, consequently, is commonly called “Brookfield Zoo”) and the Chicago Botanic Gardens, which is in Glencoe. So I guess it’s not as silly as it would seem.

Much like the Field Museum of Natural History, I have a lot of early memories of the Art Institute. I remember going to the Art Institute with my parents and some other adult when I was very young indeed.  Literally the only concrete memory I have of that trip to the museum is a sweeping staircase and a large glass wall.  I was so young that I honestly wasn’t sure if the staircase was a real place or not.  Then, once I had some kind of continuity of memory (so around ten or so), we went back and there it was. They describe it as a spiral staircase though it’s more, well, sweeping than what I usually think of as a spiral staircase, plus it only goes around a little more than one time. Now in my memory, there was something that I, at such a young age, identified as a large statue of a mushroom on the floor beneath it (I haven’t been able to identify the mushroom.  Maybe the mushroom was part of a dream.)

I have, of course, returned to the Art Institute many times over the intervening years and have plenty of more concrete memories of it than some stairs and what might or might not be a mushroom.  When I was maybe 10 or 11, my parents became members of the museum for a time and we took frequent advantage of the free admission for members. My dad needed to go downtown to do research during my adolescence and I went with him several of those times.  The Art Institute was one of my favorite places to go during those days (and twice I brought a friend with me).

I am, by the way, not the only person in my family who has early semi-formed memories of the Art Institute as a nice place to visit. In 2010, Alex and I were spending the one day of our four-day trip to Chicago downtown.  We had gone for the Taste of Chicago festival and once we were done there, I suggested that we visit the Art Institute (since they’re both in Grant Park). We were tired, and Alex was reluctant, but agreed to just stick his head in. So we did, we walked maybe five steps in and Alex said, “I dream about this place.”  I asked if they were good dreams and he said that they were. So he comes by that honest.

I tell people that Monet is my favorite artist.  It’s not because he is popular or because his artwork would match my sofa (I have two, both taupe, so probably pretty much anything would match my sofa(s) equally well (or poorly, I guess)). Monet is my favorite artist in part because  I’m pretty severely nearsighted (though less so in my later years than I was in my youth). The softer focus, particularly of works during the late 1890s actually feels kind of like home to me.  Another reason why I am so fond of Monet is because on one of my memories from probably 1977 or so, my mom and I kept identifying certain paintings as something we particularly liked.  And nearly always, we were in agreement, and almost every time, the painting was by Monet.  The Art Institute has the largest collection of works by Monet outside of France, so there are a lot of Monet paintings to choose from if water lilies aren’t your thing.

The Art Institute is home to a few other well-known works of art. You may have heard of some of them:  Chagall’s America Windows, Hopper’s Nighthawks, Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte, Wood’s American Gothic, and a whole bunch of others you might not know by name, such as the Toulouse-Lautrec self-portrait of himself at the Moulin Rouge (the distinguishing feature of this one, however, is the woman with the sort of bluish/cyan face in the foreground, which was for a time tucked underneath the frame, so I am apparently not the only person who finds her unsettling) and also the painting of Dorian Gray used as the painting in the 1945 movie with Donna Reed, Angela Lansbury, Peter Lawford and  . . . Hurd Hatfield?

The spiral staircase notwithstanding, the Art Institute is wheelchair accessible (wheelchair-friendly entrances are located at the main entrance and also the Modern Wing entrance).

We’ve seen Grant Park before, first in my post on Taste of Chicago, and then again in my post on Millennium Park (and we will see it once more in what will likely be my next Northern Illinois Destinations post, which is likely to be on the Art Institute of Chicago).  I grew up within walking distance of a suburban park that was, according to my figures, about 30 acres.  At 319 acres, you could fit that neighborhood park inside Grant Park over 10 times.  This made Grant Park seem like the biggest park ever to me.  Of course, it isn’t.  It isn’t even the largest park in Chicago (though we never spent much time in Lincoln, Jackson, or Washington Parks, which are all larger than Grant Park, and none of these parks that I’ve mentioned are even among the hundred largest parks in the country).

I can’t find any hard statistics, but it certainly looks like Grant Park is the oldest park in Chicago.  It would be hard for a park to be older, since the land was set aside for public use in 1836 and Chicago was incorporated as a town in 1833 and as a city in 1837. Since the Grant for whom the park was named is Ulysses S. Grant, the park was not always named for Grant.  The original name of the park was the not-terribly-original “Lake Park.”

While the land of the then-Lake Park was to have been left open to keep the view of the lake available to everyone, over time buildings accumulated in the park, including a three-story exposition center where the Art Institute of Chicago building stands today.  The Illinois Central Railroad also got a right-of-way along the lake shore in 1869.  I am not sure what that did to the view, since they were in the process of raising the street level to alleviate flooding (and the consequent health hazards).  I think they must have raised the park. After the Great Fire in 1871, they enlarged the park with debris from the fire, and apparently they have used landfill to enlarge the park more over time.

The Museum Campus, which is home to the Field Museum of Science and Industry, the John G. Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium (the first planetarium in the United States, apparently), forms the southern boundary of Grant Park, the northern boundary is Millennium Park, the eastern boundary is Lake Michigan (of course), and the western boundary is Michigan Avenue.

In addition to the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium, Grant Park is also home to Soldier Field, the Petrillo Music Shell (where I made my parents stick around after Taste of Chicago one year long enough to see Chicago perform one song), Buckingham Fountain, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Chicago was pretty forward-thinking in terms of public art and Grant Park has accumulated a number of art pieces over the last century and a quarter.  The oldest piece of art I can find is the Rosenberg Fountain.  Joseph Rosenberg got his start as a newsboy in Chicago and he often was thirsty working in the hot sun.  He made his fortune (at what, I have yet to determine) and in his will commissioned a public drinking fountain so that people who visited would not be thirsty.  The monument is still a fountain, but the water is no longer available to drink, at least not officially.   There are a lot more public drinking fountains in Chicago than there probably used to be, as well.  The map lists eight “comfort stations” in the park (nine if you include Millennium Park) and where there is a “comfort station” there is usually a drinking fountain, in my experience.

The most prominent piece of art in the park is a statue of Lincoln by Augustus Saint-Gaudens that has sat in the park since 1926.  For some unknown reason, there is no statue of Grant in Grant Park.  To see a statue of Grant, you have to go to Lincoln Park. I love my hometown, but there are some things I just can’t explain.

Then there is my favorite piece of art in the park.  Technically, it is a piece of architecture.  While not as famous as its sibling in New York or the local Board of Trade, Chicago does have a stock exchange. At one time, the stock exchange was housed in a building designed by the firm of Adler & Sullivan.  The old stock exchange building once stood on the corner of Washington and LaSalle Streets, kittycorner from the Chicago City Hall building. The building was demolished in 1972, and in a way, the demolition of the stock exchange building was the wake-up call that led to the preservation of so many historic buildings in Chicago since then.  Unfortunately, the only part of the stock exchange building that remains is the entrance arch, which stands behind the Art Institute.  They erected the arch in the park in 1977 and I think I discovered that it was there not too long after that.  The home of the Goodman Theatre used operate out of a theater on the Art Institute grounds and my mom and the cousin we used to visit in Florida took my first cousins once removed and me to a Children’s Theater play there in what would have been 1978.  On the way out of the theater, I saw the arch and, much to my mother’s confusion, it was love at first sight.

Near as I can tell, Grant Park is wheelchair accessible.  Frequently, the website for a place will come right out and say it, but I can’t find anything definitive.  Millennium Park’s website says that it is; Grant Park’s not so much. However, it’s Chicago, so the ground is level.  I seem to recall some stairs, maybe at Congress Plaza, and I’m almost certain that there are stairs leading up to the Lincoln statue, and I don’t know if there are ramps there.  The intersections all have curb cuts, from what I can see on Google Maps.

Technically, I guess, I should be profiling Grant Park first, since Grant Park is older, and larger, and more important to the city’s history.  But I’ve been researching Millennium Park recently, so I’m going to profile it first while it’s fresh in my mind.

When Millennium Park first debuted, I had been in San Antonio for more than a decade.  All of the reporting on it was of the same vein as the official city website’s statement, You might never guess that Millennium Park, recipient of the 2009 Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence, was once an industrial wasteland.  I am well aware that human memory is flawed, but for the life of me, all that I could remember on the site was a grassy area with a colonnade and a row of trees backed by a low wall with some kind of decorative columns on top.  Despite articles praising Millennium Park for saving us from unsightly boxcars, I couldn’t remember a single dam boxcar. Additionally, several articles talked about the new colonnade that was in the park, and as I said before, I distinctly remember a colonnade on the corner of Michigan and Randolph.

Finally after one too many articles, I finally went digging through old photographs and realized that the boxcars that people were worrying about were there, but they were below grade, meaning that if you weren’t looking at them from above, you can’t see them.  And I wasn’t in the habit of looking out of really high-up windows down at the street level in that direction in that area.  From the Sears Tower, yes.  From the seventh floor of Marshall Field’s, sure.  From the third floor of the Chicago Cultural Center towards Washington Street, even. But I’m hard-pressed to remember a time when I was in the buildings that front on that area (including the Prudential Buildings, the AON tower, or anything of that sort), and could see down into that ditch.

You see, most of downtown Chicago has been raised.  When Chicago was founded, the area which is now downtown was on more or less the same level as the lake, which meant that there was nowhere for the water to go, and the city was a swampy mess. In the 1800s, the city decided to put a system of drainage ditches where the current roads were, then build new roads on top of them.  Then they would raise the buildings to the new street level.  This new higher street level carries through all of the Loop, but farther north, you can still see some buildings that are at the original grade.  If you stand at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Illinois Street, you can see what I’m talking about because while I used the term “intersection,” the streets don’t actually intersect.  Illinois Street is a good ten feet or so below the level of Michigan Avenue.

So now we’re going to leave this and come at it from another direction. Chicago’s location on Lake Michigan is in large part why it became the major city that it is. Ships would come up the St. Lawrence and through the Great Lakes to Lake Michigan, then would load or unload cargo, or both, then go back out.  Because the cargo needed to get to and from the ships, Chicago became (and still is) a major railroad hub. Because of this, there are rail lines and even rail yards in the downtown area. I’m trying to find the article I read where they talked about how the tracks that are meant by the words “industrial wasteland” above, property of the Illinois Central Railroad, were inviolable.

Those tracks, as well as a parking lot, are still there under the park. The city got airspace rights to the area over the railroad tracks and parking lot, and constructed the park there at current street level.

Millennium Park is likely best known for its artwork.  The two most notable pieces are the Cloud Gate, which is a large bean-shaped sculpture made of reflective plates of stainless steel and the Crown Fountain, which is a black granite area that has two gigantic glass screens, one at either end.  The screens show photographs of the faces of Chicagoans.  The faces smile and things, and then mouths of the faces pucker and water emerges in a, well, fountain from the center, making it look as though the water is coming from the mouths. While it was not part of the intended function of the fountain, the Crown Fountain has become a sort of water park, with people (generally, but not exclusively, children) standing under the stream and playing in the basin.

Millennium Park also has the five-acre Lurie Garden, a new colonnade which surrounds yet another fountain, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion (a concert and event venue), the BP Pedestrian bridge and an outdoor public skating rink, all within a 24.5-acre space.  The City of Chicago website says that all of the amenities of Millennium Park were designed to be handicap accessible.

No, this is not a hint.  I actually already have one of these and am seriously considering the other.  I am also not making a single penny from any sales that come from these links.  These are literally two of the neatest travel-related posters I have seen in 2015 and I want to tell people about them.

Though if either creator would offer me a commission, I don’t think that I’d be averse to accepting it.

Central Park Entire, the Definitive Poster Map is the one that I already have. It is, however, still in its tube. I unrolled it just long enough to admire its beauty and realize that I don’t have the foggiest idea where I will hang it. At 59 inches long, the poster is nearly as long as I am tall, and the ceilings in my house are not so high that I can keep my cats and dog from making it smell like them, if they choose to do so. I am considering having it professionally laminated, then if anyone rubs on it, I can wipe the oil off.

The poster is beautiful, with water features, structures, bridges, and every tree in the park marked on it (that’s over 19,000 trees).  If you need, for some reason, to know where the Turkish filbert tree is, this map will show you. There is also a folding version available for much less than the cost of the poster version.  I haven’t bitten yet on that version (though I may buy it before Alex and my next trip, which may be in 2017, depending on how finances go).

The second poster, Subway Systems at the Same Scale, is just what it says on the tin — the 140 largest subway systems in the world all on one map. These are not the transit maps — the ones that are not to scale and have all of the color-coding. These are pictures of where the actual train lines run, so straight lines are few and far between.  As a result, this poster is not as pretty as Central Park Entire, but it does look interesting.

Neil Freeman, the creator of Subway Systems at the Same Scale has more geographical posters, including Street Chains, which lays the streets of cities end-to-end alphabetically. It looks like these are only named, and not numbered, streets, because the far left edge of the Chicago one sure looks more like the half-block-long Abbot Avenue than all of the east/west expanse of 9th through 138th Streets.

The Field Museum of Natural History has always been my favorite museum.  Some of my earliest memories are of the exhibits, and I swear that I had a dream about the Field Museum in which the artifacts were hung on pegboard hooks, like merchandise in a store, when I was very little.

First, a little (very little!) history.  The Field Museum of Natural History was a sort of outgrowth of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The area which is now Jackson Park was the fairgrounds, and some of the prominent citizens of Chicago decided that this would be a good opportunity to start a hopefully someday-world-class museum. The original museum was called the Columbian Museum of Chicago, but they changed it to Field Columbian Museum a year later and then, still later, to the Field Museum of Natural History.  The original displays were in one of the few permanent buildings constructed for the Exposition, the Palace of Fine Arts (which is now the Museum of Science and Industry). Construction on the current building took about three and a half years, from September 1917 to early 1921. The museum’s grand opening at its current home was on May 2, 1921.  Also, apparently they changed the name from Field Museum of Natural History to Chicago Museum of Natural History for nearly 20 years.  I had no idea that the name had been changed like that, so I guess you really do learn something new every day.

When you first enter the museum through the monumental entrance, you arrive in Stanley Field Hall, a vast, open two-story marble space that serves to set the tone for the museum.  In my childhood, there were fountains at either end, and a cast of what used to be identified as an Albertosaurus, but which is apparently now identified as a Daspletosaurus (that’s a new one on me!).  The Daspletosaurus used to be mounted in a very stiff, unnatural position, like it just noticed you taking his picture and being photographed makes it anxious. The bones of another animal lie at its feet.  They have since removed the fountains and the Daspletosaurus has since been remounted in a more natural position and is now in the Dinosaur Hall in the Evolving Earth display (more on that later). The reigning dinosaur in Stanley Field Hall is now Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex. Sue, being one of the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons ever found, is mostly real bones.  Her head, however, was crushed, and is too heavy to mount besides, so they created an uncrushed cast and mounted it.

You can see Stanley Field Hall more or less as it looked in my childhood in the movie “The Relic.”  The book that “The Relic” is based on was set in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, so the rest of the interior shots were filmed in a studio, back before the American Museum of Natural History refused to let them film any scenes inside the museum.  Fortunately, the Field Museum was fine with using their museum, so the exterior shots are of the Field Museum and the scenes in Stanley Field Hall were filmed there, but the rest of the interior scenes look like the American Museum of Natural History.

Much of the rest of Stanley Field Hall is the same as it was in my childhood.  I cannot remember if the Brachiosaurus was in Stanley Field Hall during my childhood or if I am remembering other people’s photos of the room. Looking around it looks like I missed it entirely. It looks like they got the Brachiosaurus in 1994 and then had to remove it to make room for Sue.  The original bones are in the back room and a cast of the fossil Brachiosaurus is now outdoors at the northwest corner of the museum.

One side of the rest of the main floor is taxidermied animals, from birds to mammals to sea creatures.  The other side is primarily dedicated to displays about Native Americans.  One little section is the upstairs of the Ancient Egypt display.

The basement, or “ground floor” as they call it on the map, used to be Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Roman and Etruscan artifacts, with a McDonald’s and some dioramas of prehistoric people.  The original dioramas have since been determined to be historically inaccurate and been replaced by better researched dioramas of other prehistoric people.  This was one of my favorite places in the museum, and not for the McDonald’s.  I love learning about the ancient world, and Ancient Egypt has always been one of my favorites. I wouldn’t go back to then on a bet — I like antibiotics and anesthetics and being able to make my own decisions about my body and my life, despite being female.

There is the tomb of Unis-Ankh, the son of a lesser-known pharaoh on display in the museum. My mom and I used to disagree on whether it was a genuine tomb or not. The Field Museum website says, “The reconstruction is based around original pieces of the tomb, creating two authentic chamber rooms dating back to 2400 BC. “ So it’s possible that we were both right — parts of the rooms are genuine, but the rooms themselves are recreations.  Also, in the basement, is a sort of mini-recreation of the Nile, and visitors can try using a shaduf, which is a bucket on a pole on a fulcrum, to remove water from the “river” and other activities.

The Ancient Egypt section seems to be right where I left it, but it looks like the Roman and Etruscan area has been been replaced by an exhibit called “the Underground World,” and the McDonald’s is now the Explorer Cafe.  I glanced at the Explorer Cafe menu and at first I was all, “Pizza and chicken fingers.  Blech.” But when I look farther, I see more variety including salads (they have a Mediterranean salad that sounds pretty good — what’s not to like about kalamata olives and feta cheese?), a third-pound burger, and an Italian beef sandwich.  So that seems promising.

Upstairs is the Plants of the World display, the museum’s collections of artifacts from Asia, the Hall of Gems the Hall of Jades, and my other favorite place in the museum, the Evolving Earth exhibit.  When I was a kid, there was no Evolving Earth display, just the Hall of Dinosaurs, a large sort of light-blue room filled with dinosaur skeletons. The largest of these is the Apatosaurus, which was known as the Brontosaurus for my early childhood, and which used to have the wrong head. When I was a young teenager, we went to the Field Museum after several years of not visiting and I took one look at it and said, “that’s not the same head.”  No one believed me, but, thanks to the magic of the Internet I have been able to determine that I was right.  They replaced the head, which had been from a Camarasaurus, with the correct one in the 1980s. Around the room, near the ceiling, were paintings of the evolution of the Earth, with particular focus on the dinosaurs, done by Charles R. Knight (Knight’s paintings were done when Apatosaurus had the wrong head, so it doesn’t look like the fossil on display now).  I’ve always loved those paintings, and was surprised to find that, like another one of my favorite artists, Claude Monet, Knight had limited vision. While Monet lost his vision gradually over his life, Knight was legally blind from a young age and used special glasses to see well enough to paint.

The “Hall of Dinosaurs” is much diminished from what it used to be, though they still have the same dinosaurs.  The room is about one-third the size, which necessitated putting them at different heights and linking them with ramps.

In my childhood there was a whole room devoted to meteorites, including one that fell in Illinois and passed through the roof of someone’s car.  The section of car was on display as well, if I recall.  That room is gone now, as well.  I can find some evidence that they are working on some kind of fossil meteorite exhibit, but it does not show on the map that one can download from the Field Museum website.

The Field Museum is wheelchair accessible and there is handicapped parking available in the lot closest to the museum.  If one is comfortable on public transportation, the Museum Campus stop of the Metra Electric line is handicap accessible, two bus lines have stops at the museum and it looks like the Red Line train stop at Roosevelt Road is also handicap accessible. It looks as though the East Entrance is the handicap accessible one. Getting to the East Entrance from public transportation may take some effort, since the Metra stop is several blocks away (Google Maps sends you down to 14th street and back up for some unknown reason), and I think the buses let out at the South Entrance, so plan accordingly.

I can find references to the Roman and Etruscan artifacts on the website, but cannot find it on the map for the life of me.  I may have to call the museum to ask whether they have been retired to the back room or if they are on display somewhere and I just don’t see it on the map.

I know that’s not much of a subject line, but I’m not sure what else to call this post.

I grew up in the Chicago area, so I was surrounded by public transportation, trains in particular, growing up.  Chicago has what was originally a lot of different commuter rail lines.  In 1974, these different lines joined into the Regional Transportation Authority (“RTA”).  In 1984, the RTA was put under the control of the Commuter Rail Service Board, which was rebranded as “the Metropolitan Rail Corporation” (“Metra” for short).  For just about as long as I can remember, every time my mom and I went into the city together, we took the train.  It took longer for this to catch on with my dad, who drove on all of our trips into the city until I was a teenager.

Once I reached adulthood, the only time I drove into the city was when I had to go someplace that required a car either before or directly afterwards.  And since I worked in the city five days a week for two years, that’s a lot of train trips.

And yet, I have not tired of it yet.  I know people who feel that a car gives them some kind of freedom, but that has never made sense to me, except when it comes to places that are “car dependent,” like my neighborhood in San Antonio.  Being trapped behind the wheel of a car, unable to get anything else done, or even really enjoy the place I am in because I’m too busy watching my speed and where I’m going, has never really felt like freedom to me.  Being stuck in traffic has definitely never felt like freedom to me.

The first time my family and I took public transportation on a vacation was probably our trip to Washington DC.  We stayed in the suburbs and took the Metro into the city proper to do our sightseeing.  The next year, we followed that up with the Metro of Montreal, Canada, and then eight years after that, we went to New York City, though we only took the bus once or twice on that trip.  All of our other trips were to car-dependent places, and so that was the total of our public transportation travel during the years before my marriage.

My now-ex-inlaws were not big on public transportation; they drove into the city every time they went (which, if I recall, was not nearly as often as my family and I went). My now-ex was dubious at first, but soon saw how much more convenient the train was when it came to going into the city.  When traveling, however, we still rented a car on most trips even if public transportation was plentiful at our destination.  The only trip I can recall where we did not rent a car was our long weekend in Toronto.  We took a shuttle between the airport and the hotel and got around on our feet or by trolley (and, on one occasion, by subway) the rest of the time.

Our 2002 trip to the UK was both a rental car trip and a public transportation trip.  We used a rental car for the first week and a half of the trip, but when we arrived in London, we parked the car and just left it in the garage until we were ready to go back to the airport.  While we were in London, we took the London Underground anywhere that was too far to walk and then we took a day trip to Paris on the Eurostar train through the Chunnel.

Once my now-ex and I split up, my son and I started planning trips.  Together, my son and I have taken Metra in Chicago, the Metro in Washington DC, four different kinds of trains in Italy, and Amtrak between, and the subways of, both New York City and Philadelphia.  For our Italy and New York/Philadelphia trips, we didn’t even rent a car at all.

I will, of course, go into more detail on the systems we traveled on (to the extent I remember the Montreal Metro; fortunately, I have done most of the rest of it (sometimes again) as an adult and can remember the others better) in future posts.  This is just, on some level, me trying to remember all of the different transportation systems I have used in my life so that they are fresher in my mind when I get to those trips under My Travel Memories.  At the rate I am going, I may well end up recapping my 2014 rail experiences in Italy and then following up almost immediately with recaps of my 2017 experiences with rail travel in Germany.

This was originally scheduled to be posted on Independence Day of 2015, only I was just getting the hang of writing posts and scheduling them for later, so I accidentally posted it on June 22.  I’ve triple-checked and made sure that my attempt to pre-schedule this post worked.  I’m typing this paragraph on July 10, 2015, but if all goes as planned, it should post on July 20, 2015.


I figured I would start the Northern Illinois Destinations posts with one of my family’s Fourth of July traditions, the Taste of Chicago Festival in Grant Park, Chicago.  I cannot remember specifically what year we started going to Taste of Chicago.  The festival started in 1980, so it certainly couldn’t have been any earlier than that.  We started bringing the man who eventually became my husband, and then, years later, my ex-husband, in 1989 or so, so it must have been earlier than that.  For the record, the Taste of Chicago is no longer held on the Fourth of July weekend.  The last Fourth of July Taste of Chicago apparently was in 2011.  In 2015, the Taste of Chicago will be held July 8 through 15.

My parents and I had a traditional pattern for doing the Taste.  We would walk the entire thing once to get the lay of the land, then we would buy our tickets and make another pass and buy our food.  We traditionally got ribs, chicken wings, Chicago style hot dogs (though I cannot digest onions so I would scrape mine off), turtle soup (from the now-defunct Binyon’s.  Frankly, the turtle was sort of optional — most people ate the turtle soup for the sherry), and chocolate-covered strawberries.  Whatever else we bought would vary based on what was available that year.

I went back with my now-ex a few times after we moved to Texas and my parents retired to Florida.  We didn’t have the specific routine that my folks and I did.  Then, after my ex and I split up, my son and I made a return visit in 2010.

The food is not the only reason to go to Taste of Chicago.  No, I’m not talking about beer, though if that’s your thing, have at it (I don’t drink, myself.  I come from a family of alcoholics and my distaste for the flavor of alcohol is not worth attempting to get over if that is the fate that would lie ahead of me).  I’m talking about two other things:  the music and the people-watching.  There is usually a big headliner act in the band shell at night.  One year the act was Chicago and I made my folks hang around the park for a few extra minutes just so that I could catch part of the concert.  There are also smaller stages that have musicians  throughout the day.

If you ever plan to attend Taste of Chicago, remember that it may be, as the saying goes, “cooler by the lake,” but it’s not necessarily that much cooler.  Plan for it to be about the same temperature downtown as it is wherever your hotel/host/home is and dress accordingly.  Some years the temperature was a balmy 80 degrees Fahrenheit or so.  Other years, it has been in the high 90s.

(originally posted on June 22, 2015)