That Toddlin’ Town (Part 1 of 4)

Backtracking a bit to the last of our summer vacations . . .

We had four quick days at home to do laundry and pack again. Then it was off to Chicago for another fun week of travel. Why the Windy City? Because WineGuy found really cheap fares on direct flights to Midway. We like to take the kids to big cities to teach them some street smarts, show them some real culture, and expose them to a lot of ethnic diversity.

Chicago, Chicago that toddling town
Chicago, Chicago I will show you around – I love it
Bet your bottom dollar you lose the blues in Chicago, Chicago
The town that Billy Sunday couldn’t shut down.
˜Fred Fisher (1922)

We arrived at Midway in the mid-afternoon and shlepped our luggage all the way over to the El station. We purchased our 7-day RTA passes and climbed aboard the orange line to the Loop. Reading the Chicago forum on Tripadvisor.com really paid off because the local experts recommended switching trains at a different station than the RTA website. As a result, we had an easy transition from the orange line to the red line via elevators; no stairs to contend with with three kids each pulling a rolling suitcase. When we got to the Grand St. station, there was no elevator to street level, so it was a challenge to pull Moose’s suitcase — and Moose — up two flights of stairs. I huffed and puffed my way up, dropping my carryon bag in the process. In retrospect, this foreshadowed things to come that week; however, Wizard ran back down and retrieved my bag for me. Once on street level, it was a short one-block walk to the Embassy Suites, 600 Grand St. N. This hotel was in a terrific location for sightseeing, walking, and access to public transportation; another shout-out to the Chicago Local Experts for Tripadvisor.com for the great recommendation. It was worth the price.

By the time we unpacked that first day, it was nearly time for dinner. Like any true foodies, we hiked over to a famous celebrity chef’s restaurant and waited in line for the place to open. Our experience at Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill that night killed our interest in dining with the star chefs. We didn’t mind waiting some 40+ minutes in line to be the first ones seated. We did mind being shoved into a corner and largely overlooked by our stupid server. The menu was overly ambitious, not authentic at all, and just the slightest bit pretentious. The chef’s attitude was clearly reflected in our server’s condescending and patronizing demeanor. Normally, this would not bother me, except it was clear the waitress knew nothing about food other than what she memorized about the menu. Overall, the food was mediocre; the service was poor; the kitchen was slow. When my own children loudly proclaimed, “Mom, your guacamole is way better than this green crap,” we had to get out of there!

Our first full day in Chicago was a really full day. We strolled three blocks over to Michigan Avenue and took the bus down to the Field Museum of Natural History. The Field Museum was one of the finest natural history museums we’ve ever visited. Even though there were a lot of people there that day, the building was light and airy; the exhibits were not crowded. There were plenty of interesting things for the boys to see and explore. Mostly, they wanted to see Sue, the T-rex.

A T-Rex Named Sue

Wizard has been anxious to see this dinosaur skeleton since he was in preschool; he loved dinosaurs back then and still knows a lot about them. It was incredible walking around this fine old specimen. What was more amazing was learning that the skeleton’s skull, as displayed on the main level, is a fiberglass casting of the real one found on the third floor. The original skull weighs one ton and is too heavy to be mounted on the skeleton. We also wandered through the Ancient Egypt exhibit and talked about mummies, sarcophagi, and hieroglyphics. Wild Thing and Moose particularly enjoyed exploring the out-sized roots and grubs in the Underground Adventure. We all were impressed with Bushman, the stuffed gorilla from the Lincoln Park Zoo. WineGuy and I loved the Hall of Jades, but I was disappointed with the Grainger Hall of Gems. You see, I was raised in the jewelry business . . . fourth generation. I know my diamonds and colored stones, and I was unhappy to see so much “paste,” i.e. reproduction gems, in the museum’s collection. Oh well. No trip to the Field Museum would be complete without a visit to their amazing museum store. WineGuy declared it the best museum store he’s seen, and I agree. Everybody got souvenirs from here.

We naturally migrated from earth to sea, as the Field Museum is across the street from the Shedd Aquarium. The aquarium was quite awful: loud, crowded chaos. The exhibits of Midwestern freshwater fish held little appeal to kids whose backyard is in the Everglades and whose front yard is in the Gulf of Mexico. What does a rainbow trout have on a bottlenose dolphin? Not much, I tell ya. Speaking of dolphins, we crammed into the dolphin show along with a thousand other hapless tourists. Either we’re jaded, or the 30-minute display of jumping, twirling dolphins was a complete snore. The best part of the whole show was the three-story window wall that looked out on to Lake Michigan. However, Wizard did salvage the day by finding a great bargain in the aquarium store: a beaded angelfish sculpture was marked down to $20.00 from $35.00. By this time we’d had enough. We took a northbound bus back up Lakeshore Drive and Michigan Avenue and quickly hopped a crosstown bus to go to dinner at Lou Malnati’s.

deepdishpizza.jpgAh, Lou. He has the best deep-dish pizza in all of Chicagoland. I realize this is a chain much like Uno’s, but Lou’s pizza is superior. The crust was crispy on the outside and chewy inside. The toppings of sausage and veggies were a perfect foil to the almost sweet creaminess of the mozzarella cheese. The portions were enormous! Prices were very reasonable here; it was great value for the dollar. Footweary and stuffed to the gill, we trudged back to the hotel for some well-deserved rest.

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2 thoughts on “That Toddlin’ Town (Part 1 of 4)

  1. Sorry Frontera didn’t work out too well — last time I was there (that was before we all came to Ft. Myers so it’s been a bit) it was really great. And, at least at that time, they closed down the restaurant once a year to take the ENTIRE staff to Mexico.

    Glad you liked Sue (she’s great).

    I DO love the view from the Shedd.

    Lou’s has GREAT GREAT pizza — but as for the rest of the menu I haven’t found anything I like other than the pizza. Go figure. BUT if *I* were in the loop I’d go to Uno’s. Only because there’s a Lou’s here between my favorite bookstore and the library (so I go past there on a very regular basis).

    Back in the “old days,” when my favorite indy bookstore had signings and gave out tickets an hour before the signing (now they give out the tickets anytime after the signing is announced if you purchase a book) our tradition was to go get our number, then go to Lou’s for dinner, then head back to the bookstore.

  2. Chicago is one of my favorite cities. M went to grad school there. I’ve never heard of Lou’s and might have to try it the next time we’re out that way. We always favored Giordano’s pizza. Uno’s isn’t bad either, but Giordano’s will always have my vote.

    I agree with you about the Field Museum. The only one I’ve found to equal it is in London.

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