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Chicago: The Lows & The (Really, Really) Highs

So, I won’t lie, Chicago and I have not been friends in the past. My visits to Chicago have involved a bitterly cold and rushed one-day visit when I was 11, a trip to watch my then-boyfriend graduate from basic training in the Navy and meeting his parents for the first time (YIKES), and taking my first bar exam (double YIKES). Last February, the fourth time around, upon taking bar exam #2, I was determined to make some new (good) memories with Chicago.

While I was studying for the exam, my aunt (and travel companion) was looking up the best of Chicago. She was the one who suggested we get the CityPass, which I HIGHLY recommend. You definitely save quite a bit, plus you get faster admission to the featured destinations, which is a definite plus, as standing in lines gets old quickly.

While I would have preferred it be a LITTLE bit warmer while I was there, I realize it could have been way worse, and while it wasn’t 100% smooth sailing (see “Lows” ) I actually had a good time. So here’s a list of my “Lows” and “Highs” while in Chicago.

LOWS

1. My poor cab hailing abilities in a semi-blizzard

Cold, tired, hungry and ready to go home with no cabs to be had. Stranded in the middle of Greektown. A rush-hour snap blizzard. All those describe what was happening minutes after finishing the bar exam. It took nearly an hour and 45 minutes standing in the cold and wet trying to hail and trying to call a cab. I finally got one, but not without a meltdown on a poor University of Illinois Chicago employee whom I (in a torrent of tears) asked “How do you people live in Chicago?!”

2. Losing My Aunt in the Elevator of the Crowne Plaza Metro

Yes, I lost my aunt on the elevator. We were checking out of the Crowne Plaza (moving to Comfort Suites to be closer to all the sights), and I was helping my aunt unload our luggage from the elevator. I had just gotten my luggage and our groceries out of the elevator and had turned back to help my aunt move her luggage out when the doors shut in my face. All I could do was watch in horror as the little screen above the doors indicated that she was on floor 3…4…5…6…7…8…9…all the way up to the top. And this particular elevator could only be operated with a room key…which I had in my pocket–so basically my aunt was stuck until the car was called back to the lobby. Luckily, it wasn’t long before the car started descending and the doors opened and HOORAY, there was my aunt. It only took us about a minute before we started laughing about it and it quickly became one of the best stories about our trip.

3. Getting on the Wrong Bus and Ending Up Who Knows Where

On the way to Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) my aunt and I boarded bus 151–however this particular 151 was heading AWAY from the Willis Tower instead of towards it. Unfortunately, by the time I realized and was 100% sure of my mistake, we were in a portion of the city I did not feel comfortable standing in and waiting for another bus. So, after riding the bus all the way to the end of the line and being directed to another bus by the driver, we were finally heading in the right direction.

When I told my mom what had happened, she had the perfect response: “Well, you might as well see it all while you’re there.” Well said Mom, well said.

4. The “Vikings” Exhibit at the Field Museum

Nearly every bus stop boasted a sign advertising the new “Vikings” exhibit at the Field Museum–the posters were mainly closeups of grizzly looking men staring menacingly into the camera, trying to instill you with fear.

However, once inside the exhibit, the Vikings are made out to be dull, quiet and peaceful people, hunter-gatherers, as it were. While the jewelry on display was beautiful, the exhibit itself was, well, boring. I felt like that high-school student being made to read a book that had you yawning from the first page. There’s a lot of reading involved-it was more like reading pages of a book stuck on the walls. I felt like so much more could have been done with this exhibit–more interactive displays, live action short films…anything. It was definitely a disappointment. The moral of this story is to not believe everything you read on a bus stop advertisement.

HIGHS

1. The Hotel!

I cannot say enough for my hotel, Comfort Suites at 320 Michigan Ave. Previously, the nicest hotel I’d stayed at was the Radisson Blu in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This hotel, however, knocked that one right out of first place. First of all, it’s in a great location, just a short bus ride from anything, and really accessible. Add friendly and helpful staff to that mix and you made me a fan already.

Then there’s the ROOM (or should I say suite?) itself. Complete with a full kitchen (including a refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, microwave and toaster) plus a washer and dryer, I felt like I was in heaven. Additionally, you’ve got a great view–my room looked directly out onto the Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building, as well as the Chicago River.

Further, when you stay at Comfort Suites, you’ve got everything you could want: A giant breakfast that will keep you satisfied all day, complimentary coffee and tea in the lobby, as well as fast and friendly service.

If you’re going to staying in Chicago, PLEASE stay here, it’s a wonderful place. It made me believe that Chicago and I could be friends after all.

2. Shedd Aquarium

I’m a huge fan of aquariums and Shedd does not disappoint. There’s a variety of aquatic wildlife on display here, including dolphins, beluga whales and monkeys.

I especially liked this alligator I snapped a photo of him as he was waiting out the crowds. He was definitely one of my favorites. (See below).

In addition to the alligator, of course I loved the turtles…of which there were many–from the very moderate sized to the GIANT. The dolphin and beluga exhibit is a really neat sight to see, but you should make sure you get there around a feeding time, as that’s optimal viewing time. Otherwise they don’t come up to the surface very often and you’ll have to view them in the downstairs viewing part, which is not as cool as seeing them above water. I love the layout of the dolphin/beluga exhibit: looking directly out onto Lake Michigan, making it seem as if their habitat extends into the Great Lakes.

Further, this is a spot included on the CityPass, so you really have no choice not to get one and go!

3. The Ancient Egypt Exhibit at the Field Museum

After the Vikings Exhibit proved a disappointment, I was somewhat apprehensive about the Ancient Egypt Exhibit, but I didn’t need to be, because it was awesome. Even if you’re not into mummies and hieroglyphics and the like, it’s still a worthwhile experience.

First of all, you’re given the real almost Indiana Jones-like treatment by literally descending into a tomb via a spiral staircase and end up in a cool and dim crypt. Then you get to behold mummies of all shapes, sizes, castes, and (how shall I say it?) un-mummification. Wander in awe through all the various displays, showcasing different examples of the evolution of mummification and decoration. It never ceases to amaze me how wonderfully preserved these people are, hundreds–thousands of years after their deaths and yet they are still HERE. It’s just such an interesting concept.

Also, there’s a small shrine dedicated to the Egyptian cat goddess, Bastet, whom I posed with on my visit. This exhibit was definitely NOT a disappointment. My aunt and I both agreed this was the best part of the museum. So, skip the Vikings and head over to the Egyptians!

4. SkyDeck Chicago

Last, but definitely NOT least, was SkyDeck Chicago. Located on the 103rd floor of Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), SkyDeck is one of those experiences you can’t get anywhere else. I mean, where else can you walk out 103 floors above the streets of a city and see for miles?

In several cantilevered glass boxes high above the Chicago streets you can see the city laid out in all its glory. I have to admit, I had some trepidation initially stepping out onto these little glass rooms, but soon the awe overtakes the fear. I recommend taking tons of selfies. The one shown above I took while lying down at the edge. I think I even saw one girl doing a handstand inside (or at least attempting to do one).

Of all the attractions I’ve visited and experiences I’ve had in Chicago, the one above the city tops them all. There’s something about seeing the vastness of the city laid out beneath you that is really humbling, as well as exhilarating. And while I don’t relish another trip to Chicago, I’ve taken some really good memories away from that week…I’d say maybe Chicago and I have moved from being enemies to maybe the beginnings of a friendship. We’ll see…

 

P.S. If you are visiting Chicago, look out for the latest graduates of Great Lakes Naval Academy, you’ll be able to spot them because they’ll be in their dress uniforms (either their white or navy ones, depending on the season). Be sure and congratulate them, they worked hard getting through basic training to start defending the USA!!!


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