The Big Onion - Chicago

The annual IgoUgo Get-Together was held in Chicago, which has been called the "Second City" and the "Windy City." Here is the rub on the sights and sounds of Chicago through the eyes of a transplanted Idaho bumpkin.

The Big Onion - Chicago

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Wildcat Dianne on October 25, 2006

Agriculture seems to have a lot to do with the history of Chicago. In 1769, French explorers discovered this alcove along the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, and named it after the local Native American term for "wild" or "stinky onion," Chicago. In 1871, the legend blaming Mrs. O'Leary's cow for the huge fire that destroyed three square miles of the city and changed the way things were built in the Second City and eventually the skyline that is always changing in the "Windy City." It is ironic that the sight of the O'Leary farm is now the training grounds for the Chicago Fire Department!

Then for sport fans, there is that pesky Billy Goat who wasn't allowed into the Billy Goat Tavern in Wrigleyville by the owner. The goat's master wasn't happy that he couldn't share a cold one with his beloved pet and put a curse on the bar and the Chicago Cubs. Since 1908, the lovable losers known as the Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series and have not appeared in a series since 1945.

But Chicago has a lot more to offer than livestock and sports. I spent three of my five days exploring the Windy City, and these will be mentioned in this journal. The organizers of the 2006 IgoUgo Get Together kept us busy at A Get Together at Cubby Bears, The Chicago Architecture River Cruise, the Sears Tower, which is the 4th tallest building in the world, and the Field Museum, where one can visit Old Sue, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, or walk like an Egyptian through the King Tut Exhibit, or learn about Native American History in that named exhibit. Chicago has a lot to offer, but you can't see it all in three days.

I was pretty intimidated by the hugeness of Chicago since I live in a small city in southern Idaho, but I made the best of it for the three days I visited. ${QuickSuggestions} Chicago is a walkers' city, so wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to pound the pavement during your visit. I walked so much around downtown Chicago that I came home four pounds lighter than when I left. I would advise you to eat heartily because you will burn the calories off big time.

Chicago hotels can be really expensive, and it's a crap shoot if you are going to get a nice hotel or a dive. So, I would advise one to stay in the suburbs that are easily accessible by the El Train or taxi cab. I stayed in Oak Park, an old suburb about 9 miles from the heart of Chicago. My hotel was less money than if I stayed in the city, and it was quiet and easily accessible to Chicago and O'Hare Airport.

The local folks are good for information on where to eat and what to see in Chicago, but before you go, you can research information on Chicago through Yahoo! or other popular websites. For you bookworms, Frommer's Chicago and Rough Guides: Chicago are great sources for planning your trip. ${BestWay} Chicago has many great ways for getting around. The most popular and cheapest way to get around is by the El Train, the above ground train system that gets you to and from your destinations fast and allows you to see the sights of Chicago and its environs. But some of the El stops are in old and broken down areas that house many industrial companies. It is also not advisable to take the El late at night because you go through some rough Chicago neighborhoods. The Metra is another good option but a little more expensive.

So that leads me to the taxi cab. This service gets you door to door, but they can run through your travel budget faster than Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins did against the Red Sox this baseball season. Also some of the cab drivers treat Chicago's streets like their own Indy 500, and you can be gripping your seats for dear life praying that you get out of that cab alive.

My favorite mode of transport in Chicago was walking. You get great exercise, and it's safer, but one can get a stiff neck from looking up at all of those skyscrapers!

The Chicago Architecture River Cruise

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Wildcat Dianne on October 31, 2006

If you are new to Chicago, the best way to get your feet wet with the sights and sounds of the Windy City is to take a Chicago Architecture River Cruise, with a choice of several boat companies located at Navy Pier on the Chicago River.

IgoUgo arranged for us members to take a late-morning cruise along the Chicago River to see the many buildings and learn about the history of the Second City.

Upon arrival at the boat, we were greeted by the editors and other members who arrived before we did. Before boarding the boat, we had to pose for a picture with the boat company. These were on sale for a ridiculous amount after the completion of the cruise—not worth the price of real estate in my book.

After getting settled on board in the outdoor seating, we were greeted by our guide, Kevin, who was very informative and enthusiastic about the history of Chicago. There was so much information to soak up that I thought I would lose most of it in my head afterwards, but I didn't.

We passed several of Chicago's famous buildings, including The Mercantile Building, a huge building built in the early 20th century and owned by the Kennedy Family until 1998, when it was sold for a billion dollars. Other buildings on our route were the The Chicago Tribune Tower(1923-25), the neo-Gothic newspaper building that is still in existence today. We also passed the Sears Tower(more on that in another review) and several of Chicago's old and new skyscrapers, dating from as early as 1913. After the 1871 Fire, Chicago passed a law that made it mandatory that all buildings had to be built from stone and metal and not wood.

Kevin also mentioned that Chicago had floods a few years ago when city workers noticed some damage in the old pipes under the city and failed to report them. What then happened was major flooding that estimated in the millions and many heads rolled as consequences afterwards.

We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day for the cruise. It was sunny and a little breezy, but that didn't affect me at all. It was nice to sit on the benches, take pictures, and enjoy the history of Chicago. A breeze did kick in near the end of the cruise, but my sweater protected me nicely.

The cruise lasted about 90 minutes, and many of us were sad to see it end. If you are interested in taking a cruise about Chicago, they last from May to October and cost about $20 per person or less for children and seniors. Dress warmly and bring your camera and tons of film.

The Chicago Architecture River Cruise/Chicago's First Lady
The Chicago River
Chicago, IL, 60067

The Sears Tower

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Wildcat Dianne on November 24, 2006

After a nice cruise on the Chicago River followed by lunch in the Navy Pier, the gang from IgoUgo and I made our way to our next stop: The Sears Tower. We thought of taking a water taxi to save time to get to the tower, but when we got to the dock, we found out that the water taxis only ran from May to September. Oh well, didn't we need to burn off lunch anyway?!

The Sears Tower was once the tallest building in the world. Plans for the building started in 1969 when two Chicago architects were having lunch, and one of them pulled out a pack of cigarettes and put five of them in his fist in varying heights above his thumb. That was the design for the Sears Tower, 5 towers of varying heights and floor levels. Construction of the Sears Tower officially began in 1970 and took three long years to complete. The doors finally opened in 1973, and the Sears Tower was a place for many businesses to have their main offices and for tourists to see the sights of Chicago from the top of the building.

In the late 20th Century, The Sears Tower lost its #1 tallest building status to the Petronus Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In order to win back the title, the new owners of the Sear's Tower built a 22-foot antenna, but it was to no avail, and today, the Sears Tower is the 4th tallest building in the world.

All of this information was included in a short History Channel video that was shown to us before ascending the tower. Watching the scenes of the construction was enough to give me a case of acrophobia (fear of heights), and these are the dreams we fear in our sleep!

After the video, we went up to the 103rd floor, which was crowded with families and groups of students. My ears started to pop going up, and I pulled gum out of my purse to stop the pain. We had to plow through them to the windows to see some spectacular views of Chicago and its environs. It was nice to see, but I wasn't that impressed and agreed with some of the tourist books about the Sears Tower being overrated. My friend Leslie and I agreed that "it was just a building."

The Sears Tower is open from 10am to 10pm during the summer and from 10am to 8pm in the off season and costs $12 to go up to the top, but there are deals for seniors and children.

Willis Tower (Sears Tower)
233 South Wacker Drive
Chicago, 60606-8615
(312) 875-9447

The Field Museum of Natural History

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Wildcat Dianne on November 24, 2006

A beautiful Saturday morning saw the group and I at the Field Museum of Natural History. Designed in the classical style of architecture, this huge museum is the home of many archaeological and historical exhibits dating from prehistoric times. The main reason we came to the Field Museum was to see the King Tut Exhibit that was on display in the museum's lower level. Of course, the place was crowded as hell, and we had to fight more crowds to get to see what we came for. But first, we were herded into a film room to see another History Channel documentary on King Tut that was narrated by "Dr. Zhivago" himself, Omar Sharif. He can leave his shoes under my bed anytime!

After the film, we were herded into the exhibit itself. No photography was allowed, so the cameras had to go away for the time being. The exhibit showed many artifacts dating from King Tut's time and gave detailed facts of their use. Most of the exhibits were found in the early 20th Century in King Tut's tomb by archaeologists and were sent to museums all over the world. There was a tomb in the exhibit, but it was of one of Tut's relatives. Most of us were disappointed that it wasn't the tomb of Tut himself.

The exhibit was too crowded with people listening to audio tapes of the exhibits, and it was hard for speed readers like me or others to maneuver through the exhibit. Since Ancient Egypt isn't my cup of tea, I made my way quickly through the exhibit and went and took a break outside afterwards.

After the Tut exhibit, some of us made our way to the Native American Exhibit. Now we're talking my style! I was very impressed with the exhibits of clothing, utensils, and other things used by several Native American tribes before and after the white man's invasion. There wasn't much on Idaho tribes, but there were plenty of exhibits featuring the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes of the Great Plains, and I really enjoyed the model of the Native camp in one of the rooms.

The Field Museum is open daily from 9am to 5pm and admissions go from $12 for adults and $7 for kids and seniors. There are special exhibits through the year along with free admission days. The King Tut Exhibit was a big disappointment, but don't miss the Native American Exhibit!

Field Museum
1400 South Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois, 60605
(312) 922-9410

The Get-Together at Cubby Bear's and Wrigley Field

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Wildcat Dianne on October 31, 2006

The first night of the 2006 IgoUgo Get-Together was held at Cubby Bear's, a bar located in the historic Wrigleyville District in Chicago's North Side. Cubby Bear's is located across the street from historic Wrigley Field, home of those "Lovable Losers," the Chicago Cubs.

On the cab ride into Wrigleyville from Oak Park, I saw Wrigley Field in its glory across the road in lights. Darn! I wish that the get-together was in August or September, so I could have caught a game there. My sister and brother-in-law caught a game at Wrigley Field in 2001 between the Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers. Mom, Dad, and I were home in Donnelly and would get updates on ESPN and a chance to catch Erika and Todd in the stands. No dice there, but Erika did call from Wrigley Field to say hi and let us know that they were having fun. We could hear the public-address system in the background and envied Erika and Todd for being there.

Wrigley Field is the second oldest baseball stadium in the USA, next to Boston's Fenway Park. Built in 1919, it was owned by the Wrigley family, those of the famous chewing gum and newspaper publication family. Since 1919, Wrigley Field has been the scene of many a Cubs' heartbreak. The most recent heartbreak was in 2003, when the Cubs made the National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins. The Cubs had a chance to make their first World Series since 1945, but a foul ball that could have been caught by the Cubs' Left Fielder Moises Alou was grabbed by an overeager fan, and it was curtains for the Cubs and tears for the fans. Most of us Red Sox fans can sympathise with the Cubs and their fans, because that year, we lost to the dreaded "Evil Empire," the New York Yankees, in the bottom of the 9th inning on a home run by Aaron Boone off Tim Wakefield. Until 2004, the Red Sox, White Sox, and Cubs had the longest period between World Championships. The Red Sox's curse ended in 2004, the White Sox in 2005, but the poor Cubbies have still to make the show and win their first World Championship in 98 years.

I stopped drooling at Wrigley Field to go inside Cubby Bear's, which is a local hangout for the college crowd and other residents of Wrigleyville. There are weekly concerts there, and the bar is split into the main bar and a smaller bar, where the get-together was held. IgoUgo members were greeted at the door by members of the editorial staff and given name tags, along with souvenir T-shirts and tote bags. Umbrellas were also available, but I didn't think it would fit into my suitcase.

It was great seeing members from the get together in Vancouver like zabelle, travelprone and her son Mark, and others, and it was great to meet new friends and members, like Ed Hahn. Most of the time was spent eating from the buffet and catching up with old friends. Zabelle and other members gave little speeches, and I enjoyed the ambience of Cubby Bear's. The bar we were in had shirts of many of the Cubs greats, such as Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, and the baseball playoffs were on the big-screen TV.

The party broke up at about 9:30pm, but we met up again the next few days to sightsee and for other adventures.

Cubby Bears is free to enter except on concert nights. Then it's about a $5 to $10 cover charge to get in. They have a good selection of beers and other drinks and is a good place to meet the locals.

Wrigley Field is across the road on Addison, and it is advised to buy tickets to the games early, because they can sell out fast, even if the Cubs are in last place. Bleacher seats are the least expensive way to get the Cubs experience.

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