Written by callen60 on 21 Jan, 2007
Having spent the night an hour outside Chicago after outrunning the ice storm, we easily made it to the Field before the 9am opening. As we walked up the steps to the imposing entrance (think National Archives), flanked on each side by hundreds of yards…Read More
Having spent the night an hour outside Chicago after outrunning the ice storm, we easily made it to the Field before the 9am opening. As we walked up the steps to the imposing entrance (think National Archives), flanked on each side by hundreds of yards of columns, we passed family after family with young kids just leaving after spending a overnight of ‘Dozing with the Dinos’.I’d never made the connection before, but the ‘Field’ immortalized here is, of course, Marshall Field, founder of Chicago’s preeminent department store. Chicagoans are probably thrilled that, unlike his business, the museum still bears his name and not Macy’s, who probably engendered significant ill will by evicting Mr. Field’s name from all other locations in town. The collection housed here started with the natural history and ethnography artifacts collected for the Columbian Exposition of 1893, which also seemed obvious once I knew; Field was prevailed upon to finance a permanent home for the collection, a bequest for which generations of Chicagoans and, truly, the world can be grateful.Since admission was free that day, we sprang for tickets to ‘Underground Adventure.’ Those were discounted, too, so my three kids and I saw both the Museum and Adventure for $19 total (my above-ground-only spouse’s museum admission was free, too). We knew the Field’s enormous collection was too much for a half-day, so we quickly picked some highlights. Sue led the list, of course. The star of the Field now inhabits the west end of the central hall, a region that older visitors will recall as formerly occupied by the creature formerly known as Brontosaurus (now more accurately monikered as Apatosaurus and moved upstairs). While photographing the hall’s ceiling, ack! Dead battery! How did I forget about that?! Not even a picture of a Sue!
Stanley Field Hall at the Field MuseumSue seemed comfortable in her new surroundings, after spending 65 million years under a hillside in South Dakota. The largest and most complete T-Rex ever unearthed, she’s named after the amateur fossil hunter who discovered ‘her.’ The Field won the ensuing bidding war, acquiring her in 1997 for $8.4 million, and unveiling Sue in 2000. They’ve made the most of their acquisition, surrounding their diva with a variety of multimedia and standard displays in the gallery overlooking her at the hall’s south end. A series of Apple Cinema Displays show a good piece on how ideas about T-Rex have changed, ending with the tail-lifted (not dragging) posture assumed by Sue; and a second piece uses Sue to illustrate how science proceeds, emphasizing the difference between fact, theory and speculation. Sue’s actual five-foot-long, 600-pound head is here, too, being too heavy to display on the rest of her body (a lighter plaster cast fills that role). Among the examples of what we have learned from Sue is an admission of something we haven’t: although the fossil bears a female name, scientists have yet to find a way of determining the sex of any dinosaur. In the meantime, Sue it is.We continued around the corner to Evolving Planet, a huge display illustrating the development of life on earth with countless well-chosen examples from the Field’s collections, supplemented by new videos explaining the ideas of natural selection. This is excellently done, and takes an hour or more to do it justice. We made it to the sixth mass extinction before moving on. The real highlight is the Hall of Dinosaurs, where the demoted Apatosaurus now sits, along with dozens of phenomenal skeletons of Triceratops and others. It’s stunning to think that creatures this large walked the earth for 60 million years (their reign ended with Mass Extinction #4). If you race through to their large home, however, you’ll miss a lot.From there we headed to some Field classics: the nature dioramas that were revolutionary in their time, and have aged reasonably well, and the Egyptian tomb of Unis-ankh transported from the Valley of Kings and reinstalled here on three stories in the Museum’ southwest corner. This is as close as I expect I’ll ever get to Egypt, and the feeling in the dimly lit limestone passageways was awesomely realistic.After a snack, we finally entered ‘Underground Adventure,’ a "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" foray into a simulated soil, complete with three-foot earwigs, 12-inch seeds, and other subterranean creatures and inhabitants no one seemed too thrilled to see at that scale. I was underimpressed, and my kids found it a little hokey. The displays didn’t seem to capture anyone, although the more traditional installations after we’d been ‘expanded’ back to full size seemed more worthwhile. I’d pass if I were you.After acquiring Sue memorabilia in the large gift shop, we grabbed our coats from the coat check and headed down the promenade to the Shedd Aquarium, ready for more of the Natural World, and ready to return to the Field on our next visit to Chicago. Close
Written by zabelle on 31 Oct, 2006
Now, keep in mind that I come from a town of less than 10,000 people. Even though I am very comfortable in places like London and Paris, I am very nervous when attempting one of the large US cities. What amazed me about Chicago is…Read More
Now, keep in mind that I come from a town of less than 10,000 people. Even though I am very comfortable in places like London and Paris, I am very nervous when attempting one of the large US cities. What amazed me about Chicago is that even though it is obviously a large city, it didn’t intimidate me once I was there. What a great choice for our get-together.After having received an email from Dan asking me to be one of the speakers the first evening at Cubby Bear's, I had something else to worry about. I mulled over several possible topics to speak on, and finally, at the last minute, I decided to tell everyone how many mistakes we made on our first trip to Europe. Everyone seemed to be able to empathize with us as we stumbled from one blunder to the next. The fact that we are still traveling is a testament to our refusing to be defeated by our own stupidity.I had hoped to hook up with some of the other guides before we attempted the L ride to Cubby Bear's, but thanks to my handy laptop, we had a map with directions in hand as we headed out. Chicago has the best site for telling you exactly how to get from point A to point B and which form of public transportation to use. Even the country cousin could manage this. Cubby Bear's offered a great chance to reconnect with guides we have met before, Lorrie, Arlene and her son Mark, Brenda, Graham, Bill, Tony, and Dianne, and also some new friends, Carole, Natalie, Fleance, Ed, Paul, Sierra, and all the wonderful staff members who worked so hard to make our weekend so successful. And yes guys, I managed to get my super-sized umbrella home. We all sat around munching on snacks, sipping our drinks, and filling each other in on what we had been doing since the last get-together and where we had been traveling. It was great fun, and I think all of us were reluctant for the evening to end.Friday morning saw most of us gathered at the Navy Pier to begin our architectural tour. Kay joined us at this point after a daybreak flight from Washington. We all took our seats (okay, plastic chairs) on the deck for the 1-hour tour that highlighted such things as the Wrigley Building and the Sears Tower. It was, however, not limited to just that. We learned a lot of information about the history and building of Chicago, from its humble beginnings as a fort through the Great Fire and into present day.When the tour was over, we split into two groups. The more energetic contingent headed off to bike along the lake. The rest of us headed off to the Navy Pier to grab a bite of lunch before taking the water taxi to the Sears Building. Oh, the best-laid plans: when we arrived back to take the taxi, it was to find that it was no longer in service. After consulting the man at the booth, we decided to walk. I would guess by now that you know this was a terrible idea. It took us over 45 minutes to complete the walk, which made us 15 minutes late for our meeting with the Igo staff for our trip up the tower. Luckily for us, Tyler was still out front and told us that we were only a few minutes behind the other Igo staff members. Since we didn’t catch up with the other staff members until we got to the observation desk, we had to buy our own tickets to get to the top. (We were reimbursed on Saturday.) After purchasing your ticket, you go by elevator to the second floor to see a short film about the construction of the Sears Tower. You then get in line for the elevator ride to the top. Be prepared for your ears to pop and your stomach to lurch: it is a fast ride. It’s all worth it when you get to the top and see the stunning views you have from every angle. If you have the time, along the inside wall of the deck you can read the plaques about the history of Chicago.On Saturday morning, we met up with the other guides and the staff, including Tony, at the Field Museum. The Tut exhibit drew immense crowds, and that for me detracted from my enjoyment, but it certainly was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of moment.After we had a viewed the exhibit, a group of us met on the steps and decided to go to Chinatown. We were going to take the bus, so we walked around the building. After waiting a few minutes, we decided to take the L. It was around back where we had started. Actually, that was quite lucky, because we met up with the staff again and Tony, and we all headed off together.
At some point, the members ended up with Tony at the Phoenix Restaurant eating dim sum and talking about what we like and don’t like about some of the new upgrades. Thank you, Tony, for being so patient and for really listening to us, and also thank you for knowing what to order, because I didn’t have a clue. It was all wonderful.Saturday night, a group of members under the direction of Carole met in Greektown for a fantastic meal, and we were joined by Dawn ,who was one of our founding guides. The food was delicious, the company was delightful, and the service was beyond perfect. We all hated to see it end.And for Al and I, it did end here. We flew out at noon on Sunday, so we didn’t get to Millennium Park, but I still think it was the best get-together ever. Thank you to all the staff for the hard work you put into making everything so fantastic.
Written by GB from Devizes on 29 Oct, 2006
The Field Museum here in Chicago must rate as one of the planet’s greatest collections of exhibits of natural history. Several guides along with the IgUgo editorial team visited here on a warm Saturday morning, specifically to view the Tutankhamun exhibition but also to try…Read More
The Field Museum here in Chicago must rate as one of the planet’s greatest collections of exhibits of natural history. Several guides along with the IgUgo editorial team visited here on a warm Saturday morning, specifically to view the Tutankhamun exhibition but also to try and see some of the other fascinating displays. The building sits at 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive within a huge, landscaped complex that includes the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium and affords wonderful walks along part of the Lake Michigan shoreline with superb views of the downtown area across the open parklands and marina.The entrance to this wonderful building is akin to walking into a Greek temple with its twin rows of massive Doric columns sitting at the top of the monumental stone staircase. Once inside, the first aspect that hits you is the light, airy feel of the interior along with of course the sheer physical volume of the space. The editors had pre-booked our tickets and within a few minutes we were ushered into the beginning of the King Tut exhibition where, alas, no photographs were allowed. The exhibition was busy meaning that we often had to wait for several minutes at various displays but this didn’t detract from the experience. The differing displays dealt with every aspect of the boy king’s short life and included some staggeringly beautiful gold artifacts such as a diadem, brooches, bracelets, and necklaces as well as perfume bottles, dining bowls and statuettes of various gods and deities that were worshipped 3000 years ago. Also on display is the ebony throne from where Tutankhamun ruled his subjects. Of course, the biggest mystery surrounding Tutankhamun is his particularly short life and several displays show objects such as ceremonial daggers that would have been placed inside his sarcophagus to assist him on his journey to "the Fields of the Blessed" after his body had been mummified. Of particular interest are the CT scans taken of Tutankhamun’s body which were intended to give some information regarding his death at the very young age of 19.I found the exhibition spell-binding and it was with some regret that I eventually realised I had seen all that there was to see and emerged from the subdued lighting of the exhibition back into the main ground floor area of the museum.With an itinerary to adhere to for the remainder of the day, Carole, Dianne, and I decided to see the displays of Native American Culture which included two enormous totem poles as well as wonderful exhibits detailing every aspect of their lives including clothing, tribal hierarchy, weaponry, head-dresses, food and hunting and how their future was placed in severe jeopardy by the virtual extinction of the North American buffalo as the frontiersmen pushed ever further west.With time now running out, we decided that there were just two more exhibits that we wanted to see and these were arguably the two that the museum is best known for. The first was "Sue", the virtually complete T-Rex skeleton, first unveiled to the public in May 2000. When she was discovered her skeleton was complete save for one foot, one "hand" and a few back-bones. It is believed that she met her fate in a mudslide, causing her skeleton to remain almost complete for some 65 million years.Next door to Sue are the two impressive Mastodons, huge elephant-like creatures that walked the Earth during the more recent Ice Ages.It was a shame that constraints of time precluded us from exploring further in this majestic building. It was such a bright, warm day outside that we felt we needed some fresh air and with that in mind, we took a half-hour stroll around the lakeside pathway towards the Aquarium, after having filled our empty stomachs with genuine Chicago Hot-Dogs from one of the vendors down by the parkland. "Don’t ask for ketchup", advised Carole, "or he may well decline to serve you!" This was no problem as I hate the horrible stuff anyway!The Field Museum has so much to see that an entire day wouldn’t be sufficient time. Add to this the great walks, the Aquarium and the Planetarium and you have a complex that in all reality would need a week to explore fully.InformationStandard admission is on two levels, for resident Chicagoans and for non-residents, as follows:Local Chicagoan Visitors Adult $10 Child (3-11) $6.25 Senior (65+) $8.75 Non-Local VisitorsAdult $11Child $7Senior $9.50A cab ride from downtown will cost around $8-$10. Red, Orange, and Green El lines all stop close by.The Museum has recently stopped offering free admission on Thursdays. It does now however offer free admissions on various dates throughout January, February, June, September, October, November and on December 24th. For a full list of dates and times see www.fieldmuseum.org Close
Written by GB from Devizes on 13 Oct, 2006
Having strolled the considerable distance along Grand Ave after having left the “El” I was certainly ready for this long-anticipated boat ride that would follow both branches of the Chicago River to highlight the amazing buildings that form the backdrop to the water. The boat…Read More
Having strolled the considerable distance along Grand Ave after having left the “El” I was certainly ready for this long-anticipated boat ride that would follow both branches of the Chicago River to highlight the amazing buildings that form the backdrop to the water. The boat was ready to go as we arrived and along with around 60 or 70 other people, we took our seats on the open-top deck.The captain exercises a neat reverse turn and we start by looking to our right at the impressive Lake Point Tower, dating from 1968. At 645 feet, it was in its time the tallest apartment building in the world. Its three wings are spaced at a 120 degree angle to each other affording privacy for the residents. Almost immediately to the left is the unmistakable sheer face of the Aon Centre, dating from 1973, and to my mind, bearing a certain resemblance to the Twin Towers. At 1136 feet it was the city’s tallest building before the completion of the Sears Tower the following year.Although somewhat set back from the river, the dark, looming presence of the John Hancock Centre is never out of sight on our right. This impressive structure takes third place behind the Aon Centre by just a few feet and dates to 1969. We continue down the river to the next building of note, this being the NBC Tower, a post-modern development that certainly owes its design to the Art Deco movement. Almost next-door is the amazing Chicago Tribune Tower, it’s top third more resembling a Gothic cathedral than a commercial building with its intricate but massive flying buttresses. The Tribune Tower sits at 464 feet tall and can certainly claim to be one of the most recognisable landmarks on the Chicagoan skyline.The next building of real note has to be the Wrigley Building on our right. Its two towers date from 1922 and 1925 and it was the first in a series of landmarks at the end of the Magnificent Mile. It was based on the Giralda Tower of Seville Cathedral and was constructed in two sections, the southern building being some 30 storeys and the northern 21 storeys. Both sections are linked with elevated walkways on the 3rd and 14th floors. Almost opposite is the Jewellers Building at 35 E. Wacker Drive, completed in 1926. It holds the distinction of being the first commercial structure on Wacker Drive and originally housed many jewellery stores. It is said that during the Depression years, the domed top-floor housed a speakeasy where many of the local politicians went to secretly avail themselves of alcohol.A little further downstream on the right is the IBM Building, at 695 feet the 14th tallest in the city and pretty much alongside are the truly amazing twin corn-cobs that are Marina City. Each of the two towers rise to 61 storeys with the first 15 on each tower being utilised as parking garages. The buildings are part of a complex that includes the famous House of Blues live music venue and the towers overtook Lake Point Tower as the tallest apartment building in the world upon their completion in 1967.Now, to a true monster and I mean that literally, the enormous if not overly tall Merchandise Mart to our right, finished in 1931. It is second only to the Pentagon in floor area and was built for the Marshall Field Company as a showroom and administrative headquarters. This building is just colossal from any angle and today still houses over 600 showrooms, a two-storey shopping mall, a cooking school and a food court. Just across on the opposite bank is the fabulous 333 West Wacker, its curved front wall reflecting the bright sunlight on this beautiful morning provides a canvas for the buildings on the other side of the river.At this point the boat turns right and continues along the North Branch of the river for five minutes or so although there isn’t much to note here. We u-turn, then head down the South Branch, past the Boeing World HQ Building to the daddy of them all, the mighty Sears Tower. The Tower sits immediately to the north of 311 South Wacker, whose shadow attempts to climb the face of the Sears but is never going to make it.The Sears’ black facade looks stunning again the blue sky of this unseasonably warm October morning. It reaches for the sky in a proud and uncompromising way and is just awe inspiring. It is constructed with bronze tinted glass and stainless aluminium and was originally built for the Sears & Roebuck Company, being topped out in May 1973. It is formed with nine interlocking tubes in a 3x3 configuration. Two tubes stop at the 50th floor, two stop at the 66th, three stop at the 90th, leaving just two to make the final ascent to 108 storeys. The Sears Tower was the world’s tallest building prior to the opening of the Petronas Towers in 1996. Words fail to do it justice really….The final building of note on our tour today is the Chicago Board of Trade Building that sits just to the southeast of the Sears Tower. It was finished in 1930 and was at this time the tallest building in Chicago at 605 feet, a title it held until 1965. The statue of Ceres on its roof makes it the tallest Art Deco building in the world outside of NYC.With everything seen, and with cricks in our necks, the boat returns to the harbour side at Navy Pier. This is a stunning feast of architectural delight and I would recommend that anyone visiting the city makes this tour a priority.For more info see www.shorelinesightseeing.comShoreline Sightseeing474 N. Lake Shore DriveChicago,IL60611Tel. (312) 222-9328 Close
Written by Idler on 20 Sep, 2006
"Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it." ~ Charles Dudley WarnerChecking the Chicago weather before leaving for a four days in the Windy City, I was heartened to see…Read More
"Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it." ~ Charles Dudley WarnerChecking the Chicago weather before leaving for a four days in the Windy City, I was heartened to see sunshine and mild temperatures forecast. No sooner had our plane landed, however, than I knew Chicago was up to its old tricks. The sunny skies had turned cloudy, the mercury in the thermometer had plummeted, and wave after wave of white-caps were lashing the lakefront as a steady wind roared across Lake Michigan from the north. Our first stop after dropping off our luggage at hotel was a Walgreen’s on Michigan Avenue, where we bought cheap umbrellas, gloves, and warm knit hats. We had an ambitious agenda for the next few days and were determined that the weather wouldn’t deter us. Jack and I regarded ourselves as "veterans," having spent five years in the city back in the 80’s. Nevertheless, we were grateful our teenage son declared his first priority was to visit the Art Institute of Chicago. Several hours later, having seen more masterpieces than we could possibly mentally process, we emerged back onto Michigan Avenue. Nearby, Millennium Park beckoned, the beds of bright tulips making a brave show in the freezing rain. If we’d brought winter coats, no doubt, we could have taken a long, contemplative stroll in the drizzle, but in thin windbreakers the best we could manage was to hustle by some notable landmarks, such as Crown Fountain, which was displaying the face of one of a thousand Chicago citizens. Our next stop was the Chicago Cultural Center, ostensibly to get some information, but we were easily sidetracked by the warm café inside. Perusing the Reader and sipping lattes seemed infinitely more appealing than continuing our trek along rain-slick streets, but after a while we felt a pang: we weren’t showing Greg very much of Chicago. Mind you, he would probably have been perfectly happy curled up in the hotel room watching HBO, but we pressed onward.Our objective was Daley Plaza, home to some great outdoor art, most notably the enormous Picasso sculpture that I’ve always assumed represented a horse. Just across the street, Miró’s sculpture "Chicago" stands in another prominent spot. Chicago’s outstanding collection of outdoor sculpture has an almost totemic quality, I think, but especially these two pieces. Although we were fairly soaked and thoroughly chilled by that point, we weren’t calling it quits until taking in Marc Chagall’s kaleidoscopic mural, "Four Seasons," Alexander Calder’s monolithic "Flamingo, " and Jean Dubbufet’s "Monument with Standing Beast," all within a few blocks of each other. It’s one thing to contemplate art in the confines of a museum and quite another to see it out in a public space. These sculptures occupy strategic spots downtown, breaking up the linearity of streets flanked by vertical buildings. Retreating to our hotel for a change of dry clothes, we didn’t venture out again until evening, when we drove by another Chicago icon, Wrigley Field, on our way to dinner. We’d spent several summer afternoons there years back, seated among the "bleacher bums" and other colorful characters that were, to me, more interesting than the baseball game on the field. Although neither of us was a sports fans, we still felt compelled to root for the Cubs; that is, whenever it occurred to us to root for anyone. Half the reason we drove north, however, was so we could indulge in our favorite drive south, along Lakeshore Drive. This is a glorious stretch of road, even in nasty weather in heavy traffic. In fact, I think I prefer it in heavy traffic, at least when I’m a passenger, as the slow bumper-to-bumper gridlock gives me more time to watch the skyline unfold around each bend. We parked near the Navy Pier, chancing upon a free space on the lower level. When we left Chicago in 1986, this area had not yet been developed into the showcase that it is today, complete with giant Ferris wheel and gleaming glass entertainment complex. Throngs of people bundled up in scarves and heavy jackets were strolling along the pier. It was a young crowd, drawn to the bright lights and festive atmosphere, but our light windbreakers were no match for the chill, so we soon scurried back to our car. The following day, we headed south once again on Lakeshore Drive, to Hyde Park (see separate entry) and then Chinatown, stopping en route to walk along the lakefront south of McCormick Place. If we thought it had been windy down in the Loop, we found on the lake front, without benefit of windbreaks, it wasn't merely windy, it was a howling gale. There are good reasons for such an apparently masochistic excursion, however. First, it brings you uncompromisingly face-to-face with the defining factor in Chicago weather: Lake Michigan. It’s hundreds of miles to Canada, but when the wind blows from the north, Canada seems right on Chicago’s doorstep. Secondly, the lakefront just south of McCormick Place provides a striking vista of Chicago’s skyline. It has always fascinated me how different buildings seem to predominate when strolling in the Loop, depending on vantage point, but from the southside, everything falls more or less into proper perspective.The area south of McCormick Place, in comparison to the Loop, seems comprised of squat, sprawling buildings. No doubt the concentration of skyscrapers a just short distance away creates this impression. When we stopped in Chinatown, I once again noted how stunted the area seemed in comparison to downtown, even though were evident signs of urban renewal. It was reassuring to find all our favorite dim sum places were still there, though, not to mention my favorite bakery. The coconut buns – well, they were still as good as the memory I’d been carrying all those years. Chinatown is a wonderful place to shop, or window shop, as the case may be. Colorful knick-knacks crowd the windows of inexpensive emporiums. I bought a sushi mat and a few other items at a grocer’s, while Greg latched onto Chinese "worry" balls in a souvenir shop. Jack gravitated to an herbalist specializing in ginseng. I stood outside, munching coconut buns, contemplating the window display of "Healthy Brain Pills" (surely we all could use those) and herbal teas for all manner of ailments. The weather had gradually been clearing throughout the day, so that by the time we’d polished off most of the coconut buns and Jack had decided which ginseng tea he wanted, a decidedly benign cast had crept over the sky. After two days of perfectly miserable weather, we were almost afraid to hope our luck would change. But change it did, and more dramatically than we could have dreamed. The next day was picture perfect, with deep blue skies and temperatures in the sixties. We made a beeline for the lakefront, delighted with our good fortune. This time we took our time strolling through Millennium Park, then meandered over to the Navy Pier, where we unanimously decided to take a ride on the Ferris wheel.The view of downtown Chicago from the top of the wheel was stunning, but even more glorious vistas awaited when we hopped aboard a boat docked near the pier for an architectural tour along the Chicago River (see separate review). Afterward, as Jack had an appointment with a colleague, Greg and I trekked once more up Michigan Avenue, but now, rather than rain-lashed streets, the Magnificent Mile seemed to sparkle. Islands of massed tulips brightened the sidewalks, vying with the stylish window displays of designer clothing. Springtime had really come to Chicago. Conditions were perfect for views from up high, so we went into the Hancock Building, where we ascended to the observatory on the 100th floor. I’ve always preferred the view from the Hancock to the view from the taller Sears Tower, and that day it was particularly fine. Looking left as we faced the lake, Lake Shore Drive curved sinuously northward, flanked by a series of decreasingly tall buildings. Straight ahead lay the Navy Pier, its immense Ferris wheel looking like a mere tinker toy from the Hancock building's heights. And there near the base of the pier was the distinctive black silhouette of Lake Point Tower, a building I'd always inhabited in my fantasies. But at that moment, I wouldn’t have traded places with those ultra-wealthy tower residents as I stood watching my son take in the panoply of Chicago spread before him. It was clear that what I’d hope for above all things on this trip had taken place. That abstract place, "Chicago," that he'd heard us talk about all those years had finally become real for him. Close
"I miss everything about Chicago, except January and February." ~ Gary ColeWhen we moved into a third-floor 51st St. Hyde Park apartment back in the winter of 1981, it was all of 26° Fahrenheit outside and a stiff wind was whipping off the lake at…Read More
"I miss everything about Chicago, except January and February." ~ Gary ColeWhen we moved into a third-floor 51st St. Hyde Park apartment back in the winter of 1981, it was all of 26° Fahrenheit outside and a stiff wind was whipping off the lake at about twenty miles an hour. Welcome to Chicago! Over the next five years, we toughed out arctic winters and sweltering summers in a neighborhood that was an improbable blend of academic types and working class folks. Life in Hyde Park was the quintessential graduate student rite de passage, and intense as it was at times, when we left, we sorely missed it.Here we were twenty years later, teenage son in tow, showing him "our" Hyde Park. We began with the Museum of Science and Industry. This vast museum houses a grab-bag of permanent and visiting exhibits. Surely some would appeal to him. However, we made the mistake of visiting on a rainy, blustery Saturday, the sort of nasty day that makes parents of restless children confined indoors begin to tear out their hair; that is, until the parents all (more or less simultaneously) have a brainwave: "I know! Let’s take the kids to the Museum of Science and Industry!" So there we were with the Teeming Millions, as Cecil Adams would say. The sea of humanity queuing for tickets should have been our cue that this wasn’t going to be the quiet, somewhat fusty place we remembered back in the 80’s. No indeedy. The big draw, it seems, was a exhibit called "Body Worlds," put together (or, should I say disassembled) by a German fellow named Gunther von Hagens. Perhaps you’ve seen some of the publicity – much of it negative – that’s since surrounded this traveling exhibit. The controversy stems from von Hagens’ use of actual human cadavers – or bits of them – preserved by a high-tech method that plasticizes the major organs, circulatory system, musculoskeletal system, and so on in an incredibly lifelike and graphic way. The brouhaha has largely centered on how von Hagens acquired the cadavers, although other critics simply question his motives: are they educational or is he merely capitalizing on the public’s fascination with the macabre? What fascinated (and appalled) me most were the parents with very small children. Frankly, I’d think this stuff would give most small children nightmares, yet there these parents were, earnestly pointing at the fetus in the eight-months-pregnant woman who had been neatly severed lengthwise the better to display a cross-section of her womb: "Look, Tyler. There’s the umbilical cord!" Honestly, what is WRONG with people? After an hour or so with the Teeming Millions, we were ready for a quieter place to seek shelter from the elements. We had our own little parental brainwave, recalling that the Oriental Institute on the campus of the University of Chicago had always been a favorite place years back to spend a peaceful hour or two in contemplation of the past. It contains some terrific artifacts from the ancient Near East acquired during the University’s many archeological digs in that region over the past century. Although the Oriental Institute had obviously received some much-needed renovation since we’d last visited, the core collection was as we remembered it, with such highlights as an enormous Assyrian human-headed winged bull and a vibrantly colored tiled lion mosaic from Babylon’s Ishtar Gate. Our faith in museums restored, we emerged to find that the rain had passed. There was even a hint of sun peaking through the clouds as we strolled through the main quadrangle of the University of Chicago, pausing at Cobb Gate to point out the famous gargoyles to Greg. He seemed totally unimpressed. Then it was time to walk over to the James Franck Institute, where Jack had had his office back in grad school. The institute is just across from where the first sustained nuclear reaction took place back in 1942, a feat commemorated by a Henry Moore sculpture entitled "Nuclear Energy" on the original site. Again, Greg seemed underwhelmed. Perhaps it's only our generation that is obsessed with the Manhattan Project and the dawn of the nuclear age. A better bet was to head for lunch at Edwardo’s pizzeria (see separate review), passing Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House in route. I lobbied futilely to stop at several of my favorite Hyde Park bookstores, specifically the Seminary Co-Op (I still have shares), and my very favorite used bookstore in all the world, 57th Street Books. But it was not to be. I was vociferously outvoted by Jack and Greg, who knew perfectly well what "just a few minutes" could mean. They were hungry and having none of it. By mid afternoon, we’d visited two museum, taken a stroll around campus, seen a few notable landmarks, and had a nice lunch. Now what? Well, there were certain things Jack and I wanted to see just for old times’ sake. For starters, we needed to check up on the Hyde Park parrots. Back in the late 1970’s, a couple of parrots of a species originally from Argentina either escaped from their owners or were set free. No one knows. Then, defying Chicago’s frigid winters and urban environment, the parrots managed to build a nest in a tree right across from the apartment building where former Mayor Harold Washington lived. Soon the original pair had done far more than be fruitful and multiply -- there was a large colony of parrots housed in a substantial, sprawling nest in the upper limbs of the tall ash tree. The secret to their success, apparently, was this tightly-woven and wind-resistant structure, which provided shelter from the cold.No other Chicago neighborhood could boast something quite so incongruous as the Hyde Park parrots. And the parrots had a patron – Mayor Harold Washington himself. There was always a police car parked in front of the mayor’s apartment building, right across from the parrots’ nest. The joke was that the police weren’t there to protect the mayor, they were there to make sure the parrots didn’t come to any harm. Eventually, the original tree that housed the parrots came down in a winter storm, but the parrots had by then colonized several other trees in the area. So there we were, out near the lakefront, looking for parrots. Suddenly, we heard an unmistakable SQUAWK as a large, bright green bird flashed by. A Hyde Park parrot! Our son thought we were demented as we began hugging each other, exclaiming, "Look! Did you see it?" Not sure how to respond, he feigned interest – a mistake as it promptly goaded us into a quest to find one of the new parrot colonies. Luckily, the nests are easy to spot before the trees leaf out, and it took us only a few minutes to spot several twiggy masses in tall trees nearby. We had one last pilgrimage to make before leaving Hyde Park. Years back, a friend and I shared a weekly ritual that sustained us through years of grad school. We’d buy fried chicken from Harold’s Chicken Shack (thighs for me, chicken livers for her), then enjoy our little feast while watching the Sunday evening episode of "Doctor Who" on WTTW, Chicago’s public television station. On this visit to Hyde Park, since we’d just had lunch and weren’t hungry, I just wanted to drive by Harold’s, just to reassure myself that it was still there. Alas, the original Harold’s had closed some years back and moved several blocks away to a location in a small shopping mall. Like Edwardo’s pizza, Harold’s Chicken Shack was a southside original that spread far and wide. (In fact, now there are something like sixty chicken shacks in the chain.) The Hyde Park Harold’s was memorably housed in a decrepit corner building on a run-down block and was a mom-and-pop joint in its purest form. There was a hand-lettered sign on the door that laid down the law on the premises:NODOGSEATINGBICYCLESMy friend and I found this injunction to be so Hyde Park in its essence that to this day all either of us has to do is intone, "No dogs eating bicycles" to reduce the other to helpless laughter. The new Harold’s in Hyde Park may lack true southside ambience, but it still features a wacky neon sign. The original sign was surely worthy of a spot in some neon hall of fame. A portly chef (presumably Harold) wields an axe, which rises and falls as the chef "chases" a giant flapping chicken. Even though the old Harold’s Chicken Shack is gone, and Harold himself has repaired to that great chicken shack in the sky, it’s good to know that certain traditions live on. Close
Written by oldscratch on 29 Mar, 2004
Chicago's famed "Magnificent Mile" begins just above the Art Institute on Randolph Street and follows Michigan Avenue north across the Chicago River and past the John Hancock building before finally terminating at North Avenue. World-class shopping can be enjoyed along the entire route, and…Read More
Chicago's famed "Magnificent Mile" begins just above the Art Institute on Randolph Street and follows Michigan Avenue north across the Chicago River and past the John Hancock building before finally terminating at North Avenue. World-class shopping can be enjoyed along the entire route, and I suppose one can truthfully claim that the avenue's sights and attractions are as magnificent as, say, the Grand Canyon is grand. That said, I've always enjoyed one small stretch of the Mile to the exclusion of all others. Framed by Lake Michigan to the east and city-stretching-into-prairie on the west, the roughly 200 feet of the Michigan Avenue Bridge is perhaps the single most impressive urban landscape I've ever seen.
I should qualify that last statement by noting that the view from the Michigan Avenue Bridge is also one of the first urban landscapes I ever witnessed, and for that matter, one of the first truly modern landscapes the world had ever seen. Skyscrapers came of age in the twenties, and bracketing the north side of the bridge are two gleaming-white examples of the craft, the Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building. These two Jazz Age cathedrals serve not only as exclusive guard towers to the booming economic clout of North Chicago, but as a gateway to American Modernism itself. While straining your neck at these buildings and standing on the Michigan Avenue Bridge with cars rumbling both past and beneath, you feel not only physically within the city but that you are experiencing the City as a capital-letter concept as well.
On your next trip to Chicago, I suggest you take the time to walk north across this double-deck drawbridge. U.S. and State of Illinois Flags will flutter violently on either side, and after you cross the bridge, the Wrigley Building will be on your left. Thirty-stories tall and distinguished by a two-story clock, the Wrigley Building's exterior features six shades of tiles that ensure the structure appears brighter as it rises. On your right will be the gothic Tribune Tower. At the tower's bottom is a WGN studio with a large plate glass window and weather and time displays, but I've never seen anything terribly exciting happening in the broadcast booth. As a college student, I used to enjoy walking around the Tribune Tower and looking at their stone collection, but to be honest, the practice of collecting famous stones from places like the Great Wall of China, the Parthenon, and the Alamo and then cementing them to the facade of a building now strikes me as a bit kitsch.
Finally, since I am actually writing this journal entry on St. Patrick's Day, it occurs to me that earlier today city employees must have partaken in the bizarre annual ritual of turning the Chicago River green. I once actually watched the transformation take place from the Michigan Avenue Bridge. Chemicals were dumped in the river and a motorboat speed around in circles to stir them up. Turning a river bright green always strikes me as a strangely 1970s custom and smacks of a time when people were enthralled by the power of chemistry to change the world, yet innocent of its long-term environmental impact. I assume, of course, that the chemicals are non-toxic or the practice would have been stopped long ago, but the gaudiness of the green river does not mesh very well with the glamour of the bridge. I suppose this sort of contrast is distinctly Chicagoan, but I would recommend avoiding the bridge on St. Patrick's Day all the same.
Written by friskycelery on 12 Jun, 2002
I am a National Public Radio groupie.
No, I don’t travel with the band, (gee, they have a band??) and I’ve never waylaid an on-air personality. I am, however, someone who has all the radios tuned to various NPR stations. I can distinguish between the voice…Read More
I am a National Public Radio groupie.
No, I don’t travel with the band, (gee, they have a band??) and I’ve never waylaid an on-air personality. I am, however, someone who has all the radios tuned to various NPR stations. I can distinguish between the voice of Tom Magliozzi and his brother Ray on Car Talk. I can tune in mid-segment and identify Susan Stamburg in three syllables. I know the voices of Ira Glass, Sara Vowell, and David Sedaris as well, if not better, than members of my own family. I am hooked.
A while ago I read an article about Ira Glass, host of the weekly show "This American
Life, " which is produced by WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station. The article said that WBEZ had its studios on Navy Pier. I vowed to look for said studios the next time I was in Chicago.
You can imagine my delight when I found the small sign, past the Billy Goat Tavern, pointing to WBEZ.
I pondered my next move. Figuring that I have been thrown out of worse places than this, I pushed through the glass doors and announced, "I am part of the public in National Public Radio, and I’m from out of town." The young lady behind the desk said, "Oh. Would you like a tour?"
A young staffer showed me around the station, and shared some of WBEZ’s history with me. She pointed out the studio where Ira Glass tapes "This American Life," and let me peek into the office of Peter Sagel, host of "Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me." For an NPR addict, it was a great tour.
If you decide to visit WBEZ, look for the sculpture along the Pier that has the WBEZ call sign. The studio is just inside.
A Friskycelery Tip
Ira Glass tapes his show "This American Life" on Friday evenings at 7 pm. On occasion, members of the public are allowed into the studio to watch the taping.
Written by KJP on 25 Sep, 2004
Wow. That’s about the first word that comes to mind after dining at Blackbird, one of Chicago’s hippest restaurants, located at the eastern edge of the thriving Randolph Street Market District in the West Loop. Blackbird’s French-influenced menu of contemporary American cuisine, created by innovative…Read More
Wow. That’s about the first word that comes to mind after dining at Blackbird, one of Chicago’s hippest restaurants, located at the eastern edge of the thriving Randolph Street Market District in the West Loop. Blackbird’s French-influenced menu of contemporary American cuisine, created by innovative chef Paul Kahan, is laden with unusual combinations of ingredients that render some downright spectacular results.
Blackbird’s stylish décor favors a minimalist approach. Four paintings in the rear dining area and a large flower arrangement on the bar represent the lone departures from otherwise clean architectural lines. The brilliant white exterior matches the stark white interior walls that seem to take on a pale greenish hue with the recessed lighting and dark hardwood floors of the dining room. A high-backed banquette spans the left side of the small, narrow dining room, which seats only 58 guests. Even so, the tables are set closely together, but somehow it works: the close quarters and the din from neighboring tables are just one of the things that make Blackbird what it is. I’m sure there are some, however, who’d prefer more breathing room between themselves and other patrons.
We arrived about 25 minutes early for our reservation, so we seated ourselves at the bar and ordered cocktails. As we chatted with two neighbors, a waiter swept past us with a matched pair of piping hot plates. We watched as he served what looked like salads in cylindrical "baskets" to two customers at the opposite end of the bar. He placed a plate in front of each guest, and then used a knife and fork to crush each basket. We asked our new friends if they knew what menu item this was, and one of them told us it was the endive salad. Note to self: I’m intrigued, order the endive salad.
The bar at Blackbird.
After awhile we were seated at a table along the banquette that spans the left side of the dining room. We ordered a bottle of sauvignon blanc, and each of us ordered the endive salad ($8), which sounded almost nondescript on the menu. It turns out that the aforementioned "basket" is made of shredded potatoes that are deep fried to hold the cylindrical shape. The salad is served with a poached egg on top, which explains the plume of steam rising from the plates we saw served at the bar. For entrees, I ordered the bobwhite quail breasts, and The Better Half ordered the Alaskan halibut. I would have guessed she’d have selected the wood-grilled California sturgeon, which is one of Blackbird’s signature dishes, but to each his own.
Four paintings are about the only departure from the minimalist architectural lines.
Our bottle of wine and bread was served, and we eagerly anticipated the endive salads. As if on cue, our waiter arrived, a small plume of steam rising from each plate. As we’d witnessed earlier at the bar, he used a knife and fork to crush the baskets of shredded potatoes and mixed everything together. The poached egg mellowed the slightly bitter taste of the endive, and the crushed potato basket served as croutons for the salad. A truly ingenious combination of ingredients, and the presentation was simply spectacular.
The bobwhite quail breasts ($25) were served stuffed with peas and grilled Michigan apricots, and topped with crispy strips of prosciutto. Once again, this dish featured a very unique combination of ingredients, but the concept was executed perfectly. Not only did it taste fantastic, but the different colors and textures made for a terrific presentation. I was so smitten with my quail that I never got around to sampling The Better Half’s halibut, although I can report a resounding thumbs-up from across the table.
We thought the service was just right: our waiter was friendly, conversational, attentive, and unobtrusive, never overbearing or stuffy.
As one might expect, dining at Blackbird is not a frugal venture. Our two salads, entrees, a modestly priced bottle of wine, tax and tip ran $150. I guess the best endorsement I can offer is that it was worth every penny. If you’re in Chicago and you can fit a fine dining experience into your budget, Blackbird should be near the top of your list. We’ll be back, that’s for sure.
My 1- 10 ratings:
Food - 10; Service – 8.5; Atmosphere – 8.5
619 W. Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60606
Reservations: You’ll need one
Web site: www.blackbirdrestaurant.com
Written by metrogirl on 29 Sep, 2004
Lincoln Park Zoo: sea-lions + tigers + bears
2001 North Clark Street
Lincoln Park Zoo is open 365 days a year.
The zoo is free every day.
intricate sculptural wrought-iron main gate mimics flora and fauna found in the zoo
There are enough sea lions and tigers and bears, as…Read More
Lincoln Park Zoo: sea-lions + tigers + bears
2001 North Clark Street
Lincoln Park Zoo is open 365 days a year.
The zoo is free every day.
intricate sculptural wrought-iron main gate mimics flora and fauna found in the zoo
There are enough sea lions and tigers and bears, as well as other sights to keep a child happily occupied for an entire day at Lincoln Park Zoo. Although this time we hadn’t planned on a full day at the Zoo, we had a brief visit after another nearby venue we were seeing had closed.
History and design
Lincoln Park Zoo stands as one of the last free major cultural institutions in the United States and the only one left in Chicago. This Zoo harkens back to the turn-of the-century European zoos that began in formal public gardens. It is among the oldest zoological parks in the U.S., which begun with the gift of a pair of swans in 1868.
Although Lincoln Park Zoo is particularly famous for its historical structures, the early Georgian Revival zoo buildings and Victorian cages were little more than decorative enclosures for the separation of species. Over the years, the zoo has evolved and succeeded at combining state-of-the-art animal and visitor facilities with beautiful architectural reflections of past sensibilities. The modern designs stress the re-creation of natural habitats with human intrusion kept to a minimum.
pleasing graphics with a voice
We entered at the east gate and picked up a free visitors guide at the Information Pavilion. You can book a guided tour and colorful strollers and wheelchairs are also available for rent. If we were spending the day, we would have followed the Red, Green, Blue or Gold Trails laid out and clearly marked. Because we had about two hours before closing, we limited our visit to venues in close proximity to the gate with a small circular route. We started at the Kovler lion house and looped through the sea lion pool, penguins and sea birds, African savannah, birds of prey, and ended at the 19th-century McCormick Bird House.
I was enormously impressed with the clarity and creativeness of the directional graphics and educational signage, which proved to be more than just written words. A little key will activate additional audio explanations at each signage station. For a fee of a $3, the key enables you to access a years worth of audio knowledge and entertainment for you and your children.
TheSea Lion Pool, situated in the center of the zoo, is home to harbor seals, gray seals, and California sea lions that cavort as thought they are always on stage. The original pool was constructed in 1879, making it one of the oldest and most popular Lincoln Park Zoo exhibits. Extensive renovation of the Kovler Sea Lion Pool was completed in May 1999. It was re-designed for a more naturalistic environment to provide the seals and lions a habitat that as closely as possible replicates their home in the wild. My niece loved the underwater viewing area, where you can get a nose-to-glass close-up look at the happy-looking seals as they gleefully glide about the pool.
this giraffe enjoys the faux savannah
Another newly rebuilt area is home to elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and assorted other large mammals. The outdoor view areas are planted and landscaped to mimic as closely as possible in the Midwest, the conditions and look (and taste if you are a giraffe) of the African Savannah. The African journey begins in a ranger station. From there, visitors see a varied landscape, from the riverbanks of the African rain forest, up to the top of the tree line for an eye-to-eye view of the giraffes in the Africa Savanna. You can follow a realistic dry thorn forest path, before finally dipping back down to visit the lakeshore of a replica of one of Africa’s Great Rift Valley lakes.
beautifully detailed exterior brickwork of the 1912 lion house
The Kovler Lion House is a handsome historical landmark at the heart of the Zoo. Once inside, its wide hall and vaulted ceiling can amplify the roars of the Zoo’s collection of the world’s most beautiful big cats, including African lions, Siberian tigers, leopards from Asia and Africa, jaguars from South America, and snow leopards of the Himalayas.
nice 'hood: birds live in a landmark Georgian Revival brick building
Brick bird building
McCormack Bird House is another landmark brick building built in the Georgian Revival style, with roosting room for birds from the tropics, seashores, forests, wetlands, and savannas. It was designed in 1904 by the Zoo’s first director, Cyrus DeVry. He made certain to include habitats replicating the dense jungles, sandy coasts, running streams, and grassy plains of the birds’ natural homes. My niece Amélie loved the lush, tropical, free-flight area where she could watch exotic and endangered birds soar overhead. This habitat alone is home to more than 20 bird species.
Naturally, after two hours, we were only able to see a small fraction of what the Lincoln Park Zoo has to offer. But as animal lovers we were pleased to see that creatures that were formerly kept in stark concrete pens were now in state-of-the-art ecosystems designed to reflect individual natural habitats. Lincoln Park Zoo has kept faithful to its past zoological park elegance and with ambitious modernization has continues to strive to be among the best in care and management of wildlife in captivity.
a long day for this cat
BUDGET TIP: Although the Zoo does not charge admission, Zoo parking is $12 in the near lot if you come by car. I parked several blocks away in the lot behind the Lincoln Park Conservatory (nearer to the Notebaert Museum). The all-day fee was $8. We walked to the Zoo through the Caldwell Lily Gardens and took the Free Trolley back to our car at the end of the day’s sightseeing.