October 20, 2006 at 7:35 pm | Posted in Travel, Travelogues | Leave a comment

Still catching up…

 My brother-in-law graciously invited us to come out to visit my him and my sister.  We decided to fly out for 4 nights in mid-October as we figured that the weather would be decent then, not too hot, not too cold.  Unlike most of our trips I didn’t have an itinerary figured out for the trip beforehand as the goal was to visit our family so we’d just mostly play it by ear.

The first day it snowed a bit.  Well so much for the ‘safe’ weather.  I took time to meet with a business client and they were impressed by my dedication that I would take time out from my family vacation to drive through snow flurries in a foreign city to meet with them.   Since the temperature ended up being in the upper 30’s to low 40’s during the day the snow never stuck.  But combined with the wind, it was pretty cold – felt like about low 30’s. 

The first two days we were pretty much on our own as my sister and brother-in-law had to work.  This got a little frustrating at times, not being familiar with the city and not having done the research beforehand to plan out our days, but it all worked out. We spent a leisurely morning at their house and then drove into the city.  The traffic in Chicago in my opinion is worse than Los Angeles or Seattle.  It may not be much more congested but the drivers are complete asses, a bit more so than Los Angeles which is impressive in a way.  This is defintely and offensive driving city.  The fact that my borther-in-law and sister lived in the suburb of Itasca made getting to and from downtown Chicago a time-consuming experience (about 45 minutes.)  We were going to take the train at one point to give that a try but we actually only went into the city a couple times so we never got around to trying the train.

Both trips into the city we ended up going to the Navy Pier.  I knew beforehand the place was suppose to be sort of cheesy and touristy – which is was.  But the kids loved the place.  This is sort of Chicago’s miniature version of San Franciscos Fisherman’s Warf without all the seafood vendors. They liked all the little shops and they had a cheesy little Halloween festival going on.  We rode the huge Ferris Wheel (brrrr!)  There was quite a variety of stuff going on at the Navy Pier.  Jordan really got into the Build-A-Bear shop.  We went back there more than once.

We had an awesome lunch at the Atwood Cafe downtown (albeit expensive – which seems to be the case with all the decent restaurants in Chicago, everyone must like to eat out there and aren’t afraid to spend a lot of money for gourmet food is my guess – lot’s of restaurants to choose from.)  We also rode the subway – haven’t ridden one in a while and Chicago’s subway is probably the dirtiest, darkest, seediest subway I’ve every ridden on, right up there next to The Tube in London.

I’d say all big cities have a lot in common.  They have pretty much all the same things with just a different flavor or twist.  Lots of shopping, lots of museums and sports arenas, bad traffic, lots of high priced restaurants.  We didn’t see a whole lot of Chicago.  Much of the marquis attractions (the high-end shopping, the art museums) were not really great things for small kids to do anyway.  Although being a big city there was plenty of other stuff I presume other than the Navy Pier.  One thing we didn’t get around to doing that I had read about was go walk around Millenium Park.  It was probably a bit too cold anyway. 

On the third day, Erika and Todd joined us and we decided to go to Six Flags Amusement Park about an hour+ from their house just north of Chicago between Chicago and Milwaukee.  Hats off to my brother-in-law for going along with this plan as rides do not agree with him. This Six Flags was a little different than the California Six Flags than I was used to in two ways.  First, the park was all decked out in Halloween decor.  The big pond at the entrance looked like blood.  There were zombies walking around the park scaring people.  They really did quite a good job at really transforming the park.  This may have to do with the fact that Halloween is supposedly a big deal in the Chicago area with people and businesses really going all out to transform their home or business into something Halloween’ish.  The city has lots of Halloween events, etc.  We were there a bit to early though for most of the activities.

Anyway, back to Six Flags.  The second way that the park was different than the West Coast version was the people at the park.  I haven’t been to Magic Mountain outside of LA in many years and imagine they have their fair share of people from South Central LA and other great neighborhoods, but the whole time we were there one word kept coming to my mind:  ‘GHETTO’  This place had a, relativey speaking, Ghetto-like crowd, especially compared to Disney.  The crowning moment was when I saw a father and his two sons sitting on a bench.  The sons were probably in their teens, maybe younger.  All three had gold teeth.  I wish I had the courage to try to snap a quick photo (and then run.)   It actually wasn’t THAT bad but we had a good time joking around about it.  As most parks go, the kids weren’t tall enough to ride a lot of the rides but there was plenty else for them to ride.  We ended up leaving the place short of riding a significant number of rides as it was too cold, mostly because of the wind.

To be honest, the details of what else we did on the trip are not fresh in my mind which probably indicates we didn’t do much else that was very noteworthy.  Which isn’t necessarily bad, it probably is just indicative of the fact we were pretty leisurely about the whole trip and didn’t try to cram as much stuff in as possible and force the kids to go walk around museums or boutiques along the Miracle Mile.  A boat tour downtown  would have been nice as it was highly recommended by my parents but it was definitely too cold for that.

I’ve been to Chicago briefly a few times before.   I still feel there is much to be explored there.  But in general, I don’t feel any strong opinion one way or another about the city.  They have their ‘Beefs and Ice’ and their deep dish pizza, etc. etc. but overall I don’t feel (yet) like Chicago has a really unique character to it like New Orleans or even LA (or at least certain areas of LA like Hollywood, Venice Beach, etc.)  Of course you could probably also say that about Seattle. It’s one of the largest cities in America, located on a gigantic lake (that is surprisingly blue to the point some of the beaches almost resemble Hawaii in a way).  By the way, technically Chicago is located in the American Mid-East (not Mid-West, because as my Dad points out, it is actually in the Eastern third of the country.)

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