Whoo, I fell off the blogging wagon and it’s hard to get back on! I had one crazy week and want to write about all of my feelings about Reno, Donner Pass and Chico, but alas, I must wait until I finish off Chicago. Chicago, you’re finished! No, just kidding, we have only just begun.
One cannot talk about Chicago without including its fabulous museums. With apologies to the Oriental Institute, Contemporary Art and other also-rans (my mom is going to kill me), the best of the best are the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, the Museum of Science and Industry and last, certainly not least (except to my wild children) the Art Institute. During this short trip, we had to leave the Museum of Science and the Art Institute to the wayside, but we’ll be back. We are always back.
So where to start on Field and Shedd? Well, you can see both in one day but you’re going to be overwhelmed. You do need to start with the Shedd because later in the day, you just don’t get the same feel for the place as you do as the first people in the Wild Reef exhibit. And of course, Ginsu comes out only first thing in the morning.
Ginsu is a 375-pound green sawfish who lives amongst the other sharks and sawfish in the largest aquarium of the Wild Reef exhibit. She comes out early in the morning and then spends the rest of the day at the back of the enclosure where most visitors don’t even know that she is there. She is my son Nico’s favorite resident of the aquarium and we alway go there first to say hello. You can read more about Ginsu here on the Shedd blog. Wild Reef is hands-down the best exhibit hall in the Shedd, though we also love Amazon Rising where we can see the animals of Brazil…large anacondas, piracucu…good stuff.
After Wild Reef and Amazon Rising, you can head down to the Oceanarium where you can visit the penguins, belugas and dolphins, unless they are in the show (though you can still see them zoom around from below). I am not a fan of the Shedd Show. You know, the big trainer-led stuff where you all sit around and watch the Belugas and dolphins get chow from the people in wetsuits. Probably the only real value to me is the view out the big back windows of the aquarium.
Near the show, and down a side staircase, you can visit a blind sea lion named Cruz (my personal favorite). I dislike his story very much which is that he was blinded by bullet fragments–who does that crap? — but I love him! Cruz was not out when we were there this time–they rotate the four sea lions–but we love to watch him follow his trainer to the show–he responds to rattles and spoken commands.
We usually find time to stop off at the cafe for a snack and a view of the Chicago downtown. We also enjoy the little brown birds that will chase down any crumb that hits under your table (I have boys–the birds love us). We then go to one or two more exhibits – currently there is a frog exhibit which is excellent– and then wander out past the huge central tank where there is usually a diver giving an unintelligible view point from inside the tank…bubble bubble…fshshsh..and here is a fshhhs which is fshfsh… Never changes. Never should. We try to pass the horrid trashy aquarium shop as quickly as we can. That needs to change, Shedd. Field Museum is eating your lunch–and all you’ve got are pink glitter dolphins.
Across the way and directly behind a snack truck with Polish sausages (YUM!) is the intimidatingly huge Field Museum of Natural History. I.Love.This.Museum with all my soul. I have been going here since I was a wee thing and I still always find something new. The favorites for me are still there–the Lions of Tsavo which ate about a billion people (my kids are good with numbers, but actually *only* 135 people) the large stuffed animals, the elephants in the lobby, and of course, Sue…ah yes, Sue.
Sue the T-Rex arrived in Chicago in the late 1990s after her discovery in 1990 in South Dakota. In fact, I think she arrived in Chicago as I was leaving grad school in Evanston in 1997. She is, according to every website, the largest intact tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered. She has always lived in the main hall area of the Field and has featured as background to many a photo of my kids from age 6 months to age 10. And in party shots from at least two Kellogg (grad school) special evenings. So just for a moment, I have to get political.
As a member of the Field, I got an email a few months ago that Sue is moving upstairs at the museum. Whaaaaaaaat? I am completely and utterly opposed. She is moving upstairs to her own exhibit — she’ll leave her spot in February 2018 and be gone for A YEAR (how will I get this year’s twin photo?) to be replaced by a REPLICA. How do you replace a real dinosaur with a replica? Yah, it’s some biggest dinosaur ever called a patagotitan (gimme a break–not even a cute name like Pat or even Tito the patagotitan). No. Field Museum caught being bad. Sue, repeat after me: Hell, no! We won’t go!
Okay, calming down now. Nico (and all of us really) loves the Evolving Planet exhibit which is truly an extraordinary walk forward in time from the big bang to ocean life to the various extinctions, through dinosaurs (including fossils of Nico’s favorite, the triceratops) to mammals and insects. One could spend a day in that place. Of course we’re always in a hurry to get to the big dinosaur hall. Where Sue, poor Sue, will be relegated, I suppose. I hope she gets to eat a Brontosaurus or something.
Nico then is off to look at the Pacific Coast Indians and Lalo makes me go to the Jurassic World exhibit. Strike 2, Field Museum. Seriously, WTF is an animatronic theme park-y exhibit doing at the best natural history museum on the planet? The American Museum of Natural History in New York must be laughing. I really don’t want to talk anymore about that show, which even my son Lalo agreed was tacky and stupid. Except for the human-inside velociraptor which was cool. Basically I spent the half hour kind of hoping there would be a malfunction of the robots and a tourist would get eaten–okay, not a tourist, the organizer of the show. No such luck. Fortunately, I managed to snag a beer in the cafe before going in. I needed like six.
The temporary huge white tents of the Jurassic exhibit surrounded and made small my favorite brachiosaurus who stands outside the museum in his Cubs or Blackhawks gear when they make the playoffs. Sue never dresses up: you can see why here. I think the brachiosaurus was also offended by the Jurassic World exhibit and was hoping to eat someone…alas, a vegetarian that one.
Clearly it was time for roditis (really terrible wine but my dad’s favorite here) and beer. Following up any outing to the Field or the Shedd, it is time for the Greek Islands restaurant. A family favorite since the dawn of time. Blue and white checked tablecloths. Home-style Greek food–taramasalata, Greek salad, arni fournou (lamb), octopus, lots of fresh bread, oh my gosh. Greek yogurt and honey for dessert–served since way back before Greek yogurt became *a thing*. Valet parking where they bring your car back by reversing it at 30 mph down the busy street, screeching to a halt in front of the door and popping out the door ba-da-bing to accept their $2 tip. So so good.
So, bye Chicago, see you next year. Well, not Sue for she will be on vacation while I’m next there. But definitely Ginsu. And the Greek Islands.
Tomorrow…the Morton Arboretum.