Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Whirlwind Chicago Trip (a not so whirlwind story)

When the hubby told me about a business trip he would be taking to Chicago for a week, I did some looking around for a way to get down there and take advantage of a free hotel room. I had heard of the Megabus from a friend a few weeks earlier. It's an express bus that goes from Minneapolis to Madison, Milwaukee and then to Chicago. Round trips are $25.00. You just can't beat that price.

I thought it over for a few days then one day I was looking around on Craigslist in the rideshare category and lo and behold, someone was giving away two Megabus tickets to Chicago going down on Thursday of the week hubby would be there. Definitely a sign that I needed to go.

I emailed them and she said she had reserved the tickets a while back and her plans had changed so she wanted someone to use the tickets. She forwarded the ticket reservations for the trip to Chicago and better yet, she said she only paid $2.50 for both tickets so consider it a gift. I guess the first few reservations made for a Megabus trip are only $1.00 plus a $.50 reservation fee!

I called a couple of friends and my friend Ingrid was able to come along on short notice. Another friend brought us to the bus stop in downtown Minneapolis to catch the 7am Megabus. We got there a few minutes early but others knew about the first come, first serve policy and a line had already formed. We were at about the 2/3 point of the line. The first ones in line get get first seat choice. The bus was a double decker so you can imagine everyone hiked upstairs first. There were two sweet seats at the very front of the top level that were all window in front. Ingrid and I sat on the bottom level in a pair of seats next to each other.

I was apalled at the number of people texting while driving. There they were, passing a bus full of people, looking at their cell phone screen and peeking up at the road now and then! There was even a semi-truck driver texting while passing us in Chicago freeway traffic. I decided that next time I ride the bus, I'm going to bring along my laser pointer. Yep. I'm going to point my laser on their texting thumbs. It will be fun...I think.

We made a couple of stops along the way, dropped off/picked up some folks in Milwaukee and headed down to Chicago. We were supposed to arrive at 2:45 but we didn't arrive at Union Station in Chicago until 6:00 pm. Traffic was awful. Someone had talked to the bus driver and she said they never arrive at 2:45pm, it's always 5:30 to 6:30pm. She said the most reliable timed trip to Chicago is the overnight; get on in Mpls at 10pm and arrive in Chicago at 6am.

We arrived on the street beside Union Station and walked out onto the street into the rain. We bee-lined it to a Walgreen's a block and a half away to get umbrellas since we had decided to leave our umbrellas behind. We thought the universe would listen to our message and it would keep the rain away. Didn't work.

Our first order of business was to purchase two-day visitor passes for the Chicago Transit system. For $9.00 you can get a two day pass valid on all CTA trains and buses. I knew you could get them at Union Station so we hung on tight to our umbrellas and walked back. The windy city made quick business of welcoming us by turning our umbrellas into rain collecting bowls. Union station was a buzz of activity. We wandered around a bit, found the CTA vending machines and purchased our two day visitor passes. On the way back out we discovered the heart of Union Station. We walked into the massive open area with ornately decorated walls and ceilings with nothing but wooden benches on the floors. I think after that I spent most of my time downtown with my eyes wide open and mouth hanging open in awe of the architecture.

We wanted to do some more walking downtown but with the rain and late arrival time, we headed directly to the Art Institute of Chicago. This was another freebie. Memorial Day through Labor Day, the Art Institute has free admission on Thursday and Friday from 5pm to 9pm.

We first checked out the famed pair of lions in front of the museum. From listening to a podcast, I learned that these are not identical. One is claimed to be on the prowl and the other is said to have a stance of dignity.

We went inside and got to the end of the long line to check in our bags. We walked up the grand staircase and entered room after room of breath-taking artwork. Again, I'm sure my eyes were twice as big as normal and my mouth was hanging open the entire time. Some of the paintings stopped me in my tracks and the more I looked into them, the more detail showed itself. I'm not very good with artists names but when I walked into this one hallway and looked at the four small paintings on the wall, I didn't need to look at the wall plate for the name. There in front of me were four Degas ballerina paintings. I was overcome and tears started running down my cheeks! In the next room was a massive painting by Georges Seurat which I had seen before in books but never imagined would be that large. I wanted to spend all day in these rooms admiring the beauty those talented hands and minds created. It would have to be another day.

We then went to the Thorne Miniature Rooms area. You wouldn't believe the detail that goes into these. There are many rows of small glass paned windows framing a miniature room decorated with miniature everything. I felt like a giant peeking into a home. The designer went so far as to add rooms to the side and you could see "sunlight" pouring into windows. While we were looking at these, an announcement was made that the museum would be closing in 15 minutes. We zoomed through one more area of collage pieces and then went to reclaim our bags and go find the blue line train.

It was 9pm, and dark in downtown Chicago. I thought this little country mouse would be scared but I felt very safe. There were lots of people around and we found our way to the blue line subway. It was an interesting observation of human behavior on the subway. No one made eye contact. No one made conversation with anyone unless it was someone they arrived with. I found that no eye contact thing hard. There was nothing else to look at. Since Ingrid and I weren't sitting next to each other, we couldn't just talk with each other. It was better once we got out of downtown and there were sights out the windows as the train came up out of the ground to the raised tracks to become "the el." I enjoyed looking at the neighborhoods and backs of buildings with wet roofs and apartments that must rattle when the train goes by. Living with so many people in that close of quarters all the time must be such a test in one's trust in your fellow humans. Yet people work to preserve their small, transparent bubble of privacy by not touching others with their eyes, voice or bodies. It reminded me of being a child and pretending you're invisible. 45 minutes later we arrived at our stop. We got off the train and walked the three blocks to the hotel hubby was staying at.

Next morning we headed back downtown on the el. Ingrid wanted to visit the American Girl Place. We came up out of the blue line subway and sat down on a bench in a large open area in front of a building to get our bearings and check out the map on how to get to the red line train. Ingrid's husband had said we should try to see the Picasso statue so we asked a woman while waiting for a light at the corner if she could tell us where the Picasso statue was. She turned around and pointed. We were practically sitting underneath it when we were map reading! We got a quick glance at it and the light turned so we kept walking. (That's my little drawing at the beginning of this dissertation.)

Across the street a woman was walking down the street waving her arms wildly and screaming at the top of her lungs. Right above her was the Oriental Theatre sign and on the marquis, Wicked. That woman along with the old guys shaking their cups at you on the street corners and two guys almost getting into a fist fight over a taxi cab they both wanted were the only ugly things I saw while downtown. One of my goals was to get a picture of the Chicago theater which I did.

The location of the American Girl place was easily found by following the loads of little girls walking around with American Girl dolls in their arms. It was a fun store. They had oodles of accessories for the dolls and books to go along. It is quite the marketing machine. There is also a doll hair salon and a photo studio. I was so tempted to buy a pair of tortoise-shell plastic rimmed doll glasses but didn't think they would last long enough on any of our cats faces to get a photo. Ingrid found a gift for her friend that has an American Girl doll.

We needed to get back to the hotel by noon to meet the hubby and hop in the car for the long drive home. Six hours later we arrived home and dragged our sore butts out of the car. We were already planning another trip to Chicago. We'll probably take the Amtrak train next time and stay downtown. I can't wait to go back in a not so hurried way!

Bus Tickets: $0
Thursday & Friday Meals: $20
Umbrella: $6.00
CTA Visitor Pass: $9.00
Check In Bag at Art Institute: $1
Hotel Room and Fuel for ride home courtesy of the hubbies workplace.


Alicia said...

Sounds like a great time! I love your description of CTA true!

garricks said...

You had a blast, didn't you!?

Public transit is the same here in St. Louis. You look at your feet, the ads, a book, anything but another person. But occasionally I've had some REALLY fun conversations!

Jeanne said...

(We NEED tickets to see OPRAH, too!)
Thanks for sharing the great pictures!

creativedolan said...

Wow, what a cheap get away!! I'm jelious! :0)