Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Chicago - Impressive Museums

The drive from Madison to Chicago was easy with traffic picking up a little as we neared Chicago, but not bad at all. We stopped along the way…at the "Belvedere Oasis"… to get an iPass (the Illinois toll transponder). When we went inside to make the purchase we discovered a major Food Court rather than your normal rest stop/welcome center. 

Yep, it's a food court on the highway.  A little like the San Pedro Parador on the highway to Mexico City..
Our 30th floor home exchange home has a killer view of lake Michigan from the balcony, living room and bedroom. It also has a parking space on the 7th floor of the building.  We are just across from the “Museum Campus” which includes the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum of Natural History, the Adler Planetarium and Soldier Field Stadium. We can see so much from our balcony that it all seems close. Even “Navy Pier” but in fact it is several metro stops away and, while walkable, it’s a 45  minute walk (per Google Maps).

Our home in Chicago.
Looking down on the sculpture or headless figures

The 4 day Taste of Chicago Food Fest was on-going so we went out to check it out.  Honestly we were not inspired by it but we enjoyed the walk in the park and taking photos of the Buckingham Fountain.

Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park

As we walked around we were surprised to see oodles of folks in Mexican soccer shirts…then we learned that Mexico was playing Cuba in the Gold Cup Soccer at Soldier Field (Mexico beat Cuba 6-0).

We bought a “CityPass” that provides admission to the key museums and started our visits at The Shedd Aquarium, a truly short walk from our door. We were glad we had purchased the City Pass and could speed by the line that snaked out the door and down through the plaza. The Shedd has a broad range of exhibits spanning ocean (deep ocean and reef) lake and river life around the world. The Oceanarium show featured dolphins, sea lions and beluga whales and includes a comparison to training a dog with one trainer demonstrating training techniques with a sea lion while another does the same with a dog that was rescued from the pound. There is also a 4-D movie on fossils and prehistoric life utilizing 3-D glasses and specially equipped seating to provide the 4th sense. 

Beluga Whales 
A Ray that seemingly kept laughing at us to get our attention and his photo taken.
We wrapped-up our visit about 2:30 and headed off for Chicago style Pizza  at Lou Malnatis. It may be deep dish but the crust was moderately think with lots of topping with the cheese on first and the tomato on top. The technique works but everything is custom made (do you like it gooey in the middle or well-done, etc) and is well worth the half hour prep time.  Our calamari fritti and the Rodney Strong Merlot helped us pass the time. 

We took a short break and then strolled up the street to the Chicago Summer Dance. We enjoyed a conversation with a woman married to a Mexican from near Guadalajara as we observed folks lounging around enjoying the music and watching others dance. 

Some folks in the audience are really into their creature comforts

Day 3, The Field Museum. This is a Natural History Museum on steroids. We spent the full day and still missed a lot. First up: Sue, the most complete and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil yet discovered. She is 42 feet long, stands 13 feet high at the hips and is 67 million years old.

Sue, the T-Rex...painting in balcony above.

The Inside Ancient Egypt exhibit offers a glimpse into what life was like for ancient Egyptians with many mummies on display, a shrine to the cat goddess Bastet and a recreated marketplace complete with sample goods. 

One stage of a set of sculptures demonstrating the "Journey to the Other World"

The Underground Adventure provides a bugs-eye look at the world beneath our feet. The Vikings exhibit sheds light on the life of Vikings and explains that the word refers to the activity of going on a “trade-trip or raid" rather than to any specific Scandinavian culture. 

The Ancient Americas displays 13,000 years of human development in the Western Hemisphere, where hundreds of diverse cultures thrived long before the arrival of Europeans. Exhibits on housing, pottery, weapons, clothing and life styles of Incas, Aztecs, Mississippians, Eskimos and many more that were new to us (e.g. the Mochi and the Wari from Peru). 

A view of Cahokia (and "Monks Mound"), the largest Mississipian Settlement...locate in Illinois near St Louis
We practically ran through the extensive exhibits of plants, birds and animals. All were simply fantastic but far too much to really appreciate. But we paused and contemplated when we learned that the cashew is a member of the poison ivy family. We were reassured to learn that once the husk is removed, so is the poison.
Shoebill from the upper Nile & "New World" Vulture

Muskoxen on the tundra often cluster together, moving "flank to flank" for protection from wolves
Apparently there is also a Hall of Gems has a large collection of diamonds and gems from around the world and a Hall of Jades with Chinese jade artifacts spanning 8,000 years. There is likely MUCH more that we missed but it is all a bit much to take in in one day.

Dinner at Kurah Chicago Mediterranean Tapas where we had the spicy potato, layered fattoush, and a kofta kabob along with the Pilizota Babic (red wine) from Croatia. All were excellent as were the glass of Lebanese wine we sampled (2011 Jeune Red Blend, Chateau Musar, Bekaa Valley) and the chocolate baklava.

Sunday seemed like it might be one of the clearest days of our visit so we took the boat tour offered by the Chicago Architectural Institute along the Chicago River. Passing under numerous bridges we experienced Chicago's architectural accomplishments -- 144 years of architecture evolution including some of the very earliest skyscrapers (they tore down the world's first skyscraper), one that has been the tallest for 30+ years (until being over-shadowed by one in Dubai (which is nearly twice as high)...all of which evolved after 1871 when Mrs O’Leary’s cow helped spawn this vast urban renewal project.

Top of the 36 story Chicago Tribune Building -
opened 1925 in "neo-gothic style, ie ornate enough to be a cathedral

Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower) towering over it's neighbors
And the development continues
After the tour we continued to the Magnificent Mile (home of every designer or high-end store you can think of) and then on to Eataly, a Mario Bartelli et al enterprise with an Italian market with truly magnificent food & wine departments, along with various food bars and the Baffo Restaurant. Shopping wise we nabbed two Rorero Arneis white wines, some blueberry & raspberry brioche  and some ground coffee. Sad, isn't it. There were so many great things to consider. Pastas. Breads. Cookbooks. Utensils. ...

A small portion of the pasta selection
Lunch at Baffo was excellent. The details, with the info from the menu first followed by the translation 

  • carne cruda (raw razza piemontese beef with colatura, pecorino toscano)....very nice raw beef coarsely ground mixed with anchovy sauce and sheep milk cheese served with small toasts.
  • insalata mista (epiphany farms spring harvest with roasted almonds and parmigiano reggiano)...mixed salad with baby greens from epiphany farms with roasted almonds and parmigiano cheese
  • agnolotti (porcini-filled pasta with pecorino pepato and “cime di verdure tagliuzzate”...pasta filled with porcini mushrooms served with peppery sheep cheese and shredded vegetable tops 
  • cavatelli (shell-shaped pasta with traditional meat ragĂș from bologna)... shell-shaped pasta with ragu sauce topped with cheese crisp

All this was accompanied by a bottle of Primitivo followed by two dessert wines (Moscato d’asti and a Sangratino). 

We spent a little more time wandering along the Magnificent Mile and returned "home". Later we checked out Skydeck Chicago at the Willis Tower (Formerly known as the Sears Tower which is or was equipped with building automation from the group Pat worked with at RCA "way back when"...). The view from the floor 103 is said to include 4 states on a clear day, The sky was not as clear as we would have liked but the tour was part of  our City Passes and we got special access cutting the wait time to a few minutes.  We did not go out on"The Ledge", which happens to be more of a bit of a marketing see, the view from "The Ledge", a glass floored balcony,  is not very appealing BUT has been made to be adventuresome. Note: Having nothing but glass between you and the  ground is not a Bill or Pat thing nor does it add to the view.
Looking south below the Willis Tower...the brick building is our Chicago "home"
Looking east below the Willis Tower
Monday brought rain and thunder showers. We took the metro to the Loop and walked to Millennium Park noted for it's Frank Gehry designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion (Bandshell), the Cloud Gate sculpture by Anish Kapoor, fondly referred to as “The Bean”, and The Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa, We had fun playing with the photo possibilities of the interesting reflections in The Bean.  Then watched the playful fountain.  It consists of two 50-foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers project video images of a range of Chicagoans citizens in a sequence that ends with open mouths (and perhaps a big smile) as water suddenly shoots out onto suspecting and unsuspecting folks in the reflecting pool. 

Frank Gehry designed Bandshell
Playful Fountain
"The Bean"
The Art Institute of Chicago is simply amazing.  It has an excellent collection of 19th and 20th century art including American Gothic by Grant Wood and so much impressionism and modernism that you could easily spend a day or two there. But that is kind of what we expected, without further detail.  It turns out there is also a renowned "miniature room" collection. In our minds we translated this to a "dollhouse" collection. But indeed it is is truly a collection of 68 "miniature room" each created in elaborate detail including views through windows and doors to gardens and additional rooms in equally elaborate detail all researched and designed by Mrs James Ward Thorne. 
Miniature Sitting Room...every detail is created in miniature

There were so many amazing and renowned works of art that it was overwhelming. And we have so many photos that it is still overwhelming.  But here are a few of standouts for us.
Cow's Skull with Calico Roses, Georgia O'Keeffe,  1931

"Lilies" Window by Tiffany Glass & Decorating, 1892-1895

Thanksgiving by Doris Lee, 1935
This piece was criticized for being overly folksy, but that actually only added to the artist's fame.

The Weaver by Diego Rivera, 1936

Water Lilies, Claude Monet,  1906 

Having had lunch at the museum (steak salad, flatbread pizza with arugula and prosciutto) we returned "home" for a light snack that evening.  Later we enjoyed the view from our window over Chicago at dusk.

Navy Pier at Dusk taken from our window
There's still more for us to see and do in Chicago and we'll address that in our next posting.

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