I grew up in Northern Illinois, about two and a half hours from Chicago. I've been to the city many times. I even briefly lived in a nearby suburb. I've always loved Chicago. Maybe because it was the nearest really big city and I felt some sort of "Illinois" connection to it. Maybe because a trip to Chicago often meant I was headed to the airport to go somewhere. For whatever reason, I've always loved Chicago. My parents and I disagreed on this point. For them, Chicago was a place where we could accomplish certain things not available in our small hometown. Trips to Chicago had a specific purpose and, upon completion, it was time to leave. The sooner, the better. After all, we don't want to get caught in the rush hour gridlock!! In my later teens and the years since then, trips to Chicago often were even less enjoyable as the purpose became my health. Prior to my diagnosis with lupus, we began seeing a specialist at Rush Presbyterian - St. Luke's Hospital. Eventually after things stabilized and I was diagnosed with lupus, I continued seeing another doctor at Rush and followed him as he left the hospital for a private practice in the suburbs. Now, I'm happy to report that I am in very good health! However, once a year, I must make a pilgrimage to Chicagoland to see said doctor for my annual checkup. (We talk at other points during the year and he sends requests for test to my local doctor, but he agreed to continue seeing me despite my move to Arkansas as long as I agreed to make an in-person visit at least once a year. No problem!)
In years past, I've often gone to Illinois for holidays, events, and general visits with my parents and extended family. Now that my parents are living in Arkansas most of the time and my grandparents visit much more frequently, there was no need for a trip "home", per se. Instead, I could just go to Chicago, see the doc and then be on my way. I'd fly up, see him and then fly back. Maybe the same day, maybe spend the night. Well, that was the plan anyway...
Plans abruptly changed when Mugglecast so graciously informed me that Harry Potter was in town!! The Museum of Science and Industry was hosting the first stop of Harry Potter: The Exhibition. Rooms and rooms full of HP movie props? A chance to throw a quaffle? Say no more! I'M THERE!!!! (Insert your dork jokes here if you must.)
At this point, I took stock of how few truly touristy things I'd done in Chicago. (See "small hometown parents".) Aside from a few museums and the Sears Tower, I'd really missed out on most of the things the city boasts. So, it was decided. After the doctor visit, I'd strap on a fanny pack, hang a camera from my neck and go be a tourist. Of course, being a tourist alone would be okay, but being a tourist with my sister-in-law would be even better!!! LP also loves to travel and also loves Harry Potter, so I asked if she would like to come along and she agreed. We made the trip last week (oops, forgot our fanny packs at home) and had a fantastic time.
First up, my doctor visit. Everything went very well. No significant changes and the usual scowl from Doc upon learning I generally forget my multi-vitamin. No lecture about the weight I've gained. Whew. (Although my own fears anticipating the lecture probably did the trick. Wii Fit tonight.)
Next up: Consume large amounts of deep-dish pizza. (See "weight gain") This is a must-do for all Chicago tourists, I'm sure. One of my best friends from high schools lives in the city and was able to meet up with us for dinner. Our other high school best friend still lives where we grew up but she graciously agreed to drive in. It was great to see them. I hadn't seen them since our 10 year reunion which has already been 2 years ago! I got to meet their children, they got to meet my sister-in-law and we all had a great time. Even though I don't keep in touch with them as often as I should, it's so fantastic to catch up and to reminisce and it not feel like 12+ years has past. And, did you see the pizza?! MMMM!!!!!
LP and I did have a rental car but the general plan was to only use it to go to and from the doctor's office out in the suburbs. All our city adventures would be via public transportation. After all, the El (or L, depending on who you ask) is another Chicago staple. It's a subway, for all intents and purposes, but a good deal of it is above ground... elevated... the El. Of course I've never ridden it before. My mom assured me through my childhood that it would be a highly effective way to catch a disease and / or be murdered. But what is vacation without risking life and limb? So, the El was the plan. The pizza place was only a few blocks from where my friend lives and she was going to pick us up at the station. But, with car seat complications from their kids, it would be easier if we would just drive in. Um, sure. We have the Garmin. No problem. Well, we did make it to the pizza place just fine (after sitting in the infamous gridlock for the requisite amount of time to develop road rage).
However, there was no parking available so we decided to "make the block"... and somehow got several blocks off course.
That's how we accidentally ended up at Wrigley Field.
I'm a Cubs fan. I've never seen Wrigley. I screamed when I realized where we were. LP is also a Cubs fan. She screamed as she tried to get the camera out and take the picture above as we rounded the corner. After dinner, we decided to go back and take more pictures. Fantastic!!
Friday morning, it was off to our date with Harry! We took the El downtown without incident. We did have some trouble finding the connecting bus that would take us to the museum. Eventually we got there. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside but Mr. Weasley's flying car was in the main lobby. Awesome!!
The exhibit itself was beyond words. This post has already gotten quite lengthy and if you are not a Harry Potter fanatic like myself, you won't really appreciate it anyway. It was just so cool to see all the props and costumes. I couldn't believe how TINY to costumes were from the first couple of movies!! Needless to say, I was in Harry Heaven!! The exhibition will continue to tour for a few years and add items as it goes. I hope to be able to see it again near the end of the tour. And at any points in between.
Next up, we planned to take a cruise down the Chicago River that highlighted the architecture of the area. It was sold out so we bought tickets to a different cruise the went down the river and then out into Lake Michigan. At one point we thought we may have accidentally gotten tickets to a children's pirate ship cruise (which would have been cool. Arg!) but it was a regular cruise tour. It was incredible. I've never been down the river or out on the lake. The expected corny jokes from the tour guide were actually kind of funny and the weather was as beautiful as the scenery. Anyone visiting Chicago MUST put the river and lake cruise on their to-do list!! (Skyline picture at the top of the post is from the cruise.)
Our last stop for the day was the Sears Tower. Yes, I know that technically it's called the Willis Tower now but I refuse to call it that. It's the Sears Tower. Period. End of discussion. Anyway, like I said, I have actually been up in it several times. However, this time the Ledge was open. What is the Ledge, you ask? Giant glass boxes that protrude from the side of the building, 1353 feet above the ground. Oh yeah, all that separates you from becoming part of the scenery is a few inches of glass. Again, I'M THERE!!
The line to get in was RIDICULOUS. I've never had to wait more than a few minutes before. Apparently everyone wanted to see the Ledge. And now I understand why. Oh my goodness!! The views from the Sears Tower always amaze me... but to be able to see it below my feet as well was awesome. I never felt like I was going to plummet to my death or anything like that. (Since returning home and showing folks the pictures, I have learned that a lot of my friends are weenies! I can't believe how many of them are like "I would have passed out!" "You'd never get me out on that thing!" But, to each his own. I might not be scared of heights or glass... but I have my own set of irrational fears, so I'll try not to make too much fun of others! But they have no idea what they are missing, that's for sure!!)
You can see the buildings below us in this picture. This ended up being one of my favorite pictures from the whole trip. The Ledge was our last really touristy thing. The next day, we did some shopping before heading home. It was a quick trip and there were many more things we'd like to do in the future, but I couldn't have had a better time this trip. We're already talking about next year and maybe, maybe, letting our hubbys come with us. Who would have thought my doctor's appointment would be such a great getaway?!
So, to LP, thanks for going with me and being so fun. And thanks for my Marauder's Map. And to Chicago, like Frankie said, "Each time I leave, Chicago is... tuggin' at my sleeve, Chicago is..." See you next year, Chi-town! And yes, a Cubs game WILL be on the agenda!!