Let's venture back to mid-June, 2012. Our Scene: Chicago, IL, the last full day of our fabulous extended weekend vacation. It's a Saturday. Last night we hit some avant-garde late night theater and Italian for dinner. We got home super late. Jon Sands split his pants during the show. He was pissy about this so he bailed on our Saturday morning boat ride plans (plus I think he needed a break from the Sands), but Joe and I persevered. We pushed through the lack of sleep, properly bathed ourselves, dressed, and hopped a cab over to the the touristy docks for our 9:00am architectural boat tour on the Chicago River.
I wasn't particularly excited about this boat trip, and pretty much agreed to go just because Joe has wanted to for a long time. I was wrong. Yes, I said that, I was wrong. It was one of the best parts of the trip. Though I'm amazed by how many people they can cram on one of those boats. We stood there near the back of the line of people waiting to board and I genuinely wondered whether there would be room for everyone on board. Who am I to wonder? Like the boat operators don't know exactly how many bodies fit on their boats? We loaded on, grabbed a couple of seats up top and dove into the touristy fun.
Our volunteer tour guide, through the Chicago Architecture Foundation, was very knowledgeable and clearly enjoys her job. She was full of historical facts, anecdotes, and interesting tidbits about the spectacular buildings that fill downtown Chicago and pop up all around the river. We spent nearly two hours cruising around, taking photos, feeling tiny under these soaring towers, and sweating, because it was friggin hot, again. But the slight breeze on the river helped a little bit.
There are just so many statuesque, unique, graceful, and varied buildings in Chicago. It's like the land of experimentation. Gothic next to art deco next to modern next to straight tall shiny glass post-modern. I love the variety and the view from the river is pretty much perfection. I got a crick in my neck from staring up at all of the buildings and taking a ton of photos. It was so beautiful you had to. Totally worth it.
I love this building covered in ivy. It's just so incongruous in the middle of the city.
Oh, and there's the photographer. He took these spectacular shots.
People love boats. People love waving at people on boats. All I kept thinking when we passed under each of the many bridges was, please don't let Dave Matthews Band's tour bus be traveling over us this morning. We left unscathed.
After two hours of fantastic boating and gawking and photographing, I'm a little sweaty, ready to walk around a bit, and desperate for some coffee, as the lack of sleep and proper caffeine consumption is catching up with me. We met up with Jon and headed over to grab some iced coffees and do a little shopping. Jon Sands is even more of a bargain hunting Marshall's addict than Joe and I are. It's impressive. Anytime we visit we always make a Marshall's or TJ Maxx visit. We hit TJ Maxx, found a few cute things,and then headed out back into the heat to track down a little Chicago style lunch at Gold Coast Dogs.
I'm not a big fan of pickles, and I hate to admit this but I love ketchup on my hot dog. But if you're in Chicago, don't you have to try a Chicago style dog? It was really good. All the combination of tangy and zesty and vinegary, yum. But I still like a little plain with mustard and ketchup, but dill pickle good.
Based on a recommendation from the classy Bonnie Tierney (my sister-in-law Katy's aunt who lives in Chicago) our gang headed over to the Chicago Cultural Center to take in a little bit of art, and death. First, the building itself is insanely beautiful. Two huge Tiffany domes, mosaics everywhere, lots of galleries, lots of stairs and places to stare at the dramatic and detailed interiors. Entry is free. The air conditioning is frigid. It was a perfect place to spend a few hours.
And they had several galleries filled with small art exhibits. The first we stopped into was a photography exhibit of decaying and damaged buildings in places like Detroit. The decay and ruins are bizarre and sad and still kind of lovely, to see the incongruity of a majestic old theater with snow drifts over the seats and stage because the roof has collapsed. It's a little depressing. But moving too. We build these massive buildings to meet our needs during the 1920's and 30's and then as times and needs and communities change, the spaces become outdated, hard to maintain and what was once a gem on Main Street becomes an albatross.
The main art exhibit, and the main reason we made a visit, at the Cultural Center was the Morbid Curiosity exhibit, a collection gathered by Richard Harris of the art of death from different cultures and centuries. Pieces depicting war, rape, violence, death and also the glamorizing of death. Skulls and violence, bits of bones, images of ghosts and the deceased. It was a superb collection.
It was one of the most intriguing and strange art exhibits I've ever visited. I loved it. All three of us did. The other cool thing that they offered was a phone self guided tour, dial a phone number, type in the exhibit number and learn a little bit about the art piece in the artist's own words. Some of the imagery is unsettling, and even gross. But having all of the pieces in the room together, one after another showed the wide range of ways that humans express and communicate about death.
After the exhibit, we spent more time just wandering around the building and taking photographs. I can't stress enough how stunning the domes and building truly are. It's one of those places that may not be on your radar when you visit Chicago, but it should be. Standing under one of those domes with the light pouring down in through each small colored glass piece, the ceiling glows. You glow too, just standing there. The majesty of this type of space is somehow both soothing and stirring. Stop by, visit, take it in, get some art. It's free. If my words don't convince you, Joe's photos should.
See! Getting cultured is fun!
Who designs ceilings like that anymore? No one.
After our relaxing and morbid little trip through the Cultural Center, we were ready for a break. We headed back outside, caught some entertaining street performers, a wedding, some more architecture, and then we headed back to the apartment to crash for a bit. We watched a few more episodes of The League, laid around on big fluffy couches, and eventually got hungry again. It happens. We walked a lot. We wanted more food.
Jon suggested we grab a solid American meal over at Rock Bottom Brewery, just a few blocks from our apartment. The food was excellent pub food. Joe had lobster mac and cheese, Jon dove into a plate of chicken mac and cheese and I had thin crust pizza and a beer, delicious delicious beer. We walked home. Sent Jon off on his merry way to recover from all the fun, and we headed back to our apartment to pack and prepare to head home.
And that was pretty much our vacation. We crammed in the action. We crammed in the fun. Some touristy stops, some off the beaten path sights, all of it exactly what we wanted, all of it. Chicago, you will always be one of my favorite places to visit. So stay put, Jon Sands, stay put. We'll be back.
One final note, on our drive out of Chicago on Sunday morning we stopped in Joliet, IL to grab a quick breakfast and had one of the most bizarre experiences in a Burger King. As we stood by the counter waiting for our order this old man handed us each a couple of Starlight mints and proceeded to tell us this story, "Here, take some. Mints marinated for 24 hours in 6,000 proof alcohol, a secret Polish recipe so secret, that I'm 1/4 Polish and they won't even tell me." We did not eat the mints. But thanks anyway, sir.