Saturday, July 26, 2008

downtown - day 1

Tuesday morning we awoke fairly early to catch the 930 train into the city. I knew we had started our trip off right when the train showed up on the opposite platform we were standing on - we had to book it with our luggage over to the other side Amazing Race style. To be fair we were in better shape than the several families with young kids and strollers and the elderly couple to be making such a dash. The train has (likely several) "conductors" on it to sell you your tickets - he was fabulously cliche as he hollered "ALL ABOARD" and patrolled his cars reprimanding teenagers and punching tickets in his conductors cap.

We arrived without other incident at Ogilvie Station and took a cab to our hotel not wanting to deal with walking or public transit and our luggage. We stayed at the Sofitel Water Tower Hotel and were very pleasantly surprised to find our rooms ready for us way before check in time. Our room was pretty crazy - the bathroom was about the same size as the room itself and was 80% marble. The bathtub and shower were separate and there was a speakerphone by the toilet. No saving the planet here by reusing your towels either - they didn't just replace them daily, but twice daily! Once in the am and then as needed at turndown. Seemed a little excessive, but it was fun that they cleaned up the bathroom so often.

As soon as we had ditched our bags and found a restaurant to have a reasonable lunch at (not our hotel!) it was time for our sightseeing extravaganza to commence. We underestimated distances a bit while planning - my guess at a 30min walk turned out to be much closer to 45. Tired of searching for the planetarium, we stopped to take in the Shedd Aquarium. Chicago only appears to do one size - huge. The sheer size of the place was likely the most impressive part, maybe I'm getting cynical, but between Marine Land and the Biodome there wasn't really anything new to see in terms of species or display. We also missed the dolphin show not realizing that they only block off the majority of the entrances to the viewing area but not all. We did run into the people sitting in front of us on the train on the way in to town proving that no matter where you go it's bound you run into someone.

After the Aquarium, we were up for continuing our walk to the Adler Planetarium. It didn't hurt that we clearly saw the planetarium from the inside of the aquarium and were much more confident that we could finish up the last 5 minutes of the walk. The Adler Planetarium was also gianormous with several theatres (two with domes) and all sorts of exhibits and things to see. We rested our feet and took in two shows - one on the seasonal stars above Chicago and one on cosmic collisions. We didn't spend a tonne of time looking at the exhibits as we closed the museum down and they didn't seem too keen on extending their hours for us. The planetarium boasts the best view of the downtown, so we hung out appreciating the skyline and just how far we had walked before hopping on a bus back to the Water Tower area.

This was really the only day we figured we'd have any time to do any shopping, so we started by hitting up Michigan Ave - The Magnificent Mile as they call it. Neither of us had much luck, so we headed over to Macy's since Jeff raved about it on their trip to NY. I've always thought I hated department stores, Macy's solidified my hatred for the gigantic monsters. Unless you're looking for homestuff or make-up, finding anything amongst the 8 floors is just way too frustrating for me. Macy's organises everything by brand instead of by type of clothes. Seriously? You want me to peruse 6 floors of women's apparel for a dress without even sort of grouping like styles of clothes together? As if. H had a little more luck in the adjoining mall and picked up some shirts at Abercrombie and Hollister. I have no idea what they make their shirts out of, but the fabric feels like heaven.

Our last mission of the day was to find someplace to eat. This seemed like it would be a pretty simple task since we were staying in a very busy area. Oh right, simple things rarely are while on vacation. We walked for ages, stopping at every restaurant we saw to look at the menu - it all looked delicious and was priced accordingly. It also all seemed to follow the HUGE rule. The size of the steaks on people's plates as we walked by? About the same size as my head. We also saw a couple with a quarter of a carrot cake, not a short one either, one of those totally ridiculous 4 full layer cakes. Not really what we were looking for... I finally convinced H that the Cheesecake Factory we saw right at the beginning of our trek would have something reasonable and delicious for supper. Not wanting cheesecake for supper he was pretty skeptical, but happily it didn't disappoint. It was huge, but reasonably priced, and H even said it was the best burger he's ever eaten. Point - me. Of course our waiter convinced us to share a dessert and we left to pack it in for the night feeling uncomfortably full.

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