Hello, Chicago

Turquoise river. A classy skyline that's impressive without feeling imposing. The iconic mirror bean statue.

These are things that we didn't see as soon as we got to Chicago. Having sat through the 8-hour drive from Toronto to Chicago Mr H and I decided it would be far fairer to let the little ones run around at a local park on our first day, and that we venture no further than the local Whole Foods supermarket to stock up on bananas, fruity bars and all such other necessities. However there are only so many photos of toddlers on slides that you lovely people can take, plus the scenery shots really set the, ahem, scene, so I'm going to start the visuals for this post with some shots of the windy city. It really is mighty purty.

chicago-city-centre

chicago-city-centre

chicago-city-centre

chicago-city-centre

chicago-city-centre

chicago-city-centre


Chicago has a free zoo in Lincoln Park, which was quite close to where we were staying (a suburb called Lake View), so we took a trip there on day 2. As it was free we weren't expecting much, but to our delight it's a terrific zoo! And the free street parking alongside the entrance was a double bonus!

What made the zoo particularly excellent in my opinion was not only the range of animals (which included lions, penguins, polar bears and gorillas) but the amount of indoor exhibits which backed on to some of the indoor spaces for the animals. It was quite chilly the day we visited so it was nice to nip in away from the wind for a bit, and there were also some fun exhibits indoors for the kids to play with or clamber on.

zoo

zoo

zoo

zoo

zoo

Master H was a big fan of the gorillas, but I think his favourite thing at the zoo was actually the (ticketed, but fairly cheap) carousel. I didn't even notice the ostrich photo bomb until now!

carousel


After a couple of hours at the zoo we wandered out through a different exit - the beauty of a free zoo is there are no enclosing barriers so the "exits" are really just walkways into different areas of the park - and stumbled across Lincoln Park Conservatory. And it was free too! We strolled through some beautiful displays, and to Master H's excitement there were even some dinosaurs in the fern garden as the board explained that these were the kinds of plants that were around in dinosaur times, which I thought was very cute.

conservatory

conservatory

conservatory

conservatory

conservatory

conservatory


Then before we tumbled into the car we had a play in the park across the road. The little ones had a marvellous time while Mr H and I soaked up the remaining rays of the day, enjoying some glorious afternoon sun now that the wind had died down. I'm not sure I've ever worn flip-flops and a coat beforehand, but it was a winner combination that day!

playground

playground

playground

flip-flops


We were staying just north of the city, but we had read that further up north the suburbs become much grander as the "north shore" is the most affluent part of greater Chicago. So on day 3 we took a drive up the lake shore. The first place that the architecture starts to get really pretty is Northwestern University, famously where Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, studied.

northwestern-university

northwestern-university

Then driving up into the shoreline the houses really did start to look rather nice. Of the ones that weren't completely obscured by trees, we could see that most had triple garages and extensive grounds, and a few even had gorgeous circular driveways. And bear in mind we were seeing the back of these houses as the fronts all spilled out on to the lake. Not too shabby, eh?

north-shore-house

north-shore-house

north-shore-house

north-shore-house

Oh, and this is one of the school auditoriums. Though to my eyes it looks quite like the clock building in Back to the Future, no?

north-shore-school-auditorium

As we'd been driving for a fair time we stopped in at a park for a quick play near the lakeside at one point, but it was a lot colder than it looked, so we soon hopped back into the car!

north-shore-lakeside-park

We finished up our drive in Lake Forest, and had a nice lunch at Market House on the Square. Then we rounded off the day with a longer play in a park on our route home (by now the day had warmed up a bit), during which Master H practised his baseball with a newly acquired bat and ball set from good old Target. I was either backstop or Miss H's personal assistant at that time hence no photos!

And so it was on day 4 that we made it into the city - hooray! Chicago really has to be one of my favourite city centres. The narrow river softly bifurcates the skyscrapers and gives the city a little shimmer and some space to breathe; it's never too broad that it takes over and demands an avenue in its own right. The buildings are light, glassy and each one interesting in different ways. And the "L" train makes it very easy to get in and around - we chose to take the train for this first venture which was a good decision as it was very quiet on the way in, and the on our return journey we seemed to get on at an early station so we got seats even though it was rush hour. And the people who sat next to me were friendly - good on ya Chicagoans!

train

on-the-train

At lunch time we were keen to try Chicago pizza, so we visited a place called Pizano's and ordered one thin crust (apparently this place is Oprah Winfrey's favourite thin crust pizza restaurant) and one traditional deep dish pizza (apparently 4th in the nation's favourites). My deep dish was pretty tasty though heavy on the cheese, and Mr H could have had more pepperoni on his (even I'd have said it was light on meat and I'm nowhere near as committed a carnivore as he is), but the real treat was the service. Our waiter was a cheery old boy whom we later learned was the general manager of the place, and he kept telling us that we had a beautiful family and that one of his best friends lives in Glasgow! Oh, and he insisted I send him a postcard for his birthday next month from London, so he gave me a business card and told me to address it to "Chachi" - pronounced like the young boyfriend in Happy Days (remember him?).

Anyway, Pizano's was a cute place with lots of fun pictures on the walls; it was near Millenium Park where we'd just been letting the kids have a play after taking most of the photos at the start of this post (Millenium Park houses Cloud Gate aka "The Bean" statue and boasts a gorgeous view of the skyline); and Chachi even gave us (and all his other tables, ha ha!) a free big dessert to all share. I'd recommend it!

pizza-lunch

pizza-lunch

pizza-lunch


In the afternoon we walked further into the heart of the city to see the buildings up close, before I then stopped for a coffee at a cute place called Dollop.

city-centre

coffee-shop

Being a Friday we anticipated a lot of commuters heading out of the city early, so it was soon time to head home. We caught a train shortly after 4pm and returned for our normal evening of kids watching a bit of telly or the iPad (or sometimes both together), Mr H cooking dinner, me sorting out laundry and replenishing the go-bag (as we call it) based on exactly how many nappies / fruity bars / spare clothes were exhausted that day, both of us then pleading with our children to eat afore-mentioned dinner, an attempt by yours truly to force-fit as many dishes in the dishwasher as possible, and finally all falling into the blissfully familiar routine of bath and bed (adults included!).

watching-ipad


Coming up: we hit some of Chicago's museums, and take a hike in Starved Rock State Park.

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