Cheerio, Chicago

And so I come to the final part of our trip. Our place in Chicago was really close to Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, so we got super cheap tickets for a midweek afternoon game and had an ace time. We saw some cracking home runs which was very exciting for young Master H, while little Miss just enjoyed being able to clamber all over the seats and generally have a play.

wrigley-field

wrigley-field


wrigley-field

wrigley-field

That evening we took full advantage of our guests and left them with the kids for the evening while Mr H and I went to the theatre to see my home town namesake... Hamilton!

hamilton

hamilton

hamilton

I'd heard that this was THE new show on the block to see, and it really was brilliant. What made it even more special, and I hadn't even realised this when I booked it, was that it was set just outside Boston at the time around the American War of Independence. So here I was, seeing it just weeks after I'd been learning about this precise period in history (see "Heroes are my weakness" post). Better yet, I was seeing it in America, surrounded by an American audience, hearing actors with real American accents. When I studied theatre at university there was a fair bit of focus on the audience experience and what you, as an audience member, bring to the auditorium and how this augments your viewing. All I can say is that this perfect confluence of time and place added beautifully to my appreciation of the show, and the fact that Mr H thought it was fantastic topped it off nicely. Whenever you instigate a joint event there's always that nervous hope that your companion is actually having a good time, but when I realised the subject matter (history) and heard him applauding with genuine appreciation after the first few musical numbers I knew he was enjoying it too. Indeed, we both went home afterwards and immediately started listening to the music. And a month on, the soundtrack is still top of my birthday list (next month husband dearest, if you're reading).

On our way out I bought a Hamilton mug (Mr H has bought THREE souvenir mugs already on this trip. And I'm the one that drinks tea all the time!) We also took a few more photos out the front of the theatre, and just to be safe, I also snapped a quick selfie. Who truly checks a photo taken by a stranger to verify if it's any good? And even if you do, would you ask for a re-take if it wasn't?

Anyway, I shouldn't have been so hasty. The stranger's photo was fine (it's the one above of the two of us in front of the Hamilton poster), but my back-up below shows up the obvious fail of the much-loved selfie shot.

hamilton

Ha ha! Curiously enough, I flipped the photo to its mirror image and I don't like the photo as much. Partly it's because I know it's not authentic (I don't doctor any of my images here, save the odd colour correction in poor lighting conditions), and partly because it's not the face I see in the mirror. I'm sure I read somewhere that there have been studies proving that people prefer mirror images of themselves over (non-selfie) photographs because their reflected face is the one they see in the mirror, the one they recognise as their truest self. So I wonder if this is partly why we have a global obsession with selfies. It's more than good old-fashioned narcissism. It's actually about us showing the world the person we believe we are. This is me, world. This is me.

Anyway, where were we? Ah yes.

Our next big visit was to the Field Musuem a couple of days later, which is Chicago's natural history museum - or dinosaur museum, as we call them in our house. I say "our house" quite casually, meaning wherever we happen to be at the time. We think Master H is under the impression that we have a house in Vancouver, one in San Francisco, one in Boston etc. - quite a fun thought! Anyway, the dinosaur exhibit was very well put together as a sort of visual essay, if you will: you walk through the different ages with explanations about the events that shaped the earth at that time, animations or pictures showing what some of the creatures looked like and the lots and lots of skeletons of the dinosaurs from that age. The only downside was that it did feel very academic, which meant that our two young toddlers just wanted to tear through until they got to see some full-blown model dinosaurs - of which there were disappointingly few. Still, it was one of the best dinosaur museums for helping me understand the landscape at the time. Maybe one for the geologists among you?

field-museum

field-museum

field-museum

field-museum

field-museum

field-museum


There were some other good exhibits in the museum which we moved through quite quickly due to the little ones running out of steam in the afternoon, but one that stood out to me and deserves mention was a section about slavery. Suddenly, having walked past a few African exhibits, I found myself inside the hold of a slave ship. A dark, cramped slave ship, with sketches of scared, fatigued people on the walls beside me, and an ugly, triumphant figure at the end proclaiming, "Sold! More than 10,000 Africans." It's disgusting, and rightly so. Bravo, Field Museum. (For anyone who'd like to see more, when I was fact-checking for this post I came across this blog post which has photos of the slavery exhibit and describes the experience of walking through it really well.)

A final note should go to the special exhibit, Underground Adventure, which required an extra ticket but which we got included by purchasing our tickets through the Go Chicago Card - something I'd recommend if you don't want to necessarily get the all-inclusive CityPASS which we skipped this time. Our visitors didn't have the Go Chicago Card as it didn't make sense for the smaller number of places they would be visiting with us, but the nice chap at the Field Museum ticket desk gave them free passes for Underground Adventure anyway. That was now the second time we'd been given a freebie at an entry desk - jolly good folk, these Chicagoans!

We made Underground Adventure our final exhibit of the day (largely because it was right beside the exit), and it was a fun way to end our visit. We all stood in a room with special lights and sound which announced that we were now being shrunk to 1/100th of our normal size, and when we walked through the next door we found ourselves face to face with life-size bugs! What heaven for a 3-year-old boy, even if at first he found it a little bit intimidating!

field-museum

Some of the insects were animatronic which made it feel very immersive, and we all agreed it was a unique experience which was well worth the visit.

That evening, after having dinner all together back at our Chicago house (I've decided to go along with young Master H's theory. I mean it's all a matter of perception until you actually want to go to one of the houses, so why not daydream?). Well anyway, that evening Mr H and I mustered the energy to head back into the city to visit a bar we'd stumbled across on our first visit to Chicago 11 years ago. That time we were only in Chicago for two nights: on our second evening with an early onward flight the next morning we'd enjoyed a nice dinner and were heading back to our hotel, but I had dragged Mr H on to find a music bar, adamant (as I am wont to be, I shall accept) that this town was famous for live music. Well, two hours later it was me dragging him out of the bar as he was having such a good time. You see the place we'd found was Howl at the Moon, a duelling piano bar where two musicians play audience requests and try to outdo each other with their displays of skill, quirky appropriations and extremely able messing around.

This time round the bar had a different vibe, plus it was a Friday night so it was really busy and so the performance felt a bit less personal, but we still had a lot of fun. I had been reassured by my Chicago hairdresser (recommended to me by my San Francisco one - such is the life of a globetoddler that one needs one's hair done in multiple cities!) that Howl at the Moon was still a great venue, and he was right: although there wasn't much in the way of duelling this time round, they made up for it by having a full band for much of the night which both gave an amazing sound and enabled them to play a really broad range of tunes.

howl-at-the-moon

howl-at-the-moon


The next day was one we'd all been excited about all week: Miss H's second birthday! The weather had taken a sharp turn so we needed to find a fun way to spend the day indoors, and fortunately we'd been holding back on visiting the Shedd Aquarium for just such an occasion. Here's the view as we walked from the car park along the waterfront.

chicago-fog

I'm not sure how many more pictures of our kids looking at fish you nice people can take, so instead I'll show you some photos of the dolphin show, little miss enjoying her birthday treat (brought out specially by the lovely cafe staff when we mentioned it was her birthday), and the two kiddies enjoying the penguin play area.

shedd-aquarium

shedd-aquarium

shedd-aquarium

shedd-aquarium

shedd-aquarium

shedd-aquarium

shedd-aquarium

shedd-aquarium

shedd-aquarium

shedd-aquarium

shedd-aquarium

That evening we returned home to enjoy cake and give the birthday girl a chance to play with some of her new pressies (fortunately she was delighted with a few small toys and a new water bottle!), and agreed we'd had a smashing day.

The next day we decided to escape the dreary weather and head down to warmer climes, so we drove south for about 2.5 hours to the quiet little town of Lafayette. It's a curious place: the famous Purdue University is on the doorstep, but where I was expecting something of a vibrant, if small, town centre, it felt instead like a sleepy town that you might easily pass by on your way somewhere else. We tried to find a nice place for lunch, but just came across fast food chains or dodgy-looking diners. Mind you, I guess cheap eats is exactly what students are after? The town isn't without charm, though: it happened to be Mothers' Day in the US that day, and as I stood at the pelican crossing holding my newly-two-year-old's hand the teenage girl beside us turned to me, smiled, and wished me a happy Mothers' Day. And as we strolled down the pavement on the other side a driver slowed for the lights as they once again turned amber, and when he saw our group he shouted out cheerily to myself and my mother-in-law, "Happy Mothers' Day, ladies!" You gotta love Americans sometimes.

After settling for a cheap and semi-terrible burrito lunch we decided there wasn't much more to see in the town centre and so drove out to Fort Ouiatenon, a historic park which was established in 1717 as the first fortified European settlement in (now) Indiana. Goodness only knows how we found this place; it's amazing what Google maps and a quick piggyback on the McDonald's wifi can come up with!

It turned out to be a perfect little stop: the kiddies ran around gleefully, not seeming to mind the heat (it was over 30°C), while we adults appreciated the change in scenery and the cool drinks we'd wisely brought along with us. Walking further into the park, we discovered a makeshift settlement showing how the early inhabitants lived which was a source of much excitement for our little explorers. Master H, an avid watcher of "Blaze and the Monster Machines" which teaches kids basic physics as the vehicles manoeuvre round obstacles, even made us all chuckle when he brought over a brick and declared, "This brick is heavy. It must have a lot of mass." Ha ha!

fort-ouiatenon

fort-ouiatenon

fort-ouiatenon

After we'd all run out of energy and water we climbed back into our seven-seater and, after a quick stop at a Walmart en route for some essential supplies, arrived back in Chicago at foggy twilight.

chicago-skyline-foggy-twilight

The fountain you can see in the picture above is called Buckingham Fountain, and it was the one landmark we kept passing from the road but hadn't seen up close. So the next day, the final one of our holiday, when the sun shone we decided to venture into the city so Mr H's parents could do a bit of souvenir shopping, and we included a walk over to this pretty fountain.

buckingham-fountain

After a play in the fabulous Maggie Daley park (which has the steepest slides I've ever seen - needless to say we were too busy chasing grandparents chasing children to take photos) we marched along the Magnificent Mile. This name denotes the part of Michigan Avenue that functions as the city's main artery, so in between the designer stores there are various souvenir shops where Mr H's dad was able to find a gorgeous picture of the Chicago skyline. The street also leads tourists up to the pretty Water Tower, one of only two downtown buildings which survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Obviously now a shopping mall and condo block has been built around it, but it's still nicely arresting to see the very different style of gothic architecture after a street full of sleek, glass-fronted, high-end shops.

buckingham-fountain

We checked the time when we got to this point, and promptly legged it back to the car park as we were getting dangerously close to our pre-paid exit time. I buckled the children into their seats with a real sense of triumph when I looked at my watch and saw we still had nine minutes to spare. And then Master H announced that he needed the toilet. Fearful of rush-hour traffic on top of an already 25-minute drive at the very least, I barrelled my firstborn over to Mr H and told him to race back to the lifts where I was sure I'd seen signs for the restrooms. A few anxious minutes later they made it back to the car, and by some miracle we cleared the exit barrier three minutes before we would have been locked in the car park FOREVER, Crystal Maze-style. Phew!

And then, that was it. The next day was departure day. I'll finish as I started, with shots of a plane and a park, albeit this time in reverse order (our flight was an evening one so we tried to help the kids expend some energy in the morning). We travelled back together with the grandparents, which made moving four suitcases, three pieces of hand luggage, two car seats, two children and one buggy through airports MUCH easier, let me tell you!

on-the-slide

on-the-slide

plane-wing


So, North America: it's been a blast. Six weeks for this stint; almost six months for the previous one. And in between we've had lots of other adventures back in England and Scotland. Maybe I'll post about them too in due course, and slot them into the book of all of these blog entries where they belong chronologically. After all, these have been part of our globetoddling year, too. Watch this space.

Finally: thank you for reading, friends. I've really enjoyed documenting our trip, and thus creating an amazing memento for our kids (and ourselves) - but to know people are reading it inspires me so much more than the writing alone could ever do.

Now go and plan your own adventures, whether they last a year, a week, or a day. Enjoy!


"Always there has been an adventure just around the corner - and the world is still full of corners."
- Roy Chapman Andrews, 20th century American explorer


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