Give 'em the old razzle dazzle

About a week into our time in Chicago we welcomed our first (and only) visitors: Mr H's folks - aka the babysitters! Before we felt we could take full advantage of their childminding skills we first wanted to show them the highlights of this fun city, as well as explore together some of the highly-rated activities we had been keeping on the to-do list. Project Razzle Dazzle: commence!

The weather was still deciding what to do with itself so our first stop was the safe choice of the Museum of Science & Industry. Initially we entered into a relatively frenetic area where we battled with a school trip to try to climb aboard a tractor, but we were soon gladly able to make our way to the "Ideas Factory" area at our allotted time (it's ticketed with a start time but there's no additional cost). This part of the museum is designed with young kids in mind, and our two had a ball.

museum-science-industry

museum-science-industry


Anything Master H could do, well, Miss H could certainly give it a try (after building a tower first, natch)...

crane-master-H

crane-miss-H


Master H's absolute favourite exhibit however was this incredible "Swiss Jolly Ball" in the cafeteria area. It is the world's largest flipper machine, 'flipper' being a type of pinball. The metal ball travels round lots of different intricate mechanisms, all advertising different aspects of Switzerland.

swiss-jolly-ball

Mr H and his dad then went off to tour a special exhibit, the U505 submarine, which they said was rather impressive. We all walked round the outside but it's hard to take decent photos of something which is the length of a city block, so you're best to check it out on the museum website.

While they were doing that, we walked up to the weather centre, where Master H was taken by this wave machine where he could program the wave's frequency and wavelength. The highly observant among you will spot that Miss H, meanwhile, enjoyed walking like a frog (she reported).



My favourite exhibit was the Mirror Maze, which was harder than it first appeared. Now I understand why last entrance was thirty minutes prior to closing time!

mirror-maze

mirror-maze

A brisk stroll through the rest of the museum rounded off the afternoon, past a tornado, a model railroad and the space exhibit, and we all agreed we'd had a thoroughly interesting day.

museum-science-industry-hall


The following morning the sun was starting to break through the clouds, so we took our visitors to the zoo to impress them with the free-ness of it all!  This time though I think our kids decided they were the exhibits: Master H was a climbing monkey, and it looks like the penguins came to see Miss H, not the other way round.

zoo-climbing

zoo-penguins

After our picnic lunch the kiddies of course found their way on to the carousel again, and we rounded off the day by revisiting the pretty conservatory and then terrifying the grandparents as they watched their grandchildren merrily scamper up the equipment at the playground across the road.

By day three we felt we'd done enough "razzle" and it was time to wind down the pace and switch to a gentle "dazzle". So with the sun finally out in all its splendour we took a scenic drive up the north shore past all the grand houses, and stopped in at Guildhall Restaurant in Glencoe for a tasty brunch followed by a play in the park across the road.

guildhall-restaurant

glencoe-swings

We then continued on up to the beach at Forest Park, where we enjoyed a gorgeous afternoon in the sun. It really is a beautiful beach, and it's hard to think the water is a lake, not the ocean. We paddled, built sandcastles, threw stones, and took selfies. 'Twas lovely!

forest-lake-beach

forest-lake-beach

forest-lake-beach

forest-lake-beach

forest-lake-beach

forest-lake-beach

forest-lake-beach

(As a quick aside for anyone planning on going there: we later learned this is a private beach for locals only! Mr H took another trip up there later in the holiday with the gang while I was at the hairdresser and got a parking ticket for not having a permit, but fortunately the police officer revoked it when Mr H approached him to ask about the rules and he realised we were British tourists and not city-dwelling chancers!)

Anyway, that evening we were back in good time so I seized the opportunity to see some theatre. The area where we are staying is pretty residential, but by a stroke of jolly good luck there is a venue just a ten-minute walk away, and it was showing the Stephen Sondheim musical "Company". I had never seen this musical, nor had I been to a show that was set up in cabaret style (where the audience sit at little tables right in very close proximity to the performers). Mr H determined that it wouldn't be his type of show, so I set off on my own, had an excellent chat to the delightful local Chicagoans at my table, and enjoyed a wonderful show.

company-cabaret-show

company-cabaret-show


Mr H and his dad are always up for a bit of a road trip, so the next day they set off for Springfield, Illinois, which is home to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. I did offer Mr H a guest paragraph here but instead he opted to just send me some photos of the statue in the town, the house where the Lincolns lived before they moved into the White House, and a creepy-looking waxwork figure outside the Presidential Library museum. You have been warned!

lincoln-statue

lincoln-house

lincoln-waxwork

Meanwhile, a proud Nana wheeled her grandchildren around our local supermarket in one of those super-duper trolleys that should be standard everywhere.

trolley


The next morning we all re-grouped and did something I'd been looking forward to from the day we arrived in Chicago: a river cruise. Chicago is beautifully placed astride the Illinois River, and I was excited to learn more about all the different buildings that grace its banks. Our Shoreline Sightseeing cruise did not disappoint: our guide (Victor) was a very knowledgeable architecture graduate, and he certainly gave me a run for my money as he talked non-stop for an hour and a half! Obviously I can recall shamefully little about what Victor told us on the day, but what I did start to see for the first time was how the different buildings look together, as (good) architects consider their surroundings and how their new construction will be framed when it sits amidst its neighbours. Victor taught me to appreciate the juxtaposition of different angles and shapes next to one another, and helped me notice the breaths between buildings. So while I may not remember who designed what and in which year, I will certainly have a richer view of any skyline I look at from now on. And new ways of looking at things are what travel is often all about. Talk about adding perspective, eh?

river-cruise

river-cruise

river-cruise

river-cruise

river-cruise

river-cruise

river-cruise

cruise-me-miss

Then after a delicious 'modern Mexican' lunch at Cantina Laredo we walked across town and headed to the Willis Tower Skydeck for some more gorgeous views, this time from 1,353 feet up.

skydeck-view

skydeck-view


The big selling point of this tower over the observation platform at the 360 Observation Deck at the John Hancock Building is 'The Ledge'. There are four glass boxes, as it were, which overhang on one side of the building so you can see straight down to the ground below. There are stewards patrolling the queues of people so we did eventually get our turn, but much to my British irritation several groups of visitors seemed oblivious to the system and railroaded themselves in there ahead of the rest of us. Hey-ho, just a point of note if it's a major part of your experience there. For me the view straight down wasn't that thrilling because the glass floor is so heavily scratched and reflective, but I've included my one reasonable photo here so you can see for yourselves. (Next time I think I'd try the 'Tilt' experience at the 360 tower where you lean on a glass pane that then tilts you forward 30 degrees. Yikes!)

skydeck-glass-floor


After acceding to Master H's plea for a fire engine toy from the gift shop we set off for the train home, having all been thoroughly dazzled by Chicago from both the water and the air. For the youngest in our party though it was a real toss-up between the boat, the tower, or the leftover tortilla chips from lunch.

train-tortilla


Coming up... more baseball, more dinosaurs, and Chicago by night (thanks, babysitters!).

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