We are on the road very frequently, but our trips are always to visit family. Worthwhile travel for sure, but we’ve never done a “just the four of us” vacation. So last week we packed up the car and headed north to the land of nasally accents, deep dish pizza, impressive architecture, and failed sports teams:
We spent an action-packed two days there, enjoying family time and exposing the kids to new sights and experiences. Here, let me break it all down for you (and apologize for photo quality, we were supposed to have rain so I left the fancypants camera at home):
We stayed at the Best Western River North, right on Ohio and close to lots. Henry’s review as he walked into the lobby: “Wow, this is a neat place.” My review: fancy hotels are nice, but we weren’t there to stay in the hotel the whole time, so this place worked out perfectly. Close to bus and El, free parking, recently remodeled, a pool the kids were fired up for, $110 a night, and did I mention free parking? And the free parking? Also impressing Henry: the doughnuts we brought to eat for breakfast, Mom letting him lounge and play Angry Birds on her iPhone.
My love of McDonald’s coke aside, Andy and I are anti-chain and are annoyingly smug about it. I read a recommendation for Wishbone in a Frommer’s article, so for lunch our first day we schlepped the kids over to the West Loop for pancakes (H & E), crawfish etouffee (Andy), and beans and rice (me, and I’m still daydreaming about them).
That evening we tried out Lou Malnati‘s pizza. Andy and I declared it our favorite Chicago-style pizza; “yeasty” is such a gross word but that’s what the crust was and it was delicious.
As we were getting ready to head home, Andy and I debated the merits of leaving right at the start of rush hour. Figuring it would be best to feed the kids first and avoid some traffic, we swallowed our smug attitudes and headed across the street from the hotel to the Rainforest Café, which was Henry and Eleanor’s restaurant heaven and their parents’ tourist nightmare. But seeing how excited the kids were to sit next to an aquarium, watch the fake elephants swat their ears, and chat with the tree frog mascot made our overpriced nachos totally worth it. The kids started hugging everything good-bye as we left, so I’m going to wager a guess that this was their favorite restaurant of the trip.
We parked the car at the hotel (did I mention it was free?) and didn’t see it again until we left. Henry and Eleanor were excited to ride in a taxi, bus, and subway for the first time. Henry loved the TV in the taxi, Eleanor liked the “bus that was not even a school bus,” and they both loved watching for the subway trains to come down the tunnel. I have to admit, I love subways, too. I love putting your ticket in the slot thingie and going through the turnstile, and subway maps, and the griminess mixed with interesting tile in the underground stations, and the warnings that the doors are about to close, and the dusty oily smell all the tunnels have (which, yes, is sometimes mixed with urine-y smells, looking at you, Paris and occasionally London).
We took the bus the most, though, and discovered they are great places to nap.
We came to Chicago to have fun, and we had no trouble finding it. Our first stop was to Navy Pier, to ride the giant Ferris Wheel.
The kids loved it, and I was impressed at how well scared-of-heights Andy did. We practically had the place to ourselves and got some great views of downtown. Next stop was to Millennium Park to see the art.
Henry and Eleanor equate park with playground so we heard a few murmurs of “boring” from them. So we kept our visit short and looked at our reflections in the Bean and the giant faces spouting water. Henry and Eleanor had fun watching the faces and waiting for them to spit, if it had been warmer I’m sure they would’ve been splashing around.
Next up was the Field Museum. Henry and Eleanor are more do-ers than looking-at-things-ers, so we only spent a couple of hours here. I liked seeing Sue the T. Rex, and could appreciate what an important specimen it is, to have a complete skeleton like that. But after a few years of monthly visits to our Children’s Museum, where the dinosaurs look like this (complete with changing sky and occasional dinosaur roars and thunderstorms)…
…this was a little underwhelming.
Henry and Eleanor were basically like “whatever” and then ran off to the Egyptian exhibit. And if that last sentence sentence can’t convince you that my children are spoiled, I’m not sure what can.
We tried a slower pace after our “swim Ferris wheel park museum swim” first day, and spent our second day at the Museum of Science and Industry. Definitely worth a repeat trip this year, we didn’t make it through everything we wanted to see. This museum had more hands-on exhibits, which was right up Henry and Eleanor’s alley. We played in a children’s area, watched model trains weave through a multi-million-dollar display, flew a 727, created a tornado, sat in a tractor, modeled tsunami waves, and (our favorite) watched eggs ready to hatch and new baby chicks.
Jennifer doing her best William Shatner impression at the Field Museum
at Field Museum exhibit of taxidermied animals
Andy: This is like Sad Zoo.
Field Museum, Egyptian exhibit
Henry: Do you think the mummy escaped?
Museum of Science and Industry
Kids: What’s this?
Jennifer: It’s a Foucault pendulum. It’s how you show that the Earth rotates.
Andy: And how you find the Island.
Museum of Science and Industry
Eleanor: Look! It’s the Serious Tower!
Henry and Eleanor came home with toy baby chicks from the museum gift shop. Andy and I came home with stomach flu germs. So far (knock on wood) the kids haven’t caught the stomach bug. I’d love it, though, if they caught our travel bug. Andy and I are already brainstorming on where we can take them next.