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Monday, November 13, 2006

Chicago, Day 3

I think I can summarize our trip this way: We stayed one day too long, and went home one day too soon.

What I mean by that is that, had we stayed only one full day, then it would have been obvious that we didn't have enough time to do everything, so we wouldn't have felt obligated to try. On the other hand, had we planned to stay more than two full days, then today we would've felt free to take the afternoon off to rest and recuperate. As is, though, we wound up running around all day, trying to cram way too much stuff into way too little time.

We started off the day with breakfast from room service. That was fun, since it was Heather Marie's first experience with room service. Good food, and the hotel delivered it promptly at 8am, as requested.

Let me digress here for a moment to say that we were continually impressed with the service provided by the staff at the Talbott. I've stayed in some really nice hotels before, but it's always been as part of a group, so I couldn't really take full advantage of the staff and amenities until this trip. It's a great feeling to know that you're really being taken care of, as opposed to merely being cleaned-up-after. It would be pretty easy to get spoiled to staying at that kind of hotel.

After breakfast, we took a trip to the aquarium, which was great timing, because it was nearly empty when we arrived. I'm not sure it was as good as the one in New Orleans, but it was pretty good. We didn't have time to see the whole thing, but we did get to see a sea lion training demonstration, which was pretty cool. When they asked for an adult volunteer, Heather nearly threw her arm out of socket raising her hand. I can't tease her, though, because getting to shake, flippers...whatever with a sea lion. She was so giddy and excited she could hardly sit still. I love seeing her like that!

From the aquarium we went to the planetarium to see a CG dome-projection program on Egyptian constellations. It seemed to fit the theme of the weekend, but the main reason for selecting that particular show was that it fit our schedule the best. The immersive effect was impressive, even though I struggled to stay awake in the warm, dark, comfortable theatre. We both thought the coolest thing about the Adler Planetarium is that you can experience three generations of planetarium technology, from a metal sphere with holes punched in it, to a high-tech CG projection dome. Quite a study in contrast.

After the educational sight-seeing, we took a bus back up to Michigan Avenue for a little shopping, window and otherwise. (Another aside: We should've put in the effort to figure out the bus system earlier; it would've saved us a lot of time, money, and walking.) Macy's had a cool window display of scenes from Mary Poppins (the book, not the movie), which were really cute. Macy's was something else to a couple of kids from the country. That location (on State Street) is basically a 9-story department store that takes up an entire city block. Wow.

From Macy's we took the bus on up to the north end of Michigan Avenue downtown. Michigan Avenue is a fun, glittering, impressive place, but it felt weird. We have a lot of the same stores here, but they're generally much smaller and located inside a mall. That makes Michigan feel very much like a gigantic open-air mall to us. Cool, but overwhelming and disorienting until you get used to it. I can see how, if I felt like I lived in a giant mall all the time, I'd wind up spending way too much money on clothes and other mall wares.

We made a stop at Nordstrom's and then went to the Lego Store nearby. Norstrom's was ok, but the Lego Store -- that was awesome! They had some sets I hadn't seen before, and some that I'd seen only in catalogs, but the best part was the option to buy a custom selection of assorted bricks by the bucket. I only got a $6.95 bucket, due to luggage packing concerns, but it was definitely a thrill. I don't get to build with my Legos much anymore, but it was still a great feeling to bury my arm nearly up to my elbow in a bin of bricks. :-)

After Lego came the Apple Store, which wasn't quite what I'd expected. I'd thought the feel would be more like a high class car dealership, but it was really more like a cross between a mosh pit and the concession line at a football game. I think it might've been more fun if it hadn't been so crowded, but it was still fun to go. Now I wish even more that they'd build one in Northwest Arkansas, especially since it would almost certainly be less crowded than Chicago's. I mean -- come on! -- we've got a growing population, lots of disposable income, and a large college demographic, what more do they want? A big Apple cube store would go great in the new promenade!

We made a stop in Nieman Marcus after Apple, and although it wasn't as overwhelming in scale as Macy's, it made up for that in price and style. And, to the staff's credit, they were very polite and helpful to a couple of obvious yokels from the Ozarks. I'll bet I was probably the first person wearing jeans and carrying a big Lego sack who's ever shopped there!

By the time we finally made it back to the hotel, we were really beat, so we just at in the hotel bar/lounge, which was as excellent as everything else at the Talbott, got our stuff packed up, and went to bed.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Chicago, Day 2

We had a great day today!

We started off by meeting one of Heather's podcast listeners for brunch, which was a lot of fun, even though we had to wait forever to get a table. That turned out ok, though, because it gave us more time to visit. Julia and her boyfriend, Jeff, are really neat, and we had a good time getting to know them. Definitely folks to keep in touch with.

After lunch we debated whether to walk to the Field Museum or take a cab. We finally decided to walk, in order to see more of the city. That turned out to be a bad idea for two reasons. First, it was a long way, and between Heather's joints and my knees, we were in a lot of pain by the time we got there. The second reason was psychological: the Field Museum building is big, so from the time it came into sight until we reached it was a good 15-20 minutes. That was pretty demoralizing. It was still a fun walk, though.

The Tut exhibit itself was a bit of a disappointment. The full title is Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, but there was a whole lot more of the Golden Age than Tut. It was really good, and it was worth coming for, but it wasn't nearly as good as Eternal Egypt was at the Pyramid (or, to compare apples to oranges, it wasn't as good as the Masters of Florence). The biggest problem, actually, was the crowds. Holy cow! We had plenty of time to look at each item, though, as we slowly filed past them in the big, long line. Definitely worth the trip, but not as impressive or coherent as the Pyramid's exhibits.

After the Tut thing, we took a few minutes to hit the high points of the Field Museum. I think it was really nice, but I'm not sure, because by that point we were both so tired and sore and dehydrated that it wasn't as fun as it would've been otherwise.

Supper was the highlight of the day, though! We went to Tizi Melloul, and it was awesome! The main reason we went was that they have belly dancing on Sunday nights, so we weren't surprised that one of our fellow diners was also a belly dancer. Denise was there to see her instructor, who was the performer tonight. When she came out to dance, she invited both Denise and Heather Marie to join her, so her first dance set turned into an impromptu shimmy lesson, which was a lot of fun to watch. I got some really fun pictures of the ad hoc troupe in action.

Speaking of pictures, I've about hit my monthly quota for Flickr uploads, which is apparently ridiculously low, so before I can upload more photos to share, I'm either going to have to either pay for more bandwidth, find an easy way to downsize my pics, or setup another place to put them. I'll probably just put them on my own website once I get home.

For now, it's off to bed!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Chicago, Day 1

We had a pretty quick, uneventful flight to Chicago this morning, which just how I like my flights.

We're staying at the Talbott Hotel, and it is nice. It's not overbearingly opulent, but it is good, and friendly, with lots of nice amenities (like free wifi). The reviews say it's in the "European service" tradition, whatever that means. If it means good, fast, courteous service, then I'd say that's accurate.

We took a shuttle from O'Hare, which was slower than a cab, but also a lot cheaper, and dropping off the other passengers gave us a great chance to get a quick dime tour of a lot of the area we'll be spending time in.

After checking in, we unpacked and relaxed for a bit in the room, then walked over to Gino's Pizza for supper. Great pizza! The combination of enormous amounts of food, sound, and the graffiti-covered walls was a little overwhelming, though.

On the way back to the hotel, we walked along Michigan Avenue, which was pretty impressive to a couple of country kids.

You can see today's photos on Flickr.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Since I managed to not post for the entire month of October, I figured I ought to at least post something on my birthday. It's been a pretty good one. I only had to work about 9 hours today, which put me at about 61 hours for the week. Definitely crunch time around the office. Heather Marie made a massage appointment for me, so I got a nice, relaxing hot stone massage.

On the way home, we were talking about how we really still feel like we're in our mid twenties for some reason. Honestly, we aren't sure how our 30s are supposed to feel, but we definitely don't feel like whatever it is.

Since I feel like I'm still in my 20s, I think when people ask I'll just tell them them that I'm twenty-leven. Heck, I figure if Tolkien could invent eleventy, I can use twenty-leven and twenty-twelve. Obviously, the names get awkward after that, so I'll have to come up with something else.