Thursday, December 16, 2021

Chicago At Christmas

Our goal for homeschooling this semester was to travel, experience as many things as possible, and of course, have fun and learn while doing them. The minis had requested a Christmas time trip in the summer. Actually, the middle one asked what it would take to get us to NYC for the holidays, but we couldn't quite make that work (partially thanks to our large and long trip we took in the fall). Settling on Chicago, we had a list of things we wanted to do and experience in the city.

Having been to the Windy City many times before, we have our favorites, but we also wanted to fit in some new-to-them things as well. Leaving the dog behind with family members, we set off for four days of fun in the city. Some of our itinerary was planned, some of it we happened upon, and every bit of it gave us priceless memories.

On our Christmas trip itinerary:

We discovered an amazing French bakery near our Airbnb. They had all kinds of goodies, including the best homemade jams. The raspberry filled beignets were our favorite. We wound up getting breakfast and coffee there every morning during our stay.

The first of many surprises was riding the 'L' into downtown. We haven't taken any form of public transportation since the pandemic, so I was a bit apprehensive, but riding the train is a highlight for my children. I sucked it up and to my surprise, the trains weren't busy at all! 

My children acted as though they had never seen a train before, much to the amusement of the cityfolk around us. They heard the trains in the tunnels and shouted, "it's coming! The train is coming!" One would think we never let them out of the house, let alone spend time traveling with them.

First stop: an early lunch at Billy Goats! There's a few stories behind this place. First, the minis have been watching SNL clips and came across the oldie Cheeseborger Cheeseborger Cheeseborger. We mentioned to them that this was an actual restaurant in Chicago and it became a MUST visit. Despite having reservations at the Art Institute (and planning on spending a full day there), we surprised them with an early lunch before walking to the museum. They loved it and have declared it's now on our must eat list every time we come to the city.

After lunch, I decided a walk around downtown was needed. We walked by the Chicago Theatre just so I could get a picture of the marquee. The minis were more enthralled by Macy's, so we did a bit of holiday shopping (read about that here).

Many of the museums still require reservations ahead of time. It was an easy check in process plus I was thrilled when I found out they had opened up their coat check (huge deal with kids). While we toured the entire museum, the miniature rooms were their favorite. We spent a great deal of time examining each room thoroughly. I was surprised that was what grabbed their attention. Our other favorite exhibit was the Barbara Kruger piece and of course visiting American Gothic. On our previous visits to the Art Institute that painting had been traveling, so the minis have never gotten to see it in person before now. I can't say they were overly impressed by it!

They were, however, impressed by the Georgia O'Keeffe paintings because they instantly recognized the landscape and many places we visited in New Mexico. I love when they are able to connect our travels like this.

The minis appeared to be melting after several hours at the Art Institute, but it was a MUCH better experience than our visit four years ago. That time we made it exactly two hours before kids were crying on the floor and had to be carried out of the museum. We were all still full from breakfast and lunch, so we took a walk around Millennium Park and went ice skating at Maggie Daly Park. We had to get our annual pictures at Cloud Gate, something we do quickly whenever we're in the city.

Ice skating requires advanced registration and is only done in two hour blocks, with an hour in between blocks for cleaning the ice. Skating is free if you have your own skates, otherwise skate rentals are $13 a piece. I haven't been able to ice skate properly since having kids, but I braved it this time. Amazingly I never once fell, but I also never went more than 3 feet from the rail! Read more about our night ice skating here. By the time we skated for an hour, we were tired, our toes were frozen, my nose was running, sores on our legs and feet from where the skates rubbed (they were not the most comfortable), and we were all hungry. 

We walked a few blocks to our favorite places, Pizano's Pizza. We sat around and ate far too much pizza, salad, had drinks, and enjoyed talking about everything we had already seen and done for the day. I'm unsure if it's because we were in town at the beginning of the week or if the restaurant scene is still coming back from the pandemic, but we had no issues getting tables at any of the restaurants we went to. I was shocked since we arrived at 6:30 p.m., a time when there would usually be a long wait no matter what day of the week it was. It was nice not to have to worry about wait times, but it was a big reality check to see all of the closed restaurants around downtown Chicago.

After dinner, we did a lot more walking. On this middle mini's (picture above eating pizza at Pizano's) bucket list was taking a horse drawn carriage ride through Chicago to look at Christmas lights. Unfortunately, Chicago banned the horse rides on Michigan Avenue, so we changed it up a bit. We got hot chocolate from  Ghirardelli's and took a walking tour to see lights. It was a cold night, but we were told it was "just perfect," so it was worth it.

One may assume that we had a bit of a rest the next day, but that wasn't the case (at all!). We woke up early (but still later than what I had planned) so we could spend most of the day at the Field Museum. Again, I was amazed at how the minis were able to make connections to what they've learned during our travels and homeschool and the exhibits we went through at the museum. After our near normal experience at the Art Institute the previous day, I was slightly taken aback at the Covid precautions Field Museum was still taking. There was one entrance, temperatures are still being checked on busy days, and much of the museum is still one way traffic. We were still able to enjoy all of the museum, but it was more difficult to make it through. I was happy that the Museum wasn't busy in the least. Maybe because it was a Tuesday, but there were less than 200 people in that huge museum! I felt like we had the place to ourselves. 

 We did wind up driving to the museum because we had to get Covid tests done for the two youngest minis right after our museum visit. I was worried parking was going to be insane, but we really lucked out with parking this trip. We paid $25 for several hours of parking in the parking garage in between Field Museum and Soldier Field. 

After the Africa exhibit, the minis and I are convinced this is where we need to travel next. 

The most sobering part of the exhibit was about the African slave trade. All of the minis have now learned about it (the oldest did an indepth study at the end of last year), so it really affected all of us as we walked through. 

We almost lost her at this point, but urged her to keep going so we could see Sue.

An unexpected favorite exhibit at the Field Musuem was Ancient Americas. The middle mini just did a study on the Aztec and Mayan cultures and he was beyond excited to come across this giant Aztec calendar. I never thought I'd see one of my children geek out over something like this, but he did. We now have nearly 20 pictures of this calendar "so I never forget it Mom."

Since it hadn't quite been a full two weeks since the youngest mini's last Covid vaccination, they had to do a rapid test within six hours of the She & Him concert we went to see (our main reason for coming to the city to begin with). We easily got appointments at CVS and were in and out in less than five minutes, with results texted to our phones. Easy and absolutely free. 

We had to go back to the Airbnb to change and get ready for the concert. We decided on dinner at an Italian restaurant called Orso's. We decided to get dinner to go and have a bit of relaxing time before making our way back downtown to the Chicago theatre. From there it was a night of singing and wishing there was room to dance in the aisles. Read more about the concert here

We were all kinds of energized after the concert, so we walked around Old Town for a bit before heading to bed. We were up early the next morning because it was check out day for us, plus we wanted to head to Lincoln Park before driving home. The minis were at Lincoln Park Zoo in May when we visited, but they wanted to see the new male lion, Jabari, because he came from our local zoo (and we remember when he was born). We had a great morning at the zoo. We even got to see the decorations for their holiday Wild Lights.

We got to see the gorillas feeding time and it was hilarious to watch! We were also able to chat with the zookeepers and ask all kinds of questions.

Our last stop was at Portillo's for lunch before we hunkered down for car naps and reading.

It was definitely a success trip to Chicago!