Taking the windy city by storm(again)

After nearly 6 weeks of traveling, we’re definitely getting lazy in the mornings. We slept late again today, with the help of our stress relieving scented pillows. We left the hotel a little before noon and headed straight to Millennium Park to have lunch at the Park Grill, which operates an outdoor café in the summer on what becomes an ice skating rink in the winter. Since we couldn’t show off my expert skating skills (which made their debut in Rockefeller Plaza last December), we settled for some sandwiches and lemonade-based cocktails served by Michael, a red-headed hipster who didn’t really want to become my new best friend.

After lunch, we checked out a very weird set of fountains in Millennium Park near the Art Institute of Chicago. They’re two huge columns made of glass cubes, with water running down all side. The space between the two columns is a very shallow pool of water, and kids congregate there in bathing suits to frolick in the water. The weird thing about the columns is that there are video projections of human faces – one on each column – looking down on the water and smiling. Even weirder is that every ten minutes or so, the faces move their mouths into a spitting formation, and then water spouts out of a hole in each column that’s lined up with the video mouths. Kids love it – who wouldn’t want to run around in the spit coming out of giant scary faces?

When we’d had our fill of the scary faces and spent enough time studying how many overweight kids were playing in the water, we went to the Art Institute. Kurt got in for free by signing up for a teacher’s pass, I paid the regular admission like a sucker, and then we visited a fraction of the dozens of rooms full of all kinds of art. We passed by most of the modern art, having had our fill in San Francisco, and focused more on the older American and European displays. A highlight was the fact that the museum has Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” in its collection – we have a print of that in our living room, and Hopper is one of Kurt’s favorite artists. They also had “American Gothic,” which was sold to the museum for $300. The plaque by that painting taught us that it’s a farmer and his daughter (not his wife). That was news to us. While looking at Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” Kurt explained that my lack of a complete movie education prevented me from appreciating the fact that the painting was featured in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off. We also saw Picasso’s “Old Guitarist,” a ton of stuff by Whistler, and a couple of rooms full of Monet.

When we left the museum, we walked back towards our hotel via a few gift shops (magnet, check!) and checked out more of the stolen chunks of buildings embedded in the Tribune’s façade. We decided to shower the humidity away before dinner, and we also decided to downgrade our dinner plans. We had been considering treating ourselves to a final dinner at Spiaggia, the fanciest Italian restaurant in Chicago. The head chef there is a guy we watched on Top Chef Masters, and the food is supposed to be amazing. But a shourt perusal of the prices on the menu quickly caused us to reconsider our plans.

Instead, we opted for Café Spiaggia, a more reasonably priced, less fancy sister restaurant, also boasting a menu created by the same chef. It was the right choice. First, Kurt didn’t have to borrow a loaner jacket just to be able to enter the restaurant in compliance with a dress code. Second, the food at Café Spiaggia was wonderful. Our caprese salad included mozzarella that was probably the best cheese I’ve ever had. I had gnocchi in wild boar ragu, and it rocked my world. For dessert, we had 3 kinds of gelato – the honey and stracchiatella were awesome, and the chocolate was life-changing. An amazing dinner, capping off an amazing trip.

After leaving the restaurant, we walked a block (going underneath Lake Shore Drive) to the Oak Street Beach. Walking along the boardwalk and under the expressway, we noticed that spiders are either stalking Kurt or have taken Chicago over independent of our visit. They were all over the walls, the railings, the lights, and anything else that might support a web. It was pretty gross and it almost made us reevaluate our tentative conclusion that we prefer Chicago in general to Philadelphia. Luckily, we made it onto the sand without any spider attacks. The first thing we noticed was that view of the city from the beach is great. The second thing we noticed was that the beach has been totally taken over by tiny mosquitos. I noticed this after I ran through the sand to stick my feet in Lake Michigan. Bugs swarmed, as is visible in a picture Kurt took of me swatting at them while standing at the edge of the lake. So we ran right back off the beach and decided that the army of spiders along the walkways leading from the city to the beach are serving a critical gate-keeping function.

To escape the insects (a real theme of this trip, which you’ve probably noticed if you’ve been following our whole journey), we went to the John Hancock building to have a drink at the Signature Lounge, which is on the 96th floor, above the Observatory. We waited in a line to get on an elevator, but when we got to the top we were fortunate enough to arrive just as a couple was vacating their seats by the windows looking west. As we began taking in the view, we noticed that many bugs and spiders have no qualms about hanging out about 1,000 feet above the ground. The outsides of the windows were covered with moths and spiders, and other unidentifiable bugs were flying all over the place, visible in the lights shining off the top of the building.

Refusing to let the bugs intimidate us out of enjoying the view, we took some pictures, ordered some cocktails, and marveled at the fact that the trip is ending. Somehow, it simultaneously feels like we’ve been gone forever and like we just left. Similarly, I’m eager to get back to our apartment (especially our new couch, our own bathroom, our kitchen, and our deck), but I’m also reluctant to see the trip end. Kurt may try to tell you that talking about the end of the trip made me shed a tear or two, and my response to that is “no comment.”

In any event, we finished our drinks and our little retrospective of the past 5 1/2 weeks, and we headed back to the Conrad. I went upstairs while Kurt had a conversation with a hotel manager that resulted in us getting free breakfast lined up for tomorrow morning. A good night of sleep and the complimentary breakfast will hopefully be enough to power us through the 13 hour drive back home. I’ll post once more about tomorrow. When we settle in at home, we’ll get our pictures organized and ready to share, and I might write a final entry summing up the highlights of the trip. So the blog isn’t quite over yet.

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