Sunday, August 8, 2010

Time Away, Part 2

As Sarah mentioned in her last post, the week before last she was out of town for a couple of days, allowing Stella and I to have some dedicated daddy-daughter time. It's probably a good thing because, while I possibly spend more time with her during the week, she's been going through a definite Mommy Phase... or, as I sang tonight:

Daddy, uh... What is he good for? Absolutely nuthin'!

Actually, while this was the longest period of time that Sarah's been away for work, it was probably mostly notably to me in how smoothly it went. While I had expected periods of fussiness, or crying for "momma," that ended up largely not being the case. And, since I'm still in full-time stay-at-home-dad mode, our days tended to be mainly leisurely affairs. Generally, we'd spend some portion of the day running errands, but we'd also spend a lot of time just hanging out.

One evening she tagged along with me to my weekly illustration group. Another afternoon, we wandered around the Seattle Center, and spent a lot of time looking at the rides in the Fun Forest and watching the elevators go up and down the Space Needle. And, another afternoon, we went for a walk around Seward Park. Sadly, because I wasn't thinking, I didn't take my camera with me to any of these things, so I only have a few photos from my phone, including these two...

Stella sitting on a small metal pig statue at the Seattle Center. I didn't need to pose her for this shot... she decided that the pig needed to be sat on.

Stella on the beach at Seward Park. I tried to get her to turn around but, frankly, would you turn around with a view like that?

I have to admit that I was really happy to have that time with her though, especially in light of the fact that next week she will be starting Day Care. While I'm really excited about the Day Care we've chosen for her, and I think that she will benefit in a lot of ways from it; I will say I'm a little sad about this next step. Ultimately, I think at this point its the best and logical step for the family, but I've also been proud of the way that Sarah and I have been able to juggle our work schedules in a way that has allowed us to spend more time with her than many parents get to spend with their children. Anyhow, I won't go into the Day Care situation much, since she hasn't even started yet, and I'm sure that this transition will warrant at least one entry of its own... so stay tuned!

Also, while Stella and I spent the most of the week before last hanging out one-on-one, she wasn't the only lovely lady I got to spend time with: Sarah and I also finally had our first full Stella-free night. Last week, we went to Illinois for a couple of reunions on Sarah's side of the family. And, while most of the time was spent in Ottawa, a farming town a little over an hour and half out of Chicago, Sarah's mom, step-dad and grandma offered to watch Stella for a night so that Sarah and I could go into Chicago, sight-see and have a date-night.

While I have to admit I was nervous to leave Stella in someone else's care overnight, I was comforted by the fact that Sarah's grandma had raised 7 children of her own, as well as helped raise 21 grandkids, and now 10 great-grandkids. So, I imagine that her, plus Sarah's mom and step-dad could manage Stella for 24 hours.

Sarah's been to Chicago several times before, and I've actually been to Illinois a couple times myself, but this was my first time to Chicago itself. So, in addition to getting to spend some time with my favorite traveling companion, I was eager to check out this exciting city.

Borrowing Sarah's parent's car, we made good time into Chicago, and checked into our hotel room at the James. Those who have been following our blog for some time know that Sarah and I aren't afraid to rough it a bit. But, when our opportunities to travel and relax are as few and far between as they've been in the last couple years, we figured it was worth splurging on a nice room this time out. In those regards, The James definitely didn't disappoint.

Sarah rests and checks her phone after our drive into Chicago.

After getting settled in, making some reservations through the concierge and running and errand or two, it was time to grab some lunch. We knew we were going to be going fancy for dinner, so lunch was decidedly less so: A Visit to the "World Famous" Billygoat Tavern. Made famous by SNL's "Cheezeburger! Cheezeburger!" skit.

A quick exchange at the Billgoat:
Waitress: Are your Bulgarian?
Me: No. Why?
Waitress: Your shirt says 'Bulgaria.'
Me: Oh. I bought it there. Are you Bulgarian?
Waitress: No. Russian. But I can read.
Cook: Try the double cheez. It's the best.

Me, wearing my Bulgaria T-shirt, enjoying my Pepsi ("no Coke.")

With our stomach full of double cheezeburgers, Sarah and I went to check out Millennium Park. Before heading there, several people had suggested we check out 'the bean.' And, while Sarah and I weren't sure what 'the bean' was, exactly. We figured that we'd know it when we saw it. And sure enough we did. This, is the bean...

"The Bean," also know officially as "Cloud Gate."

The reflections you see while standing under the bean. Try to spot us!

After wandering around it, and attempting to take witty and artsy photos of it, we continued on to Buckingham Fountain, aka the "Married with Children Fountain."

"Love and marriage... love and marriage..."

A couple of photos and one quasi-panhandler later, we realized we needed to hurry in order to make it to our next destination in time: An architectural boat-tour of Chicago. Before we'd arrived in Chicago, I'd posted on Facebook that I was about to explore Chicago for the first time, and asked if people had any suggestions. Probably the most common response was to do an architectural boat tour. One person even posted something to the effect of "I don't even like architecture, and I still gawk at Chicago's buildings." And, while I can run a bit hot-and-cold on a lot of more recent architecture, I figured -if nothing else- a relaxing hour on a boat couldn't hurt.

But, in short, the tour ended up being really interesting. It was fascinating to see some of Chicago's older architecture, since Seattle is still comparatively young. And, since the tour took place on the river which winds through Chicago's urban core, it was a unique experience to float through a massive canyon of concrete and glass, and under Chicago's seemingly bridges. Plus, from the oldest and more modest buildings to the latest towers of industry the tour guide did a good job of giving everything context and creating a sense of history. It honestly made me wish that Seattle had something similar, and not just the noisy novelty of our Duck Tours.

Admittedly, this photos isn't from the tour, but it was really hard to take interesting pictures of buildings, from the river, from a boat, in glaring sunlight. Still, that's the river we floated on, and in the background you can see some of the architecture we gawked at.

I wanted to include this photos because, while not the best picture, it illustrated something about Chicago that I thought was really striking: Its a very vertical city. Everything seems stacked. Here, you apparently have a skyscraper, on top of a street, on top of a train station, on top of the river. Layers upon layers.

After the boat tour, it was back to the hotel room to clean up (rinse the sweat off since -in comparison to Seattle cool summer- Chicago was sweltering), and then head out for dinner.

Again, before coming to Chicago, we'd sent an email to our friend Jody (who, you may remember, teamed up with Sarah during our Round the World Trip, to make recipes that matched the locations were were visiting, on her food blog Eddybles). Jody has a keen eye and ear for whats going on in the culinary world, and we knew she could give us suggestions on where to eat in Chicago. And, as we predicted, she responded quickly with some amazing recommendations.

First up, it was drinks at the Violet Hour. The Violet Hour is a speakeasy (or at least a faux-speakeasy) in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. This allowed us to also ride the subway and the El for the first time. When traveling, even within your own country, there's nothing quite as humbling as riding public transportation the first time. As Sarah and I fumbled with our newly purchased tickets at the turn-styles, the security guard there finally took pity on Sarah and let her through. Meanwhile, since I was presumably less physically attractive to the guard, I was left to figure things out on my own. A feat that involved sticking my ticket into the wrong slot the wrong way while throwing my weigh against the wrong turn-style. Once through, I then attempted to direct Sarah toward the north-bound train, when we needed to head south. Needless to say, I did not look like someone who has navigated cities on the far side of the globe.

Arriving at the Violet Hours location, Sarah and I paced up and down street trying to determine its location until finally a large man in a sharp suit inquired: "Violet Hour?" Yes! "Follow me." And led us through an unmarked door and into a dark and intimate lounge. The whole speakeasy entrance was all effectively performance art, but still left us with the thrill of having "discovered" someplace secret. Plus, once inside, the drinks were excellently mixed and they had tater tots as an appetizer. Good stuff around.

Drinks and tater tots at the Velvet Hour.

With a drink in our stomachs, the next stop was the Publican, a restaurant that -with about 50 beers available and half its menu dedicated to pork- could effectively be described as an upscale beer-hall. Again, excellent. Tasty food, well-paired beer and a great server (that Sarah and I agreed oddly reminded us of the lead character from Six Feet Under). Full, happy and excited to have this little opportunity to be exploring again together, Sarah and I returned to our hotel room and called it a night.

The next morning, we awoke still full from the previous nights dinner, and decided to skip breakfast so that we could get a head start on the Field Museum. I wasn't to see some dinosaur bones!! Luckily, with the T-Rex, Sue, guarding the entrance, I wasn't disappointed.

The Field Museum.

Gah! Maybe the first time I've seen a dinosaur skeleton in person. Maybe.

Slightly more disappoint was that, despite mine and Sarah's hopes (sic), it turned out the Hope Diamond wasn't on exhibit there. Still, we enjoyed exploring the massive museum, looking at robot dinosaurs, Tibetan clothes and art, and being surprisingly moved by the Half Asian, 100% Hapa exhibit we stumbled upon.

After the Field Museum, we headed over to the Sears... er, I mean... Willis Tower to head up to their observation deck. Sarah's brother is fond of going up in tall buildings, so years ago Sarah and already been. But, after noticing something during the previous days boat tour, I had become fixated on the idea of heading up to the observation floor too.

A view of the Willis tower from the boat the previous day.

Getting to Willis Tower wasn't a problem, but getting to the top proved to be a little more tricky. What Sarah and I hadn't anticipated fully was that apparently every other tourist was also on their way to the top of the Willis Tower. Thus, we found ourselves in what seemed to be a never-ending queue to the elevator. First we queued up to get through security. Then, we queued up to get our photos taken (presumably for souvenir photos... it wasn't optional). Then we queued up to actually buy our tickets. Then we queued up for a mandatory, pre-elevator-ride film... at which point Sarah and I realized we were rapidly running out of time before we needed to be back at our hotel room to check out. As the security guy working at the theater entrance began to let people in to the movie, we approached him:

Me and Sarah: We need to check out of our hotel room in less than a half hour. Is there anyway we can skip the movie and go straight up?
Guard: (Quietly) Um, yeah. Just wait until everyone else is in the theater.
(Then, once everyone had filed in, and he had closed the door.)
Guard: This way. (Opening a door and peaking in.) Hummm... Never mind. Those people don't have anywhere to be. You do. Here's what you do. Go around that corner, and then merge with the front of the line at the rotating door.

So, following his directions, we quickly found ourselves at the front of the line and finally boarding the elevator for our minute-long ride to the dizzying heights of the Willis Tower's observation floor. (As a side note, if you work at the Willis Tower, read this, and are inclined to fire the guy who helped us cheat the endless queues there: Please don't. Seriously. He was awesome.)

Finally, at the top of the tower, we were able to make our way around taking in the cityscape.

A view of downtown Chicago from the 103rd floor.

Furthermore, I was finally able to experience what had originally drawn me there: the Skydeck Ledge. The Skydeck Ledge is basically a small clear box that protrudes from the side of the Willis Tower's 103rd floor. Standing in it allows you to look directly down... 1,353 feet.

Looking straight down 1,353 feet.

Me on The Ledge. As you can see by the person in the foreground, only the most daring and adventurous people even dare even try!

Apparently, like climbing down into the sweltering, claustrophobic depths of the Great Pyramids, it was a thrill that Sarah was happy to pass on. But, I enjoyed it.

Having taken in the Ledge and the views, Sarah and I realized that it was basically time to check out from our Hotel. Unfortunately, we were still 103 floors up and stuck in another queue for the elevator down. Even more unfortunately, when I called the James' front desk they seemed less than willing to flexible on check out times, and we were worried that we'd get stuck paying for a second night.

One long line, an elevator ride, a couple stops on the subway, and a mad dash through several blocks downtown brought us back to the James. Sarah, having had to listen to me grouse, swear and complain about the situation the whole way, decided to made more sense for me to go grab our bags while she checked out with the front desk. And, several minutes later we were back on the road to Ottawa.

Unfortunately, the electronic navigator we'd borrowed from Sarah's mom and step-dad didn't like traffic. Normally, we don't like traffic either, but equally unfortunately, it started leading us down obscure side roads to avoid traffic, and eventually stuck us on some arterial that was severely backed-up as a result of three construction works attempting to drill a very small hole in the middle of the road. Even more unfortunately, despite the fact that it was now well past noon, neither Sarah nor I had had anything to eat.

Still, eventually, we made it back to base camp, got some food in our stomachs and -most importantly- were reunited with Stella.

Who, in typical fashion, acted as though we'd never left.

All in all, it was a great little excursion. An exciting chance to explore a new city, and an opportunity to spend time with my best friend and favorite fellow traveler: Sarah.

As a final note, as you might have noticed, Sarah and I are getting caught up on Strange and Benevolent this week. With any luck, we'll each get another entry or two done, hopefully including more details on the Family Reunions, plus a hike we took this last weekend. After that, I'm sure that we'll have more to talk about including Stella starting Day Care and the basement remodel we are hopefully starting soon. As I said before: Stay tuned.


ambika said...

I have Kip Fulbeck's book if you ever want to borrow it. I think I got it a year or 2 ago--you know me and stuff about mixed people.

The General said...

Ambika, is it basically the same thing as the exhibit (portraits with hand written messages under them)? If so, I might be interested since I tended to only read the shorter ones in the museum... given my glacial reading speed.