A Day Trip to Chicago

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What do you do with only one day in Chicago? My family recently went there for a biannual reunion that I explained in a similar post a few years ago. Since then, the families have grown by one husband (mine) and five stepchildren (although only the youngest goes to the reunions). With only one full day that all six families would be in town, we decided to start with a trip to the Field Museum. Our party of 21 people hiked about a mile to the train station and rode an hour into the city.

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The Field Museum was founded as part of the Columbian Exposition of 1893 that showcased the city's rebuilding after the Great Chicago Fire. The museum moved to its present location near the waterfront in 1921.

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The museum's signature exhibit is Sue, the 42-foot-long Tyrannosaurus rex fossil cast that greets visitors in the museum's entrance. This dinosaur was found in South Dakota in 1990. After a protracted dispute over ownership of the fossils, the Field Museum bought the bones in 1997 for $8.36 million -a record price for fossils!

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Other exhibits now open at the museum include Genghis Khan, which was interesting as our party included one child from Mongolia in addition to nine from China. The younger kids enjoyed the Extreme Mammals exhibit, but the half-dozen 15-year-olds went straight for the Grainger Hall of Gems, a permanent installation.

Chinatown Chicago

The date of our tour was the 14th anniversary of the date we met our daughters in China. Not that we needed an excuse, but we decided to celebrate with lunch in Chinatown. With the aid of opinionated local relatives and some handy iPhone apps, we found the Moon Palace Restaurant, which had plenty of room, food, and hospitality for our large group in the middle of the afternoon. Afterward, we scattered around the neighborhood to pick up souvenirs.

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As we rode by hundreds of buildings, I was impressed by the way apartment residents convert stair landings, balconies, and roofs into outdoor living spaces with furniture and plants. Some were quite impressive, but hard to photograph from a moving train. I hope the train noise is something one would eventually get used to.

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The next stop was the Willis Tower, although people around us assured us that Chicagoans as well as tourists still call it the Sears Tower (the name was changed in 2009). We couldn't pass up the opportunity to go to the top of the tallest building in the country!

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The Skydeck at the top gave us a view of the entire city. The glassed-in observation deck features glass-floored ledges that jut out of the building and give the illusion that you are standing over nothing but a 1,353-foot drop. Which you are, but its quite safe. The kids were excited about standing on the glass, but I passed.

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Yes, the view was spectacular, but I had been to the top of the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building. Although the Willis Tower is higher, it doesn't seem so because the observation deck is not exposed to the open air as the New York buildings are/were. The tourist elevators from the top do not stop at the ground floor, but go to a basement where you must traverse not one but two gift shops before you can take another elevator back to the ground floor.

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We had tentative plans to continue to the Navy Pier, but it was getting late, and we had been to the Navy Pier during a reunion ten years earlier. The herd of teenagers was ready for anything, but the parents knew we had an hour-long train ride ahead and a substantial hike to the hotel, so we headed back for a late dinner. A good time was had by all.

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Photographs by Emily Cobb Photography and by yours truly.

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June 21, 2012 - 5:40am
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