Monday, February 4, 2008

#8. Visit Chicago

Once again, bargain hunting pays off in a BIG way! Recently, a few members of the BMW Motorcycle Club filled Troy in on a little known transportation secret. There is this small company that runs buses from Indianapolis to Chicago, Cincinnati, and Columbus. The rates on this bus can be downright CHEAP! The first few seats on a route are actually free. After that, the next group of seats may cost only $1.00. The costs go up from there. The earlier you book, the cheaper your tickets!

With gas prices skyrocketing and the price of parking in downtown Chicago at enormous rates, we thought it was worth it to check out what Megabus had to offer. (It didn't hurt that "Visit Chicago" was on my list either!) After a bit of checking, we came across tickets that got us both to and from Chicago from $1.50 TOTAL! That's merely 75 cents each! Well, we couldn't afford enough gas to get to Zionsville for that! We booked about 3 weeks ahead, so the lead time wasn't bad.

After a bit more digging, we found a hotel in downtown Chicago (near the Theater district) for just $120 including tax and fees. I'm assuming that's because January isn't really the height of tourist season for the Windy City! After finding affordable transportation and lodging, we looked to economical activities in Chi-town. We both love museums and theater, so we were sure we could come up with something to busy ourselves with. That actually ended up being a bit more of a struggle and made QUITE a dent in our budget. We decided to splurge and got tickets to see a matinee viewing of "Wicked" at the Oriental Ford Theater. At $108 each, those tickets alone were more than the transportation and lodging combined!

Our departure time was scheduled for 9:45 AM on Saturday, January 26 from just south of the City/County building in downtown Indianapolis. Although I love a good bargain, I was terribly afraid of what I'd gotten us into with these INCREDIBLY cheap bus seats. Against all of my misgivings, the bus showed up on time and we departed around 9:52 AM or so. It was a lovely double-decker bus. The seats were plush, the heat worked quite well and despite his being a bit grumpy, the driver was cautious yet quick. We arrived, as advertised, about 3 hours and 15 minutes later in Chicago at about 12:00 Central Time.

We were dropped at Union Station and we had each packed lightly since it was only going to be an overnight stay. I had a pilots case and Troy amazingly managed to stuff all of his belongings into a small backpack (it pays to be a boy with very little hair, I guess!). It was Saturday afternoon and we were to be picked up at the same spot on Sunday evening at 6:00 PM. In a moment of genius, I suggested to Troy that we check for lockers where we could stow our belongings on Sunday since I was sure we wouldn't have anywhere to keep our things while at the musical on Sunday afternoon. I try not to toot my horn very often, but it ended up being a wonderful idea. For $9, we were able to stow our belongings on Sunday while we walked around the city at our leisure unencumbered. Genius!

After our locker reconnassaince, we headed east to our hotel. I had been so nervous about our journey, that I think I looked at the downtown Chicago map so much that I practically memorized it. That actually worked out well considering we didn't need to bring a map with us while we strolled the city. Although the hotel was only about 4 blocks from Union Station, a very cold, wet snow started to fall as we made our way through the streets and we were overjoyed when the doorman welcomed us into the warmth of the hotel lobby. We were greeted and given the keys to what I can only describe as the smallest hotel room I've every stayed in. It was clean, neat as a pin and conveniently located, so there is nothing to complain about, but I'm used to the more spacious living of Indianapolis, I guess. Ah yes, the big city! :-)

Following a brief discussion of how we should spend our afternoon, we decided to head to the Museum of Science and Industry. It was about 1:00 PM by this time and it was scheduled to close at 5:30 PM, so we opted to take a cab. Talk about sticker shock! We were a bit shagrinned when we arrived at the Museum and the total on the meter read $17.25 for about 5 miles. Ouch!

I've never been to the Museum of Science and Industry, but it's one of Troy's favorite museums. The line to buy tickets was quite long and there was a sign saying that the museum would be closing early at 4:30. That gave us just over 3 hours and we still needed to get tickets. After a $20 cab ride, we certainly weren't leaving empty-handed!

We waited in line for a few minutes when a woman started handing out some tickets to the people around us. When Troy asked what she was giving out, she said Free General Admission tickets to the museum. He QUICKLY snagged two for us. SCORE! That saved us $13 each. I guess the cab ride wasn't so bad after all, huh? LOL

With the museum map clutched tightly in our little mitts, we decided to visit the Farm exhibit and the U-505 German Submarine exhibit. For Troy, the Farm exhibit was like carrying coals to New Castle since he grew up on a farm and not much about it held all that much interest for him, but for me it was great! The best part was the cutaway section on the combine. I'm just thoroughly fascinated by the combine! In goes a whole stalk of corn, on the ear, in the husk. Out comes just the kernels that go into the hopper and everything else gets spit out the back. It's amazing to me! They even had a video showing how it all happens in slow motion. It made my day!

I had oohed and aahed at the farm information for QUITE a long time until Troy decided it was time for us to make our way to the U-505 exhibit. It's an actual German U-boat from WWII that was captured off the coast of Africa. The entire exhibit talks about the technology taken from the ship and how it played a key role in cracking the German codes. There are also areas where you can look through a periscope and fire at an enemy ship as well as attempt to take the ship to a certain depth by adding or subtracting air to make it more or less bouyant. They also had a video showing the glacial movement of the ship into its current home. I think Troy could have spent DAYS in here reading every morsel of information. Maybe it's a good thing we only had a couple of hours. ;-)

When we left the museum as they were practically kicking us out of the place, the day had turned bright and sunny. The sun would be setting in a while, so we thought the view from Sears tower would be lovely. (Insert another $20 cab ride here to get BACK downtown.) The 103 floor observation floor wasn't available, but it was still spectacular from the 99th floor. After watching a brief video on the history and architecture of the building, we took a VERY fast elevator ride to the 99th floor. The view at the top was amazing. The lights of the city were just starting to turn on as the sun was starting to set. The traffic looked like ants from our perspective. We could see the frozen parts of Lake Michigan ride along the shore line and except for a couple dozen other tourists, we practically had the place to ourselves. I definitely recommend a trip to Chicago when it really is the Windy City! (It keeps the riff-raff away!)

After a full day of travel and tourism, we were both pooped and hungry. We had read that there was a great restaurant just downstairs in our hotel, so that seemed like the perfect place for dinner.

We shed our winter wear and splurged on dinner. Neither of us drink much, but the Elephant and the Castle had some great beer choices, so we decided to partake. I had the salmon, which was quite good and Troy opted for the appetizer platter. Despite being fairly full and pretty sleepy (it's ONLY 8:00 PM), we even had some dessert. It was all quite yummy and a delightful way to end the day.

The next day, we each woke up excited about the musical. We had discussed perhaps sleeping in a bit, but we looked outside and the sun was shining. If the sun is shining in Chicago in January, take advantage of it! So, after dropping our bags off at Union Station, we decided to hit the road early and made our way to Millenium park. It's a beautiful open park area. There is an ice skating rink that is open to the public as well as a few giant art installations. My favorite is the one that has been referred to as "The Bean". It's a giant metallic sculpture that is meant to look like a drop of mercury. It's amazing in its size and beauty! In some ways it is almost like a funhouse mirror the way certain parts of it reflect. Besides the Sears tower, I'm sure it's one of the most photographed places in the city.

Another one of the art pieces are a pair of glass block towers that are actually fountains during the warmer months. They each show the face of an actual person that is constantly changing and moving. They even make it look like the person is spitting out the water. Very cute!

The park was teeming with skaters and tourists and people just out for a stroll. We really couldn't have asked for nicer weather in January in Chicago! We were even able to walk along this bridge that goes over one of the busy roads near the park. It looked to be a popular destination for runners. We actually spent quite a bit of time walking around and admiring the scenery. I even managed to take a few artsy shots of the "Bean."

With lunch time quickly approaching, we ducked into one of the many "Corner Bakery" locations around the city where we enjoyed a relaxing lunch of hot soup and bread bowls. YUM! Despite the cold weather, there were quite a few White Sox fans out dressed merely in their jerseys and not much else. I guess they are either true Chicago residents or REAL Sox fans!

Finally, it was the moment we had both been waiting for. Time to see the Chicago Production of "Wicked". It's basically a prequel to the "Wizard of Oz" told from the view of the witches. I'm a huge fan of musical theater, so this was definitely up my alley. I love the pomp and circumstance, the costumes, the music, the bigger than life characters. It's like a little 3 hour escape from reality!

Having never been to the Ford Oriental Theater in Chicago, I had no idea what our seats were going to be like when I chose them online. Despite sitting about 10 rows from the back on the main floor, they were amazingly good. Also, luckily for me, no one with a big head (or hat) sat in front of me, so my view was unobstructed!

We had a few minutes to kill before the doors to the theater were set to opened, so we spent a few minutes mulling around the Borders Store which was next door to the theater (sweet!). I picked up a book on "Wicked" tha thad lots of behind the scenes info and stuff on the costumes and sets and what-not. It was great to get a bit of a sneak peek.

As the time approached, I was definitely anxious to get in and find our seats. It's a good thing too. Apparently they have a rule that if you are not in your seats when the doors close and the curtain goes up, you have to wait 25 minutes! That's a LOT of a great musical even if it is 3 hours long! Believe me! Our butts were firmly planted in our seats when those doors closed and the show started!

My review? I definite Must See! The music and story were simply wonderful. By far, my favorite song was "Popular." Imagine all those popular blonde, cute girls from high school in all of their ditzy glory ....only set to music! I would definitely see it again in a heartbeat!

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