Chicago -> London
The beds were delicious and we woke up refreshed and gunning for some more cheesecake. We were excited about today as we were meeting someone in Chicago we were big fans of. Her name is Emily Graslie and she is an online celebrity scientist. She presents our favourite science related show ‘The Brain Scoop’ (http://www.youtube.com/user/thebrainscoop).
Since the beginning she has done some fantastic videos including skinning and gutting a wolf that was found dead in the mountains. NOT one for the feint hearted, in fact it’s pretty gruesome. But she presents it in a way that non-sciencey people like me can learn and enjoy it. A few months before I had emailed her asking if she wouldn’t mind posing for a few photos as we passed through Chicago and she confirmed closer to the date we could come down to see her.
The Field Museum
The museum was beautiful the minute we walked in. It was a huge place and I loved it straight away. What I didn’t love was the security guard who seemed unable to read numbers or understand the spelling of Emily’s name meaning we were stood there arguing with him as to whether she worked there. Eventually he placed a big oaf hand on the phone and dialed the number we gave him and whaddaya know it worked! Straight from the get go Emily was quite quiet. We were expecting the happy clappy Emily from Brain Scoop. What we got was tired, stressed, 10 things on the go at once Emily. She doesn’t get paid for The Brain Scoop and has to run it along with doing her normal job, yet it takes up nearly as much of her time. Finding this out I felt bad that we had expected her to show us around a bit and chat like old buddies. With hindsight I would have been irritated too, but eventually after a few minutes of chatting, snapping and walking around we found some common ground and she warmed up nicely to us.
Very aware that she had better things to do than explain to us all the exhibits I rushed the photos and they didn’t turn out as nice as I had hoped. This wasn’t helped by the 20,000 photos taken in the last 3 weeks and the amount of Nevada desert sand that was rolling around the camera. It needed a good clean but I didn’t have the equipment with me in Chicago.[Note - I cleaned everything when we got back and it is fine now]
We still got some awesome photos of the museum and some lovely simplistic portraits like the one above. We said goodbye to Emily after 20 minutes and she legged it to go tackle the rest of the days meetings and assignments. We could have spent all day at the Field Museum as behind every door there was something interesting and because it was a work day we had the run of quite a few rooms on the first floor. One odd little place was a lifelike replica of a 90s Tahiti cafe. So many questions as to why, how and who, but I’ll leave you with this photo.
Shedd Aquarium & The Art Institute Of Chicago
We left the museum and walked across the park to Shedd Aquarium. It was hands down the best aquarium we had ever been to. It had everything from a hundred weird type of jellyfish to dolphins and seals. The dolphins were great and they did their whole synchronised jumping and flipping. My memory is a little hazy on Shedd Aquarium as we zoomed round most of it so we could make the movie showing of Sea Monsters 3D. Well I think it might have been 4D and it was interactive (wind and water). The whole place was incredibly educational and has a great conservation program, a true jewel in Chicago’s crown.
After lunch we decided to dive head first into a big dose of culture in the form of the Art Institute of Chicago, the 6th most visited museum in the whole US with nearly 1.5 million visitors a year. It was never ending artifacts, paintings, sculptures, exhibitions. After about an hour I had had enough, my feet my killing me and I was tired. The trip had taken its toll an I was ready to throw up a white flag but Emma wouldn’t let me as we hadn’t even hit the good stuff yet.
Something didn’t feel right though she wasn’t convincing me that she really did want to see anything more. We went to some art section and were faced with a ton of painters I had heard of: Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso. I tried I really did but when you stand in front of a Van Gogh and don’t feel anything then your time at the museum is done. I explained this to Emma and she agreed, we were trying to force culture into our final day and neither of us liked it. We have done this before where we feel that as educated people we should be able to enjoy art but every time we get bored within minutes of being there. The only artist that has ever kept both of us interested painting after painting is urban artist David Walker. That said I did enjoy the medieval armoury with all the swords and weapons, the room was dominated by the huge armoured horse on show. The impressionist paintings were Emma’s favourite though I don’t know if she is just saying that. We walked north to Millenium Park and saw a very strange water feature. It was a fountain about an inch deep and had two big glass block towers with peoples faces on them spurting water. We escaped quickly before being drenched and walked over to the worlds largest and most hand printed silver bean. I’m not quite sure why this big bean is so special but the sleekness of the curved metal made for some rather cool optical illusions when up close.
With only an hour left of sunlight on our last full day in America we headed to the John Hancock Building for the view of the sunset. This enormous hunk of metal and slab was once the largest building in the world outside of New York City. It is still impressive 45 years after being completed and we took the express lift topping out at 20mph all the way up to the 96th floor. We hung around taking photos before watching the sun set on the horizon casting beautiful shadows all across the western suburbs of Chicago.
As the schedule would have it this was not the only high rise view we were due to see before leaving. We had planned to go to the Skydeck at the Willis Tower the night before to find it unexpectedly shut. The Willis Tower is the tallest building in Chicago and second only to the new World Trade Centre in New York. The Skydeck we were visiting is not for people who fear heights. There are three see through boxes that you can enter that stand out four feet from the tower. When you look down past your feet you can see the 412 metre, 102 floor drop to the street below. We queued patiently watching the people ahead of us gingerly edge into the box. I wondered aloud how many people had maybe had a little wee come out when looking down. When it was our turn we crammed into the packed box, I say we I mean I jumped into the box and Emma stood at the edge a distinct shade of green. It took a bit of coaxing to get her into the box and when she did it took further encouragement to just look down. It was at this point I noticed we were the only ones in the box as the people behind us didn’t want to get in. I felt like saying I know I’m a big guy but this box holds five tons! Their loss, I used the space and time to take some photos of the city. Emma was very brave spending time looking down but was not disappointed when I suggested we let others have a look.
There were two boxes open to the public with a third reserved for photos taken by an employee. I want to say now that this is one giant con. The third box is empty and just ready to be stood in but you can’t take photos. You can only go in there if you are willing to have your photo taken by an employee for which you go downstairs to view and if you like it you buy the photo. While standing in line for the first two boxes this third option sounds great. Afterwards we went up to the employee and asked how much the photos were. He claimed he didn’t know. I asked him how he can work there taking hundreds of photos a day but not know how much they cost. Eventually he admitted to knowing but then said “I’m not allowed to tell you.” Ridiculous, an absolute con. When we got downstairs we could see why he wasn’t allowed to tell us. They were massively overpriced and you weren’t allowed to to put them online or copy them.
It was Thursday night and the Chicago Bears were playing at home to the New York Giants. Our hotel was half a mile from the stadium and as Green bay fans I think this was a bit of an oversight! We got a taxi back to the hotel after dinner and settled down to pack and watch the game on TV. We finished up our remaining snacks and packed everything we could as tightly as possible leaving only the large pillow purchased from Walmart wel had used in Bertha. As we were relaxing just before bed we got a phone call from reception. They wanted to see me downstairs and it couldn’t wait. It was 10:50pm, I had a flight to catch the following morning. We had been in all night but they had waited until nearly 11pm on our final night to raise the issue of the hotel booking.
I went down with my print out of the booking and the print out of the voucher I had been sent. I was tired and it was obvious I had been snoozing. A big guy introduced himself as the manager, he didn’t apoologise for calling me at nearly 11pm, he didn’t apologise for getting me out of bed, he also didn’t apologise for the incompetency of his hotel. Instead he made some thinly veiled accusations and told me he wanted me to pay for the room despite the fact it was prepaid. I told him that I had paid for the room and had confirmation of this. He analyzed my booking printout and told me he was keeping it. I explained that it was my only copy and without it I had no proof of payment so they could do whatever they want. They had already taken photocopies of it and my copy was only a printout and was no more use to them than the one they had. The manager didn’t care and I got more and more irritated. In the end I told them I wasn’t paying for the room twice, that I had another copy of the booking form so they couldn’t screw us over and I was going to bed and if they had a problem with it they should grab me in the morning.
The Final Day
We went downstairs to the check out expecting police and handcuffs. It was quiet and I asked what the situation was with out booking and was met with evil eyes from all the staff within listening distance. Nothing was being done and we were allowed to check out and leave. All that trouble for nothing. We went straight to Chicago O’Hare for our flight home and after boarding collapsed into our seats ready to sleep the whole way home with a glass of champagne form the captain because that’s how we roll.