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Chicago trip review Thu, Aug 20, 2009
As with any major trip I take, here's my review and commentary of the recent trip to Chicago

Chicago's public transportation system is pretty good, albeit a little confusing.  I'm not sure if it was confusing because I'm a notoriously bad map-reader, or if it's because the idea of a central loop means that sometimes you have to travel north in order to go south, and vice versa.  And there were a few curiously designed maps, including one that showed a train line whose northernmost point was at the bottom of the map.  Speaking of maps, the city should consider making one universal map with all major tourist landmarks, all bus routes, all train routes, and anything else that might seem important, rather than handing out one map for each of those things.  One thing that was a no-brainer was the $14 all-you-can-travel three-day transportation pass.  NYC has a similar thing, but I think it's only good for one day, so there's always the thought of how many times you'd need to ride the subway to make it worthwhile.  Chicago's pass was good for trains and buses, and it was easy to figure out that it would be a worthwhile weekend investment. 

One thing that was recommended to us by a friend was the CityPass, or another similar product called the Go Chicago Card, which are both simply a set of discounted tickets all rolled up into one (big) price.  They make a ton of sense if you plan on going to several of the typical tourist attractions like buildings, zoos, museums, etc.  However, they only make sense if you actually go to about 5 or 6 major attractions, which, for a three-day weekend, isn't all that practical.  How many different museums can you go to in a single day?  And why go to museums in the first place?  A museum in NYC is pretty much the same as a museum in Chicago.  Another downside was that almost all the tourist attractions closed at 5pm, which wasn't horrible, but just meant that there was a somewhat narrow window in which to squeeze an entire day's activities.  However, the one benefit that made the card worth the price was the privilege of cutting to the front of a line of about 50-75 people waiting to go to the top of the Sears Tower.  That was awesome. 

One of the coolest things we did was an architectural boat tour, not because I'm particularly fond of architecture, but because it was a cool tour of the city from the unique vantage point of a riverboat.  And since not every building was built on the same day, it was a history tour too.  It was cool hearing about the rise and fall of certain industries in the city, and it was sad to see the most recent addition of the obnoxiously phallic Trump Tower.  What a pig. 

The other cool thing we did was go to the Butterfly Haven at the Nature Museum, which was a room full of butterflies from around the world.  I don't know how to explain it.  It was just cool. 

Finally, we were pleased to find out when we reached the city that the Air and Water Show was taking place the whole weekend, which meant screaming jets were flying over our head all afternoon.  Apparently the residents aren't too pleased with this annual festival, but there were plenty of onlookers and lots of loud air vehicles. 

All in all, a good trip.  The only thing I would've done differently would be to plan a little downtime.  We must've walked 15-20 miles all weekend (despite all the public transportation), and we got home late on Sunday night.  It took a few days to feel normal again. #travel


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