Thursday, 27 June 2013

A year later!

It’s been just over a year since Ben and I loaded up the car with our kids and as much stuff as we could fit, and hit the road for a cross Canada journey from Vancouver to Toronto. The trip, much of which has been well documented on this blog, lasted 40 days and took us through BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ontario. It was the trip of our lifetime!

A year after we have landed in our new home, we are now preparing for our first camping trip again and although this one is a weekend trip to a local camping site, I couldn't help but think back on our trip last year and reflect on the journey on its first anniversary.

There are of course a few things that have changed since last summer. For one thing, our boys are a year older. Owen is able to last in his car seat longer now that he can interact more easily with his brother in the back seat and us in the front. Zaid is more able, at least some of the time, to listen to instructions and follow along when asked not to do something because it is not safe.  I am looking forward to a more relaxed experience at the campsite this time around, with less running around and more sitting and watching the kids play together. We will see if this vision will hold or be shattered 5 minutes after we unpack!

Our trip last year has really helped to cement our love for travel and adventure, as well as camping. The most evident for me is the love of car travel. Since our trip I find that I feel most relaxed and at ease when I am in the passenger seat and Ben is driving us somewhere. The longer the trip the better! Our drives to Niagara last winter and this spring were great. I felt that I was relaxed even before we arrived at our hotel.  I think being in the car has become a mental trigger for me to unwind and get into “break” mode.  And after a couple of very intense months of my new job, I can’t wait for the 4 hour drive to the campground in Bruce Peninsula National Park.

At the campsite, our plans for food include jiffy pop, campfire hot dogs and s’mores.  As for activities, hiking, walking around the nearby village and long hours on the beach are in order. And one thing is for sure, it’s been way too long since we unpacked our trusty big blue tent and it will be wonderful to do that again. 

We are all very happy and excited to be going camping again soon!

If this summer you are planning or thinking about traveling and/ or camping in any of the regions we visited last summer, I invite you to read our blog posts to find out about best sites, parks, attractions and hidden gems to visit, as well as a few not so wonderful places to avoid. 

I Hope your summer is as full of adventure and excitement as ours are!


Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Greatest Moments

In spite of all the grandeur of the Rockies, vastness of the prairies, business of Chicago, and wonder of all the places we visited, it is the little things that have provided the greatest moments of the trip, and will provide the greatest memories moving forward. Just like life, the best things truly are the little things. Here is a chronological list of, some, of the best moments I had on our trip.

1) Afternoon Sun in Kekuli Bay

Our first weeks adventures with rain have been well documented on this trip. It wasn't until we got to the Rockies that we truly left the rain behind and enjoyed the sun for the final 30 days, give or take. Our first night in Manning Park required a 10 minute tarp set-up and dinner crouched on the ground beside the picnic table, rain pouring down. Our stay in the desert of Osoyoos even brought rain each afternoon. However, the first afternoon at Kekuli Bay provided a beautiful afternoon, free of even clouds. Haifa and the boys hung out beneath a tree while I set up our tent, being sure to stop every 2 minutes for a sip of water. After getting the tent up Zaid and I went for a walk down to play in the playground and then to the dock to look at the water. We even saw a rattlesnake curled up in the grass having a rest.
Enjoying the Sun at Kekuli Bay - Notice the Ouzo

2) Walk up Johnston Canyon

After a long (for us) day of driving from Revelstoke we pull into our campground at Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park in the mid-afternoon. After getting out of the car Zaid immediately requests that we go on a walk and so we, desiring a stretch of our legs as well, oblige. We initially decide to just go to the river flowing by the campground and walk along its side. Soon we are crossing back underneath the Bow River Parkway and across a little footbridge over the river. We get caught up in a stream of people and find ourselves along the Johnston Canyon walk. The route was short, about 1 km, but was amazing. The path either goes alongside the edge of the canyon or right over the river itself, attached to the rock wall itself. We end up at the lower falls and had a great time getting misted by the falling water. We reward our good luck with a soft-serve Vanilla Ice Cream when we get back.
Lower Falls in Johnston Canyon

3) Herbert Train Station Museum

The longest travel day until that point was the drive from Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park in Southeast Alberta to Regina in central Saskatchewan. We decided to pull off the highway in the town of Herbert to look for a park with which to picnic. We follow the signs to the visitor centre, usually the best bet to find a picnic table, and stop for lunch. Much to Zaid's delight the visitor centre also doubles as a train museum, complete with 3 old train cars that are fully accessible. It proved VERY difficult to keep Zaid at the table and interested in lunch as all he was wanting was to look at the trains. I wolfed down my sardine sandwich and went with him to explore the trains. We were only there for about 45 minutes but we all had a great time looking at all the trains had to offer.
Zaid sitting in the Caboose

4) Windy Lake Michigan

The day had been planned as a relaxing day to account for the blah feeling that had enveloped us all the day before. A morning thundershower simply reinforced the idea of a slow and relaxing drive down to Port Washington, Wisconsin. We set off around 11:00, ready and willing to take multiple stops along the scenic Lake Michigan route as we saw interesting things to do. The first indication that things were a bit windy was the drive, the car was fairly difficult to control with the crosswind pushing the car towards the shoulder. Then, we turn a corner and come into the town of Algoma, right on the shore of Lake Michigan. The lake looked like a stormy ocean, we could not see the other side and the waves were rolling in thick and white. We park the car and hop down the stairs, wind gusting into our faces and blowing our hair (and us) every which way. It was exhilarating and thrilling and gave us a great jolt awake from our malaise. It was a great 10 minutes, just what the doctor ordered.
Haifa and Owen enjoying the wind

5) Chicago Dance Party

I have written about this in a previous post and so will simply quote the paragraph again here. 

I was putting Zaid to bed this evening when all of a sudden I hear faint bass beats wafting up from the streets below. They didn't seem to bother Zaid, but my curiosity was piqued. I recalled having walked by a stage advertising a free dance party during the summer this morning and put two and two together. After getting Zaid down (or at least I thought) I headed outside to see what was going on. There was a dance party, and it was awesome. There was probably 500-800 people and all of them were dancing. From young parents with their children to old couples in their 70s, from the stylings of the "Chicago Dancing Diva's" to the stylings of rhythm-less middle aged white people, from girls in tie-die shirts to guys in basketball jerseys, from Indians dancing Banghara, to me tapping my foot and bobbing my head, EVERYONE was dancing. The whole event was free and lasted about 2 hours. It was funded completely by the government, with no form of sponsorship anywhere. This is a city that does things right.
Dance Dance

6) The walk from Addison Station to my seat in Wrigley Field

I get off the packed train at Addison Station and immediately see what appears to be the back of Wrigley Field. I see stairs leading up to doors labelled "box seats" and stands above. I don't really have time to look further though as the throng of baseball fans (mostly Cubs, but many Cardinals fans as well) is leading me down the stairs to the street below. The street is FULL of people and they all seem to be going to the stadium, or to a local bar first. As we make our way the half block to the stadium I realize that what I thought was the stadium was actually houses across the street. It seems that they have built their own stands and charge people to watch the game from across the street. 

We get closer and closer to the stadium and the yells of "tickets for sale" and "water $1 each" grow more frequent. Then, all of a sudden, the stadium is there. From the outside it is very hard to tell that a baseball team plays inside, as it fits into the neighbourhood perfectly. I guess this happens when the stadium and the neighbourhood can grow up with each other for a century.

I make my way through the throng to will-call and pick up my ticket. It is in my hands, Cubs-Cardinals, at Wrigley Field. Within minutes I will be in my seat looking at the ivy covered walls I have seen so many times on TV. I have been waiting for this ever since I became a baseball fan at the age of 5, watching the Blue Jays play the White Sox with my dad at old Exhibition Stadium.

I slowly walk around the crowd outside, taking the atmosphere in. I notice a quartet of musicians in Cubs uniforms playing and stop for a listen. I take out my phone and take the obligatory tourist photo of the original Marquee and work my way in. The ticket-taker scans my ticket and I am in. It takes some time to figure out where I am going as Wrigley uses aisles instead of sections that I am used to. However, I quickly realize I need to go up the ramp and so slowly make my way up. 

As I get to the top of the ramp I notice a row of seats right there and get a bit confused. However, the stadium is so small that there isn't really a concourse, simply the start of the seats. I grab a beer (Labbatt Blue, since I despise Budweiser and Coors) and make my way to my seats. The game doesn't start for another 20 minutes and so my section is pretty empty to start. I take in the ivy-walls and the Cardinals warming up in front of me. I take in the friendly joking around between Cardinal and Cub fans, I take in the vendors yelling out "Cold Beer" and "Ice Cream" and I am happy.
My first view of the field

7) Evening Swim in Whiteshell Provincial Park

This entry is not in chronological order; I have saved it for last. This was the single best moment of the whole trip. 

We had found the beach earlier in the afternoon but didn't have our swimming stuff with us and so decided to come for a swim after dinner. We get our gear on, swimming diapers for the boys, and trunks for us, and head out on the short 5 minute walk. We arrive at around 7:00 to a near empty beach and get our sandals off, shirts and hats off, and towels out. Then we run to the water and play. For about 45 minutes we are in pure bliss. Chasing Zaid, splashing Haifa, getting splashed by Zaid, walking out to the deeper parts, sitting with Owen in the shallows. The whole time, we all have huge smiles on and are laughing. There were absolutely no worries our thoughts in our mind, just the water and the swimming.

The beach earlier in the day. We were having too much fun for pictures during our swim


Friday, 3 August 2012

The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

August 3, 2012

We have been in Toronto now for 2 days and are pouring ourselves into the house search. We have a couple of very nice leads on places and a few more viewings set up for the weekend. With any luck we will be in our new home by the middle of the month.

This post is going to be a review of sorts of our trip from my perspective. I will be talking about my favourites and least favourites, bests and worsts, and so forth. Onwards Ho!

Best Campsite:

This one is easy, the best campsite we had by far was at Caliper Lake Provincial Park in Northern Ontario. We had a large grassy site situated directly on the lakeshore, nestled amongst the trees, and away from the road. We could not see the campground road from our site. Combined with the lack of fellow campers anywhere near us and we had this beautiful lakefront site that felt like we were in the middle of the woods.
Campsite at Caliper Lake

Best Campground:

We had a few very nice campgrounds - Kekuli Bay in the Okanagan and Kinbrook Island and Elkwater in Southern Alberta come to mind as quiet places with wonderful ammenities and large campsites, or as is the case with Kekuli Bay, a wonderful view. However, the best campground overall was Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park. I devoted a whole blog post to this campground and so won't go into too much detail. I do want to emphasis the quality of the washrooms - they were fully heated which helped immensely with the cold mornings and had the most powerful hand blowers I had ever seen (they even caused ripples in your hands).
Kekuli Bay Provincial Park

Worst Campsite and Campground:

This one is also very easy - Bleriot Ferry campground just north of Drumheller, Alberta. On our first drive around this place it wasn't all bad, there was lots of grassy campsites and it was situated right on a river. However, it was only after paying our fee that we realized how horrible it was. There was no shade at all for most of the day, resulting in us moving our camp chairs around the tent to keep up with the tent-made shade. There were horrible neighbours who were loud and rude and a mother who berated her children from the moment they arrived until the moment they went to bed. The washrooms looked like they hadn't been cleaned in a week. The water required a 10 minute boil to get rid of bugs. The river was brown and dirty and located behind a mud pit. Worst of all were the mosquitoes; they were relentless and numerous. We awoke in the morning to find our usually white tent black with mosquitoes waiting between the tent and fly for us to leave. It was so bad that even the mosquitoes thought there were too many mosquitoes; they were chasing our car down the exit road trying to hitch a ride out of town. We were so very thankful to get out of that place and glad there was nothing even close to as bad for the rest of the trip.

Worst Driving Experiences:

I cannot differentiate between two moments, thankfully both of which were pretty short. First up we have a 5 minute drive south from Nakusp, BC back to our campsite at McDonald Creek. There had been heavy rain all day and it was only getting heavier as we headed out onto the undivided highway. Just out of town we ran into some pretty heavy fog that was the source of the stress. If we were on a city street going 50 then we would have had enough visibility, but being on a windy highway with a 100 KM/H speed limit proved to be too much. I slowed the car down to 80, but was nervous to go any slower in case someone behind us was going too fast in the fog. After about 2 minutes I began to get very close to having a panic attack, but there was no place to pull over and leave enough room for cars to get by. Haifa was great in helping me calm down and a couple of minutes after that we came down a slight hill and exited the fog, giving us a much easier final 5 minutes to the park.
Navigating Downtown Milwaukee Freeways

Secondly we have a 1 mile stretch of freeway in downtown Milwaukee. We had just got back on the I43/I94 going south and were one of about 4 new lanes that had joined a 3-4 lane freeway going south. This would have been stressful in and of itself but within a mile, or even less, we had 4 of the lanes exit to various parts of downtown or other freeways. This resulted in hundreds of cars travelling in 7 lanes, and all needing a new lane within a few hundred feet. Cars from the far left were changing 6 lanes of traffic at once, trucks from the far right were doing the same. As soon as a free car length appears in a lane drivers on either side jump at the chance to change lanes into its spot. And, because this is a freeway, this was all going on at 65 MPH (or 105 KMH).Thankfully the insanity was over quickly and we were back to the relative ease of a 3 lane freeway.

Best Drive:

The best drive was short, perhaps about 20 minutes of the highway from Vernon to Fauquier in BC. This road crosses a mountain range on the way from the Okanagan to the Kootenays region. The last 20 minutes or so you plunge down this windy road from the tops of the mountains to the valley floor and a ferryboat crossing the Arrow Lakes. Rising cliff on your left and plunging cliff on your right, snippets of river below and views of mountains all around. This was fun driving in a beautiful setting and nothing before or after came close.

Best City:

While we spent a majority of the trip camping in the wilderness, we did take time for hotels in a number of big cities along the way. Perhaps city is a generous definition for some of these locations, but I am considering Kelowna, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Duluth, and Chicago as the cities we have visited. We had an amazing time with our friend Joanne in Calgary, loved the Urban feel of Winnipeg, and were amazed by the beauty of Duluth, nestled between a hillside and Lake Superior, however there is no contest, Chicago was the best. Both Haifa and myself have written entries about our time in and enjoyment of Chicago and so little else needs to be said. Its been a week since we were in the city and we are still excited about our short visit

Worst City:

Apologies to all of our friends from Saskatchewan, but Regina is pretty crappy. The "city" is tiny and seems to be only full of non-residents. On Friday evening the 4 block downtown area was completely empty of any living soul except ourselves. Each restaurant we came across was closed, save one. Outside of downtown there is really only strip malls and big box stores. The place is really a place to avoid and we don't intend on voluntarily going back. I think an exchange with the front desk clerk at our hotel indicates the kind of city it is. When we asked for a good place to eat close by she suggested McDonalds or Chili's. Picking the lesser of two evils we asked where Chili's was and she said we would need to take our car. Preferring to walk, we were quite surprised to find it across the street from the hotel. Any place that people recommend you drive, and not walk, across the street is a place to miss.
Downtown Regina, Friday Night

Best Animal Encounter:

Thinking back on all the animals we saw this has proved to be a very tough category. We saw a van hit a deer in the Okanagan (not good, but memorable), we saw a black bear crossing the highway on the Arrow Lakes, we crossed under a bridge and came across 2 Elk in the Rockies, we drove right up to a group of fighting Mountain Sheep in the Rockies, we were greeted to our campground in Whiteshell Provincial Park by a male Deer sauntering in front of the car. However, the most amazing encounter for me was at Good Spirt Lake in Saskatchewan. We had seen a mother deer with her two babies a couple of times around the park earlier, but as I set out to find the garbage I would have a close encounter. I turned the corner from the road to the washroom path, not really paying attention to where I am going. Suddenly, right in front of me, and I mean RIGHT in front of me, was the deer family. I stood still as the mother carefully and slowly, eyes always on me, sauntered a mere couple of feet from me, closely followed by her children. I could have reached out to touch her, but a combination of trepidation and respect held me back. As soon as they were clear, they bolted and ran off across the street and into the woods. It took quite a while for me to catch my breath afterwards.
Buck greeting us to Whiteshell Park

Worst Animal Encounter:

This one comes from our last night of camping, in Wheatley Provincial Park just a bit southeast of Windsor, Ontario. Haifa was in the tent with Owen and I was puttering about outside. I was just crossing in front of the tent door when I saw the tail end of a snake slither into the woods right in front of me (and our tent). I stop dead in my tracks as it was easily the biggest snake I had ever seen outside of a Zoo. Unfortunately, Haifa had seen my reaction and, not wanting to lie, I had to admit to seeing a snake. This made Haifa, how has a phobia of snakes, deathly scared for the rest of the evening and kind of ruined the last night for all of us.

To add insult to our situation, a family of raccoons decided to join us for our campfire later that night. I was in the tent putting Zaid to sleep when I heard Haifa say "Go Away Raccoon" in a loud and stern voice. After Zaid was asleep the raccoon returned with 2 others and got halfway into our campsite before we noticed them. I got up with a jump and banged our fire poking stick on the ground, scaring them to the edge of our site. A few more bangs on the picnic table drove them far enough away... or at least we thought. After we went into the tent for the night we heard them come back and inspect our chairs and stove and other items left out (no food items). It made for a pretty tense night by all of us raccoon-phobes.

Best Natural Attraction

We were so blessed to have witnessed so many incredible places in this great country and continent of ours that it is so hard to pick just one. Instead, I will provide a short, and not exhaustive, list of some of our favourites.

Kalamalka Lake in the Okanangan Valley, BC
Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National Park, BC
The interplay of mountains and clouds in Banff National Park, Alberta
Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta
Canola fields, Saskatchewan (and Alberta)
Lake of the Woods, Ontario
Caliper Lake, Ontario
Lake Michigan, Wisconsin (in particular)
Countryside of Southwest Ontario, Ontario
Banff National Park

Best Attraction made by Humans:

We went to numerous museums, zoos, aquariums, galleries, etc. and enjoyed nearly all of them. We didn't want to go see 25 art galleries though and so made a conscious effort to visit a variety of different types of attractions. Looking back now, three of the places we visited stick out: Royal Tyrell Dinosaur Museum in Drumheller, Alberta, Soudan Underground Mine State Park, Tower, Minnesota, and The Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan.

Each of these places provided a great example of the different things we experienced at all of the places we visited. The Royal Tyrell Museum was breathtaking. Filled to capacity with numerous dinosaur fossils of full and nearly full creatures, each step of the way brought us face to face with some new amazing creature to look at. Soudan Mine was something we stumbled upon and would not have even heard of it had we not randomly picked a campground from our map book. The place fully encapsulated the sense of joy we had at stumbling across some hidden gem in some tiny town. We got to walk all around an old mine and learned a tonne about old-school Iron mining and the region of Minnesota that we were visiting. The Henry Ford was full of artifacts from history that provided a surprisingly strong sense of reverence and respect for the major events of North American history.
Soudan Mine

It is late in Toronto now, and I have already filled this post with too much stuff. I will thus split this into two posts. Coming soon will be a summary of the best moments I had over our 40 day exodus.  

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Day 40: Arrival

We Made It!!!!

Day 39: Home Stretch

July 31, 2012

Today is the last night of our trip. At this time tomorrow we will be in our new hometown of Toronto, relaxing with my Sister and Brother-In-Law and (hopefully) booking a bunch of viewings for places to rent ASAP. For now, though, I am sitting by the campfire in Wheatley Provincial Park, about 30-45 minutes South-East of Windsor on Lake Erie. We have gone all out for our last night of camping, purchasing two bags of fire wood, having fire roasted Smokies for dinner and S’mores for desert (we have had these twice, on our first night camping and our last). Given the heat and humidity that has stuck with us this trip; I don’t think the extra heat was such a good idea though.

Our friend’s mother happens to live in the nearby town of Wheatley and invited us over for the afternoon after we had set up the tent. It was a wonderful time on the porch of this beautifully large yard, the adults drank iced lemonade and ate melon in the cooling breeze while Zaid had great fun filling up a yogurt container with water from the hose and dumping it on his head. Our very generous host sent us back to the campground laden with fruits and veggies, and a beautiful blueberry pie that will be part of lunch tomorrow.

Crossing back into Canada turned out to be very quick and simple. After my experience driving in downtown Milwaukee, with the 4 lane freeway turning into 8 and then 4 again, I was a bit nervous driving down the freeway in another large US city. This stress, combined with my previously mentioned stress of crossing borders made for a very stressful time. I had done ample research the night before and determined that the Detroit-Windsor tunnel would be the best route. I’m not sure how the Ambassador Bridge was, but there was no need to stress about the tunnel. There was next to no traffic on the freeway or in the tunnel, as we zoomed through customs in just a couple of minutes. We all breathed a sigh of relief to be back home in Canada so easily.

Our day started with the final big attraction, the Car Museum (technically called the Henry Ford museum) in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn. This turned out to be well worth the visit. Not only did it house close to a hundred cars from an 1899 car to a 2009 Toyota Prius, but it also housed a huge collection of trains, airplanes and other memorabilia. Amongst the items we saw were the limousine that JFK was riding in when he was assassinated, the bus that Rosa Parks refused to bow to segregation in, and (the highlight for Zaid), the original Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. The museum houses far more stuff than we had time to visit, including a pioneer village and a tour of a working Ford factory, and so we hope to make a return visit at some point in the future.
The bus where Rosa Parks stood up to Segregation by not standing up

With the end of our trip looming it is time for us to turn to the future, and our new life in Toronto. The end of our trip will come on day 40, making it 40 days and 40 nights from Vancouver to Toronto, the same amount of time that Noah was afloat on the Ark in the flooded world. Like Noah, after 40 days we are ready to land and are excited for the new beginning that the end of our trip brings.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Day 37: Tri-State Day

July 29, 2012

Today we woke up in our hotel room in downtown Chicago, Illinois and are now close to bed at our campground in Wayne Dunes State Park in Michigan after a brief stop at the Indiana Sand Dunes National Shoreline in Indiana. This makes it 3 states that we have been in today. We left Chicago early this morning in order to make a stop at the Sand Dunes before finding a campground in the wasteland that is Michigan State Parks. According to our mapbook this is the only campground within a 200 mile, or so, radius. Luckily, there was lots of space available, although the 15 minute line-up at the Park Entrance (caused by daytime users) had us a bit worried.

Our campground is located in a big Oak forest just beside some giant sand dunes. We got in late, and so will be visiting the Dunes tomorrow morning for a look and, hopefully, a dip in Lake Michigan. The forest is very nice, but there is lots of Poison Ivy that we have to avoid. As well, this is by far the loudest forest we have been in; the sound of Cicadas is overwhelming, nearly as loud as a hotel room in downtown Chicago.

Our brief stop at Mt. Baldy along the Indiana Dunes shorelines was nice, but the place is completely ruined by the giant Nuclear plant right next door, blocking the whole Northern vista. Mt. Baldy is a giant sand dune on the North end of a long strip of Dunes at the coast of Lake Michigan in Indiana. As of now the Eastern edge is about 3 metres from the edge of the parking lot, but if recent trends keep up, it will be in the parking lot within 5 years. The combination of wind and tourists is causing the dune to move inland at a rate of about 5 feet per year. I’m not quite sure what will happen when it hits the parking lot, as demand for the site and beach already far exceeds the space in the lot.
View North from Mt. Baldy

Leaving Chicago this morning was pretty straightforward. There was no problem with the valet, aside from him not putting the engine break on after bringing our car back out. The best time to drive in this city of crazy drivers, and pedestrians, most definitely appears to be Sunday morning. We encountered very little traffic and no pedestrians jay walking in our short drive from downtown to the freeway. As a sports fan I was excited to pass Solider Field (home of the Bears) and Comiskey Park (home of the White Sox) on the way out of town. This, combined with the Cubs-Cardinals game at Wrigley the day before provided a very nice complement to my Chicago sports visit.

Wrigley Field is tiny, it takes up what appears to be just a single city block, but somehow fits in an entire baseball stadium. It was great to see the old wonder, wandering around the concourse and streets outside, looking at the ivy-covered outfield walls, and watching the rivalry that is the Cubs-Cardinals. The game wasn’t the most exciting, perhaps because I am not used to the National League rule of the pitchers having to pitch. It seemed like every rally was snuffed out by a pitcher coming to bat and promptly striking out. It really stunted the flow of the game. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the game and am glad to have gone. 

Day 34-36: Chicago Chicago

Our time in Chicago has come to an end and tomorrow we begin our last three days before arriving in our new home town, Toronto. Chicago has been wonderful and is definitely the highlight of this summer. A world class city, Chicago has everything that an urban citizen needs wants and desires from a large modern metropolitan. A beautiful setting is provided by Lake Michigan and the Chicago river.  This is complemented very well by the city’s architecture which seamlessly blends historical buildings with ultra- modern ones to create a stunning skyline.  There is no lack of green space and beautiful parks, and the city seems to make an extra effort to create an atmosphere where art, music and culture thrive to enrich the lives of both the locals and the tourists. ( I was happy to read in the local magazine that the city has just invested in creating a new cultural plan with help from consultants from Toronto!)

We cramped a few things in our short stay here, and in the interest of keeping this short, here is a list of the highlights of our time in this great city:

Grant Park: This is a very nice big park with trails that connect it to the main streets downtown, the lake shore and multiple museums and the aquarium. In our few days there, we passed by Grant Park many times and it was always nice to stop by a sculpture,a piece of public art or fountain.

Millennium Park: Another park right outside our hotel in the middle of downtown is Millennium Park. This park is home to the famous “bean” sculpture and many other works of art. This park also seemed to be the cultural hub of the city especially in the summer. We picked up a booklet that listed all that was going on in the park during the summer months and all the activities were free of charge. There were music, theatre and dance performances almost daily, and every Sunday morning there is a 4 hour workout session that includes an hour each of Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates and Zumba. All for free! There was also a fee public dance party every Friday evening and a Family Fun Festival was on the week we were there.  This is only to count a few of what was happening in Millennium Park throughout the year.

The Field Museum: We’ve been to many museums on this trip and several of them were natural history museums, but this one by far tops all of them. Housed in a beautiful looking historical building, this museum contains many permanent displays of natural life and a few feature exhibits and shows. Of the featured ones, we chose to visit the bugs exhibit which had us shrink to the size of little bugs so that we can go underground, a few feet into the soil and explore life under the surface. Zaid loved looking at all the bugs and pretending to be underground with them. Definitely a great exhibit for the little ones. A great hit was also the exhibit of African animals especially the big cats and the apes. And just for good measures there was a little exhibit all about earth evolution including the rise and fall of dinosaurs and so Zaid’s satisfaction with the museum was guaranteed with this addition of a few giant dino skeletons to look at. We spent about 3 hours in the museum and did not even get around to see everything. Definitely a great museum by all measures.

Deep Dish Pizza: You can’t go to Chicago and not have Chicago style pizza. We followed the recommendation of a friend and visited a local deep dish pizza chain. I was expected something heavy and over the top but instead we got a classic sausage pizza with what seemed to be a nice light homemade tomato sauce. The pizza tasted good but I still prefer thin crust. I found the deep dish to come with just a little too much dough and cheese for my liking.

Tower Observatory: There were a couple of options as far as looking onto the city from a super high tower. We chose to go up to the John Hancock tower's 94th floor for a coffee treat and unbeatable 360 degree view of the city. You could see all of the downtown sky scrapers, the actual city neighbourhoods, the lake and the sky. The afogatos we had were delicious and for less than $5 each, more reasonably priced than a Starbucks drink back down on earth!

Baseball Game: We wished we could have done this together but since we waited too late to buy tickets it was almost impossible to find three tickets together, unless we were willing to pay upwards of $1,000 for them. So Ben, being the one who cared the most about this particular activity, went to the game by himself. The boys and I had some time for a nap back at our hotel and then a walk and lunch in Grant Park.

In addition to this list, we also met up with a childhood friend of Ben’s who now lives with his wife in Chicago. We all had dinner together at a nice pub downtown. Unfortunately our two boys were in a grumpy and tired mood which did not make for a relaxing dinner. Ben and I fear that our boys may have driven our friends away from the idea of having kids, ever! To Alex and Jenna: we are very sorry!

On Sunday morning we checkout of our hotel on Michigan Avenue and were on the road again in no time. Next is the Sand Dunes in Indiana and the Henry Ford Car Museum in Detroit, and then home.