7/18 Chicago and the Art Institute
Chicago! I really liked our visit and hope for another chance to ride the L someday. A big part of what I liked about the city was the CTA, Chicago Transit Authority. I found the public transit in Chicago to be easy to understand and navigate. Far more simple than D.C. and a bargain to boot. I got by just fine with the New York City system when I visited there for the first time ten years ago but it cost me a couple of days of confusion. Maybe that experience was a booster for me but we were on our way on the Chicago trains with no trouble at all.
If you are planning a visit to Chicago I highly recommend using the trains and buses. The three day pass is available for $14 at gobs of locations in the city. We bought ours at one of the "Currency Exchange" shops that are a plague of locusts on the city. The pass will get you on any train or buss for 72 hours after the first use. Some of the places that sell the passes will have free maps too that will give you the basics of the system. Our hosts lived a short block away from a blue line stop so we had no trouble getting started. The trains will get you within a short walk of most attractions in the city. For places a little further from the stops hop on the bus. Have no fear, I found the buses really easy to use too. Most of Chicago is laid out on a grid and almost any bus you catch will go for a long way in a cardinal direction. This makes it super easy to move North, South, East, or West by quadrant. With the pass you don't have to fret about transfers or missing a stop. You can always get back on going the other way.
We spent several hours at the Art Institute next door to Millennium Park in the lake side of downtown Chicago. The Institute is one of those museums that is full chock-a-block with art. Too much to see in a day but don't miss it if you are an art fan and do your best to crawl through every floor.
From modern to classical the Art Institute is rather encyclopedic and has fine examples of all sorts o' art so have a look at the web site for highlights.
One of the special things that we were specifically seeking was the Thorne Rooms.
This collection is downstairs and has a gallery all to itself. Mrs. James Ward Thorne had some money at her disposal and she commissioned a group of gifted craftspeople and artists to fabricate these miniature set pieces based on her study of the history of architecture and design. Many of the rooms are examples of fabulous accommodations in wealthy households of Europe and America of the 18th and 19th century, but there were a few set in the 1930s (very modern) and a couple couple of examples set in the southwest U.S. After seeing room after room (with a few odd looking sculpted cats too) it begins to feel odd. How were these displayed in the Thorne's house, I had to wonder. Did anybody ever get to play house in there? Eh, it was probably more like an adult child with their massive HO scale train layout in the basement (but then maybe not, since those get some millage on the trains at least). Anyhow, it's not to be overlooked if you visit this swell museum. The art will drive you on from gallery to gallery even if your guts are aching for lunch.