Our friend Susan was going to be in Chicago for a conference, and as we hadn't seen Chicago yet, and it was on the list of cities we wanted to visit, we made the semi-spur of the moment decision to have a three day weekend there last weekend.
We got the Virgin America red-eye flight from SFO, which left on Friday at around 5pm, and got into Chicago at around 11:30pm, local time. Zoe didn't do as well as she has previously, and didn't sleep very well on the flight over, despite us getting lucky and scoring an empty seat between us on an otherwise fairly full flight. I think she's getting too big to comfortably sleep in the Ergo baby carrier (or isn't keen on sleeping vertically any more).
We stayed at the Swissotel, because that was where Susan was staying (and was where her conference was) and nearby hotels seemed to be around the same price range. When we checked in, we let them talk us into an upgrade to a larger room, which had fantastic views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. Lake Michigan is just mind-bogglingly big. It's an inland sea.
What can I say? I was totally in love with Chicago. The weather while we were there was unbelievable. Clear skies. High 20's (Celsius). It was more humid than the Bay Area, but less humid than Brisbane.
The first thing we did on Saturday was go visit a friend of Sarah's who lived in Bryn Mawr. We took the "L" there. The elevated train was an interesting affair, and turned out to be less accessible than we'd been led to believe from some light research in advance. In fact, I found Chicago in general to be fairly wheelchair (and by extension, stroller) unfriendly. We had to lug Zoe's stroller up and down stairs quite a bit to get from the river level to where the hotel was. Zoe seemed to find it amusing, at least. Aside from that problem, the city seemed pretty flat.
I'm really glad that we got out of the city and into Bryn Mawr, because it was really great to see that aspect of Chicago life as well. Lovely, quiet, tree-lined streets with wide sidewalks. Beautiful buildings. Sarah's friend was fostering 8 kittens, so Zoe got to have a play with all of them, which she thought was pretty cool.
After we returned to the city, Sarah and I kicked back in Millennium Park while Zoe napped in the stroller. Saturday, being 9/10/11 in US date format, seemed to be particularly popular for weddings, and there were a lot of couples getting wedding photos taken in the park.
That night, we tried to have some deep dish pizza at Uno, the home of deep dish pizza, but the line was ridiculous. We subsequently learned about Due, and went there the following night. The pizza was good, and I found the crust to be slightly different from what we'd get at Patxi's.
We checked out the Navy Pier on both Sunday and Monday, taking Zoe to the Chicago Children's Museum both days (we got free entry thanks to our membership at the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose). We had grand plans of checking out the Shedd Aquarium, but it turned out that Monday was a "free for all Illinois residents" day, and the line at 11am was ridiculous, so we gave it a miss and took at water taxi back to Navy Pier. It was Zoe's first boat ride, and she enjoyed it. I got some unbelievably good photos of the city skyline from the boat.
Our flight out was at 7pm, so we took the train to Midway. I was very impressed that we could get all the way to the airport by train for the standard price. I love flat-rate fares.
I really love a city with good mass public transit. The only thing that detracted from this in Chicago was the accessibility issues. We explicitly went to the Orange Line Clarke/Lake station to go to Midway because it was listed as being wheelchair accessible, and we had a stroller and a suitcase. We ended up going up to the wrong platform, and getting across to the other side was a bit of a mission. We'd entered the station from the street level, took the elevator up, and then realised we were on the wrong side. We had to go back down the elevator to the level below the street, cross the street from underneath it, and then go back up the elevator on the other side. Aside from these sorts of shenanigans, the whole elevated train thing was pretty cool (but I wouldn't have wanted to have an apartment with the train line right outside my window). If only the cars had glass roofs, the Loop would have been a lot more scenic.
Overall, it'd be hard to say whether I liked Chicago or New York City better. I liked the clean, flat nature of Chicago, the architecture and the lower density of buildings, but I also really love New York just because it's New York, and has an awesome (probably equally stroller-unfriendly) subway system.
Photos from the trip are here.