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Wandering the World

Stories and tips from around the world.

Chicago Day 2

Such Great Heights

It wasn’t the best night of sleep - I awoke at 02:00, and then again at 04:00 at which time I decided not to try and sleep again. I did however feel refreshed after being on the go for twenty-four hours.

View from the room

Breakfast wasn’t included in this hotel so it gave us options to try other places. First we checked what the hotel had to offer, and then went next door to Starbucks. I had a chicken and bacon biscuit (this being their term for a scone) with a very thick cookie and a cup of earl grey tea. The perfect start to the day.

The list of sights I’d produced just happened to include four out of the five sights included on a Chicago CityPass so we decided it’d be worth getting to save some money and to add an extra sight to our list.

We bought CTA tickets from a nearby metro station and then waited for the bus. We saw one that said ‘6’ and jumped on. After about ten minutes we were told to get off as it was the end of the line - this made no sense as we’d been told the ‘6’ bus went passed the museum of science and industry. When we questioned this we were told to look at the sign. I hopped off the bus and looked. It said ‘36’.

There wasn’t another bus stop we could see to get back to where we’d come from so we walked in the direction of where we believed another ‘6’ stop to be. However, when we found one it was going in the opposite direction, and we couldn’t find one going in the correct direction due to diversions in place during the set-up for the Chicago marathon. This left us a little stuck, so I decided we should go and hop onto the nearest train.

It wouldn’t have been a bad idea I guess if it hadn’t been for a 20-30 minute wait, and then a thirty minute walk at the end of the line. We’d arrived at the museum at midday, so ate our lunch before going in. We had at least thought ahead and had bought sandwiches along the way.

Science museum

In this museum we paid $106 for a CityPass, and $12 for the U-505 boat tour. The CityPass also gave us access to the coal mine, and to the flight simulator. I think in hindsight neither of these was worth the time, especially as they had to both be scheduled; but we did them. In between the schedules we saw most of the other parts of the museum. For me the most interesting part was the U-boat, and the story around how it had been captured during the second world war.

The U-505 is one of only a few U-boats left in the world, and this one was captured off the coast of Africa when a US depth charge forced it to the surface. The surrendering Germans tried to scuttle it as they were captured, but American forces located the charges and saved it. The boat and it’s captured soldiers were then a secret until after the war so that German forces would continue to use the codes they now had. As far as the families of these prisoners of war knew, they’d perished in the battle.


We managed to see everything in the museum, even though a fair bit was aimed at children. There are exhibits on the natural world, space exploration, ships, and many others. In the transport area they have George Stephenson’s rocket, and a very large model railway of Chicago and Seattle.

In their genetics exhibit they talk about the discovery of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick. There are a few problems with this though. First of all, they were implying that it was a discovery made in Chicago when actually although one was a Chicago alumni, they were both working at the University of Cambridge in England. They also weren’t the discoverers of DNA - they determined its structure. It was Johan Friedrich Miescher who discovered DNA, and later the German biochemist Albrecht Kossel determined it’s make-up.

By the time we left it was almost closing time so it was lucky we’d been able to finish. We’d got two minutes before the next ‘6’ bus was due to arrive though so we ran across their grass, and was fortunate with the lights to cross the road too.

From there we rode it all the way back to near the Chicago Tribune which was the end of the line. We’d passed a few Chicago Marathon related signs along the way, and got a better look at the preparations they were making in Grant Park. It would almost be time.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped by a 7Eleven to get some supplies for the next day, and dropped off what we wouldn’t need. Our final sight of the day was the Willis Tower - formerly known as Sears Tower (which the locals still refer to it as).

Fortunately the tower was only a few blocks from the hotel so we didn’t need to spend hours getting lost like we had in the morning. Once there we took two escalators down, shown are CityPass tickets that got us fast access, and then joined the queue - the fast access having made no difference after 17:00. Perhaps earlier in the day it is more worthwhile.

Groups of about six to ten people were entering the spacious lift at a time and then hurtled hundreds of feet up to the ‘Skydeck’. We both went straight to the windows to start taking many photographs of the Chicago Skyline. After a few minutes I realised there was a queue to get any further, so joined it.

This queue was for what they call ‘the ledge’. They are a series of glass boxes that protrude out of the side of the building so you can look straight down. It’s similar to what we’d see as ‘The Edge’ in Melbourne, Australia. Here the queues were so long that it was predicted it’d be forty-five minutes until our turn. Unfortunately not only was this the direction to get a sunset from, it was also only thirty minutes to sunset.

Time passed by, and even though groups are supposed to be limited to a minute there were some that were there for more than twice the time they were allowed. Over an hour later we made it to the front of the queue as the last of the light was leaving the sky.

Twilight view from the Willis Tower

All we wanted to do was take a few quick photos, but it’s compulsory to also have your photo taken by their staff. It’s little wonder it took longer than what they allowed, so their time estimates for queueing was never going to be correct.

We quickly dashed back around to the other side of the building getting what were now night shots of the skyline. With these done we could head down, exit through the gift shop, and find somewhere for food.

At breakfast we’d noticed over the road was a barbecue restaurant called Randolph Tavern so we decided we’d give that a go. The food was reasonably priced, and was close enough to the hotel that it we could be back quite quickly.

The food was served very quickly - I’d gone for their eighteen hour barbecued brisket plate with a delicious barbecue sauce and fries. I thought the Nando’s had been pretty good - but this was so much better.

Twilight view from the Willis Tower

I wanted to get a photograph of the Chicago Theater sign lit up at night, so when we left the restaurant we headed straight there. It was as easy to find as I’d remembered, though maybe a couple of blocks further than I’d thought.

My feet were already aching by this point from a busy day on our feet, and having walked many miles. Now it was time to relax and watch television, or at least try to - I found myself falling asleep too soon.