In January, I took a solo trip to the Washington coast. It turned out to be the best solo travel experience of my life, and I used that experience to write a full-length travel essay. I’ve not yet blogged about that experience, but perhaps I will post that essay here this winter.
Anyway, long story short – I did post briefly about the experience on Facebook. My sister wrote back: “I want to go on little weekend trips! You’re so adventurous.”
The thing is, I’m marginally adventurous. Like I mentioned in the very first post of this blog, I have not left North America in 14 years – d’oh! I’m not someone who has devoted most of their time and money to crisscrossing the globe. I tip my hat to those who have made travel their life, but I am more interested in those who tend a life full of other interests and priorities, but who also would like to travel more.
Back to my sister – I was not about to let her off the hook with a comment like that! I wrote back confirming that I am “not that adventurous,” and so she too could undertake little trips if desired. I questioned her a bit further, and found that she’d like to visit some museums. I mentioned the art museum in our home town, but then also mentioned the Art Institute of Chicago, which is within driving distance.
Fast forward 8 months, and we are standing in the Art Institute. I flew in from Seattle, and we drove from northeastern Indiana to Chicago together, with plans to stay one night.
Obviously my flight doesn’t fall into the category of tiny travel, or budget travel. However, for someone living in our home town, this would qualify as a tiny trip. It’s like this: a 3.5 hour drive to Chicago, one night in a dowtown hotel 2 blocks from the Art Institute (easy walking!) and no plans but to spend the next day at the Art Institute. I wanted to keep things as low-key and low stress as possible.
Cloud Gate, aka "the bean," by Anish Kapoor.
And it was, excepting the driving. If you’re not used to pea soup traffic, where about half the peas weave in and out without turn signals, driving in Chicago can be stressful. Once we parked and got settled at the hotel, we were free to roam about and relax a bit. We walked over to Millenium Park to see the legendary bean sculpure, and then made a beeline for pizza.
Though it’s a giant cliche, I was really looking forward to some Chicago pizza. I felt a bit silly asking the hotel conceirge for “good pizza,” but I’m guessing she gets this question often, as she had 2 suggestions on the tip of her tongue. We chose Pizano’s, where “Ellen had pizza delivered to the audience when she was in town with Oprah.”
Wow. Just… wow. Sometimes cliches don’t live up to the hype, but I can assure you that heavenly pizza is alive and well in Chicago. We got the Mike’s Special thin crust, which is tomato, basil and fresh garlic on a cornmeal (!) crust. It was beyond tasty. Stuffed, we took half back to the hotel, only to crack open the doggie bag a few hours later to devour the rest. While grabbing the link to Pizano’s website, I noticed they may soon be offering coast-to-coast shipping. Dangerous.
"A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," Seurat, Art Institute of Chicago.
Oh, the Art Institute. There was a line outside, but it moved quickly, and we were soon deposited in the atrium. It is a giant building divided into countless small rooms, housing art, photography, sculpture, textiles and artifacts from countless eras and countries. It is a bit overwhelming, and I’d say you almost need 2 days to see everything without rushing. By a stroke of luck, there was a major exhibit by one of my favorite photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson. We also saw the Impressionist collection (very crowded), and our favorite, the modern section.
One thing – when paying for tickets, there is an option to purchase a $6 “pocketguide.” I did this, not knowing you can get a free map inside the museum. The guide is more of a keepsake that features selected works, and doesn’t actually include a map. Save yourself $6 if you just want the map.
One nice thing about Indiana is it indeed earns its motto of “Crossroads of America.” It’s within driving distance of Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Louisville, and Cincinatti. Though it can seem like the middle of nowhere sometimes, it can also be seen in a different way – as a launching pad for quite a number of potential tiny trips.
When I finally made it back to Seattle, I opened my apartment door, and saw this:
My postcard of Jake and Elwood, usually tucked into a mirror.
Distance (one way): 165 miles
Gas cost (round trip): $50
Toll roads (round trip): $10-ish
Art Institute admission fee (2 adults): $36
Art Institute pocketguide: $6
Millenium Park : free
Parking (26 hours): $37
1 dinner, 1 lunch (2 people): $50
Hotel (Silversmith, 2 adults): $219
Hotel bellhop tip: $2
Total: $205 per person
In one word: sardine