We visited family in Chicago a week or so ago.
That sentence feels pretty bland, until you realize, that because of the pandemic, we were sequestered for over a year before we could get vaccinated and loosen up a bit. We still follow the Center for Disease Control guidelines, of course, but are now able to visit people who are also vaccinated, as well as masking and keeping safe distances in public places.
But this post isn’t about Covid-19. It’s about Chicago, one of my favorite cities. I could wax poetic about the attractions of the central city, but that’s pretty old hat for people knowing anything at all about the tourists’ Chicago. The sprawling parks, the architectural gems, the outdoor sculptures, the Art Institute, the Miracle Mile, the oodles of restaurants and blues bars. Just too numerous to list them all, much less do them justice.
However, this trip, we explored two spots a bit off the beaten path. The Chicago Botanic Garden, about a half-hour’s drive north of the city, is a venue far too good to pass up. When we visited, daffodils carpeted many of the slopes, bringing to mind Wordsworth’s “host of golden daffodils…fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” The best part of that poem are the last few lines, which reminds us, we can close our eyes at any time and be back among the flowers. The Garden boasts 385 acres of hills and dales, ponds and fountains, roses and prairie plantings, fruits and vegetables, and so much more.
Besides the banks of daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths, one of my favorite spots is the Japanese Garden. Approached over an arched wooden bridge, the garden really consists of two interconnected islands. Each is encircled by a wandering path taking amblers past carefully trimmed evergreens, clusters of tiny wildflowers nestled under the trees, and swaths of miniscule succulents. The views out over the water are artfully curated so as to look entirely unplanned. A stone lantern with upswept eaves, a weeping willow trailing pliant fingers in the water, a stretch of smooth stones barely visible under the shallow water along a shore. Then a wider vista, opening the gaze to a distant shore across the water, a waterfall cascading off to the left, a trail with a lone biker off to the right. The whole Botanic Garden is full of such delightful surprises.
Our second discovered treasure was the Lincoln Park Zoo, not very far from downtown, right on the lakeshore. Begun in 1868, it remains one of the oldest zoos in the country. Not only that, it’s free! Pay for parking, which helps keep the zoo maintained, and you’re in. The walkways wind through wooded and landscaped areas, allowing visitors to get close to the animals. The animal habitats are true habitats, mirroring the animals’ natural environs, with plenty of room to roam, as well as quiet areas to retreat from the crowds. The zoo is committed to breeding and training programs also, so we were lucky to be there when the trainers were working with the seals. This year (2021) includes a huge renovation of the cat habitat. When finished, the lions will feed by attacking food presented on a zipline, which simulates prey. How clever!
Many of the older buildings are still there, having been incorporated over the years into updates and reconstructions. Walk through the African building and get close up to a pygmy hippo, lots of birds, and plenty of informative wall plaques. Outdoors, and not six feet from us, we watched a stork carefully turn her eggs and then settle down to incubate. Because it’s spring and the weather was cool, the animals were very active. In a zoo, I often wonder who is watching whom!
Every town has jewels perched here and there. The major attractions are always fun, but sometimes the offerings we have to search for are the real rewards. Even your home town holds little treasures to ferret out. Let me know if you find any!