Our final full day in Chicago dawned and we had another busy day ahead. The sun was shining (enough for me to justify shorts no less) and so we headed to Chinatown for a dim sum feast to start the day. The Edinburgh Chinese scene is pretty limited, particularly in the dim sum category and so it is something I always try and fit into trips as it is a true love of mine. Yasmin had yet to experience the wonder of dim sum and so after some research we opted for Triple Crown Restaurant located just inside Chinatown. While it was a little further out of the city than some of the other city centre attractions our unlimited 3 day transport passes had us covered. I was delighted to see the usual tick sheet menu, so lovingly associated with many of the dim sum stars of the world and (in my view) a surefire way to ensure you order far too much food. We opted for the; pork and century egg congee (delicious), carrot/turnip cake (a particular favourite of mine), scallop and chive dumplings, baked BBQ pork buns, liquid custard buns (the best), glutinous rice parcels, BBQ pork turnover (maybe a tad overboard with BBQ pork), fried curry baby octopus, special fried pork chop, egg custard tarts and fried shrimp dumplings. All washed down with Chinese tea of course. The standout items were definitely the congee (something I would happily eat for breakfast every day of the week) and the liquid custard buns which I have only found in Hong Kong at 2 places. The BBQ pork was a bit sickly sweet, although that could be because we ordered so much of it and the dumplings were had pretty thick skins. Overall, it was a fab meal and set us up well for the day ahead.
We headed back on the train one stop and wandered back to the museum campus to finish off the museums we had included with our Chicago City Pass. We opted for the Adler Planetarium over the Art Institute since neither of us had been to a planetarium before. There were space 4D movie experiences included with the ticket, for which we signed up to the next showing before starting on our space based knowledge adventure. The museum is actually quite small and so easily manageable in a couple of hours unless you have a particular interest in learning a LOT about space. They all had the usual exhibitions – like explaining the composition, size and placement of all of the planets within our solar system, a whole section on the Apollo 13 mission and the US’s first mission to the moon through the eyes of Wisconsin born Tim Lovell. They even have parts of the ship and his suit on show. It wouldn’t be a space museum without a particle of moon rock brought back (one wonders if the moon minds us pesky humans flying up and stealing pieces of rock). There are a lot of interactive areas for kids which we sort of took part in where possible (like dressing up and pretending to be back at school). However, the absolute highlight for me had to be the ride on the historic Adler Sphere, which sets out the night sky as seen in 1913. It is a spherical dome that you go up into which really brings the night sky alive and helps with pointing out different constellations. We both really enjoyed it and after spending a couple of hours exploring headed along the shores of Lake Michigan in the sun, and of course dipping our feet in, before making our way to the final stop of the day.
The final exhibit included with our Chicago City Pass was the aquarium, which I had massive reservations about. Being an avid diver, the thought of animals being kept in bathtub size enclosures for the mere purpose of human joviality, I find difficult to justify. However, in recent years zoos have made a particular difference to some fundamental conservation projects, including the re-release of wipied out species back into their natural habitats. Given the recent challenges with plastics that has been brought to the front of the human psyche with television shows such as Blue Planet, perhaps the aquarium was also carrying out essential breeding and research programs. Wrong. We started out in the smaller fish tank galleries focussing on areas such as coral reefs and jungle rivers. My first sight was of a turtle, multiple rays and 3 separate shark species all being crammed into a tiny circular shaped enclosure alongside a multitude of different fish species. Yet, nothing was eating anything else? How bizarre and completely phony an environment to be portraying to visitors who should instead be being educated on the instability of these eco-systems. Seeing the poor beluga whales was the cherry on top for me. I wanted to cry watching those poor creatures swim around a tiny pool for the rest of their lives while purposefully banging themselves to the point of visible scrapes and dents against the fake rocks supposed to simulate their natural environment. If I were to find a positive – they had a 4D version of the recent BBC Sharks documentary which was genuinely fantastic and completely submersive. They also had one small board about the damage plastics are doing to the environment. No-one was of course stopping at this small exhibit since there was nothing interesting to see.
We left on a bit of a downer and headed to Stans Donuts to cheer ourselves up after the most emotionally draining part of the trip. The donuts were fantastic – crisp, light and exciting – I went for the famous lemon pistachio which was highly enjoyable. However, it had been a long day and was starting to rain quite heavily. We wandered around the downtown area, before heading on a foodie adventure to what felt like Mexico. Everyone was speaking in Spanish and after exiting the station in the pouring rain we luckily managed to locate Carnitas Uruapan Restaurant across from the station. The restaurant specialises in slow cooked pork in spices which is served with soft and warm white wheat tacos. You pick the area of the pig you want your meat from and it comes on a steaming tray. All other parts of the pig including skin etc. can be ordered as sides to ensure nothing goes to waste in true Mexican tradition. They were simple (served with a bunch of optional sauces) but fantastically tasty and a real treat. We surveyed our options for the remainder of the evening and given the pouring rain opted to buy 2 bottles of wine from the Spanish local store and head back to the hostel. A few wines and some great chat later we shared a Chicago Deep Dish – this time from Giordano’s – another Chicago long-timer. We decided to spice things up and added a few toppings which really made the pizza. Interestingly, Chicago is the only place in the US where sausage is a more popular topping than pepperoni, so we went for that with mushrooms and onions and peppers. I am going to be bold and say it wasn’t as fine a pizza specimen a we had from Lou Malnati’s the day before, however it is tricky to compare given it was a delivery and we added toppings. It was lovely to spend a chilled evening in the hostel hanging out and making new friends. This is one of the many benefits of staying in hostels when travelling, you meet people from completely different walks of lives and in the end it’s the people that make a trip, not the place.