I had never been to Chicago before, so I decided to take the Amtrak from Milwaukee one day at the reasonable price of $40 round trip. I only had the day, so I bought the City Pass to see the major sights.Trip Details
At the time, the Milwaukee Amtrak Station was a real dive, to say the least. It was very run down and the bathrooms had graffiti and smelled like they hadn't been cleaned in months. I should note that now it has been rebuilt and is very beautiful, but at the time it was a real eyesore. I boarded the train without difficulty at around 6 AM.
I had never been on a real Amtrak train before either, but the Hiawatha line has beautiful trains, with plush seating and grounded 120VAC outlets for everyone. I didn't bring any electronics so I just enjoyed the view and the unique experience of riding the train. Riding the train is nice because you don't have to worry about driving, finding parking, and dealing with stuff like traffic jams. Also, you don't have to go through security and you can bring on a lot of luggage without hassles or fees. If you are traveling to an urban area like Chicago, it is perfect because you get dropped off right downtown, whereas with a plane you generally have to take a taxi into town.
After the train rolled into Central Station, I emerged onto the streets of the great city to see the massive Sears Tower looming ahead. It was a strange experience to be surrounded by so many giant skyscrapers at once, since the other cities I had been in had few and they were generally spaced far apart. It was strange walking in the shade between these buildings and it made me appreciate the progress that humans have made in construction and architecture.
Along with the surprisingly dense morning pedestrian traffic, I made my way north, towards the lake, where most of my destinations lay. Chicago has conveniently placed the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium all in the same area next to the lake. Along the way I saw the large Buckingham Memorial Fountain and walked along the lake to my first destination, the Shedd Aquarium.
After the aquarium opened, I went inside and was greeted with a large number of beautiful aquariums filled with marine and freshwater life. Along with the usual fish and invertebrates, they also have reptiles and amphibians, which makes it a bit more interesting. In the back, towards the lake is a large open room with trees and they have small water shows like you would see at Sea World. In the basement was a much larger aquarium with sharks and a coral farm. They also had a special exhibit at the time featuring komodo dragons and other lizards, which I really liked.
My next stop was the Adler Planetarium. They had a marvelous collection of space exhibits, including artifacts and a space capsule from the Apollo missions. They also had a huge exhibit of astronomical devices, such as telescopes and star charts. Finally, they had the planetarium itself, which featured a film on Egypt and astronomy. My only complaint was the loud schoolchildren that were rude during the film, but that is not really the fault of the staff, but rather bad parenting.
After the Planetarium, I headed over the Field Museum. The building is massive and a sight to behold in itself. Inside the great hall, they have SUE, one of the best Tyrannosaurus Rex skeletons and some elephants and other large exhibits. I was amazed by the quality work that had been put into all the exhibits here. They have a huge collection of Native American artifacts, jewels and gems, taxidermy specimens, and Egyptian artifacts. Also, at the time they had a special King Tut exhibit with items from Tut's tomb that I really found interesting. I would say that their Egypt exhibit is the best, since you ascend a staircase to the top of a pyramid, then descend a staircase, observing hieroglyphs along the way, down into the basement, where they have an old Egyptian ship, a lot of mummies, and various artifacts from Egypt in the dark halls.
After the Field Museum, I realized that there was no way I could get to the Museum of Science Industry and back within my schedule, so I was forced to skip it. Unfortunately, that museum is located several miles down lake drive from the other museums. I also had no time for the Chicago Art Institute museum. I quickly made my way towards the John Hancock Center, stopping along the way in Millennium Park to see the strange chrome bean sculpture.
At the John Hancock Center, I took the elevator up to the observation deck, which is 94 stories up. It was the highest I had ever been in a building and quite a sight to behold. You can see all of the downtown buildings and a great view of the Lake Michigan coastline. After descending in the elevator once again, I returned to the Amtrak station for the trip back to Milwaukee.
I thought it was a great trip and plan to go back to see the things that I missed the first time. Chicago really has a lot to offer the tourist and it is fairly inexpensive to see everything. I recommend the Chicago City Pass since it gives you tickets to most of the attractions at a reduced rate.