Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Day trip to Chicago - Graceland Cemetery and lunch on Montrose Beach with Marie and Philippe

It was just a day trip to Chicago -- the first one in many years for the two of us -- and we were eager to meet up with two Parisian friends visiting the city for a few days; for us the day ended far too quickly.

The Michigan sky was overcast and there was a light drizzle when we left Grand Rapids.  But the rain kindly held off until we skirted the southern end of Lake Michigan; thunderstorms later rolled through Grand Rapids but Chicago was pretty much spared that particular nuisance. But there were other annoyances in store for us.

We made it to the city in just about two-and-a-half hours and were zipping north along the Dan Ryan expressway, the major artery north to Wisconsin, west of the Loop, barely two miles from our exit when we began seeing the ominous signs: "left three lanes closed." Left three lanes? There were only four lanes to begin with and the right one was an exit only -- what's up with this, we thought?

Apparently for reasons known only to the Illinois Department of Transportation, they had chosen to close THE ENTIRE DAN RYAN EXPRESSWAY just at that point where there is a major junction with I-55 and the exit for the Western suburbs. Picture if you can the better part of Cook County drivers all trying to cram themselves into one lane which was an exit for a direction most of us didn't want in the first place.

It took us 40 minutes to crawl that last mile or so. But then everyone was forced to head west to the suburbs and  directed to queue up again in a crawl to the exit at Ashland Avenue -- we skipped that line and drove to Western Avenue instead. That took us straight north to, well, North Avenue where we headed due east to North Halstead and then left (or north) to our destination, an apartment in the near north side of the city.

We found a parking space directly across the street and stood in a fine drizzle at a doorway wedged between two tiny shops. We rang the buzzer for apartment no. 2 and soon found ourselves in a serious hugging moment with Marie and Philippe.

The four of us chatted for a while as they commented in rather unflattering terms about their Air BnB experience so far (cramped, dirty, noisy, that sort of thing). But we were soon regaled with their incredible tales of having just spent two weeks in Nova Scotia before flying to Detroit, renting a car, driving to Saugatuck on Lake Michigan spending a night before finding there way into the City of Big Shoulders.

After a half hour or so of chatting the four of us piled into our car and we headed north for the quick 10-minute drive to Graceland Cemetery. After passing through crowds heading into Wrigley Stadium for a ballgame (Cubs vs. Atlanta) we quickly found the entrance to the cemetery just beyond. Sitting in the car waiting for the drizzle to abate, the four of us poured over the cemetery map to identify the most important, the most interesting graves to locate. You can read more of that in my blog note about the cemetery.

After spending nearly two hours roaming the cemetery grounds, enjoying the prompt change in the weather to sun and blue sky, we found our way back to the car and headed off in search of lunch.

One place that intrigued me online less for the food than for its location was the Dock on Montrose Beach. Located due east of the cemetery -- Montrose Avenue marks the northern boundary of Graceland -- the beach was packed with sunbathers and families picnicking with gusto. Again, we found what may have been the absolutely last parking space anywhere near Lake Michigan, and after a short walk to the "restaurant" were seated in the shade and in full view of the lake.

The Dock will probably never be high on anyone's culinary tour of Chicago -- it was help yourself to water using plastic cups out of a cooler near the entrance and the service was less than stellar. Still, the fish and chips were OK and the location superb.

Susie, Philippe and me ( compliments of Marie)

Marie and Susan

But the day was fast slipping by us all. Philippe decided he wanted to stroll around the Belmont neighborhood and Marie was planning to meet up with another of their travel group (there were four in all) at the Lincoln Park Zoo. She kindly invited us to join them for a coffee and a stroll in the zoo. After returning to the car we hopped on Lake Shore Drive and sped south, getting off briefly at Belmont to drop Philippe  before making our way to Lincoln Park.

Once at the zoo our luck in parking ran out: the lots were full and there were no spaces on the street. So we bid adieu to Marie and then headed back to Lake Shore Drive and south skirting the Field Museum before picking up I-55 to I-90 and onto the Skyway around Gary, Indiana, to I-94 and then I-196 and home. To Grand Rapids.

A grand day spent in new experiences, strolling one of the country's most prestigious cemeteries, in warm conversation with good friends and enjoying life.

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