Chicago - Lovely Denise and disappointing Mensa

Trip Start Nov 01, 2004
Trip End Nov 01, 2005

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Day 359 Monday 24/10/05 Charlotte - Chicago

We drove to Charlotte airport and dropped the car back, checked in (Stewart got pulled for additional checks again!) and had an easy flight to Chicago. We arrived about 12 and took the 40 minute train (for about 2 dollars) into the heart of Chicago. We're staying with Denise who we met in Western Australia and her apartment is 2 blocks south of the Loop line. We dumped our stuff in the apartment and headed out to explore a little of the downtown area before Denise gets back from work. We went to an exhibition with photos of (American) Vietnam war vets in the nearby Museum of Contemporary Photography. The photos themselves are nothing special but the vets' stories are interesting - especially in the light of what we learned about the Vietnam War during our time in that country. Some Vietnamese American artists also have work on display and we both particularly like the war images imprinted on fragile leaves - very evocative. We get back for 5 and meet Denise when she gets back from work. We catch up and then head for a superb meal at Hugo's - with a giant chocolate mousse cake for dessert that lasts for days afterwards. Rosa Parks died today.

Day 360 Tuesday 25/10/05 Chicago

Gillian spends the day having a makeover and buying a whole new wardrobe with her very own personal shopper. Stewart wanders through the lakeside park to see Buckingham fountain and loads of squirrels. At the far end of the park is the Field Museum. They have a great touring Pompeii exhibition which is fascinating. Stewart then took a highlights tour of the museum - including Sue (the worlds largest and most complete T-rex), a superb Jade collection, some original Egyptian walls with hieroglyphics and a good exhibition on Pacific Islands. They also have loads of stuffed animals that are a bit dated for the museum. We meet back at the apartment and Denise heads off for a massage class while we meet George - a childhood friend from where Gillian grew up. He takes us to a superb little local Italian and after a lovely meal we have a beer to round the night off.

Day 361 Wednesday 26/10/05 Chicago

Stewart's phone (and current alarm clock) dies so we have an unintentional lie-in! Our first stop is floor 103 of the Sears Tower - the 2nd or 3rd highest building in the world - but it still retains the highest occupied space. At the top they have a good exhibition on Chicago - from famous people to famous events. We then head to the river and take a 90 minutes Architectural boat tour. Although very very cold on the top deck of the boat the tour is excellent - the features and intricate designs are pointed out about many of Chicago's high rise buildings - it's definitely a city where if you look up you see some spectacular architecture. We head home to find that Denise has made/bought dinner for us and we sit down to have a superb last meal with her - she is just so generous and nice. She heads off to class and when she returns we opt for the lazy chatting option instead of going out. We catch the tail end of the baseball on TV and see the Chicago White Sox win the World Series for the first time in 88 years. We rush to the window and open it - there is a steadily growing crescendo of constant cheers - it gets louder and louder and doesn't die down for ages. People are running in the streets, car horns are blaring - it's a huge party. We think about heading to their stadium but it's on the South side of town, the roads are blocked and well...apathy hits.

Day 362 Thursday 27/10/05 Chicago

Stewart heads into Chicago city centre for a haircut while Gillian gets a pedicure. We have lunch in the student area before heading out of the city to the Sheraton. We're here for a Mensa weekend called HalloweeM - one of their biggest events in America (500ish people) and a good rate at a nice hotel! We basically relax - making costumes, napping and using the pool/jaccuzzi! We eat in the hotel restaurant before heading downstairs to do our volunteer stint......only to find most of the work already done! We help out a bit but basically spend the evening meeting people. They even lay on pizza, sandwiches and snacks for anyone that has turned up early to help out (and free beer, wine & soft drinks too).

Day 363 Friday 28/10/05 Chicago

We chill in the morning (lie-in & swim) and head to the Mensa hospitality rooms in the afternoon. We meet tonnes of people - some nice, some mad, some typical Mensa members, some fun, some weird - that's the way Mensa is! The first event we did was the team quiz - we got thumped by the eventual nerdy winners but managed a credible highest 1st round losing team. We would have done better if we hadn't faced the winners so early and if there a few less USA questions - other sets of questions were better. After a bite to eat we donned our costumes and took part in the costume parade - there were some great costumes and some really bad pun costumes too - the puns are the favourites over here. The guy in jeans won....ask us what he was! After that Gillian moved from room to room and chatted to verious people while Stewart headed for the Scotch tasting - 1 bourbon and 5 lovely malts which included the new cask strength Lagavulin (only released 1 week ago) and a superb 30 year old Laphroaig which retails for about 250 dollars! We had a few more drinks, another whiskey (a good story here) and Stewart stayed up to the end of the night.

Day 364 Saturday 29/10/05 Chicago

Saturday was the main event day - with loads of stuff all day. Stewart went for the extreme movie clips (rehashed tv home video stuff), a great talk on squirrels, the armchair treasure hunt (good fun and 2nd place), a travel talk from someone who travelled in Iran and a classical music talk (which he almost slept in!). Gillian went for the squirrel talk, the creative thinking seminar and a talk on the Da Vinci Code. In between the events we chatted, drank and ate. We dressed up a little for the formal dinner (which is nothing like the British Mensa stuff - very quick, not formal, not worth it and a bad choice) before heading for the Pretentious Drinking. They seem to stockpile liqueurs through the year and have about 50 different liqueurs to try - from Aftershock to a Thai liqueur with a dead snake in it. You get 4 free of your choice. Stewart managed to get 18 drinks at the end! He also tried the snake liqueur before passing that glass around some of the nicer people we had met. We then headed for the room party where Stewart tried an Irish Car Bomb. Gillian headed for bed about two and Stewart rolled in about 4! And the clock moved back to give us extra party time too!

Day 365 Sunday 30/10/05 Chicago - Dublin

We packed, checked out, had a little breakfast and went to the pool for the 2 hour kayaking demonstration. We then went to the World Travellers Meet & Greet where we chatted to a bunch of really well traveled Americans - they were a lovely bunch. It just goes to show that Mensa breaks the non-travelling American stereotype. We then caught the hotel Limo to the airport, checked in and chatted to some nice Americans heading to Ireland for a holiday. The flight left about 6, we had an average snack, Stewart watched the "Fantastic Four" and we both tried to sleep - with the screaming kid nearby and the old lady behind Stewart who kept pushing the back of his seat...aaaaghhhh.
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