PEORIA -- Chicago, only 3 hours away by car, is a great place to visit between Christmas and New Years Day.
The city empties out, crowds are down, tickets are available, hotels are cheap. But the town is still beautifully dressed for the holidays, and great sales rule the great stores.
(Our friends who live in Chicago say they don't care who is elected to be the next mayor so long as the town keeps looking good. They're only half kidding.)
So -- here's the latest report on 48 hours in Chicago: Hotel -- $95 a night plus tax and parking, at one of our favorites, the Seneca behind Water Tower Place. We were upgraded to a suite, with bedroom, living room, full kitchen and two TV sets. Sweet.
Theater -- somewhat limited this year. We've seen many of the shows or don't care to see them. We saw one play at a small non-equity theater, The Illiad, not great even though it had been held over. The downer of the trip, actually. But we got the tickets at the half-price ticket counter in the visitor's center, so we didn't waste a huge amount of money.
Museums -- wonderful. Our favorite, the Museum of Contemporary Art has several fine exhibitions, including a Luc Tuyman's show, one on urban China, and an exhibit on participatory art, where the viewer can sit on it, stand on it, look at a mirror reflecting the viewer. Mind spinning. And don't exit through the museum shop, or you'll have to buy something.
Two free museums offered fascinating shows. The State of Illinois Museum's Chicago Gallery has a show 'On or of Paper' -- detailing all the artistic techniques using paper with excellent examples from the state's collection. (If Illinois goes bankrupt, I want to be at the auction where the art collection is sold!)
The Chicago Cultural Center, in the former, lovely public library building, has a fabulous show on Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, who built the Auditorium Theater, the State Street department store, now empty, that lately housed Carson Pirie Scott, and many other landmarks in Chicago, St. Louis and elsewhere.
Too many photos of his buildings carry the term "demolished," showing what has been lost forever. And like a typical artist, he died broke.
Movies -- sure-fire entertainment when the theater offerings are not exciting (and there's no classical music between the holidays). We we saw four new films. All were in focus (something that may not happen in Peoria) and all were well done and likely Academy Award nominees. The best: The King's Speech. Also good: Fair Game, Black Swan and The Fighter.
Missing this year -- breakfast under the great Christmas tree at Macy's/Marshall Field's on State Street. Despite what a guide magazine said, it stops after Christmas, we learned. It once ran through New Years, with good crowds. Go figure.
In fact, it's hard to find out what's going on in Chicago. The Reader once was reliable, but now doesn't have comprehensive listings. There are various websites and fliers, but so many it's hard to sort them out. The newspapers, shadows of their former selves, aren't that helpful either.
But just strolling down Michigan Avenue and the other great streets is amusing, even in freezing weather.
There's a lot more that we could have done -- jazz and comedy clubs, fine dining, even ice skating at Millenium Park. Ran out of time. Had fun anyway.
-- Elaine Hopkins