While we didn't entirely fail them, we certainly did not do them well and so this is, in a way, a what not to do when visiting these two great places. We'll start with Chicago...
Originally, we had planned to by-pass Chicago and save it for another time so that we could execute a more complete trip to the city. However, after deciding to extend our stay at the campground in Indiana Dunes, we found a train station that had a direct line to downtown within a walk to our campsite. So, we planned an afternoon in Chicago, complete with a visit to the Art Institute and a rooftop bar.
When we arrived at our train stop in Grant Park at the edge of the lake in the heart of the city, we immediately opted to find a Chicago hot dog. Looking on google maps I located a place called Devil Dawgs not far from us. Now, normally, I do a fair amount of research when it comes to food and would locate the locals favorite for such a thing, but this was a virtually unplanned detour which I had done zero research for, outside of common knowledge about things like the museum. Devil Dawgs ended up being a kitschy hole-in-the-wall place and my optimism was high. Sadly, though, our hot dogs ended up being the common skinny oscar-meyer variety with tasteless buns and standard toppings. Not exactly mind-blowing. A little deflated, we headed to our next destination, the iconic art installation - Cloud Gate. Our route took us through the parks that line the lake and these were truly the highlight of our visit. We passed by the Buckingham Fountain, a beautiful fountain in the rococo wedding cake style and one of the largest fountains in the world. Other sites included the Formal Gardens, Grant Park, and Millennium Park - each with it's own wonderful styles, botanical gardens, fountains, and statues. Meandering the paths of these gardens took us to the entrance of the Cloud Gate installation, which was unmistakeable for all of the crowds gathered in the area. We circled the monolithic steel centerpiece and dutifully took our couple-selfie in the reflection of the surface.
Next up was the Art Institute, the most anticipated part of our journey. I had read that one needs at least 3 hours to fully enjoy the museum, but what I had not read was the closing time. When we arrived at the ticket booth and saw that tickets were $25 each and that the museum was closing in an hour. After deciding we were not forking over $50 for a rushed tour, we somehow convinced ourselves that the gift shop was a close second to one of the top museums in the country. Because all of the best stuff would be printed on postcards and beer coozies and such. While admiring the various 'thank you' card options with prints of 'The Wave' and 'American Gothic', it dawned on us that it just wasn't the same as the original artwork. Oh well, we were on to the rooftop for a cocktail to celebrate the end of our afternoon in Chicago.
Cindy's is located at top of The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel and offers panoramic views of Lake Michigan and the city, so when we arrived in the lobby of the hotel we excitedly made a bee-line for the elevators. A staff person greeted us at the elevator bank and asked sympathetically if we were headed to Cindy's. After indicating we were, she informed us that it was closed for a private party and she recommended another rooftop bar only a couple blocks away. After another strike-out at our plan B where we found that it was also closed for a private party, we made our way to plan C. This turned out to be a 5 story run-down building with a Red Robin-esque vibe and a view of an abandoned parking lot and the backside of the mall. We clinked our generic beers and agreed that we had basically failed Chicago. Cloud Gate was nice.
We were on to Niagara Falls and after reading several reviews of the best viewing locations, which all seemed to be on the Canadian side for full views of all three falls. As we drove from our campsite to the falls, we realized we had forgotten our passports back in the trailer. We debated going back, but then finally decided to simply go to the US side, as reviews had been mixed on which side is better. The US side is definitely closer to the falls and there were tours that offered an even closer experience. The Cave of the Winds tours gets you directly in the water blasting down the side of the sides of the Niagara Gorge from the Bridal Veil Falls. It was like paying to be put in the path of a hurricane, very wet and very windy, but kind of fun. After our tour, we wandered around and took photos of the side of Horseshoe Falls. This is when we realized our mistake in not going back for the passports. From the angle of the viewpoint from the Niagara State Park, you only see a sliver of the sides of the magnificent waterfall. We could see the hoards on the Canada side taking in their full view. Word to the wise, bring your passports if you wish to really experience Niagara Falls.