Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Being Chicagoan

A view of Navy Pier's waters and the Ferris wheel.
The expedition began early this morning at 7AM when my roommates (Christian and Michelle) and I woke to prepare for the day. At 9AM we met with Mr. Chan-Law, our chaperon, and the rest of the Cornell cohort (Rochelle, Tamilyn, and Tomi) in the lobby. Mr. Chan-Law reviewed the agenda for the day and we had a quick breakfast at Starbucks before heading down to Navy Pier. The original plan had been to walk the length of the trip, but after winding through the obnoxious streets we resorted to taking the most convenient method of transportation: the bus. 

Compared to the public transit system in the Bay Area, the transportation in Chicago is much more efficient, organized, clean, and tourist-friendly. Countless buses run the streets and make frequent stops at marked posts, or whenever a passenger pushes a button or pulls on a steel cable running along the vehicle's interior. The bus itself was nearly empty and pleasantly clean, and after a ten minute ride we arrived at the ever popular Navy Pier. 

The view.
The water was even more beautiful with the late morning sunlight glittering on its rippling surface. We stretched our legs and shot plenty of pictures of the pier landscape before heading into the Chicago Children's Museum. The building housed numerous attractions such as a theater, stores and carts selling enticing trinkets, a beautiful garden, and a McDonalds. In Navy Pier, even the McDonalds has a more regal appearance. 

Behind the main building, traditional fair attractions entertain people from children to adults. The Ferris wheel dominates the area in its white glory, and overlooks a merry-go-round, mini golf course, and Top Spin. At first the sheer height of the Ferris wheel set me on edge, and I busied myself throughout the ride by taking numerous photographs. The landscape was beautiful, and I soon found my place in the sky quite comfortable as I admired the breathtaking scenery. 

After our exploration of Navy Pier, it was time for our first campus visit. We took the bus to the underground train station, which was much less crowded than the El Cerrito del Norte Station, and somewhat cleaner. My advice to anyone planning to visit Chicago: buy a CTA transit pass. The streets are practically saturated with buses that can take you just about anywhere. The entire transport system is well organized and not only convenient, but tourist-friendly as information on destinations and time tables are readily available. In the vehicles, electronic sign boards display the names of current and upcoming stops, as well as transit information and even weather conditions. The latter is limited to the underground train, but when riding a bus outside, there is little need for a current weather report.

After a 20 minute train ride to Garfield Street, we took one last bus before finally arriving at the University of Chicago. The private institution is renowned for its gothic architecture, but the grandeur of its construction cannot be fully appreciated unless seen in real life. The campus is truly beautiful and the ivy-covered towers and gargoyle-topped buildings incite flashbacks of Harry Potter scenes. Did I mention that the dorms are separated into extremely competitive and tightly knit houses? 

Our campus visit was comprised of buying souvenirs at the University of Chicago bookstore, receiving free souvenirs, and attending an information session and campus tour. Before the information session, orated by the skillful Alex, admissions officers Callie Brown and Troy Carlson greeted us warmly, and we were able to choose a free "UChicago" shirt to bring home. The following campus tour was led by a current student named Mason, who had greeted us in the College Admissions building located in Rosenwald Hall. By the end of the trek around campus and returned to the hotel by bus and train, and some more walking. Once in the hotel, the ILCers retired to their respective rooms and hurried to prepare for the first formal dinner of the trip. Less than an hour later, at 6:20PM, the Cornell cohort rendezvoused in the lobby and set out for the bus station. 

Tonight, the Cornell cohort dined with Callie, Troy, and three current UChicago students: Mario, Nathan Brooks III, and Tanya. The venue was Hotel Lincoln's Perennial Virant, a cozy restaurant that was ultimately satisfying, though not specifically spectacular. The appetizers were decent, and while my sweet pea linguine tasted fine, I was surprised to see the individual strands of pasta glued together as if they had all been carelessly tossed into a pot to boil. The potato puree was exceptional, and the flour-less chocolate cake and cheese fritters were a favorite among the diners. Yet while all the food may not have been fulfilling, my conversations with Callie and Nathan (who sat next to me) were very informative.

The day ended on a satisfying note of honey-coated cheese fritters, and I learned many things about the University of Chicago and college admissions from Callie and Nathan. I spent a considerable amount of time on buses and trains, and I feel as though I have lived in Chicago for weeks rather than two days. 

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