So.. having only 3 days to spend in beautiful Chicago city, the remaining 2 were spent absolutely squeezing in sites and activities.
And on day two, having learnt from the benefits of solo exploration on our first day out, we all agreed that splitting up and independently experiencing what we each individually were interested in the most, was OK.. But I ended up on a train with Brittany, Bria and Miriam any way, as we all set out to see the Chicago Planetarium first and foremost.
The Planetarium was a pretty big, ancient looking building right at the end of a spit, reaching out into lake Michigan, which meant that the walk out (in the rain again.. which didn’t relent at all on this day – but which I am not complaining about) was really quite beautiful, with views behind us of the Chicago skyline and in all other directions of the huge lake which we were venturing into.
And on the inside we were easily distracted and amazed by a huge range of space ship pieces, old news clippings, space and moon-landing related facts and giant model planets..
And there was even a REAL, actual piece of moon rock on display.. Which for some reason was very humbling.. It gave off, in the most simplest of manners, that air of insignificance and magnificence that the planetarium emphasized and exhibited to us throughout the remainder of our visit.
And I also got to experience a couple 3D space ‘movies’. Which weren’t your standard ‘put on your glasses and sit passively’ kind of 3D… But rather, were shown in giant dome shaped theaters, (without the aid of glasses) where imagery was projected 360degrees on the walls and ceiling around you. This was very cool.. The first movie took us on a tour through the universe, expanding in and our of our milkyway to show us beautiful nebula, stars and explosions, and ultimately prove.. how small and unimportant we are in the scheme of things.. Needless to say, we all left that one feeling a little shaken and unusually quiet, as the stresses and dramas of everyday life just lost all relevance for several minutes afterwards.
The second movie was about the constellations above Chicago that can be found in the night sky at this time of year, and explained how seasonal variations take place in the night sky.
After this I left the girls and ran off to the Chicago Aquarium.
Now… I don’t know when exactly my fondness for Aquariums developed… But it is an intense one. And this visit was the one I was most anxious to fit into my trip, despite the fact that no one else shared my passion..
So i actually ended up spending the rest of the day there..
Chicago Aquarium is HUGE. And I feel like I describe things in terms of their up-scaled size all too much on this side of the world. But I suppose the thing is… Compared to New Zealand… Well, everything over here in the Americas, IS significantly bigger than any version of it that I would find at home.. And the shock of this is not yet to wear off as I adjust to this main-stream culture of indulgence and extravagance, and having everything you need … located in just the one place.
So anyway! The Aquarium!
It was basically comprised of exhibits showing aquatic species from all over the world – in several individualized exhibits and rooms.
But beyond your standard and expected fish… There were also sea horses, sting rays, turtles, dolphins (… like… quite a few dolphins..), sharks, sea snakes (the largest python I have ever seen.. I would never have been able to handle seeing that thing in the wild.. she was easily large enough to eat a boar), frogs (in all kinds of bright and poisonous colours), penguins, monkeys (really getting off the topic of aquatic wildlife now..), and…. Jelly fish! (my favourite by a LONG shot).
And I loved it all.
Watching the fish that swim together in underwater flocks for safety.. Looking at the old, shedded skin of a snake, dangling from the branch of a tree.. Admiring the streamlined bodies of sharks.. Marveling at the weird, flat shapes of the stingrays.. Drawn to the brightly coloured corals.. Instinctively repulsed by some of the lumpy bodies and odd angles of the more unconventional underwater lifeforms..
But nothing, for me, compares to the Jelly fish.
Jelly fish… lack a skeleton, a brain and a heart.. and they have no respiratory system.. Because their skin is so thin, that they are able to directly filter oxygen from the water around them..
In fact everything that they are.. is 95-98% water… Which means that they are only 2-5% different from their plain, non-living, watery surroundings.. The idea that these guys ever came to be alive, absolutely stuns me. The idea that they are able to move, eat, grow and kill.. Is the most amazing thing that I have ever seen proof of.
Jellies may be one of the simplest living organisms that exist, and yet somehow, they manage to accumulate a relatively large mass.. and they manage to to carry out life with it (OK some of them are mere specks on an oceanic background.. But even this is special for a brainless life form).. And further.. This mass is so incredibly unique.. Its shape, its colours.. Its variety..
These creatures are amazing.
And in my awed fascination, I spent a large part of my day, watching them blob gracefully, and float mindlessly through the water.
How easy it is to be alive..
And as the aquarium began to close around me, I scampered back to the train station to meet the group for dinner, as we had discussed that morning, before our split departures.
Which ended up being a complete communication fail… So after a couple of hours of trying to re-group, I settled for a delicious ‘Bahn Mi’ sandwich, which I took back to the apartment to eat by myself.. Avocado, Vietnamese noodles, salad, tofu.. mmmmmmmmm.
And eventually every one made it back, alive and excited, and we all had a couple of drinks and shared our experiences, and I prepared for an early morning wake up, to take full advantage of our last day in this wonderful city.