8 Hours in Chicago


Our highly anticipated trip to Chicago turned out to be a really great day filled with memories. We did it in a different way than in the past, we took the train in for half of the journey.  The closest Metra train station to Madison is in Harvard, IL  so we went there.  It is 1  1/2 hours away.

 The depot opens about 1/2 hour before the train leaves, you can get coffee and pastries too. This is the map of all of the Metra lines going into Chicago.

I have not ridden Metra since the 1980’s and Al never had. In Harvard, you take the Yellow line.  We took the 5:47 AM train, the first one on a weekday morning.  If you don’t get your tickets online, be prepared to pay cash for your fare on the train, the Conductor can make change. It costs $2 to park for the day in their lot, there is a kiosk to pay for that across from the depot.

We waited for the train, the setting moon lighting the scene.

On the train by 5:35 AM.  The inside of the train car, clean and comfortable.


We were entering the city around 7 AM and the Willis Tower came into view through the train car window. We were getting excited!

We arrived at the Ogilvie Transportation Center on time, what a big station! It was visible from the Willis Tower, the large black building on the left.

This was the first time we had ever seen a bustling weekday morning in Chicago. People burst out of the trains, hurrying to their jobs. One thing I noticed, the most common color of people’s coats was black.  We lingered in the station a few minutes to buy our return tickets, we had to be back on the train by 3:30 which departs at 3:45.

Al Kutil


This building is mostly glass and beautiful for a train station. It was built in 1984, designed by Helmut Jahn.  There is also shopping and restaurants here, especially great if you are on a layover to catch a connecting train or bus.  Almost blending in high in the glass atrium is an Elgin Clock keeping the passengers on time.

Al Kutil

A  side view of the clock on the left side.

It was time to make our way toward the exit, we were on a tight schedule! Here is a view of the crowd heading to the ground level on Madison St.

And here we are outside!

This building is HUGE, but not as big as where we were headed next, the Willis Tower a couple of blocks away. Across the street is Union Station.  It was funny seeing 5 cabs scurrying like mice after the light turned green.

We crossed the bridge and turned right, walking alongside the Chicago River. This plaque was on the bridge.

Sunrise was glinting off the building on the right, thousands of commuters hurrying to their towers for a day of work.

Much to our surprise, we saw a combination barge-tugboat Spartan, Spartan II from Ludington, Michigan traveling alongside us on the Chicago River. What a surprise! It was delivering a medium to keep dust to a minimum during construction projects. It turns out there are currently 47 new skyscrapers being built at this time!

Al Kutil

We continued toward the Willis Tower, it looked majestic in the morning sun, had to stop and look a minute.

See those projections on the outside of the building facing east? These are the Ledge™ boxes on the  Skydeck on the 103rd floor. A closer view.

We saw two food trucks across the street from the tower. BBQ Boss and Beavers  Doughnuts. See all Chicago food trucks here.

It was now 8:13 AM. The entrance Skydeck Chicago opens the doors to get in line at 9:30, we went in to wait and rest a bit.  The entryway is designed to protect people from ice falling off the building.

Photography is prohibited beyond the entrance (except the Skydeck) due to the many private businesses within the building. here is what little we could get. That’s Al on the left getting the businesses.

We waited from 8:30 to 9:30 on the lower level, several shops and small restaurants there. Sure we could have looked around town a bit in that hour but we didn’t want to get back late and then have a long like to contend with. We were right in front of the line. Promptly at 10:00 they opened. You have to put your belongings through a security scanner and walk through one first, then you can get your tickets.  We did that, then into the elevator line. We were on the first elevator up!  Since the express elevator was down for maintenance (knew that since watching Tripadvisor posts) we actually got out partway up and got into another elevator. We made it up to the Skydeck by  10:12 AM. We stayed up there until  12:30. Quite a few changes in the skyline since 2003 when we were last here. The Ledge™ was a lot of fun too! This was the picture they took with their camera installed in the ledge. You can get your pictures for $30 in the gift shop after you conclude your visit. A great memento for sure!

Another picture of the view looking northwest. It was a beautiful clear morning!

Video of our time there. You can also see it in the video on top of the page showing our entire day. Read the blog post just on the tower here.

We were out just after 12:30, three hours left of our day. We headed toward State Street. On the way, we came across the Flamingo sculpture. It has been in Federal Plaza since 1974. We also saw it from the tower. I am glad we saw this since it may be in danger of being removed.

We see The Berghoff restaurant on 17 West Adams St. Serving authentic German cuisine since 1898, it is a Chicago favorite!  Founder Herman Berghoff sold beer at the world’s fair in Chicago in 1893 and it led to the restaurant 5 years later.

We made it to State Street by 1:41 PM. We had not eaten yet and had little time so we stopped at Subway on State for a quick lunch.

We ate in 1/2 hour, by 2:10 we were back out. I could hear music just up ahead. We headed north and found out the source. A group of street musicians called Chicago Traffic Jam Band was jamming at the street corner. What a bonus to capture some authentic Chicago sound! They can also be hired to play at your venue!

See and hear them for yourself!

We stayed about 5 minutes but had to keep moving.

2:25 PM

We reach the famous Marshall Fields building, now Macy’s though to Chicagoans it will always be Marshall Fields.  At least the famous green corner clock is still there and the time is accurate. We didn’t have time to look inside, perhaps next time. I used to go to the soda fountain there when I was a kid, great memories!

And of course, the Chicago Theatre. I went to a great show there in 1993 with my Dad called, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by Tom Stoppard. Here is what a similar view looked like then, Dad is on the left. Thanks for taking me to the show!

There were three plaques on the building, denoting it to be a landmark.

Across from the theatre is a Channel 7 webcam, here is the view it has.

Near here on 24 West Randolph St. is the Oriental Theater. You could call this section of Chicago their Broadway. And you see Broadway shows here as well.

Just past the Chicago Theatre is the “L” train on a track elevated above street level. It is part of the CTA, or Chicago Transit Authority. Our train actually went under their track (see video).

We got as far as Wabash and East Washington. The train went overhead there! This is the historic Jeweler’s Row District. Much fine bling to be had here!

3:06 PM

It was getting late and we had to get back to our train! We turned east while on West Washington and went by one of the sites of the Blues Brothers movie film, the Richard J. Daley Center.

See the scene below.

We go under the tracks we soon will  be riding on.  You can enter the Ogilvie Transportation Center under here.

3:30 PM

We are back! We got on the Union Pacific Northwest Metra back to Harvard with 15 minutes to spare!  We left at 3:45 PM sharp.  I got video with my phone pressed against the window to capture the views.

It was an enjoyable ride of almost two hours, passing through Woodstock. We crossed on the historic stone bridge as seen on the walking tour for the movie Groundhog Day. I was shooting video with my phone and caught the crossing on the way back. The first picture was taken last year.

Back in Harvard by 5:24. We had a wonderful day and hope to do it again!

To sum it all up, this was our walking route, courtesy of Google maps.

The Willis Tower-Past, Present and Future

  1974 – Laurie and family

 My visits to the former Sear’s Tower began the year the skydeck was open for viewing in 1974 when I was 7.  It opened on June 22 and we went that fall. It is on the 103rd floor. I don’t remember a lot, but my grandparents Norm and Barb Braton came along and grandpa filmed some of the view out of the North-facing windows. This is the Lake Point Tower Condominiums building on the right side of the photo. This photo is composed of two frames of the Super 8 film. It was color but it was inconsistent so I changed it to monochrome.  The reason why this  view is significant is because it was where Al’s Mom would be living in the late 70’s-early 80’s. As you see, there are no buildings around it YET.

See the video in its entirety.

Photographer Jack Bradley took this photo from the tower in 1975.

Cost of admission in 1977, probably the same in 1974.  Found in this 1977 guide published by the Chicago Tribune.

The button was my souvenir from then.

10-17-03       29 years later…

Still the Sears Tower until 2009. This time, Al and I went alone. We got more photos this time.  They also had a very nice brochure on cardstock. For some reason I don’t have a lot of memories from this visit.

Prices that year.

A couple displays on the walls.

The Northwest view.

Revisiting the Lakepoint Condo viewpoint, much more built up now around it.  You can see another building going up nearby.

The clover leaf on the East-facing side.

1-30-18  15 Years later…

It took awhile but we finally made it back.  This time we did a day trip.  We took the Metra commuter train in from Harvard, IL at 5:47 AM. We learned in advance Tuesdays are often the slowest days and be there when they open the doors at 9:30 AM. I recommend monitoring the Skydeck Chicago-Willis Tower page on Tripadvisor. We knew the express elevators were not in use so waits might be longer.

They opened promptly at 10:00. We put our stuff through the security check then went to get our tickets, general admission.  I have no photos on this area since they were prohibited. Prices have really risen in 15 years. Of course, different ownership too.

The brochure as it looks now, no longer on cardstock, just glossy paper.

On your way to the elevator, they take your picture in front of a green screen with the option to buy before your exit or online. This is what it looks like, we didn’t get this one.

We got in line quick, aware of the growing crowd behind us.  You  can also see an informational 9-minute movie about the tower called “Reaching the Sky” before going up.

We were in the first elevator(s) up!  The views were just as incredible as we remembered, and there were more towers built or being built.

We revisit the Northwest view. That tall silver building in the middle is the Trump Tower. Construction began in 2005, completed in 2008.

And back to the Lake Point condo building.  A new skyscraper is going up on the left!

This view of the Chicago river has also built up.

The black building below left of here is the Ogilvie Transportation Center, where we rode the train into town.

The biggest change at the tower since 2003 is the installation of The Ledge™. It’s a reinforced glass “box” that extends outside beyond the other windows.  The view was incredible in there, you either feel like a bird or queasy. Al and I did it and felt fine! This picture was taken by another visitor. You are facing East.

Looking at another ledge from inside.

And down. You can see where we entered the building.

View of the ledge boxes from the ground, how tiny they look!

This is the same side as the clover leaf we saw in 2003. Let’s take a new look.

One of the most interesting buildings we saw was the MCC Jailhouse Skyscraper. Even the jails are tall here and saw a volleyball game played by the inmates on the roof.  It holds 681. This is on the West-facing side. Apparently it’s hard to see from the ground.

Other skyline views. This is the Chicago north side.  That cone-shaped object in the upper left corner is the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. It is 16 miles north of here.

We have been up in the tower for about two hours now, it was nearly 12:30.  It was time to go see more of Chicago since we had to be back on the train at 3:30. We could not resist getting a copy of the picture the staff took on the Ledge™.

Enjoy video of our visit!



Blackstone? Tower future

The tower had been sold to the Blackstone Group in March of 2015, though you could not tell that yet on the outside. In the near future it will be undergoing some renovations to make it a more welcoming place to visitors. Perhaps in 7 or 8 years, we will be back to see this 3rd incarnation of Chicago’s largest office building.

It’s The Cat’s Meow at Cat Cafe Mad


The latest trend in unique restaurants is ones with cats you can interact with.  Madison didn’t waste any time clueing into this new idea and the Cat Café Mad was born!

In April 2016, it just had a small kiosk in the front to get your drink from a single cup brewing machine. They expanded in 2017 to have more room for the cats and provide a larger menu, also to survive. There is now an open kitchen and small dining area to eat your food. Only drinks are allowed into the “Cattery”. These are your drink choices.

Hot tea also.

A view of the open kitchen and dining room.

Today’s special was a Pulled Pork Crepe, crafted by Chef Dunn, Manager and Chef at the café.  It was delicious! We had the large crepe, there are choices for every palate.

Just to let you know, the cats are not just sealed into a room with no stimulation. There are lots of toys and windows for them to peer through. In the wall separating the cattery from the restaurant, there are 5 bubble windows so they could see what is going on. As you see, one was doing just that.

Some cats were looking inside and it was so cute! Five cats are permanent residents, the others are up for adoption so the number of cats varies. The current list.

We finished our crepes and were ready to play with the cats. In between the room and dining area is an “airlock” to ensure an extra barrier between the people and cat area. Only children 5 and up are allowed, and a waiver must be signed by all patrons. A $5 cover charge is required to enter the cattery, it help cover the cost of care.  Photos are permitted, don’t use flash as it will startle the cats. There are rules all must follow to protect the cats and yourself.

Also tips on how read cat body language.  For someone who never has owned a cat (yet!), this was very helpful to me.

The cattery also has webcam you can watch anywhere on your device or computer. Click on this icon from the website. The camera is on the wall in the center of the room in the back.

Enjoy this video of our visit!

Such a wonderful place to de-stress if you love cats but can’t have one at home.  The crepes are delicious too! We plan on making as many visits as we can!


 Donations are welcome and appreciated!

You can  join a Meetup group and make friends with other cat lovers in the community. You will be kept up to date on events at the café.


Related Websites

Madison Cat Lovers

Community Cat,Inc.

Underdog Pet Rescue of Wisconsin

TRUE Coffee Roasters

Sjölinds Chocolate House-Mt. Horeb


Dr. Elsey’s Cat Litter