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December 7, 2014

Merely approaching Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) was like approaching the whale that ate Pinocchio. It was a giant- calm yet imposing on the outside- all while concealing the chaos inside. BF Shoes and I had tried to reach the Museum early because it was the furthest CityPass attraction and we knew there was a plethora of things to do inside. Once the lobby and central hub opened up, it was like entering a beehive. It seemed every family in Chicago had gathered. People upon people. Voices both high and low yelled. Chaos!

MSI Sign

Excitement hit before I even touched my first exhibit. The grand lobby featured an enormous, decorated Christmas tree. Surrounding the giant tree were dozens of smaller trees decorated to represent different countries. Alas the Motherland wasn’t present, however I especially enjoyed all the plastic waffles dangling from Belgium’s tree.


Miniature Train overview

Looking down at the sprawling Miniature Train display

I typically run into this problem at similar museums—many times the non-static exhibits don’t work. Or they’re so worn out that merely interacting makes me fear I’m picking up a new disease just by touching. But MSI was impressive. Not only did everything work, but there were way MORE activities. Bigger and badder. This wasn’t just some large-scaled middle-school science fair. The typical themed areas were present: flying crafts, weather, the body and the earth. During those moments we saw a three-story vortex of wind form indoors, experienced an aerial battle via flight simulator, and watched newly hatched chicks struggle to walk.

Cardboard bike

Cardboard bike from ‘Art of the Bicycle’

But wait—there’s more! The miniature train exhibit was still larger than my apartment and came complete with mini Chicago and Seattle skylines. For an extra charge guests could design a toy then watch as robots created it—we decided to program a robot to dance specific moves instead. Yesterday’s Main Street allowed guests to walk past recreated store fronts and old vehicles from America in the early 1900s. The cyclist in me enjoyed viewing the Art of the Bicycle including the innovative cardboard bike.

But nothing compared to touching history. At the Space Center Apollo 8 (first manned craft to leave Earth’s orbit) stood a mere few feet away! Perhaps the most memorable exhibit at MSI began with smaller exhibits telling about submarine warfare during World War II. Suddenly you turn the corner and OH MY GOSH WHAT THE—a submarine the size of a Publix was looking straight at you. U-505 was the first German u-boat captured by Americans during the War. Although there were more things to read than touch here, I was treated to so many angles surrounding the U-505 capture (the fears of the American team, their lives now, photographs of, the equipment captured, etc) and even how the submarine came to Chicago. (‘Coincidently MSI was seeking a submarine to display’). I came to enjoy the craft in front of me more and more.


Even learning how the U-505 got into this building is interesting


A shared Pasta Alfredo from MSI’s cafeteria kept away hunger as we returned to our AirBnB for a workout inside the gym overlooking the Riverwalk.

Our last dinner in Chicago involved BF Shoes and I becoming the cooks. Gyu-Kaku delivered delightful Japanese appetizers with a spin as well as a variety of raw proteins for us to cook on our table’s grill. Besides tasty, plentiful and fun food, the service was top-notch. Not only was our server attentive despite also serving a nearby table of 15, but a busser not even assigned to us asked if wanted our picture taken after watching us struggle to take a selfie.

[Left] Samurai course from Gyu-Kaku [Top right] Pastries from West Town Bakery [Bottom right] Inside Holy Name Cathedral

[Left] Samurai course from Gyu-Kaku [Top right] Pastries from West Town Bakery [Bottom right] Inside Holy Name Cathedral


The next morning BF Shoes studied amidst the distracting din occurring inside Sunny Side Up Café. Meanwhile I honored my Sunday Catholic obligations inside the Holy Name Cathedral—grand in size and impressive in its archway carvings. On the return journey, we picked up a Beer and Pretzel Doughnut, Scone, and an Apple Cinnamon Doughssant (not sure how this is different than a Cronut) at the West Town Bakery. Although the appearance and offerings felt like a hometown haunt, the service didn’t impress so we hurried out.

Although vacation was ending, Chicago wouldn’t let us go easily. It was still a five-block  walk to a station while dragging our luggage. After melting at the touch during our whole visit, the snow flurries had finally been allowed to gather in tiny mounds on the sidewalk. It was my first time riding the Metro and I was still allowed to ogle Chicago’s landscape as it ebbed and morphed every minute all the way to Midway Airport.


Our quick, first time in Chicago limited us to tourist areas and only a scraping of Chicago food. Yet even this shallow scratch of the city mixed with that Midwestern friendliness—this is now one of my top cities. Allow me to be cheesy and add it was all made better because I was accompanied by my favorite travel partner, BF Shoes. I’ll admit Chicago scared me by being unpredictable, but because of that I learned to just ride the city and enjoy its surprises… and I came out on top.

*Admission to the Museum of Science and Industry was part of our purchased Chicago CityPass which allowed admission to five distinctly Chicago venues at a discounted rate (we never got to use our 5th destination)

I’m an experiencer. Not a foodie or a traveler. Give me the experience.
Twitter: @Pyra_Danny
Instagram: @Pyra_Experiences
WordPress blog: wwwPYRAwww
Fotki Photos: Pyra-Ako


November 29, 2014

What scared me most about Chicago? It wasn’t fear of getting mugged or lost (although every area appeared safe and organized). I feared taking public transportation. In Florida, public transport is limited to universities and between Disney and hotels. But I was visiting Chicago where even the locals take it. When in Rome…

I ended up being worried for no reason. Armed with a Ventra (which works like a debit card and can be purchased from any station), our Google Maps app displayed where to board, which bus to take, AND estimated time of arrival. It was so easy to swipe my Ventra once inside and to signal the driver if we were exiting at the next stop.

Chicago View near Magnificent Mile


The first and biggest mistake was realized once we entered the Field Museum. I’ve completed museums in many historic cities within three hours. But Field Museum… freakin’ five times larger than any museum I’ve seen! The lobby alone looked like the center of a California shopping mall. We had arrived late. Would we still have time to visit another in Museum Campus?

Inside Ancient Egypt the linoleum and cement walls gave way to aged stone and hieroglyphics. Wait—why were floor-to-ceiling glass suddenly covering some of the stone walls? Then I realized—those stone walls were real! Ancient Egypt contained two rooms transplanted from the 5,000 year old tomb of Unis-Ankh, a Pharaoh’s son, in Egypt and the museum didn’t want curious fingers to damage the history. It was a time trip! Suddenly the Field Museum became a more intimate adventure.

Field Museum Lobby

Field Museum lobby – looking towards the entrance

Time further reversed as dinosaur fossils stared back at us from glass cases. We watched the creation of the world before it reached the current state of civilization. Another area housed artifacts from the Native Americans. But not everything was historical as the special exhibit The Machine Inside gave interactive elements to show how joints, muscles, and physics allowed living beings to move.

While BF Shoes was helping a bird display to fly I glanced at the time and saw we only had three hours before all the museums on the campus closed. Despite visiting less than half of Field Museum, we reluctantly ended the time there with photos next to the Museum’s most famous resident—Sue the T-rex skeleton in the lobby. While walking towards Shedd Aquarium we passed by Kim and Carlo’s Hot Dog stand where grabbing a Chicago-style Hot Dog stuffed with Tomato wedges, Pickle spear, Pickled Peppers, Onions, and Celery Salt was necessary for our talking stomachs.

Field Museum and food


The Shedd Aquarium was more familiar than Field Museum because it was similar to others around the country. A large central tank housed hundreds of colorful creatures. If you’re lucky you’ll see a scuba diver inside feeding. In other tanks we gaped at an insanely large snake draped around branches like a fashion scarf. We struggled to find the octopus. We were surrounded by water animals of all sizes, shapes, and colors.

The best tanks were furthest away from the central hub. At Jellies more attention was given to jellyfish than I’ve ever seen before: tanks dedicated to babies, youth, and even jellyfish that looked like bobbing mushrooms. Inside the Abbott Oceanarium, belugas circled through their giant home while several seals lounged nearby. At Wild Reef, we were transported to the exotic fish who call the reefs off the Philippine Islands home—the motherland!

Shedd Aquarium

Central tank at the Shedd Aquarium


Chicago Day 2 Dinner

Ameritalia ParmBurger and Cannoli Cupcake. Flight from Vice District Brewing

Our cold, hungry selves walked the short distance to Ameritalia where, as the name suggests, modern Italian dishes crash into American favorites. A Parmesan-crusted Meat patty topped with Provolone Cheese, Roasted Tomato and Basil became the focus for my Parmburger while BF Shoes noshed on a Meatball and Pepperoni Calzone. A Tiramisu and a Cannoli Cupcake finished our meal.

Vice District Brewing was packed with chatter and board games. Unfortunately, being busy also led to being completely out of two Beers. Yet we were wowed at their service—how many breweries have table-side service, automatically gives you water and with self-serve popcorn?

The bus ride back was uneventful but the dark sky made 8pm seem closer to midnight than it actually was. Along the way a stop at Bockwinkel’s, a small but packed grocery store, provided many deli options but also gave us fresh fruit, eggs, and vegetable soup for tomorrow.

We went from Egypt, to dinosaurs, to the Artic and the Philippines— and there was still time to hit the school books that night. No wonder sleep came easy. We were in Chicago. This was how we relaxed.

*Admission to Skydeck was part of our purchased Chicago CityPass which allowed admission to five distinctly Chicago venues at a discounted rate. Keep watch as we use up the rest of the CityPass.

I’m an experiencer. Not a foodie or a traveler. Give me the experience.
Twitter: @Pyra_Danny
Instagram: @Pyra_Experiences
WordPress blog: wwwPYRAwww
Fotki Photos: Pyra-Ako


November 23, 2014

Everything was so… great! Chicago’s skyscrapers loomed over, surrounded, and cast their shadows on my face. They didn’t seem so daunting from inside the plane. The Floridian in me quivered. No city of this size (and height) existed in the Sunshine State. But no… we were going to conquer this city!

View of the skyline from the Navy Pier

View of the skyline from the Navy Pier

BF Shoes and I had been looking for an affordable flight to a place we’d never been before. Not only was Chicago unknown territory for us, but we only had four days– we decided to be total tourists on the beaten path. Ready? GO!


Our landing coincided with an unusually sudden cold front for November. Just four hours ago we were basking in 70 degree Florida temperatures. Now snow flurries laughed in our faces in the 30 degree temps. No wonder the flight was empty… Using Lyft, our more-Pakistani-than-English-speaking driver brought us from Midway Airport to our AirBnB home-from-home. I gazed in awe at the skyscrapers zipping outside the car before we landed along the Riverfront.

God bless AirBnB! Outside our window 30 floors up, we had an excellent view of the Riverfront below framed by impressive buildings and surrounded by falling snow. Wait… forget the view for a moment… we were starving! To add further irritation, we became lost walking the sub terrain streets of Chicago—what the heck was this?!—it’s like a gigantic tunnel BENEATH the action where you can also pass through and park. Eventually we stumbled into our first taste of Chicago food. Despite being a chain, Giordano’s is still Chicago-based and welcomed us with some classic Chicago Deep-Dish Pizza.

Giordano's Classic Pizza

A classic, Deep Dish Pizza from Giordano’s


The next morning, a sign labeled ‘Visitor Center’ beckoned us into a large building. Although the tourists’ exhibits weren’t vast, curiosity pulled us around the corner and into the Chicago Cultural Center – a community area scattered with small galleries, NPR ties, and meeting tables. In an upstairs ballroom we were treated to young contemporary dancers entertaining the curious audience. All of this was housed inside a vast, historical building with grand carvings in the archways.

Chicago Cultural Center

The Chicago Cultural Center housed several types of arts.


No visit to Chicago is complete without attempting a creative selfie in front of Cloud Gate—aka ‘The Bean’—that iconic, large, kidney-shaped art installment covered in reflective metal. Don’t worry, you won’t be alone. After using too many megabytes filled with every angle of The Bean and the surrounding skyline, we visited other residents of Millennium Park. Further south Red Bull featured a pop-up gallery dedicated to sculptures created entirely from its cans—with some free Red Bull for drinking naturally.

The grand, concert field (with an impressive stage) was empty during the visit and a nearby grand fountain stood empty. Guarded by expressionless faces carved into tall thin panels (a modern day Easter Island) an empty lot stood between building-sized screens playing various faces. During the season, water spews out of the mouths from the screens and into the lot for visitors to play in.

[Left and top right] Must enjoy the icon Bean [Bottom right] Exhibit from the Red Bull Can of Art

[Left and top right] Must enjoy the icon Bean [Bottom right] Exhibit from the Red Bull Art of Can


One minute. That’s how long it took the elevator to bring us to the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower (formerly tallest building in the world but currently 12th). While grand views of Chicago can be seen from all the floor-to-ceiling windows wrapping around the floor, the real attractions are the three ‘skydecks’—glass boxes jutting away from the Tower allowing guests to get surrounded on four sides by the view. Chicago is… vast! By visiting Skydeck on our first day, I really got to appreciate the city’s greatness and felt more eager to go back and immerse myself in what I could see.

Chicago's Skydeck

I’m floating over the city! J/K I’m just in one of the Skydecks

Hungry, we stopped at the nearby Pierogi Heaven to nosh on steaming Polish Sausages surrounded by creamy Sauerkraut, Fried Onions, and Mashed Potatoes while also nibbling Pierogis stuffed with Potato and Cheese or Beef and Spinach.


Mostly closed for the season. Then again, what mad soul wanted to ride a Ferris Wheel into the source of the snow flurries? All the brightly lit rides sat idly and cast an eerie glow on those walking by. Only the large building housing the Children’s Museum contained life. The restaurants and shops inside were open but the only thing catching our attention was the large, dark greenhouse in the back. We left quickly. The best part of Navy Pier during this season were the great views of the Chicago skyline pushed against the water.


Tray from Henry's Swing Club

Tray from Henry’s Swing Club– too dim in here to really capture the food’s beauty

I immediately loved the vibe at Henry’s Swing Club. It was loud, fun, and hipster where the art on the walls extended to the art in the food and the servers. With most food offerings being less than $4, you’re tempted to order a lot and it was a great way to taste many culinary delights. Among our tray sat mini Burgers (bigger than sliders) filled with Teriyaki Pork and Kimchee, Fried Chicken drizzled in Honey, and Lamb topped with spicy Tzatziki sauce.

Afterwards we sampled a Beer Flight from nearby Rock Bottom Brewery and Restaurant. Although this brand was also a chain, the Beers were still made in-house, the brewery was the closest to Downtown, and we craved Crafts.

Walking home, we ran into the Chicago Tribune building where large stones from important locations were embedded into the walls. We were delighted to find a rock labeled from Corregidor in the Philippines. Represent!

Walking everywhere made us feel like we had been in Chicago forever. The day had been more packed than expected. I quickly fell asleep with the twinkling lights of the city spread outside my window.

*Admission to Skydeck was part of our purchased Chicago CityPass which allowed admission to five distinctly Chicago venues at a discounted rate. Keep watch as we use up the rest of the CityPass.

I’m an experiencer. Not a foodie or a traveler. Give me the experience.
Twitter: @Pyra_Danny
Instagram: @Pyra_Experiences
WordPress blog: wwwPYRAwww
Fotki Photos: Pyra-Ako


November 17, 2014

“I just want people to understand.”

Villarosa stands in front of her movie's poster

Villarosa stands in front of her movie’s poster

Years later near flashy Downtown Ft. Lauderdale and promoted by a blinking theater poster at the Cinema Paradiso, Janice Villarosa calmly took her seat behind the audience. Her visual creation was about to be understood by an eager crowd.

Shunned is Villarosa’s first feature documentary. For three years this South Californian interviewed, recorded, and followed a group of Transgendered women in the Philippines while also directing and producing the project. Now Shunned was slowly makings its way to film festivals around the world before finally arriving on my side of the planet at the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival. Did I mention Villarosa is a relative? There’s no way I’d pass a chance to support a creative relative.

Although the movie began with some provocative dancing by several of the cast, Shunned quickly became a heart-wrenching look into the pains and struggles faced by the young women as they retold their transformation from boy to girl. Their struggles went beyond bullying; we learn of a rape, of familial rejections, and struggles in relationships.

Shunned - Mini FlierBut among the sadness there were moments of joy as well as unexpected laughter. “I would never cut off my penis,” one gorgeous lady laughs admittingly. Another lady loudly shares her outlooks on life amidst bouts of laughter. The ladies don’t wallow in their struggles. They are sexy, beautiful, and confident.

Shunned - Hanging PosterHowever, for most of my viewing I kept wondering—was Shunned a good speaking voice for Transgenders in America? I’m sure the family struggles and bullying were similar, but I wondered at some striking differences. What about how all of Shunned’s ladies were gorgeous and almost all of them worked as dancers or pageant queens? When you look like a typical model, less people are likely to stop and gape at you. And in America, working as a dancer is not an ‘inspiring’ line of work. More relatable Transgenders would come from fields such as business people, teachers, firefighters, or politicians. Furthermore there weren’t any Transgender men… only women. Villarosa voiced her difficulties at even getting close to this group of Philippine women—many didn’t want to come forward. If she had created her documentary in America the research would probably have been easier.

Still, Shunned managed to deliver many parts of a bigger picture—some of its women were accepted by their families while others were not. One had a child while another had a boyfriend. Some mentioned God while others didn’t. Shunned seemed to be telling three stories about being Transgender in one film. One story followed the lives of the women while the other story showed the struggles of the Transgenders via dancing away from burdens and the third story reenacted the women’s struggles told through a young boy slowly embracing his feminimity. While each was delivered well, the cuts between all three lines seemed rather sudden although they were meant to support each other’s story.

When the lights returned, waves of viewers thanked Villarosa for broadening their understanding. The faces of the audience seemed to show all walks of life. One particular lady was a Transgender standing tall in a fitted dress and leggings. She smiled as she spoke to Villarosa.


Background: The author Pyra-Danny is a very conservative Catholic (by her own choice and studies—not because of family). She is not writing to begin a debate on a Catholic’s stance on Transgenders. She’s merely writing a general review on a movie documentary.

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