Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What's new in Peoria???

September 1999 - that's when I moved to Peoria as a contract employee - so I guess I can actually say that Peoria has been home since the last century??!! Ajey was working in Chicago then, and either of us would have been hard-pressed to find Peoria on a map - no wait, the agency was based out of Chilicothe - that had sounded even stranger than Peoria! Of course, Chilicothe was pretty much a 1 street town - and we drove past the agency office, the Super 8 motel I was booked into, a Pizza Hut and a Kroger - hmm, disappointed much?

We decided to keep driving to Peoria - followed signs to the Riverfront, looking for a good restaurant - the word 'riverfront' always conjures up images of a happening pier, tons of casual restaurants with outside seating, bustling with life - pretty much sums up everything that the Peoria riverfront was not!! Actually, the whole downtown area had a deserted people, no cars, just buildings! A big letdown, especially after cheerful Westmont where Ajey had his apartment!! Was I really considering moving here?? Maybe I should just wait for an opportunity in the Chicago area...

Well, I did go into the interview next morning - and everyone I met was so incredibly nice and welcoming!! So I took the offer - as a stop-gap, mind you - and the rest, as cliched as it may sound, is history!! Within a few months, Ajey had accepted an offer in Peoria too, and although we didn't know it then, Peoria was to be our home base for the coming future!! The first place I had in Peoria absolutely sucked - a 'garden view' apartment which actually was a basement apartment, and the next one, though absolutely luxurious by Peoria standards, still left a lot to be desired!!

Nevertheless, it was a good time for us - lots of laughter, lots of fun. The friendships we made then are close to my heart and deeply cherished. So in the natural progression of events, when we decided to buy a house, it was almost like putting a seal of approval on Peoria - putting down roots, settling in. Strange how things work, though - three short years later, we sold our house and set off on this exciting expat life. But no matter where we go, how far we travel, one thing remains the same - Peoria still remains our home base!!

All this nostalgia - I've completely lost track of what I was going to write about in this post!! Anyway, enough with the rambling, back to the topic at hand - so, what is new in Peoria? I've been known to say that nothing changes in Peoria, even the potholes are familiar friends - of course, this is not true! Over the last decade and half, I have seen plenty of changes in Peoria. The new Walmart and Menards on Allen road, the new mall - Grand Prairie - with its glitzy shops (yay, Peoria now has two malls!!!), the amazingly upgraded public libraries - just to mention a few. The cornfields have given way to row upon row of suburban houses, and the people are all new too - the lack of familiar faces a bit unnerving, to be honest!!

The Riverfront has also gone through a transformation - and it surely is a vast improvement on what it was 15 years ago! Two added attractions since we left for China are the Caterpillar Visitor Center and the Peoria Riverfront Museum - both right across from the Riverfront building. We're saving the Cat museum for when Ajey gets here, but the Riverfront museum was a good way to spend a rainy afternoon on the July 4th long weekend - well, at least Manasi and my little nephew were pretty excited to go!!

In the lobby

How high can you jump??

Big hug!!

Funny mirrors...
It's not a huge museum - but it does have a little bit of everything! A movie theater - was it IMax, can't remember - we had just missed a show on Mummies, the next one about Transformers didn't sound that appealing, so was off the list. What was most fun for the kids - the interactive sports displays - jumping high, strength tests, tests for reflexes and so on! A whole section for the Peoria river conservation effort was completely ignored by us - don't look at me, the eco-counselor is on vacation!! 2 really interesting sections - the Peoria Walk and the Ripley's-Believe-It-Or-Not.

The Peoria Walk is a little slice of history - Peoria from the days of the French settlers, to its boom-town days with its infamous breweries, all the way up to its staid reputation as Caterpillar town! Plenty of pictures, sound clips and curios on displays - did you know that one of Abraham Lincoln's famous speeches was here in Peoria, or that Charles Lindbergh delivered mail here before his famous flight?? Interesting nuggets of information - I'm hoping the next Quiz night will have a whole section on the Peoria - what, it could happen, you know!!

Made in Peoria!!!
The RBION section had an amazing display right at the entrance - look closely at the picture of Albert Einstein below - you'll never guess what it's made of!!! 440 pieces of toast - believe it or not!! This was a really interesting part of the museum. If you've seen the show on TV, you know what to expect - but seeing the kids' reaction is priceless, and it's such good entertainment!! I wish we had spent more time here, rather than hurrying out to catch the last show in the planetarium!!

440 pieces of toast!!

A python made of used washers..

Model of a python..
Ah yes, the planetarium - we wanted to see the Amazing Universe show, but we missed it by minutes. The last show of the day was a special weekend show called Journey Into Space. I was looking forward to plush seats, cool air and views of the night sky and beyond. First of all, no plush seats - what's up with that??!! Secondly, I felt the show would have been better suited to a flat screen rather than the dome screen - there were a lot of photos and videos - all distorted because of the curvature of the screen. All the rockets and space stations were curved, which led to a lot of confused questions from Manasi. And here I was hoping to sneak in a quick nap - oh well!!

It's not a fantastic museum - not even close! But it's a start - and will hopefully get bigger and better as the years pass. I'm looking forward to going to the Cat museum - I'm sure they'll have some of the bigger trucks in there - and I absolutely love those!! Meanwhile, going back to what I started with - there's actually not much new in Peoria, and that is exactly what makes Peoria so easy to come back to!! And while I'm enjoying being an expat too much, it's always nice to know that Peoria will be here for us if we do decide to return to a 'normal' life!!

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