Wow, this is turning into a real education!!
I checked with my uncle and yes, I can fly Chicago to Manchester and return from either London or Paris to Chicago. The ticket is free to him and he said he would cover any fees as a "graduation gift to me" (he's a pretty cool dude!), but I don't want to burden him with a heavy departure fee, so maybe Paris would be the way to go.
I'd like to leave about Friday, May 9th and return 4 weeks later, June 6th. A few days later and returning a few days later would also work. That gives me time to deal with stuff surrounding the new job when I get back.
GarryRF, you've convinced me that I need to spend a few days in Liverpool (imagine having dinner in the Rubber Soul?? Mom will flip with jealousy). I like your suggestions about trains to Chester and Conway Castle.
If I go to Paris a few days, then I think I should skip Scotland this trip. Don't want to spend all my time in trains and am trying to economize on travel as much as I can. So I'll focus on England, Wales and Paris, I think.
So maybe start in Manchester (anything worthwhile there, don't know much about it sorry), several days in Liverpool, then to Chester and Conway Castle for a day each.
After that my inclination would be to head south in Wales or on England's east side towards Cardiff, then over to Bath, Stonehenge and London.
Any idea how much a train London to Paris would be? If that saves a large departure tax, that would be worth doing, I think. I thought I'd save gay-parriee for a future trip but 3 days in Paris might be a great way to end my journey. Again, as an architect I would love to see the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral, among many others.
I can't thank you all enough for your help! I'm enjoying this planning, though I may have to wait to iron out some of the details until my Christmas break.