Saturday, 10 March 2018

A Weekend in the Windy City - Three Days in Chicago

Cloud Gate, also known as The Bean, Chicago. 

In mid-October, our whole Fulbright cohort, spouses and kids included, got taken to Chicago for the weekend. The trip was organised and mostly paid for by CIEDR, which was amazing - a big thank you to everyone involved! We had a bus take us to Chicago directly from Evermann in Bloomington, had two nights booked at the Hampton In & Suites Chicago Downtown, and got Go Chicago cards to do any sights we wanted over two days.



First things first - Chicago is amazing! I've always considered New York my favourite city in the world, but after having been in Chicago for a couple of hours, I already announced that I love it even more than NYC. That is a lot coming from me! Chicago has a very unique vibe thanks to its amazing architecture, the river flowing through the city, the bluer than blue Lake Michigan, a certain kind of old-fashioned gangster movie feel, and amazing food. It's perfect! I could completely imagine a Batman film or a Michael Jackson music video being filmed there. Also, even if Chicago is a place where you could easily spend a lot of time, it's also perfectly suitable for a weekend getaway because you can squeeze many of the main sights into a couple of days.

We were really lucky with the weather on our first day, but not so much on the second one. On Friday, the sun was shining and you could walk around in a T-shirt while on Saturday, it was rainy, foggy and freezing cold. It seems that in October you need to be prepared for all kinds of weather conditions!

Day 1 
Once we'd settled into our room and had a look at the map to get a better understanding of our whereabouts, we ventured out to go on the Architecture River Cruise. It was amazing and very informative - you can expect to learn a lot about all the different buildings and get some lovely snapshots of the city from a different perspective.



The best people! 













After the cruise, we first grabbed a coffee each at Starbucks and then walked to Millennium Park to check out Anish Kapoor's reflecting sculpture, Cloud Gate. Cloud Gate is of course also known as the Bean because of its shape, and it's every bit as cool as it's made to sound. In addition to your own face, you can see the Chicago skyline reflected in the piece, and we both thought it was completely worth the hype.










Our next destination was the Art Institute of Chicago because there were a couple of things there that we wanted to see, mainly the American Gothic by Grant Wood. We pretty much ran through the museum to see the highlights because we didn't have much time and we still wanted to make it up to Willis Tower, formerly Sears Tower, to see Chicago in both daylight and after sunset.

American Gothic by Grant Wood.



Always nice to find some Warhol pieces!

And by the way, our Willis Tower plan ended up going wrong in every way possible. We somehow figured we'd get to skip the queue with our Go Chicago card, which didn't end up happening, and we totally missed the daylight view of the city thanks to the not-so-happy two hours of waiting to get in the lift up to the observation deck. I don't believe it! I've gone up skyscrapers before so I should've known better...Oh well. What's done is done, and at least we saw the city lights and had a scary experience of sitting and standing on the glass floor of The Ledge.

Going crazy in the queue!





Not really my thing! Scary as hell!
After getting back down to the ground, we walked to our hotel, grabbed something to eat from a nearby 7-Eleven and pretty much went to bed. It was a very good day, and we managed to do a lot!


Day 2
On our second day, the weather was just about as bad as it can get. It was raining so much that it was pretty impossible to walk outside without getting soaked, so we ended up catching the hop on hop off bus to Shedd Aquarium.


Everyone had been saying how the aquarium is incredible and a must-see and everything you could hope for, but I have to admit we weren't impressed. I've come to the conclusion that I don't like American sealife attractions - by this point, I've seen way too many of them where the dolphin shows involve loud clapping, loud music, loud screaming, and all kinds of other loud sounds I'm sure the animals don't enjoy at all. I think it's horrible and heart-breaking and I can not take it. In addition, the beluga whales were swimming in the tiniest tank, as were the smaller fish in their minuscule aquariums. There was also a sea lion that had an extremely small pen. Sea lions are very active animals, which is why I don't believe it for a second that the pen we saw was a good size. All in all, I think places like this are unacceptable and I don't want to support them. We ended up not taking pictures there, either, because it just didn't feel right.

So, after the aquarium, we took the hop on hop off bus back downtown to go up the John Hancock Building, nowadays known as 360 Chicago. The views are supposed to be spectacular, except that in weather like that, the only thing we could see was the tops of two skyscrapers every once in a while. We obviously wouldn't have gone up there if we'd had to pay for the tickets separately, but since we already had the Go Chicago cards, we figured we might as well go up to learn the literal meaning of "zero visibility". The observation deck was almost completely empty of people, minus a couple of tourists doing the tilt into the abyss (definitely not my thing!).

In case you were wondering, this is what we could see:




Great, isn't it?

Anyway, when you're in Chicago, you need to give deep dish pizza a go - therefore, once we'd seen the marvellous view above, we headed to Gino's East. In general, Americans seem to be pretty divided between thin crust lovers and deep dish fans. Luckily, since I'm a pacifist mediator by nature, I can solve the dispute by stating that pizza is always a good choice - the more types available, the better! I think deep dish was delicious, and very filling!




And in case someone is interested, here's the truth about our second day in Chicago...check out the people behind me :D!



Day 3
We still had some time to wander around on Sunday, and since I used to be obsessed with the TV show ER, I wanted to take a ride on the L, the elevated metro system. It's a frequent sight in ER and I'd always wanted to experience it for myself.


Tired but happy on the L!



We then did a couple of random sights: the Chicago Theatre and the sign marking the beginning of Route 66 in front of the Chicago Art Institute that we'd somehow missed on our first day.


Tori Amos!

The sign marking the beginning of Route 66 with the Willis Tower in the background.

We had lunch at Panda Express, and then walked back towards our hotel along the Magnificent Mile, snapping some pictures along the way as well as popping into the Disney store for some Ariel and Rapunzel mugs.



Some massive Halloween pumpkins.

360 Chicago in the background.
This was such a great trip! I mean sure, the weather could've been better, but overall, I think we managed to see and do a lot. In conclusion, Chicago is amazing - go there!

(By the way, did you know that the name of Chicago might come from a Native American word meaning "stinky onion"? What a cool name!)

My next post will be about our trip to Los Angeles, so stay tuned for that!

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