We had the shortest time in Chicago, but the best of times. We visited the tiniest part from River North to Grant Park. It was all superlatives.
When you think about cities what comes to mind are roads full of cars, horn honking and ambulance sirens and there was all that. But the street crossings are kind to pedestrians with auto lights and drivers who pay attention even if jamming the intersection. And the city is all flat. Perfect for us walkers who don’t “do” hills. (I almost failed an Illinois driving test, when I couldn’t “imagine” a hill stop.)
Chicago is a giant city – 2.7 million residents in 234 sq miles. For comparison: it would cover Marin to San Mateo covering the San Francisco peninsula and some of the bay. (For more comparisons, click maps) I once drove my son from north to south to show him how big Chicago is. Don’t remember how long it took, but we came across seven different street festivals – without even looking for them. This time Mike and I drove forever to get into the city and forever to get back out.
Chicago has buses, subways, elevated trains (els) and trains. But we only had about 2 miles to cover so walking and a short cab ride was perfect.
The parts of our “one-day” trip:
Art Institute — Grant Park — Daley Park — Millennium Park — Tribune Tower — Food
Art Institute of Chicago
I lived in Chicago for five years and never went to the Art Institute. Don’t ask me how, but hey, now there are a couple of more buildings and more collections. It sits on the edge of Grant Park along Michigan Avenue. We arrived before opening time so we detoured through an art garden on the museum grounds. (We wandered over to a fountain/sculpture in Millennium Park. More on that later.)
We returned. This lion glowed from the reflected light off a shiny building across the street.
Inside, we found our way to the Impressionists and Post-Imppressionists. (The museum has collection 300,000 works of art.)
Aside that has nothing to do with Monet’s paintings, which are gorgeous: The Institute titles these as Stacks of Wheat. Other sources including Wikipedia and Daily Mail call these Haystacks. A translation issue? I don’t have much farmer cred anymore, but Mike and I were wondering why would wheat be stacked this way?
I liked the placement of these two paintings. On the left is Edward Hopper’s, Nighthawks, the epitome of lonely alienated people – and the lively Nightlife by Archibald Motley. I could see either scene in the Chicago I knew in the 70s.
We had lunch (3 restaurants to choose from), looked at some more art and visited the gift shop. Years ago the Marshall Fields department store, a few blocks away, used to sparkle this way.
The Art Institute is surrounded by Grant Park, so it was easy to access. However, areas were closed off for an upcoming marathon. But we passed this lush vegetable garden, sponsored by Power of Produce. In the synchronisty of life, we saw a show about the program when we got home.
Mike had wanted to see the Buckingham Fountain. It would be spectacular. But it was shut down for the power washers to do their thing before winter repairs.
Across a busy road we found the ocean-like Lake Michigan.
This Astroid Belt sign indicates one of several planetary walks around the Adler Planetarium just to the south.
Here it was windy and chilly, so we headed inland to walk among the apple trees.
Maggie Daley Park
We sat on a bench to people watch. When we moved on, we discovered several large climbing walls (open Fri-Sun) and a skating ribbon for ice skating in the winter. For more information, click Daley Park.
Our next discovery was a great overpass to the Millennium Park. If all overpasses were like this, we would all love to travel that way. This sequence of parks made me appreciate the public spaces that can be created for people who want to enjoy both the outdoors and the interactions with other people and their city.
We wound up at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. You could have one big concert or rally here. Many events are free. Over the stage is a structure designed by Frank Gehry – but I was incapable of finding a way to take a picture of it. See Pavilion for other people’s more successful attempts.
People are everywhere, but it is a good vibe, especially when a young girl shouted, “The bean, Mama. The bean!” And she was right. The plaza was crowded with people taking pictures of themselves in this highly reflective sculpture also known as Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor.
Not sure if you can “read” this picture, but I was struck by the reflection of the bean shining through to the next garden without revealing it’s shape.
Now we had made a circle around the Art Institute – for we had found these fountains before entering the museum. Two huge blocks covered in mesh that sometimes dribble water over the top and sometimes strongly spits water out of the mouth of the face image on the block. The face changes as does the water. Called Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa, it worth a patient study. And it provides another place to watch people.
We stopped for coffee at a tea shop (Argo) in the Chicago Tribune Tower. While we were sitting there, we noticed a man going around taking pictures of the walls in the courtyard. Whatever was he doing? The building is neo-Gothic and a Nathan Hale statue stands guard.
What was in the wall were pieces of other buildings. Later I read that Colonel McCormick, founder to the Chicago Tribune, told reporters to bring home pieces of buildings.
We walked along the Magnificent Mile until E. Ohio Street where we turned off for our hotel. We were watching for a place to eat dinner. Some possibilities. Had to laugh at the Weber Grill restaurant. Really? Yes, really, backyard grill in a restaurant.
The one place that intrigued me was Eataly. We returned later. It has two floors of shops and restaurants. It was overwhelming with choices, but I persevered. We chose a pasta/pizza restaurant upstairs. The eating area was noisy and surrounded by pristine and untouched (?) shelves of jarred and bagged food. The waiter informed us if we split the order between pasta and pizza, they might not come at the same time. The wine he suggested did come quickly and was most tasty. The pasta followed soon. Very fresh and delicious. All a bit pricey. We went downstairs and had tons of gelato. The lively environment was filled with a variety of young people and families, but I think it’s best as a place for well-paid young professionals. Eataly is in New York and several locations in Italy (where I hear it is overwhelming and pricey). Classes and demonstrations are also available.
For breakfast, I thank TripAdvisor for choosing Brunch as the best place in the neighborhood. It was so good we returned the second morning and deeply wished we had one near us at home. The pastries looked good too though there was no way we had room after our gigantic breakfasts. Next time.
Turned out is was too short a visit, but we certainly packed it with places and activities. As I mentioned earlier, this is a huge city and there is so much more to see. Consider this an appetizer.
The part of the city we visited seemed to function. People were everywhere enjoying themselves. Streets were relatively trash-free. Imagine!
Following a few random pictures. The first is of bikes sponsored by a healthcare organization. A couple of women in Grant Park asked us for directions – we mentioned the bikes – they said they had tried them but it was too stressful having to turn them in every 30 minutes.
See you on the trail! Up next Wisconsin!
Words by Lynn Millar, Pictures by Lynn and Mike Millar (Available upon request.)