Friday, December 22, 2006

Chicago: My Kind of Town

Chicago, IL – August 2006

During August when the heat and the humidity were at its highest here in Kentucky, we trekked north to Chicago, the city of skyscrapers and road works, for a few days. The 6 hour drive from Danville was pleasant on reasonably good and road-work-free highways, until we got to Chicago. The last hour of the drive we could see the Sears Tower, the tallest building in the USA and when it was built in 1974 the tallest in the world, but because of all the road works around Chicago we enter the city at a snail’s pace, bumper to bumper on a Sunday afternoon.

From Danville we drove west on the I-64 and at Louisville, KY we took the I-65 north all the way through Indiana until it meet up with the I-90 north and eventually becomes the I-94. We exit the I-94 where is crosses with the I-290 and took the Eisenhower Expressway East/Congress Parkway towards Lake Michigan. Our destination was a rented apartment on Munroe Street opposite the historic Palmer House Hilton. The apartment was modern, clean and very centrally located. We were just two blocks from the Millennium Park and the Chicago Art Institute. Unfortunately we were also just 1 block from The Loop, Chicago’s rapid transit line that runs above Wabash Street, and its noise. But really, all of Chicago city center is noisy, and the noise is constant, until about 2:30 AM. It quiets for a while until about 4:30 AM and then the early morning car traffic noise from delivery trucks and taxi horns start up again. I guess we are just not use to it.

We arrive just after noon on a Sunday and after unpacking and exploring our immediate surroundings we board a free trolley to the museum district. We walk around the Adler Planetarium, rest on the grass and watched the yachts on Lake Michigan, walked pass the Shedd aquarium, before we took a long stroll back to our apartment – all along the lakeshore, stopped at Buckingham Fountains (pictured right) to take a few photos, and then down South Michigan Avenue up to Millennium Park. We had an early dinner at Pizano’s Italian Restaurant where Monica and I shared one of Chicago’s famous food items, a deep dish pizza. It was very good.

The next few days was a whirlwind of sightseeing. On the Monday we made a short stop at Marshall Field department store, then visited the Art Institute and late afternoon we went to the Lincoln Zoo. The real reason we went to Chicago was to see the King Tutankhamun exhibition that is currently touring the USA. We bought our tickets months in advance and on the Tuesday we went to the Field Museum (pictured left) for this exhibition. We were rather disappointed with the few items on displayed, I guess we expected more and more elaborated pieces. The Tuesday was also Monica’s birthday and we went out to dinner at Miller’s Pub, a Chicago institution next to the Palmer House, famous for their smoky BBQ ribs and excellent service, that has been serving the average man and celebrities for over 50 years. Walls are lined with signed pictures of Frank Sinatra, Jay Leno, and many local sports celebrities. I can confirm: the food was good and the service was above average.

The Wednesday was devoted to shopping and the Golden Mile on Michigan Avenue. After a short trolley ride to the area we split up. Lamar and I went to The Tribune Tower (pictured right) , a neo-gothic skyscraper, and home of the Chicago Tribune newspaper. An interesting fact: Built into the sides of the Tribune Tower are many famous stones or rock pieces, including a moon rock, rock fragments from the Alamo, the Colosseum, the Pyramid of Giza and the Chinese Wall. Thereafter we shopped in a massive Virgin store for music while Monica explored several stores along the Golden Mile, among them the Pottery Barn, Crate&Barrel and many more. We met up with her again in front of the old Water Tower (pictured below) , on north Michigan Ave., one of the few buildings in Chicago that survived the Great Chicago fire of 1871. Nearby is the third tallest building in Chicago, the John Hancock Center where the top portion, consisting of 48 stories of apartments, is sometimes above the clouds and the inhabitants have to call the doorkeeper to find out what the weather is like on ground level.

The Thursday morning we packed up, loaded the car and drove back to Danville. Overall impressions of Chicago: It’s worthwhile a visit, there are lots to do and see, the city center is very clean and flowers were everywhere. The skyline with its many skyscrapers in varied architectural styles is impressive. It certainly is one of the best places to go if you are interested in architecture and it offers many tours on this subject. Public transport is easy accessible and the free Trolley rides (well done Chicago city fathers on this idea!) covers most of the prime areas.

Chicago's Field Museum: The Great Hall.

Chicago's Field Museum: Monica with her name in Hieroglyphics.

Sue, world famous, not only for being the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossil skeleton found to date, but there has been court cases, imprisonment, auctions and passionate discussions about the rights and responsibilities of private individuals, the federal government, Native American Tribal Law and scientists in their relationships to the preservation and sale of paleontological bounty. Found in 1990 in Faith, SD, on a farm, the question was who did it belong to: The farmer, The Black Hills Institute, The US Government or the The Sioux Nation. Eventually Sue, named after her discoverer Sue Hendrickson, who was a volunteer for the Black Hills Institute at the time of discovery, was bought by the Field Museum at an auction for $8.3 million.

At the Art Institute: One of the great experiences I get from visiting major cities like Chicago, New York, etc. is the opportunity to see the original art pieces of the masters, like this Claude Monet - Japanese Bridge at Giverny, 1900, oil on canvas.

Or this Pablo Picasso - The Red Armchair, 1931, oil and enamel on panel.

During the summer months, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, there are firework from the Navy Pier.

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