After my trip to Seattle and Vancouver last year, Chicago was the next city on my list to return to as a place I had been to as a kid with my parents and remember enjoying and wanted to return to as an adult. A friend of my sisters (who is also my friend to now, you know how it is as you get older) is doing a grad program at the University of Chicago this year and when jotting down all my travel plans for 2011 at the start of this year, I added Chicago to the list at the last moment. I knew I could do it in a long weekend and only planned to take 2 days off of work during a slow week at work. I booked a ticket, I had a place to stay and now I just had to figure out what to do! This is probably the least planning I have ever done for any trip. I bookmarked and saved all postings on Chicago that blogs I read post, but that is pretty much it. I managed to fill 3 full days!
After arriving after my red eye flight and crashing out on my friends floor for a morning nap, I woke up at noon ready to start the day! The city was nice and cold (which doesn’t bug me) but it was totally foggy (which did bug me) so I couldn’t see the tops of all the tall buildings, which in a city full of beautiful architecture, kind of defeats the purpose. I headed into town, making my first stop Chicago Cultural Center which ended up being one of my focal points of the weekend. I ended up here a lot, with its beautiful open building, loads of places to sit and reorganize myself and use the bathroom. There is also a tourist information center here.
I then headed across the street to Millennium Park to nerd it up at Cloud Gate aka “The Bean”. That thing is awesome! It was wayyyy bigger then I thought it was going to be. I don’t know why I thought it was be smaller! Anyway, I spent a good 10 minutes taking pictures of myself in and around it before heading off and exploring other parts of the park. I wondered around The Great Lawn, which is kind of amazing for being so close to the highway, that you can’t hear the noise from it while on the lawn. The BP Bridge on the otherside of the Lawn is pretty awesome too. The Crown Fountain was a little creepy as real faces used for art always creeps me out. And in the summer, I think water comes out of their mouths? A little creepy for me. But still kind of interesting.
After having some lunch at one of my old New York favorites Cosi, I headed across the river to Navy Pier. Even though I heard the place was kind of a bust for adults with no kids (and it really was, especially with the crappy weather) I heard there was a pretty awesome stain glass exhibit for free. And it really was cool! There was also a mosaic gallery next to it, which I love, so that was really awesome. Plus, even though I unfortunatly read it backwards, intertwined as well was the history of Chicago and it was really interesting. I love stuff like that. The place has tons of gift shops too and it was here that I was reminded that President Obama was like sort of from Chicago. I always forget that, since Hawaii is in our face all the time and he went to Occidental, a school near where I grew up, which of course, is now sort of a huge deal. But since I was overseas for the whole election, I always forget that Chicago plays a major part in his campaign. But it was like a mini Washington DC in the way for tourist crap in gift shops. I was getting pretty tired at this point and just waited for my friend to finish with class, so I sat and hung out in the Crystal Gardens on the Pier for a while. The place is awesome, especially on a cold day. A huge glassed in garden, I love places like that. My friend called me and I headed back to Hyde Park for dinner. We ate at The Nile and it was really good. We did BYO and ran into a couple of people from my friends school as well as her advisor, so if that is a sign that the place is good, I don’t know what is.
After another late start, once again due to fog, I finally headed into town around noon. I made my first stop at the Museum of Contemporary Photography which is part of Colombia College Chicago. I love photography and this was a great place to kill a little time. I always forget how blah on modern art I am and while I love photography, I am meh on the modern part. That is all I am going to say about that. It was free, so how bad is it really.
For lunch I stopped at Potbelly Sandwich Shop and had a meatball sub. When I placed my order, they asked if I wanted a milkshake. It was freezing outside!!! But I guess they are known for them, I just didn’t get one, but just FYI for the future. I did get an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie and ohmigod, where those good!!! Highly reccomend those. They had a guy playing guiter as well, familer songs too and it was nice and different background music then what normally plays in shops during a normal, weekday lunchtime.
After lunch, I headed back to the Cultural Center for one of the Chicago Greeter tour. It seemed pretty slow and even though I got there at 15 past the hour, the women locked up shop, asked me where I wanted to go (Millenium Park, North Michagan Avenue or Architecture in the Loop) and I said architecture in the Loop. I wanted to do a architecture cruise at some point, but with the foggy weather, it didn’t look like it was going to happen while I was in town and I wanted to go on some sort of tour of the architecture. It was awesome! Definitely one of the highlights of my weekend. My private guide was awesome and I saw some parts of the city that I never would have discovered from old architecture that’s been around since after the fire in the 1800’s to Thompson Center, which is a state building that was built in the 1980’s and totally shows. Very interesting to see all the differences. The whole city is a goldmine for architecture enthusists! Everything is so beautiful. Another thing I noticed is that the city is really really clean, especially for a city the size. And the reason for this is that there are a lot of ally’s, which are so small and narrow that you barely notice them. How nuts is that?!
After the tour, which went on for close to an hour an a half, I met up with my friend and I finally made it north of the river to have a drink at Signature Lounge at the top of the Hancock building. It was still pretty foggy and the top of the Sears Tower (or whatever they are calling it this week) went straight into the clouds, which was kind of cool to see. We got there around 5:30pm on a Friday and grabbed an awesome table right by the window on the city side. Seriously, this is the best deal for an observation deck in town. Drinks are expensive and kind of weak (of course) but I am sucker for an observation deck and drink in hand is just a total bonus. Unlike the observation deck, there are no descriptions of what you are looking at, but on a foggy day where the view is probably not worth the price of admission, this is an awesome alternative. Servers are totally on top of it too and the service is great. And yes, the view from the ladies room is pretty fucking awesome. This has to be one of the best bathrooms I have ever seen.
Transportation all over the place is so wicked easy. The trains go right to the airport where you pick up the Blue line to get into town (O’Hare is end of the line, so it’s impossible to get lost). The trains and buses all take the same transit card, which you can buy at the airport and put some money on it. I am not exactly sure how the transfers work or the details of the trasit card, but everytime you enter the train or bus, you just scan it and it’ll tell you how much is left. I spent about $26 for my entire 4 days, taking about 4-5 rides/transfers a day. My favorite part was that the trains and buses was that you pay per ride and not distance. As far as I could tell, you could only refill these cards at train stations, which I did twice and it was so easy. And both the trains and buses were so clean! I never felt unsafe on either. It was a little weird for me that the buses seem to stop at like every single block. Even in New York, they don’t stop that often. But I guess winters get so misrable in Chicago, that you don’t want to walk longer then a block to get anywhere. Luckily, the bus that I took most went express from town to Hyde Park. The annoucements are clean and clear and on the bus, they visually tell you the next stop. The train maps are clearly posted a lot in every station and on every train, with all transfers labeled. It was just so nice to be in a city with nice, clean, clear transportation! The city is also super walkable and everything in town is really close together, so if you stay in town and only keep to the Loop or slightly north of the river, you won’t need to take the buses at all. But don’t take anything I say as gospal, as I didn’t do too much research on this and didn’t keep to close an eye on how much things cost or transfers.
Baconfest!!!! Coming in a later post
Moral: I loved Chicago!!! Between how clean it was, how beautiful lots of the buildings are and how easy the transportation is, this is my new favorite American city. I didn’t even come close to discovering most of the city and would love to return someday. All day, everyday all anyone would tell me is “the city is awesome in the summer”. I felt like the city sort of shuts down in the winter and it felt like it was in transition when I was there at the start of April. Millenium Park seemed to have a lot of work going on. Navy Pier was dead. Hardly any river cruises. Everything indoors was hopping and so was Michigan Ave (aka shopping), but everything outside was dead. The weather was super spastic too. I arrived and it was quite cold, like 30’s, and rained a bit, but not too bad, I never had to hide from it and the day I left, it was in the 80’s and everyone was in shorts and t-shirts. I don’t know how long term I could handle weather that seasaws like that. But in terms of everything else, I loved it all and have no complaints about anything.