Perched on the banks of the super massive Lake Michigan…………my first step on a foreign land happened to be in Chicago on the 21st of October 2016.
As advised by our super hospitable & enthusiastic hosts in Chicago – Vinkle and Manojbhai…….we went straight to Downtown Chicago from the Airport to ensure our body clocks were reset to American time with minimum jet lag.
I and my friend were driven straight to the Loop, the central business district of Chicago. The name “Loop” comes from the cable car turnarounds & prominent elevated railway encircling this area in the late nineteenth century.
As we stepped onto the streets of Downtown Chicago the first thing that hits you apart from the wind and the outstanding bold architecture against the blue skyline, is the sound of silence in the middle of a busy street………….it honestly initially felt very different being in the middle of the heart of a business district with only the soft swish swooshing sounds as the cars zipped by sans honking. In fact during my entire stay of 14 days in America, I can literally count on my fingers the no. of time I heard someone honk….and count I really did….the number was just 3 times!
Chicago lived up to its reputation of being a windy city and so we pulled out our jackets and stoles before we embarked on our first day of exploring the city.
The first thing we did…..walked straight to Willis Tower.
The Willis Tower :
Built as and still commonly referred to as Sears tower, is a 108 storey skyscraper that held the status of being the tallest in the world from 1973 to 1998 before getting surpassed by the Petronas Twin Towers. Although it was a working week day, had to crawl through a 2 hours long winding queue before we finally got into one of the 104 elevators in the Tower which shoots up from the ground floor to floor 103 in less than 60 seconds…….in fact after 30 seconds you start feeling vibrations till it finally halts at floor no. 103 which houses the skydeck…..the “All glass” boxes jutting out upto four feet out of the façade of the building giving the tourist an exciting “standing in the air” like experience, 103 storeys above the busy streets of Chicago!!
The views from here are spectacular…..especially if it is a clear sunny day! The bright blue ocean like Lake Michigan, with metal, glass, concrete architecture dotting its shoreline ( After the Chicago Fire in 1871, the city rose from the ashes like a Phoenix as it was rebuilt, but this time around the experience led them to use minimal wood).
Getting onto the sky deck….also referred to as “The Ledge” is an experience of a lifetime. You actually tend to feel a bit dizzy as you get onto the glass floor and look down straight 103 storeys below!! It actually makes you feel like the cartoon character Goofy…who would walk in the air and later realize there wasn’t ground below his feet……fortunately we had a strong glass floor, made to carry upto 5 metric tons under us and thus didn’t fall through the way Goofy always would :-)!
So our day 1 in Chicago started with a bang “Up in the Air”!
Arrive prepared to patiently wait!
Be ready to stand for hours in queues…..the queue to the ticket counter, followed by the queue to the elevator, then the queue to the sky deck and finally the queue to the elevator to exit the Willis Tower. So you effectively spend some 15-20 minutes at the top and a couple of hours in queues.
Combo tickets option…
You get the option of buying a combo ticket of Willis Tower and the Art Institute of Chicago…..both together costing around 42$. We did buy the same after seeing the queue for the tickets here….but later felt we shouldn’t have as the next day were continuously under the pressure to visit the Art Institute as had already paid for it.
Do it only if you are damn sure you just don’t want to miss the Art Institute….else get the ticket the next day…the queues at the Art Institute aren’t as long as the Willis Tower.
What surprised me…
So many people waiting for hours…..but not a single squabble witnessed….no one trying to push to get into the elevator first….no one asking the ones on the skydeck to get off it fast ( Only 4 allowed in at a time) and no one to supervise how many getting onto the skydeck…..
The self monitored self discipline …..what a pleasant surprise it was ….and it made the 2 hours long wait so much more bearable!
The next thing that we wanted to do was the Art Institute….but after grabbing a quick meal as we wandered through the streets watching live performances by drummers, musicians, singers on the street…..we suddenly realized we were very close to the Millenium Park that houses the famous “Bean” and so decided to the the Art Institute the next day.
The Millenium Park – The Bean
The Bean is a sculpture made of highly polished steel, giving the appearance of liquid mercury. Feel proud to know that it has been designed by an Indian artist – Anish Kapoor (Which I got to know when I searched on the net after returning back to India).
People come here to take photographs standing against the Bean. The photos reflect both you and the city skyline thus making it an interesting click.
After clicking a few pics in the standard pose of trying to push the Bean :-)….we once again started wandering around through the park (This park has been the shooting location for Dhoom 3 songs) and as we wandered through it observing the first signs of Fall colours….
we realized that we had reached a junction which had a sign that said – way to the Navy Pier……..and we two adventurous ladies who had no clue about the way…. decided to walk down to the Navy Pier ….later to realize it was way too far then we had thought of it to be…….but by the time we realized it we were midway…….and with the sun setting it was getting colder and the wind made it worse…..but now we were neither here nor there and so decided to walk it down.
The walk is beautiful by the shoreline of lake Michigan with the Centennial Wheel ( A huge Merry Go Round) at the Navy Pier visible from miles away.
The Navy Pier
The Navy Pier currently encompasses more than fifty acres of parks, gardens, shops, restaurants, family attractions and exhibition facilities. But by the time we reached there it was dark, cold and suddenly we were very anxious as both our mobile phones had close to zero battery charge and we forgot to carry the charger or the power bank…. this was our first day alone and we had to get in touch with Manojbhai who had no clue were at the Navy Pier,before our phones konked off. So now instead of sight seeing at the Navy Pier we were hunting for a mobile charger….. entering the shopping arena and going around asking executives in the shops for a charger……….and surprisingly no one had one…….but just before our phones gave up we got in touch with our host and informed where we were. Manojbhai being in a meeting said he would pick us up in an hour and so we were supposed to spend the next hour here….thats when we took a stroll in the Crystal Gardens.
The Crystal Gardens are a beautiful indoor, one‐acre, botanical garden. It is a six‐story glass atrium with a 50-foot arched ceiling holding over 80 live palm trees, lush foliage, hanging twinkle lights and dancing leapfrog fountains. The leap frog fountains are truly magical….it seriously appears like a frog leaping. By the time we were in the Crystal Gardens the effects of Jet lag had kicked in ……….had to seriously find a place to sit else felt would drop like a pack of cards…….. the next 30 minutes were spent trying not to doze off as we sat on a bench in the garden :-)….Finally our host arrived and rescued us from slipping into deep slumber! Although I did manage to doze off all through the car journey back home! Fortunately had a good night sleep and experienced no wake up in the middle of the night episodes.
Always felt internet, GPS would be so much better abroad…..but it was time to unlearn….the tall skyscrapers of the Chicago Downtown reflect the GPS signals and thus google maps go crazy taking you for a ride to nowhere……with the map lady asking you to go back and forth every now and then J
What I found most interesting in Downtown Chicago
The amazing live performances by musicians, drummers, dancers on the streets…..it was so interesting to watch people walking in business suits pausing for a moment to dance to the beat and moving forward….
Began the day by watching a brilliant sunrise from the top of our host’s apartment building as it rose above the Lake Michigan. And as it rose what a spectacular view it was as you see the colours of leaves change from goldens to bright oranges.
After a wholesome breakfast we were off to visit a Farmers Market….something both I and my friend looked forward to. But on the way we also had the opportunity to see bridges- hundreds of years old….. unlocking, opening , making way for boats and yachts on the Chicago River and once again perfectly locking for the vehicles to ply on them.
The Farmers market is an experience not to be missed if you wish to experience the local ways. From pumpkins stocked up for the coming Haloween , swan gourds , purple cauliflowers, varieties of cheese and mushrooms unheard of, flower pots bursting with colours, home made chocolates, cakes etc. etc. The visit to the Farmers market was an interesting experience….had warm cider apple juice, lovely hand made cookies and yummy crepes with strawberry, banana and cream.
There are plenty of farmers markets across America….so if you miss out in one city you can always check it out in another.
From the Farmers market we went straight to the Art Institute of Chicago and on the way stopped by to see the beautiful Bahai Temple.
The Art Institute of Chicago
is one of the oldest and largest museums in the USA.
Modern Contemporary art, Ancient art and sculptures, Artefacts from around the world…..you name it and it has it. The Museum is huge and if you are an ardent Art lover you would take not less than a day to cover it fully.
What I liked the most…..the section of miniature rooms. A woman’s hobby of collecting miniatures transformed into creating miniature rooms with such intricate details …..its worth a watch. The miniature rooms display English and Asian rooms.
Those not interested in Art can skip the institute and instead take an architecture cruise over the Chicago River.
My Experiments with Food
So our first meal in Chicago was at Zoup which offers award winning soups with 12 always rotating daily varieties.(The portion sizes all across America are huge….so opt for a small if you want a regular)Had a wholesome portion of a vegetable broth and a sandwich along with it.
Noodles & Co. – a famous chain which we also came across at Bloomington. A huge bowl of Japanese Noodles was what I had here .
Our hosts treated us with the famous Chicago deep dish pizza as well!
Overall be ready to shell out 10$ for a very simple meal ….say a sandwich or a wrap….In a place like Noodles and Co. you may manage to do it in 7-8$. Initially hurts to munch on a sandwich worth 700Rs. but soon get used to the way things work J
The Final Verdict :
Thanks to our lovely hosts…..
who took us right through“The Magnificent Mile” ….the shopping street housing designer stuff from across the world ………as well as through the beautiful neighbourhoods all decorated with carved pumpkins, cobwebs and skeletons for the Haloween……..they ensured we had a full blown experience of this beautiful Windy City.
Being a nature lover, concrete jungles have never excited me…….but for the first time was awed & charmed by the concrete, glass and metal standing tall in the City of Chicago! Definitely worth a visit!
First published @ www.mytraveldoodles.wordpress.com