Arrived in Chicago at about 6pm last night. We were able to get picked up from Q Center at 4pm instead of 5pm which was good, but the traffic was pretty heavy so it took almost 2 hours to get here. We went via Union Centre where two other girls were heading to watch a basketball game, and dropped another guy at his hotel before ours so that added to the trip time as well.
After checking into our hotel we went downstairs to take advantage of free drinks and snacks while we worked out our plans for the night. Our hotel is located in the River North area which has a lot of restaurants and bars. During our adventures today we also found that were only about a 15 minute walk from downtown Chicago which is very convenient!
So last night we went to Lui Malnetti’s for deep dish pizza. The restaurant was packed and we had to wait 45 minutes for a table. Alison, the Chicago local at our training, had recommended this particular pizza chain so we were quite happy to wait. The chain originated from back in the 1940s when Lui was helping out in his dad’s restaurant. In 1971 Lui opened his own restaurant and the chain has grown from there. They took our order at the same time as our reservation, so the food came not long after we were seated.
When the pizza arrived it was well worth the wait. We ordered a medium which was plenty for the three of us. The pizza base was a similar thickness to what we get back in Melbourne, but the toppings were about an inch thick! The actual pizza is made in a pan of similar height to a pie dish. There was a layer of spinach covered in a thick layer of cheese, topped with sausage, mushrooms, tomato and some dried parmesan cheese. It was delicious! We were eyeing off the dessert menu while we waited, but after having two slices of pizza there was no way we could fit it in. We’ll have to find somewhere else for massive choc chip cookie sundaes (something I don’t think will be too hard to find).
After dinner we went for a walk to explore Michigan Avenue. Being mostly shops and department stores, a lot of it was closed. Didn’t matter too much though because it was nice to go for a walk and get a feel for the area. (We’re going back this afternoon to visit the Hancock Center and have a look at some of the shops.) From there we found a place called Red Head’s Piano Bar just around the corner from our hotel. We stopped in for half an hour before making our way back to the hotel. It was a really cool place. It was mostly filled with office workers who were enjoying Friday night drinks, with the main attraction being a guy playing a piano and taking requests for songs. It was a lot of fun, with everyone singing along to songs like American Pie and Piano Man. I’m glad we went to check it out.
So far today has been very busy. We had a bit of a sleep in which was needed after a week of early starts for training. Our room includes a buffet breakfast, so went went downstairs for that at 9.30 and started making plans for the rest of the day.
First stop was an architecture boat cruise tour. A couple of friends had recommended this so we were pretty keen. Jess was meeting up with a friend for the day, so Julie and I walked to the river planning to buy tickets for the 12pm tour with the Chicago Architectural Foundation. Unfortunately for the Foundation their Google map link led us to the wrong side of the river and we ended up getting tickets with another group called Shoreline. There are actually several groups that operate tours there and since they all go along the same stretch of river it didn’t really make a difference to us.
The tour went for about an hour and was really interesting. Our guide, Heather, started off telling us some history of Chicago then told us facts about most of the buildings we went past. It’s really good to have a guide for something like this because there a lot of things you wouldn’t notice otherwise, and interesting little stories behind each of the buildings.
As we were pulling out of the dock, one of the bridges opened up to allow some sailing boats through. Boom gates closed to stop the cars and pedestrians, and one half of the bridge was raised. Heather told us it only happens twice a week, so we were quite lucky to see it. Not only did we see it, but our boat went under the bridge while it was being raised! A bit of water drained off and almost showered on us, and it was really exciting.
The rest of the cruise was interesting though, and we saw a mixture of old and new buildings in all sorts of styles.
At the end of the tour we were quite cold. It was pretty windy on the boat, and we’re only heading for a top of about 15 degrees today. We found a Starbucks and stopped there for a coffee. The small size here is called “tall” and skinny is “low fat” so ordering led to some confusion. I got a breakfast bun as well, which was some type of cinnamon scroll – very yum! We made use of the free Wifi there and checked out some details for the rest of the afternoon.
From there we walked further south down Michigan Avenue, heading for Millennium Park. The walk was only about 5 minutes. We checked out the Cloud Gate (“The Bean”) and amphitheatre, and also the Crown Fountain. The Bean was pretty cool, making some weird reflections. I think we’re going to head back that way tonight to check it out with the city lights. There’s also a fountain there that lights up at night and I’m pretty keen to see that.
After exploring the park we made our way into the main CBD, known as The Loop. We stopped at a T-Mobile store and bought local SIM cards ($70 for a month of unlimited local calls, text and data!) then headed to Macy’s looking for a Mexican restaurant we discovered online with our new SIMs. We wandered through the shopping centre up to the seventh floor where we found the food court. I had a really yummy pulled pork taco. Super tender and delicious, and great value at $8 for two.
After lunch we were heading back up Michigan Avenue to visit the Hancock Center where there are free views from the 96th floor if you buy a drink, but it started raining lightly so we’ve stopped off at the hotel and are going to head out again at 5pm (about another 20 minutes from now).