Views, Blues and the Pier

I have just left Chicago on my way to New York. We just flew over Lake Michigan and are now over the state of Michigan. I’m in offline mode at the moment so won’t actually post this until I land, but I’m up in the air while I type.

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After my post yesterday we left the hotel and made our way to the Hancock Center. Alison had suggested checking out the view there rather than going to Willis Tower (the tallest building in Chicago, at 110 floors). While Hancock Center is a few floors shorter, it’s not right in the centre of the city so gives a great view of the entire city. In addition, it has a bar on the 96th floor, so rather than buying a ticket for an observation deck you can access the Signature Lounge bar for free and buy a cocktail to enjoy with the view.

We arrived at about 5.30pm and there was a 15 minute queue to go up in the lift. Once on the 96th floor there was another queue for a table. In total it took us about 30 minutes to get a seat, but it was worth it. The way they had set it up with tables rather than an open area was really good because it meant the bar was not too crowded. We didn’t have a seat right at the window but we could still see the view. There were no issues with walking around to take photos either, so we took a couple of pictures while we were there.

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We spent about an hour and a half relaxing there and enjoying the view, then Jess and Julie wanted to do some shopping before dinner so we wandered Michigan Avenue for an hour. There wasn’t anything that really grabbed me, and the prices didn’t seem to be all that cheap, so I didn’t buy anything. Neither did the girls in the end, but we had a nice time browsing.

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For dinner we went to Portillo’s Hot Dogs, a diner around the corner from our hotel. It was a really cool place, with all sorts of old American themed decorations. Similar to Lui Malnetti’s from the previous night, this is also a chain in the US. This one started back in 1963 as a trailer called The Dog House. The diner also had a couple of other food stalls inside, including burgers, pasta and sundaes. I had their standard hot dog, complete with mustard, relish, onions, tomato and pickle. It was delicious! We all shared some fries and onion rings, and I had a frozen custard sundae for dessert (I have a feeling frozen custard is just soft serve ice cream…).

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After dinner we made our way back to Millennium Park to check out the Bean in the dark and catch the light show at the Clarence F Buckingham Memorial Fountain. We went to the fountain first, knowing it was switched off at 11pm. What we didn’t know was that the whole park closes at 11pm, so we didn’t end up seeing the Bean. We got to the fountain 10 minutes before it closed. It was pretty impressive, with orchestral music coordinated with the coloured lights. The fountain itself squirted water almost 10 metres into the air. While we were watching, and as the music built up to its finale, a man nearby got down on one knee and proposed! It was very romantic, and we managed to sneak a quick photo.

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We stayed at the fountain until it switched off, then started walking back to the corner where the Bean is located. Just as we were almost there, a security guard flashed a torched at us and told us the park was closed and we needed to leave immediately. We tried to exit via the Bean but another guard there saw us and yelled across the courtyard for us to go. We managed to catch a glimpse of it through the trees, but didn’t want to risk lingering to get closer.

Earlier in the night we had made plans to meet up with Albert, a guy from Sydney who had been on our training. He was planning to check out Buddy Guy’s Legends, a blues bar, so we joined him. We met up near the Bean, then walked for almost 20 minutes to get there! It was a very long way and we discovered there was a $10 cover charge when we got to the door. After all that walking we weren’t turning back, so we went in, grabbed a beer (I tried a nice local beer called Green Line) and stood at the back to enjoy the band. After a few minutes we managed to get a table for two, and another 15 minutes after that, the whole table was free so the four of us could sit.

The band was great and the music very chilled. They’re very creative, with some of the lyrics ad lib as they go. Each of their songs told a story, and most of them were about their actual lives. Around midnight Buddy Guy himself joined them on stage for a while, and he was awesome. He had a really powerful voice, and there was a lot of emotion in his songs. Really glad we went there, and it was great to actually catch him on stage! We stayed til about 2am then caught a cab back to the hotel. It was only a $15 ride, so definitely worth it to avoid the walk back.

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Today started with breakfast at 10am, followed by packing. I said good bye to the girls at 11am because they were on an earlier flight to New York, then made my way out to explore more of the city. For the last two days I’ve been struggling to get my bearings around the hotel, but Julie has been really good at getting me back on track. So, I managed to walk about 5 blocks in the wrong direction today before I realised I was going the wrong way. After a mile or two more than I had planned, I made it to the Chicago Cultural Centre where there is the world’s largest Tiffany dome. The building itself is beautiful inside, with high ceilings and ornate decorations. The friendly old lady at the information desk explained to me it used to be the main regional library when she was growing up, and pointed me in the direction of the main entrance, and the old reading room featuring the dome.

The dome was very impressive, but the rest of the room was also beautiful. The floors and ceiling were decorated with tiny mosaic tiles, some of them made of a sparkly jewel like stone the glistened in the light. It was definitely worth stopping by for a look!

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The Cultural Centre is across the road from Millennium Park, and since it was so sunny and clear today I decided to visit the park one more time. The Bean looked amazing reflecting the blue sky and buildings. Even the trees and flowers were more brilliant in the sun. Something I’ve noticed about Chicago is its a very clean city with very little litter, and the streets are decorated nicely with tulips, hydrangeas and other colourful flowers. This was particularly noticeable today with the beautiful weather. I also walked over the Nichols Bridgeway which had a lovely view of the lake in one direction, and the city in the other.

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From there I looked up directions to Navy Pier. It was 1.6miles away following a trail along the banks of the lake. The trail was very nice, with runners, cyclists and a few rollerbladers. There were a lot of boats and yachts docked, and some interesting statues and artwork along the path. The walk wasn’t too far, and it was worth it to see another part of Chicago, quite different from the bustling skyscraper lined streets.

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Navy Pier itself was huge, going out about another mile or so into the lake. There are souvenir shops, boat cruises, food stalls, restaurants, a ferris wheel and other rides. I stopped for a burger and beer (another local beer called Honkers) at Harry Caray’s Tavern, named after a baseball commentator, and enjoyed watching the crowds while sitting in the sun. Every now and then the wind would pick up and it would get cold, but for the most part it was ok.

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I wandered the rest of the pier and checked out a stain glass window exhibit featured there. It was interesting to read about the different techniques for creating the glass windows, and seeing them up close. A few other attractions on the pier were closed because I think it’s a bit too early in the year. Once it’s officially summer they have fireworks at night, and there’s a beer garden and ball room which hosts special events.

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By then it was time to start heading back to the hotel and get ready for my flight. The plan was to get a train at about 4pm to arrive with enough time for check in and security. I managed to find the metro station easily enough (thank you Google maps!) and the ticket was only $2.50. The overall trip was about an hour with a connection in the middle. Rather than having a timetable like Melbourne, these trains were running every 7 to 10 minutes which is a really good system.

The train line ended inside the terminals, and I passed through check in and security within an hour. I accidentally left my water bottle in my back pack, and panicked a bit when they held up my bag asking whose it was. Easy enough to throw it out, but I initially had no idea what could be wrong. I grabbed a BBQ pulled pork sandwich for dinner, and the plane left Chicago on time. It looks like we’re actually going to arrive 30 minutes early, which is great. I can see some suburban lights as we start to get lower. I’ve booked the Super Shuttle bus for $15 to get to our apartment. Julie did the same and said it took just over an hour because it was dropping off a few other passenger as well. Fingers crossed everything goes smoothly – I’ll give an update once we’ve started in New York.

Not a lot planned for tomorrow yet, but at 3.30pm we’re doing a walking graffiti tour of Lower Manhattan which should be good.

Time to switch off electronic devices now, so I’ll end my post here. Bye for now!

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Eileen Whitten
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Hi D,

Sounds like you had a wonderful time in Chicago. It looks like a beautiful, interesting city. I love the photos.

Hope New York is good!

Love you

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