CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #11: CAPTIVATING CHICAGO, PART 1

“Be careful in Chicago; there is so much crime!”  “Don’t go out at night in Chicago, even in the tourist areas!”  These were the warnings I received from a couple of acquaintances who used to live in Chicago.  I had heard it all before.  Chicago’s crime was all over the news, and it had gotten much worse since I visited the city with my best friend, in 2012.  Those warnings, however, weren’t going to stop me and Bruce from seeing U.S.A.’s third largest city together, and this was the perfect opportunity—at the end of our cruise, before flying home. 

During our three days in downtown, we took the necessary common-sense precautions, walked all over downtown, and thoroughly enjoyed it!

For a good overview to begin our stay, we used our on-board credit and took a city tour that was offered through American Queen Voyages, the company we had cruised the Great Lakes with during the previous two weeks.  On our final day, we did an architecture river cruise to learn about the skyscrapers that lined the Chicago River.  Both tours were excellent!

What most impressed us about Chicago was how clean and beautiful the downtown city center was everywhere we walked.  The city is situated along Lake Michigan, and the city planners did a fabulous job lining the waterfront with attractive parks that offered great vantage points of the amazing skyline.

There is so much I could write about Chicago, but I will let my pictures tell the story instead. (To view them larger, click on the photos.)  Here, then is Part 1:

Navy Pier
View from the end of Navy Pier
Buckingham Fountain

Scenes from Millenium Park:

Cloud Gate, aka “The Bean”
That’s us at the bottom, center, looking up at the sculpture

It was fun watching the faces change on Crown Fountain, and then “spit” water every ten minutes. The kids loved it! What a great way to cool off during the hot, humid summers.

Chicago hosts the Millenium Park Summer Music Series at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion for free!

Jay Pritzker Pavilion

We stayed on the 14th floor at the Warwick Allerton Hotel, on North Michigan Avenue. This (right) was our (zoomed in) view of Michigan Avenue from our room, including this gorgeous bird! Yes, it was real! I was able to photograph it by sticking my camera out the window that opened up just enough to fit my hand and camera through. Our room was on a corner, so it required a bit of maneuvering and guess work to angle my camera, hold it steady, and snap these shots!

The largest Starbucks in the world was located a block away. People actually line up around the corner to get in! We don’t drink coffee, and we aren’t Starbucks fans, but we thought it was worth a look inside when we happened to walk by when there was no line.

The planters along Michigan Avenue and neighboring streets were fabulous! They added such a beautiful element to soften the appearance of all the steel and concrete of the city.

Some of the buildings featured interesting artwork on their exteriors:

Although we thoroughly enjoyed our vegetarian deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s during our pre-cruise Chicago visit, we decided to try Giordano’s stuffed vegetarian deep dish pizza for comparison (see below). Lou Malnati’s crust wins the contest; however, Giordano’s wins for everything else! We loved their sauce and stuffed pizza! Want to make your mouth water? Click on the pizza photo to see it larger!

Now, for dessert. Kind Snacks is on their “Frozen Summer Tour,” and we were lucky enough to see them– twice! First, we saw the truck at the park at the foot of Navy Pier, and they were handing out free samples of their DELICIOUS frozen bars. They were eager to give you as many as you wanted, so we went back for seconds. 😀 The next day, they were on Michigan Avenue near the Chicago River! They would have given us an entire box if we wanted! The sample lady was eager to empty their coolers and call it a day. We ended up tasting one each of three different flavors and made pigs of ourselves. Damn, those things are good!

A window display on Michigan Avenue, better known as the “Magnificent Mile.”

Next up: Cruising the Great Lakes #12: Captivating Chicago, Part 2

Have You Been to “The Bean”?

After disembarking the architectural tour boat, I couldn’t wait to get over to Millennium Park to see Cloud Gate; affectionately known as “The Bean”.  The stroll through downtown was lovely, but my heart skipped a beat when I saw a thick stand of trees, just up ahead.  We were almost there and I couldn’t wait to get my camera out and start clicking away…

Cloud Gate, a huge bean-shaped stainless steel sculpture, designed by Anish Kapoor, was constructed between 2004 and 2006.  It is the centerpiece of Millennium Park; Chicago’s largest rooftop garden that takes up 24 acres of Grant Park.  Millennium Park is a 24-acre rooftop garden, you ask?  Well, yes, because it sits atop a parking garage and the commuter rail.  What an amazing use of public space!  And, it has become Chicago’s second-most favored attraction, after Navy Pier.

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I could have easily stayed at The Bean all afternoon and into the evening, thinking of various other ways to photograph that magnificent sculpture.  I could only imagine what fun it would have been capturing the city lights, at night!  But, I tore myself away, so Laura could show me the park’s fountain.  WOW!  How cool is this?

Crown Fountain is a video sculpture named in honor of Chicago’s Crown family and designed by Jaume Plensa.  The fountain is composed of a black granite reflecting pool placed between two transparent glass brick towers that use light-emitting diodes behind the bricks to display digital videos.

Other highlights of the park include Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the most amazing band shell I have ever seen:

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Lurie Garden was a lovely addition to Millennium Park.  The 2.5-acre public garden is a combination of perennials, bulbs, grasses, shrubs and trees.  It is the featured natural component of the world’s largest green roof.

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After strolling through the garden, we ended our day at The Art Institute.  Stop by shortly for highlights of the exhibits we enjoyed , before wrapping up the evening with dinner at Frontera Grill!