Two Days in Chicago

We took a trip Stateside back in July 2015 to visit some good pals. Never ones to miss an opportunity, we opted for a short stay in Chicago. This is my two-day adventure with Hubby and my stepdaughter; who I’m going to call Eddie; the icon from one of her favourite bands. At this point I was still fairly new to blogging, just dropping some reflections for my Facebook pals.

Day One

I definitely didn’t leave my heart in San Francisco last year, but I think I may leave it in Chicago. This city has a great atmosphere and the tone of the holiday was set right from the get-go (like my US lingo?). It was a smooth ride through immigration last night (thank god for the new automatic global entry machines) and then a miracle happened. For the first time ever, Hubby and I drove straight to the hotel without wrong turn or incident (and without the police stopping us – see more about that in my Route 66 blog!). Our hotel is the Raffaelo, a converted nurse’s home with an Art Deco feel. I’m going to go for Shabby Chic as its main label. It has a doughnut shop in the lobby – need I say more?

This first morning I parted ways with Hubby and Eddie who had a daddy/daughter day planned for themselves (more on that later). I chose the Chicago Art Institute as the perfect way to go solo, and this worked like textbook with the serenity and stillness of the gallery acting as a well-suited tonic to cure the recent work stresses. The Institute is home to works by all the usual suspects like Monet (some of the Water Lilies), Warhol, Picasso, van Gogh, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Dali. And it’s also well known for Grant Wood’s American Gothic. But the standout moment for me was by far Georges Seurat ‘A Sunday on La Grande’. I just hadn’t realised quite how big it would be, how it would be set on its own, standing apart from the rest. How it would pop from the bright white background, how the painting was actually a whole host of dots. But mostly how it would remind me of a painting I was gifted after the death of Gang-gang (my maternal grandmother) and how evocative that memory would be. If you get to visit, then I have three tips, two apply to all art galleries. First tip is to go bold and go on your own, it’s so much more powerful without narration from someone you know. Second tip, get company from the audio guide. You’ll be surprised at how much you learn, and you can just pick the areas you want to use it. As a side bar, when I visited Musee de l”Orangerie many moons ago, it wouldn’t have been quite the same experience if the museum hadn’t provided classical music as my audio backdrop. Third and final tip, take time to have lunch in the Terzo Piano (if you can find it). It’s a beautiful setting for a glass of wine with a backdrop of Chicago architecture. Although I advise you to bring a jumper – they like to keep their patron’s white wine chilled! I finished with the compulsory exit through the gift shop (and boy it’s a great gift shop for art fans).

Needing to kill some time before meeting up with Hubby and Eddie, I wandered across the bridge into Millennium Park. It wasn’t hard to find The Bean. It’s just as good as it looks in the movies, set with skyscrapers peeping out behind it, including the “toilet” that is Trump Towers (I love borrowing Billy Connolly’s description here). I found the park theatre and watched the warm up of the park concert for a wee while, before drifting a little more, eventually finding the big white head (it probably has a better name).

Meanwhile back to Hubby and Eddie who had a similarly educational experience and can converse fluidly on the modernist founding of the deep crust via a Chicago Pizza Tour. With this part I’m like you, living vicariously through their experience. There were four pizza joints of which they can only remember the first and last name (a pizza coma happed as some point). They started at Pizano’s, claiming home to the Chicago deep dish. They sampled a Tomato and garlic deep dish (Hubby’s favourite) and a thin crust pepperoni for good measure. Then on to the next place for a date with an Italian spicy beef spicy (Eddie’s favourite), a polish sausage pizza and finally a S’mores pizza (that’s chocolate and marshmallow for the British reader). Next stop was a deep crust pizza with a speciality burnt cheese crust (no jokes!) and spicy sausage. If you think that sounds OTT they then finished at “Piece” for one final sample. Four hours later the memorable fact from the tour was simply that Grant Park has 200 statues but not one of President Grant himself! Having sickened themselves of Pizza, they took some exercise and got themselves across to Sears tower where Hubby and Eddie tried out the ledge on the Sky Deck. It was, by all accounts, a little nerve-racking. I meanwhile unsuccessfully sought out Al Capone’s speakeasy via a river walk (which I recommend for getting away from the Hustle and Bustle). I managed to stumble on the Wrigley building and the Tribune on the way (great view upwards from the river). Chicago has spent an amazing amount cleaning up the riverside areas, to make them safe and accessible and it makes such a great expanse of interesting walkway.

Our evening was spent at Joes Seafood and Steak house with a movie feel to it. If you go make sure Frank is your waiter. It was my first introduction to fried green tomatoes, which I only ordered because of the film title. There was a tonne of food, fitting the stereotype of the American portion. It was one of those places where you are full after your starter. But despite having had enough calories for a week Pete still managed to stop at the Cheesecake Factory afterwards, keeping it simple with the Original.

Day Two

We were up and out early, kicking the day off at the Bean, which Grace and Pete were yet to see. Followed by a stroll up to the Magnificent Mile where we could take a closer look at the Wrigley Building (which shimmers at the top because of the various shades of enamel used) and then on to the Tribune Tower. Amongst other things The Tribune is known for the 200 rock pieces embedded in its walls from other buildings. You really had to wonder how McCormick acquired some of them. For example, there’s a stone face from the Houses of Parliament. How on earth did he get that? 

Our next stop was Navy Pier which juts into Lake Michigan, which does a good job of fooling your senses with its seaside feel. It has the Ferris Wheel, the expansive and neat as a button boardwalks, restaurants and bars. We took a stroll down the pier, a bite to eat and then the architecture boat trip which was a top recommendation. This gave us another perspective on the high rises and an interesting take on the city’s history. I don’t know if it was the bright beautiful day, the glimmering water, the light bouncing off the skyscrapers. It was glorious.