I had a brief visit to Chicago many years ago and was impressed with its cleanliness and openness as a city. I mistakenly thought, following the Al Capone story, that Chicago might be a tough and sleazy place. Far from it; in fact it is just the opposite and now that I am here for a second time, it has reinforced itself as being very comfortable place to me.
We arrived here on Tuesday afternoon after a 21 hour trip direct from Melbourne. Our hotel, The Fairmont, is very nice, and central to the heart of the city. We managed to keep our eyes open until a reasonable hour to get time adjusted and then slept soundly until the next morning.
As in other cities, we have found that the hop-on hop-off bus is a good way to see the main sights in a short space of time. This is also true of Chicago, where a ticket provides a three day pass to fourteen of the major highlights of the city. We started off the day on Thursday doing a full circuit which took about 90 minutes, and then decided on some places to stop off and visit. It was quite warm and we were happy to stop off in the relatively newly refurbished Millennium Park for lunch and a beer. We then hopped back onto the bus and travelled about half way around the route to the John Hancock Building where we visited the observatory on the 94th floor.
I had been to this same building on my previous trip, but the weather then wasn’t as clear. This time, we had a great view along the lake and to the west towards the airport. Some of this area would be familiar to fans of Microsoft Flight Simulator, because that program always opened with a takeoff from Mieg’s Field which is situated on a promontory into Lake Michigan. You would take off, flying over the Adler Panetarium and do a circuit of the city and it’s tall buildings, then land again into the north. Mieg’s Field was closed a long time ago, but the control tower still exists.
We walked back to our hotel along Michigan Avenue with its mile long length of designer shops and big name stores. Im surprised at how many people that we have spoken to, that the store in which they spend most of their money is the Apple Store. As we reached the Chicago River, we passed the famous Wrigley Building and the ‘cathedral like’ entry to the Chicago Tribune Building.
Today, Friday, we hopped on the bus again to see a number of sites. Our first stop was at the Chicago Art Institute, one of the prestigious galleries of the world. It Is home to a large display of impressionist artists, including six of Monet’s paintings of haystacks. We caught the bus around to Navy Pier, the original version of which was built when Chicago was one of the busiest ports in the world. We planned to stop,off at some other places but we couldn’t get to them as the traffic was severely disrupted by a protest march of striking Illinois school teachers. Coincidentally, they are striking over very similar issues to those currently active in Melbourne – pay,teacher assessment and professional development.
We know that travel provides an education, and I have learnt a number of new things here. I didn’t know that Chicago was the original home of the skyscraper. I had thought that tall building technology originated in New York. Many of Chicago’s early buildings were once the highest buildings in the world (in their day). Few of these exist anymore and most of the tall buildings in this city are quite new. Current buildings such as the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Building are amongst the tallest buildings in the world. It is quite an awe inspiring sight to see window cleaners rappelling down over 50 floors in a bosun’s seat type of device and on a single rope as they clean the windows on these tall buildings.
Chicago carries the nickname of the ‘windy city’. I had assumed that was because the breeze is funnelled strongly down the narrow canyons of streets formed by the skyscrapers. In fact, the name comes form the rather verbose, or ‘windy’ way in which local politicians used to brag about the grandeur of their city, That’s a different meaning of the work entirely.
On a personal level, I’m finding it quite difficult to understand temperatures in Fahrenheit. Although I grew up with the Fahrenheit scale as a kid, I’ve now forgotten the relative measures with the Celsius scale. Thursday here was quite warm at 85 degrees and today, Friday, was much cooler at 62 degrees after a cold front came through this morning. I can cope with miles and gallons, and even remember to check the traffic to the left (other side) before crossing the road. But these differences in measuring temperature totally throw me! I finally found a conversion app on my iPhone which set these temperatures at 29 and 17 degrees respectively.
I’m impressed with the amount of street art in Chicago as well as the number of statues in the extensive network of parks and gardens, Many of the main streets have flower beds along the foot paths are huge hanging baskets on the light poles. They make a very pretty set of street decorations – an idea that I wish we would copy at home in Melbourne.
Sometimes, like our trip to Norfolk Island, we have made the mistake of spending too much time in one place. This is a city, however, in which I could easily spend a lot more time.