Sunday, August 27, 2000 - Chicago, Illinois

I had a troubled sleep last night, don't know why but I barely managed 8 hours, tossing and turning a fair amount. I guess I had a lot on my mind because I have not really looked into what I will do in Chicago before I got here. Today I am really planning to get familiar with the city and decide what I will be doing over the next few weeks.

Taking care of some business after I got up (including checking my e- mail – a necessity for me, otherwise it will pile up very quickly over a few days) I am still working on a few days when I am here where I do not have a hotel to stay at (perhaps a comfortable park bench…?).

I began the day by heading south from Ontario Avenue (where my hotel is) down Michigan Avenue, passing by the impressive Wrigley building and the Tribune tower (home of the newspaper). I caught a trip on a very popular (it seemed) boat tour. I figured this would be a great way to see a city that has so much water around, and through, it. We started out by heading out the Chicago River out into Lake Michigan, passing beneath a few of the metal girder cantilevering bridges before we reached the locks that lead out onto the lake. It was interesting to hear that the lock was put into place to prevent water from the Chicago River entering into the lake due to extreme polluting of the river in the past (they reversed the flow of the river so that any pollution was sent “upstream” (now “downstream”) to other cities instead of into the lake). The lock is also free, which was surprising as well. After leaving the lock we passed by Navy Pier which is now essentially a bit amusement park and shopping area – reminded me a lot of the Palace Pier in Brighton (England) but a lot nicer and more up-scale, but the same principal of a long pier with all sorts of stuff on it, including amusement rides etc.

We continued out, still within the harbour area, heading north briefly then south to just past Grant Park, seeing the wonderful fountain in the middle and also catching a glimpse of the Field Museum and Aquarium there before heading back through the lock once again and into the river area. We continued along the river, passing the massive Merchandise Mart which is the largest building of it's kind in the world (save the Pentagon) with massive amounts of floor space though only 10-12 stories – which is nothing compared to the other buildings around here. Chicago is really a place of architecture with the very new and very old (by North American standards) side by side – all competing to be very large and/or tall, or so it seems. Massive differences in style with the neo-classical Wrigley building side by side with the futuristic Marina City (a tall cylinder-style building with a cork-screw like parking arcade leading up the first 10-12 floors - the cars parked along the perimeter of the building - very strange).

Merchandise Mart from the River

On the river we passed by the train station - which it is interesting to note has leased the “air space” above it to buildings who build on stilts above the station - very odd situation. Opposite the river is the massive Civic Opera House which, evidently, was built by this millionaire who was so disappointed his (untalented, evidently) wife never got a job at an opera house he built his own. It is oddly shaped - like a chair (facing west so, evidently, the ghost of the designer can sit there and watch the sun setting every day).

View of Buildings from the River

We returned back to the pier and I crossed across the river and then caught a trolley tour - now I had seen the city from the water I wanted to see it from the streets - areas I could not see from the boat - close up also. The “trolley” is not much more than a glorified mini-bus done up in wood to look like a trolley - it is even an automatic transmission! Anyway, the guide who seems to want to be a singer (though want and actually “being” are two different things!), first stopped at the House of Blues - pointing out the Blue Brother's car parked nearby (of course, that is one of the famous things about Chicago - featuring in the famous movie, especially during the final car chase through the middle of the city - saw the street as well!).

We passed by the Civic Opera House and the Sear's tower which is just around the corner – a truly magnificent sight, VERY high, so high that they cannot get cleaners to clean the outside so they use robotic cleaning equipment (!). We passed through the center of downtown, beneath the “Loop” which is a strange sight - a loop of train tracks suspended above many of the streets instead of at street level or below (as in “Underground” though I must think that with the water table being what it is it would be difficult to put a subway system in here). The streets are also pretty strange with Wacker Drive (North, South, East and West) also has, in one place, an upper, lower and lower-lower portion to it (three decks, all Wacker drive, at one place right by the river). Must make driving interesting…

We passed by Grant Park, stopping at the Field Museum briefly before continuing north again, passing over the river and north along the “Magnificent Mile” which is a whole series of wonderful older buildings (and expensive restaurants). We caused a bit of a traffic jam at Navy Pier (upsetting a few cabbies) but otherwise, the trip was quite enjoyable.

I stayed on board at the end of the tour (it is a “hop-on, hop-off” affair where you can do so as often as you want with the ticket I have) and continued back to Sear's Tower. This morning it had been pretty smoggy when on the lake and it had cleared by the time we had finished our trolley tour so I decided I should take advantage of it and get up the Sears tower while I could. The number of people was quite impressive and it took a bit of time to get onto the elevators - paying a lot of money but also seeing a bit of a video presentation about what it is all about and a bit about Chicago as well. The trip to the top, 103 floors up, was quite quick only about 20-30 seconds, all told. Had trouble with my ears popping as we went up, with the carriage of the elevator rocking back and forth slightly (and scraping and groaning as they do).

The doors opened to see a lot more people but tremendous views. Evidently on clear days you can see four states but it was definitely not all that clear, to my disappointment. You could see a lot of Chicago though, I was able to understand the layout of the city a lot better and I managed to read a bit about the history of the city with the little exhibit they had up there also. The whole area is a floor at the top of the tower and is totally enclosed. You cannot even walk down - only in an emergency evidently. I enjoyed the view for a few minutes before finally joining the queue to return back down (I am used to queuing now after living in the UK for some time now).

Downtown from the top of the Sears Tower

Harbour area from the top of the Sears Tower

I was a bit upset about the fact that they forced all visitors to get their pictures taken before you were allowed to queue for tickets for the tower. I am really upset that they do not give you the option of opting out of this. They say there is no obligation and at the end of the tour you are able to purchase the picture if you like it (no, I did not!). The ethics of such an approach really does make me wonder. In London they do the same thing at the London Dungeon and it bothered me there as well - If I want a picture, I will get it taken, I don't like this idea of you MUST have your picture taken.

Sears Tower

From the tower I walked north on Wells street to a restaurant I had heard of during the day that looked pretty good - selling seafood but specializing in crabs. It was quite a walk (a few blocks past Ontario - where my hotel is). The restaurant was very good, very relaxed and informal but with really good food (ignoring the fact that much of the seafood, as seems to be typical in American restaurants, is deep fried or heavily fried) and the crab was REALLY quite good.

The Library - Impressive Architecture

That's it for my day today. I am taking it pretty easy now as I know the next few days will be quite busy. Besides, it is Sunday, aren't you supposed to relax on Sunday?

⇒ Continue to Monday, August 28, 2000 - Chicago, Illinois