Jazzy blues in the "Windy City" of Chi-town!

Trip Start Aug 22, 2011
Trip End Feb 13, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Illinois
Sunday, January 29, 2012

We made it to the ‘Windy City’ on Sunday evening after a 3-hour flight from ‘Vegas‘ to ‘O’Hare,’ and 2 CTA trains to our hotel in downtown Chicago. Now in the state of Illinois we lost 2-hours of our day and were welcomed into the city with minus conditions (a.k.a. ridiculously freezing). Our Holiday Inn (‘Hotel Cass‘) was located just outside of the ‘Loop,’ near to the Hard Rock and Rainforest Café, next to Bloomingdales, and opposite Starbucks. Now that’s a bit special. 
As we no longer have our little Chevy and didn’t fancy walking around for 3-days in the sub-zero conditions we bought a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket for the ‘Chicago Trolly’ to see the sights. The city of Chicago, situated on the shores of ’Lake Michigan,’ really does have a lot going for it despite the fire in 1871 which destroyed 18,000 of its buildings.
It has one of the most magnificent skylines I have ever seen; more Irish pubs than Ireland; beautiful parks; excellent museums; and of course, the live music and food. Chicago is mostly famous for it’s jazz and blues scene, and it’s deep-dish pizza. Both of which are truly fabulous. It’s also the city where Ernest Hemingway was born and raised, and where the likes of Al Capone used to gangster-it-up during the Prohibition. Awesome.
The ‘Chicago River’ cuts through the core of downtown and separates the financial district from the shopping/entertainment districts, and ‘the Loop’ (elevated tracks of the CTA “L” trains) encircles compact downtown. The layout of the city makes it simple to get your bearings and is aided by its excellent public transport system (and those who know me often laugh at my directional sense!)
Our first stop was at the quarter-of-a-mile-high ‘Willis Tower’ which is the fourth tallest building in the world. Quite daunting to step out onto the glass ‘Skydeck Ledge’ when you’re 103-floors/1468ft up but the panoramic views were unforgettable. Further north we also saw the ‘John Hancock Observatory,’ over 300ft shorter than the Willis Tower, but still rather impressive. 
We wandered past the world-famous ‘Chicago Symphony Centre,’ and into the ‘Art Institution of Chicago,’ the 2nd largest fine art institute in the country and ranks as one of the best in the world. Through the oasis of ‘Grant Park’ with it’s many squirrels running around your feet; imposing sculptures and statues; and ‘Buckingham Fountain.’ Jazz festivals are held here in the Summer which would be very cool to attend if we ever return in warmer climates.
Into the adjacent and well-known ‘Millennium Park’ with the huge open-air steel ‘Jay Pritzker Pavilion’ and the infamous ‘Cloud Gate’ sculpture (a.k.a. THE BEAN!) It is an inspiring and stunning stainless-steel sculpture of a gigantic jellybean that reflects the city’s skyline beautifully. I couldn’t quite decide if it was a bizarre design or artistic genius. 
Adjoined to the park is a big outdoor ice-skating rink which provided a hilarious hour of entertainment on our first evening. Dave has never ice-skated before so he was rightly cautious and holding onto the barriers. Myself, on the other hand, had a bit too much confidence and I was attempting to skate backwards before I could barely stand-up. Needless to say I have a few bruises… well worth it though, we had a blast! 
We explored the ‘Financial District’ where more money exchanges hands than anywhere else in the world, and has also been the set for countless movies - Batman Begins, Transformers 3, Home Alone: Lost in New York (strange). We wandered the streets of the glamorous ‘Chicago Theatre District’ with lit-up ‘Goodman Theatre’ amongst others, and sculptures by Picasso and Miro. Nearby ‘City Hall’ is a perfectly stunning example of Chicago’s downtown gothic-style architecture.
We visited the ‘Soldier Field’ where ‘Chicago Bears’ play (football), and the ‘United Centre’ where the ‘Chicago Bulls’ (basketball) and ‘Blackhawks’ play (ice-hockey). Shopped on ‘Michigan Avenue’ a.k.a. the ‘Miracle Mile,’ which is similar to ‘King Street’ in Manchester but longer and prettier! Ate free chocolate bars from ‘Hersheys,’ along with loads of other Chicago-land treats - hot-dogs, pizza, pasta, cheesecake (not all in one day and I'm sure they were made with healthy ingredients!)
One of my ultimate highlights was listening to a live blues set at one of the best blues clubs in town - ‘Blue Chicago.’ It was just as you’d imagine it, a dim authentic blues bar with an amazing sound and cheap cocktails. Brilliant night. Another was the exceptional ‘Field Museum of National History’ where we spent an interesting afternoon wandering around the huge 3-floor exhibition. It included exhibits ranging from “Sue” the largest, most complex T.Rex fossil every found, to tombs inside Ancient Egypt, and the Evolving Planet, to Mammals of Asia. My favourite was the North American Indians exhibit (one pair of boots displayed that women used to wear were fabulous).
On our last day in Chicago we drove past ‘Lake Michigan’ and several yacht clubs to ‘Navy Pier.’ The pier is 1.5-miles-long and was named after when the Navy trained here during WWII. It holds countless shops, restaurants, an IMAX theatre, a 15-story Ferris Wheel (originally invented in Chicago), and is a great place to spend a few hours (and dollars!) We were asked by a television crew to be interviewed there as well which was exciting..!
We ate lunch in the sweet ‘Lookingglass Theatre’ back in the shopping district and visited the gothic-stone castle that is the ‘Historic Water Tower.’ Built in 1869 it’s one of the few buildings that survived the great fire. Close-by is the lovely-looking ‘Museum of Contemporary Art’ that Dave “accidentally” forgot we were supposed to be looking round. Hmph. 
Finally, further south and closer to home we walked past the expensive ‘Trump Tower’ to ‘Michigan Avenue Bridge’ with the overlooking ‘Chicago Tribune’ building, ‘Wrigley Tower,’ and ‘Marilyn Monroe’ sculpture. The area along ‘Chicago River’ is beautiful and the bridge gives dramatic views along its banks.
All in all - amazing food, shopping, architecture, sports, music, and overall vibe - 2 thumbs up for Chi-town!
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