So, like the cost cutting, penny pinching Brit that I am, I can’t fly through a city without hopping out and having a look while I’m there, ticking it off my list so I don’t need to fly back again. More destinations for that flight price makes sense to me. And so, I found myself in Chicago.
I didn’t know much about Chicago (and still don’t if I’m being honest) so a quick google of the best bits to see, a few pins on the map and I was as set as I needed. There’s an HI hostel there, so that gave me a good base, and actually worked out being the best thing that happened to me, but more on that later.
I land, take the train and check in, then start my wandering through the city. Heading North up Michigan Ave takes you straight past Grant Park and up into the heart of the city. There’s some pretty interesting architecture along the way, obviously very European influenced, but with a bit more of a French twist. Huge towers and typical imposing bank buildings line the street, with a fair variety of shops and restaurants etc. I kept heading up what is known as the ‘Magnificent Mile‘ until I reached the imposing John Hancock Centre, which happens to have the 360 Chicago observation deck inside. After some cheeky googling about which of the two obs decks to choose from, I decided that the JH building was better value, and heading on up, vertically.
It’s well worth it actually, giving you a nice idea of how the city is constructed on the lake, a good view of the downtown area and of course the never ending sprawl that comes with North American cities. There’s some good info about the city, and the John Hancock building as well, nicely presented and pretty interesting, a little cafe and a gift shop of course, but it also has an odd little add-on. It’s a section of wall that tilts outwards, allowing you to look directly down the side of the building. Kinda cool, but I didn’t go for it, a bit to pricey for a 3 minute gimmick, but perhaps if you were scared of heights it might give you a bit more of a rush. The other tower has something similar, but I read that the queues were too long to make it worth while.
The route back home took me around the shoreline to the Navy Pier, a mini theme park and entertainment area. There’s some really nice spaces, the conservatory with the funky fountains is definitely cool, but overall it felt a little underwhelming – like there’s a lack of focus leaving it a bit lost in what it wants to be. Still, worth a stroll, and the views back towards the city are pretty cool. Speaking of back to the city, that’s where I went next, wandering vaguely back towards Grant Park and the hostel. There’s some very cool industrial architecture between the downtown and the lake, multi layered bridges, exposed under-passes and all the infrastructure needed to get a cities worth of cars through and into the center. It’s fascinating how much is needed for what feels like a fairly small central area, but with a population of 2.7 million they certainly have the traffic.
Grant Park is great for a walk, big open grassy areas, a few little gardens, an open air concert area and of course the ‘bean’, officially called the Cloud Gate. If you haven’t seen it, it is quite intriguing, a giant mirrored bean shape sitting in the park, reflecting all around. It was cloudy the day I was there so the grey city and grey sky didn’t pop out so much, so what I liked much more was the little area underneath. The sculpture rises up in a way that is impossible to figure out due to the constant reflections, and it’s the reflections that make it so interesting, depending on where you stand, you’ll get infinite repeats of yourself (which may be the best or worst depending on your self-esteem) or some weird effects. Pretty cool either way.