Chicago with Manya

Agent Name: Manya
May 2012
Trip Location: Chicago

Rotation of MPOverall Trip Impression: If you haven’t yet been to Chicago, pack your bags and go! You’ll be in for a very pleasant surprise. Gone the days of gritty landscapes, prohibition and gangsters! The Windy City as it is affectionately known is all about culture, architecture, quaint neighbourhoods and “all that jazz”.

United Airlines and Westjet offer several 4 hour non stop flights from Vancouver. And if you travel light, within minutes you could find yourself on the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) Blue line to the Loop! For only $2.25, you can get to downtown in less than 50 minutes. My hotel happened to be a couple blocks from the Lake and State station, in the heart of the city.

Staying at theWit, a Doubletree hotel operated by Hilton, offers all the amenities of a well run business and leisure hotel. My very spacious Spa Junior Suite came with a king size bed, a lounging chair, a pull-out sofa, a full kitchen and a very large bathroom. The floor to ceiling windows offered stunning views of the city. The extra space was very welcome as I was travelling with a friend. We each had our own private corner to read or watch TV in the evening. The Lounge Bar on the roof top is very popular with the locals, and is very busy every night. The only disadvantage is the music, played at the highest decibel, and could be heard and “felt” in our room, several floors below.

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My self-guided tour of the city started with a stop at the Chicago Cultural Centre at the corner of Washington and Randolph Streets, steps away from Millennium Park. The impressive building was formerly the Chicago Public Library, built around 1834. It is home to 2 stunning glass dome ceilings, one of which is the largest Tiffany glass dome in the world. When you first walk in you can’t miss the gleaming Carrara marble throughout the entire building. On the 2nd floor, there are more stained glass doors and windows. The Civil War Memorial on the 2nd floor should not be missed.

From there, I took a leisurely walk down Michigan Avenue, known as the Magnificent Mile, with its wide sidewalks lined with boxes of vibrant tulips in celebration of spring, its high-end boutiques and some the most famous landmark buildings such as the Wrigley, The Tribune, Water Tower and more. The late afternoon sunlight cast a warm golden glow on the whole city, making the river sparkle and my heart flutter! I had fallen in love with Chicago right there and then.

The next day was a mad dash to see as many museums as possible. With the NATO conference starting the very next day, all the downtown attractions were closing down for security reasons. Although short, my visit of the Art Institute of Chicago was very rewarding. It

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has one of the largest collections of Impressionist in the world (2nd after Paris) as well as some works from great American artists, the likes of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Not be missed is the impressive Marc Chagall’s “America Windows”, an impressive 6 panel stained glass windows in the lower east wing of the Modern wing building: a gift from the master to the City of Chicago. The other museum visited on this day was the Field and History Museum at the far end of Grant Park, about 30 minute walk from the Art Institute. It is home to “Sue”, the largest and best preserved Tyrannosaurus ever discovered. Although not a fan of dinosaurs myself, I was very impressed by her size and the sheer beauty of her new home.

The weather was a balmy 28C on most days with clear skies – perfect weather to explore the areas that define the many social and cultural aspects of Chicago. Not to be missed is Oak Park, an affluent neighbourhood about 20 minute train ride west of downtown. There you will find beautiful homes most of them designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, circa 1900, when he first settled in the city. His house and studio are open to the public and I highly recommend spending the extra time to explore the adjacent streets. And like me, you will stumble upon the lovely house where Ernest Hemingway was born.

Another must-do on your list, is to spend 90 minutes cruising along the Chicago River. The famous Chicago Skyline with landmarks such as the Willis Tower ( formerly Sears Tower), the old post office, the University of Chicago will enfold as you cruise up the river. There are more than 30 plus moveable steel bridges crisscrossing the river, and as

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Other places of interests are the Millennium Park, with its outdoor concert stage, state of the art sculptures, water fountains, beautiful landscaping: it is truly a spectacular gathering place for visitors and locals alike. A little further away, you’ll find Grant Park, where in 2008 Barack Obama delivered a memorable speech after he won the presidential elections. If you like music, you won’t be disappointed. Jazz and blues bars abound, and open late in the night. I was lucky to get the last 2 tickets for Bonnie Rait who performed at the celebrated Chicago Theatre, just across the street from my hotel.

Chicago is a beautiful city to be discovered on foot or rent a bike and cycle along the shores of Lake Michigan. If you prefer public transportation, the CTA is very efficient and very inexpensive. A 3 day pass will only cost about $10.00 and will give you unlimited travel within the greater Chicago area. You must also try the deep dish pizza – one of the Chicago culinary delights if you want to call it that – the dough is made with flour and ground beef – very, very filling!!

Travel Tips: To avoid line ups, book a “GO Chicago Card”, for access to hundreds of attractions, such as Museums, river cruises, Planetarium and more. Another recommendation is to buy a Chicago Transit Authority rail passes. Available at any convenient stores or pharmacies, they come in 1, 3 or 7 day units, for unlimited travel on rail and bus system in Greater Chicago area.

And oh, by the way, it is called the 2nd City because of its rebirth after the great fire that destroy it, and also the windy city (not at all because it’s windy – although it can be sometimes) but for another reason. Can you guess why?