A Day In The Windy City – Chicago, Illinois

Chicago is quite simply a stunning city, set off by the Chicago River. The pedestrian friendly design means walking around to see the sights is the best way to experience America's third largest city.

Chicago is quite simply a stunning city, set off by the Chicago River. The pedestrian friendly design means walking around to see the sights is the best way to experience America’s third largest city.

DOING THE LOOP | Darrin Henry

Did you know that Chicago is not the windiest city in the United States? In fact, compared to some other cities it’s not even close.

The world’s first skyscraper was constructed in 1885, 130 years ago – in Chicago.

Chicago and jazz and blues music seems to fit, but did you know the city was the birthplace of house music in the 90s? Fancy that!

Chicago’s Grand Designs

So here we are in fascinating Chicago, Illinois, iconic backdrop for countless films; the architecture, waterways and streets make us feel we are exploring a giant movie set.

First impressions is how beautiful the architecture is looming above us, so much intricate detail in the designs; a mixture of grand stone buildings and of course, the glass and steel skyscrapers.

The spidery fire escapes clinging to the outside of Chicago's sckyscrapers are a feature of the city's forest like architecture. The USA experienced its largest building boom ever in the late 19th century, right here in Chicago, following the Great Chicago Fire. The city's skyline is now one of the world's tallest and most dense.

The spidery fire escapes clinging to the outside of Chicago’s sckyscrapers are a feature of the city’s forest like architecture. The USA experienced its largest building boom ever in the late 19th century, right here in Chicago, following the Great Chicago Fire. The city’s skyline is now one of the world’s tallest and most dense.

The Chicago Tribune Tower (left) and the tall NBC Tower (with the spire) to the right.

The Chicago Tribune Tower (left) and the tall NBC Tower (with the spire) to the right.

Marina City, Chicago, is a residential/commercial twin building complex, each tower 65 storey's high. It's nickname is the 'corn cobs.' Built right on the Chicago River, it attract a lot of attention, especially the bottom 19 floors which are an exposed parking garage that can park up to 896 cars each. The building has appeared in many films and tv shows, including 'The Hunter' starring Steve McQueen in 1980 and the 1985 season premiere of Knight Rider.

Marina City, Chicago, is a residential/commercial twin building complex, each tower 65 storey’s high. It’s nickname is the ‘corn cobs.’ Built right on the Chicago River, it attract a lot of attention, especially the bottom 19 floors which are an exposed parking garage that can park up to 896 cars each. The building has appeared in many films and tv shows, including ‘The Hunter’ starring Steve McQueen in 1980 and the 1985 season premiere of Knight Rider.

There is a constant flow of traffic but best of all, unlike many of the deserted towns and cities we’ve been to on this USA road trip, there are also plenty of pedestrians around; road workers, office workers, street vendors and tourists. Chicago feels like a proper city and it is busy. ‘Bustling’ is a good word to use here.

Narrow alleys barely manage to keep the skyscrapers apart and peering into them I can see the trellises of fire escapes clinging on to the sides of the buildings. If a cops and robbers chase suddenly burst onto the fire escape, I just wouldn’t be surprised! Mind you, it’s a lot higher than it looks in the movies; if it was me being pursued I’d probably just give up rather than climb out there!

Keep Me In The Loop

Overhead a metro train grumbles by; this is the Union Elevated Railway Loop, part of the Loop transportation network. ‘The Loop’ is the commercial centre of Chicago; it includes museums, parks, shops, restaurants, theatres and the seat of Cook county government.

The Loop itself takes its name from either the cable car transportation system or more likely the elevated railway loop which circles around the downtown area. The real origin is debated amongst Chicagoans.

A Loop train passing through downtown Chicago. This elevated railroad system forms the hub of the Chicago 'L' rapid transit system. The Loop circuit itself is 2.88km long; the elevated structure that is in use today was built between 1895-97.

A Loop train passing through downtown Chicago. This elevated railroad system forms the hub of the Chicago ‘L’ rapid transit system. The Loop circuit itself is 2.88km long; the elevated structure that is in use today was built between 1895-97.

The Chicago multi-level road system was developed from traffic patterns in the Loop. Local traffic tends to use the upper, street level roads, while through traffic and delivery and heavy goods vehicles make use of the lower levels.

The Chicago multi-level road system was developed from traffic patterns in the Loop. Local traffic tends to use the upper, street level roads, while through traffic and delivery and heavy goods vehicles make use of the lower levels.

The Union elevated railway loop running overhead, cars and pedestrians below. The Chicago multi-level road system was developed from traffic patterns in the Loop. Local traffic tends to use the upper, street level roads, while through traffic and delivery and heavy goods vehicles make use of the lower levels.

The Union elevated railway loop running overhead, cars and pedestrians below. The Chicago multi-level road system was developed from traffic patterns in the Loop. Local traffic tends to use the upper, street level roads, while through traffic and delivery and heavy goods vehicles make use of the lower levels.

I’m conscious of often referring to the movies in describing different places, but it’s unavoidable; US culture has been exported around the world through its films and the streets of Chicago are as famous as any from the silver screen. Take for instance the double and triple-level streets. How many car chase scenes have we all ‘lived through’ that took place under and over the city’s multi-layer of roadways?

The Jay Pritzker Pavilion

Following our city map we begin by making our way to Millennium Park. A key feature of Chicago are the parks and green space throughout the city. Millennium Park itself as a visitor attraction is just stunning, more than 24 acres in size and part of the larger, Grant Park.

Admission is free giving access to some amazing public art. The Cloud Gate sculpture which we encounter first is simply awesome and a photographic inspiration. If you only see one attraction in Chicago, make sure it’s the Cloud Gate, that’s how brilliant I think it is.

Our first glimpse of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion as we enter Millennium Park.  Grant Park holds Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain (1927), and the Art Institute of Chicago. The park also hosts the annual Taste of Chicago festival.

Our first glimpse of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion as we enter Millennium Park.
Grant Park holds Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain (1927), and the Art Institute of Chicago. The park also hosts the annual Taste of Chicago festival.

The Crown Fountain in Millennium Park, Chicago, is another of the very popular exhibits because of its interaction features. Children love splashing in the large reflecting pool, framed by the two large video display units which spout water every few minutes.

The Crown Fountain in Millennium Park, Chicago, is another of the very popular exhibits because of its interaction features. Children love splashing in the large reflecting pool, framed by the two large video display units which spout water every few minutes.

The Crown Fountain is made up of a black granite reflecting pool placed between a pair of 50ft high video towers. The Crown Fountain cost a reported $17 million to build. The water features are in operation May to October, depending on weather conditions. Crown Fountain recieved a mix reaction from the people of Chicago when it first opened, but has now become a firm favourite with locals and tourists alike.

The Crown Fountain is made up of a black granite reflecting pool placed between a pair of 50ft high video towers. The Crown Fountain cost a reported $17 million to build. The water features are in operation May to October, depending on weather conditions. Crown Fountain recieved a mix reaction from the people of Chicago when it first opened, but has now become a firm favourite with locals and tourists alike.

The Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park was designed by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor. Who knew a mirror could be so much fun! Click Here to check out all our pictures of the Chicago Bean as it is sometimes called.

The Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park was designed by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor. Who knew a mirror could be so much fun! Click Here to check out all our pictures of the Chicago Bean as it is sometimes called.

The Jay Pritzker Pavilion is the centrepiece of Millennium Park. We watched one of the evening films shown on the big screen here. The Pavilion has 4,000 fixed seats, plus capacity for another 7,000 on the lawn behind the main seats. The whole park and facility is free and quite well used.

The Jay Pritzker Pavilion is the centrepiece of Millennium Park. We watched one of the evening films shown on the big screen here. The Pavilion has 4,000 fixed seats, plus capacity for another 7,000 on the lawn behind the main seats. The whole park and facility is free and quite well used.

Then there’s the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a huge open air theatre, which hosts live concerts and can screen movies with a capacity of 11,000! That’s crazy! All those people able to watch a film together. That’s nearly three times as many people as we have on St Helena.

Crown Fountain is an infinity style reflecting pool with giant, water spouting LCD screens at either end providing endless fascination for visiting children. (For us too).

The park also sits atop a parking garage and rail station, which apparently makes it the world’s largest rooftop garden.

Donald Trump and Civilised Protestors

From Millennium Park we wander the streets for a bit, gawking at the stunning buildings and totally behaving like the stereotypical tourists with cameras.

Stopping to have our lunch in a shaded seating area outside Michigan Plaza we suddenly find ourselves with a front row seat as a group of protestors turn up. Holding aloft placards they begin marching around in a circle on the pavement chanting slogans. The leader of the group told me they are protesting against Fox TV over working conditions.

You can tell this must be normal here as no one else takes much notice, except me and Sharon, snapping pictures and trying to chat to the protestors about what they’re doing. It all seems quite civilised actually. Not a policeman in sight.

Outside 225/205 Michigan Plaza where we stopped for lunch, this demonstration suddenly started up.

Outside 225/205 Michigan Plaza where we stopped for lunch, this demonstration suddenly started up.

Trump International Hotel and Tower, Chicago, built and owned by American billionaire, Donald Trump. Just a few weeks before our visit to Chicago, Donald Trump had announced his candidacy for president of the United States, seeking the nomination of the Republican Party. His tower in Chicago seemed to be bold and amplified as The Donald, managing to stand out even amongst the incredible skyline of the city.

Trump International Hotel and Tower, Chicago, built and owned by American billionaire, Donald Trump. Just a few weeks before our visit to Chicago, Donald Trump had announced his candidacy for president of the United States, seeking the nomination of the Republican Party. His tower in Chicago seemed to be bold and amplified as The Donald, managing to stand out even amongst the incredible skyline of the city.

Pedal power! These 4-person pedal bikes by the Chicago River were available to rent at $38 an hour. At that rate it was about 20 times more expensive than our hire car! We decided 'perhaps not.'

Pedal power! These 4-person pedal bikes by the Chicago River were available to rent at $38 an hour. At that rate it was about 20 times more expensive than our hire car! We decided ‘perhaps not.’

Kayaks can be hired for a more intimate tour of the Chicago River.

Kayaks can be hired for a more intimate tour of the Chicago River.

On we go. Trump Tower is up ahead. Donald Trump is dominating the news at the moment having recently announced he is running for president of the USA and sparking controversy over remarks about Mexican immigrants. But his tall, silvery blue glass tower is quiet, no protestors here.

The Navy Pier, Chicago

After more walking we find ourselves on Lake Shore Drive near the Navy Pier Park, looking out onto Lake Michigan, third largest of the five Great Lakes. There’s a beach! I knew it was coming, but even so, a beach right in a major city is not something you see every day. Here it is very windy, blowing in quite chilly off the Lake.

From here we walk across the park to the Navy Pier. It’s really colourful and sunny and there are hundreds of people strolling up and down the boardwalks.

Checking out the beach on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive. Not quite swimming weather yet (for us anyway). The distinctive dark skyscraper in the background with its double antenna masts, is the John Hancock Center. This 100 storey building includes the visitor observation deck, 360 Chicago, on the 94th floor. The building is nicknamed, "Big John."

Checking out the beach on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive. Not quite swimming weather yet (for us anyway). The distinctive dark skyscraper in the background with its double antenna masts, is the John Hancock Center. This 100 storey building includes the visitor observation deck, 360degree Chicago, on the 94th floor. The building is nicknamed, “Big John.”

Interesting face - Chicago was the first city in the world to ever erect a ferris wheel. This one we found on Navy Pier.

Interesting face – Chicago was the first city in the world to ever erect a ferris wheel. This one we found on Navy Pier.

The Navy Pier, Chicago, was built in 1916 at a reported cost of $4.5 million, primarily to serve as a cargo facility for freighters on Lake Michigan. Today it lays claim to being Chicago's number one tourist attraction.

The Navy Pier, Chicago, was built in 1916 at a reported cost of $4.5 million, primarily to serve as a cargo facility for freighters on Lake Michigan. Today it lays claim to being Chicago’s number one tourist attraction.

Navy Pier is nearly a kilometre long. It’s a tourist spot containing shops, restaurants, museums and exhibition halls. There are fast looking tour boats coming and going, picking up new passengers. The Ferris wheel, standing 46m tall, carries about eight million people a year making it one of the most visited landmarks in the American Midwest. Interestingly, Chicago was the first city in the world to erect a Ferris wheel.

We want to stay out into the night to photograph The Bean at night, so we use up the afternoon by wandering back into the forest of skyscrapers and along the banks of the Chicago River.

Chicago Rush Hour

Chicago is very pedestrian friendly which makes it a brilliant destination for tourists like us. But around 4 and 5pm we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of the mass exodus of office workers all streaming out like professional (well dressed) walkers from the Loop district. All the bridges across the Chicago River are full as people pour across, heading home. At traffic lights there’s a surge of people as the colours change. We’ve been through quite a few big American cities in the last few weeks; Atlanta, New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, St Louis; but we’ve not seen anything like this.

Beat the rush! Chicago's work force heading home.

Beat the rush! Chicago’s work force heading home.

Bridges over the Chicago River, leading out of the Loop are teeming with people at the end of the work day as Chicagoans make their way home.

Bridges over the Chicago River, leading out of the Loop are teeming with people at the end of the work day as Chicagoans make their way home.

The bridges over the Chicago River are one of the most beautiful sights in the city.The Great Chicago Fire in 1871 destroyed approx four square miles of the city, a large portion at the time. In rebuilding the city architects designed more modern buildings, constructed from steel and stone. This new styling was less susceptible to fire, however, more importantly it set a new worldwide standard for construction.

The bridges over the Chicago River are one of the most beautiful sights in the city.The Great Chicago Fire in 1871 destroyed approx four square miles of the city, a large portion at the time. In rebuilding the city architects designed more modern buildings, constructed from steel and stone. This new styling was less susceptible to fire, however, more importantly it set a new worldwide standard for construction.

The more we explore the downtown area I’m sure if Chicago hadn’t been nicknamed ‘The Windy City’ it could easily be called ‘The City of Bridges.’ There is a walking tour that visitors can do which covers two miles along the Chicago River showing off 18 movable bridges. The bridges are a photographer’s dream; riveted ironwork, beautifully ornate and pleasing to shoot from all angles. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any opening up for tall boats to pass through.

Finally as night falls we make our way back to Millennium Park to photograph the Chicago Bean, or The Cloud Gate Sculpture to call it by its correct name.

Without doubt, Chicago is an awesome city. Don’t pass up the opportunity to visit.

Chicago in the summer is simply stunning. In 2014, Chicago attracted 61 million domestic (US) visitors and 1.3 million overseas visitors.These visitors contributed more than US$13.7 billion to Chicago's economy.

Chicago in the summer is simply stunning. In 2014, Chicago attracted 61 million domestic (US) visitors and 1.3 million overseas visitors.These visitors contributed more than US$13.7 billion to Chicago’s economy.

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