DOING THE LOOP | Darrin Henry
It’s called The Windy City, but 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, the world famous Windy City – 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.
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.
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 Windy 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 Windy 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.
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 in the Windy City 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.
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 in the Windy City, 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.
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 through the Windy City air, 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.
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.