Published: April 10th 2012April 10th 2012
Our flight into Chicago was easy. We left on time and we were treated well by American Airlines. I am enjoying flying on an airline that keeps checking on whether you want another drink – even on the descent. What is funny on these domestic flights is how inflight entertainment has changed. Most people now seem to have an iPhone or iPad so the airlines allow Wi-Fi inflight on some planes and thus you have the ability to download the movie you want to watch. There are no personal screens in the seat backs as most are now carrying their own. Airlines will love this – overheads will be cut. I must admit that when I travelled the first time I had the old plastic headphones and watched a movie on a screen about ¾ of the way up the cabin – I can also tell you the name of that movie: Like Father Like Sonwith Kirk Cameron and the late great Dudley Moore – how sad is that?
Anyway this week we have an apartment suite just off the Magnificent Mile, which we have been looking forward to. After three weeks being waited on and eating hotel
breakfasts we have chosen to look after ourselves. We have a stove, fridge, microwave and dishwasher – we were actually looking forward to appliances; amazing! It also meant that we could head to Trader Joes to buy provisions and the famous ‘two buck Chuck’ wine - a US$2 bottle of red from the Charles Shaw brand. They are world famous in the USA – and great quaffing wine.
When we drove to our hotel in the taxi I was curious about a low brick building just below the John Hancock Centre. It had a sense of mystique to it as it had no signwriting or visible means of identification. All it had was the number 195 on the side. For such a prime piece of real estate the building did not seem right – especially when its neighbour is a 96 storey building. So my curiosity got the better of me and I started to Google it and what I found was quite interesting. It is the site of a private dining and dancing club that was founded nearly 100 years ago – although they only built this building in the 1920s. Some of the finest names and families
of Chicago society came to enjoy the Club and building in what was a very limited membership. The members apparently enjoyed it as a home away from home and got chefs from around the world to visit and cook for them. The story I like the best is in regards the John Hancock Centre. When plans were being drawn up in the 1960s for the new development it was meant to be two towers – the developer wrote to the Club to request purchase of the land. This letter was not even responded to and the developers never contested it – in fact the letter was found stashed in the chairwoman’s desk drawer after her death. As history shows, only one tower was ever built and to this day a small two level building sits next to one of the highest buildings in the USA.
The John Hancock Centre or “Big John” to the locals was completed in 1969. It is a mixture of shops, offices and condos. It is in total 100 floors but the public access is to either floors 94, 95 or 96. The elevator ride up is approx. 40 seconds, which for my ears was
pure hell. My ears had not been that great on the descent into Chicago so were not that keen on the return to altitude. That aside walking out of the elevators is a unique experience as you look straight out and see nothing due to the fact that your vista is Lake Michigan. Your eyes take a moment to adjust to the fact that the view just goes on and on and then you walk to the right and the city and land comes into view. It was a WOW! As part of your ticket you are given an audio tour narrated by Chicago local David Schwimmer so as you walk around you key in the number you are standing in front of and Mr Schwimmer tells all – with his slightly geeky viewpoint that was made famous in Friends. I liked the fact that he was keen to tell us that the Museum has the largest T-Rex skeleton in the world – Ross from Friends would have been thrilled! We walked around as much as we could and soaked in the panorama of Chicago – it is quite the city. The famous Wrigley Field was
in the distance and you could easily make out the planes heading into O’Hare. I drank my highest latte and a bottle of water and then was confronted with the notice on the Men’s toilet – Out Of Order. So I had to wait until the Lower Lobby! It wasn’t just my ears bursting on the way down.
On our second morning we walked from the hotel to Lincoln Park via the Lake Michigan waterfront. We were joined by many joggers, walkers and cyclists. It reminded me a lot of the waterfront in Auckland or the Tan Track in Melbourne. Many of the joggers had Chicago Marathon t-shirts on so were either in training for or reliving memories of the famous marathon. The lake is massive – there is no way of seeing the other side. It is bigger in size than some US States. It is as picturesque a sight in much the same way I remember Taupo in the North Island. We kept walking along the shoreline and then over into the park – not that we saw the Lincoln statue. We actually ended up in the Chicago Zoo, which was a free attraction. It was Easter
weekend and by the look of things some animals had taken the holiday but we did watch the monkeys for quite some time – they were hilarious.
The walk in the tour book took us out through the park and zoo, then back to the CBD along North Clark Street. I knew this street from my days studying and teaching US history. At number 2122 the infamous St Valentine’s Day Massacre took place – there is not much to see there now. In fact the warehouse has been knocked down and replaced by a tree to mark the place where the massacre occurred. It was in the heyday of Capone and his iron grip on the city; seven of Bugs Moran’s men were gunned down in cold blood. Happy days!
The first two afternoons in Chicago were marked by the Masters golf. What a tournament. The history and intrigue that seemingly go with the event makes it captivating watching, so I chose to watch it. Narelle on the other hand decided that getting out and about in the ‘Magnificent Mile’ was paramount – and why wouldn’t you? Especially when you have Macy’s, Ralph Lauren, Tiffany’s, Bloomingdales, and any
number of other A-list shops just round the corner. I made it as far as Mr Patel’s dairy and bought a six-pack of Miller and scuttled back to the room. The Masters was as good as it gets this year. When the 4th
Round started I had the romantic notion of Phil Mickelson lifting his fourth Green Jacket but after his chances faltered on the fourth with a triple bogey I thought the South African Oostheizen would walk away with it – his double eagle on the 2nd
a Masters Moment that will survive forever. In the end it was US golfer Bubba Watson that held his nerve and won the day – a stunning playoff victory. It is a tournament like no other and Bubba has etched his name in the glorious history of Augusta. A self-taught golfer he must heed the call of commentators today – don’t change anything. Be yourself, commit to the swing you have and the golfing world is yours. Tiger may have to take some of that advice on board.
We walked to the Willis Tower this morning. This is the tower previously called (and probably more well-known as) the Sears Tower. It
is 110 storeys high and when built in the 1960s was the tallest building in the world. Its original owners was the Sears group who designed and built it to house as many staff as they could under one roof. It is architecturally stunning and stretches above all the other high rises in the city. Once again the lift to the 103rd
storey is faster than the one we take to the 16th
in our hotel. The views are similar to the ones from the JHC the other day but the real highlight is the Skydeck Ledge platforms that protrude from the 103rd
floor. Never has thick Perspex looked so flimsy to people – you have to walk out a few metres into a clear enclosure and from there you hover over the city. There is a sense that there is nothing between you and the pavement. I was happy to have a go but Narelle took some enticing – we did it though and have the photos to prove it!
It is funny but put a bar on the 96th
Floor serving cocktails and no one finds it too high. We have only just returned from the Signature Lounge in the JHC, which was packed with people enjoying a cocktail and the view as the sun set. I think we can officially tick off the towers as done – we have been to the top three times.
Our other visit today was to The Art Institute of Chicago. This was a building we lost ourselves within for nearly four hours. The gallery houses anything from ancient Egyptian artefacts to modern American photography. We wandered amongst works by Monet, Renoir and Wahol and stood in front of the most famous of American art icons – Grant Wood’s American Gothic. I think my favourite exhibit was Marc Chagall’s America Windows. This was an appreciation of America’s heritage through his eyes and through the bluest stained glass windows you will ever see. The windows were commissioned in the late 1970’s to celebrate Mayor Richard J. Daley’s tenure. In the basement there is a room dedicated to miniature rooms. These are exact replicas of famous rooms, lobbies and dining rooms from about the world. Made in the 1930s they are stunning and every little bit has been constructed using the same methods as the real ones – the bricks are bricks, it is real limestone in the cathedral and the little candles could be lit. The time taken must have been extraordinary; they even had to make the tools in miniature. The lady at the exhibit told us that these are the “Holy Grail” of miniature rooms; I have no reason to doubt her.
We are really enjoying Chicago and the fact that we have time to appreciate it. It is a startlingly beautiful city with its architecture and design. It is another city that you enjoy walking – and after our Dallas experience this is a relief. The tulips in the city centre are just beautiful and bring a real vibrancy to the streets. I am sure we will enjoy our next few days here; we have two more attractions on our “City Pass” booklet so will tick them off tomorrow.