Diana spotted a sale: return tickets to Chicago for $204 each, including all taxes. What a deal! It was too good to pass up. The only catch was that this price only worked by flying in on a Wednesday night and returning on a Saturday morning, which essentially left us two full days to explore Chicago. We decided to make the most of it.
Only after we booked our plane tickets did we discover that we were visiting over American Thanksgiving weekend, one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. Uh-oh. Not only that, but it was snowing in Calgary and a big storm was passing over Chicago. As it turned out, our flight was on-time and the storm was just abating as we touched down at O’Hare airport. We took a train downtown and checked in at the Hyatt Regency. We got a room on the 20th floor overlooking the river and the “Magnificent Mile”, an area of tall skyscrapers.
In the first picture, the building in the center with the clocktower is the Wrigley building. It was built by the chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. in the early 1920s.
Looking the other way we could see the NBC tower. Although built in 1989, it has touches of Art Deco in its style. The Jerry Springer show was taped here between 1991 and 2009.
A view like this in Manhattan would cost you a pretty penny, but in Chicago the big hotels were quite affordable, at least at the time of our visit. I really enjoyed just sitting down in our room and looking out the window.
After checking in we went out for a late dinner to Giordano’s. Their Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is much different than regular pizza; it’s more like a tourtiere. It was delicious and very, very filling.
Day 1: Thursday
Thursday was Thanksgiving Day, and we got up early to see the parade. We managed to secure a decent spot near the end of the parade route. There were a lot of marching bands and a few floats. The giant balloons had been cancelled due to the risk of high winds.
It was a cold day. The temperature was just above the freezing mark, it was humid, and a cold breeze was blowing off of the lake. After watching the parade for a while we warmed up in a coffeeshop, clutching our eggnog lattes with frozen fingers.
Our next stop was the Bean in Millennium Park. The Bean (officially called Cloudgate) has become very emblematic of Chicago since its construction in 2006.
It’s a fun, interactive art installation. Chicago’s skyscrapers get warped and distorted in all sorts of shapes depending on where you stand. The Bean’s reflective surface is also very handy for selfies.
Next, we did a self-guided architectural tour of downtown Chicago. Chicago has been on the forefront of architecture for more than 100 years, and there is a lot to see. Our walk took us past the Harold Washington library with its impressive facade. There are two interesting older buildings in the background.
It was a good day to do the architectural walk. The stores and offices were closed because of thanksgiving, and due to the parade many of the streets were blocked for traffic. The result was a near car-free downtown Chicago.
When I was a kid, my favorite movie was the Blues Brothers, with John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd, which is set in and around Chicago. Some of the more memorable car-chase scenes are underneath the El, Chicago’s elevated rail tracks.
We found some interesting old neon signs.
One very emblematic sight in Chicago is the marquee of the Chicago Theater.
We finished our walk through downtown at the Christmas kindlmarkt, a very authentic replica of a German Christmas market. We mingled with the locals, and we had bratwurst with sauerkraut and mustard, and a mug or two of gluhwein. It was very enjoyable.
Day 2: Friday
We began the day with a walk along the shore of Lake Michigan. The wind had shifted, and it was not nearly as cold as the day before.
By mid-morning the Art Institute of Chicago had opened. I was very keen to check out their collection. The museum is probably best known for the painting “American Gothic” by Grant Wood. However their collection is much, much broader than that. They have a very extensive collection of French impressionists’ paintings and key works by Picasso, Magritte, Pollock, Chagall, Rodin, and more. Here is Diana contemplating some works by Picasso.
I particularly enjoyed the collection of American paintings by Whistler, O’Keefe, Hopper, Sargent, and of course Grant Wood.
There was also a special exhibition on Any Warhol. They had all of his key works in this collection: the Campbell soup cans, boxes of Brillo soap, chairman Mao with the rosy cheeks, and Marilyn Monroe.
We spent most of the day in the museum. I had no idea that the collection was this extensive. It truly is a world-class museum. After the museum we did some Black Friday shopping. We were pretty tired from the museum and we didn’t last very long. So we went back to our hotel to rest up a bit.
No visit to Chicago would be complete without catching a blues show. I had bought tickets to a show at Legends, the blues club owned by legendary bluesman Buddy Guy. We had been told the food was pretty good at this club, so we showed up early. Good thing because the place was already packed. We were lucky to snag a table when some people got up to leave.
The main act was Bobby Rush, who mixes his blues with a big dose of funk. He’s 86 years old now, but that hasn’t slowed him down. He was jumping around on stage, going through his routine, accompanied by two dancers wiggling their booties. It was quite the show (something like this, to give you an idea). And if that wasn’t enough, halfway through the show Buddy Guy himself (age 82) came on stage, trading raunchy lyrics with Bobby Rush. Oh my. After a while of this, Bobby Rush got back on track and the remainder of his set was impressive. In all, it was a memorable show I won’t soon forget.
Previous picture: two blues legends. Buddy Guy on the left and Bobby Rush on the right.