May 10, 2010

Chicago: Part One

Well.. Chicago was definitely not what I expected, but my three days there were fantastic. Our hotel was on East Ontario Street in the heart of downtown, and the location was perfect. Two blocks away was North Michigan Avenue... which is also the Magnificent Mile, for any of you expensive shop lovers out there.

As soon as we arrived, Kenton and Melanie (our fearless leaders) took us on a walk to Millennium Park. It was a lovely, scenic journey down North Michigan Ave, and we were able to get our first glimpses of the city. Some of the more important sites that we passed along the way include the Chicago Tribune office, the NBC office, the river (which is gorgeous), and the library. There were also many people directing traffic with light sticks and safety vests, which I found amusing throughout the entire trip. So many drivers are rude, abrasive, and do not pay attention, meaning it is actually necessary to employ people to direct cars on the roads. Lauren and I can attest to the fact that drivers in Chicago are scary, as we watched a cab almost hit a pedestrian on a few occasions. Thankfully, no one in our group was taken out by a vehicle, and we all made it to Millennium Park in one piece.

The main attraction at the park is Cloud Gate, also known locally as "The Bean." It is a public sculpture by British artist Anish Kapoor, and is 66 feet long and 33 feet high. It looks like a giant drop of mercury, and its mirrored surface offers a lovely view of Chicago's skyline. Also in the park is a really interesting and very modern outdoor theatre. Samantha has decided she is going to get married there.
Later in the evening, a group of us decided to go wandering to see what the city looks like at night. I think this was one of my favourite parts of the trip. I love to wander around places I've never been before, get lost, and see what I discover. We walked down North Michigan Ave, down a variety of side streets, and ended up underneath the sky train. For anyone who is familiar with the film The Dark Knight (pppffftt, who isn't?) and interesting fact to note is that the entire movie was filmed in Chicago. So was Batman Begins, What Women Want, Home Alone, and hundreds more. Chicago actually fills in for New York City in some cases. Anyway, we ended up in an area where The Dark Knight was filmed, and it felt surreal. I watched the movie before I left, and could picture scenes with the skyline and sky train in my head. It might sounds silly, but there is something fascinating about standing in the same spot where actors, producers, directors, and camera crews came together to create masterpieces.
The following morning we walked to the Art Institute of Chicago, which is something I was looking forward to for months. The building was massive, and there were so many things to see. I will admit, however, that I skipped quite a few rooms. I was looking for one specific area, and that was the Impressionist room. When I was in Europe last summer, I saw hundreds of impressionist paintings, but that was a year ago and I needed my fix again. Therefore, I spent a few hours slowly walking around the Art Institute and falling back in love with some of the worlds greatest painters. Here is a list of some of the famous artists that I saw:
  • Paul Cezanne
  • Edgar Degas
  • VINCENT VAN GOGH (He had a number of paintings at the Institute, but my two favourites were The Bedroom and Self-Portrait. I'm getting giddy just thinking about them...)
  • Edouard Manet
  • Claude Monet (Another awesome moment. There were so many Monet paintings that I can't begin to count...BUT, the actual, official, famous, BEAUTIFUL Water Lillies was there!)
  • Edvard Munch
  • Pierre-Auguste Renoir
  • Georges Seurat (The famous A Sunday on La Grande Jatte - 1884 was the painting in the film Ferris Bueler's Day Off...)
  • Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
  • And the list goes on and on and on...

After the museum, a group of us decided to go to the Chicago Zoo. We also decided to walk, not realizing how far of a journey it actually was. Roughly an hour later, we reached our destination. The zoo was fun, and Meag had an interesting encounter with a monkey, but the walk there was spectacular. We travelled along a bike path with Lake Michigan on one side and downtown Chicago on the other. It's easy to forget there is a huge lake nearby when surrounded by countless skyscrapers. There is even a beach, which I'm sure is packed in the summer. If I had more time - and if it didn't rain for the rest of the trip - I would have rented a bike and pedalled as far along the path as possible.

We took a bus from the zoo to the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), but got off early in order to complete a small mission. On television, KFC was advertising the "Double Down" sandwich, which is literally a pile of crap in between two pieces of chicken that substitute for a bun. Disgusting, but a necessary experience. Apparently. During our wanderings the night before, a member of our group found a KFC under the sky train. I'm not going to name any names, but this individual was determined to have a Double Down, and was convinced the KFC he found was open. As a group, after the zoo, we wandered various side streets until we found the restaurant in question. There was one slight problem. It was closed. But it wasn't just closed. It had been SHUT DOWN, and a Japanese Restaurant is being built in it's place. It was a tragic moment, but after a brief Popeye's stop we eagerly pushed forward to the tower and an elevator ride 108 storeys in the sky.

The Willis Tower is the fifth highest building in the world, and it stretches 1451 feet tall. A one minute elevator ride took us to the Sky deck, where we experienced one of the most beautiful views of the city. There are also three glass balconies at one end, and daring individuals can actually step OUT the side of the building. The balconies are glass, and completely enclosed.

So... what to do next. I was standing on a piece of glass off the side of the tallest building I have ever seen to date. There were people all around me freaking out. The building was slightly swaying. I needed to do something both interesting and memorable. I waited until the balcony was empty, and stretched out face down on the glass floor. Beside me, Lauren did the same, and I must say it was AWESOME. In the picture you can actually see through the glass to the ground below. The cars were small... it was slightly frightening... but we did it!


  1. Great post so far Amanda! Haha especially the part about the Double Down adventure! Not naming any names.. you don't need to. LOL

  2. Awesome post! I loved the impressionist room as well, but didn't get to spend nearly as much time in there as I would have liked...

  3. Great post!

    I could never lie down on the glass at the Sears/Willis Tower. Total nightmare.

  4. Amanda's Mom11/5/10 12:57 PM

    I can't belive you did that! Oh wait, yes I can! Awesome that you saw more of your favorite painters - gotta feed that fix. I'm watign for the next part - great post1

  5. Sounds like the trip was great. Good post.

  6. What Women Want! See the movie that started it all. I have to go to Chicago. Boohoo. Lol. Double Down sounds sick. And the food! Oh God the food. I love food. I'm so happy you went cuz you tell the story so well :)