Like the monolith in Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s monumental film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, “Cloud Gate” looks like an alien object dropped onto a terrestrial landscape (not the African Savannah, but rather into Chicago’s Millennium Park). This gleaming, silver, kidney bean shaped object (33’ tall; 110 tons) was created by British Artist Anish Kapoor. Crafted of stainless steel, “Cloud Gate‘s” surface reflects Chicago’s magnificent skyline and the faces of hundreds of curious onlookers (including your humble narrator’s) who are drawn to it (as was Moonwatcher to the monolith). It’s a captivating and interesting object that seems as probable an intergalactic portal as an art object in a City Park.
Somehow Chicago is the perfect home for Cloud Gate. Chicago’s a city of contrasts and one that easily evokes metaphors. Soaring buildings of myriad color and shape reach into the clouds and beyond (including the Sears (now Willis) Tower and its famous Skydeck Observatory on the 103rd floor, still the tallest building in America). A setting of brilliant and innovative architecture, transected by the famous “L’ train and the picturesque Chicago River, and framed to the east by massive Lake Michigan. There are canyons of concrete with oasis of green parks; hot muggy summers and freezing wind-swept winters. It’s a city of industrious honest people ruled by corrupt thuggish politicians. There’s a lot to see, explore, taste and like in Chicago.
We had only a few days to enjoy the Windy City at each end of our trip to Italy, and we didn’t teleport through Cloud Gate – we arrived like most everyone else on a cab from O’Hare airport. While not nearly long enough, we enjoyed our sojourn to Chicago, sampling some of its many treasures:
1) Millennium Park: My favorite place in the city. Covering about 25 acres, its lakefront location makes it a popular place for tourists and locals to hang out on a nice day. The park features flower gardens, fountains, sculptures (including the aforementioned “Cloud Gate”), large stretches of much needed grass on which children can run and play, and a skating rink in the winter. The Buckingham Fountain is an elegant fountain crafted in grand European style. Crown Fountain is of modern design and features video images of over 1000 Chicagoans on paired 50’ glass/brick video towers; it’s especially interesting in the evening when the lights of the video displays are more vibrant. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion is a popular venue for summer concerts, close to Cloud Gate, designed by architect Frank Gehry and highlighting his typical ribbons of steel. The park is home to many museums which I’ll discuss below.
2) Navy Pier. Situated on the shore of Lake Michigan, just north of the Chicago River’s outlet, this pier was originally built to serve freight and passenger ships docking here. Over the decades the pier has morphed into a family destination and includes a carousel, Ferris wheel, other amusement park features, an Imax and Shakespearean theater, restaurants and assorted boat rides along the lake shore and Chicago River. It is also home to Chicago’s Children’s Museum and the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows. It’s a great place to go for a stroll and take in the view of Chicago’s skyline and waterfront.
3) Chicago River. One of Chicago’s many iconic landmarks. It’s a pleasure to stroll along the river’s banks or take a river cruise and enjoy the fine architecture of the buildings and bridges. I think it would be a lot of fun to be in Chicago on St. Patrick ’s Day when the river is dyed green.
4) The Loop. Corresponds to the old business district and is roughly the area enveloped by the Chicago River. Walking it is a great way to see architecture and to feel like you’re in a concrete maze. The Chicago Architectural Foundation offers tours of highlights of this region.
5) Magnificient Mile. Michigan Avenue, north of the Chicago River, extending towards the Hancock Tower (and its spectacular observatory which probably offers the best views of Chicago’s skyline). This stretch is the Rodeo Drive of the City of Big Shoulders, with many upscale stores and hotels.
6) Museums. You could spend a full week visiting Chicago’s excellent museums – many among the finest in the Americas (or for that matter, anywhere) – and only scratch the surface. Among the best in the city are:
i) Field Museum of Natural History. I love natural history museums! This massive structure has large permanent and rotating collections. A highlight is Sue, the largest and most intact T-Rex fossil skeleton ever discovered. While we visited there was a temporary exhibit on the horse (guess which museum we visited?)
ii) Shedd Aquarium. Features thousands of aquatic animals in natural-type settings, a 90,000 gallon Caribbean Reef and Amazon rain-forest exhibit.
iii) Adler Planetarium. Great place for families to visit – or for any one who is young at heart.
iv) The Art Institute of Chicago. Need to see some world class art? Then this is your stop. The collection is extensive and impressive.Etc, etc, etc. The city also features a great zoo (Brookfield Zoo), terrific dining, shopping, nightlife, and an assortment of entertainment venues including professional baseball, basketball and football. Performance arts are well patronized.
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