4 and 5 October 2014
Reflections of skyscrapers in the Chicago River opposite our hotel
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Out of bed early, and on our way to the Los Angeles airport to catch our 10.10am flight to Chicago. A smooth four hour flight saw us arriving in the Windy City at about 4.10pm, allowing for the 2 hour time difference. The usual delay finding the correct shuttle bus, but eventually we were delivered to the Best Western Mart Plaza, and our comfortable room. By this time the light was fading, we were very tired, so we settled for a delicious cocktail in the Skyline Bar with a large antipasto tray full of tasty cheeses, olives, roasted capsicum etc, and finished off with dessert and coffee in the restaurant. The hotel is quite large with lots of facilities available, without having to go out, which suited us down to the ground. Spent some time planning our next two days exploring this beautiful city, so our early night turned out to be a late one!
The following morning our friendly Concierge directed us to the spot to catch the Hop On Hop Off bus, and the nearest Starbucks for breakfast. It was Sunday so the city streets were quieter than during the week, we walked over one of the numerous bridges across the Chicago River, and successfully found the bus stop. It was directly opposite the Sears Building (Willis Building) which houses the Skyline for great views over the city. Our enquiries however indicated a two hour wait once you got inside the building (there was already a queue), so we decided to give that a miss for the day and instead hopped on the bus when it arrived. Passengers were only permitted on the upper deck, and as the day was windy and cold and we were rugged up with scarves and beanies, we were all set to go.
Our tour guide was a young woman who really knew her way around Chicago, so we spent the next couple of hours taking in the sights and sounds of this beautiful city. The architecture is world renowned so I was kept busy snapping away as we drove past the fabulous buildings and wide streets. We were impressed with the cleanliness of Chicago streets (still trying to get used to driving on the wrong side!) and the very pretty and colourful flower boxes that were everywhere and added to the ambience of the city. The Chicago River runs through the city, and the numerous water craft make it a real pleasure, you can catch a water taxi to your destination, or join a number of cruises along the river.
The impressive Institute of Art
We had a bird’s eye view from the top of the bus as we drove through the city, Grant Park and on to the Art Gallery, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium and some spectacular views across the river to the city skyline. The height of the buildings is amazing, and there are so many of them all clustered together, quite breathtaking. It is a city continually being renewed and rebuilt following the great fire of 1871.
The Great Chicago Fire burned from Sunday, October 8, to early Tuesday, October 10, 1871. The fire killed up to 300 people, destroyed roughly 3.3 square miles of Chicago, and left more than 100,000 residents homeless. Though the fire was one of the largest U.S disasters of the 19th century, and destroyed much of the city’s central business district, Chicago was rebuilt and continued to grow as one of the most populous and economically important American cities. And it is still building, and renovating and renewing, the latest being along the riverfront which will open up new walkways, cafe and restaurant sites along the Chicago River.
The wonderful Chicago skyline from across Lake Michigan
Once the bus returned to the city we drove through the shopping area (Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s to name a few), the restaurant area (Hard Rock Cafe, Rainforest Cafe), the theatre district (Lyric Opera Theatre), all gaping open-mouthed at each turn!
Once back to earth we found a Subway and enjoyed a late lunch, then made a last-minute decision to catch a cab to Oak Park to see the home and studio of the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. We arrived just in time to join a tour that had just commenced, and again we were gob-smacked at seeing the first home that Wright designed when he was only 22 years old. Many of the original furnishings were in the home, and they had been guided by some of Wright’s surviving children as to how the house looked during their childhood. The story of Wright’s designs and his life was fascinating .