DATE: 2-5 May 2010
It has been seven years since we were in Chicago. In February of the same year Nik and I went to New York, and in May we made the trip to Chicago. It was another trip to the US again so soon. The journey was from Penang to Singapore (overnight at the Crowne Plaza Hotel), then to Hong Kong and finally to Chicago. We left Penang on Saturday evening and arrived in Chicago on Monday, lunch time. It was our first time going so far east, crossing the international dateline.
Some trips leave a fond memory that stay for many years. It is not just about the place one visits, but sometimes it is the experience you have while you are there. Going down Michigan Avenue, what struck me most about Chicago was the beautiful buildings plus its wide and clean streets. It was late spring and the weather was unusually warm for early May. It was bright and sunny with some cool breeze blowing from nearby Lake Michigan. The flower beds along the streets were spilling with tulips. The many varieties and multi-coloured tulips brought back memories of our trip to Keukenhof, Holland exactly the year before. These spring flowers not only add colour to the place, they also give an air of cheerfulness to the vicinity.
On Wednesday morning we had the pleasure of observing a group of men landscaping a small plot outside the John Hancock building. They arranged trays of tulips, zinnias and marigolds into a charming garden.
Our hotel, the Millennium Knicker Bocker on East Walton Street was at the north (top) end of Michigan Avenue. It had a Louis Vuitton store and the Drake Hotel as neighbours. Oprah’s apartment was less than two blocks away. Michigan Avenue or Magnificent Mile had hundreds of chic stores such as Chanel, Coach, Zara, John Mendel, Anne Fontaine, Van Cleef and Arpel and other stores selling branded goods. Along Oak Street, there were smaller boutiques where an appointment is necessary prior to a store visit. These boutiques and stores are definitely not a place for me to even step in, with or without a platinum credit card.
Chicago is reputed as the birth place of modern American architecture. It has many skyscrapers and being only 200 years old (as some of the buildings are), is categorized as a “new” city. The true beauty of the splendid buildings is the superb blend of the old and new and modern ones. The style of architecture ranged from art deco, gothic to modern, gleaming glass and steel. I could hardly tell which of these buildings were earlier ones. Recent ones such as the Trump Tower were more likely to have glass and steel, gleaming in the sun, reflecting each other. Some of the interesting buildings are Sears (now Willis) Tower, once the tallest building in the world, Marina City (Corns on the Cob, it really looked like them), Tribune Tower (home of Chicago Tribune), Aqua, Wrigley Building, John Hancock Observatory and the Water Tower House. And, the best way to view these skyscrapers is by taking a boat ride along Chicago River.
The land around Chicago city is flat. Lake Michigan, situated on the east of the city is as large as a sea, and so blue and calm that there is hardly a ripple on the water surface. The suburbs are spread over a big area, extending to the north, west and south. On Willis Tower one could experience “standing on air”, if one has sufficient nerve to step on to the cubicles with glass floors.
Chicagoans love to dine out. The numerous restaurants, cafes and taverns served a variety of foods to cater just as many taste buds. After work they would patronise these eateries before making their way home. We found only one halal restaurant (GayLord) serving Indian food near our hotel.
Another interesting feature in Chicago city are the sculptures. They are found throughout the city in between buildings and in parks. At one end of Millennium park was a piece viewed from the distance, resembled an exploding cans of aluminium. An enormous gleaming bean was another tourist attraction and it was probably the most photographed object at the park. A walk across the park via the bridge gave a magnificent view of the city’s buildings and skyline. This was a lovely park with flower beds and tall green trees. It led directly to the Chicago Arts Institute. We carried on with our morning walk to the Buckingham Fountain. This was a huge, grand, circular fountain spurting water high into the air as well as around its base. It was one of the many items local people gave to the city as gifts.
At the far end of the park, the area is called Grant’s Park, there was was one more sculpture. There were 106 pieces of headless and armless sculptures; only torsos and legs, called Agora. One sculpture had a right foot forward and the other piece had a left foot in front. These dark brown cast iron sculptures were done by an 88 year old woman who took four years to complete them. Each piece was about 9 feet tall. The absence of heads on the torsos made them appeared as if they were walking aimlessly.
We ventured out to Kedzie on the elevated trains (on the Brown line). Salaam Restaurant (where we had dinner) was just next to the train station. Some scrumptious baklavas, one of our favourite desserts were purchased from an adjacent store.
The following evening (Thursday) we travelled on the Amtrak train to Buffalo to visit Niagara Falls. (See next posting).
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