Day 6 – Chicago (final day) Willis Tower

Up at 5:00 a.m. as usual and I could tell the skies were clear because I could see lights along the shore of Lake Michigan all the way around the southern end of the lake to Michigan City. I watched as the sun came up over the lake and right into our living room. At 7:00 am it was absolutely spectacular while I sat and blogged yesterday’s adventures. The plan for today: first do the Sky Deck at Willis Tower and then take the hop-on hop-off to South End Chicago and visit Hyde Park. So off we went, walked through Printers Row (where the printing industry flourished in the 19th and early 20th centuries) and arrived at Willis Tower at 9:00 as planned to find the Sky Deck doesn’t open until 10:00. No problem… to pass the next hour, we hopped on the bus and toured around The Loop. Even though we had done this tour already, we learned new interesting things from this tour guide such as the Aqua Tower was designed by female architect, Jeanne Gang, is the largest American project ever awarded to a woman and it’s a Leeds certified building.

At 10:00 we arrived back at the Willis Tower and rode the elevator 103 stories to the Sky Deck. Hello! What a view. This is a 360 degree observatory and included 4 glass ledges that you can step out onto for that exhilarating rush of a near death experience. Monica was the only one of the four of us brave enough to do that and I got the photo to prove it.

After the Sky Deck, we rejoined the hop-on hop-off bus and commenced our tour to Hyde Park. The highlights of the tour were the Museum of Science and Industry which was built for the 1873 World Fair and is the only building remaining from the fair. Locals tell us it is THE best museum in Chicago. We didn’t have time to visit it… maybe next time. Next we drove through the University of Chicago (ranked #4 in the country after Princeton, Harvard and MIT). What an beautiful campus. Most interesting fact… here is where the atom was first split. Carrying on, we drove past a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright… it really stands out amongst all the other early century mansions. Then we saw President Obama’s house which is barely visible amid the dense foliage of trees and shrubs that purposefully hide it from public eyes. We saw a film set for the filming of the TV series Chicago Fire. Finally we drove past several beautiful public beaches along the lake front on our way back to city center to finish the tour. These hop-on hop-off tours are so interesting and informative. As I write this, the four of us are reminiscing on the day and recalling all the stories the tour guides told us. Well worth the price of admission.

Hungry now and cold (despite the sunshine) we sought food and spirits to warm our bodies. Mexican ought to do it! Tequila! We had a super meal at Mercadito on Kinsey Street. This was probably my second favorite meal in Chicago after the Fire House Steak House. The blackened swordfish tacos are amazing. Full now and warm, we happily strolled up the Magnificent Mile to the Water Tower Mall to find our free chocolate and popcorn (as if we really needed it) and browse the exclusive shops along the way. We could feel ourselves winding down as this vacation comes to a close. We were all very tired in that good way that you get when you know you gave it everything you’ve got. So, we headed back to the apartment to pack the suitcases for tomorrow’s early flight home. A glass of wine, a pizza delivered and a contented reflection on a fantastic week. Chicago is wonderful beyond imagination. We enjoyed every minute and are so thankful that we were able to experience the Windy City up close and personal.

Chicago – Day 5 Hop on Hop off and Comedy Club

Today was a hop-on hop-off bus day (my feet said “thank you”). We caught the bus right behind our apartment and enjoyed the excellent tour guide commentary as we cruised past Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium, Buckingham Fountain in Millennium Park and Navy Pier to Michigan Avenue. Guess what? The old Abegweit Ferry to PEI is at Navy Pier. It’s been there for 26 years. The tour guide knew some facts about NB and Saint John in particular so we felt the connection.

We had an hour before the next bus arrived so we strolled through Macy’s pedway to see part of the stained glass collection that used to be at the Smith Museum of Stained Glass. Oh Man! I was so happy to see this exhibit. Some of this glass goes back to the 1800’s. I have photos of it all but I’ll spare you and only post a couple of shots here.

We caught the tour bus to the West Side of Chicago to Chinatown, Little Italy where we saw the starting point of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that destroyed most of the city. Back then the streets were made of wood so no wonder it burned so fast. We hopped off the bus at the Joe DiMaggio monument for lunch at Francesca’s and then carried on through Greektown and back to city center. What an excellent tour. Chicago has 77 neighbourhoods!

Back to the apartment to get ready for the evening’s entertainment – we went to Zanies Comedy Club in the North End (Old Town) to see Fortune Feimster. We got there early and got great seats. Good thing… the place was packed. Fortune is hilarious and is definitely an up and coming comedian. What a neat comedy club – the walls are covered with photos of all the comedians who have played there. Every one who’s anyone has played there from Jerry Seinfeld to Drew Carey. Really neat to see them all together. The night was wonderful – mild and calm. We strolled arm-in-arm back to the train station for the ride home. Sleepy heads straight to bed for a good night’s rest because tomorrow is another busy day.


Chicago – Day 4 Volunteering, sculptures and theater

This morning, I was on a mission. Actually two missions at the same time:

Mission #1: Today is the launch of the NBCC Robertson Institute for Community Leadership. Early this morning I watched a live stream cast from Harbour Station in Saint John of guest speaker, Marc Kielburger, inspiring 4500 NBCC staff and students to do community service as a way of transforming lives and communities in a positive way. After that, and with Monica in tow, I headed for the streets of downtown Chicago. One the way, we bought bottles of water and power-bars at the grocery store. As we walked the streets, I passed out nutrition to homeless people. The first one gave me goose-bumps. With each grateful smile and humble “Thank you, Sir”, I was filled with many senses; helpfulness, empathy, support, peace. My transformation was realizing that homelessness does not mean without community. These people are very much a part of their community and, on this day, their purpose was to bring me great joy in my service.

Mission #2: Monica and I did the walking tour and photo logging of the downtown public sculptures. There are many and all of them strange and wonderful. My favorite was the Marc Chagall Four Seasons stained glass mosaic.

At noon, Mon and I met up with Maneau and Jake for lunch at Buddy Guy’s Legends Lounge. There was excellent live music (Anthony Moser) and the cajun shrimp were blisteringly awesome. What a fantastic place. The photos and memorabilia are really worth the visit (see the photos below).

After lunch, we hopped the subway to the Magnificent Mile and bought hop-on hop-off bus tickets for the luxury version of sight-seeing (our feet are dead). We did the loop tour and enjoyed the info commentary from the tour guide. We saw where Lady Gaga lives, where Transformers and Superman were filmed, where Oprah lived (for sale now @ 2.2 million), the church where Al Capone shot up the competition, and much more.

We hopped-off for an early dinner at the Purple Pig… a Chicago style tapas restaurant where we shared a cheese plate called Ewe Calf to be Kidding (a mix of cow, sheep and goat cheese), the grilled octopus, halibut with olive salata drizzled with rhubarb, grilled lamb steaks and milk-braised pork shoulder all with and a nice bottle of nebbiolo wine from Italy. Are we spoiled, or what?

After dinner, we sped back to the apartment to get dressed for the evening’s entertainment. We went to the Bank of America Theater to see Amazing Grace… based on the true story of John Newton, a slave-trader’s son in the mid 1700’s England, who wrote the song “Amazing Grace”. What an excellent play (no photos allowed) and the perfect end to a perfect day.


Chicago – Day 3 Culture Center and Museums

Sad news – the Smith Museum of Stained Glass at Navy Pier (which was originally why we chose Chicago) is closed indefinitely as the pier is undergoing major renovations. The glass has all been packed up and moved to storage. News reports say it is unclear if the museum will reopen in the future and the destiny of the glass is unknown. You can imagine how my heart fell at this news. But not for long… there is something else coming today that lifted me again beyond my wildest expectations. Read on…

To start the day, the four of us decided on breakfast at the #3 rated restaurant in Chicago, Wildberry Pancakes right on the north corner of Millennium Park. It’s only a 15 minute walk from our apartment so, we walked… in the rain… pouring rain… and I discovered my rain jacked is NOT waterproof. Never mind. Once we got sat down, we dried off and had a fantastic breakfast (I had the oatmeal and sausages). Here’s the fun part… while we were sitting there happily munching away, Dee Snider from Twisted Sister walked right past the window… I almost (actually I did) came right out of my chair. My first celebrity spotting in Chicago! So Cool!

After breakfast, we crossed the corner to visit the Chicago Cultural Center for the main purpose of seeing the world’s largest stained glass domes. What an interesting building – originally a public library it now serves as the city’s main information center. Try to picture this in your mind…you walk in and see the main foyer with information booths all around (maps, books, brochures, etc) and side rooms off that with public art. Walking past the foyer are twin marble curved staircases that take you up three levels to the upper ballroom… the walls along the way are covered every inch in stained glass mosaic inlay… absolutely incredible the amount of work that went into its creation… and then you step into the ballroom and look up   …    (pause for dramatic effect)  … and there is the first of two glass domes (world’s largest). The first one was made by Healey and Millet and is very ornate, Victorian style. It must be 40 feet in diameter and is the most beautiful glass I have ever seen. My photos certainly do not do it justice.

Travelling through a corridor past other smaller rooms with art exhibits (some of it quite weird)… you come to the second ballroom and hold your breath as you glide under the second dome (same size as the first). This one was made by Louis Comfort Tiffany and is not as ornate as the first but every bit just as beautiful. The panels are like fish scales and the detail work is exquisite. Oh my! You can image my delight in being here and seeing this. If you go to Chicago, this is a free attraction and a “must do”.

Leaving the Cultural Center, we crossed the street and arrive in perfect time for the 10:00 opening of the Art Institute of Chicago, ranked the #1 Museum in the World for 2014. Here is where we spent the next 4 hours contemplating priceless works of art including more stained glass. Who’s a happy camper now?

After the museum, we hopped the subway to the Magnificent Mile for lunch at Ghirardelli’s Chocolate. Ice cream Sundays for lunch 🙂 Then Maneau and Jake went shopping so Monica and I decided to go back to the David Bowie exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It couldn’t have rained any harder but we got there and checked our coats and stepped into a time warp all the way back to 1962 when David Jones was just 16 years old. That’s where the tour started. We followed his career as he became Bowie and defined and re-defined himself many times over the years. The costumes!!! It was like seeing and listening to seven concerts in the same afternoon. No photos allowed in the exhibit 😦

Time to go home for supper. Did I say it couldn’t have rained any harder? Well I was wrong. We were soaking wet and hungry when we arrived so we all decided to order in Italian for supper. Spaghetti and a nice glass of Ravenswood Zinfandel was the perfect end to a perfect day (despite the weather). We enjoyed the evening laughing and recounting the day’s stories and making plans for the rest of the week.

Here is today’s journey in images.



Chicago – Day 2 Lincoln Park

The weather decided to cool things down a bit today – lots of fog and some rain. But that didn’t stop us at all. Awake at 4:30 and up having left over anchovy & hot pepper pizza for breakfast. So yummy! Then Monica and I set out for the day leaving Maneau and Jake (still sleeping) to fend for themselves.

Our first destination was Kohl’s department store in north Chicago so Monica could return some shower curtains she bought in Portland. The subway/bus ride there was very easy. Merchandise exchanged successfully and off again toward Lincoln Park… destination, the Zoo. We rode the bus most of the way and walked the final few blocks. What lovely neighbourhoods. Gorgeous old brownstone buildings, historic churches, interesting restaurants and lovely old public buildings like the old fire station.

We arrived at the zoo around 11:00 am. This is free admission. How great is that? We enjoyed walking through the animal exhibits and had Mexican lunch at the Zoo Café. Continuing through Lincoln Park south we came to the Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln statues. The Lincoln statue is really lovely. Lots of photos, of course.

We left the park and headed south to Chicago Ave/State St. with destination the Museum of Contemporary Art to see the David Bowie exhibit. This was something we were looking forward to for weeks. We walked and walked and finally arrived to find the museum is CLOSED on Mondays! Sigh. Well, we are definitely coming back here another day… maybe Thursday. Seeing and hearing the Bowie exhibit is a must.

Just as well that the museum was closed today because by 2:00 our feet were killing us after seven hours of walking. So, Mon and I headed back to the apartment to put our feet up for awhile. Maneau and Jake arrived shortly after we did and we enjoyed the afternoon sharing our day’s adventure stories and planning the evening.

For dinner, we went to the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant just a block’s walk from the apartment. A turn of the century old firehouse that has been transformed into one of the best steak houses in Chicago – so the critics say. Well, they are right. That was one of, if not THE best steak I have ever had in my life. A wonderful meal. Staff and service were amazing and the ambiance of the firehouse made it surreal. Of course, being a firehouse, there is a fireman’s pole and you know how girls love a pole!

An easy stroll after dinner around the block to Buddy Guy’s Lounge. We wanted to but were too tired to go in but it really did looked inviting. The Chicago Jazz and Blues scene is vibrating in every sector of the city. Maybe another night. Back to the apartment to call it a day.


Chicago – Day 1 Exploring the downtown

This trip has been in the planning for at least a year. Many people say to us, “Why Chicago?”… and the answer is far to big for a simple reply. I started dreaming of Chicago when I discovered online the Smith Museum of Stained Glass at Navy Pier. Had to see that! We knew nothing else about this city until we started researching and discovered a kazillion things to do. So plans were made with our good friends, Maneau and Jake and the day finally came to fly west.

The weather was beautiful when we arrived. Clear blue skies and 20+ degrees. We landed at O’Hare and easily found the subway to the downtown ($5 – can’t beat that). As we emerged from the subway, we realized the Chicago Marathon was in full swing. 40,ooo runners and all their fans. There were half a million people crowding the street and cheering wildly. We were a bit early to check into our apartment so we found a great lunch spot at Chicago 11 (the burgers are to die for). After lunch we wove our way through the crowds and waited patiently for a chance to cross Michigan Ave. to our apartment building (quite an experience – 40,000 runners!). Finally! We walked into to our apartment on the 28th floor just at the south end of Millennium Park, and entered the world of the rich and famous. This place is fantastic. What a view!

We unpacked and gathered ourselves together and set out for a walking tour through Millennium park and all the way down the Magnificent Mile. Oooohs and Awwwws all the way, camera shutter finger in full action and smiles abounding. We are in Chicago! We walked and walked until our feet hurt. Saw many places that we made a mental note of for returning later.

After six hours of walking, back to the apartment to freshen up for supper. This time we took a cab to Pizano’s on Madison Ave. My very first deep dish pizza and was it EVER good! I had hot peppers and anchovies on mine – much to the amusement of the waitress. What a wonderful day, full of so much discovery and promises of even better things to come. Chicago is My Kind of Town! Here is the day in images: