1YoT: Chicago

It’s been a while since we’ve been to a big city (we visited Rapid City, but their population is only 80,000), but that’s about to change, because our next stop is Chicago!

Neither Inna nor I had ever been to Chicago, but we were really excited to go. We didn’t know much about the city, other than the Sears Tower, the Bean, Navy Pier, deep-dish pizza, Chicago dogs, comedy, Wrigley Field, and the White City. Actually, that is a lot, but Chicago is so huge and has so much going on, that list is just the surface of what this city has to offer. So keep reading to learn about what we did, which includes all of the above and then some!

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First thing we did in Chicago (second actually, first thing we did was drop Leia at a doggie day-care) was visit our cousin Ellen. She was amazing and was such a great host, but unfortunately we forgot to get a picture with her! We did bake her some banana bread, and also baked some for her neighbors, who let us stay at their place since Ellen has a cat and I’m allergic. This is the view from Ellen’s place.

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This is Lake Michigan, across the street from Ellen’s place. I knew the great lakes were big, but to disappear over a horizon? At that point they might as well be seas, or even oceans.

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Despite being a White Sox fan, Ellen lives on the north side of Chicago, near Wrigley Field. So we dropped by and checked out the stadium, took pictures of the statues, and toured the surrounding neighborhood.

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Come game time, we went to a local sports bar and had our first Chicago deep dish pizza. Words cannot describe how good Chicago pizza is.

Next stop: Millennium Park and all its fancy artwork. We even visited the park’s outdoor concert hall (a Frank Gehry designed Hollywood Bowl type theater) while the orchestra was practicing, so we got to hear them play.

The most famous feature of Millennium Park is the Bean. I always thought this sculpture was weird, but seeing it in person, seeing all the reflections and distortions a bean-shaped mirror makes, is actually pretty cool.

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Across the street from Millennium Park is the Art Institute of Chicago. Now excuse me while I rant a bit. Art Institute! INSTITUTE! The Art Institute of Los Angeles is a school. So is San Francisco’s. So is Seattle’s. And so, we thought, was Chicago’s. Turns out Chicago’s Art Institute is a museum, and it has three of my favorite pieces! Why did I not know this? (I found out at the Met, where we saw lots of great American art that inspired me to look up the location of American Gothic.) Why did no one tell me? Why doesn’t this museum advertise? Why is it called an institute and not a museum! Aaarrrrggghhh!!!!!

Chicago… I guess this means we’ll have to come back.

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Yummy Chicago Dogs we had with Ellen. Reason #3 (after pizza and the Art Institute) to come back to this city.

Chicago’s other famous park (kind of a park?) is Navy Pier. We enjoyed the arboretum most, but the Ferris Wheel (invented in Chicago, although the original no longer exists) was pretty cool too.

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The Hancock Center, at 1127 feet, is the fourth tallest building in Chicago, eighth tallest in the US, and 50th tallest worldwide. We went here instead of the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower (first, second, and fourteenth tallest, respectively, also the tallest building in the world from 1974 to 1998) because we heard it had better views.

I don’t know if these views are “better”, but they are pretty spectacular.

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While approaching Chicago, we heard a lot about the city’s architecture tours. Then we arrived and discovered that the architecture in Chicago is amazing: the city is the birthplace of the skyscraper, it produced and employed several of history’s greatest architects, and it contains some of the most impressive architecture in the world. Lucky for us, Inna has a family friend who gives architecture tours, and he gave us our own private one.

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This water tower and the water and power building (not pictured) beside it are two of the only structures in Chicago built before the Great Fire of 1871. They survived because they were built out of stone, not wood.

Here are four masterpieces of 20th century architecture. From left to right they are: the Tribune Tower (neo-gothic, built in 1925), the Wrigley Building (neoclassical, built in 1921), Marina City I and II (mid-century modern, built in 1964, widely credited with starting a residential renaissance in America’s inner-cities), and Merchandise Mart (art deco, built in 1930, largest building by volume in the world when it was built).

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We also saw several modern buildings on our tour, but for some reason, Aqua (built in 2009, largest building designed by a women when it was completed) is the only one I took a picture of. Other modern buildings we discussed were: Trump International Hotel and Tower (built in 2008, second tallest building in Chicago, precursor to the Burj Khalifa), the Hancock Center (pictured earlier in this post, built in 1969), and Lake Point Tower (built in 1968, only skyscraper on Lake Michigan in Chicago).

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The final three skyscrapers discussed on our tour are in this photo. Starting fourth from the left (the skyscraper with the gold tower on top) and moving right, they are: the Carbide & Carbon building (art deco, built in 1929, designed to resemble a champagne bottle, a subtle protest against prohibition), the London Guarantee Building (neoclassical, built in 1923, former site of Fort Dearborn: the first major building in the Chicago area), and the Jeweler’s Building (neoclassical, built in 1926, originally contained a 22-story car elevator to aid in security, the dome atop this building contained an Al Capone speakeasy).

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The Chicago skyline, featuring every building I’ve discussed so far, and many more. Seattle may be my favorite skyline, but Chicago in my opinion has the most impressive one.

We’re done with skyscrapers but we aren’t done with our architecture tour. Here are two buildings from the White City portion of the 1893 World’s Fair, also known as the Columbian Expedition. Having read Devil in the White City, Inna really wanted to see these buildings, and since our visit I’ve also read the book and it and these buildings are amazing!

We finished our architecture tour at the University of Chicago, a private research university founded by John D Rockefeller, who believed to be a great city, a city must have a great university. This university was designed in the same style as Oxford because Rockefeller wanted to re-create their style of learning in Chicago.

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Finally, inside the University of Chicago is the Robie House. This building may not look like much, but it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and is considered the greatest example of Prairie School architecture in the world. For those who don’t know (like me before this tour), Prairie School architecture, a simple and natural style that grew in response to the Greek and Roman Classicism of the 1893 World’s Fair, is considered the first distinctively American architecture style, and Frank Lloyd Wright was one of its pioneers. 

Alright, we’re done with our architecture tour, although there’s much more we could have visited (Chicago Building, Reliance Building, Monadnock Building, S R Crown Hall, Inland Steel Building, 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments, the list goes on and on). To sum it up I will simply say this: if you visit Chicago, do an architecture tour! And if you need it, we have someone we recommend.

Our architecture tour was pretty intense, so we finished the day (and our stay in Chicago, our architecture tour was the last thing we did) with a riverside walk. We made sure to admire the architecture along the way.

I almost forgot. Like any good Chicago visit, we went to Lou Malnati’s and also watched improv comedy. Both were fantastic, even more reasons to come back to this city!

Inna and I loved Chicago so much, even more than we through we would. The city was so vibrant and alive, everything so “Chicago”, we definitely didn’t want to leave. But the east coast beckons, so keep on reading, we’re almost to the Atlantic coast!

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