Sunday, July 15, 2018

Chicago (no kids) - SATURDAY


This is how we spent the day in Chicago today: seated, observing the city, hoping for no rain. Since we only had one full day to see basically everything, we bought a hop in hop off bus tour to get us to the major attractions and the First Lady Boat tour - an exploration of Chicago's well-known architectural beauties.

We chose the Big Bus tour (for no specific reason) that covers the downtown core and the loop, and the long waterfront. The whole tour  - which has a tour guide - can be done in less than 2 hours, but you are allowed to get off and explode for yourself the areas where the bus stops. It costs $45. It's good for short trips like ours.

This has got be one of the most fascinating buildings in Chicago: the Marina City. Here is a close up of the building's garage, with the cars parked almost falling off the structure.


The Marina City complex was designed in 1959 by architect Bertrand Goldberg and constructed between 1961 and 1968 at a cost of $36 million, financed to a large extent by Building Service Employees International Union, the union of building janitors and elevator operators, who sought to reverse the pattern of white flight from the city's downtown area. When finished, the two towers were both the tallest residential buildings and the tallest reinforced concrete structures in the world. The complex was built as a "city within a city," featuring numerous on-site facilities including a theater, gym, swimming pool, ice rink, bowling alley, several stores and restaurants, and, of course, a marina.

The two towers contain identical floor plans. The bottom 19 floors form an exposed spiral parking ramp operated by valet with approximately 896 parking spaces. The 20th floor of each contains a laundry room and gym with panoramic views of the Loop, while floors 21 through 60 contain apartments (450 per tower). A 360-degree open-air roof deck lies on the 61st and top story. The buildings are accessed from separate lobbies that share a common below-grade mezzanine level as well as ground-level plaza entrances beside the House of Blues. Originally rental apartments, the complex converted to condominiums in 1977, but still contains a number of rental units.

Colourful 10-story mural of bluesman Muddy Waters by Brazilian street artist Kobra, @ 17 N. State Street.


Eduardo Kobra is a Brazilian street artist. He is notable for painting murals, usually depicting portraits with a technique of repeating squares and triangles. Kobra utilizes bright colors and bold lines while staying true to a kaleidoscope theme throughout his art.

The Sears Towers, now called the Willis Tower, was the tallest building in the world for 25 years.


The Willis Tower, built as and still commonly referred to as the Sears Tower, is a 110-story, 1,450-foot (442.1 m) skyscraper in ChicagoIllinoisAt completion in 1973, it surpassed the World Trade Center towers in New York to become the tallest building in the world, a title it held for nearly 25 years; it remained the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere until the completion of a new building at the World Trade Center site in 2014. The building is considered a seminal achievement for its designer Fazlur Rahman Khan. The Willis Tower is the second-tallest building in the United States and the Western hemisphere – and the 16th-tallest in the world. More than one million people visit its observation deck each year, making it one of Chicago's most-popular tourist destinations. The structure was renamed in 2009 by the Willis Group as part of its lease on a portion of the tower's space.

Chicago is home to many building of various architectural thoughts.

The Adler Planetarium.

Us and the Chicago skyline.

Me absorbing Chicago.

Chicago has a beautiful and useful waterfront, with parks and bike paths.

Today I found out the origin of one of my favourite engines: the Ferris Wheel. It all started here in Chicago during the World's Fair. Organizers at the time wanted to outdo Paris, that had hosted the fair previously and presented the Eiffel Tower to the world. The American engineer George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. promised to build something special: "a moving Eiffel Tower." The first Ferris wheel was twice the size of the one standing now at Chicago's waterfront.


The original Ferris Wheel was designed and constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. as a landmark for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The generic term Ferris wheel is now used for all such structures, which have become the most common type of amusement ride at state fairs in the United States.
The current tallest wheel is the 167.6-metre (550 ft) High Roller in Las Vegas, US, which opened to the public in March 2014.
There were 36 cars, each fitted with 40 revolving chairs and able to accommodate up to 60 people, giving a total capacity of 2,160.The wheel carried some 38,000 passengers daily, and took 20 minutes to complete two revolutions, the first involving six stops to allow passengers to exit and enter and the second a nine-minute non-stop rotation, for which the ticket holder paid 50 cents

The Chicago Children's Museum is located at the Navy Pier on Lake Michigan. We didn't get to see the museum inside, but we took a break from the outside heat visiting the restaurants and shops area.

The place has many different fast food restaurants. Mexican always feels right in the US.

Carnita (pork meat) Tacos with rice and beans. Not bad.


The World's Columbian Exposition (the official shortened name for the World's Fair: Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World's Fair and Chicago Columbian Exposition) was a world's fair held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492. 

The centerpiece of the Fair, the large water pool, represented the long voyage Columbus took to the New World. Chicago bested New York CityWashington, D.C.; and St. Louis for the honor of hosting the fair. The Exposition was an influential social and cultural event and had a profound effect on architecture, sanitation, the arts, Chicago's self-image, and American industrial optimism.


The First Lady tour was recommended to us by many people. It is a 90-minute boat tour through the Chicago river organized by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. You can catch it at the Riverwalk at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive and it costs $45.

"Highly trained and passionate volunteer docents provide a detailed narrative of Chicago's various architectural styles and the stories of the people who designed and built our city."

Please meet Gloria, an extraordinary tour guide. During one hour and half Gloria, who was doing it as a volunteer for the Chicago Architecture Foundation, talked non stop about the fantastic buildings around us. She can't accept tips, but we can spread the word about their amazing work. 
Right on, Gloria!

An old little tower by one of dozens of bridges over the Chicago river.

REVERSING THE FLOW OF THE CHICAGO RIVER (an incredible engineering accomplishment from more than 100 years ago)

As Chicago grew, this allowed sewage and other pollution into the clean-water source for the city, contributing to several public healthproblems, like typhoid fever. Starting in 1848, much of the Chicago River's flow was also diverted across the Chicago Portage into the Illinois and Michigan Canal. In 1871, the old canal was deepened in an attempt to completely reverse the river's flow but the reversal of the river only lasted one season.
Finally, in 1900, the Sanitary District of Chicago, then headed by William Boldenweck, completely reversed the flow of the Main Stem and South Branch of the river using a series of canal locks, increasing the river's flow from Lake Michigan and causing it to empty into the newly completed Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. In 1999, this system was named a "Civil Engineering Monument of the Millennium" by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Before this time, the Chicago River was known by many local residents of Chicago as "the stinking river" because of the massive amounts of sewage and pollution that poured into the river from Chicago's booming industrial economy.
Through the 1980s, the river was quite dirty and often filled with garbage; however, during the 1990s, it underwent extensive cleaning as part of an effort at beautification by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.


We went for dinner and show at the House of Blues. Why not? If you have to eat somewhere, you might as well listen to good music too.
This venue was very different from yesterday's Buddy Guy's Legends, which felt more like a local and roots place. The House of Blues has a "made for tourists" feeling, but still felt like the real thing. We highly recommend it, with its great music, good service and walls covered with tons of southern art.

Today's menu: Shrimp and Grits
Our riff on the classic: sautéed shrimp in chipotle cream sauce with fresh chives over a crispy grit cake. Best meal of the trip!

We had the pleasure to watch Sheryl Youngblood and Band playing tonight. They were awesome and she's got a great voice and amazing energy. This was by far the best concert of this trip. 

Hanging out with one of the two Blues Brothers.

Chicago by night.

We ended the day with a nice walk back to the hotel on the busy streets of this great city. 
They say New York doesn't sleep, but Chicago is not far behind... check out those people kaiaking around the city, at midnight.

Goodnight, Chicago!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Chicago (no kids) - FRIDAY

See you soon, CN Tower and Toronto. We are about to embark in our newest destination: Chicago, a totally new city for me.

This is our first trip alone (no kids) in 7 years, since we became parents!

Chicago, officially the City of Chicago, is the third most populous city in the United States, after New York City and Los Angeles. With over 2.7 million residents, it is also the most populous city in both the state of Illinois and the Midwestern United States. It is the county seat of Cook County. The Chicago metropolitan area, often referred to as Chicagoland, has nearly 10 million people and is the third-largest in the United States. 

From the Midway Airport we took an easy train (L Train, The Loop Line) for $3 each and it took us right downtown. No problem finding the station and no crowds - middle of the day.

The next few shots are from the train window.

Chicago is know for its old and new architecture. 
The elevated train ride is an attraction itself. 

The buildings and architecture of Chicago have influenced and reflected the history of American architecture. The built environment of Chicago is reflective of the city's history and multicultural heritage, featuring prominent buildings in a variety of styles by many important architects. Since most structures within the downtown area were destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 (the most famous exception being the Water Tower) Chicago buildings are noted for their originality rather than their antiquity.
Chicago is world-famous for its plethora of unique architectural styles, from Chicago Bungalows and Two-Flats to the grand Graystones along Logan Boulevard and Lawndale Avenue, from the skyscrapers of the Loop as well as a wealth of sacred architecture such as the city's ornate "Polish Cathedrals".

Street art - from inside the train still.


The elevated train does a loop around the downtown court, where we are staying.

We got trapped for about half an hour in the lower street level. We could see outside, but had no access to it. It's pretty interesting how they have THREE street levels downtown.

We finally found a way out to the upper street level, where the hotel and the buildings are.
In this photo Mike is in the middle level. We can't see the outside level.

Our hotel: Radisson Aqua Blu @ N. Columbus Drive.

One of the best things in the USA: Mexican food.
We had an amazing meal at the Broken English.


A block away from our hotel is the Millennium Park, one of Chicago's main attractions. 
These people are waiting for a concert to start and it was really cool to see them eating from picnic baskets and drinking alcohol in a public space. 

Millennium Park is a public park located in the Loop community area of Chicago in Illinois, US, and originally intended to celebrate the third millennium. It is a prominent civic center near the city's Lake Michigan shoreline that covers a 24.5-acre (99,000 m2) section of northwestern Grant Park. The area was previously occupied by parkland, Illinois Central rail yards, and parking lots. The park, which is bounded by Michigan AvenueRandolph StreetColumbus Drive and East Monroe Drive, features a variety of public art. As of 2009, Millennium Park trailed only Navy Pier as a Chicago tourist attraction and by 2017 it had become the number one tourist attraction in the Midwestern United States. In 2015, the park became the location of the city's annual Christmas tree lighting.

The centerpiece of Millennium Park is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a bandshell designed by Frank Gehry. The pavilion has 4,000 fixed seats, plus additional lawn seating for 7,000; the stage is framed by curving plates of stainless steel, characteristic of Gehry. It was named after Jay Pritzker, whose family is known for owning Hyatt Hotels and was a major donor. The Pritzker Pavilion is Grant Park's outdoor performing arts venue for small events, and complements Petrillo Music Shell, the park's older and larger bandshell. The pavilion is built partially atop the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, the park's indoor performing arts venue, with which it shares a loading dock and backstage facilities.The pavilion is seen as a major upgrade from the Petrillo Music Shell for those events it hosts

The Bean.

Cloud Gate, dubbed "The Bean" by Chicagoans because of its legume-like shape, is a three-story reflective steel sculpture. The first public artwork in the United States by world-renowned artist Anish Kapoor, the privately funded piece cost $23 million, considerably more than the original estimate of $6 million. Composed of 168 stainless steel plates welded together, its highly polished exterior has no visible seams. It is 33 by 66 by 42 feet (10 m × 20 m × 13 m) and weighs 110 short tons (100 t; 98 long tons).Its smooth shape and mirror-like surface were inspired by liquid mercury. It reflects the city skyline[ particularly the historic Michigan Avenue "streetwall", and the sky. It provides striking reflections of visitors, who can walk around and under its 12-foot (3.7 m) high arch. On the underside is the "omphalos" (Greek for "navel"), a concave chamber that warps and multiplies reflections. The sculpture builds upon many of Kapoor's artistic themes, and is a popular photo subject with tourists

Right inside of the Bean.

The Bean and I.

Kids were having a blast playing in the water, cooling down from over 30 degree temperatures, with art!

The Crown Fountain is an interactive work of public art and video sculpture, named in honor of Chicago's Crown family and opened in July 2004. It was designed by Catalan conceptual artist Jaume Plensa and executed by Krueck and Sexton Architects. The fountain is composed of a black granite reflecting pool placed between a pair of transparent glass brick towers. The towers are 50 feet (15 m) tall, and use light-emitting diodes behind the bricks to display digital videos on their inward faces. Construction and design of the Crown Fountain cost $17 million.

Down the road we could see all kind of activities happening, including public chess games.

When I think of Chicago, I think of Blues. 
We had a small list of suggestions for live music venues in the city (Green Mill, Underground Wonderbar, B.L.U.E.S), but we chose Buddy Guy's Legends, closer to us. We had a great time! @ 700 S. Wabash

I regretted for not writing down the name of this gentleman, but he sure was a great story teller and sweet man.  I was very touched by his smooth voice and mellow way to connect with the audience. I wish my girls were there listening to him too.

The menu is filled with cajun and soul food. 
I ordered a Jambalaya and loved the corn bread that came with it.

Jambalaya s a Louisiana-origin dish of Spanish and French (especially Provençal cuisine) influence, consisting mainly of meat and vegetables mixed with rice. Traditionally, the meat always includes sausage of some sort, often a smoked sausage such as andouille, along with some other meat or seafood, frequently pork, chicken, crawfish, or shrimp. The vegetables are usually a soffritto-like mixture known as the "holy trinity" in Cajun cooking, consisting of onion, celery, and green bell pepper, though other vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, chilis, and garlic are also used. After browning and sauteeing the meat and vegetables, rice, seasonings, and broth are added and the entire dish is cooked together until the rice is done.

After another band played, finally the main attraction of the night came on stage past 11pm (way past my bed time). Bryan Lee is a 75 year old blind man who got the crowd going, performing old style blues while attached to his oxygen tank. I've never heard of him before, but he sure has his fans in Chicago who were there supporting him. Bryan Lee lives and still performs on Bourbon Street, in New Orleans. Great show. 

Lee completely lost his eyesight by the age of eight. His avid interest in early rock and blues was fostered through the 1950s by late night listening sessions via the Nashville-based radio station WLAC-AM, where he first encountered the sounds of Elmore JamesAlbert King and Albert Collins.
By his late teens, Lee was playing rhythm guitar in a regional band called The Glaciers that covered Elvis PresleyLittle Richard and Chuck Berry material. Through the 1960s, Lee's interest turned to Chicago blues and he soon found himself immersed in that scene, opening for some of his boyhood heroes. In 1979 he released his first album named Beauty Isn't Always Visual.
In January 1982, Lee moved to New Orleans, eventually landing a steady gig at the Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street becoming a favorite of tourists in the city's French Quarter. For the next 14 years, Lee and his Jump Street Five played five nights a week at that popular bar, developing a huge following and a solid reputation.
Today Lee continues to perform in New Orleans. He also tours several times a year in the Midwest, Eastern Seaboard, Rocky Mountain States and recently Europe and Brazil. Lee appeared with Kenny Wayne Shepherd as the musical guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on February 14, 2007.