Friday, September 18, 2015

My Kind of Town! Chicago!

Sept. 10-13

Days 303-306

We have debated vigorously just how we were going to deal with the issue of a visit to Chicago. There were suggestions from other boaters along the way as to what would be our best way to taste at least a small portion of what the city has to offer. We could stop at the marina in Holland and take the train into Union Station, get a little closer by going to Hammond and then using mass transit into the city, going all the way to the harbor and grab a mooring ball which then requires a tender pick-up back and forth from the dock. All of these possibilities had their benefits, mostly involving money. When it was time for us to actually visit Chicago, we bit the bullet and made reservations at DuSable Marina, which allowed us to step off our boat right into the middle of the action. What an exciting, and exhausting, time we had! Other than our trip to the zoo, which necessitated a bus ride to Lincoln Park, we walked to all of the attractions we were able to squeeze into four very busy days. This was our first trip to Chicago as tourists, and were we ever thrilled. The waterfront area is packed with things to see and do. Hopefully someday we will return to this beautiful city on the shore of lake Michigan. 

After watching the skyline take shape for the past three hours, we are finally honing in on the harbor and our marina. Luckily we still have a little daylight left to at least get off the boat for a walk along the riverfront.

With so much to see and such a short time to see it, we didn't waste any time. As soon as Bama Dream was snug in her slip, we put on our walking shoes and headed for nearby Navy Pier. Shops and restaurants line the pier all the way to the end where visitors can enjoy a stunning view of the city. Jess was very happy to find what seems to be his favorite quick food stop, McDonald's. My sandwich was fine, but my coffee ice cream cone was great!

Since we will get the daytime view when we leave Chicago, we decided to take the nighttime architecture cruise through the downtown district. Chicago is very proud of the variety of architectural styles incorporated in their highrises, as they should be. This was a fascinating trip down the canal, with a very knowledgable guide.

On our return trip into the city, the Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, stands tall above all of the other skyscrapers.

In order to make the best use of our time in Chicago we purchased City Passes that gave us admission into five of the most popular attractions along the waterfront. Our first stop on Saturday morning was the Shedd Aquarium. 

This is Granddad, an Australian Lungfish that arrived at Shedd Aquarium in 1933. His claim to fame is that he is the oldest aquatic animal in any public aquarium in the world.

While we were enjoying the aquarium, the morning's rainy skies finally cleared, leaving a stunning view of the waterfront, with its beautiful park and a very busy mooring field.

We spent so much time in the aquarium we had only a couple of hours to hit the high spots in the Field Museum. The official greeter is Sue, the most intact skeleton of a T-Rex ever found.

This panel is just one of many that provide a panorama of the Chicago skyline. Each panel was done by Qiao Xiaoguang, a Chinese master of the art of paper cutting. All of the panels were cut freehand using just scissors and a large sheet of black paper.

The architecture of the Field Museum is just as interesting as the wide variety of exhibits it houses. These figures standing watch over the main hall represent the museum's mission. The woman on the right holds a magnifying glass representing Research and the sculpture on the left holds a quill and paper representing Records. Figures representing Dissemination of Knowledge and Science occupy the cornices at the opposite end of the hall.

The rain may have moved on, but the wind is still here. The aquarium looks out over a very choppy harbor, even though it is protected by a very long breakwall between the waterfront and Lake Michigan. It is easy to see why we chose not to join the others who were rocking and rolling in the mooring field.

After waiting out another rainy morning, we worked our way from the marina to The Art Institute of Chicago. Knowing that our day was slipping away, we tried to time our walk between rain showers. I can only say that we were not 100% effective.

The Art Institute is huge, containing exhibits of works by the masters all the way to paperweights, and pretty much anything a person could imagine in between. We soon discovered that because we didn't have all day, and then some, to spend here we would have to pick and choose what we would see. This is definitely one of those places I would love to come back to. One room is dedicated to American Folk Art with many items depicting the high level of patriotism during the World Wars. 

We found a fascinating exhibit containing artifacts dating back to the Vikings, as well as this room full of all of the equipment needed to be a knight in shining armor.

I loved seeing works by the great masters, but this is the painting I had really wanted to view. After seeing this iconic painting, titled American Gothic by Grant Wood, used in so many different ways all of my life, I was excited to stand before the original. It was interesting to learn that the artist actually used his dentist and his sister as the models for the early American farmer and his spinster daughter.

I always enjoy viewing sculptures and paintings depicting scenes from the American West. This beautiful work is titled The End of the Trail by James Earle Fraser, who was a 15 year old student at the Art Institute when he produced the first version of this bronze sculpture that symbolizes the vanishing Native American population due the westward expansion.

A walk through the streets of downtown Chicago was required to get us to our next destination, the Willis Tower. Along the way we came upon an interesting sight. Evidently it is perfectly excepted in Chicago to stop traffic while making wedding pictures in the middle of the street. There were actually three different groups using the highrises as a backdrop. I have to say, it probably made for some very nice shots.

The City Pass not only gave us direction for our short visit in Chicago, it also provides a very nice perk. Holders get to do a Fast Pass into the attractions, which means while others are standing in long lines, we get to go right on by. The view from the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower, formerly the Sear's Tower, is stunning. You can just see the beginnings of our marina at the west end of the mooring field.

Wrigley Field is out there somewhere. From this height everything looks small. Luckily we timed our visit for a sunny afternoon, so the skyline was visible all the way to Wisconsin. Supposedly, on a clear day, you can see four states from here, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan

Sorry this is a little dark, the sun wasn't cooperating, but I had to prove to you that we did step out onto the glass bottomed "ledge". I was just slightly nervous, but I figured thousands of people had been out there before me, and so far no one had mentioned a malfunction, surely it would hold up a little while longer. 

Had to include this photo of the gorgeous building containing the holdings of the Chicago Public Library. 

This bean, I don't know what else to call it, is the center point of Millennium Park. Giving an awesome reflection of the Chicago skyline, and of course the hundreds of people trying to find themselves as the check it out from all directions.

As you wander under the sculpture the view takes an interesting twist to say the least. At its very center it reflects a perfect circle.

This serpentine walkway provides the perfect means for foot traffic to cross over the very busy Columbus Avenue. It connects Millennium Park to Daley Bicentennial Plaza which contains the most amazing playground. Jess and I spent an hour or so just watching children have a blast.

Saturday night we were entertained by a fireworks show right form the bow of our boat. The Navy Pier provides fireworks every weekend through the summer tourist season, which is rapidly coming to a close.

With a beautiful day greeting us on Sunday morning, we decided a trip to the zoo would be the perfect ending to our days in Chicago. This also gave us an opportunity to check out "The Magnificent Mile" of shops along Michigan Avenue on our way to catch the bus. Sadly, we just couldn't fit a day of shopping into our busy schedule, maybe on our next visit.

This turned out to be my favorite guy at the Lincoln Park Zoo. In general I can't say that chameleons are the most photogenic creatures, but the colors on this one were such a pretty mix of pastels, that it made up for what he lacked in beauty.

The antics of meerkats can be quite entertaining. The free Lincoln Park Zoo is a wonderful facility that the residents of Chicago can be very proud of. 

We were so focused on what to see in Chicago, we had not really had a meal out while we were here. That is if you don't count the quick lunches at various places around town. As we were approaching exhaustion the best we could do was head back to Navy Pier for supper at Bubba Gumps. I'm sure the great connoisseurs of Chicago cuisine would not be impressed with our choice, but it was convenient and not at all bad. Unfortunately, I never got to ride the Ferris wheel on the pier, so I will just have to add that to my list of things to do when we return someday.

As the sunrise hits the marina it is time for us to say goodbye to this great city, as we prepare to commence the last stretch of our journey.

Here we go with locks again. The Chicago Lock was built to help prevent the Illinois River from dumping its less than savory contents into Lake Michigan. While the river is not nearly as polluted as it was during the early years of development, the lock is still needed to separate the two bodies of water.

Our view as we progress down the Chicago River by way of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal is quite stunning. The skyscrapers soar into the bright blue sky on both sides of us.

This is Trump Towers, which contains office space and residential units. I can't imagine what a nice little apartment rents for, but I don't think it is within our budget.

Access to the water is very important here. These highrises actually include boat slips, as well as a parking garage. How convenient can you get?

There are approximately 50 bridges crossing the canal as it connects Lake Michigan with the Illinois River. Most can be opened if needed, while some are fixed causing boats to be able to get below a certain height in order to transverse this portion of the canal. That is why we had to lower our mast again this morning. Luckily we are able to do that in order to meet the height requirements, some Loopers have to connect with the Illinois River further south by way of the Calumet River Canal.

The glass fronted towers provide picturesque views of the skyscrapers around them.

Chicago is a city in constant motion. New skyscrapers are rising, and others are in the planning stages. The uniqueness of its architecture is very important here. Architects seem to basically have a free hand in designing structures that will add to the intrigue of the city skyline.

It wasn't long before we had left the city behind us. The Illinois River is a major commercial route because of its connection to the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes. We will be sharing the water with many very large barges as we continue our travels south.

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