Saturday, August 17, 2013

Chi-Town, continued

Beautiful skyline as seen from the boat tour
Day 3
On day 3, I stopped at Starbucks for a quick breakfast, then headed to the river for an architectural boat tour. I booked one of the early morning tours offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. You board the vessel at the Michigan Avenue bridge, which was only a block or two from my hotel.

I really loved this tour. A docent from the foundation points out major landmarks along the river, informing you about style, who designed each building, and more. I had never thought much about how buildings are designed to speak to their surroundings, to the other buildings in the area, to the history of the city they are in, or in honor of other great architects. We learned about the Chicago Tribune building (chunks from other famous structures around the world are embedded in its base), the Wrigley Building, Marina City (Locals call it the corn cobs, but I thought it looked more like two flowers with ruffled petals.), and more. She also pointed out where the Great Fire started. The weather was gorgeous, and I got a nice, shady seat on the forward deck.

Marshall Field's!
After the tour, it was lunch time. I headed back to the old Marshall Field's building for a ladylike lunch in The Walnut Room! The story goes that, back when Field still walked the halls of his store, he caught a milliner serving her customers chicken pot pies in her shop. Livid, he confronted the hatmaker. She explained that the ladies got hungry while shopping, and rather than having them leave the store entirely (perhaps not to return), she opted to feed them in the store so they could go on buying items. Needless to say, Field knew wisdom when he heard it. Shortly thereafter, he had this very refined watering hole installed on the premises.

The dining room is gorgeous. I had a window seat (and a waiter from Pocahontas, Miss.!). I almost got the trademark chicken pot pie, but due to the heat of the day, I chose instead a corn soup garnished with pepitas and a lovely shrimp salad sandwich. What a treat! It was light, summery, and delicious!

Chicago History Museum
After resting a moment back at the hotel, I was off again. I decided to make the 2-3 mile walk to the Chicago History Museum, up near Lincoln Park, via the lakefront. It was a beautiful day, and I saw so many people out swimming, jogging, riding their bikes, and enjoying the sunshine! (Incidentally, Chicago has a bike rental program. You'll see kiosks of the blue bikes throughout the city. You rent one, hop on, ride it around, and return it at any other kiosk. My only advice? Print out the locations of all the kiosks before you hit the ground. That way, you'll know where you can pick up bikes and drop them off. The maps at the kiosks are only for the immediate area, and so aren't as helpful as they could be.)

I made it to the museum, which is set at one end of a beautiful park full of trees, riotous perennial beds, and public art. I loved this museum. First, I headed upstairs for the big exhibits on Chicago history. I learned about the early settlement of the area, Fort Dearborn, and the rise of the city as a center for meat, steel, and furniture. Other exhibits explored the expansion of the railroad system, the Great Fire, sports and entertainment, and the Chicago Jewish experience. I particularly enjoyed the hall of dioramas on the first floor. Such detail!

Chicago Theatre
With tired feet, I headed back to the Magnificent Mile for food and a rest. Bar Toma it was, for the second time. Unable to resist the pizza, I chose one loaded with spinach and cheese. Yum! After a quick stop for some Garrett Popcorn (caramel cashew . . . mmmmmmmmm), I went to my hotel room, laid down on the bed, and doubted if I'd ever move again!

Day 4
Day 4 was the first day of the business conference I was in Chicago to attend. I went around the corner to the Gleacher Center and spent the morning learning, networking, and hearing from experts. Our group did break for a working lunch, which we had at Heaven on Seven, a New Orleans-style restaurant. (The irony is not lost on me.) I had a cup of delicious gumbo, a big ol' chicken enchilada (Hey, it was on special!), and a sinful chicory creme brulee.

Once our afternoon sessions ended, I high-tailed it to the Chicago Theatre for their behind-the-scenes tour. (Because it was a dark night at the theatre, we got to see nearly everything - back stage, the green room, dressing rooms, the works.) I am so glad I took this tour! It's a gorgeous historic building. We even got to go on stage! (They asked if anyone had a song. I couldn't resist belting the last few lines of All That Jazz! Very appropriate, no? Acoustics were amazing, with the sound traveling right back to you.)

Upper interior of the lobby, Chicago Theatre
Backstage, there are all these signatures of people who have played at the theatre: Frank Sinatra, Kathy Griffin, David Copperfield, all kinds of folks. And the building itself is a marvel of French Baroque and marble and chandeliers and decorative plaster work. Highly, highly recommended.

After the tour, it was back to bed for me, as I had another early morning for the conference the next day.

More to come . . .

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