Chicago is a city that sits on the shoreline of Lake Michigan and our third day in the city was to explore the shoreline of this great lake and its connection with Chicago. Our first destination was Millennium Park so we headed down the ‘Magnificent Mile’, Michigan Street, from our hotel and this led us directly to the first corner of the park. The park was meant to be a gift to the city (from the city itself!) to celebrate the Millennium year 2000 but was four years overdue, opening with huge crowds in 2004. By 2017 it was the number one tourist attraction in the state. The first feature of the park we wanted to see was the ‘Cloudland’ stainless steel sculpture constructed between 2004-6. It is colloquially referred to as the ‘Bean’ by locals but whatever its name, it is a strangely attractive sculpture. In this generation of ‘selfie’ photos, the Bean’s reflective nature means we don’t have to turn our phones around to see how good we look!
Not far over from the Cloudland sculpture there is an outdoor concert area that has the most impressive stage covering that, in terms of stainless-steel construction, appears to be an aberrant brother of the Bean. It is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion which accommodates 4000 customers seated and 7000 on the lawn; a great venue for the annual Grant Park Music Festival.
Walking away from the stainless-steel icons at the start of Millennium Park, we found ourselves drawn up a beautiful curved bridge travelling over Monroe St which landed us to a side entrance of the Art Institute of Chicago. On the way over this bridge we noticed a well-dressed homeless person having a rest on this bridge. Luckily our concerns were relieved when she jumped up, excited about the camera angle she had just achieved. The main attraction being advertised in the Art Institute was an exhibition of Andy Warhol’s work; not being Warhol fans, we visited the Gallery’s bookshop and moved on. However, that may have been a mistake as sometime later, I noticed this article in Time Magazine…
If you’re booking vacations for the holidays, take note: TripAdvisor has released a list of the 25 best museums in the world. The rankings — part of TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice awards — are based on millions of reviews from travellers across the globe over the past 12 months.
Coming in at number one is the renowned Art Institute of Chicago. Founded in 1879, the popular Windy City destination houses more than 300,000 pieces of art, including famous works like Grant Wood’s ’American Gothic’, Claude Monet’s ‘Stack of Wheat’ and Georges Seurat’s ‘A Sunday on La Grande Jatte’. (You’ll also remember this museum from that awesome scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)
From the Art Institute we headed down to the edge of Lake Michigan to take in the view out to the horizon and down along the shore to Northerly Island that we had visited the day before on our bus tour. It is in this area that three of the larger tourist sites of Chicago are located; the Field Museum with its dinosaur fossils, the Shedd Aquarium/Oceanarium and the Adler Planetarium. Perhaps if I had visited one of these sites, I would no doubt know more about Lake Michigan than what I had picked up from Gordon Lightfoot’s classic song, ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’. Instead we headed off to the next major feature in Millennium Park, the Wellington Fountain. The only problem with a beautiful fountain in late Autumn in Chicago is that they have to turn the water off for a few months so the pipes don’t burst.
To the right of course is the Buckingham Fountain in sunnier times.
This area of Chicago that borders on Lake Michigan is where having a bike would enable the visitor to have a much more complete look at the beauties of Millennium Park and the other parks along the lake foreshore. Because we had decided to walk to Navy Pier, there was no time to walk further along this parkland (It merges into Grant Park). If we had bicycles, we could have rode on and inspected two great sculptures (not that far from Buckingham Fountain) that I had seen out the window of the Hop on Hop off Bus the previous day. They were spectacular 17 feet high sculptures of Equestrian Indians called the ‘Bowman’ and the ‘Spearman’. Further along we could have had a close-up encounter with the 106 headless and armless sculptures that were rusting away in the snow-covered fields of Grant Park. The group is called the ‘Agora’ and is on permanent loan from Poland.
However our destination was in the other direction and so we were forced to gaze upon views like the ones below as we made our way towards Navy Pier.
In order to get to Navy Pier, we had to cross Chicago River close to where it enters Lake Michigan. We were in error when we continued to follow the main path rather than turn left up onto the bridge. This took us through a tunnel under one end of the bridge and led pedestrians back along the river towards the center of Chicago. Not a city to waste public space when it could be enhanced with art, this tunnel was covered on both sides with large ceramic art works that told the history of Chicago, from pre-European settlement up to the adventures of the 20th century.
After a slow perusal of this pedestrian Tunnel’s many stories, we headed back the way we came and organized ourselves on to the right path over the river towards Navy Pier. North American Councils give a lot of advice along pedestrian paths such as in the sign on the right. However almost every second pedestrian had a dog so there was no relief from them!.
Navy Pier is over a 1000m long pier built out into Lake Michigan. It consists of 20 ha of parks, shops. Gardens, family attractions and exhibition facilities. It apparently attracts 2 million visitors a year and is Chicago’s most visited tourist attraction. We realized that its entertainments were mostly outside of our demographic but it was well past lunchtime so we appreciated the wide range of food options that were on offer.
There was still plenty of time left in the day so we decided to catch a train down to Oldtown and visit the Chicago History Museum. It was a very enjoyable Museum, some of the highlights of the visit are contained here. ‘Remembering Martin Luther King…in Chicago and Washington’