There is always something new to explore and visit, may it be inside the country or outside. For a person who wants to travel deciding on where to go is not really a problem, but when to go is an entirely different thing especially when you have a job to consider and family to ask permission from. Now that you’re retiring you have all the time in the world to use and spend at your expense. But where to go is the next question.
Once known as the second largest city in the United States, Chicago dropped to third place during the 1980s as its population decreased by about 7.5%. Its name is derived from a French interpretation of the Native American word shikaakwa translated as “wild onion” or “wild garlic”. In 1871, just as Chicago was emerging as a major city, a great fire swept through the city causing 100,000 people homeless and damages amounting to millions of dollars. The city then underwent a rebuilding program using stones as replacement for wooden buildings and creating one of the first modern fire departments in America. It has been the seat of Cook County since 1931.
Filled with incomparable landmarks and rustic characteristics, the many facets of Chicago will definitely take your breath away.
World’s Fifth Busiest Airport
Almost all visitors enter the city through the O’Hare International, the city’s major airport and the fifth busiest in the world. It is located in the northwestern-most corner of Chicago, Illinois.
Its construction began in 1942 as a manufacturing plant for Douglas C-54s under the Douglas Company. The site took the name Orchard Field Airport but was renamed O’Hare International Airport in 1949 to honor Edward O’Hare, the U.S. Navy’s first flying ace and Medal of Honor recipient in World War II.
The airport offers different activities that will always keep its visitors busy while waiting for their trips; from art exhibits, bookstores and restaurants to arcades for the kids, boutiques, gift shops and history and aviation exhibits. The place also has an urban garden, an aeroponic garden that supplies fresh products to airport restaurants. It contains 26 plant towers as well as an exhibit that explains the importance of the system.
Chicago’s Front Door
From the airport, every visitor’s first stop is the Buckingham Fountain. Formally known as the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain, it is considered as the city’s front door located in Grant Park, known as the city’s front yard.
The fountain was donated in 1927 by Kate Buckingham to honor her brother, Clarence Buckingham, and is said to be a representation of Lake Michigan. Each of the bronze seahorses that surround the fountain symbolizes the states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana sculpted by Marcel F. Loyau. The design on the other hand is modeled after “Bassin de Latome” at the Palace of Versailles near Paris.
Measuring almost 300 feet in diameter, it is considered as one of the largest fountains in the world. It is best seen at night when the hourly 20 minute water display is accompanied with music and magnificently animated with computerized patterns of colored spotlights.
Another top tourist attraction that should not be missed by visitors is the Navy Pier, a large dock located along Lake Michigan near Streeterville. Originally known as Municipal Pier #2, it is one of the piers developed by Daniel Burnham in 1916. The other pier was never built.
The pier was built mainly as a receiving space for steamers as well as a site for shipping and entertainment. In 1927, in honor of the veterans of the World War it was renamed Navy Pier which turned out as a prophetic name as it was used as a naval training facility during the second World War.
The dominant features of the area are the Headhouse and Auditorium designed by Charles Summer Frost. The Headhouse is a brick and terra cotta building with two noticeable towers that holds huge liter tanks for the fire sprinkler system. At present it is the home of Chicago’s Children Museum. The Auditorium, also known as the Hall, has a magnificent grand ballroom with a high half-domed ceiling.
Other attractions are a Ferris wheel, musical carousel with 26 hand-painted animals, Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows that is used as an ice skating rink during winter and a theater during summer, the 7 storeys Shakespeare Theater, the navy Pier Aero balloon, miniature golf course, a funhouse maze, beer garden and an IMAX Theater.
Pamper yourself and see the city’s panoramic view on board the Navy Pier’s pleasure boats. The boats offer speedboat and water taxi rides, dinner cruises with dances and live entertainment along Lake Michigan ̶ an experience you won’t easily forget.
Considered by many locals as the city’s crowning glory, the Millennium Park offers state of the art facilities, unequalled public artworks and gardens to its visitors. Originally built to celebrate the millennium, it is bordered by Michigan Avenue to the west, Columbus Drive to the east, Randolph street to the north and Monroe street to the south.
The centerpiece of the park is the Pritzker Pavilion, a bandshell designed by Frank Gehry. The outdoor concert area seats 4,000 with an additional room for 7,000 on the Great Lawn. It has a modern sound system that makes it a perfect venue for concerts and other events. The Harris Theater on the other hand is an indoor concert venue for a more intimate event such as ballets and chamber concerts.
Outdoor fanatics will also enjoy the Crown Fountain named after the Crown Family and designed by the Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. The fountain consists of a black granite reflecting pool placed between two 50-foot glass brick towers. The tower displays diverse Chicagoan faces spitting out water through their mouths in reference to the traditional use of gargoyles. Not far from the fountain is the 2.5 acre Lurie Garden featuring a 15 foot high “shoulder” hedge representing Carl Sandburg’s description of Chicago as the “City of the Big Shoulders”.
Complementing the Pritzker Pavilion is the BP Pedestrian Bridge that connects the Park with the Daley Bicentennial Plaza. The stainless steel panels that line the sides of the bridge blocks traffic sounds as it crosses the Columbus Avenue while the hardwood deck serves as easy access for visitors with disabilities. It is often referred to as the “Snake Bridge” due to its curving form. Another stainless steel structure that all architecture buffs will envy is the Cloud Gate, a bean-shaped artifact designed by Anish Kapoor. Inspired by liquid mercury, it is considered as one of the largest sculpture in the world. The 12-foot arch in the middle serves as a gate that entices visitors to admire their distorted reflection.
Visitors likewise shouldn’t miss the Millennium Monument where the Millennium fountain is found, the McCormick Tribune Plaza and Ice Rink and Chase Promenade.
Stadium and Arena
Chicago offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience to its sports inclined visitors. A game played and watched in the Soldier Field and the United Center will surely make its supporters shout out loud and jump at their seats.
Soldier Field, an American Football stadium, has been home of the National Football League’s Chicago Bears since 1971. It is the oldest and second smallest stadium in the NFL. Designed in a Greco-Roman architecture in 1919, it was first named as Municipal Grant Park Stadium changing only to Soldier Field on November 11, 1925. The field serves as a memorial to American soldiers who died during the wars.
Named after the United Airlines, the United Center, an indoor sports arena, is home to the Chicago Bulls of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League (NHL). On the east side of the arena are statues of Michael Jordan, known as “The Spirit”, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita while on the north lays the statues of different players of the Blackhawks.
Hotel and Tower
Aside from the famous stadiums and arenas, hotels and towers also dominate the city’s landscape. Two of the popular structures are the Water Tower, located at the center of the Magnificent Mile, and the Trump International Hotel located in downtown Chicago.
Built in 1869 using big limestone blocks, The Water Tower and the nearby pumping station were the two buildings that survived the 1781 Great Chicago Fire which swept the city to the ground. Designed by William W. Boyington, its neo-gothic towers are often mistaken as a small European castle rather than a water tower.
Constructed mainly for the purpose of providing clean water to the city, it was chosen by the American Water Works Association to be the first American Water landmark and has become one of the most iconic historical attractions of the city symbolizing Chicago’s resilience.
Going downtown, the Trump International Hotel or Trump Hotel is a skyscraper condo-hotel named after the billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump. In 2009, it became the second tallest building in the western hemisphere after the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower. It surpassed the John Hancock Center with highest residence in the world until the completion of Burj Khalifa. As of November 2012 the Trump Hotel stands as the twelfth tallest building in the world.
The hotel includes a retail space, parking area, hotel and condominiums, restaurants and a 23,000 sq. foot spa named The Spa at Trump. The spa offers a gemstone-infused oil massages, a rob menu, hydrating masques, exfoliating salts and the Deluge Shower.
Save the best for last, so they say, because Chicago’s downtown is worth seeing especially when the night falls and the lights from the different buildings and street lamps illuminate the area. It is affectionately known as The Loop, derived from the cable car, particularly the two lines sharing a loop bounded by Madison, Wabash, State and Lake, intertwined in the central business district.
Surrounded on the west and north by the Chicago River, on the east by Lake Michigan and on the south by Roosevelt Road, it is the seat of Chicago and Cook County’s government as well as the city’s historic theater and shopping district. Notable buildings include the Home Insurance Building, considered as the first skyscraper but was demolished in 1931, Willis Tower, Chicago Board of Trade Building, National Historic Landmark and Aon Center, Chicago’s third tallest building.
Shopping destinations include the Loop Retail Historic District, Magnificent Mile, Marshall Field and Company Building and the original Sullivan Center Carson Pirie Scott. The Loop also presents outdoor sculptures such as Joan Miró, Henry Moore, Marc Chagall and Alexander Calder by Pablo Picasso. The Chicago River also adds to the area’s beauty as it provides entertainment and recreational activities.
The Loop also is the seat of cultural theaters such as the Art Institute of Chicago, The Goodman Theater, Civic Opera House Building, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the famous Chicago Theater located on North State Street.
The Chicago Theater, constructed in 1921, was originally known as the Balaban and Katz Chicago Theater. It is a seven storeys structure with a French Baroque interior influenced by the Second French Empire. The grand staircase is patterned after the grand stairs of the Paris Opera House that ascends to the balcony levels. The theater performs stage plays, magic shows, comedy, concerts and speeches every day.
Learn, Stay Put
When all things are said and done perhaps the best part in any trip to Chicago are its people. Well-disposed and candid, the locals have very high regard for their people especially to their courageous soldiers who fought and died in the wars. Learn to stay put, sit on a bench, talk to the locals of the city and you’ll learn how life is by the lake and how it should be lived.
As the saying goes “no man is an island” what more fun to visit a certain place and get to know their culture and spend your retirement days with people from other state. Create good memories in Chicago – the kind that even if years passed by every time you hear the word Chicago you’ll blurt out “Fun times”.