We did a lot of walking on our two full days in Chicago, 10 miles the first day and 8 miles the second. It’s my favourite city in the United States (Tucson being my favourite town/small city) and at no point did we feel unsafe in the downtown area or on the brief trip north to Sheffield, despite the warnings from our Memphis Uber driver from Alabama. I had been to Chicago once before (see photos) when I was in the US for my internship and loved it, despite the Empire Builder train (more photos) arriving 4 hours late and walking out of Union Station into the biggest thunderstorm ever. The city did not disappoint on its second visit and Mischa loved it too, I’m glad my subtle hints to him to visit got through.
Chicago sits on Lake Michigan, still frozen in parts when we were there at the end of January. Our first walk was in the snow straight to Goodwill, a charity shop, where I bought a pair of gloves and Mischa a Chicago Bulls tshirt. Unfortunately they are too popular an NBA team for cheap tickets so we missed a game here. We headed back towards the lake walking alongside the river under the bridges, over the DuSable Bridge, past the gothic Tribune Tower and down the Magnificent Mile.
We did a lot of walking along the shore of Lake Michigan on both days. It was our first really snowy place with parts of the water still frozen as well as large chunks of ice just sitting on the pavement. We walked the length of Navy Pier (it was pretty empty) and around the planetarium at the south end of downtown. I think we would have walked for longer if there hadn’t been the cold wind blowing at us from across the lake.
Given our dwindling budget now that we’re coming to the end of our year, and the surprisingly high prices for certain items in America (vegetables are not cheap), we sought out a museum which had a “pay what you can” policy. This is great as it allows everyone access to historic and cultural interests, no matter your background. The Museum of Contemporary Art was our first stop where we had time to see an exhibit from an Iraqi-American artist. From considering how the date industry in Iraq has collapsed to collecting Saddam Hussein’s china plates and comparing the dictators choice of armed guards’ helmets to Star Wars. The most memorable piece was this incredibly moving video, The Ballad of Special Ops Cody. The second more light-hearted museum we visited was the Design Museum, found high up in shopping mall by chance. Discussing games and their positive effects, every exhibit was playable with a push to get adults to play more games. I couldn’t be happier with the sentiment on one of the placards.
Another cost saver was to seek out the library high up in the Daley Center. We were reminded of Shanghai and our trip nearly to the top of the bottleopener for free. Named after Richard J Daley, a former mayor of 21 years starting in 1955, the building is the civic center of Chicago. We joined the queues of people going in for the courts, taxes and other local council needs and were ferried passed the security and through the metal detectors, another reminder of China. On the 29th floor is the Cook Country Law Library, a great place to take in the view and write postcards.
When we finally took public transport we jumped right on the L, my favourite metro system. The tracks sit above the roads using a girder structure which guides trains in between the skyscrapers. At $2.25 a ticket lasting 3 journeys in two hours, it’s not a bad deal either. Our trip unexpectedly took us to Sheffield Avenue where the area is known as the Garden District of Chicago. We found a deep dish pizza restaurant recommended by a fellow traveller who we met in New Orleans. The crust was amazing, cheese had been applied and burnt until caramelised. It turns out there are actually several different versions of deep dish pizza, and the next night we happily and greedily tried one where the crust is more like pie pastry.