24 December 2014

The Windy City

I'm writing this post from Chicago's O'Hare Airport, yet the experience is about 20 days old. Simply coicidence. At the start of the  month, I visited Chicago with some of my colleagues. 
The journey began in Columbus, Indiana at 5am on a large bus (coach for my British readers). Spirits were high, but quite honestly, I just wanted to sleep. I actually almost backed out of the trip, but in hindsight I am quite glad I did not. A million hours later, we arrived in Chicago. 
As we drove into the downtown area, I recalled immediately why I love Chicago and would move there in a heartbeat if a job was available. Chicago is a vibrant city. It has such great energy and everywhere you turn is something to see. Chicago is a great mix of urban development, waterfront, and nature. I challenge one not to find something to love in Chicago.

For the majority of my colleagues, this trip was a shopping trip. They had a route planned, lists written and intended to give their credit cards a workout. They invited me to join them, but this was not my plan. I wanted to see the city and experience all it has to offer, to see and take in.

I began my journey from the hotel to the central downtown, bound for the bean. Before reaching the bean, I took some time to walk along the river and admire the buildings around me. Under one bridge, I found that the entire panellling was reflective mirror like tiles. Needless to say a photo was 'required'.

I finally arrived at 'the Bean'. Officially called 'The Cloud Gate', the  bean shape structure attracts thousands to it. Because of it's curved nature at some points it looks as if you are simply seeing the city and at other points it greatly distorts images. Everyone wants photos of themselves reflected in the bean. Looking trustworthy, I was asked by at least 10 different groups of people to take their photo, however I took most of my own photos. Situated in Millennium Park, the Bean is a great place to people watch. I watched visitors wave at their reflections, buskers sing for spare change and kids run around. I probably spent nearly an hour just taking it in. I must also admit the bean allowed me a perfect opportunity to play with features on my camera, play with the idea of reflection and also recall the science behind concave and convex lenses. I even returned to the bean later in the day. This was by and far my favorite spot in Chicago.

From the Bean I headed to a great December tradition in Chicago, the Christkindlmarkt. This German-style Christmas market is one of the best known and largest in the USA. Here I met up with one of my colleagues, Judy and we enjoyed traditional Gluhwein. Gluhwein, which literally translates to "glowing wine", is a hot, mullled wine served at the holidays. Judy and I walked around the market a bit, but it was quite crowded and hard to maneuver. Before leaving the market we sampled some of the German-style potatoe pancakes. Not quite as good as  the real thing, but delicious none the less.

Throughout the rest of the afternoon, I walked around more, went to a German Beerhall style restaurant and ate traditional Chicago deep dish pizza. I also, very very briefly, got to see my friend Olga, who lives in St. Louis and was in Chicago with some of her students. Later that evening I headed to the Wallis Tower, formerly known as the John Hancock Building. Judy and I met up again and took the elevator to the top. As the sun and set, the view was of the city at night and it was spectacular. From the tower I could see downtown, Navy Pier and the city around us. 

The next morning I awoke and headed to the Adler Planetarium. One of my good friends is a volunteer at the planetarium, she and her fiance Tim met me there. Because Carrie is a volunteer, she not only got us in for free, but it was also a bit like having a private tour. The planetarium has so much to offer visitors, my favorite part was when we got to go inside of a starmap globe. This globe shows accurate points of the stars based on direction and season. It was used during WWI to train pilots to navigate by the stars. From the Planetarium, one sees Navy Pier. Outside of the planetarium is a series of  bronze sculptures featuring all the animals of the Chinese Zodiak. This ring of figures reminded me of the figures one sees in the palace gardens of Salzburg. Of course being born in the Year of the Dragon, I had to pose with the Dragon.

As Tim and Carrie drove me back to my hotel, I saw one last display of public art that intrigued me. It looked like a crowd of people, most of whom were cut off at the legs. The majority of them stood together however there were outliers. Not to far from this art was a sculpture of a head. Neither Tim nor Carrie knew what it was, and unfortunately I did not have time to properly visit it. I only had time to take a photo from the car and hope to return on my next trip. 

Shortly after, I boarded the bus and we headed back to Columbus, IN. The trip to Chicago was less than 48 hours in total, but it was a wonderful experience and one that I will hopefully repeat in the future. 

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