In the dimming yellow light, which was cast over the city, the train slowed to a halt, right underneath the old Chicago Union Station building.
The station was surprisingly antiquated and was made of concrete walls and pillars that have seen years of weather. Dark and voluminous, the tunnel led us straight into the station and we hurried to there, passing many others.
In fact, I didn’t really know where I was going. I was just following intuition and common sense.
The station was huge with a food court above, which we didn’t explore. The most magnificent sight was the lobby (pictured above). Lights lit up the creamy yellow and artistic gold interior.
We finally found a side exit there and walked into the dark night. We were on our guard as we walked quickly to the Clinton Blue Line, which was under a sketchy-looking tunnel.
The Blue Line tunnel looked even sketchier and several times, I turned to be on guard of the people around us. The train’s loud echo sounded, we boarded, and we soon dropped off at a station above ground. At first, we didn’t know where to exit best and went further ahead to the second exit, but the exit was dark and my friend freaked out when she thought that a man on the adjacent building was following us. I expected ahead to pop out behind the billboard on the station.
Finally, we turned around, the man or whoever it was was gone, and we went back to the first exit. Lively jazz played from the main street, a six-corner. The nightlife was definitely here, but we had no time for that and we caught the bus to our Airbnb.
The Airbnb was near a bad neighborhood and a park, which seems to always be suspicious at night. Large parks were always known as dangerous at night.
Our host turned out to be friendly and near to our age, so everything ended up fine. In our first night, we saw her housemate’s DVD of Coraline.
Day 1 in Chicago!
Our first plan was to walk around the city and to go to the most expensive places in our paid city card. We took the bus to the Downtown of the Big Windy City. Skyscrapers reached for the cloudy sky. We had a late start and it was already ten minutes before 11 am.
Already, I sensed an Italian vibe coming from restaurants as we found our way to the City Front Plaza and the roundabout with a fountain. The view was amazing and Chicago stood out as a big city because it was so green. This was one of the parks outside office buildings.
We wandered into another plaza with fountain and flowers, and another adjacent one, a lovely garden with arches and small lightbulbs strung across, above the black-stone fountain.
Soon, we spotted the old, antiquated clock tower with a bridge to an adjacent building. Are we suddenly in Europe? What a sight!
Turning around 360, we spotted the Chicago Tribune building and the Architect ship tour and quickly bought our ticket for the Star of Chicago ship.
The Chicago Architecture River Cruise
Of course, we were bound to spot the Trump building, a reflective blue with grey lines building right on the river.
The river was a luring deep emerald green that contrasted the blue, brown, and tan of the surrounding buildings. I haven’t been on a tour in a while, but this one was worth it.
The guide introduced us to the history of the buildings, the cow that was suspected of starting the Chicago fire (which was pretty major since thousands of buildings were lost), Ghirardelli building (which we wouldn’t have noticed, but didn’t end up visiting), the “Corncob” buildings, and how the architecture “spoke” to one another.
There were several surprising buildings like the one with an arch design, the warehouse-turned apartment, the building without much support on the foundation, and even the polished design of the grey and blue aircraft building. The Civic Opera Building, an old tan-stoned building was right by the river. There was also a glass building with “X” shapes on the cube, but most astounding was the large map of Chicago on this skyscraper, where the orange rectangle represented the building.
We went through bridges, literally because the bridges opened up for us. Lastly, at the end of our tour, we saw a water fountain spew water from one side of the river to the other, creating a perfect arch that lasted a while.
Hop-On, Hop-Off Big Bus Classic Tour
After the tour, we went across the street and found the Hop on Hop off Bus. We passed by the Chicago theater not knowing if we’d go there. Along the way, we passed the Chicago Mercantile Exchange building and the building with the giant metal globe outside.
Finally, when the bus rounded the corner, we hopped off to the Sky Deck, our next point of interest by noon.
The interior had an information area where many people like to stop to interact or to photograph the wall with the Chicago night scene.
At a thousand and five hundred feet above, the Chicago river looked like the width of a Sharpie marker. Large cumulus clouds hung over the busy city. The most beautiful was the scenery near Lake Michigan.
The floor also had a glass box that jutted out so that visitors could take photos. That was amazing. You simply have to be there.
Now, remember the Amish people we met on the train? I saw and greeted two of them there! Since their train was delayed, they were set up to a hotel room and they were enjoying the views before their train leaves in the evening.
With some masterful planning, we were finished with viewing and photographing (though we could have taken more) in an hour and went down to the gift store.
Across from the SkyDeck was yet another park. This one had a wonderful garden and this scientific garden viewing instrument. It was beautiful-lush green and yellow and red flowers.
After three, we hopped back on the same tour bus to stay now since it was the last one of the day.
Bus Tour to the End
At one point, we went under the elevated train tracks. It looked like darkened brown metal.
One of the interesting building on the tour was this tower that was actually curved and leaning. There was another building made of glass that had a pattern that jutted out at the entrance like quartz. There’s also a hotel called The Blackstone (I later learned that had a renaissance vibe) that looked absolutely regal. Bright yellow, purple flowers to a path on a black carpet that matches the sign and even small lamps at each window on what appeared to be the second floor. The first floor had a huge ceiling. The Hilton Chicago nearby was fancy, but not compared to the former.
It was on this route when we saw the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, and Shedd Aquarium and knew that these places would also be worth visiting. The lake view was stunning with turquoise blue water.
Along the way, we saw Navy Pier, the fancy grey-black Burberry store, and the Water Tower Place (and that “castle” in the middle of Chicago). Water Tower Place is definitely too unique to miss.
There’s also the cathedral nearby, which looked similar to the Water Tower. Then, there’s this building with a large screen on its ceiling (viewable from outside since the walls were made of glass.
Finally, we ended at the river again and ate our late lunch and food at a nearby cafe. It was 6pm when we finished.
Wanting to accomplish one more destination, we walked down past the Cloud Gate to the Art Institute of Chicago, which did not close until later that night.
Art Institute of Chicago
A large building, the Art Institute is guarded by green lions. First, we checked-in our backpacks and water bottle, which were not allowed.
We entered at 6:24pm, so we had one hour less than the recommended time to spend there. So how did we look at everything that small amount of time?
We started at level one, looking at the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Art; East Indian; Native American; and African Art. In the first level, what stood out to me the most was Chagall’s America Windows because these were giant stain glass.
Then, we looked at all of level two that also included Andy Warhol’s work. I saw Grant Wood’s American Gothic, and my favorite, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. Some of the stairways were confusing, but we finally made it to level three.
We skimmed the upper level last. It was actually not too big, and it had different sculptures in that exhibit.
However, my number one must-see for this place would be the Thorne Miniature Rooms. The exhibit is filled will dollhouses that have been intricately designed. Each one is different and just as beautiful.
The park is home to Cloud Gate (the Bean) and Jay Pritzker Pavillion, that other silvery structure.
As we walk in the night, one thing that captured a lot of people’s attention was the Crown Fountain. Well, it was a 17 million dollar project. There’s water cascading down the two towers, and these two towers featured art and video.
The Wrigley Square and Millennium Park Monument were also lit up and beautiful, like a reminder of Rome. However, there are also the BP Bridge and The Lurie Garden. In fact, the whole park is worth walking around and exploring, maybe an hour in the daytime.
It was probably around 9:30 pm when we arrived at Navy Pier because of it one of the most mentioned places. The city lights were like little dots and the view from the pier looking back was nice. The lake shined with the lamplights.
There was music playing on the pier at the restaurants and the large speakers they had. At the end of the pier, there was a metal couch set sculpture with a man sitting. At the far side, there is a large anchor memorial with the American flag.
Back in the Apartment
We went back to the apartment, spent time talking to our host at the balcony, and probably fell asleep after midnight. Was it that night when we saw rats running through the back alley? We were still learning how much there was in this city.