Friday, 22 July 2016

Lifestyle // Chicago Travel Diary #2 - Scaling Skyscrapers,Tequila &Tacos and Understanding Architecture

Willis Tower, Navy Pier, Cinco de Mayo, Hancock Tower & Architectual Boat Tour


On Friday I posted the first of my three Chicago Travel Diaries - detailing my exploration of Millennium Park, the Lakefront Trail, Lincoln Park Zoo and a hell of a lot of shopping (go check that out here if you haven't already). In today's travel diary I scale two skyscrapers, visit Chicago's number one tourist attraction Navy Pier, celebrate Cinco de Mayo, take an architectural boat tour, explore the beautiful Chicago Cultural Centre and get ready for a weekend of partying! 


DAY 3 - Thursday 5th May

Feeling a little bit guilty about my afternoon spent shopping yesterday I decided to ramp up the tourist attractions on Thursday. I started the day by going to the top of Willis Tower to take in the beautiful views across the city. The Willis Tower is a really innovative design, made up of nine different height spheres, which used to belong to the Sears brothers. It was amazing to see out across the city and its incredible to see how big Lake Michigan really is - you can't see across to the other side, it's like an ocean! Willis Tower is famous for its glass ledges that hang out over the side of the building 103 floors up and I couldn't resist making the most of the photo opportunities! (You can see the glass ledges in the photo below! Pretty high!!!) My top tip is to head straight to the ledge manned by the official photographer. The queue wasn't long at all and it meant that you get the entire ledge / box to yourself, whilst at the unmanned ones people were being told to share, so three groups of people were standing there at the same time. This means you get to take your time a bit, not have people you don't know in your pictures and also allows idiots like me to get down on the floor and make a spectacle of themselves! There's always one....! The professional photographer was also more than happy to take photos of me on my own camera as well as his, so if you decide not to purchase your official picture (of which there's no obligation) you still have your own images to enjoy.








I then decided to walk down to Navy Pier - voted Chicago's top tourist attraction. I had been down to Navy Pier last time I was in town eight years ago, and it was very much like Brighton Pier - fun fair rides, arcade games and restaurants. This time however absolutely nothing was open! Fair enough it was out of season, but there was literally nothing to do! I did have a nice walk around though and it was beautifully bright and sunny with hardly a cloud in the sky. I wouldn't bother to come back to this part of town again, as the attractions and restaurants are very mainstream and I think I'd much rather explore a different neighbourhood with a bit more character that's more unique to Chicago.






After about an hour's strolling and people watching I headed back to the city. I had an hour to kill before meeting Sarah from work so I took a leisurely walk, enjoying the views and beautiful buildings, and getting a bit too excited when spotting the sign marking the official start of Route 66. (And let's not talk about the actual squeal that escaped me when I spotted the Honorary Hugh M. Hefner Way sign! What can I say, I'm a massive Girls Next Door fan!) I eventually ended up back in Millennium Park, seeing my beloved Bean and watching the Crown Fountain - which features two huge columns which have people's moving faces projected onto them. They're really striking and it's very easy to while away time watching the videos move, and open their mouths releasing torrents of water.










By the time Sarah had finished work I was well ready to go and celebrate Cinco de Mayo, which in America is largely about the celebration of Mexican culture.  We headed to Latinicity, a type of food hall where you're given a blank payment card to use and can then swipe this through at the various food stations and bars and then pay at the end. We had some amazing tacos, a ton of tortilla chips and guacamole and of course a good few celebratory cocktails! Guac and roll! 



DAY 4 - Friday 6th May

I'm a huge architecture fan so was desperate to take the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise down the Chicago River to learn more about the incredible buildings that line the banks and the the growth and history of the city. It was a great trip - really relaxing and a nice way to see everything if you're just after a boat trip, but also really informative and interesting if you do have an interest and light knowledge of architecture. I particularly loved hearing about how the buildings are built with the body of the river in mind, so some are designed to echo the curves of the river and have mirrored cladding to reflect the colour of the water, blending in. Other buildings have bridges built into their aesthetic to echo the fact that Chicago is the drawbridge capital of the world, with 43 movable bridges. I did a boat trip on my last visit to Chicago but would definitely recommend the official Chicago Architecture Foundation tour if you're interested in learning more than you would one of the other simple sightseeing tours.






I then decided to head up Hancock Tower, where another large viewing platform - 360 Chicago -  is open and this one has a bar - hurrah! It's five o'clock somewhere right?! I bought a ticket which included a cocktail that worked at only $5 (it would be silly not to!). At the top I ordered myself an Amaretto Sour and looked out over the city from this new perspective. The view is largely the same as from Willis Tower, but with less buildings and more lake, but I think the experience was much nicer at Willis Tower, despite the delicious cocktail addition (and I think you probably only need to do one or the other). The view at Willis Tower is more striking as you get to view the buildings of the city on three sides rather than just two and the observation deck is a lot bigger. I also really enjoyed going out on the glass ledge at Willis Tower, which you can't do at Hancock Tower, though they do have "The Tilt", whereby you pay extra to stand on a mechanism which tilts out over the streets, giving a dramatic look downwards. I have to say though it looked pretty tame and a bit gimmicky and this seemed to be the same sentiment of those I spoke to who had "braved The Tilt", so I'm glad I spent my extra cash on a cocktail instead! 





I was due to meet Sarah for a late lunch shortly so I headed back up to The Loop and stopped off at the Chicago Cultural Centre (basically because I needed the loo!) but was pleasantly surprised to find that it was absolutely stunning inside! It's really extravagantly decorated with marble and beautiful tiling, with quotes from famous authors adorning the walls. The second floor is also home to a huge beautiful domed Tiffany ceiling which is just gorgeous and well worth a pit stop. 



I'm going to stop this travel diary here and pick up Friday afternoon in the final instalment, which sees me exploring a LOT of rooftop bars, eating ALL THE FOOD (deep dish pizza anyone?!) and heading to a baseball game, as the weekend rolls in and the party starts! 


Which is your favourite city architecturally?


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Friday, 15 July 2016

Lifestyle // Chicago Travel Diary #1 - Adventure, Art and Animals

Millennium Park, Lake Front Trail, Lincoln Park Zoo, Shopping the Mag Mile & Sushi Dates in Lake View


At the beginning of May I packed up my suitcase and jumped on a plane to Chicago as a 30th birthday present to myself, and to visit some of the incredible girls I'd met when working at an American summer camp ten years before. I literally had the time of my life and wanted to share some of my highlights of this amazing city with you guys as I think it needs to sit firmly at the top of everyone's travel list! I'm really happy with the photos I took on this trip so have decided to split my post up into a few entries so it's more of a picture diary of my adventures. 
I hope you enjoy! 


DAY 1 - Tuesday 3rd May

I arrived in Chicago 12 hours later than I was supposed to after a night spent in Orlando airport having missed my connecting flight due to delays taking off from Gatwick (actually not as bad as it sounds - have you seen how many Harry Potter and Disney gift stores there are there?!) Well ready for adventure, I jumped on the train from the airport which took me straight into town, and met Sarah for lunch where she works, in the centre of downtown (or The Loop as it's known). Sarah and I were both camp counsellors of the oldest girls at camp and despite the fact we hadn't seen each other in eight years picked up exactly where we left off, laughing and swapping stories and news over salads and rosé overlooking Millennium Park. The perfect welcome to Chicago! 


Having left my bags at Sarah's office I went off to reacquaint myself with the city, which I last visited at the end of my gap year in 2008. Millennium Park was one of my favourite places then and I couldn't wait to go straight there and see The Bean (or Cloudgate as it's officially know), the giant silver kidney bean structure by artist Anish Kapoor. I think it's absolutely beautiful and as it reflects the sky and ground, always looks different (which means I like to go and see it everyday, and don't even feel guilty for seeing the same sight repeatedly!) I decided to get my bearings a bit more and ventured out of Millennium Park and headed up and along Chicago's iconic river. Chicago is famous for its architecture (known as "the home of the skyscraper") and it was amazing to see the Corn Cob Buildings, Trump Tower (though it is a lot less respected now than it was when I last visited due to its owner's questionable politics!) and the beautiful white Wrigley Building, owned by the chewing gum mogul.







It was soon time to head back to meet Sarah and we got the bus back to her neighbourhood Lake View, right by the beautiful lake and trendy gay neighbourhood Boystown (and also - which probably excited me most of all - right near where Mean Girls is set!) After a very huggy reunion with Amy (another of my best friends from Camp, who lives with Sarah) we headed out for dinner with  their friends, most of whom I'd met last time I was in town - cue lots more hugging and excitedness - before heading home for an early night ready for a full day of exploring the next day.

DAY 2 - Wednesday 4th May

On my first full day in Chicago I decided to have a wander around the girls' neighbourhood and then walk the four miles to downtown along the lake front, stopping off at Lincoln Park Zoo on the way. The Chicago weather was much like London's in that it was quite changeable, however on this day it was very overcast and really cold (I'm glad I took my winter coat - I even got my gloves out!) The walk was absolutely stunning and the grey skies and rolling clouds looked so dramatic over the steely and choppy lake. One of my favourite things about Chicago is the fact that you just stumble across incredible art, and I loved these beautiful stone Buddha heads, which are part of the Ten Thousand Ripples project, designed to foster dialogue about peace and living in a non-violent community. Stunning!


I made it to the Lincoln Park Zoo, which is free to enter and spent a little bit of time wandering round and seeing the animals, though the older (and more obsessed with Blackfish) I get, the more I question how I feel about animals in captivity. Regardless of that, I'd say Lincoln Park Zoo is probably something you can miss off your To Do list if you're strapped for time in Chicago as it's definitely not the best zoo I've ever been to (thought obviously it is free so what can you expect?!) I would however recommend checking out the beautiful frog pond and waterfall area just outside the Zoo - it's very idyllic and a really peaceful nook to relax in (and a nice open natural environment for the frogs, if you are worried about animal welfare!) I then continued on my way to the centre of the city, through Lincoln Park and down past Oak Street Beach (which in high season has an amazing beach bar that I spent many fun times in on my last visit and highly recommend!) I stumbled upon some incredible street art by the underpass leading to the city and couldn't believe how beautiful the colours and how lifelike the pictures were. Chicago seriously is such a treat for the eyes!












I was feeling pretty ravenous at this point so stopped at American food staple The Cheesecake Factory for a ridiculously large burger then headed up the Magnificent Mile, the main shopping street in the area. I decided after my mammoth walk I definitely deserved some retail therapy and treated myself to some goodies in Victoria's Secret, Sephora and Charming Charlie - an amazing accessories shop which lays everything out by colour, making it so easy to find the sort of thing you're after. (Haul coming soon y'all!) That evening Sarah and Amy took me to their favourite sushi restaurant in their neighbourhood - Wakamono - which was amazing. The food was so beautifully presented and the cocktails were gorgeous. 



My next instalment of my Chicago Travel Diaries will be live on Monday so come back then to see me scale skyscrapers, explore Navy Pier, celebrate Cinco de Mayo (eat ALL THE TACOS!) and learn more about Chicago's famous buildings on the architectural boat tour.


Have you been to Chicago before? What was your highlight?
Also, what is your view on zoos? Let me know in the comments below :D


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