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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  1. Ah looks like you had the best time! I went to Chicago for work in October last year and loved it, such a great place to go if you want to go somewhere a bit different in the States!

    Jasmin Charlotte

  2. I've never really considered Chigago as a must visit location but you might just have changed my mind! It looks so much fun to explore xx


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