Monday, September 30, 2013

Chicago In a Day...

Due to a business trip, I recently had one day to see the best that Chicago had to offer. The catch, is that I literally only had one day to sightsee. I'd never been there before and did not know much about the legendary city. I tried to line some things up online in advance, but was busy at work until the trip and didn't find a lot of interesting events that coincided with my visit. None-the-less, I think I did a pretty darn good job of seeing as much as the city had to offer as possible in a the short time frame of a single day.

Because I wish I had a guide like this prior to my first trip, here is a guide that mixes a bit of what I did with a "I wish I knew then what I know now" spin on how to get the most out of a perfect day in Chicago.

First, I planned on starting the day taking a Segway tour of the city. But, due to jet lag and faulty alarms, I missed the show time. It wasn't that late when I did get out, about 9am, so I decided to move on to Plan B. There are a few "hop on, hop off" style bus tours around Chicago. These are great. I had the experience of riding in the subway/train system from the airport to my hotel already. I didn't feel the need to do that more than necessary. As you are driven around on these tours, the guide gives you interesting tidbits about the city and landmarks. If something strikes your fancy, hop off and take a look. The next bus will come along about the time you are ready to move on. Most of the companies have package deals that span a few days, but I found one that had a 1 day pass that saved me some money.

It just so happened that the next Transformers movie was being filmed that day. So I got to see some action. An intersection was blocked off and a giant Autobot head was in the middle of the street crushing a car.

The first spot I chose to get off for was the legendary silver jellybean know as Cloud Gate. Too bad this wasn't around when Ferris Bueller was in high school. It would have been prominently featured.
I don't know what all this fuss about the "selfie" this year is about. I was doing vacation selfies for years.

Each tile on the pillar behind me is a TV screen. It supposed to look awesome. Of course, it wasn't working when I was there.
After a bit of photos and wondering around Millennium Park, I got back on the tour and jumped off again when we got to Navy Pier.

The "Ferris Wheel" is said to have originated here, although the actual Ferris Wheel was 3 times larger than this one and used train cars instead of these tiny boxes for the occupants.
The view atop the wheel.
I had some simple boardwalk food and had to try a genuine Chicago Dog. The fixin's include peppers, a pickle, onions, mustard, celery salt and absolutely NO KETCHUP! Yum!

Once that was done, it was time to head over to my new Segway tour appointment, conveniently located in the park across from Navy Pier. I've never tried a Segway before, but it was pretty easy to get the hang of. It was was pretty fun. Once the guide was confident we wouldn't be too much of a liability, they took us out of "turtle" mode so we could actually feel a little wind in our face as we zoomed around. If I lived closer to work, I would totally love to commute in one of these bad boys.
I would have looked much cooler sans helmet...

After I survived the Segway, I hopped back on the tour and made the full loop which left me close to my hotel. I walked a couple blocks to "The Tower Formerly Known as Sears" aka "Whatcha Talkin' About 'Willis Tower?'"

I timed my visit so I would be at the observation deck shortly before sun down. That way if I hung around for a while, I'd get day, sundown and night shots. That's a lot cheaper than coming back and paying for admission all over again.

Once that was done, I was pretty peckish. Time for some famous authentic Chicago pizza. Just across the street and a bit to the East of Willis Tower is a great local pizza chain. I ordered one of their deeeeep dish stuffed pizzas and waited the agonizingly long 40 minutes for it to cook. But it was worth every minute once I began my feast. Chicago deep dish has about as much in common with traditional pizza from Italy as ... But, that does not take away from its superb dining experience.

From here, I headed back to my my hotel which is not far from "Miracle Mile." This is a mile long shopping strip that is really just for tourists or people with too much money. At one end of the mile there is a standoff between the classic American Hershey chocolate store and the luxury import Ghirardelli chocolate. I was torn, but in the end, walked down the street with a chocolate dipped waffle bowl of dark chocolate Ghirardelli ice cream. Nothing personal, Hersheys. When I visit Pennsylvania some day, you'll be by dessert of choice.
The Hershey's Store as seen from the Ghirardelli store. I wonder if they shout obscenities across the street at each other.

The conference I was attending did leave me with free nights. So on other nights did some other fun things. I looked for any good shows in town. Chicago is like a testing center for Broadway shows and whatnot.

However, I couldn't find anything that would appeal to me the week I was there, except one. It just so happens the Blue Man Group has a residency there. It was a bit off the beaten path from the rest of the touristy area I tried to stay in, but it was well worth the experience since I hadn't seen them perform before.

Another night I returned to the Navy Pier to get some night shots of the iconic boardwalk.

Pretty pricey, but heavenly on the lips...
I also had to try one fancy steak house, since Chicago is known to be a carnivore's haven.

Most nights, I was pretty tired so would catch up on work with my laptop and get as many "z"'s as I could.

Some sports fans may point out that I seem to have totally overlooked Wrigley Field. Yes, that's true. It was not close to where I was at any time. None of the "hop on, hop off" tours that worked with my itinerary went there. And frankly, I'm not a sports nut. I would only go there to take a picture of the famous sign, since I probably wouldn't have gone in anyway.

Short of that admitted omission, I think I saw about as much of Chicago as one could in that limited time.  It makes me think I should start some tour guide books of my own on how to "do a city in a day" or something to that effect.

Anyone want to sponsor me...?