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Chicago 2011

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S: Winter in Chicago January 28-30, 2011

FC: Chicago | January 28-30 2011 | Winter | in the

2: The View from Our Room | Our Hotel | Betsy found us a hotel for a great price at a great location. I liked the view. If you looked closely, you could see Lake Michigan. "Why do I keep hearing so many ambulances?" Because we were right next to a hospital.

3: I liked being able to look down at people's summer patios. | Even in the winter, downtown Chicago is a beautiful place to walk around. We were blessed with some sunny, mild winter weather. Two days after we left Chicago, it was hit with the "Blizzard of 2011." Lakeshore Drive was so quickly snowed-in that people just left their cars and started walking to find shelter.

4: The | "Bean" | (aka Anish Kapoor's "Cloud Gate," but everyone calls it "the Bean" for obvious reasons.) | at | Millen- | nium | Park

6: The Chicago City Model | Four sq. miles, 1,000 buildings | Michigan Ave. from the south | Scale: 1 inch=50 feet. At that scale, you would be about 1/10 of an inch tall, the length of a flea.

7: Chicago Architecture Foundation | Michigan Ave. from the north | Millennium Park

8: The Wyndham, our hotel

9: The RED BOX building is where we are, on Michigan Ave. | This is actually their older, smaller, and less detailed model. It's still pretty impressive. | Both models are fun to look at. This room is supposed to be about Daniel Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago, but we didn't read much about that.

10: I think we were 2 of maybe 7 people on this tour. At least one of the others was studying to be a docent.

11: Kinsey Street Bridge | Chicago Beauty

12: In spite of the many shades of gray, Chicago did still look beautiful. The water of Lake Michigan was undulating beneath the large chunks of ice. Chicago was named for the Indian word, "chi-ca-gua" for "stinky onion place." Chicago became a valued location when a canal was dug to connect the Chicago River to the Illinois River and the Mississippi. That opened up the trading "river highway" and put Chicago right in the middle of things. Developers set out to make Chicago the "Paris on the Prairie." Grant Park (pictured to the right) was named for Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant. The Shedd Aquarium (pictured to the left), Field Museum, and Adler Planetarium are supposed to represent the earth, sky, and sea. Adler and Shedd were retail Giants, and their large donations made the museums possible. | Winter in Chicago

13: This sculpture of 9-foot headless walkers is called "The Agora," which means "meeting place" in Greek.

14: Willis (Sears) Tower | Trump Tower | Aon Center | Hancock Building | These are Chicago's 4 tallest towers. The Sears Tower was actually built solely to house the headquarters/offices of Sears, Roebuck, & Co, all 4 million square feet of it! Now that "Willis" rents the most space in it, the contract says that Willis gets the naming rights of the building. But to most people, it'll always be the | Sears Tower. Donald Trump had originally set out to build his tower to be the tallest building in Chicago. The day he sat down with his architects to design it was September 11, 2001. He decided second tallest might be wiser. To the right is a picture illustrating how Chicago has kept "the old with the new" among their buildings. To the left are old pictures of Soldier Field and Navy Pier. Soldier Field was once a registered site by the Historical Society, but its status was removed when Chicago added a huge addition to the ball park. Around 1900, large shipping vessels came to Chicago but had no place to dock, so between 1909 and 1916, they built the Municipal Pier out into Lake Michigan, which later became Navy Pier. After naming Soldier Field in honor of the army of WWII, they didn't want the Navy to feel left out; hence the name "Navy Pier." The Eiffel Tower was built for the 1892 World Fair in Paris, and in 1893, Chicago hosted the World Fair, which in that day, was the main way to share new ideas and information. George Washington Ferris | Soldier Field | built the first "Ferris Wheel" for the fair, which was twice the size of the current one on Navy Pier. It held about 1500 people in 36 cars.

15: To create the Tribune Tower, Robert McCormick held a contest in 1920 to see who could design him the most beautiful office building. He offered a $100,000 prize. What he got was a Gothic style tower of ornate detail. There are pieces of stones from around the world embedded in the walls. The Swiss hotel (pictured below) was built in a triangle shape so that all the rooms have a nice view. | Pictured below is the Blue Cross/Blue Shield building. When they designed the building, they knew that someday they might need to expand, so they built the foundation big enough to hold 10 more stories. Sure enough, the time came when they needed more room. Our guide said that it seemed like overnight, the building quickly got 10 stories taller. You can see where the old building height was; there's a longer space between the new and old floors.

16: Betsy & I love this condo building! It looks so cool. It is one of Chicago's only skyscrapers designed by a woman. Jeanne Gang used a computer to help her place the balconies so as to allow the wind to swoop around the tower rather than crash into it, and also to allow more light into the condos during the winter and more shade in during the summer. The design is also said to help prevent birds from flying into the building. And did I mention that it just looks awesome?! | Aqua is the tallest building in the world to have been designed by a woman architect, at 859 feet and 86 stories. It was finished in 2009, and it has received at least 2 architectural awards. Aqua has a rainwater collection system and energy efficient lighting. The green roof on top of Aqua is the largest in Chicago. Below is Marina City, where you can live, park your car, park your boat, get groceries, go to work, and go bowling? - all in the same building. We think the car-parking might take some practice. | Aqua

17: Above is a condo building that was once a giant refrigerator. I suspect it was used to store meat from Chicago's many slaughter houses, meat that would be sent all over the country via the extensive railroads of Chicago. The brick walls are super thick, with 2 separate layers that were once filled with horse hair for insulation. There were no windows in the building. The developer had to create a special drill bit just to make any holes in the walls, and even before that, he had to wait a full year for the thing to defrost. | The center building once had a car garage along the river, but today you can see that space is now used for townhouses. People have learned the value and beauty of riverside living. Above and below is the Riverbend Condo Building. It's face curves along the shore of the river, but it actually owes its unique shape to the L-train. They couldn't move the L-train tracks, so they just worked between them. I believe our docent mentioned a special device to turn around cars in the garage, because the space is so narrow.

18: Notice the window-washers! | The Heart of Downtown Chicago

19: Chicago has more of these drawbridges than any other city, and Chicago has decided to keep them all in place. Some like the look; others don't. | That green striped building is 333 Wacker, and its base was designed to accommodate the existing L-train. The cement-looking lines along the bottom are supposed to block the sight and sounds of the trains. And we learned in the summer that the reflective look of the building helps the big city feel less big and closed in. The green stripes are supposed to represent the colors of the water in the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. | Betsy and I loved browsing in this unique store, the gift shop of the Chicago Architectural Foundation. But all we did was browse, because it was quite pricey.

20: The Merchandise Mart is so large that it had its own zip code until 2008. When it opened in 1930, it was the largest building in the world, at 4 million square feet. It was passed by the Pentagon in 1943 (and nobody knows exactly how big the Pentagon is!); it is now the 36th largest building. It was owned by the Marshall Field family, and it consolidated vendors and trade under a single roof. Someone lost a lot of money selling this building during the Depression. It was then purchased by the Kennedy family in the 1940's for a steal, and they sold it in 1998 for $550 million. In early 2007, the building was valued at $917 million. | Some professors were consulted on the building of the University of Chicago's riverside campus, the Oleacher Center. They requested that their classrooms have NO WINDOWS. The builders complied. The windows seen are not connected to classrooms. | The Trump Tower | The Merchandise Mart | The Wrigley Building | There are 65,000 students living in Chicago. | The Spitting Fountains | Picasso sculpture | Around 1833, the people of Chicago had no place to discard trash, excrement, or even dead animals. So they threw it all in the Chicago River, which emptied into Lake Michigan, which is also where they got their drinking water. A lot of people died of cholera and other waterborne diseases. So the engineers of Chicago decided to reverse the flow of the Chicago River. They dug a canal deeper than the riverbed to the southwest, and let gravity | take over. Other states/cities that border Lake Michigan sued Chicago for draining down the lake. They won, and thus Chicago built the Locks in 1938, to help control the river flow. Today there isn't much current on the north branch of the river; it lays level with the lake. | These cement pillars flash faces of random locals of Chicago. In the summer, every so often, water "spits" from the mouths on the faces. | University of Chicago

21: We stood in the middle of the street (in the median) to get this great shots of Chicago's awesome Christmas lights.

22: THE BLUE MAN GROUP

24: Although we both enjoyed the show, neither of us thought that this unique performance quite lived up to its hype.

25: We took the subway to get to the Blue Man Group, and we succeeded thanks to Betsy's navigation skills and past experience in Chicago. | After the show, we walked around the city and visited the Drake Hotel, on Jill VanderSys's recommendation. It was worth the trip, just to see the lobby. What a place! I enjoyed learning about the water tower that survived the Chicago fire, and it was pretty to see it all lit up at night.

26: This article in the Grand Rapids Press was actually the inspiration of the entire trip. I remember showing this clip to Betsy and saying, "Can you think of any reason for us to be in the Chicago area this winter? | -Cuz this would be a fun side trip!! And thus the idea was born. And many other activities were added to the itinerary. Jill warned us that the ice | rink wasn't much, and she was right. It was a little box of fake ice. But how many people can say that they've ice skated on the 94th floor? | Betsy had the idea of going there first thing in the morning, to avoid the crowds. That sure worked - we were the only skaters there. As you can see, Betsy hit the ground, at least once. In her defense, it was a weird material to skate on. | After skating, we enjoyed a free audio tour of Chicago from the Hancock. We learned a lot of interesting things, but most notable to me was that prior to the Chicago fire of 1871, all the area that the Hancock is built on was | swamp. They filled in the swamp with all the burned debris, and extended the land area of Chicago well into Lake Michigan. | (On St. Patrick's Day, they dye the Chicago River green. Someday I'd like to see that.)

28: Chicago

31: It was a little hazy, but for winter, the view was excellent. We weren't sure if the clouds would be so thick that we couldn't see anything.

32: North | East | South | West

33: We did plenty of Walking around in the Windy City. It is always gorgeous. | We did a little shopping at Gap and Crate and Barrel. I got my new favorite black cardigan sweater.

34: Snow Sculptures | at Navy Pier

36: 2nd Place

38: How did they do that?

40: What can I say? - This event FAR exceeded our expectations. These snow sculptures (not ice sculptures) were AMAZING. I voted for "Figurehead," the mermaid on the front of the boat (top center), but "Medusa" won first place. Betsy voted for the Indian. He was impressive, with such detail that even the wrinkles of his skin were carved perfectly. "Hommage a Duchamp" took 2nd place, and "That's a Moray" got 3rd. It appeared that various non-professionals also participated, some of which looked like they were in high school. Not all of their sculptures were good, but several were really incredible, especially for amateurs. (There were supposed to be sled dog demonstrations, but we never saw one.) | 1st Place | 3rd Place

41: The voting didn't appear to be all that official, since the voting boxes didn't appear to be monitored by anyone. I've heard those sled dogs are mean, but they seemed to do great with the crowds of people, even kids. I suspect that certain nicer dogs were chosen for the event.

42: Beautiful Chicago

44: We tried to catch the tail end of an open house for a condo, but we were a little too late. We had an interesting time observing residents and chatting with the doorman, and also pricing different places. A studio condo was about $165,000, while a place slightly bigger than my upstairs was $540,000. High as that seems, I suppose it's not so bad, for downtown Chicago. I think that I'd only enjoy living in Chicago if I were rich. If you can't afford something nice, in the middle of the action, then you just have to put up with the noise, traffic, pollution, and inconvenience of a big city. | As you can see, we enjoyed some famous Chicago deep-dish pizza. I sneaked in a short nap while we waited for it. It was delicious and refreshing. We chose to go to the Sears/Willis Tower at night, since we'd seen Chicago from the Hancock during the day already.

45: On the LEDGE, we were suspended 103 floors above the ground.

47: We had a good time out on that ledge. However, I must admit that I was not prepared for just how scary it was going to be. I usually | like heights. But there's something quite unsettling about stepping out over the ground, 103 stories up, knowing that only a panel of thick glass separates you from a certain violent death. | Would I do it again? Yup. Already have.

48: Chicago at Night

50: "I'm ready to JUMP!"

51: We were up there probably a good hour before I looked at Betsy and announced that I was "ready to jump" in the ledge. By the time we finished the project, I was fully comfortable in that ledge, since I had to jump at least 13 times before Betsy got 2 shots of me in the air. (I only took 2 shots of her, as seen pictured. After the first one, I told her to bend her legs.) We had a grand time, and I got some good aerobic exercise. | THE LEDGE

54: That's a lot of trash cans! | Even the prison in Chicago looks artistically designed. | Ice Skating at Millennium Park - We only watched; we didn't Ice skate. | And why is my hand pictured? Symptomatic Dermagraphism. I had an allergic reaction to Diflucan, and it itched like mad. I went to the doctor | soon after we got home, and I figured I might need some pictures. | I didn't. All I had to do was touch my face. Those nasty welts lasted over 6 months! | Fortunately, the rash didn't hinder our fun in Chicago. We have some weird pictures of my body/skin, though.

55: "This is stupid fun, and we thrive on that!" | Somehow the above statement became our motto on this trip. By mere happenstance, on our last evening in Chicago, we stumbled upon this fun-photo camera set=up at the Chicago Tribune. As you can see, we had great fun posing for it.

56: We walked all the way back to our hotel from the Sears Tower, which was no small feat. Good thing we had that Tribune fun-photo thing to distract and re-energize us. The Ledge helped, too. We could hardly wait to get into that hot tub. As far as the photos on the left and right - what kind of art is that, anyways? And that big group of black women - they just cracked us up. They were in the pool area when we were; no one was worried about looking fat in a bathing suit. And believe me, there was not all that much exercise happening here, either. The next morning, we packed up and took the commuter train to Michigan City for only $8. Then Betsy drove us the rest of the way home.

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