My Kind of Town, Chicago is

After my initial meeting with Chicago, I have spent two days walking around. My swollen feet are proof of my sightseeing. On my first day, I spent nine hours looking around Chinatown, The Loop and the Magnificent Mile as well as had another adrenaline kick from getting up into the Hancock Tower. The second day I spent on a boat ride, where after I visited Old Town and the historical museum.

I think I have become somewhat used to Downtowns and financial districts full of skyscrapers by now, yet what makes Chicago stand out from the earlier cities, is the amount of old and incredibly beautiful skyscrapers. I dare say that I hardly need mention the unbelievable Wrigley Building (yes it is named after the chewing gum) or the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower. In fact, Chicago was home to the first ever steel framed building, later termed a skyscraper; the Home Insurance Building from 1885, though it was sadly demolished in 1931. However, today the city can boast of three of the five tallest skyscraper’s in America: Willis Tower (Sears), Trump Tower and Aon Center.

Tribune Tower

But returning to the Tribune Tower. Walking around it, I felt a bit appalled. Tribune Tower is most known, not as the old headquarters of the Chicago Tribune, but because of the lower façades myriad of exotic and historic rocks and stones. Here are pieces of stone from the Great Wall, The Giza Pyramid, Elsingor Castle, The Parthenon and Taj Mahal, among others. Some of these buildings, which are important historic landmarks, are already crumpling. The Taj Mahal is fighting against a backdrop of pollution while the Parthenon remains an issue of diplomatic tension between Britain and Greece. How come then that this insignificant place (relative to many of the buildings represented on the wall), the headquarters of a private media company has the audacity to show off stones and rocks from these places. I am sure that governments around have accepted this in past times, yet I think it is horrendous and only a proof that we have not yet passed many of the issues of colonialism and imperialism. As I am sure any teacher would say to a child: What do you suppose happens if everyone wants a piece of the Notre Dame or the Angkor Wat? Would any be left to amaze the generations to come? But off course the tower was build long ago in 1925, in a time when it was much more acceptable to send home ship loads of exotic and historic artefacts from places such as Egypt and Greece. Moreover, except from this museum of stones and rock represented on the lower wall, the Tribune Tower is definitely a marvellous architectural building. Together with the Wrigley Building it establishes a fantastic panorama which is visible from the Chicago Riverwalk on the opposite side of the Chicago River.

Hancock

But enough about old skyscrapers. There are as mentioned also the newer taller additions to the incredible Chicago skyline. Amongst these is the Hancock Tower at the end of the Magnificent Mile. After my first climb up the old Smith Tower in Seattle , I felt absolutely certain that I was now an experienced skyscraper visitor. That was at least until I was in the elevator. The elevator of the Hancock Tower which takes you to the observation deck, is, which a female voice on the ride kindly informs the passengers, the quickest elevator in North American. The elevator speed is 549m per minute, and it therefore takes 40 seconds to climb the 94 floors according to the lady on the speaker. 40 seconds later, I was at the top among a new crowd of tourists getting on to the observation deck, taking the mandatory bird perspective pictures of Navy Pier, the lake shore and Downtown, while walking around the deck.

Chicago

After two days of walking around in Chicago, I am impressed. This city is unlike any I have ever seen before. It seems a movie set, an unreal background. So compact and so full of tall old buildings.

However, the fact that Chicago has one of the longest and most astonishing skylines in the world, also means that there are no real green spots in Downtown Chicago. Off course there are the major parks outside the Loop such as Grant Park, but the streets in Downtown are completely demote of anything living, unless it wears a suit and speaks in a mobile phone. All the trees, and there aren’t many, have iron plates surrounding their roots. Perhaps it is this more than anything which makes Chicago feel a bit like La cité des enfants perdus; futuristic and mysterious, foggy and windy. Especially in the evening when the lights are turned on.

Exciting as I have been about seeing Chicago, I think I would go crazy in the long run. I think Rachel, my host, is right when she says that though Chicago is great there is nothing there except the lake and flat land. No sea, no mountains, no places for nature recreation. And as much as I am a city dweller, I like variation, I like the chance to get out and about. So, Chicago my dear. Though you captivated me, and while I hope to return one day again to discover more of you, you and I will stay a brief, yet beautiful romance.

Zofka

Futuristic Chicago

I arrived in Chicago from Minneapolis with battle fatigue. I was tired and exhausted and really didn’t feel like seeing another North American city. After half an hour at Union Station trying to find my way out, I thought that I had arrived at the most unfriendly and busy place in the world. I was close to tears and could hardly formulate my question when I finally found someone who was willing to tell me where to go to reach the orange line.

But whatever I felt then has changed. As soon as I got off the station area, and crossed the bridge to the Loop and Quincy station, I knew that I had to discover this place; that it was not just another North American city and that I was going to love it. At Quincy, the attitude of people had changed too. I decided that it was probably the stress of the Amtrak station with constantly late trains and weary passengers that had created the mood at Union Station, and that it was not at all a general trait of the Chicagoans.

I was heading for Ashland where my host was living, and I quickly realised that going from Quincy and out I would get the pleasure of driving almost the entire Loop. Now I didn’t even know about the way the railway is elevated and the trains drive on a level above the cars in a circle around the inner city. Neither could I ever have imagined that in a modern day big city a train station could have been build and kept all in wood. Quincy station was the perfect starting point for a first meeting with Chicago and the following trip around the Loop had my eyes pop further and further out of my head. Forgotten was the exhaustion and the homesickness and weariness. I was in Chicago

The Loop

Now the Loop which I refer to is the actual elevated rail which encircles the commercial part of Downtown Chicago. This area, however, is also named the Loop, which again might be because of the railway.

There were elevated railways into Downtown Chicago before the construction of the Loop, but it was this circle construction which connected Downtown to several outer areas. In my eyes and after more than a month in the Western parts of Canada and the US, the amazing thing is that the construction of the Loop dates back to 1895-97. It is quite a brilliant idea and due to its age and, hence, design, it also brings a lot of mystery and futurism to Chicago. The shiny steel trains, though of much younger date, adds to this feeling of being in a sci-fi movie, or perhaps just Batman Begins.

Quincy station, I realised later, is remarkable as it is the eldest and only original platform left on the Loop. It dates back to the time of the construction of the Loop in 1897, and standing on the platform you feel as if you are somewhere in the wild west. At least, I couldn’t get ‘Once upon a time in the West’ out of my head.

So with all these movie references popping around in my head, I began my journey around. It was 7 PM and the light had been turned on in Chicago. Most of the theatres which are visible from the Loop, such as Chicago Theatre and Oriental Theatre show enormous sparkling neon signs – sings that are world famous as landmarks for the city of Chicago. They light up the city and brings it to life in the evening. Driving the Loop, you see the streets of Chicago with their neon lights from a higher vantage point than when you walk the street, and to me it seemed as if for each street the train passed, I saw another evening scene from a distance. It was magnificent, and I was almost sad when the train moved off the Loop and headed towards Ashland. Yet, I have two full days in Chicago and I plan to make the best of it.

Zofka