Chicago: And Lastly … The Centennial Fountain

So I had three nice days in Chicago as a side short vacation from a business trip in Atlanta. By the third day, I felt it’s just time to go home. I was getting home sick. No matter how exciting vacation are, ultimately I yearn for my own bed and my own pillows. I needed home cooked food.

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The last touristy thing I did was made a visit to the Centennial Fountain.

Anyone walking past this fountain would have just dismissed this as a nice big fountain but I thought this is a well designed and well thought out one. It speaks so much about Chicago River and how it had a positive impact to the quality of life in the city.

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Located in the north side of the Chicago River shortly before it connects to Lake Michigan, this place is called The Centennial Plaza and Fountain. It is built in 1989 to commemorate the 100th year anniversary of the completion of the reversal of the Chicago River.

The Chicago River used to flow into the Lake Michigan, bringing along it sewage and contaminating the lake. As the city grew, this became more of a problem as it polluted the drinking water and caused diseases.

So a massive engineering project was carried out to reverse the flow of the river away from the Lake Michigan and into the Mississippi River.

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The Centennial Fountain shoots a water arc across the Chicago River every hour from … Continue reading

Chicago: Foodlife

Time to eat. After the Chicago History Museum, I headed back to the Magnificent Mile.

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I read about a place where they say is a gourmet food court. It is located at the Water Tower Place, the same high-rise building that Oprah’s apartment was.

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I never quite get this place why so many people raved about it. Foodlife is the name of the place. You can’t just walk in.

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If you want to eat, you gotta pay first and get a value card before they let you in. So you are supposed to … Continue reading

Chicago: The Chicago History Museum

The Fields Museum of Natural History was simply too large to visit for the day. I thought it is better to spend the time in a smaller, more relevant museum for my trip. For a human history buff like me, I know that the Chicago History Museum would tell a better story of Chicago.

This time I headed north, again outside the city. I took the bus entirely and for a moment got disoriented after I got off the bus. It was like, oh, which direction do I head? I spent a few minutes walking in the wrong direction until someone pointed me to go back the way I came from.

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This is a small museum and there were not a lot of visitors. The museum don’t even open early because I remember waiting outside for the doors to open and there were only two other couples waiting.

This museum was exactly the type of museum I like a lot. If you want to learn about Chicago, this is just the place to go to.

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In this museum, I learned about the major formative events of Chicago.

Fort Dearborn is where the present day Chicago started from. It is built as a desolated outpost over 200 years ago. The name “Chicago” came from the Indian word shikaakwa, which means wild onion or wild garlic.

Chicago grew from this fort into a major transportation hub of the US. The access to the Great Lakes and the fact that almost all trains stops at Chicago, very quickly made Chicago into the 2nd biggest city behind New York. Today, Chicago is the third largest city in the US when LA overtook it a couple of decades ago.

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The next big event is the Chicago Fire of 1871. That fire raged for three days and when it was finally over, a third of the city lies in ruins.

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Amazingly, only 300 people died in the fire. The museum recorded in detail the entire episode.

As a result of the great fire, there was a great reconstruction effort which pretty much led to many of what we see in Chicago today. The reconstructions ushered in the first skyscraper in the world just six short years after the fire.

So in some ways, the fire is like a blessing.

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22 years after the Chicago Fire, the city rose from its ashes and hosted the the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

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All these events are reflected in the flag of Chicago.

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The most famous son of Illinois is Abraham Lincoln. The above is the deathbed of the president after he was fatally shot in Washington DC. Suanne and I visited the Ford Theatre and The House Where Lincoln Died just a couple of years ago.

The deathbed in the house where Abraham Lincoln died is just a replica. The real deathbed had been shipped to Chicago and the one above in the Chicago History Museum is the actual bed.

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OK, let’s talk about food. Chicago food.

Other than the deep dish pizza, the Chicago Hot Dog is what the city is famous for. I first had the Chicago Style Hot Dog in the early days of chowtimes. It is in fact one of the first few posts I had written.

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One thing that defines the Chicago Style Hot Dog is the absence of … Continue reading

Chicago: Can’t Decide What To Do!

It was day 3 in Chicago. The last day before I return home.

I had done all the important sights on the first two days that I don’t have a clear plan of what to do. So if it means criss-crossing the city to cover the places that I had not visited before, so be it.

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I went back to the same Corner Bakery Cafe for breakfast simply because they had free wifi. The poster of the Berry Almond Swiss looked so good.

So I ordered that. It did not at all look anything like what is in the poster. The mushy oatmeal stuff at the bottom … I hate mushy stuff like that, especially the ones in the color.

But actually it tasted a lot better than it looked.

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The sweet crisp or whatever you call it was a great addition to the oatmeal.

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The price is not bad too.

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I hopped on to the trolleys for a ride to the first destination of the day.

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The trolleys are nice. There are no windows; so you can stick your face out to catch the breeze. For me, being able to rest the elbow on the window sill and smelling the fresh air outside is just great. The sun was out. So it felt like being ferried around in a convertible. This is what a convertible will look like when it grows up to be a bus.

The best thing about the trolleys? It’s free! There are designated stops it will make and runs every 20 minutes.

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First stop was the Gold Star Families Memorial and Park. There was not a lot to see there. The guidebook alluded that this is a must see place.

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It is a memorial built to honor the officers who were killed on duty. The whole design meant something which I forgot. With a straight line with meandering paths criss crossing it, it is supposed to mean something. I forgot what it is.

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At the end of it is the wall with cascading water. I headed back after a few pictures.

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I wanted to go to the Field Museum of Natural History. I … Continue reading

Chicago: Museum of Science and Industry

There are some sights that will take just an hour and there are some that takes a few hours to cover properly. It is the big museums that is more time consuming. So I normally would put in one such long visits for each day. For the second day, I decided to take the long journey from downtown Chicago to the outskirts of Chicago.

I remember taking a train ride heading south and then I had to stop at a station to hop onto a bus eastward to the Museum of Science and Industry. Along the train ride, I came across Chinatown. I wanted to get off and check it out but decided otherwise as I did not have much time. A lot of people got off the train at the Chinatown stop. And then the train was empty.

I was outside the safe confines of Chicago downtown. Sorry to say this but I was really worried about my safety on the bus. I recall reading a hotel review around this area that the guests were mugged outside the hotel and that the hotel advises their guests to take a cab. And so when I got on the packed bus and as it traveled to its destination, I can see the not-so-pretty side of Chicago. I double checked to see if I got on the right bus, lest I end up in a place I don’t want to be in. [Chicagoans, please don’t hate me for saying these things but I really felt I was sticking out like a sore thumb on the bus].

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And then an oasis of calm. The Museum of Science and Industry is located in a much nicer neighborhood. It is an impressive facility. I always wished that Vancouver has a museum like this. You know, Vancouver cannot claim to be a world class city without a museum like this.

The building is actually a legacy from the 1893 World’s Columbian Expo.

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There was quite a crowd already. After all, it was a Sunday and people are bringing their families out for a day in the museum.

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The one thing I wanted to visit is the German Submarine exhibition. The exhibit is centered around a real German submarine captured by the Americans during the World War II.

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The exhibit chronicles the hunt and capture of the U-505 submarine.

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And then lo and behold. Walking into the pit made especially for the submarine, it came across to me as one of the most menacing sights I have ever seen. It felt like walking into a James Bond movie.

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The long ramp runs downwards to the floor level with a lot of information about submarine. The high point is to get into the submarine. However … Continue reading

Chicago: Giordano’s World Famous Stuffed Pizza

After the visit to the John Hancock Center, it was time to get a bite. A real bite. Enough of popcorns no matter how good they are.

So I walked a few short blocks south to Giordano’s Pizzeria.

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Giordano’s Pizzeria is famous for their Stuffed Pizza. For a while I was confused over Deep Dish Pizza and Stuffed Pizza — just the same thing with a different name. My friends insisted they are different and I gotta try both.

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Ordering was an intimidating affair. I was not familiar with the menu and the folks who took the order were taking orders very fast. They did not seem like the type who will spend time explaining the menu to me. This is Chicago, this is not Vancouver.

Whether you are eating in or having it to go, you order from the same counter. There were just a lot of people milling around the area either waiting for their to go order or for a table.

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So the timid Ben stood back in a safe distance and take his own sweet time to try to decide what he wanted.

The first item on the menu is usually their best selling item but it’s only cheese. It was cheese, cheese, cheese, and cheese options on top.

Then it was the “Special”. Hmmm … OK maybe the special. I was thinking the Spinach would be nice because it does take away the sourness in the tomato sauce. Shrimp would be great too as it will be sweeter. Tropic Delight … oh, it was hard to decide. Vegi — out of the question for a sworn meatatarian like me.

I finally decided to go with the “Special” simply because it is the priciest … and hence fully loaded.

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It was a nice casual dining area. The pizza took a while to come to the table. It was OK as I … Continue reading

Chicago: John Hancock Center and The Magnificent Mile

I had planned to spend the rest of the morning walking the Magnificent Mile.

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It turned out to be not a a great idea because it was quite deserted on a weekend morning. All the shops were closed. At least it gave me the chance to casually stroll the street and taking the rare pictures of a deserted street.

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The Magnificent Mile is the name given to the section of the Michigan Avenue. This is Chicago’s elite shopping street, very much like our very own Robson Street except much bigger. You can get almost any luxury brands here.

In the later part of the day when the shops opened, I went to the Apple store. He he he … let me tell you a trick. If you want to make a long distance call for free, go to the Apple Store and use one of the demo iPhones. I was surprised that it worked when I called home to Vancouver.

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At the south end of the Magnificent Mile is the Wrigley Building. This is the HQ of the Wrigley Company who not only makes chewing gums but also carries brands like Altoids, Lifesavers, and Skittles. They own a lot of chewing gum brands, not just Wrigley. Next time you buy a pack a gum, read it carefully and you will probably find that it’s made by the Wrigley Company.

The Wrigley is an iconic building in Chicago having one of the best site for a corporate building. Fronting the busy intersection of the Chicago River and Michigan Avenue, this building is built in the likeness of the Giralda Tower in Seville’s Cathedral. Suanne and I was in Seville just last summer (see the post of the Seville cathedral here, the tomb of Christopher Columbus).

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The Water Tower is dwarfed amidst all the tall buildings around. However, this tower is the only building that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Today, it symbolizes the old Chicago while the rest of the city around it is newly built. If not for the Great Chicago Fire which sparked a massive rebuilding of the city, perhaps Chicago would not be as well known for its skyscrapers and architecture that we know of today.

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See that white building with the words Water Tower Place? Behind it is a skyscraper. Oprah Winfrey stays there. This ugly boxy looking building shouts luxury — luxury hotel, luxury apartments, luxury shops, luxury everything.

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The highlight of the morning is to visit the John Hancock Center. I wanted to visit one skyscraper and had been debating with myself between the Sears Tower (one of world’s tallest) or the John Hancock Center (better views). Almost everyone I asked tells me that while Sears Tower is cooler to visit, it is the John Hancock Center that will be more interesting.

From the outside the building does not seem like it is that tall. Not especially when compared to the imposing Sears Tower. But the John Hancock Center is 100 stories high.

From the design aspect, you might think this is a corporate office building. It is, but half of the building is actually … Continue reading

Chicago: Day 2 on the Chicago Riverwalk

OK, Vancouver.

It’s alright.

It’s OK.

You gotta let it go at some point and move on.

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Credit: The Province on May 28th, 2010

I know it’s hard being soundly thrashed by the same Chicago Blackhawks for the second time in as many years.

But who are you gonna support in the Stanley Cup finals? I tell you you should just throw all your support behind the Blackhawks. With 5 players on the team from BC and 20 Canadians in all, the Blackhawks is as much a home team as the Canucks is.

So with that, it is alright to click play on this soundtrack and actually enjoy the “music”:

LOL! I got to pacify the disappointed Canucks fans before I re-embark on writing about my Chicago city series.

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This was the second day in Chicago. I had not gotten online for more than 24 hours. It is because I did not want to pay the $17 (a day!) for the internet in the hotel room.

So, I woke up early and went to the corner cafe where I knew there is free wifi. Oh joy, it was great to be online again. I planned to spend a lot of time here. Well, I wanted to spend as much time until the battery on my notebook ran out. This notebook was at the last leg of its life and I am having keys coming off. The battery … well … it lasted only 45 minutes.

It wasn’t fun having to look at the battery indicator like every minute and have it turning more red by the minute and starting blinking at me. So, I just ordered a coffee for now and not want to waste time ordering breakfast and eating it.

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The Corner Bakery Cafe was where I had my breakfast. This is apparently a franchise but they are not anywhere near this side of the world. I like the setting.

The place was slow early in the morning and that gave me the peace to work. It soon filled up very fast shortly after.

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I can’t remember what it is that I ordered but I remember thinking this is one of the most delicious breakfast I had in a chain bakery. It actually felt healthy eating this. I just love the big slices of avacado and raw red onions.

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After the breakfast, I went back to the hotel room to leave the notebook. I don’t want to carry the notebook around, do you?

I took the “L” and headed a few blocks north. I wanted to start the day doing the Chicago Riverwalk.

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The Chicago Riverwalk is over a 1 km stretch along the south bank of the Chicago River. This is meant to be a “second shoreline” of Chicago where there are walkways which is lined with places for recreation and reflection, a place where office workers and families can relax, and a great place to get a bite to eat.

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It is really hard not to love the Chicago River.

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Yeah it is all concrete, nothing natural about it but still. I earlier did mention that the current flow of the river is reversed, remember that? It used to be a huge sewage dump flowing into the Michigan Lake but now … it flows from the lake inland.

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There are some memorials around the Chicago Riverwalk. This is the … Continue reading

Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago

So that was a very busy first day in Chicago. There is one place I absolutely want to go was the art museum. It has to be that very day … that very evening. And so I rushed from the Navy Pier to the Art Institute of Chicago.

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The reason I rushed because it was a Friday … and there are no entrance for Thursday and Friday evenings. Kek keh keh …

No really. If you are into art, you don’t want to miss the Art Institute of Chicago. They have some of the world’s most famous pieces of 19th century art.

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You can see that there are a lot of people who came because its free.

I did not want to carry my camera backpack with me after having lugged it around town the whole day. Good thing is this museum allows photography. Some museums I had been to do not allow it at all. Most will allow photography with the condition you don’t use flash or tripod. I am cool with that … I think I have a steady hand and don’t need them.

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There is that ONE painting I wanted to see and so I looked for it first. It is the Georges Seurat’s most famous works called A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

I used to make a 3000-piece jigsaw puzzle of this painting. I walked right up to the painting and took close up shots of the painting … like just a few inches away from the painting. He he he … the people there was wondering what I was doing hogging the painting when they are waiting to take pictures too. I did it so that you can have a closer up look.

Here … I photosynth it so you can look at the various parts and zoom in up real close. This painting is a form of painting call pointilism. It was painted using miniature dots which brings out the brilliant colors better than conventional painting forms. This French painting took two years to complete.

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With that out of the way, I systematically went to the other halls. Given the short time remaining, I do not have the chance to cover this museum as much as I like. So I just focused on their more notable pieces.

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The American Gothic is perhaps the most parodied painting in the US.  Painted in 1930 by Grant Wood, the artist wanted to pain the white house along with the the people who he believes would live in them.

The house in the background is actually a real house in Iowa. Here … see this Google Streetview map. The house is at the background.

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The man who posed for this picture is actually the artist’s dentist while the woman is the artist’s sister. The house, the man and the woman are painted separately at different times.

This iconic image of a grim faced man with his wife (or daughter) came into prominence during the Great Depression when it came to symbolize the hard working American couple.

Many people came to assume that the woman is the wife of the man with the pitchfork. Well, the artists sister was totally embarrassed by it because … Continue reading

Chicago: Navy Pier

After the deep dish pizza meal at Pizzeria Uno, I headed next to the Navy Pier. It was just a short 20 minutes walk to the pier.

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The Navy Pier is the top tourist attraction in Chicago. It has an air of festivities the closer I got to the pier. It is like the feeling that you’re going to a fair.

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The Navy Pier is almost a hundred years old now. When it was build, it was the longest pier in the world. It was designed to be a shipping and warehouse facility.

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The pier fell into disuse until it was revive as an entertainment complex in the 1990s.

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Actually, I was quite … Continue reading