Chicago: The Millenium Park

I got a question for you … would you travel alone? I mean, go on a vacation absolutely by yourself and yet enjoy yourself immensely?

If you had been following chowtimes since the beginning, you know that I had been on several trips on my own. It had always been a side trip that I tag on to a business trip.

I never thought much about it until one day in Brussels. I took a cab from the train station and I was literally grilled by the taxi driver about my travelling alone. I should have told him I am on business when he asked me why I was in Brussels. He asked me “doesn’t it get lonely? with no one to talk to?”. I remember that conversation although it was some years ago because that question struck me.

Frankly, I enjoy these solitude times once in a while. I feel relaxed and takes my own sweet time to discover the world.


I woke up very early the first day in Chicago. I wasn’t hungry at all and so I had coffee from the hotel room along with a dried up bun I had from the airport the previous day. Hotel coffee is awful isn’t it? It always is. I had never had good ones no matter if they are branded or not. I wished I had one of those Asian 3-in-1 coffee with me but I forgot to pack it for this trip. Those 3-in-1 came in handy.

Chicago is beautiful. I was marvelling at how clean the city is. Well, for the most part anyway. But my first impression was really good.


The hotel is just 2 minutes from Michigan Avenue and the world famous Chicago Art Institute. This was just perfect because Michigan Ave is perhaps like staying on Robson while in Vancouver or Times Square in New York. Michigan Avenue is the center of the tourist belt where one of the section is known as the Magnificent Mile.


It was just past 7 AM in the morning when I started my day. It goes without saying that not many places are opened. So the best place to start is at the Millennium Park.

Having opened in just 2006 and constructed with great cost, the Millennium Park is one of the biggest project undertaken by the city of Chicago. It is a marvelous park and the best time to visit is very early in the morning when there are nobody insight … just perfect for photography.


The Cloud Gate. This is simply the most stunning public sculpture in the Millennium Park.

Because of the shape, it is also known as The Bean before it was given its official name.


It is a giant elliptical structure inspired by … liquid mercury.


The surface is highly polished that it must be a nightmare to maintain but it is something that makes this so unique.


There wasn’t anyone else around at all … just me. Yeah, the best time to visit is early in the morning because when the crowd starts to come in, it’s difficult to get shots like these.

The reflection on the surface distorts the Chicago skyline and the surround park area. It was just amazing walking around and under The Bean. I took almost a hundred pictures from this area alone.


Not far from the Cloud Gate is something I marveled at more the sheer point of ingenuity. This is known as the the Crown Fountain (named after the distinguished Chicago Crown family).


There are two towers of glass bricks facing each other. Behind the glass bricks is a large video screen showing the faces of everyday Chicagoans. I was wondering how one can get their face recorded for this. It is just mesmerizing looking at the faces which blinks … so human.

If you stay on for a few minutes, the people on the screen will purse her lips and water will spout from the open mouth.

You know why this is so interesting to me? This is because this is the modern play on historical fountains based around gargoyles with water coming out from the mouth of the creatures. The water will gather between the two towers making it a very shallow pool of water. When I was back there in the evening, children were seen splashing around in the pool.


The showcase of the Millennium Park is the magnificent Jay Pritzker Pavilion. It is a bandshell and home to the Grant Park Orchestra.


It has lawn seatings and fixed seats and can accommodate up to 14,000 people — much more than GM Place can hold. As you can see, it is an open “concert hall” … there are no entrances and so all performances here are free.

Over the lawn area are steel structures which holds the sound system. The sound system is said to be able to replicate the sound of an indoor concert hall acoustics.


See the architectural design above. What does it remind you of?

If you see similarity in style to the world acclaimed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, you are right. This pavilion and the Guggenheim Museum are both designed by Frank Gehry.


How I wish we have something like this place in Vancouver.

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Integral to the design of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion is the BP Pedestrian Bridge. The bridge serves two purposes. It crosses the very busy Columbus Drive and it also serves as a buffer against traffic noise from the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

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Before I left Millennium Park I checked out the McDonalds Cycle Center. I have an interest in this because I was an avid cyclist. I used to bike 40 km everyday to and from work. I stopped biking when I had a nasty wipe out a few winters ago. I did not see a large patch of black ice. The bike slipped under me and I slid right across the road in traffic. Close call. Good thing there was no cars at that time or else right now you will be reading some other blog, just not chowtimes. 🙂 My legs were dripping blood before I got the clinic at work to look into that. I kept that from Suanne for many months and she wasn’t a happy camper when I told her everything. I love my road bike which is super light and speedy. I used to outrace everyone in the office. But the bike is hanging nicely on the rack right now. My biking days, I think, are over.

So during those biking days, I always lament that Vancouver does not have decent facilities for cyclists. The McDonald’s Cycle Center in the Millennium Park is an awesome facility. The steps around the place too are designed so that you could walk your bike up stair. It is not just a bike storage area. The Cycle Center has lockers, showers, bike repairs and even a snack bar.

Vancouver sure needs something like this. Vancouver sure could do with a park like the Millennium Park.

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  1. zoi

    nice post!! been there a couple of times (last summer was last) and it always “wowed” us. got tons of pictures also of the bean and the crown fountain. there is also a huge fountain close to that area (forgot what its called) but i think im getting ahead of the story.
    anyway, im having a blast reading your posts (and tweets too!)

  2. Ron C

    Believe it or not, I find that most hotel coffee tastes better (still not great) when I bring it home and make it in my own coffee maker with Vancouver water.

    1. Ben

      He he he … So, Ron C, I gather then that you take home the free coffee in hotel rooms huh? I hate it so much I don’t even bother to even touch it. As earlier indicated, I only swipe the toiletries from hotel rooms (for Suanne).

  3. Amy

    wow! gorgeous pictures! and i really enjoyed reading this post!

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