28th November 2005
Chicago, Illinois

We spend a bit of time this morning working out the best way to get into the city centre. After looking through as many local maps as we can find we ascertain that the airport is very close by, and that there is a train link into the city from threre. We don't find any parking at the airport itself, but just over the road is a private car park that offers a days parking for reasonable rates. The car park is a very long thin rectangle, and they have put on a bus to take you from your car back to the gate. I don't envy the driver of that bus: going round and round the whole day through.

We take the orange line of the elevated train, or 'El' as it's commonly known, into the city centre. The most obvious point to head towards is the Sears Towers. My personal plan of leaning my head against the glass and uttering the words 'Anything is peaceful from 1,353 feet' (Ferris Buellers Day Off if you're wondering) are scuppered but the winds that the city is known for. Some similarly scuppered Americans chat with us for a while "Well, I guess that's why they call it the windy city". In fact, we later learn that the nickname came from a rather mouthy journalist who kept yakking on about how Chicago was better than New York. In retort the New York DJs proclaimed him to be 'full of wind' - and the nickname stuck. The American couple do offer us the tidbit of information that the wind here has a name - 'The Hawk'

The wind is astonishingly strong today. It's one of those winds you can lean at 45 degrees into and not fall over. We drop a few postcards into the Post Office in the base of the Sears Tower so we can at least say we've been there and wander east out towards the intriguing Millennium Park.

Cities bought some really weird works of art at the millennium. Chicago opted for two giant rectangles covered in LED lights that show two kids making faces at each other. I later learn that the faces usualy 'spit' water into the area below that makes up a huge fountain - it was switched off whilst we were there. I would guess for winter.

The other big work of millennium art here is the fabulous 'Cloud Gate'. It is a giant bean shaped work of art with a perfect reflective surface. The clouds and buildings are beautifully reflected in its surface - hence the name. Whilst we are they they are putting the finishing touches to the underside of the gate so sadly we are unable to walk through the gate. But it's a brilliant idea and looks fabulous.

The park itself is very pleasant. The centrepiece is an outdoor auditorium which no doubt will play host to all manner of concerts and plays and events. There are several smaller walled off sub parks for a bit of privacy. It's very nicely done. A long curving bridge lined with shining panels crosses the busy road out to the water. Every now and again a policeman shoots by on a Segway, a two wheeled personal transport system. I suppose it saves on shoes.

We wander to the tourist office and find out about the city guides. There are people in Chicago who have lived here all their lives and will show you 'their' Chicago. Sadly we won't be here on the dates when these no doubt interesting tours take place.

Pip's mum has asked us if we can get her one of the jackets that we've both been wearing on our travels. We find the address of the local North Face store and walk the streets hunting for it. Chicago has some very nice architecture and is a very pleasant city to wander around. After half an hour of backtracking along the strange streets we are happened upon by 'Pop'. Pop is a homeless guy who has taken it upon himself to guide lost tourists to the location of their choice for a small donation. He's a really nice guy. Well spoken and seemingly intelligent. You have to wonder why someone like him ended up on the streets in the first place.

We wander through various shopping centres and eventually find ourselves outside an empty store front - North Face has gone, and so we wander north looking in the shops as we go. Eventually we stumble on, wouldn't you know it, a North Face store. The jackets are out of season however and unlikely to make a reappearance. We promise ourselves to keep an eye out for a similar jacket.

There are other great examples of architecture along this route. The water tower particularly is of note, and as night falls, these buildings are all warmly lit. It's a very amiable city.

We have dinner at the Cheesecake Factory under the second tallest building in Chicago before finding our way back to our motel with tired feet.

Chris Cottam