Chicago + autumn = awesome
Editor’s note: This is the second story in a two-part series about a long weekend visit to Chicago. Visit http://www.vaildaily.com to read the first installment.With only one full day left in Chicago, the goal was simple: See as much as humanly possible. First up – shopping, which in Chicago means the Magnificent Mile. We caught the 146 bus from our cozy boutique hotel (The Majestic) off Lake Shore Drive and headed straight for H&M (840 N. Michigan Ave.), a chic Swedish-based clothing store with an enormous shop on Michigan. It was my first time in the store, which I’ve been hearing about for years from friends. As excited as I’d been to check it out, I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place – three stories of uber-trendy and very affordable clothing. Forty-five minutes and a few bags later, my friend Erin and I emerged into the warm autumn air. We were on a mission, so we literally ran through two more shops – Filene’s Basement (where Erin scored a pair of 7 for All Mankind jeans for $30) and the Spanish clothing store Zara – before hot-footing it a few blocks south on Michigan, past the towering Chicago Tribune Building and across the Chicago River to Millenium Park. We joined the throngs of other tourists snapping pictures of themselves hamming it up on the plaza in front of “The Bean,” a three-story shiny steel sculpture dubbed such by Chicagoans because of its legume-like shape. The sculpture by renowned Indian artist Anish Kapoor is really called “Cloud Gate” and cost a cool $23 million. Next up, we snapped a few shots of children frollicking in the water beneath the 50-foot-tall Crown Fountain, an interactive video sculpture that displays random faces. Alas, there was no time to dip our toes in the water – we had another block before the Art Institute, one of my all-time favorite museums.
I breathed a heavy sigh of contentment as we walked past the stately lion statues in front of the building, up the concrete stairs and into the million-square-foot museum. Given the chance, I could happily spend days roaming the galleries. And really you’d probably need weeks to fully explore the museum, the second largest (the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is the largest) in the country. Sadly, we had about 90 minutes before we were set to meet a friend for lunch. A travesty – I know. But we made the best of it and visited a few of my favorite paintings – Van Gogh’s “The Bedroom,” Monet’s Haystacks and Water Lilies and, of course, Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Next we headed to the special exhibit by photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, the first retrospective exhibit since the photographer’s death in 2004. We were in silent awe of his black-and-white photos, room after room of fleeting moments of everyday life so deftly captured.After buying a few postcards in the gift shop, we hoofed it back toward the river and to The Purple Pig (500 N. Michigan Ave.; http://www.thepurplepigchicago.com), a swanky eatery on the Mag Mile that had me at its tagline: “Cheese, Swine & Wine.” We sat at a communal table on the patio and ordered a handful of things from the Mediterranean-inspired tapas menu: a copa panini with provolone, whole-grain mustard and pickled cherry peppers; marinated olives; salt-roasted beets with whipped goat cheese and pistachio vinaigrette; and warm bread with prosciutto slices, grilled fig and mint. While lunch was fantastic, dessert was downright divine: still-warm fried brioche filled with chocolate chips and ricotta cheese, called a “Sicilian Iris,” and a nutella panini with marshmallow cream and bananas. I’m drooling just writing about it.
Even though our stomachs were bursting, we swung into Garrett’s Popcorn for a requisite purchase for any Chi-town visitor: a bag of the Chicago mix popcorn, a heavenly combination of salty cheese and sweet caramel popcorn, to take home. The line was surprisingly short, and after about 10 minutes we were out the door and headed to The Signature Room, located on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center. Rumor has it some of the best views of Chicago and Lake Michigan can be found from none other than the women’s bathroom at The Signature Room. So yes, ears popping, we rode the elevator up 95 floors to use the restroom, which indeed has stunning views out of a floor -to-ceiling glass window. After snapping a few photos, we glanced at the drink menu ($8 a beer, no thanks) and decided to skip it in favor of catching a bus to The Shedd Aquarium (1200 Lake Shore Drive), our last destination for the day. We arrived at the aquarium about an hour before closing time and as most people were leaving. After checking out the Waters of the World exhibit and staring at my favorite tank – the translucent, ghostly looking moon jellies – for a while, we headed to the Oceanarium to see the Pacific white-sided dolphins, one sea otter and a few sea lions. Our timing was serendipitous as we got to watch four trainers feed the creamy-white beluga whales. The animals, which have mouths permanently upturned into smiles, happily squealed through their blowholes as their trainers tossed them fish. Our faces mimicked theirs – happy that we’d made so much of our last day in the Windy City. High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or email@example.com.