23-Jun, Chicago

Since the weather was supposed to be great, the plan for Tuesday was to go up the Willis Tower and do the Loop walking tour that we didn't do the day before. In the afternoon, we thought we would go to the Art Institute of Chicago for the afternoon, and then see how we felt about dinner.

We had pretty good timing again for breakfast. Even though there were several people around, we had no problem getting a table. The special for the day was waffles, and since there was no one making one when we showed up, I started one right away. After we settled down to eat, I looked over and noticed all the waffle irons were in use. By the time we finished and were heading out, there was a line. Good timing once again.

The place where we were staying had discounted tickets for both the Willis Tower and the Art Institute, so we bought those up so we would be ready. After double-checking the transit route we would need to get to the Willis Tower, we headed out. The first thing we noticed was that, unlike the previous couple days, the humidity felt normal for us, meaning it was low. We were hoping that would continue as we were going to be outside quite a bit, at least in the morning.

Willis Tower

When we got to the entrance to the Skydeck at Willis Tower, we saw a line of a few dozen people going out the door. We scoped things out a bit, and it seemed the line was for security, so we joined in. Even though all bags were being scanned and people were walking through a metal detector, the line went impressively quickly.

After security, we next went up an elevator a couple floors to a level where they sold tickets. Ah, this was the line we could bypass, which we did. We were funneled into a movie theater, where we sat and watched for a few minutes. After that, into another line where we waited for one of the two elevators. As you can imagine, they really packed people into the cars. It was so tight, I turned around and introduced myself to the guy behind me; that got a chuckle.

We poured out of the elevator on the 103rd floor and waited our turn to look out the various directions. The sky was clear, so the view was great. Melody saw somewhere that when visibility was good, you could see Wisconsin. Can't say we saw a big line like on the map, so it's hard to know if we could see that far.

There were several buildings we recognized from the boat tour from the day before, and it was interesting to see them from another angle.

The west wall of the Skydeck has four plexiglass boxes where you can walk out and look at things. The walls, ceiling, and floor are all transparent, so it was fun to watch all the different ways people wanted to have their pictures taken (lying down, sitting, jumping, etc.) as well as the people who did a lot of those poses while taking selfies. Unfortunately, it was very bright outside, so most all of those photos ended up being either silhouettes or having a very bright background. One of the ledges was dedicated to the venue where they had a photographer with flashes set up so the pictures had better exposures, being able to make out both the subject and the background.

We then got into the line for the elevator down, where they were still packing them but not quite as tightly. After getting out, we wound our way past the people still waiting to go up, and were unsurprisingly dropped into a gift shop. However, after leaving there, we were then dropped into a second gift shop, and we weren't shocked that there were far fewer people stopping to buy things there. Back down to the lobby, out to the street, and we then noticed that not only was there no line out the door, there was almost no line inside waiting for security.

Having done the first item on our walking tour, we set out to continue.

Loop walking tour

We were doing a Frommer's Chicago Walking Tour. We've used them before, and knew that we would need to be careful about directions and which side of the street we needed to be on, since they have very short directions and no photos. In other towns, we ended up needing to do some backtracking, but this one looked pretty straightforward.

The tour first headed north to the Chicago River, where we got a closer look at the 333 W. Wacker Place building, which has great reflections of other buildings. Across the street from it was the Merchandise Mart, which not only looks huge from the river, but is even wider on the back side.

Back into the Loop for the next stop, the James R. Thompson Center, a state government building. It has huge, sweeping glass walls, and a very large, airy atrium inside. The tour said that we should go up to the 17th floor, but the guard said tourists weren't allowed up there.

Just south was Daley Plaza, which is just in front of the Daley Center. The star attraction there is an untitled piece by Pablo Picasso, known as the Chicago Picasso. It was about lunchtime when we went through, and the whole plaza was bustling with people, many eating their lunches either near the statue or the nearby fountain. The ALS Foundation was doing a fundraiser there, and one thing you could do is take a baseball bat to a car. Looks like people could take out their aggressions, but it was still set up to be pretty safe; the headlights were taped over, and the “bat” had a soft handle, so while making a loud thunk when struck, the car didn't get huge dents in it.

We went back up to Randolph Street and walked towards Macy's, where we had lunch the day before. Within sight of that is the Chicago Theater (where Wait Wait…Don't Tell Me is taped) and our destination, the Reliance building, which currently houses Hotel Burnham. We took a peek inside, going up to one of the floors where you could see how they're close to the original office layout, with tiled floors (peeking out from the carpeting) and windowed offices and doors (now frosted over).

By this time we were ready for lunch, and fortunately there was a lunch stop built into our walking tour. We headed over to the Berghoff Café and got Weinerschnitzel, sauerkraut, and creamed spinach. The seating areas are filled with large, shared tables, and the rooms themselves had low ceilings with huge light fixtures. Very atmospheric.

The first destination after lunch was the Rookery which had lots of white lattice at the top of an atrium-like main floor, and a dual winding staircase. Again, the tour suggested that we go upstairs for a better look, but security indicated that tourists weren't permitted to go up there.

After going by the Chicago Board of TradeMonadnock, and Manhattan buildings, we went to the Harold Washington Library Center. There, we rode up the wood-wrapped escalators up to the ninth floor, where there's a large atrium, the Winter Garden. We took a seat and decided it was probably too late to get a good amount of time in the Art Institute, so we decided to go to Millennium Park instead. But first, we stopped on the way to the park to grab some gelato and a quick stop in the Art Institute's sculpture garden

Millennium Park

Millennium Park is pretty large, and is one of several connected parks. We started at Crown Fountain, which mixes towers, waterfalls, video screens, and a big puddle for kids to play in. We then walked by Look into my Dreams, Awilda by Jaume Plensa on our way to Cloud Gate Chicago by Anish Kapoo, popularly know as “The Bean.” As you can imagine, there were a lot of people milling around, taking photos at all sorts of angles. Our next stop was to go to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion where an orchestra rehearsal was in progress. The Great Lawn behind the seats was roped off, but it's easy to imagine how many people could fit there.

The Lurie Garden was quite peaceful, and while it was pretty packed with plants, there were some areas where you could see the ground; those spots were marked as being under development. By that measure, our yard at home is constantly under development.

We wandered across the BP Pedestrian Bridge, designed by Frank Gehry, to Maggie Daley Park, then sat down to rest for a bit. Looking around, we saw climbing walls, a miniature golf course, a skating track, and lots of paths where joggers, bikers, and walkers were going every which way. Being late afternoon, we then had choices as to what to do next. We considered going to Navy Pier to look around and have dinner, but didn't think we'd last long enough and didn't feel like stopping by a café for just a little while before eating. We settled on stopping by a store to grab something for dinner and relaxing for the evening.