First Encounter with Chicago: A Walk in the (Millennium) Park
It's been ages since we've taken a couple's weekend away without kids. Since we had a full house of grandparents over the holiday season, we couldn't resist the temptation to fly away, for just a few days, and let the happy grandparents take full advantage of the kids' ever-so-energetic presence. Sinatra's velvety voice started singing in my head: "Come fly away, let's fly let's fly away~" No diapers/change of clothes/plane survival kits to pack, just the two of us and a carry-on? YES!!
Of all place for a January getaway, we ended up visiting Chicago. That's right. Sub-zero temperature (and that's in both Celsius and Fahrenheit) was something that sounded pretty exotic that we had to experience for ourselves.
Pleasantries aside, there are several alluring things about Chicago that drew us to visit it. Before visiting the city, I mainly associated Chicago with deep-dish pizza, the eponymous musical and its film adaptation, jazz and blues, and 1920s gangster lore featuring Al Capone (who also spent a considerable time in San Francisco). After this trip to Chicago, my mental image of Chicago is enriched with stunning architecture, grand museums, quaint neighborhoods, and the aquamarine-colored Lake Michigan.
Our first encounter with Chicago started with a walk in Millennium Park in downtown. Strolling into the park from Michigan Avenue, we were immediately drawn to the bright, mirror-polished monument, Cloud Gate. This shiny stainless steel structure is designed by Anish Kapoor, it's three-stories tall and resembles a giant bean that reflects and distorts the Chicago downtown skyline. I also imagined it to be some sort of Trojan horse from an alien race with superior technology, and one of these days, it'd crack open and we'd see morphing mercury aliens popping out to take over Earth.
Regardless of individual interpretations of what the sculpture means, we, like most people who came across the structure, couldn't resist the urge to take silly selfies from all sides of the bean.
Another shiny and eye-catching structure in the park is the silver bandshell designed by Frank Gehry in the Jay Pritzker Pavillion. Californians will recognize his style because the matte-finished stainless steel "petals" will almost immediately remind you of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles by the same architect.
After admiring the two shiny architectural beauties of Millennium Park, we did some people-watching by the ice rink. Every year from November to March, this plaza is transformed into a free public ice rink (the rest of the year it's an al-fresco dining terrace of Park Grill restaurant). There is a shop that provides skate rentals, but it's very much a BYOS (bring-your-own-skates) kind of venue. Skaters of different skill levels come here to watch and to be watched, and some will definitely blow you away with their triple axels. As for us, sipping hot chocolate while watching happy people on the ice was a lovely way to spend a winter afternoon on our very first encounter with Chicago.
Later that evening, we had another view of Millennium Park from a bar right above Michigan Avenue. Want to find out where to get a view like this? See this post for the exact location and the unique landmark hotel that we discovered.