In the mid-1980’s it seemed like all the best things were coming out of Chicago. The Bears. Deep dish pizza. And of course, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It seems like it had been almost as long since I toured the Windy City – I had passed through a number of times without having the chance to explore it. Then finally on a long weekend, some friends took us downtown and I remembered why it was also a great place for US to take a day off.
The downtown, with its impressive vertical skyline stands proudly against the chilly shores of Lake Michigan. There are numerous world-class universities, museums and other culturally-enhancing destinations that beg to be visited, but this was my day off, and I wanted to have some fun. So the first stop was naturally Millennium Park, and its star attraction The Bean.
Technically called the Cloud Gate, what everyone refers to as The Bean is an curvaceous sculpture of reflective metal that’s shaped like, well, a bean. From its paved plaza setting you can take distorted pictures of yourself and/or the surrounding skyline in its fun-house like reflections. For a real mind-twisting trip, stand in the center and look up for a kaleidoscope-worthy scene. Though I had seen pictures of it before, I was struck at how much bigger it was than I thought – somewhere around the size of a smallish two-bedroom house. I couldn’t help thinking that if it WAS a house, how cool it would be to live there. I even came up with a name that pays homage to my Neapolitan heritage: Casa Fazool.
Once we were done taking our pictures, we explored the rest of the park with its winding walkways, rock climbing wall and outdoor theater all the way to Grant Park and the massive Buckingham Fountain. From here you can admire its rococo design or look out at the lake and nearby Navy Pier. For me it was time to take a rest, so that I’d have energy for the rest of the day off.
Just a few blocks inland is famous Michigan Avenue, also known as the Magnificent Mile. This upscale section boasts lots of shops and restaurants and classic city scenes worthy of Manhattan. It is also in this general vicinity where you can stop in at Garrett’s Popcorn for some of their truly addictive offerings. If you’re looking for more than a snack, there’s always the kitschy but fun restaurant called Portillos, where you can enjoy a classic Chicago-style beef sandwich in a Prohibition-era Chicago neighborhood decor.
From there it was a pleasant stroll over to Oak Beach, passing the classic bridges over the Chicago River made famous in movies in nearly every decade. The beach, while not very large, is a pleasant place to stare out at the water and unwind from a hectic day off. Bear in mind that this entire itinerary was undertaken on foot. With an extensive mass transit system, Chicago can be easily navigated by its elevated trains, or by car if you don’t mind the traffic congestion. And if you have access to a vintage red Ferrari, I highly recommend picking one up. It is so choice.
Yes, I know I’ve only scratched the surface of all there is to see and do in Chicago. After all, a city this large is a lot more than just some buildings and a bean. But I’m saving that for my next visit, which I’m sure will coincide with another day off. Anyone up to touring with me? Anyone? Anyone?