I was in Chicago once - eons ago when dinosaurs walked the earth I think. Come to think of it, the only thing I remember about that visit when I was six years old - other than my aunt's wedding - was the Field Museum, where today you really can see dinosaurs that move.
This time around I had people to meet and things to see that didn't include triceratops and T-Rex. A lot of my three-day trip with my friend Lilli involved exploring Chicago's food scene, and you can read about that here. This post will take you along for the non-food part (yes I do more than just eat), starting with a relaxing boat trip highlighting the architectural wonders of the windy city. It was a great introduction to Chicago's diverse architecture and a good way to get a sense of where things were.
Later on the trip, we explored on foot some of what we had seen on the water, including the Chicago Tribune building, a neo-Gothic building with lots of beautiful tracery near the front entrance.
Embedded near the base the building are myriad stones, bricks and artifacts that were collected from all over the world. I felt right at home when I saw the piece of stone from Princeton University.
You can't help noticing the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower). It's the highest building in North America, and stands 1,450 feet high.
You get a great view of the city from the top. On a really clear day, you can see across Lake Michigan to Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.
A couple of years ago, these glass balcony boxes were added to the building, allowing visitors to step out and look 1,343 feet below to the street. Yours truly had to go for it, and honestly, it's not as scary as it might seem.
But if you'd rather stay at ground level, there's plenty to see and do. Take the time to head to the beach - right in the city. Except for the lack of waves, you might think you're at the ocean rather than Lake Michigan.
Walk the magnificent mile along Michigan Ave. and you'll find not just trendy shops, but sidewalks brimming with beautiful plantings, and even small fountains in some cases.
One thing I definitely didn't think I'd see in downtown Chicago was this crenellated building that looks like it belongs in Disneyworld. Turns out it was built as a water tower in 1869 but now serves as one of the city's official visitor's centers.
You'll find public sculpture along the sidewalks too, including these - the top left is by Picasso, the large one at right is by Jean Dubuffet, and the Marilyn sculpture (temporary until Spring) at lower left is by New Jersey's own Seward Johnson.
But the one that really captured my attention was "Cloud Gate" - more affectionally known as "the bean," created by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor.
It's located in Millennium Park, a really fun place to spend some time. It's where Frank Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion also is located, and you even might be able to hear a concert while you're there, as we did.
One of my favorite things about the city has to be the Crown Fountain, also located in Millennium Park. It's an interactive sculpture that uses light-emitting diodes on its glass-bricked towers to feature the constantly changing faces of local residents. Water spurts out of the mouth periodically, entertaining all the children playing there and the people watching, including me. Click on the video and see if it doesn't make you smile too.
Here's a nighttime view of the fountain, but it's never the same twice.
While we're on the subject of fountains, you've got to visit Buckingham Fountain too - a beautiful pink marble fountain that's one of the largest in the world.
My very favorite place in Chicago has got to be the Art Institute. I spent three hours there one afternoon, but was wishing for at least three more. It's got a fantastic collection, and is the major reason I definitely want to come back to Chicago.
Here's only a smattering of the art I saw - clockwise from top left - Renoir, Seurat, Sorolla, Monet, Pisarro and Degas.
It was hard to tear myself away from the impressionists, but there was so much more to see - just a few more examples to entice - clockwise from left - Singer Sargeant, Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Magritte and Severini.
Next time I go back, I'll plan a whole day. And it will be during the season for the Chicago Lyric Opera and the Symphonic Orchestra too. Riccardo Muti, save a seat for me.
The winner of the Blue Willow tea set giveaway - chosen with a random number generator - is Barbara of Dish N'That. Congratulations. It'll be on its way to you tomorrow.