Saturday, June 26, 2010

Chicago Part 2: Day 3: People, Places, Food

We woke up the next morning and my right big toe was aching. I considered the following as reasons for the pain: I have developed a mean case of gout or my pain was from walking approximately 6 miles around the treacherous terrain of Chicago while wearing flip flops. I decided on the latter and opted for more walking friendly shoes.

It was my turn to decide where to eat so I used Yelp. I found the Bongo Room which  is about half a mile away from our hotel, towards the South Loop area, which we hadn’t seen much of. The Bongo Room is situated under the historic Roosevelt Hotel. The interior of the Bongo Room has a nice modern contrast to the building's old brick exterior. The food was amazing. We both had make your own omelets. We decided protein was needed to muster up the energy for our touristy packed day. The omelets were great. The hash browns (more like country potatoes) were perfect. Danny said they were the best he ever had. Thinking back on the menu, I should have had something more creative like the red velvet pancakes. I saw a lady eating some incredibly sinful waffles that looked pretty good as well. Oh well, we planned to have deep dish pizza later in the day, so I needed to save room. Score one for Yelp, I totally recommend the Bongo Room.

We then walked back to the Congress Hotel and checked out. Then we dropped our bags off at the InterContinental in anticipation of some upgraded hotel goodness.

Matt and Janey had recommended the Architectural River Boat Tour, so we decided to hop on board the First Lady of Chicago. Chicago is known for its architecture. It is known more for its innovation than for the age of the buildings. After the fire of 1871, pretty much every building in Chicago was leveled. Chicago was a young hustling and bustling city prior to the fire and remained so after the fire. The fire, although tragic, provided the perfect opportunity to rebuild the city with innovation and energy.

The river cruise has a docent from the Chicago Architecture Foundation on board to tell you about all the wonderful buildings. I won’t go into detail about all the buildings, (although you know me, I could) but I will highlight a few of my favorites.

The Chicago Tribune Tower was right next to our hotel and conveniently next to the river. After the fire, the Chicago Tribune held a competition for its new building. The winner would be the architect who came up with the, “most beautiful and eye catching building in the world.” It may not be the most beautiful in the world, but it’s one of my favorites in Chicago. The docent said it was built in a French gothic sort of style. The American flag is soaring proudly above the building. On the bottom levels there are stones from other nationally and internationally famous buildings.

The next set of buildings that I enjoyed are the ‘60s mod corn cob buildings, called Marina City. They are called corn cob buildings because many people complained that they looked like corn cobs when they were first built. This is strange because Illinois and corn go hand in hand just like Ripon and almonds do. Anyway the architect, Bertrand Goldberg, created Marina City to get the dear residents of Chicago to live downtown. At the time living downtown by the river was something most people did not want to do because the river was dirty. The architect guessed that living downtown would become trendy and the river would soon become the heart of Chicago as they had plans to clean it up. He designed Marina City’s apartments to be triangular in shape so that all of them had balconies. He included parking in the lower levels and shops and grocery stores by the river. He even included a bowling alley. He developed some condos further to the south that also have interesting curved shapes and for the residents there are boat docks underneath. People may have thought his ideas were crazy at first, but now they pay a pretty penny to live in one of his buildings.

We also passed one of Montgomery Ward’s old buildings, which has now been made into a residential building. The building is done in an art deco style. An interesting fact about Ward is that his newer tower (not pictured)  had no corner windows, because he didn’t want to have to deal with the decision of which employees to give a coveted corner office. Montgomery Ward’s has since gone bankrupt, besides their new internet based business, but for a while the company sure knew what it was doing and was a big help in making downtown Chicago what it is today.

After the river boat tour, despite the little old lady’s advice, we headed to Millennium Park. Millennium Park is fairly new. It opened in 2004 and is situated next to all the other parks along Lake Michigan’s shore. The park has a huge outdoor amphitheater, where it holds concerts and plays during the summer months. There are various art pieces throughout the park; the most infamous one is called Cloud Gate, by Anish Kooper. Danny kept calling it the coffee bean, so that name sort of stuck with us Lehrs. Although it is just a reflective coffee bean shaped sculpture, many people were visiting it. We even got in on the action by taking some pictures of our reflection with the Chicago skyline in the background. Danny really wanted to do a handstand underneath it, but I was afraid he would hit someone as there was a crowd. I should have encouraged him rather than discouraged him. You don’t get a chance to do a handstand under a reflective coffee bean very often.

Lunch time called for Giordano’s pizza. It is not the original Chicago style pizza, but everyone said that we must try it. So we did. It was amazing. The crust is like that of a chicken pot pie, but probably has many more sticks of butter in it. I love butter. The inside is stuffed with cheese, sauce, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and sausage. Unlike regular pizza, the sauce is placed on top. I did miss the crispy cheesiness that regular pizza offers. One piece will fill you up, so of course I had two. The air conditioner was on full blast in the restaurant which was quite nice as us Californians are not used to the mugginess of Chicago.

Somewhere in between all of this walking around and stuffing ourselves, we became very sleepy and took a nap.

We then decided to check out the stores on the Magnificent Mile. The Magnificent Mile is a mile stretch of mostly high end shops along North Michigan Ave. Although I can afford to possibly buy one item in one of these stores, I have come to the point in my life where I don’t need a bag that is covered in a bunch of Cs to make me happy. However, if someone wishes to give me a C covered bag, I will take it.

The one store that I was excited to step into was the American Girl store. American Girl started out with four books about girls growing up during various decades in America. Dolls were soon made that looked like the main characters. I read the books when I was a child and enjoyed learning some American history this way. Now there are more books, more decades, and more dolls.

I had hoped to run into Oprah Winfrey in this store. I have seen the American Girl store featured on her show before. Danny would not allow us to visit her studio. Sometimes I enjoy a little guilty pleasure Oprah time, but I mostly wanted to go to win a new car or a makeover. Danny does not call her Oprah. He calls her, “Man Hater.” It turns out Oprah wasn’t filming that day anyway, so American Girl was my only hope. Unfortunately I did not see Oprah, nor did American Girl's employees offer to give me a free doll for being a fan.

We walked around a lot more, probably took another nap, and then headed to Howl at the Moon. We decided to skip dinner, because of our gluttonous move at Giordano’s. Howl at the Moon is a dueling piano bar. The pianists take requests from the crowd and sing fun rock and roll songs. The pianists are usually pretty funny and make some witty comments or get the crowd involved in a clever way. There are 11 Howl at the Moons nationwide. We visited one last year on our trip to San Antonio, Texas. We had a great time, so decided to go again.

As the band played a Tom Petty song, I looked around and noticed a few things. Game number six of the NBA finals was on and the Celtics were losing terribly. Have I ever mentioned that I hate the Lakers? I also noticed there were a lot of middle aged women there from Wells Fargo. They were letting their hair down so to speak. There were some middle aged men is suits, that did not have hair to let down. There was also a bachelorette party.

The young bachelorette wore a sash across her short dress, claiming that she was in fact the bachelorette. She and her entourage were dancing and drinking a lot. She definitely wanted the attention to be on her, as she got on the stage a few times when there is a no “getting on the stage” policy, unless you are invited. She then eyed the middle aged men in suits. She went and started flirting heavily with the men who were probably twice her age and started dancing with one. Her friends soon followed suit. I looked over at Danny told him, that I predicted a divorce in 2 years.

We drank our beers, enjoyed the music, and people watching some more then headed home. I anticipated a much better sleep because our new InterContinental bed was much more comfortable than the Congress Hotel bed. Sleep would be needed because the next day we were going to conquer the Navy Pier, Sears Tower, and a baseball game all in one day.

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