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Whirlwind Chicago

I had wanted to spend at least three, if not four, nights in Chicago, but had to settle for just two, or pay much more for my sleepers on the trains. Even though the weather was cold and windy, I found I preferred Chicago to New York, and need to go back. My image of Chicago was of an aging industrial city, but it turned out to be surprisingly clean and green, with good public transportation, and none of the canyon-like feel I get among the sky scrapers in New York.

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With so little time, I stayed pretty busy. My train had been on time, but then I had trouble finding the correct bus stop – totally my fault, as I was looking for the 135 bus when it should have been 157. During the week, the 157 runs from Union Station to a stop right outside the apartment building on North DeWitt where I was staying. After two nights at the Jane and one on the train, I had wanted something sizable for Chicago and my new digs felt huge in comparison.

Just half a block from the lake, and two from the Magnificent Mile, I loved the location. It was also less than a mile to the nearest Whole Foods, where I picked up supplies for dinner and breakfast. (In Chicago I mostly ate to live.) That evening I saw Timon of Athens at the Shakespeare Theater. I loved the theater, and the production, but had some trouble hearing the actors. Possibly I was in an acoustic dead spot, as the couple next to me left at intermission, while everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves. The Shakespeare Theater is incongruously located on Nayy Pier, which turned out to be a tacky tourist sight, although the views back to the city were good.

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I started my one full day with the Architecture Foundation’s morning bus tour. This included a look inside the Rookery Building, with its beautiful white and gold lobby designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and then the architect’s Robie House on the Chicago University campus. We also took a look at the IIT campus, with train tracks right over the student’s union. The tour concentrated on the south side, with just a quick drive through part of the north.

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Knowing that the tour wouldn’t finish until 1:00 pm, which was 2:00 pm my time, I boarded with a sandwich, and so was ready to cross the street to the Art Institute when the tour finished. I was not prepared for the long line waiting to get in, or for bag check rules that didn’t let me leave my water bottle with my bag, while I wasn’t supposed to drink in the galleries… I enjoyed some rooms of Art Nouveau furniture, and the collection of impressionists, but was less enthused by the Asian galleries, perhaps because I had just visited the Rubin in New York.

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The last Architecture Foundation river boat tour of the day left the dock at 5:00, and I had thought I might get to see the city lights come on, but it was still light when we finished at 6:30. As with the morning tour, the docent was excellent, and never stopped talking the entire time. She had something interesting to say about every building we passed, although after a while all the architects started running together.

A couple I had met through the Fodor’s discussion boards collected me at the end of the tour, and took me off north for an excellent Thai meal at Spoon. I thoroughly enjoyed the soup, banana blossom salad, fish in garlic and chili and shrimp with tamarind curry, but especially the conversation.

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I finished my too brief look at Chicago Sunday morning with a Chicago Greeter. My volunteer guide turned out to be a woman about my own age who had spent the icy northern winter in southern Spain. She showed me some of the buildings on the upmarket Gold Coast, and then we ate lunch at the History Museum, where she was a docent. Unfortunately public transport let me down at that point, and when the 151 bus obstinately refused to appear I had to take a taxi back to 900 DeWitt to collect my big bag. I was not altogether surprised, when I just caught a 151 bus back to Union Station, to see another 151 bus right behind it.

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