How to Tour Chicago in a Day

Stop #3 – Chicago | Cross Country

Having drove all day and through the night, we entered Chicago with a sunrise as the backdrop to the city in front of us. I will never forget that image. The buildings looked like dark cutouts with the orange sky lighting up behind them. Making our way to Millenium Park, I saw the blazing orange-red sun peeking half-way above the horizon. What a way to start our day.

If only I’d remembered to take a picture as we drove in.

To Take, or Not to Take Pictures

chicago, city, buildings
Buildings behind the Big Bean

Although, I was probably too enamored with the amazing view welcoming us into the city to remember my camera, a thought had occurred to me – am I taking too many pictures?

With all the snapshots we’d been taking, I was beginning to feel like my trip was only being seen through the lens.

Thinking it was better to live in that moment, I decided not to feel guilty about leaving my camera in the unreachable trunk. Obviously, I wasn’t about to give up on picture-taking, but there are some special moments that are best absorbed with all of your senses.

Years later, I can still remember the awe of driving into Chicago and can picture seeing the sunrise behind the skyscrapers. It was amazing.

However, sometimes I still regret not snapping that shot. Perhaps setting aside the camera should be reserved for more personal moments.

Prepare to be Blown Away

DSC00405After 15 hours driving from South Dakota and switching driver seats half-way, we’d finally parked and could venture into the windy city … the very windy city. I was all-too grateful that we brought our thickest winter jackets.

Bracing ourselves for a walk in the cold wind, I wondered if this was the kind of wind I could lean against. However, too cold to open my jack and test it out, I zipped up tight, pulled my hair back as tightly as I could, and braced myself for a day of cold cheeks, teary eyes, and weather-strewn hair.

I also made a mental note to take each city and state’s nickname seriously from then on.

Chicago Ain’t Cheap

Parking underneath the parks areas was not cheap, starting at $14 for the first hour. And that was the cheaper of parking garages. Of all the places we would visit and park, Chicago was the most expensive.

Needing to wake up after a night of driving, we got some

warm brew at Caribou Coffee – warmed us up for our venture into the highly decorated parks (Millennium and Grant).

Millennium and Grant Park

Despite the frigid breeze and expensive parking, the parks’ view distracted my shivering body and achy hands. Strewn with beautiful art decorating the outside, it felt like we were walking through an outdoor exhibit. A FREE exhibit!

We explored the green patches of grass with random sculptures – a beautiful way to start our morning.

Walking through the park was peaceful; the greenery juxtaposed the busy city life was like a breath of fresh air… literally. The sidewalk and streets smelt of smog and cars, but when we reached greener grounds I was able to breathe more deeply.

The Cloud Gate

AT&T Cloud Gate aka Big Bean in Chicago
Standing under the cloud

As we continued along the path and turned some corners, our next stop came upon us quite suddenly. The big bean (AKA AT&T Cloud Gate) leaves quite an impression, and sucked up a lot of our time, to be honest.

I took more pictures than I could possibly share. It was just so fascinating to see this giant mirror, reflecting the gorgeous buildings behind, as well as deforming our figures like fun-house mirror. It was a mixture of beauty and humor, allowing us to laugh at our funny reflections.

The scene reminded me of the tower of Pisa, where everyone stands around making funny pictures with the great monument. The only difference was that there weren’t as many people taking pictures of the Big Bean.


Chicago Dining

When we finally pulled ourselves away from the bean, we spent lunch at a restaurant where my cousin-in-law worked. Though I didn’t have Chicago’s signature pizza or dogs as everyone suggested, I did try a salad that was topped with another local favorite – giardiniera (I can’t pronounce it right).

Funny that I’d never heard of this before, but it’s apparently very popular in Chicago. A spicy pickled veggie mixture – olives, peppers, cauliflower and I don’t know what other veggies. It was also topped on my husband’s chicken dish.  All I knew was that it tasted good.

Little Time for a Big City

Our Chicago tour was short, but enjoyable nonetheless. We have to try to remember, the bigger the city, the more time we should spend exploring.

After visiting family, we were on the road again. Our destination was six hours away, just passed Cleveland, Ohio, and for the sole purpose of resting, nothing else.

At that point, we’d done so many longer stretches of driving, six hours was nothing. We were beginning to feel like veteran road-trippers.

Niagra Falls, here we come!

Reflections of AT&T Cloud Gate aka Big Bean in Chicago

Traveler’s Tip: If you want to save money and avoid a crowd, pick motels just outside of the major cities. The Motel 6 we stayed at in Willoughby, Ohio was clean, comfy, and way cheaper than other hotels. Nearly half the price, actually.


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