At McCormick Center, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel greeted 6,200 delegates and media from 70 countries for the foremost international travel convention in the United States. In saluting Chicago as “the most American of American cities,” the mayor talked about the city’s art and architecture, food and festivals, music and museums, theatres and neighborhoods enjoyed by 55 million visitors to Chicago every year. At the top of my list for a free afternoon, a walk to The Art Institute of Chicago.
Sunglasses and CityPASS in hand, I set out to walk 1.5 miles from my historic hotel, The Drake, pausing for a bit of window shopping at Magnificent Mile stores and Water Tower Place. A vertical detour took me 1,000 feet above the city to the newly re-named 360 Chicago observatory, where “Tilt” is about to open as an attraction not recommended for the faint of heart. Heading across the bridge spanning the Chicago River, three sightseeing boats were loading passengers for a scenic architectural tour.
It is a few more blocks to Millennium Park, where I was keen to get some shots of the famous Cloud Gate sculpture nicknamed The Bean, featuring a curved mirrored exterior reflecting sky and skyscrapers surrounding the park. Resembling a giant droplet of liquid mercury, trying to catch a reflection of yourself on the surface of the seemingly seamless shape is just sheer fun. The contemporary billowing structure of the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion outdoor concert venue is juxtaposed in the background, another reminder that Chicago is America’s architecture capital.
At the park’s southern edge, two stately lions flank the stairs leading into The Art Institute of Chicago, where a collection of European paintings, impressionist and post-impressionist works are considered to be one of the world’s finest. Highlights include the large Georges Seurat oil, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”, the vibrant “Two Sisters” portrait by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and a series of Claude Monet’s haystacks plus three Giverney water lilies pond studies. Among the cohort of artists well represented in these galleries are Cézanne, Gauguin, Degas, Manet, Pissarro, Toulouse-Lautrec and van Gogh with “Self-Portrait” and the well-known “The Bedroom.”
CityPASS provides a booklet of passes for discounted admission into many city’s top attractions, museums, sightseeing tours. I found that it also provides value-added extras, such as a fast track entry and complimentary audio headset. Your Chicago CityPASS includes 360 Chicago, The Art Institute, Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum and more. With 12 million sold since 1997 and a 97 percent favorable rating, it’s well worth knowing about before you visit any of the 11 North American cities currently on offer.