This summer, every time I spoke to a relative or friend from out of town they asked me: have you been to Millennium Park yet? The opening of Chicago’s newest downtown park has made quite a buzz. Millennium Park, located adjacent to Grant Park, is an amazing new addition to Chicago’s Loop area. Built to replace unsightly railroad tracks and concrete, Millennium Park is splattered with bright, eye-catching colors, including lots of green and gleaming silver.
My (new) favorite summer scene is walking up Monroe Street and crossing Michigan Avenue to reach the Crown Fountain, where children shriek, chase each other, and splash in the reflecting pool under the two 50-foot glass towers that feature changing video images and cascading water. The images projected on the towers are photographs of Chicagoans’ faces.
Another favorite hang-out is a bench facing the giant silver “bean”, watching the people and reflections change. The “bean” is a sculpture formally entitled “Cloud Gate”. It is a 110-ton stainless steel elliptical sculpture created by Anish Kapoor, who was inspired by beads of mercury. Everything reflects in the “bean” (as Chicagoans call it): the Chicago skyline, people looking at the sculpture, the clouds.
One of the most dramatic installations in Millennium Park is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by Frank Ghery. The Pavilion now hosts the free concerts that the Grant Park Orchestra gives each summer during the Grant Park Music Festival. The Pavilion is 120-feet high. It has a “billowing” steel headdress that can be seen from Michigan Avenue. The architecture is extraordinary! It can seat 4,000 people in chairs and another 7,000 on the lawn (where you can enjoy your wine and cheese while listening to Strauss, Bach, and Sondheim live).
Other attractions at Millennium Park include outdoor ice skating in the winter, several attractive and peaceful gardens, outdoor restaurants, and the Millennium Park Bicycle Station located at the corner of Randolph and Columbus. Between November and March, ice skating if free and skate rental costs about $5. The Bicycle Station provides 300 heated bicycle parking spaces as well as a snack bar, showers, and lockers, which can be used for $1 a day. Bicycle rental is also available. I think that the Bicycle Station is a very innovative and convenient addition to the Chicago Loop, for both commuters and tourists: no more sweaty work days!
November is almost upon us, which leads to colder weather and the holiday season. Beware of the blustery winds in Chicago! Growing up, my favorite Thanksgiving tradition was going into the city with my family to visit the Marshall Field windows. Located on the corner of State Street and Madison, Marshall Fields is a massive, historical department store. During the holiday season, the windows are thematically decorated with scenes out of books and movies. The decorations typically include animated dolls and animals. After looking at the windows, we usually made our way to the “Magnificent Mile”, where we inevitably bought roasted chestnuts from a street vendor. Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile is full of large stores and exclusive boutiques including Nordstroms, Eddie Bauer, Borders, Sony, Gap, etc. A great place to warm up is in Water Tower Place: an eight-level mall near the center of the Magnificent Mile. The food court on the mezzanine level – Foodlife – has a unique concept: instead of separate vendors, each customer receives a card at the entrance and is charged at the end of their meal. Choices range from Asian to soup to American to Italian. There are plenty of healthy and vegetarian options. Foodlife is a relatively inexpensive meal option on the Magnificent Mile.
If you are truly motivated (occasionally, my family was) you can watch the Thanksgiving Parade, which takes place on State Street from Congress Parkway to Randolph Street at 8:30 am on Thursday, November 25th. Another fun event is the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, which happens on November 20th and 21st. This year, Mickey Mouse will be lighting the white Christmas lights, which will stretch from Oak Street to Wacker Drive (on Michigan Avenue) on November 20th at 6 pm. On November 26th, Mayor Daley will light Chicago’s holiday tree in Daley Plaza. Festivities begin at 4 pm. In previous years, there was also a menorah lit in Daley Plaza.