Friday, May 23, 2014

Chicago: A Walking Tour of Buck Town and Wicker Park

My fellow AOH (Ambassador of Happiness) and travel buddy, Julie, and I decided to spend Memorial Day weekend in Chicago.  She travels there quite a bit for work but never gets to see the city and I lived there for 6 months 20 years ago and never got to see the city because of work.  So, this seemed to be the perfect spot for a mini vacay. After meeting up with Julie at O'Hare, we headed to our hotel downtown.  Traveling with a Platinum Hilton Honors member has its privileges as we were able to check-in at 10:30am, got upgraded to the top floor with a  great view and of course, access to the Executive Lounge.
We had booked a walking tour with Chicago Greeter to see Buck Town and Wicker Park.  When we were in Paris two years ago, we used their sister company and had such a great experience, we of course had to try them out in Chicago.  Before meeting up with our guide, Peter, we stopped at Eataly Chicago for lunch.  This is the same Eataly that's in New York so if you love that place, make sure to stop by next time you're in Chicago.

We met up with Peter at the Chicago Cultural Center...a building full of history.  When the building was built in 1897, it was the city's public library.  After the Great Fire of 1871, England's Queen Victoria wanted to do something to help bring back civility to Chicago so the country donated thousands of books to the city.  Unfortunately, there was no place for them so after a couple decades, the city built a library for the collection.  Leave it to the monarchy to make such a practical donation to a city that was virtually destroyed by a fire!
The building actually served two purposes when first built...half was for the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R) and half for the Library.  There are two beautiful domes in each section...the one in the library is more impressive and definitely befits a place of literature. The dome in the library is the world's largest Tiffany dome at 38 feet.  There is gorgeous mosaics and Carrara marble throughout the building.  It is a public building and therefore free to tour.  Would definitely recommend a stop if you have time.


We told Peter we wanted to see some of the off the beaten tourist path parts of Chicago and he was very excited as most people want to see the standard sites.  While making our way to the "L", we stopped off in the old Marshall Field store (sadly now a Macy's) where they have a beautiful Tiffany mosaic dome.  The really cool piece of trivia about this dome is that it was built by women (smaller more nimble fingers make women better at such detailed work). 

Here are some pics of our stroll through Wicker Park and Buck Town...

Wicker Park used to have a very large Turkish and Russian
community and these baths were very popular with the men

Now normally I wouldn't take a picture of a Walgreens but this one in Wicker Park is pretty cool.  It used to be a bank and they've made a great use of the old vault.


This poor house is a hodge podge of styles


 This house was an American Legion Post in a previous life...
hence the canon in the front yard

After finishing our tour and saying our good-byes to Peter, we headed to Millennium Park to enjoy a couple cocktails before checking out The Bean.  Officially it is called Cloud Gate but got the nickname for its shape.  The sculpture is made up of 168 stainless steel plates welded together and then polished so there are no visible seams.

View from under The Bean
See the girl in the fuchsia top with the girl in the navy top next
to her...about four rows from the center bottom...that's us.
Our last stop in the park was Crown Fountain.  One of the cool things about Chicago is there is artwork in all shapes, sizes and styles throughout the city. 

Crown Fountain is a large piece of public art that ahs a surprise as you sit and relax to the sounds of the flowing water.
Tip: Videos work better in Google Chrome vs IE
After a very busy day of touring, we headed back to the hotel to relax and then dinner.  Tomorrow brings the first of our three tours from the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

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