Citadel travel columnist DEEPIKA CHALKE explores the architectural and engineering marvels of CHICAGO, which are breathtaking, jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring. Take a look at one of the leading business centres in the world…
DEEPIKA CHALKE explores the architectural and engineering marvels of CHICAGO
Chicago, the third-most populous city in the United States, is a city of architectural and engineering marvels. Gritty, artsy, vibrant, edgy and innovative, the city is a thriving metropolis situated along the shore of Lake Michigan, one of the ve great lakes of North America, and a lake that evokes a jaw-dropping reaction as it seems more like an ocean that stretches onto the horizon and beyond. One of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States, the city of Chicago attracts about thirty-ve million visitors annually. A global powerhouse of finance,
industry, technology, transportation, telecommunications and art, Chicago is one of the world’s leading cities for top-notch business opportunities and plays an important role in the economy of the country. Home to 2.7 million residents and the second busiest airport in the world, one of the top ve important business centres in the world, a diverse economy, the thirdlargest labour pool in the nation, the second largest central business district in the United States, headquarters to business giants and a major playground for some of the most important Fortune Global 500 companies, Fortune 1000 companies and Financial Times 500 companies, the city breathes visionaries and revolutionary growth. Often called the Windy City, Chicago is legendary for its awe-inspiring skyline of historic buildings and its museums. One May, I made my way to Chicago to run a half marathon and to experience the city’s breathtaking architecture. With much tussle and willpower, I tore myself from my bed and in a sleep deprived haze at the godforsaken hour of 4 am, I got ready and drove myself to the airport in the predawn darkness, part zombie like and part thrilled to bits. The airport bore a deserted look, which made me feel like I was in an apocalyptic movie of some kind where most of the world had disappeared into shadows. Shufing along, I grabbed myself a cup of steaming coffee and sat by a phone charging station, wondering wistfully how awesome it would be if the brainy scientists amongst us invented human energy charging stations where shifting the mood and the energy levels was simply a matter of plugging in, and Zen-like energy would course through your body. As I sat drinking the bitter coffee and munching on a protein bar, I felt some semblance of life returning to my veins and inspired by the sudden surge of energy and a hyper alert state of wakefulness, I reached out to my luggage and pulled out a book and turned my back on the world of reality, immersing myself in the world of ction. The brilliantly bitter coffee, the exceptionally crunchy cereal bar, the nearly empty airport with the occasional bleary eyed, yawning, weary and dazed travellers, and my wondrously wondrous book, were the perfect start to an exhilarating adventure that awaited me. When the ight left on time at 7 am, I was stumped and euphoric, because repeated exposure to delayed ights had made me grit my teeth and make peace with the fact that any ight I am travelling on would be delayed, and all my plans would be thrown up in the air. Excited and nervous about the day ahead, I tried to get some rest
and catch some sleep, all in vain. So, I kept at the book, even as exhaustion began to creep back into my bones and a subtle anxiety began to gnaw at my excitement. I ran the logistics of the trip in my head, wondering if I could pull it all off in one piece… Signing up for a solo adventure to venture out into the maze-like streets of Chicago had seemed like a brilliant idea not so long ago, but on that ight, the thought made me dizzy with anticipation. Restless and stuck with a brain that was awfully xated on coming up with different permutations and combinations of disastrous scenarios that would spell doom and gloom, I called upon some semblance of peace through deep breathing. Again, all in vain. As it turned out, the silver lining was that it was a short ight of two hours, and it had been time to embark on a trail of actions, decisions and adventures. Dressed for summer and looking forward to basking in the summer breeze and the golden sunshine, my mind reeled as I laid eyes upon a gloomy, rainy, overcast city from the airport windows. As I walked through the Chicago airport, I felt like I was in the Harry Potter world of Diagon Alley, for some inexplicable reason. Looking back, I think the reason was because the airport had a narrow lane, jammed with scores of people and anked by a series of customary coffee places, eating places and bookshops that made the entire place look very London-like in my mind’s eye, even though I had never been to London. After a short walk through the chaotic whirlwind of one of the busiest airports in the world, I boarded a shuttle that drove through the rain drenched streets to the car rental centre. Out of the shuttle and at the car rental centre, at the end of a long line, I waited patiently to get a car as anxiety began to cut through me like a sharp knife blazing a trail through a wholesome apple. A few minutes later, I stood under the velvet sky of Chicago in a mild drizzle, by a car, breathing in the grey, gloomy atmosphere and ddling with the car keys, trying to
gure out how to get the stubborn and accursed car boot to open. Finally, with some assistance and much swearing, the car boot opened and I stuffed the luggage in and sat behind the wheel, feeling overwhelmed and uncertain. With slightly trembling ngers, I keyed in the address of a Chicago downtown parking lot, where I would park my car and rage through the streets on my feet, an explorer exploring an iconic city. As I drove through the pouring rain, I felt a sense of renewed excitement and peace. Through the trafc-laden roads, in the distance, I glimpsed the urban sprawl of downtown Chicago, a city with stunning skyscrapers. About an hour’s drive later, I entered a maze where streets crisscrossed in no discernible pattern except to confuse and overwhelm a newcomer, roads ended in dead ends for no good reason, and people drove with reckless abandon as if a dinosaur was on their tail and if they did not tear through the streets in mayhem-like speed or make last minute turns, the dinosaur would chew them to pieces. In the heart of the commercial enclave that is the Chicago downtown, I drove past beautiful towers, a swiftly owing river and the endless array of cars parked by the side of the road, in the steady splatter of rain, in endless circles. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of driving around, I found a building with multiple parking oors and pulled in, getting a ticket and parking the car in a random spot. Taking pictures of the parking spot, the car and the license plate, I stepped out and walked towards Millennium Park, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. As I cut through the roads, not quite sure which way to head, I let the GPS lead the way. Turning this way and that way, feeling lost in a maze, I walked on and the sudden sight of a bus at a bus stop made me bolt, breathless and panting. I made it on the bus and requested the gentleman driving the bus to holler when the bus neared Millennium Park. I sat tight, gazing at the overcast city where trafc roared through the streets, beautiful and artsy buildings soared skywards and pedestrians walked on the sidewalks, light on their feet and cutting past the streets, carrying umbrellas.
Ten minutes later, I got off the bus and a chilly wind sliced through me, making me shiver and curse. The rain had stopped and the city had turned into a cold, windy, gloomy global village. Locals and travellers walked around and I joined them with a smile
as a sense of wonder, curiosity and a feeling of magic coursed through my veins. In front of me was one of the most revered architectural jewels of the city of Chicago: Cloud Gate. An iconic landmark that cost $ 23 million, Cloud Gate was designed by the internationally acclaimed Indianborn British artist, Anish Kapoor. Nicknamed the Bean by the locals because of its shape, the structure is a gleaming stainless steel force of nature. As I walked around it and underneath its arch, I gasped in wonder as I peered at my distorted reections and the reections of the city’s buildings in the structure’s steel surface. Impeccable and elegant, bi z a r r e an d ot h e r w o r l d l y, like something one would nd on an alien planet, the structure is a breathtaking and a fascinating leap of imagination and a tremendous engineering and architectural accomplishment. Chosen from amongst thirty design proposals, Cloud Gate faced many challenges during its conception and implementation phases, some of which included concerns about weather’s effect on the structure, its weight, maintenance and assembly. Featured in several movies, the iconic structure measures 33 by 66 by 42 feet and weighs 110 tons, and what I found absolutely astounding is that the 168 stainless steel plates that make up the structure have been welded so perfectly that it feels like the Bean was manufactured whole out of a single stainless steel plate instead of multiple plates. As I wandered around it, it looked to me like some kind of fantastic portal into an alternate universe.
After a few minutes of gawking and admiring the Bean, I set off to explore the legendary Millennium Park. One of the top ten tourist destinations in the United States, with 25 million annual visitors, the Park is an astounding universe of commercial towers with breathtaking elegance and historic and imposing facades that impart a modern-day fairy tale vibe to this place. As I walked through the fog that came out of nowhere and the bonenumbing chill that came with a bonerattling wind, shortly, I ended up at the Millennium Monument located at Wrigley Square. I felt like I was in Rome or Greece as I gazed at the larger than life pillars that looked splendid and formidable. A gigantic fountain spewed water while giant concrete monsters with gazillion eyes rose in the background, making me feel a sense of awe for the architects and engineers that built this kingdom of monumental monuments. A few odd minutes later, I continued my journey, walking through a wonderland of towering buildings, some of which were swallowed by a dense fog. I felt like I was in a Scooby Doo mystery setting, or in the mysterious, fog blanketed London. As I walked on, the cold began to grow unbearable and my nose and hands began to go painfully numb. I passed by a riverfront where boats stood waiting in the turbulent ow of the river, ready to take explorers into the iconic architectural world of Chicago. Due to unfavourable weather and fog and lack of time, I skipped the boat ride and continued onward, deeper into the maze of architectural marvels. Designer brand outlets, banks, corporations, restaurants…I passed them all, gaping at the majestic magnificence and contemplating the colossal amount of wealth that went into assembling such beautiful buildings. I looked on at the capitalist, consumerist, artsy front, covered in a grey haze and white fog, wondering if I should go in and shop for anything specic. Nothing called out to me, so I kept on walking until the cold made me feel like I might pass out, and I
realized my phone was about to die. To remedy the situation, I walked into an electronics store, ddled with a gazillion portable chargers until I nally felt ready to buy one, and then made my way to a clothing outlet, and after much confusion and fumbling around, I picked out a light blue sweatshirt. One of the assistants at the electronic store directed me towards the John Hancock Observatory, a sort of island in the sky that lets you glimpse the jaw dropping panorama of Chicago’s skyline and the shimmering waters of Lake Michigan. Sadly, due to the massive fog and overcast weather, the observatory was closed, and so, with a sigh and a heavy heart, I got back on the road and decided to visit another famous tourist attraction: Navy Pier.
By this time, it had begun to rain and there was nothing much to do but to tread through the insane weather with a stoic mind-set. After fiddling with my phone for directions, I found myself waiting at a bus stop, and few minutes later, I was at the destination. As I stepped off the bus, a torrential wave of wind tore through the city, almost toppling me over, and a rainstorm swept the city, making me run for cover. The place was completely deserted, as if a doomsday had wiped off all of civilization. Eerie and haunting, the lake looked like it might spawn a monstrous creature from its very depths. I walked on beside the lakefront, passing by a carousel, a Ferris wheel, restaurants and shopping centres, taking pictures. Feeling cold, hungry and unsettled, I walked into a restaurant to get a bite of the world famous Chicago style deep-dish pizza. The wait time being too long, I gave up and traced my way back through the rain and the wind, to the bus stop and eventually, I was back at Millennium Park, walking back to the car parking lot. Soaked to the skin and totally lost, I walked around in circles, taking in the city’s beauty and the morose weather. I had no choice but to get my phone out in the maddening rain, to follow directions and after an hour of searching, I was at the parking lot. Little did I know that the adventure was far from over, and that a seedy character would pretend to be the parking lot attendant and charge me $ 20 and disappear with my ticket, leaving me stranded. And after this specific incident occurred, I found myself on the verge of panic and tears. The sinking realization that I had just been mugged sunk in and the fact that I was stuck with my car in the parking lot and my phone was about to die and I knew not a soul in the city, made me almost keel over with despair. I looked around for an onsite attendant, but
there was nobody around, and as I narrated my tale to other travellers who were leaving the parking lot, they empathized with my plight and even apologized for the sad event, but I was still stuck. Thankfully, an attendant did come in a few minutes later and she swiped her card to let me out of the parking lot after I told her what happened. She apologized and asked me to not be that naïve and trusting, the next time around. I cranked on the heater and the music, shivered and let out a sigh of relief, bracing myself for a two-hour drive to my destination hotel. After driving past deserted roads alongside empty corn elds that reminded me of Stephen King’s horror novels, after two hours of driving, I was at the hotel in a city called Rockford. The hotel’s location and my isolated hotel room, towards the end of a long corridor, made me feel like I was denitely in the midst of a Stephen King horror novel. Having been on edge for quite a while and starved for hours, I stepped out to the hotel restaurant, to relax and eat. A sumptuous Thai dinner was the perfect end to the hyperactive, frenzied, unpredictable day. The next morning, after a tful sleep of four hours, I drove myself to the race venue and in the biting chill and the uncomfortable wind, I pulled on the extra pair of socks I had as gloves and after a wait of 45 minutes, and after a running and jogging spree of 2 hours 16 minutes, the race was done and dusted, and I drove myself to the hotel and checked out an hour later, making my way to the airport to head back home. I only explored the tip of the iceberg in Chicago city, and so one summer, I plan to return to explore its famous art museums and its many important landmarks. Chicago is denitely best explored in summer, unless you don’t mind being frosted in its blizzard like cold and snow during its intense winters.
The John Hancock building
The Millennium Monument
Chicago’s lakefront bordering Lake Michigan
The stunning Chicago skyline