February, 2012 – Seven Chicago Experiences


Travel with Terri

Chicago:  Seven Uniquely Chicago Experiences

By Terri MarshallTerri Marshall

Most everyone is familiar with Chicago’s iconic skyscrapers, devilishly delicious deep dish pizza, Wrigley Field and Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile of shopping – all worthy of a visit.  Sometimes though, a little exploration is in order to discover uniquely Chicago experiences.  Just one weekend in the Windy City could yield unexpected art, architectural wonders, melodies under the stars and tempting eats.

Experience Architectural Grandeur

A city the size of Chicago has countless lodging options but choosing a hotel with historical significance can enhance your Chicago experience and provide some architectural surprises.   The InterContinental Chicago provides a perfect home base for your explorations.  In addition to its prime location as the only hotel with an entrance directly on the famed Michigan Avenue, the hotel’s history and architectural details beg exploration. 

Originally built in 1929 as the Medinah Athletic Club, a luxury club for members of the Shrine organization.  When the club opened it was criticized for its “wasteful extravagance.” However, in time, its eclectic mix of multicultural styles would become widely recognized as a genuine historical treasure.  Unfortunately the stock market crash later that year eventually took its toll on the Medinah Athletic Club and the doors to its decadent clubhouse were closed in 1934.  The building saw many owners over the next several decades and was eventually purchased by Intercontinental Hotels and Resorts in 1989 and an extensive restoration process began.  Based on photographs provided by a former Medinah Athletic Club member, exact patterns and details were restored to match the original design throughout the hotel providing curious explorers the opportunity for numerous architectural discoveries.

The hotel’s Grand Ballroom is the site of some of Chicago’s most elaborate weddings and events.  The ceiling of the ballroom contains 37 hand-painted murals of classical landscape scenes that were taken down and restored by Lido Lippi, the same restoration artist who consulted on the restoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.  The ballroom has a 12,000 pound Baccarat crystal chandelier which is the largest in North America.    

Go for a swim or at least take a peek at the stunning Junior Olympic

Intercontinental Chicago Pool. Photo by Gregory Holder.
Intercontinental Chicago Pool. Photo by Jennifer Acocella.

 pool on the floor directly above the Grand Ballroom in the historic tower.  The pool is 25 meters long and holds 120,000 gallons of water.  It was considered an engineering marvel when it was built as it was the first of its kind to be built so many floors above ground.  A terra-cotta fountain of Neptune is located on the east wall of the pool area surrounded by brilliant blue Spanish Majolica tiles.  The rows of theater seats are reminiscent of a bygone era when swim meets were celebrated spectator events.  The pool has had many famous visitors, including Olympic gold medalist and Tarzan star, Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Williams. 




Experience Pieces of the World

Inspired by the Button Tower of the cathedral at Rouen, France, Chicago’s Tribune Tower is just one of Chicago’s many architectural gems, but what makes this tower particularly interesting is the amazing collection of stones embedded into the walls of the tower.  Walk around the tower touching the walls and your hands will touch a piece of  the Parthenon, Notre Dame Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Pearl Harbor, the Great Wall of China, the World Trade Center, the Taj Mahal, the Alamo, the Dublin General Post Office in Dublin, Ireland and many other locations from modern structures as well as historically significant locations.  There is a stone from Abraham Lincoln’s original tomb and one from the United States Memorial in Mont Sec, France, where American troops won a victory on September 16, 1918.  Each of the 50 states is represented as well as more than 70 nations.  The building was constructed from 1923 to 1925 and the stones were embedded primarily between 1930 and 1950.  They were placed in the walls as a tribute to the great builders of the past. 





Experience Marilyn

Next to the Tribune Tower you cannot avoid an encounter with some

Marilyn Monroe on display in Chicago. Photo by Terri Marshall.
Marilyn Monroe on display in Chicago. Photo by Terri Marshall.

 unexpected temporary “art” in Pioneer Court where Marilyn Monroe has joined the art landscape of Chicago.  Just south of the Michigan Avenue Bridge the blonde bombshell awaits – red toenails and all.  Poised in her subway grate “whatever blows your skirt up” pose from Some Like it Hot, this 26 feet tall sculpture by New Jersey based artist – Seward Johnson offers quite the photo opportunity as men (mostly) gather around the base to have their picture made beneath her billowing skirt.  Boys will be boys I suppose!  Like it or not, Marilyn will be in Chicago through the spring of this year. 





Experience the “El”

Chicago’s elevated subway system has been moving Chicagoans around the city since 1892.  The trains should be appreciated not only as a means of transportation but also for the opportunity they provide for a glimpse into the city’s diverse neighborhoods.   Climb the steps in Chicago’s downtown “Loop” and hop aboard one of the lines.  The trains loop around the elevated wooden tracks providing a thrill for even the slightest train enthusiast – child or adult!   The Green Line is completely elevated for its 20.8 mile route and utilizes the oldest sections of the tracks dating back to 1892.   If you aren’t up for taking an entire route, hop aboard the Brown Line heading north toward Ravenswood.  Exit the train at Belmont and explore Lakeview – one of Chicago’s most sought after neighborhoods filled with interesting shops, numerous dining options, alternative theaters and music venues.  Just a few blocks east (toward Lake Michigan) is Ann Sather’s Restaurant – a favorite local spot for breakfast with the best cinnamon rolls you will ever taste.  Seriously.

Experience the Chicago Dog

When lunchtime hunger strikes, grab a Chicago Dog from one of the city’s many hot dog restaurants.  Chicago-style hotdogs are steamed or water-simmered all-beef frankfurters on a poppy seed bun topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, neon-green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato wedges, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt!  You will not find any ketchup on these loaded-up dogs as true Chicagoans have deemed ketchup as an unacceptable topping for their dogs.  Choose from the many hot dog restaurants including Fluky’s, Portillo’s, Chubby Wieners or the Wiener’s Circle in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.  http://www.wienercircle.net

Experience ENO

Disappear into ENO’s inside the InterContinental Chicago where a cornucopia of wines, international and domestic cheeses and handmade chocolate truffles and bars awaits.  The warm, intimate, wine cellar environment provides locals and visitors to Chicago an alternative to the typical pretentious wine bar.  On the menu:  wine, cheese and chocolates.  What more do you need?  Cheeses are served on marble slabs accompanied by dried fruit, honey and nuts.  Wine pairings are chosen to boost the wine’s flavor and enhance the essence of the cheese.  And the chocolate?  Well, let’s just say I am officially an ENO-phile after one visit. http://www.enowinerooms.com

Experience Ravinia

If you are visiting Chicago in the summer, the Ravinia Experience is not to be missed.  Since 1904, the Ravinia Festival Association has presented Chicagoans with the “sounds of summer” providing some of the world’s greatest musical acts and the perfect summer picnic experience.  Gather a blanket and some candles, call ahead and order a spur-of-the- moment picnic through Ravinia’s “Picnic Box” or pack up  your own picnic of wine, cheese and chocolate (maybe from ENO’s?)  The MetraRail’s Union Pacific North Line train will drop you at the front gate to Ravinia (http://metrarail.org)  When you pass through the gates, grab a spot on the lawn  and soak up the ambiance as evening approaches and the glow from the candles of picnickers emerges.  Sit back and enjoy the sounds of music from a multitude of genres from classical music to jazz to music theater.  Over the years the festival has hosted such talents as Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Zappa, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Peter, Paul & Mary and Luciano Pavarotti.  http://www.ravinia.org

The Chicago Tribune Tower
The Chicago Tribune Tower


Visit http://www.explorechicago.org for more ideas and information to plan your own Chicago experience!

Terri is a freelance writer with regular columns on travel, chocolate and bar reviews. She is busy each month visiting new places to bring unique travel destinations and events to you. Yes, it is a sacrifice – but she is willing to do that for her readers! You can see more of Terri’s writing at www.examiner.com where she is the National Chocolate Examiner and at www.barzz.net. You can contact Terri at terri.marshall60@gmail.com.