Today we caught the Amtrak into Chicago city for the day. Just between you and me, Amtrak will never win the Swiss award for locomotive efficiency that is for sure. The trip into the city ran 15 minutes late to start with and then had to stop along the way for a freight train. The trip home started on time which was a promising start but at the first stop they encountered engine troubles so we waited and we waited. On the tracks again and just before our stop at Joliet we had to wait for another freight train – we finally pulled into Joliet at 7.15pm, our ETA was to have been 6.05pm! Luckily for them the trains are very comfortable and the staff friendly, weird but friendly : )
We took a taxi from Union Station to Lake Point Tower where Chicago Segway are based. We had to be there just after 11am for training. The taxi driver was an interesting character and pointed out some sights along the way. He was also clearly very anti government as he pointed out where all the taxpayers money had been wasted throughout the city. He pointed out The Loop which is the central business district of Chicago. It is one of the city’s 77 officially designated community areas. The Loop is home to Chicago’s commercial core, City Hall, and the seat of Cook County. The community area is bounded on the west and north by the Chicago River, on the east by Lake Michigan, and on the south by Roosevelt Road, although the commercial core has expanded into adjacent community areas.
Chicago is the third most populous city in the United States, after New York City and Los Angeles. With 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in both the State of Illinois and the American Midwest. Its metropolitan area, sometimes called Chicagoland, is home to 9.5 million people and is the third-largest in the United States. It felt like a huge city as we drove between all the sky scrapers. It seemed a very orderly city and afterwards when we walked back to the train we commented that is was also a very clean city – you didn’t see a lot of rubbish lying around, unlike New York.
Just as an aside, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is the second busiest airport in the world followed by Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International airport with about 900,000 passenger movements annually.
We were greeted at Chicago Segway Tours by a guy asking us if we were here for a bike or camel tour – I couldn’t quite understand him and then he told me that the Segway company had moved. I was just about to ask for directions to the new location when Brian appeared telling us not to listen to his colleague – he was just having us on. We were in the right place. The rest of the tour goers turned up in dribs and drabs and Brian got us sorted. He then gave us a demo and explained all the rules for our own safety etc… Then it was time to take to the Segway – they are actually relatively easy to operate and once you get comfortable they are so much fun. We whizzed around the warehouse practising our turns and going around obstacles.
Training over we hit the road in single file. We went along the Lake Michigan lakefront. First stop was Queen’s Landing – the name reminded me of King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. It was on July 6, 1959, that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip came to Chicago, becoming the first reigning British monarch ever to visit the city. They were here to celebrate the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which made the city a world seaport. The royal couple sailed in aboard the blue-hulled royal yacht Britannia, before transferring to a royal barge in Monroe Street Harbor.
The red carpet was rolled out for her as she came ashore in front of the aptly named Buckingham fountain. Our tour guide told us some gibberish about the Queen being late and the fountain being empty but I think he was spinning us a yarn as I can’t find anything to verify this on the internet. The Buckingham Fountain is one of the world’s largest fountains – it was dedicated in 1927 as a gift to the city from Kate Sturges Buckingham in memory of her brother Clarence. Clarence had been a successful businessman in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who had a strong appreciation for art. After his death his collection was eventually gifted to the city’s Art Institute along with an endowment fund to maintain and expand it – it now comprises some 16,000 pieces.
We then headed towards the Museum Campus which is a 57 acre addition to Grant Park’s southeastern end. The Museum Campus is the site of three of the city’s most notable museums, all dedicated to the natural sciences: Adler Planetarium, Field Museum of Natural History, and Shedd Aquarium.
On May 17, 2000, the Field Museum unveiled Sue, the most complete and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex fossil yet discovered. Sue is 42 feet (13 m) long, stands 13 feet (4 m) high at the hips and is 67 million years old. The fossil was named after the person who discovered it, Sue Hendrickson, and is commonly referred to as female, though the fossil’s actual sex is unknown. An examination of the bones revealed that Sue died at age 28, a record for the fossilized remains of a T. rex. Brian told us that Sue Hendrickson with a little help from her dog found the remains and was paid about USD8 million for them – fact or fiction?
The museum also houses an authentic 19th century Māori Meeting House, Ruatepupuke II, from Tokomaru Bay, New Zealand.
Opposite the Field Museum is Soldier Field the oldest National Football League (NFL) stadium in the US. It opened in 1924 and was named after “The men and women of the armed forces”. Since 1971 it has been the home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears. With a capacity of 61,500, it is the third smallest stadium in the NFL. Given that 90% of the population of Chicago are Bears supporters there are not many that manage to secure themselves a seat for a home game. They are one of the last two remaining charter members of the NFL and have won nine NFL Championships, including Super Bowl XX. The other remaining charter franchise, the Chicago Cardinals, also started out in the city, but they are now known as the Arizona Cardinals.
Chicago is also home to two Major League Baseball teams – the Chicago Cubs who play in the National League and the Chicago White Sox who play in the American League.
The Chicago Bulls of the National Basketball Association (NBA) is one of the most recognized basketball teams in the world. During the 1990s with Michael Jordan leading them, the Bulls took six NBA championships in eight seasons.
The Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League (NHL) began play in 1926, and are one of the “Original Six” teams of the National Hockey League (NHL). The team has won five Stanley Cups, including in 2013.
The view of the Chicago skyline from Museum Field is pretty impressive. The destruction caused by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 led to the largest building boom in the history of the nation. In 1885, the first steel-framed high-rise building, the Home Insurance Building, rose in the city as Chicago ushered in the skyscraper era, which would then be followed by many other cities around the world. Today, Chicago’s skyline is among the world’s tallest and most dense.
Some of the United States’ tallest towers are located in Chicago; Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) is the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere after One World Trade Center, and Trump International Hotel and Tower is the third tallest in the country.
After our lakefront tour we headed back to Chicago Segway headquarters – we had got quite proficient on our Segway’s by this stage so it was sad to have to give them back. Steve is now thinking – Hawkes Bay winery tours by Segway. After hopping off our legs felt like lead – we are not sure if it was because they were frozen or it was the movement required to operate the Segway that had caused this.
We then took to the streets by foot, direction Magnificent Mile. The Magnificent Mile contains a mixture of upscale department stores, restaurants, luxury retailers, residential and commercial buildings, financial services companies, and hotels, catering primarily to tourists and the affluent. The area also has a high concentration of the city’s major media firms, such as the Chicago Tribune newspaper, and advertising agencies. The Magnificent Mile includes 3,100,000 sq ft (290,000 m2) of retail space, 460 stores, 275 restaurants, 51 hotels, and a host of sightseeing and entertainment attractions to more than 22 million visitors annually.
We then walked through the theatre district and saw the Chicago Theatre which was built in 1921. The distinctive Chicago Theatre marquee, “an unofficial emblem of the city”, appears frequently in film, television, artwork, and photography.
It was then back to Union Station for our prolonged trip back to Joliet on the train.