Vacations: An Excursion to Chicago
By Ray Hanania
Normally, I stay away from Chicago. The City is plagued by so many incidents of violence that it can be frightening.
But, for the out-of-towner who has no choice but to be in Chicago, there are a few things worth seeing. Here’s a targeted day of adventure in Chicago’s loop I think you will enjoy.
If you can get past the exorbitant parking charges, the fear of crime and the high prices of Chicago hotels, that probably means you are a business traveler. If you are an adventurer, then here is an itinerary I would recommend for a full day of Chicago Loop enjoyment.
This will involve a morning tour of the city by boat, a luncheon along Chicago’s Riverwalk, followed by a dinner at one of the more interesting restaurants Chicago has to offer.
The Chicago River cuts through the heart of Chicago from Lake Michigan about 18 blocks heading west until it forks into two branches, north and south. There are dozens of boat tours operating all day along the river and also along the Michigan Lake Front.
Chicago offers a spectacular skyline that from a distance on a boat dining on gourmet and not-so-gourmet foods, looks so safe. It’s definitely enjoyable.
The Architecture Tour boats will showcase more than 50 unique buildings, all with unusual features, designs and even histories.
The Architecture Tour boats can be boarded at Michigan Avenue across from the Chicago Tribune building. You take a set of steps down to a lower level to the riverfront and the tickets cost about $32 per person. The tour lasts about 90 minutes and will take you up and down the river as a guide points out the many great architectural wonders
One of my all-time favorites is a former speakeasy located at the top of one of Chicago’s Roaring 20’s Skyscrapers at 35 East Wacker Drive. Originally known as the Jeweler’s Building housing the city’s diamond merchants, the 35 East Wacker Drive building is crowned with a large dome that once served as a Speakeasy run by Al Capone in the 1920s originally called the Stratosphere Lounge. Today the room is a showroom for the architecture displays of renown architect Helmut Jahn.
There is no way that Chicago can ever escape the reputation of one of the country’s most brutal gangsters, Scarface Al Capone.
Some of the tours will take you to Lake Michigan, too, and you will have to pass through the river lock, which raises and lowers the water level to prevent Lake Michigan from spilling out downstate. The locks take about 10 minutes to pass through, and once through you get a spectacular view of the Chicago Downtown skyline.
Some of the boat tours offer meals, but I suggest that you instead depart the boat at Michigan Avenue, cross the street (east) and then cross Wacker Drive (south) and take the steps down to the Riverfront Café called Cyranos (233 E. Lower Wacker Drive on the South bank of the Chicago River across from the NBC Tower.)
You can enjoy the cuisine of French Chef Didier Durand. Click here for info on the café.
Sit inside or better yet, outside and enjoy the summer boats that pass up and down the river entrance to and from Lake Michigan. We enjoyed some Bratwurst sandwiches, a typical Chicago sandwich, or some crackers, bread and pates. Sip some win or drink some pop and snack on an assortment of offerings. You can be right up to the river’s edge in comfortable chairs and clothed tables.
The Magnificent Mile is indeed Magnificent. When you are done with lunch, walk it north (not south) as far as 8 blocks to the glistening Water Tower Place, built next to one of the few downtown structures to escape the Chicago Fire, the Chicago Water Tower, which is now a theater.
But you will pass by the Chicago Tribune Building, built in 1925, a spectacular gothic design. It is said that Tribune Publisher Col. Robert McCormick from the old Front Page Era journalism once directed his reporters and correspondents to collect artifacts of the countries they were assigned. Embedded in the wall of the building at street level and slightly higher are 150 objects removed from some of the world’s great Wonders including the pyramids.
In 1922, McCormack held an international $100,000 competition to design “the most beautiful office building in the world” and the winning design surely comes very close.
The entrance is known as the Hall of Inscriptions embedded with famous quotations representing the idealism of the Fourth Estate, an idealism many claim the media has lost today. Stone carving designs depict characters from Aesop’s Fables including the Crow, Robin Hood and more, and also Gargoyles, which every great building should have.
Embedded in the stone walls are artifacts including fragments of 16th President Abraham Lincoln’s tomb – Lincoln was from Illinois. It includes a stone from the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramid of Cheops, the Great Wall of China. Each stone has an identifier so you don’t have to guess.
I can just imagine what governments might do if they saw Reporters chiseling away to take a “souvenir” of the artist Pablo Picasso’s Nun or is it a Horse in the Daley Plaza adjacent to City Hall (where I spent 17 years working as a reporter without a chisel in my hand.)
When you get to the Water Tower building to the north, you will have passed many great high-end retail stores but will also see horse drawn carriages that can take you on another tour through the near north side neighborhood filled with restaurants and sites. They cost range from $45 for a 30 minute ride downtown, $65 for a 45 minute tour and up to $180 for a Chicago Mansion tour, one hour, up to four passengers. Plus a tip.
But don’t snack. Grab a Cab (about $7 per person) and take it one mile to Fogo De Chao at 661 N. LaSalle Street. LaSalle Street is only six blocks west of Michigan Avenue.
Call ahead and make a reservation. There, you can enjoy 11 different meats served as you eat on skewers in Brazilian cultural style, including several cuts of Top Sirloin like Picanha and Alcatra, Filet Mignon, Frango (chicken), Lombo (pork), Lamb varieties and more.
The waiters walk with the fresh skewers and slice off sections right onto your place. To give it some sense of management, so it doesn’t get too crazy, as you eat you flip a coaster that is red on one side (telling the waiter you don’t need anything) and green on the otherside, telling the waiters to come by and offer you a slice.
There is an ample salad bar and a great dessert menu. If you are on an all-protein diet (aren’t most Americans?) you will love the endless meat cuts. Eat as much as you want. Slice by slice, hot and great tasting.
They’ll also bring you out some side dishes including fried cheese sticks, a vegetable and garlic mashed potatoes.
And then when you are done and still have some money left over, you’ll want to bail your car out of one of the expensive parking lots where you parked all day for about $50.
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"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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