Chicago’s O’Hare airport is an interesting place, but not for seven hours. My mother and I came to this conclusion ten minutes into our long layover there. We were en-route to Shannon Ireland, and while not excited about our down time, we were also uneasy about leaving the airport. What if we got lost or mugged, and didn’t make it back in time to catch our flight? But the alternative of playing solitaire and wandering aimlessly for seven hours was unthinkable. We decided to throw caution to the wind and set out for the City of Chicago.
Our first stop was the tourist information booth at the airport. We asked the attendant what she would do in our situation and without hesitation she said, “Go to Millennium Park”. It sounded good to us, and best of all, it was easy. We got on the blue line and stayed put until we reached Forest Park, (a 35 to 40-minute ride).
When we emerged from the underground train station it took a minute to get our bearings. After much discussion and consulting of maps, a young couple approached and asked if we were from out of town. Now how, we asked, did they know that? Was it the assortment of cameras my mother was sporting? Perhaps it was the maps, or the carry-on luggage we towed along behind us. We had a good laugh as they pointed us in the right direction, and we quickly covered the remaining two blocks to the park.
Millennium Park was first conceived in 1977, as an alternative to the unsightly railroad tracks and parking lots that lined the riverfront. As luck would have it, we arrived on the weekend of a music festival. We could tell we were in the right place long before we saw it. The percolating tunes of a jazz band filled the air, along with the hum of a genial crowd enjoying a day in the sun.
Gotta Love the Fountain
Entering from Michigan Avenue, the first thing that caught our attention was the Crown Fountain. Two fifty-foot glass and block towers face each other over a reflecting pool, and routinely come alive with video images swimming under cascades of water. This can be a serene place as people marvel at the beauty of the fountains, but the quiet is often punctuated by shouts of laughter as local faces appear on the tower screens and seem to spit water at the crowd.
Another striking feature is the Kapoor Sculpture, (more commonly referred to as the Bean). The sculpture was inspired by liquid mercury, and that is exactly what it looks like. An elliptical shape, it is formed of plates of highly polished steel that reflect everything within its scope. The fun house mirror reflection of the Cityscape with its backdrop of blue sky is breathtaking on a sunny day. You can also walk inside and see a reverse image of yourself along with your fellow sightseers who are crowded cheek to jowl in there with you. Trust me, it’s fun.
Great Concert Venue
Chicago is particularly proud of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, which is also located in the Park. This outdoor concert venue has seating for 4,000 people and room on the grass for another 7,000. The sound is electronically distributed to the farthest corners, and the acoustics are amazing. From there, we took a stroll through the Lurie Gardens. A gorgeous combination of perennial plants, cherry trees and water features make this area the focus of many a photograph.
After wandering contentedly for a couple of hours, we were feeling rather proud of ourselves. We had not gotten lost, we had not gotten mugged, (unless you count the highway robbery at the lunch wagon on the corner, ($10.00 for a hot dog and a coke?), but we finally decided it was time to retrace our steps to the station. We boarded the train, enjoyed the changing scenes of Chicago outside our windows, and made it back to the airport with plenty of time to spare.
Don’t Cut it too Close
Speaking of time, it’s a major consideration in an excursion like this. Having seven hours worked well for us, but I wouldn’t attempt this side trip in anything less. Always have a back-up plan of cab or bus, just in case there’s a problem returning to the airport by train, and don’t cut it too close. Leave plenty of time for checking in and getting re-situated.
For us, this was a great way to spend the afternoon and a perfect antidote for the long flight ahead. So, whether you’re escaping from O’Hare, or just spending a day in Chicago, I’d recommend Millennium Park
For more information on Millennium Park, go to:
For fellow travel aficionados I’ve included a link to a great travel site – GoNOMAD . Here you’ll find plenty of ideas for your next vacation. I’ve also included their submission guidelines for travel writers. Check it out.