We’re in the home stretch! Welcome to Part 3 of Melisa’s Excellent Adventure. If you didn’t read Part 1 and Part 2 yet, go ahead. I’ll wait.

After lunch, I put on more sunscreen before heading out. By the way, I forgot to mention the weather beyond the forecast of scattered thunderstorms. It did not rain AT ALL, all day, from the time I walked to the train station until the walk home. I was amazed, and happy. I was also very hot: it was 90 degrees (no exaggeration, though I know you were wondering if I was!). I was sweating like crazy about ten minutes after I stepped out of Union Station. But I was happier dealing with the heat than pouring rain.

Anyway, after the Billy Goat Tavern, I had to go back south on Michigan Avenue, so I crossed the bridge over the river again. I love this photo:

The corner of Wacker and Michigan is the exact spot where Fort Dearborn was located. Fort Dearborn was there before Chicago was, as the westernmost military garrison of its time. You can click here to read up on the history, but to make a long story short, Fort Dearborn met its demise during the War of 1812 in the creatively named Fort Dearborn Massacre. All that’s left to mark the spot are plates that are embedded in the sidewalks all around this intersection, and a plaque on the building at 360 North Michigan Avenue.

Heading further south on Michigan, I passed a building whose design I love: the Carbide and Carbon Building, known to Chicagoans now as the Hard Rock Hotel. I adore the Art Deco style, and there is no shortage of it in this town. The Hard Rock is a great example:

Still further south, I reached Millennium Park. I downloaded the Millennium Park Audio Tour to my iPod (it’s available on the MP website, where you can also read everything there is to know about the park and what goes on there) and got to learn all about the different features of the park. I have been there several times over the past few years since the city turned that waste of a piece of land into this beautiful oasis, but I didn’t know the stories behind each feature. Some of the more outstanding features are the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a wonderful outdoor performing arts “theater”, which is absolutely gorgeous:

…the BP Bridge, a winding, snake-like wooden bridge whose outsides look like metal scales. The BP Bridge connects Millennium Park to Daley Bicentennial Plaza:

…the Lurie Garden, which is protected on two sides by evergreens (symbolizing one of Chicago’s nicknames: The City of Big Shoulders) and is just lovely to walk through, right in the middle of downtown:

…probably the best-known feature of Millennium Park is the sculpture called Cloud Gate, or as we locals refer to it, The Bean.

As I was walking around it, trying to find a nice angle from which I could take some pictures, I was annoyed by all of the people who were UNDER the Bean. I was mumbling to myself, “Get out from under there, people! What are you doing??” Then, the narrator on my audio tour said that I should make sure to go under the sculpture and take a look. I’m glad I did! Look what I saw:

Last stop in Millennium Park? The kids’ favorite, and mine too on this 90-degree day: The Crown Fountain. The Crown Fountain is, to use the website’s description because I’m feeling lazy, “consists of two 50-foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers project video images from a broad social spectrum of Chicago citizens, a reference to the traditional use of gargoyles in fountains, where faces of mythological beings were sculpted with open mouths to allow water, a symbol of life, to flow out. Plensa (the artist) adapted this practice by having faces of Chicago citizens projected on LED screens and having water flow through a water outlet in the screen to give the illusion of water spouting from their mouths. The collection of faces, Plensa’s tribute to Chicagoans, was taken from a cross-section of 1,000 residents.”

Every five minutes, the faces purse their lips; that’s how the kids can tell that water is getting ready to spray out of their “mouths”.

My video (the first one) isn’t so great in quality, but it is what it is. The second one is video that I (again) found on Youtube, which gives you an excellent view of the fountain at night.

After swishing my arms around in the fountain’s spray to cool off for a few minutes, it was time to go to the Art Institute. Yay! I was very excited.

I saw Picasso there:

I saw Seurat there:

I saw Hopper there:

…and I absolutely was thrilled to see all of those, but what I really wanted to see was “American Gothic” by Grant Wood. And by golly, there it was. I swooned at the sight of it.

What is truly art? That is a question for all time. Of course, everyone’s idea of it is different. In the Modern Art galleries, I saw a few pieces of “art” that I wasn’t sure about. What do you think? Click on the photos of the descriptions that go with each one (they’ll be easier to read!) and think about it for a minute.

First, there was the screen of gold beads hanging in the entrance to the Modern galleries. At first I just thought it was a screen of gold beads, but when I pushed through them and looked at the wall next to them on the other side, I found out that they ARE art:

I also came across a stack of paper with a spotlight on it. That is art, too! And I was supposed to take a piece with me! But I didn’t, because I felt ridiculous.

Then, I saw a big pile of candy in the corner. I giggled to myself and was all cynical as I walked up to the description on the wall. Then I stopped giggling. Hmmm. This IS art. (to me) I was touched by the artist’s intention. That’s what art is supposed to do, right? So I indulged the artist and took a piece of candy wrapped in bright pink. I unwrapped it, put the candy in my mouth and had a moment of silence for his late partner.

I was at the Art Institute for almost two hours, and figured it’d be prudent to get on my way, but not before I had a look at the Thorne Miniature Rooms.

They reminded me of my favorite feature at the Museum of Science & Industry, Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle, but they weren’t as fun to look at.

As I said goodbye to the lions outside, I made my way to a Free Trolley Stop. Although it’s a pain to wait for a free trolley because for the most part they don’t arrive every 20 minutes like the sign says and they are usually packed to the gills, it’s free, people. I’m willing to put up with it.

While I was waiting for the trolley in front of 225 S. Michigan, I felt someone watching me, so I looked up:

How random, right? I have no idea why Homer and his crew were up there.

I took the trolley all the way up to the other end of the Magnificent Mile (how many times did I cross the Michigan Avenue bridge, anyway??? Sheesh!) to hit the Chicago Water Works Information Center to get a bagload of brochures on Chicago attractions, for some research I’m doing. The Info Center is located in the old Water Tower Pumping Station, and is also the location of Hot Tix, where you can get half-price tickets to Chicago shows on the same day.

After I filled up my bag with reading material, I headed back outside and took some more photos. Here is Water Tower Place, which is an upscale shopping center (it’s on the edge of the Gold Coast, after all!), and there’s the John Hancock building right behind it:

Here is the original Chicago Water Tower. The Water Tower and the Pumping Station were the only buildings that survived the Great Chicago Fire in 1871:

Goodbye, Sweet Sweet Free Trolley! Thanks for the lift!

Speaking of Sweet Sweet, I had to partake in another Chicago tradition on the way home. I had to get caramel corn. There are two main caramel corn establishments in Chicago: Garrett’s and Nuts On Clark. In an unscientific study that took place only in my head, I will tell you that most Chicagoans prefer Garrett’s. However, I enjoy both brands immensely and since Nuts On Clark is located in Union Station, I choose that one almost every time. I was a good girl and only had a few bites on the train; after dinner I snarfed most of it, though:

So, I ended my day with a slow walk home from the train. I jumped in the car to go pick Roxie up from her day at Petsmart, and then went home to shower and eat dinner. I knew I would have a great day, but it was so much better than I could have hoped that I can’t even express it…

…which puts me in the mood for a contest! The prize? Two Art Institute magnets and a small assortment of candy that is made in Chicagoland: Tootsie Rolls, Lemonheads, and Dots. Here are the magnets:

And here is the candy (and yes, the Lemonheads and Dots are Movie Theater-sized, people!)

What do you have to do to win? Well, I had a wonderful, fun, and educational day in my hometown. I have always been able to recommend Chicago-area activities to visitors, but now I have increased my repertoire. What about your hometown? What activities would you recommend to a visitor? Leave a comment telling me your hometown (and you obviously don’t have to still be living there, AND if you are a Chicagoan you can still enter!) as well as two or three places that are “can’t-miss” in your book. One or two lines about each place would be great. Don’t forget to leave your e-mail address; if you don’t want to leave it in a comment you can click “E-mail me” over there on the left and send me a copy of your comment. If I can’t get in touch with the winner by July 10, I’ll have to choose another person. I will choose the winner by random number generator (if you have more than one hometown, enter again!), and you’ve got until midnight on Wednesday–that’s July 2–to enter. Good luck!

And Good Night!!