Chicago, it’s all about perspective. (First part)
We have all heard the phrase: it’s all about how you look at things. You will either see the bright side or bury yourself in sadness. It is all up to you. What I have chosen is to appreciate my surroundings, my meaningful relationships and the surfaces where I develop, grow, and find myself through a positive mental perspective. In the path where I am, gratitude and self-acceptance are how I will enjoy and discover life.
You don’t have to be a Chicagoan, an architectural specialist, or a billionaire to enjoy all the secrets Chicago to offer. The Windy City is for everyone; for all cultures, ages, desires, and social classes. Even if you are traveling on a budget and don’t want to miss more than the basic attractions, you are covered. Every month the city offers a trillion of free activities, it doesn’t matter which month you are visiting. All around you, you will find all sorts of festivals, exhibits, parades, concerts and movies at the parks, farmers markets and many other activities that will keep you busy and entertained.
Since I’m traveling on my own, with a set budget, I decided to check out a lot of the free activities that the city offers during my first two weeks. I have made my own free tour around the city, divided on two articles, with plenty outdoors attractions for relentless people in this trip and best selfie spots. These attractions provided me with positive vibes, so I hope they will do the same to you. Even though Chicago has one of the best public transportation system in United States of America, prepare to walk like crazy! So put on your most comfortable sneakers or your favorite Birkenstock’s, pack an energetic snack, and be sure you charged your phone or camera during the night…and if you can, invest in a portable battery and selfie stick so you are never stranded. You will be surprised how many skyline spots you will catch while touring around.
Getting around with Ventra
Ventra is the public transportation card that will allow you to hop on all kinds of public transportation: train, buses and if you or anyone in your party has a disability, then the Pace buses are your ally; I highly recommend you to download the Ventra app on your cellphone, take one of the free maps (found on the information booths at the train stations) or always ask a stranger for directions, Chicagoans are friendly people willing to assist you, don’t be shy.
You will need to purchase a Ventra card or a ticket, available at the CTA stations, from the vending machines (located at all the train stations), drugstores, currency exchanges, at the Ventra website or calling 1-877-NOW-VENTRA.
The Ventra card itself costs $5 USD, but you are reimbursed for that once you activate it through the website. Once you purchase a card, you may add your desired fares, but know that the machines do not give out change, so make sure you pay exactly how much you wish to spend. I recommend purchasing a card for the period of time you are staying at the city, note that a 3 day pass is $20 dollars, the 7 day pass costs $28 dollars and a 30 day pass costs $100 dollars. If you are planning to stay for less than 24 hours, then a 1 day ticket (for $10 dollars) or a single-ride ticket ($3 to $5 dollars if purchased at O’Hare) will fit for you.
Free activities with out of this world skyline views.
Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory.
The Lincoln Park Zoo experience amazed me. I am telling you this because once you realize it is literally a wildlife park with amazing vie
ws of the skyline and just a few minutes away from the lake front…you will take all of the selfies in the world. Did I mention it’s located in the heart of one of Chicago’s most beautiful neighborhoods, Lincoln Park? The park entrance is free, open all the week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and to 6:30 p.m. on weekends.
The zoo offers all visitors learning and close encounters to all the animal species at the zoo; exhibits and houses are divided by species: mammals, primates, reptiles, amphibians, birds, big cats, polar animals, African animals and much more. My favorites were the giraffes at the African Journey hall, the apes at the Regenstein Center for African Apes, and the cute red panda in the Kovler Lion House.
Once you are inside the zoo, be sure to head to the northwest side to visit the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Inside this glass dome there are gardens housing the most beautiful plants you will see while visiting the city. Different halls invite you to get lost in its green landscapes. Exotic flowers whose names I cannot pronounce invade your sense of smell and invite you to smell them. Get up close and personal with tropical and even some carnivorous plants, then proceed to be amazed at the size of the koi fish resting in every pond inside the conservatory. Be sure to catch all of the hidden miniature dinosaurs that the staff have hidden in the hall that houses ancient plants. Please do bring a book and take a seat under the glass ceiling to enjoy a few calming moments. This is a must-see if you visit Lincoln Park Zoo.
I have been blessed enough to see beautiful fountains around the world, from the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi at Piazza Navona in Rome to the Fountain of the Rivers at Place de la Concorde in Paris, however the Buckingham Fountain at Grand Park increased my conception of Art Deco and representation of meaning.
I want you to understand its relevance, the fountain symbolizes Lake Michigan, it is one of the largest and finest fountains in America, a Chicago landmark with deep history behind that inspires you appreciate the lake and its skyscraper view which is something taken out of a greeting card. The water display is incredible, and if you are visiting after twilight, you will be enchanted by lights and music while the water dances to the rhythm. Do not miss an opportunity to take selfies and photos at this location. It’s basically a requirement. You will see its streams while walking on South Michigan Ave. at the east of the Columbus Drive.
I discovered the Chicago Model because I was attracted to the brilliant and colorful souvenirs at the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) store. Then remembered I am on a budget and saw a back door with people coming in and out, I had to see what was inside. Found my curious-self inside the atrium of the Railway Exchange Building and the iconic Chicago Model, where I was able to appreciate the most remarkable skyscrapers and the landmarks of the city. It happens to be the most detailed 3D replica of the city that amazed me for it accuracy, they even update the structure when new constructions appear
or are demolished; if you end up here take a look up to the ceiling at the atrium 😉
I got here from the Buckingham Fountain, crossing the Michigan Ave to the north-west and pass Jackson Dr., then I saw the CAF store; when entering, be attracted to the books, maps, statues, give yourself time to look over the creative stuff and souvenirs, I highly recommend to check out the architectural tours the CAF offers, it’s a good inversion.
After a couple of large blocks walking up north from my last discovery, I immediately recognized I have arrived to Millennium Park, it was crowded by people with cameras, walking on their own pace, vegetation got thicker and I was able to catch a shiny silver surface pertaining to the Cloud Gate.
Millennium Park is located downtown, on the Michigan Ave, ending on the Randolph St, next to the Art Institute of Chicago (for sure a place I want to get lost in, already on my list). I got excited because my next destination was here, to be honest, it was humid and hot, I was sweating and worried to look ugly on my selfies after too much walk. The park has an open aura, it invites you to explore it completely and when finished, pick your favorite spot to relax, share with your peeps, and enjoy the surroundings.
Finally I got closer to the Cloud Gate, I mean, who hasn’t found themselves wondering how big the bean is? How does it feel when you touch it? Well, this will have to be your own discovery when you walk towards the silver plate sculpture — lovingly referred as The Bean by all Chicagoans. The steel sculpture has a mirror-like surface and catches everything around it, you will be compelled to touch your own reflection, try to walk around it to appreciate the scenery reflected from all perspectives. And, of course, selfie accompanied by The Bean.
At first sight, the Great Lawn is the perfect scenario for a picnic; picture that you are at Chicago’s top destinations, and there is nothing more than an afternoon of good wine over a blanket laying on the lawn, sharing diner with your friends (or your sweetheart), while listening to concert at The Pritzker Pavilion. I was creating a perfect date on my mind, when noticed the impressive engineering of the stainless steel ribbon arc that frames the stage and provides the Great Lawn an excellent outdoor sound system. If you have time, review the upcoming events at the information booths or in the Millennium Park Website to enjoy free concerts, movies or presentations at the lawn or in a fixed seating near the stage.
Deep within the park, on the south east corner, you will find the Lurie Garden, a representation of sensitiveness expressed in a natural habitat emerged in the heart of a bold and loud city. For me, it’s the calm inside desperation, a space where you encounter yourself before facing your daily up and down emotions. Be sure to bring some change to throw into the fountain that runs along the corridor.
Head up to the southwest corner of the park to meet the Crown Fountain; two gargantuan glass block towers displaying Chicago’s citizen’s faces that will amuse you when they open their mouths to ‘spit’ out water. In addition, kids and adults alike will be found playing inside the shallow pools created by the faces’ water. Even if you don’t want to get wet, you will feel refreshed by the fountains’ breeze and the energy around it.
Before finishing my tour around the park, I headed to the north-west corner of Michigan Avenue and Randolph St., and found the Wrigley Square and the Millennium Monument, a semi-circular columned porch that embraces a representative fountain, engraved on the monument stone the names of the park founders; the Wrigley Square holds a large lawn and benches where you can re-energize before heading to your next destination.
When walking on this open square, I got to Boeing Gallery North a space for modern art, indeed, I was surprised by the huge tire sculptures from the artist Chakaia Booker; figures gave me the feeling I was transported to another world, possessed by powerful black machines and mystical gigantic eels.
Embrace all your discoveries, how you feel when arriving to place you wanted to be or you end being at, dare to be free and to do things how they have never been done before, appreciate who you are and where you are by your own perspective.
This is the first part of my own must free Chicago’s attractions, I will share soon the second part, if you know other must see place, I would be glad if you could recommend it with me.