City Breaks, Featured, Going Solo, Photo Essay, reviews, Tours

Good Advice: The Chicago Architecture River Cruise

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As soon as I booked my flight to Chicago, I put a shout out on social media asking for suggestions of must-do activities.  The response was overwhelming–I had friends and followers suggesting everything from specific deep-dish pizza places to Segway tours (sorry, I’m not getting on another Segway.  I’m just not.)  But the one thing that almost everyone listed was the Architecture River Cruise offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation.  And I thought hey, I like rivers.  I like cruises.  And I like architecture.  I’m there.

I’m so glad I took that advice.  Maybe next time, I’ll do the segway tour.  That’s how good the advice was.  I loved the CAF River Cruise and maintain that it was the absolute best way to kick off a visit to the White, the Windy, THE City (I.  Love.  Chicago.)

Reasons I Loved the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise

It was relaxing.  Instead of schlepping around the city powered by my own two feet, I sat my butt in a chair and looked up.  Which is good, because there’s a lot to look up at in Chicago (I tried to fix that grammar; it is unfixable).  And I’m confident that had I toured on foot, I would have been a clumsy menace to myself and others.  So really, taking this tour is a question of safety.  I assure you.

It was informative.  This tour really was a 90-minute course in the history of Chicago, using architecture as the guiding theme.  And, more than that, because the city is still growing and changing, I learned a lot about present-day Chicago as well.  I learned about Burnham and his vision of ‘Paris on the Prairie’–which I feel he achieved–and the sneaky way he went about creating buy-in for the new plans among citizens (every 7th and 8th grader had to study the new plans; they were tested on this knowledge).

It was inspirational.  A lot of the iconic (and crazy-tall) buildings in Chicago shouldn’t be able to exist.  On this cruise, I learned how smart, industrious men found ways to make these skyscrapers structurally sound–enough to withstand the wind in the windy city.  I learned how elevators were cleverly designed and laid out within the train station to make room for the trains themselves.

It was a sensory experience.  When you are on the water, there’s wind and sunshine and occasional smells floating around from neighboring restaurants and factories.  One part of the river smelled so much like chocolate it was almost unbearable (just thinking about it now makes my mouth water); another section smelled like french fries.  I think we also sailed near a brewery–possibly a microbrewery–because at one point the smell of warm hops filled the air (they did not smell ‘micro’, but they may well have been…)

I was moved to tears.  I don’t know why, but something about the skyline of Chicago brought tears to my eyes.  As we sailed out into Lake Michigan for the last leg of the cruise–supposedly to view Navy Pier, though the view of the skyline was the real highlight–I was overcome by awe for what mere man can create.  I’ve been moved to tears by the beauty of nature–standing in an open field in Yosemite Valley, watching clouds float past the Blue Ridge Mountains–but never before by the beauty of that-which-man-built.  That is, until I viewed Chicago from the water.

There were dozens of amazing photo opportunities.  Because Chicago burned, it was rebuilt purposefully.  According to the tour guide, when they rebuilt the city, the first thing a building had to be was fireproof; the second thing a building had to be was beautiful. But don’t take my words for it–take my photos…

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In case you are not still convinced, I shall put it in capital, bold letters for you:  IF YOU ARE VISITING CHICAGO, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND BEAUTIFUL IN THE WORLD, TAKE THIS TOUR.  Or, you know, don’t.  It’s totally up to you.

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