Category: Chicago

Review: Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago

We knew of the African Apes, but we hadn’t heard about the ‘mind games’.

For this reason alone, our visit to Lincoln Park Zoo, in Chicago, Illinois, was certainly an eye-opener.

Researchers at the zoo’s Lester E. Fisher Centre have been using touch-screens, among other techniques, to understand how our closest cousins think.

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Encouraging gorillas and Japanese macaque monkeys to place objects on the screen in sequence may allow scientists to determine how they think and feel.

The centre, which brings together global experts and organisations, is working on these ‘mind games’ as part of its mission to advance knowledge of ape biology; improve care of apes in zoos and sanctuaries; and conserve and protect wild populations.

An excellent location

And the not-for-profit Lincoln Park Zoo is a great facility for this work.

The zoo boasts the Regenstein Centre for African Apes, a $26million state-of-the-art facility that stretches over 29,000 square feet and includes complex forest and riverbed habitat.

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There are dozens of trees, 5,000 feet of artificial vines, skylights, bamboo strands, termite mounds, a waterfall, moat and heated logs.

Huge glass windows separate the indoors from the outdoors and zoo visitors can be actively involved in science and conservation initiatives.

Of course, the fascinating African apes are not the only attraction at Lincoln Park Zoo, which is a 35-acre historic Chicago landmark founded in 1868 against the stunning backdrop of Lake Michigan and the city’s famous skyscrapers.

Big cats and polar bears too

Other attractions at the free-admission zoo include big cats, polar bears, penguins and reptiles. In all, there are about 1,100 animals.

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Lincoln Park Zoo continues to be a big hit with the people of Chicago and surrounds.

We visited on a sunny Saturday and the zoo was busy without huge crowds.

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It is located at 2001 North Clark Street, Chicago, on the fringe of Lincoln Park.

The zoo boasts stunning views of the city’s impressive skyline from the bridge that spans its artificial wetlands.

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We thoroughly recommend this one.

Outstanding accessibility

Lincoln Park Zoo deserves a pat on the back for the steps it takes to ensure accessibility to older visitors and people with a disability.

The  Zoo’s main entrance and paid parking lot are located on its eastern side – and there  are 19 accessible parking spaces along Cannon Drive. There are also three areas reserved on northbound Stockton Drive for vehicles displaying accessibility placards. Parking in these areas is free:

Wheelchairs

These are available at Gateway Pavilion for temporary use by guests within the zoo. Loans are first come, first served. A refundable deposit of $US20 is required.

All public buildings at the zoo have at least one wheelchair-accessible entrance, as does the animal encounter program.

Lincoln Park Zoo permits the use of wheelchairs and other power-driven mobility devices.

Service Animals

Service animals are also allowed at the zoo and there are sighted guides and sign-language assistance services.

See Vienna Zoo

Zoos are a favourite attraction of ours. See our review of Tiergarten Schoenbrunn, Vienna’s wonderful zoo

 

Riding a rickshaw

We took our first pedicab ride in Chicago, Illinois.

Obviously, we’d seen rickshaws in Asia, but being keen walkers, we had never been tempted to use what we considered to be mainly a novelty.

However, in Chicago, it was a matter of exhaustion.

We’d walked several miles from the Hilton Chicago on South Michigan Avenue through the city centre and on to Lincoln Park Zoo.

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A typical pedicab

Getting there was fine, but the return journey late in the afternoon proved a hard slog and by the time we reached The Loop – as Chicago calls its CBD – our feet were aching.

Near Chicago’s Millennium Park, several pedicabs passed by – and, on impulse, we hailed a rider and asked about prices.

After some quick haggling, we settled on about $US8 and climbed aboard the pedicab for the six or seven city blocks to the hotel.

Although the ride wasn’t fast, it was exhilarating and lots of fun.

Our pedicab was designed for two people and even included seatbelts. However, we didn’t feel in any danger as the rider stuck close to the edge of the busy road and cars gave us plenty of room.

The only time our pedicab had to sound its bell, was to alert cyclists and other rickshaws of our approach.

Rickshaws are used in many US cities, mainly for their novelty value as an entertaining form of transportation for tourists and locals.

According to our Chicago rider, the first known commercial use of pedicabs in North America occurred in 1962 at the Seattle World’s Fair.

Why not. They are heaps of fun.

Daisy the Cow and the night Chicago died

As you walk down North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, it’s impossible to miss the old water tower.

And, more than 140 years after the Great Chicago Fire, the tower is one of the few remaining links to this momentous event – along with the story of Daisy the cow.

The 47 metre limestone tower was one of only a few structures in the area to escape the inferno of October 1871. It’s now an eye-catching art gallery.

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Information board at the Chicago Water Tower

Mrs O’Leary’s cow wasn’t so lucky, but whether Daisy actually played any role in the fire that killed 300 people and destroyed three square miles of the city, is debated to this day.

City officials never discovered the exact cause, but a popular tale in Chicago blames Mrs O’Leary’s cow for kicking over a lantern in a barn off DeKoven Street.

Another theory is that men were gambling inside the barn and knocked over a lantern.

What is certain is that two-thirds of Chicago was made of wood and tar; that the area needed rain badly; and that southwestly winds carried embers into the heart of the city.

And whatever actually ignited the blaze, it spread rapidly through the timber buildings, wooden sidewalks and even some wooden roads.

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Photo courtesy Chicago Tribune archive

Once flames jumped the Chicago River and destroyed the waterworks, the mains apparently went dry and little could be done.

Within a couple of days, more than 100,000 people were homeless.

In the aftermath of the blaze, Chicago promptly began to rewrite its fire standards and soon created one of the country’s leading fire-fighting forces.

At the same time, business owners and land speculators quickly set about rebuilding the city, helped in no small part by generous assistance from across the US.

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Memorial at the spot where the fire started

The story of Mrs O’Leary and her cow continued to grow, despite denials by the family itself and a later newspaper confession that the tale had been fabricated.

In fact, it became so engrained in local lore that Chicago’s city council officially exonerated the O’Leary family —and the cow—in 1997.

Since then, it has also been suggested that the blaze – and others across the Midwest of the US – may have been sparked by a meteor shower – or that ‘Pegleg’ Sullivan, who first reported the Chicago fire, may have ignited hay in the barn while trying to steal milk.

Or perhaps Daisy acted alone.

Chicago has lots to brag about

Who really knows why Chicago is called the ‘Windy City”?

Depending on who you ask, it’s either because of the famous summer breezes off Lake Michigan, or the equally famous ‘hot air’ from local politicians.

And then there are those who say the term was coined by arch-rival, Cincinnati, to suggest that the good folk of Chicago were prone to bragging.

If that’s the case, then the nickname is well deserved. Chicago has plenty to brag and, although even locals describe winter as “miserable”, the Mid-Western US city is a wonderful place to visit in the warmer months.

With more than 2.7 million residents,Chicago is the biggest city in the US state of Illinois – and the third most populous in the country.

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With its legendary skyscrapers, Chicago is an international hub for finance, commerce, industry, technology, telecommunications, and transportation.

But over recent decades, the city has really made a name for itself in the arts, culture and sporting fields.

And the creativity and community spirit of this metropolis by the lake is obvious everywhere you look.

For example, in the heart of the city is Millennium Park, an astonishing 25 acres of landscapes, architecture and public art, including Cloud Gate, the massive stainless steel lump, known world-wide as ‘The Bean’.

The 168 polished steel plates look like a giant drop of highly reflective liquid mercury and are a dream for photographers.

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Chicago is famous for its outdoor public art, with donors establishing funding for such art as far back as 1905. A number of Chicago’s public art works are by leading international figurative artists.

Not far away is Grant Park, set beneath the backdrop of Lake Michigan.

For the past 20 years, many Chicago residents have flocked to a weekly music and dance event known as SummerDance. Running from June to September, SummerDance is billed as the biggest event of its type in the US and features a 4,900 square foot open air dance floor.

We made it to one of the last summer performances.

Grant Park is located in the area known as the Chicago Loop, that also take in the central business district, ‘Magnificent Mile’ shopping area, Chicago River, the Art Institute, Willis (Sears) Tower and the city’s Cultural Center.

The Magnificent Mile is a shopping magnet and fine dining strip, while the river is known for its informative boat tours that take visitors on a meandering journey amid the skyscrapers.

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Other outstanding attractions include Lincoln Zoo and the 50-acre entertainment playground and museum hub known as Navy Pier.

Review: the Hilton Chicago

Holding court in the heart of America’s windy city is a remarkable icon – the famous Hilton Chicago hotel.

Chicago is one of our favourite destinations. And the Hilton Chicago is  a memorable attraction in itself.

For a start, the hotel is a distinctive landmark of Chicago’s South Loop neighbourhood, with 29 floors and more than 1,500 rooms.

Overlooking Lake Michigan

The location couldn’t be more scenic – overlooking Grant Park and Lake Michigan yet sitting squarely in downtown, not far from the Chicago River.

A stay at the Hilton Chicago combines all the luxury and amenities you’d expect, with an extraordinary sense of history.

DSCN0244And, if the history of a hotel seems a trite boring, believe me, in this case, it certainly isn’t.

There’s a good reason why guests are following in the footsteps of every American President since the late 1920’s.

Once the world’s biggest

When the Hilton Chicago opened in 1927 as the Stevens Hotel, it was the largest on the planet, with 3,000 guest rooms; a bowling alley; miniature golf course; movie theatre; ice-cream shop and drug store.

The hotel is said to have cost more than $30 million to build and the first registered guest was the American Vice-President.DSCN0251

After failing in the Great Depression, Stevens Hotel was used during World War II as barracks and classrooms for the Army Air Force, housing more than 10,000 air cadets.

As the war drew to a close, the hotel entered a new era when it was purchased by American hotelier, Conrad Hilton.

Chicago’s Hilton was a backdrop to two further wars, when it hosted a public gathering in 1951 for General Douglas Macarthur to discuss the Korean conflict and when anti-Vietnam War protestors clashed with police in the street outside during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

The hotel’s deserved reputation for luxury accommodation was enhanced by massive renovations in the 1980’s and in 2012 – 13.CHICHHH_lobby

A popular culture icon

With its extensive and remarkable history, the Hilton Chicago, unconsciously, has become well known to people worldwide through its use in many popular movies, including ‘The Little Fockers’; ‘Road to Perdition’; ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’; ‘The Express’; ‘Unconditional Love’; and ‘Love and Action in Chicago’.

The hotel was also used as the scene of the popular television series ’ER’.

Our visit

On arriving for a stay at the Hilton Chicago in the past year, we were immediately struck by the grand size and opulence of the main foyer and the Boulevard Room.DSCN0303

The hotel was busy and there was slight confusion about our booking, but the friendly and efficient reception staff immediately upgraded us to a double sized room with two bathrooms, as well as adding a complimentary breakfast.

This welcoming attitude by the hotel staff was to prove a highlight of our stay.  For example, without hesitation or cost, the Hilton Chicago kept our luggage secure for several hours after we had checked out of the hotel.

This allowed us to carry out final sight-seeing, while our bags were kept safe.

Our room at Hilton Chicago was elegant and luxurious and decorated in a sophisticated style, with a HDTV, in-room concierge computer and high-speed internet access.

The facilities at the Hilton Chicago are everything you would expect at such a famous hotel, including two lobby restaurants;exceptional hotel dining; a traditional Irish Pub; a ‘pack-your-own’ breakfast outlet for visitors making an early start; fitness centre; indoor running track, complimentary foyer wifi and a gorgeous heated pool.

Close to attractions

Centrally located at 720  South Michigan Avenue, the Hilton Chicago is within walking distance of many of the city’s outstanding attractions.

You can walk through Grant Park to the shores of Lake Michigan; the Field Museum; Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium or Soldier Field.

Millennium Park, Navy Pier and Chicago Children’s museum are also close at hand.

History at a glance

Another interesting aspect of the Hilton Chicago is the ground floor museum celebrating the hotel’s fascinating past.

Those interested in such things are able to view photographs and information about the hotel through the decades; its many celebrity guests; and the various milestones that have made the Hilton Chicago famous throughout the US and beyond.

Would I recommend it?

Wholeheartedly. A stay at Hilton Chicago is memorable indeed.

See how to get to the hotel; what rooms and suites are available; and facilities in detail.