Monday, June 22, 2015

Amtrak Adventure - Day 34 - The Beach and the Blues in Chicago

Our second day in Chicago dawned bright and sunny, a perfect morning to hit the beach. Surprisingly, Chicago offers several beaches all within walking distance of the downtown area making it easy to spend time in the sun without sacrificing a whole day of sightseeing. 

Our hotel, the Best Western River North, was just a short stroll along the Magnificent Mile from Oak Beach. Magnificent Mile, a stretch of Michigan Avenue, is home to just about every store you can think of. If you're a shopaholic the walk could take a considerable amount of time but, personally, shopping comes way down on my list of things to do even when I'm at home so I wasn't that impressed with its supposed magnificence!

These buildings near the end of the mile did impress me however:

Would you believe they were built in 1866 as a water tower and pumping station to solve the problem of waste disposal and drainage in the city? Which just goes to show that even sanitation buildings can be beautiful. The pumping station is still in use today although it is also home to a theatre company. The water tower hosts an art gallery for local artists. 

Mid-week and with school still in session, the beach was relatively quiet. Oak Street Beach is not a natural beach - it was created in the 1890's as part of a breakwater system to protect Lake Shore Drive from storm damage - and perhaps because of that, the sand is both incredibly fine and clean. 

It was so hot we had to rent a sunshade even though we weren't planning on staying that long. Neither of us wanted to spend the rest of the trip in pain, or return to New York looking like the proverbial lobsters! Sadly, it was also too hot to walk barefoot on that beautiful sand.  

After a morning on the beach we decided it was time to visit one of Chicago's other neighborhoods. The idea of Old Town appealed so once again we set off walking. Chicago's grid system of streets makes it very easy to navigate the city and it was interesting to note the change in atmosphere as we moved from the bustling downtown to the more residential Old Town. Gone were the skyscrapers, chain restaurants and big-name shops. Instead we found Victorian-style homes, quirky independent stores and cafes. 

Just in case you forget where you are, there are convenient signs to remind you:

It was a pleasant neighborhood though I think it would have been more fun to visit in the evening when there is apparently a vibrant nightlife including two comedy clubs. We already had other plans for the evening however.

We had discovered the Blue Chicago bar, located just around the corner from our hotel, but on our first attempt to visit the previous evening, there had been standing room only. I love blues music, but like to listen to music in comfort so we settled on returning the next night at eight when the venue opened. It turned out to be a good plan because, while there was only one other couple waiting when we got there, by the time the doors opened there was a considerable queue. We got front row seats to a fabulous performance by J.W. Williams Blues Band and Demetria Taylor (daughter of Blue's legend Eddie Taylor Sr.) Definitely one of the highlights of my visit to Chicago. 

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