Years ago I watched a movie titled “Bend it Like Beckham” about an Indian girl who dreams to play professional soccer like David Beckham. The movie resonated with me on many levels. I was that girl who snuck out of her house to play basketball, revolted against the idea of acting like a girl, and walked the streets of India in a Chicago Bulls jersey with dreams to be the next Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson. I did not know of WNBA, so I dreamed about being the first girl in the NBA. Long before America could welcome me with open arms, I had forged a relationship with Chicago through the many Jordan tapes I watched, drooled and honed my basketball skills on. When I reached America, I knew Chicago and United Center had to be on my itinerary of places to visit.
When we told our friends and family we were going to Chicago on vacation, we received the same response “Why, what’s there to see in Chicago?”. I am glad we stuck to our instincts, because from the moment I landed in Chicago the city swept me off my feet with it’s hospitality and warmth. I have lived in California for twelve years now, and have visited several places in America but Chicago was the warmest of them all. The air was filled with the warmth of the people, and the city echoed the strength of the people who call Chicago home. We stayed in downtown Chicago, and like most of our city trips we decided against renting a car. We were going to conquer Chi town by foot, cabs (on occasions) and trains.
We began our stay in Chicago by walking down Millennium Park. The Millennium Park is big, and covers almost 24.5 acres according to wikipedia. We knew we had to see the Bean when we were in Chicago, but ended seeing a lot more. The Bean or Cloud Gate as it is officially known stood true to being among the most visited tourist spots in Chicago. It was crowded with people wanting to take pictures by the Bean. Long before the selfie era, people actually posed and took turns to take each others picture by the Bean. The bean provided contorted image of the skyline against its stainless steel surface, and has been immortalised in movies several times. So we stood by the bean and took our picture in pure tourist fashion.
We walked down Millennium Park and were surprised by the Crown Fountain. It looked like two walls with changing faces of people until one of the walls started spewing water. I jumped up gleefully totally surprised by it. I wasn’t aware of the fountains, and it was a great surprise to begin my Chicago adventure. The Lurie Garden was serenity personified, and the Boeing galleries added the artsy touch to the Millennium Park. We relaxed by the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and enjoyed some well needed break against the Chicago skyline. We continued our journey to the Wrigley’s square and Millennium monument which stood tall bearing names of the people who were responsible for the Millennium park. We ended our day with the most famous Chicago inhabitant of them all- the Chicago style deep dish pizza. Giordano’s was the chosen spot and we waited for over 60 minutes to get seated. They were crowded and I was prepared to devour the pizza or so I believed. We ordered a medium pizza and I could barely finish my slice of pizza. It was thick with toppings all over, and I was stuffed. In the battle of woman versus Chicago pizza, pizza kicked my behind and won in true Man vs food style!
We began our next day with a visit to the Grant Park. While I am not sure if the Bean belongs to Grant park or Millennium Park, we passed the bean and took more pictures. It felt like the bean was stalking us everywhere. There was something irresistible about that oval structure. The Agora sculptures resonated with the nomad in me. They were all going somewhere yet they were going nowhere. They were tall and as I stood near one, I felt like a midget. We clicked pictures by the lion at the art institute of Chicago and made our way to see the Buckingham fountains. The fountains were spectacular with four identical sea horses which represents the four states around Lake Michigan. The fountains have a hourly water jet shows and evening light shows. We saw the water jet show and it was so spectacular we went back at night to see the evening show. The Buckingham fountains provided a tranquility to Chicago’s hustle and bustle. The evening light show was my absolute favorite. We walked by Michigan Avenue bridge and enjoyed the skyline. We tried pizza at a smaller joint on our second day, and it hit the spot just like Giordano’s.
When in big cities, you just absolutely have to visit some museums. I am not a museum fanatic. I can enjoy them for thirty minutes but after that I run out of attention. We began our museum run with the field museum of natural history. The museum was big and welcomed us with a super sized dinosaur which was super cool. We walked around and took some pictures. Our next stop was the Shedd Aquarium which was like most Aquariums I had visited. We watched some shows with the dolphins, and watched a 4D show which was actually 3D with water sprinkling on us. We cruised through the Museum of Science and Industry which resonated with the nerdy engineer in me. We ended our day by the Chicago lakefront trail, where we ate Chicago hot dogs, and enjoyed the landscape around. We also took pictures by Soldier Field, although we weren’t allowed to go inside.
On our fourth and final day in Chicago, we visited Michigan Avenue or as they call it Magnificent Mile. We walked around and looked at the many shops on either sides of the streets. Not being much of a shopper, Michigan Avenue while beautiful felt like all those high end shopping streets in big cities. Being Indian, I have to try Indian food everywhere I go and then complain about how unauthentic it is. That’s just what we like to do! We were asked to visit Balluchi’s for authentic Indo-Pakistani food in Chicago and it was on my agenda. We walked around following directions but in vain. Balluchi’s eluded us and we ended up eating elsewhere. We visited the Navy Pier at night, and caught the fireworks show. I always get excited when there is fireworks. It’s the next best thing to Santa Claus for me. The Navy Pier was crowded but we enjoyed the night walk amidst the stars. It was a perfect end to our Chicago trip.
It felt unreal to walk the streets of Chicago having followed the Chicago Bulls forever. It’s been a journey that began with Michael Jordan and continues with Derrick Rose. I follow the Bulls religiously, and on most nights I see the grit of Chicago in them whether they are up by 20 points or down by 10. Derrick Rose, what do I say about the man that can make my heart flutter by dribbling the ball. He is my boo as I call him. Chicago enthralled and made me feel nostalgic. My dream to visit United Center remains unfulfilled, but someday I will watch my Chicago Bulls at the United Center.
As we bid adieu to Chicago, I reminisced the beauty of the place with the bean, the surprisingly fun crown fountains and the beautiful skyline that followed us everywhere. I loved the pizza although it defeated me, and the gardens. I felt like I visited a million gardens when I was there, and in some ways I felt nostalgic because it reminded me of my garden city in India, Bangalore. There are several things about Chicago that is etched in my heart, but my absolute favorite were the ever smiling and complementing people of Chicago. They oozed warmth and genuineness which is very rare in most big cities.