01 June 2011

River and lake

At the end of our full day in Chicago I scarcely know where to start.  I am tired enough simply to fall into bed, but that won't do much to organize my thoughts.  First on my mind is Tal whose flirtation with a cough and cold morphed into a near collapse at mid-day.  Helping him hold it together and getting him home is my priority now.

The day started normally enough.  We were in the lobby at 6:30 for breakfast, greeted by a beaming Shirley (originally from Mississippi) who introduced us to the marvels of what the Embassy Suites offers for the day's first meal.  My made-to-order bacon/cheese omelet was prepared along with three others, all with different combinations of ingredients, by a cheerful and unflustered chef.  She was going to carry on like that until 10:00.  I was awed at the time and I am enormously impressed after the fact.

The day's schedule included an architectural boat tour, followed by lunch and a presentation at the Art Institute of Chicago, an afternoon to roam and a farewell dinner aboard the Spirit of Chicago.  When first thing Tal agreed to a walk across Columbus Drive to a pharmacy for a cold remedy before we boarded the coach for the drive to the Navy Pier, I was pleased and relieved.  He'd resisted taking anything for days.

The boat tour was great.  Our guide reminded me slightly of Reverend Jim, the character on the 1970s television show, Taxi.  Full of information, funny, a little spaced out.  From our position in a small flat boat on the Chicago River (and its South Branch) the buildings all around and above us -- old and new -- were overwhelming.  The situation gave the term "craning one's neck" a more literal meaning than I'd experienced before.  My photographs don't do justice to the city's architectural wonders.  Chicago is yet another city I would like to visit again.

Trump International Hotel and Tower (center), Wrigley Building (light facade right of center) with North Shore Drive bridge (foreground)
Tribune Tower, completed in 1925
A view of buildings on the Chicago River's South Branch.  The Sears/Willis Tower is in the center with the Civic Opera House directly in front of it.

From the Navy Pier at the end of the architectural tour we went immediately to the Art Institute where, after a snafu with my backpack (long and strange story), we had a delightful and delicious lunch in the Garden Cafe, an establishment featuring sustainable, local and seasonable ingredients. It was as we were walking to the rendez-vous point to meet our Art Institute guide for the presentation that Tal told me how really terrible he felt. We parted from the group for a very slow stroll with several breather stops -- about a mile -- back to the hotel. No, he didn't need a taxi. Once there, Tal fell into a deep sleep with me sitting by the bed. No, he didn't need a doctor.

On our walk back to the hotel we crossed
Columbus Drive on the BP Pedestrian
Bridge, a girder footbridge with stainless
steel parapets.
Looking up at Aqua, a building whose balconies call to mind the limestone outcroppings along Lake Michigan.

Late in the afternoon at Tal's insistence I went with the group for the farewell dinner on Lake Michigan.  It wasn't the same without him, but my table companions were wonderful, the food was good, the wait staff provided energetic song and dance routines.   All that and watching night fall and the fireworks which followed made for a memorable experience.
POSTSCRIPT:  Over the past new days I have more than hinted at missing the Grande Mariner.  Every hour of every day!  Well, from my point of view tonight truly brought our overland adventure to a fitting conclusion.  Who, pray tell, built the Spirit of ChicagoBlount Boats of Warren RI.  The task masters of the sea.  The Grande Mariner it wasn't, but how fitting and what a satisfaction.

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