Have you ever been on Michigan Avenue and looked over the railing down into the Chicago River and contemplated taking a boat tour? Out of town tourists do it, why don't you? The Wendella Boat Tour is a spectacular view of the city from the "inside". While you're outside...
I have done this tour before, but it was pretty cold, the skies were cloudy, and the pictures were less than interesting due to my freezing fingers. So on this past Friday afternoon, when the weather was 85 and sunny, and I had some
"old", long-time friends along, we sat back and enjoyed the ride. This is the way to see the city. No walking needed and there is a bar down below if you are so inclined. A little sun, a little breeze, a little history...what more could you ask for?
The guide not only gives you morsels of information about the river, but also is not afraid to time it right and get you a little wet. We were warm enough and relaxed enough to enjoy the spray. This right-time right-place doesn't always happen...you just have to "luck out" with the timing.
We survived, didn't melt and headed toward the lock. The history of the river's flow is an architectural triumph. In the 1800's, Lake Michigan was "the faucet" which provided fresh water to the city and the Chicago River was "the toilet" providing a place to dump...well...everything. Carcasses from the stockyards, raw sewage, dead bodies...like I said, everything. By the end of the 1800's reasonable people started to worry and decided to do something about it. They diverted and redirected the flow of the river and installed locks. (If you really love Chicago River history and want to know more, read here.)
So low and behold, the river and the lake are different heights and it takes just a few minutes to get into the lock and raise or lower the water and then proceed. This side of Navy Pier was our view while we waited...not too shabby.
Did you know that Navy Pier is the #1 tourist attraction in the State of Illinois? I would have thought it was Interstate 80...EVERYONE stops there...never on purpose, I guess.
The boat will take you out into the lake and around the tip of Navy Pier. For those who own a boat or have friends with a boat, (the best way to have a boat, in my opinion by the way) you might have had a chance to see this perspective. If you have no friends like this...TAKE THIS BOAT RIDE. The city from this perspective is just a sight to behold. As far as cities go...this skyline is one of the best, but I might be biased. I am sure the Sydney Opera House and the Eiffel Tower are nice, too.
I'll stop talking while you glide along taking in these sights...you can turn on some water in your house if you want a special effect.
Time to go back through the locks and return to the river. Chicago is known for its bridges.
...And very tall buildings. Sitting down in the Chicago River gives you the feeling of being very very small. If you use your imagination, the skyscrapers along the river make you feel like you are riding on the Colorado River down the center of a man-made Grand Canyon. Wear your shades, you are going to want to look up.
The Wrigley Building
Willis Tower (Formerly the Sears Tower)
The Civic Opera House (home of the Lyric Opera)
The Merchandise Mart
333 Wacker Drive (Which doesn't have a landmark name, but is known for Ferris Bueller riding by it while his dad worked upstairs) I love the reflection of the clouds in the glass. Spectacular day, I told you. Hey, I hear they are looking for window washers? Can you imagine how tired your trigger finger would be? Mine kills after I spray my shower doors. ...What? They don't use spray Windex and paper towels? Well on second thought...
This is the "fairly new" Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. If you walk up and down the steps along Wacker Dr. you will find many lovely things down below on the newly renovated Riverwalk. (and the stairs will give you quite a workout) There are cafes and benches, walking paths and bike rentals.
The city has really made the lower level of the river calm and beautiful. The powers-that-be are trying to clean up the river and make it more recreational and not just water that runs through the city.
Next time you have a few hours and you want to see the city from somewhere other than the Mag Mile, descend the stairs and give it a go.
There is a whole other world down below. And it doesn't have a thing to do with crowds and shopping bags.