Lincoln Park Zoo

As a tourist coming from outside of Illinois the most common idea of sight seeing is the main Chicago sights: Willis Tower, Hancock building, Magnificent Mile, the Lakefront, etc. The last thing that one thinks about is going to see something that you can do back home, like going to the Zoo.

Every city has their own unique Zoo, where the residents are able to escape reality and spend some time with our furry friends from all over the world. Over the 4th of July holiday I spent the day at the Lincoln park Zoo. After living in the city of Chicago for the last 6 years I thought that it might be about time that I visit this magical place. I don’t know about most of you, but I turn into a 5 year old when I get past the gate. I literally drug my boyfriend around the park going “ooohhhh and awwweeee”. It was a very hot day, I recommend that when you visit you try to go around September. Or if you do decide to venture during our hot Chicago summers, take a lot of water!!

I have to say that my first Zoo experience at the Lincoln Park Zoo was great! We took the red line up to the Zoo as parking is generally a little pricy for my taste. For those of you staying with us at the Hampton Inn & Suites, it is so easy to get there, just take the Red Line at the Grand Stop headed North and get off at Fullerton. Then walk east until you reach the Zoo. Very accessible and easy route from the downtown location. When you get there, no need to take out your wallet as the Zoo is completely free!!! Not a bad deal, huh? But of course they always accept donations, so feel free to give a little back as it goes toward making the Zoo a better home for the animals. They are just too cute to refuse! So…my first stop was  the Pygmy hippopotamus. He was such a cute little guy, check out my photo:

Hippo at Lincoln Park Zoo

He was so excited to see us there, that he kept trying to push his way through the glass. He would swim up and down trying to find a way out. But aside from his cuteness, I did find out some information about this type of Hippo. It seems that due to habitat loss, the Pygmy Hippo is endangered. This particular species is solitary and a nocturnal mammal. The population has dwindled and we don’t know the exact numbers, but from the information provided by the Zoo, scientists estimate that 3,000 of the animals may live in the wild. At this time, The Lincoln Park Zoo cooperatively manages Pygmy Hippopotamus populations with other institutions in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Some cool facts about this species that I was able to find out, courtesy of the Zoo webpage: Special Adaptations

  • The pygmy hippo’s skin secretes a red substance, giving rise to the legend that the species “sweats blood.” The substance isn’t blood, but its function is unknown. Scientists believe it may serve as an antibiotic or help block excessive sunlight.
  • The eyes, ears and nose are located on the top of the head, enabling the species to see, smell and hear while the rest of its body is underwater.
  • The pygmy hippos’ ears and nostrils pinch tightly shut when the animal dives underwater, making it easier for them to stay submerged.

You don’t have to be so excited about the animals to go to the Zoo, just enjoy the nice walk and the fact that you get a chance to explore a different side of the city. It is a nice break from being around so many people when walking down the Magnificent Mile or when seeing the amazing sites the Willis Tower has to offer. Check out the Zoo next time you are in Chicago, you won’t be disappointed!!

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What to do while in Chicago

As we gear into the wonderful Chicago Summer there are certain attractions that everyone must try at least once! The most common things to do in Chicago are going to Navy Pier, Millennium Park, city tours, The Art Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry, the architectural cruise plus many more.

My personal favorite activity is the architectural cruise; the tour is 90 minutes and it will make you think twice about our beautiful city of Chicago. At first when I agreed to go on this cruise (took much persuasion from my friend who was visiting from out of town) I was hesitant about going. To spend $35 to ride around in a boat when I already live in the city seemed like money I didn’t want to spend. Eventually I put myself in my friend’s shoes about coming to a city she had not been before and I agreed to go on the cruise.

Cruise on the Chicago River
Cruise on the Chicago River

The tour will take you from the aftermath of the great Chicago fire in the late 1800s, to how the city chose to rebuild itself using the surrounding water to their advantage. From there you will see some amazing buildings, the Merchandise Mart; you will go under several of Chicago’s movable bridges and to Navy Pier. After I got off of the cruise I was really glad that I had decided to go. It made me have a different type of appreciation for Chicago.

View Chicago by water with an architectural boat tour!

My recommendations for the tour; go on a sunny and warm day, make sure that you wear a hat if you are going to sit on the part of the boat that is not covered, make sure you grab a beverage and watch out for the shooting fountain, you just may get more than you bargained for! The best way to book this would be to do it on line (as it is cheaper), if you are staying here at the Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown, just ask one of our Front Desk Associates to book the tour for you and they will be happy to give you all the details and just let you know where it is that you need to show up! You’re here on vacation; let someone else do the work for you.

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One of the most beautiful views in the city

It doesn’t matter what time of year you visit us, if you have a clear day, you need to take the time and visit the Willis (formerly “Sears”) tower Skydeck. On a clear day you can see Indiana, Michigan, Illinois (of course) and Wisconsin.  Sitting 108 stories in the air, at the time it was completed it was the tallest building in the world.

The Skydeck is located on the 103rd floor and has 360 degree views of the city. In 2009 they added “The Ledge” which is a retractable glass box. You can stand out over the edge of the building in these glass boxes looking south and west. It is a bit of a rush with your head saying you should be falling and your feet staying right where they are.

Prices are reasonable for standard admission

  • Adults 12 and up is $17.50
  • Children 3 – 11 is $11
  • The Hampton Inn & Suites also offers a Skydeck Package for an all inclusive option!

If you are here from Labor Day to Memorial Day, go when the sun is starting to set. If you are here during the summer months, go and watch the fireworks. It is a spectacular site.

Another tip: if you are looking for a romantic date night, try going to the Skydeck then hitting the Metropolitan Club on the 67th floor. The only catch is that you have to make your reservations through opentable.com.  Either way it’s a good time.

Enjoy!

The fomer Sears Tower, also known as Willis Tower

The former Sears Tower, also known as Willis Tower

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America’s Second City is top for entertainment

Joe Shooman, a Travel Writer for The Observer in the Cayman Islands, stayed here at the Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown and wrote an article on his experience in Chicago. I am re-posting below for your enjoyment.

America’s Second City is top for entertainment
Travel and Leisure
By: Joe Shooman | joe@cfp.ky
25 March, 2012

Snow. I’d forgotten all about it. But it’s beautiful, it’s soft and it’s very, very cold. But that’s what you get when you decide to visit Chicago in February, I guess. And whilst the rest of the Chi-town population is wrapping up against more days of the blimmin white stuff, Suzy and me are like kids cause we’ve not seen snow in four years.

Chicago is a city with seemingly endless possibilities for entertainment, sight seeing, eating and drinking and it’s great to land somewhere where nobody knows your name.

After a quick trip up the Willis (formerly Sears) tower we spend our first evening in the Illinois city watching the Chicago Bulls at the mighty impressive United Center along with 20,000 other people. Whilst we may be up in the gods at least we’re near the beer; that, allied to the fact that the Bulls ease past the challenge of local rivals Milwaukee Bucks by 110 to 91 with a triple-double from Joakim Noah, makes a very happy bunch of visitors. And whilst Derrick Rose remains the team’s star, I’ve got a new hero – Carlos Boozer. We return to our brilliant, centrally-located Hampton Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown in the River North district, the choice of which proves a smart move on our part due to it being right in the heart of downtown, just north of The Loop.

It’s also near the Red Line of the easily navigable El Train underground railway system; we buy day passes and start to make our adventures the next morning. It’s always much easier to get an idea of a city’s layout and size during the day and so it proves.

 

Checking the bean

We end up at Millennium Park, which is something of a centre of entertainment, nature and art. Because it’s winter there’s an outdoor ice rink and we toy with getting our skates on, but we have more important things to do, one of which being checking out the famous Cloud Gate.

It’s a sculpture by Anish Kapoor, a British artist born in India, and it’s a masterful, huge, distended, polished steel jelly-bean blob in which the downtown scenery is beautifully reflected. The skyline looks quite extraordinary and lends the city a contemporary regality. Of course, the colloquial nickname is The Bean, which shows the humour of the locals. But it’s a brilliant piece that plays with perception – so much so that my wife Suzy clonks her head into it whilst trying to take a video. Oops! But no harm done, so we skip through the rest of the park – no music on the Great Lawn today, but in the summer you can tell that open-air concerts would be awesome there. It gets lovely and warm come July here, with temperatures kissing the 80s with some ease.

Back to the frozen icicle dripping from my chin, however. It seems we need to warm up which we duly do with a visit to the excellent Art Institute of Chicago which for 150 years has presented the good stuff.

It’s a comprehensive museum with Old Masters alongside plenty of contemporary, decorative and visual arts and the one million square feet make it the second-biggest in the States (only the Met in NYC is bigger). Of the many famous works, Edward Hopper’s study of aloneness, Nighthawks, and Grant Wood’s American Gothic are highlights as is the ancient Egyptian gallery. Best of all, I buy an awesome pen in the shape of the heavy metal salute on the way out.

There’s one thing you have to eat in Chicago and that is pizza. Famous for its deep dish, buttery crust, this is a long way from the mostly traditional Italian thin crust style. It truly is a wonder to behold and a wonder to eat, too. We round off the evening with a visit to the cinema to watch The Artist; a couple of post-movie drinks and we’re done – despite planning to head to one of the many awesome blues clubs which are just getting started. But that will have to wait for another visit.

Despite my best efforts, our third day is spent downtown shopping on the Magnificent Mile – every store you could want is here for clothes and stuff apparently. I’m more interested in trying to find a decent set of darts to bring back to Cayman, but sadly I fail. I do, however, manage to snag a pretty sharp set of Nike trainers that I didn’t know I was looking for until I saw them, so it ain’t all bad.

 

A bit about food

We lunch at Crisp, a North Broadway eaterie that is famous for its Korean-tinged fried chicken. I’d seen it on one of those celebrity cooking shows previously and if it’s good enough for Guy Fieri then it’s gotta be worth a shout. And it comes up trumps; the Seoul Sassy adds a great ginger/garlic slight heat to the very tender chicken which, yes, is crispy on the outside. The salad that comes with it – Buddha Bowl – is a mix of vegetables with rice and topped with a fried egg. Strange, but outstanding nonetheless. A quick trip to the ace Myopic Books yields brain food that afternoon and we round off our trip with a final-evening visit to another awesome food place.

The Purple Pig is located on the Magnificent Mile and can be best described as a kind of pig-worshipping tapas-type bar. We’re a little late due to unforeseen wine, so we have to wait, salivating, for half an hour before the table is ready. But by god it’s worth it; plate after plate of extraordinary dishes are brought out for us to sample and share. There’s fried pig’s ear with crispy kale, braised pork shoulder and mash, turkey leg confit and the absolute star of the show – roasted bone marrow. The interior of the bone is a buttery delight; smeared on brioche it is delicate, rich and something that everyone needs to taste at one time in their lives. The Purple Pig’s menu is great but this is something very special.

And so, a quick few beers later, we’re packing to come back. Yes, it’s cold in the winter, but that’s no bad thing in itself; when you live in beach paradise it’s great to get a dose of opposites once in a while. Chicago is as fast and furious as you want to make it, the inhabitants are friendly and the food is great. With the direct Cayman Airways flight taking around three hours, it could well be the ideal city break.

To see this article in its entirety, click here!

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