In Chicago, Illinois

The windy city is unsafe and not RV friendly, there’s no Walmart we can stay at and no campground less than an hour from the center. The only option we found is a truck parking next to McCormick place, a convention and exhibition center just south of downtown Chicago. We pay $35 a day to park with the trucks and can access downtown in minutes by bus. There’s other RVs there, big self-contained ones, we’re not. Lucky enough the convention center is open all the time so we can use the bathrooms there. It’s about 7 minutes walk but that’s our only option.

We spend three days in Chicago. On day 1 it’s too hot to walk around so we visit the Art Institute before walking a part of downtown in the late afternoon.

Next day the weather is clear and windy, we walk up the Magnificent Mile (similar to Fifth avenue) and by the beaches in Gold Coast, the area North of downtown. We eat a deep dish pizza, enjoy a coffee break, and end the day with a beer on the 96th floor of the Hancock building. When finished in 1968 it was the second tallest building in the world after the Empire State building.

The last day was sunny, calm and 23°, a perfect weather for a boat tour. Architecture tours on the river and the lake are a must-do in Chicago. We learn about the different buildings and about some of Chicago history. We’d think skyscrapers are a New York invention, it’s not. Chicago had a devastating fire back in 1871, burning 16000 buildings to ashes over 4 miles North to South. It left a blank canvas for architects and new building technology like the iron frames and elevators enabled higher structures to be built. The first skyscraper reached 42m high in 1885. It seems nothing but it was high when all other buildings were max 4 storeys. In 1896 Chicago put a limit to 46 meters high, leaving New York to win the new race to the sky. New York now is about to have the biggest Ferris wheel in the world, but Chicago had the first one, it was build for the world fair of 1893.

When traveling on the river we’re stunned by its amazing blue color, very unusual for a big city. It wasn’t always like this, it used to be extremely dirty because everything was dumped in it including sewage (normal story so far). The problem was that drinking water was pumped out of the lake, where the river was flowing to. So they dug and put pumping station further from the shore, but not far enough. So in 1900 they completely reversed the flow of the river, making Lake Michigan the source of it. It made St Louis and other cities down the river quite unhappy!

After our boat tour we try a Chicago hot dog, a hot dog with pickles and onions in it, and we continue walking around downtown doing a architecture tour on our phone. On this tour we learn about the Inland Steel building. Built in 1957, it has a collection of firsts:

  • First fully air-conditioned building
  • First indoor, underground parking facility
  • First to use two-inch thick, dual-glazed glass to help with climate control
  • First building constructed on steel pilings
  • First building with automated window washing and mail distribution systems

On our way out of Chicago the next day we drive through one of the roughest neighborhood of the city to see the houses used for the filming of the TV show “Shameless”. The streets looked poor but not unsafe in the morning. A team was working on the main house, probably doing some preparations to film the next season!