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Wanderlust: Introduction to Chicago

Laura Mittelstaedt | Monday, January 31, 2011

Sometimes when I’m in one place for too long, I get a little restless. The world starts to feel like a stalled elevator, and I get a bit claustrophobic. No matter how much I love Notre Dame, sometimes I just need to get away. I know that South Bend’s limitless array of exciting weekend activities is undeniable, but really, there are only so many busy, snowy and endlessly gray days I can handle in a row. Also, I get bored of eating at the dining hall.

This semester, I will be writing a regular column for those of you who, like me, have a bad case of wanderlust and need some ideas for places to go. This is your source for nearby travel destinations worthy of walking all the way out to the D6 parking lot, hopping in the car and leaving Notre Dame in the dust for a day or two.

I will kick off this column with a three-part series on perhaps the most obvious local destination: Chicago. It always surprises me how rarely Notre Dame students go to Chicago because of its relative proximity. Chicago is a fantastic city with tons of things to do and really great food. Also, I swear it’s always a little sunnier there, and even if it isn’t, there’s just something invigorating about being surrounded by buildings and people. Though I encourage you to explore Chicago on your own, especially in the neighborhoods north of downtown, I will spend the next three weeks focusing on fun things to do from museums to cupcake shops.

First, Getting There

Chicago is easily accessible from Notre Dame by train or car. The South Shore Line ($10.95 each way) leaves South Bend Regional Airport five times daily and arrives at Millennium Station in downtown Chicago about two and a half hours later. Though two and a half hours might sound a bit daunting, the ride goes by quickly, especially if you have a good book or friends with you. If you’re not into public transportation, Chicago is about an hour and 45 minutes away by car via I-80 and the Skyway. Parking can add up pretty quickly, and driving around downtown can be a little scary if you’ve never driven in a large city before, but hey, if you want to, go for it.

Parking in Chicago

Finding parking in the city, especially reasonably priced parking, can be tricky. Many department stores have discounted parking (about $12) if you make a purchase at the store (Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Fox & Obel, for example). Otherwise, parking garage rates are generally between $20 and $30 per day. If you are in the north side neighborhoods (Lincoln Park, Wrigleyville, Uptown, etc.) there are streets with free parking from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., as well as metered spots ($1.50 per hour during the day; free between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.).  If you want more information about parking rates and hours, www.chicagometers.com is a great resource.

Getting Around

Chicago’s train system (the CTA) is efficient and runs regularly, so it is perfect for getting back and forth between downtown and north-side neighborhoods, or even just around downtown if the Windy City is too cold for walking. Single tickets are $2.25 and can be purchased with cash at kiosks in each of the train stations. If you think you’ll ride the train a lot, a day-pass ($5.75) is a good option. Refer to transitchicago.com for map and schedule information.

Now, the Fun Part: A Tourist in Chicago

I don’t want to spend too much time on touristy things to do in Chicago because they are easy enough to find on the Internet or in guidebooks. However, I do have a few recommendations if you’ve never been to the city before.

The Art Institute of Chicago ($12) is one of my favorite museums. The permanent collection is outstanding and the new Modern Wing is impressive, making the Institute a great way to escape the cold for a few hours.

A short walk from the Art Institute, Millennium Park is always a fun stop, even when it’s cold outside. In the winter, the park offers ice skating (free with a $10 skate rental) and features “The Bean:” a giant stainless steel mirror-like sculpture shaped like a jelly bean that never gets old. Finally, the Skydeck ($15.95) at the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) lets you see the city from 1,353 feet above street level, and you can even step into newly installed glass boxes that allow you to literally see the city beneath your feet — a bit scary, but fun.

When it’s warmer, a myriad of free or inexpensive activities are offered in Millennium and Grant Park from free yoga to free concerts and movies. See chicagoparkdistrict.com for fun things to do before heading into the city.

So this, my friends, has been my very brief introduction to Chicago. Keep a look out for more articles in the next two weeks with recommendations for foodies and shopaholics in Chicago and more. Until then, fellow Domers, keep wandering.