Chicago skyline is the reel deal

I COULDN’T help it.

Chicago skyline is the reel deal

The seven-year-old lurking inside my body squared her shoulders, lined up her arms by her side, took a deep breath and danced an Irish reel.

I’m not sure if it was from an anxious or fun-filled giddiness, that I spontaneously crossed the floor of the glass box, back and forth.

It was extended four feet out from the building’s façade, suspended 1,353 feet up from the west side of Chicago city, and I cast my gaze upwards from the miniature movements at ground level and the 50-mile panoramic landscape. Counting my steps…

The view was spectacular, and I’m not referring to my dancing prowess, though I had a captive, bemused audience queuing for their turn to “Dare to Stand Out” on one of the four glass ledges on the Willis Tower observation ‘skydeck’ on the 103rd floor.

No doubt a fair percentage of them knew what an Irish dance was. After all, Michael Flatley, who grew up in Chicago’s south side (and trained in the Dennehy School of Irish dance), has been sexing it up for years.

Of course traditional dance and music runs through the veins of the generations of Irish who contributed to the growth of Chicago from frontier town in the 1830s to third-largest city in the US.

And reputedly, Irish-Americans are still the largest ethnic group in the windy city, so it’s no surprise that even President Obama, who still visits his Georgian mansion home in the city’s Kenwood neighbourhood, famously traced his roots back on his maternal side, to our little island.

So what’s new? United Airlines, who have launched a direct non-stop flight from Shannon to Chicago for the summer months, are no doubt hoping to attract a steady flow between here and there.

One person I met in Chicago who is delighted at the prospect of such an easy commute is Kerryman Colm O’Callaghan, who regularly brings his family back to Killarney, which he left 25 years ago. Now vice-president and managing director of the Trump International Hotel and Tower, he has climbed the ladder of success.

I got a view of the penthouse apartment on the 89th floor — the highest apartment in the US — which is 14,000sq ft and is for sale with a price tag of $32 million. An additional monthly maintenance bill of $12,000 has to be forked out by the prospective owner.

Its city and lakeside view vies with Willis Tower for being breathtakingly spectacular — and no doubt for the three bidders, it’s all about owning that skyline.

The skyline is part of Brand Chicago; the individuality and creativity of the skyscrapers (four of which are among the world’s highest) rising phallic from ground level, a reminder of how the city rose from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and made its mark with the world introduction of the first steel beams for the skeleton of a high-rise building.

To appreciate the skyscrapers in all their genius design it’s worth taking the official Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise (www.cruisechicago.com).

One fact that links the Irish less favourably with modern-day Chicago is the tour guide’s explanation for a seven-story gaping hole on a 2.2 acre riverside site; the foundations of the proposed Chicago Spire project, launched in 2008 by Dublin man Garrett Kelleher’s Shelbourne Development.

At 150-storeys, it was to be the tallest exclusively residential building in the world — a reach-for the-skies Celtic Tiger dream. But, heavily funded by Anglo-Irish Bank, it now stands at the intersection of the Chicago River with Lake Michigan, as a monument to our financial crisis.

Back on solid ground, Chicago lifts the spirit. It’s a city that beams when the sun shines — and you can expect a lot of that over the summer months.

Chicagoans have a massive playground at their disposal. Huge parks, 15 miles of man-made sandy beaches along Lake Michigan, walking trails, bicycle paths, jogging routes, public sporting and harbour facilities and outdoor performance venues all give this major city a resort-like feel.

A directive by 19th century US architect and urban designer Daniel Burnham that the lakefront be left free and clear for the people, has been honoured to this day; potential prime real estate remains under strict control of the Chicago Parks committee, and is lovingly called ‘Chicago’s Front Yard’.

In its midst is a rich selection of cultural venues including the Science and Industry Museum (www.msicicago. org) which is the biggest in the western hemisphere, and the impressive Highlights Tour at the Art Institute of Chicago, (www.artic.edu), housing the largest collection of Impressionist paintings outside of the Louvre.

For shoppers, there are hundreds of department and designer stores along Michigan Avenue’s famous Magnificent (‘Mag’) Mile and the more affordable State Street, as well as hip boutiques and vintage shops.

Accommodation

I stayed at the four-star Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, 221 N. Columbus Drive, which is two blocks away from Michigan Avenue and the river and many downtown attractions.

It is an upscale version of the Radisson Blu hotel, newly built and introduced by the chain to Chicago’s Lakeshore East in November 2011.

The 81-story mixed-use Aqua Tower allocates 18 floors to the hotel and the rest for residential and retail. The hotel is impressively decorated on Euro-chic minimalist lines and my room (Mansion style) was very spacious. It featured a balcony, flat-screen TV and wireless high-speed internet access. The bed was the most comfortable I’ve slept in.

For special offers and other info view: www.radissonblu.com/aquahotel-chicago

Getting around

O’Hare airport is about 45 minutes away from the city centre. Once there you can walk easily to most major attractions.

Public transportation, run by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) , is reliable and extensive and its bus and train system covers most of downtown and the suburbs. It has an underground system but also the ‘L’ elevated train tracks which form a loop around the downtown area, giving it its name.

Check out www.transitchicago.com

Things to do

For a wealth of information on all aspects of the windy city visit the website www.choosechicago.com or download their free app to your Smartphone or tablet. Check out its ‘Create Your Own Itinerary’ planner so you can pick and choose from the site’s suggestions before you ever leave home soil.

Staying for more than a weekend? It may be worth your while investing in a nine-day Chicago City Pass.(www.citypass.com/chicago)

Food

Chicagoans are serious about breakfast! That’s why Michelin gave Chicago its first ever breakfast specialities category in the 2011 Michelin Guide. It was the only city where the inspectors considered breakfast as a meal type because it is such a social occasion.

* Wildberry Pancakes and Café, 130 E Randolph St. www.wildberrycafe.com

* Bel 50, 738 North Clark Street Why not try a gourmet waffle sandwich? BEL 50 is a modern, fast-casual restaurant specialising in waffle sandwiches with a healthy take. www.BEL50.com

* The French Market, 131 N Clinton St

This European inspired indoor market similar to the English Market in Cork, www.pastoralartisan.com

* Tortoise Club 350 N. State Street, www.tortoiseclub.com

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