We love surprises. We were at the end of the third week on our retirement road trip, and were staying at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago. It was Labor Day weekend and we had planned to stay in place an extra couple of days in order to avoid Labor Day traffic. Our plans included a day spent at a Chicago Cubs baseball game and an architectural tour on the Chicago River which we told readers about in last week’s Easin’ Along. We also had planned a separate visit to the Art Institute of Chicago. What we had not planned for gave us our surprise. Labor Day weekend is the time for the annual Chicago Jazz Festival. We love it when things like that happen.
We were up early for breakfast at the Navy Gateway Inns & Suites on base, and then caught the train for the ride into Chicago. It was a lovely day so, when we arrived at Union Station, we decided to make the 20 minute walk to The Art Institute located adjacent to Millennium Park. As we approached Millennium Park we noticed huge crowds in the area and that’s when we spotted signs directing people to the venues for the Jazz Festival…we had no idea. Then and there our plans for the day became complete – art in the morning, and jazz after lunch. Being flexible is a guiding principle of retirement road trips and, even though we rarely attempt more than one event in a day, we went all in for art and music on this day.
This was a holiday weekend and the lines at the Art Institute were lengthy, but moved very quickly. When we approached the ticket desk and presented our credit card to pay, the very nice young lady working at the desk noticed that we used a USAA credit card to buy our tickets.
“Are you a veteran?”, she asked.
“Retired Army veteran”, I replied.
“Would you also qualify for perhaps a senior citizen discount?” she asked politely, suppressing a grin. I grinned back; my gray hair gives me away every time. I replied in the affirmative.
At that point the young lady worked her magic and somehow combined a military and a senior citizen discount and admitted us at a considerable savings over regular admission. Once again, I say to my retired friends that discounts are everywhere…it always pays to ask.
The Art Institute houses over 300,000 works of art and contains 10 curatorial collections. There is no way to take it all in on just one visit. We obtained a directory for a self guided tour then set out to find the paintings we wanted to see. Helen (adorable wife) has always been drawn to French Impressionist art so we went to that collection first. On display were paintings by Van Gogh, Monet, Lautrec, and Renoir among others. Pictured here is the famous Self Portrait by Van Gogh. This collection is stunning and very well displayed.
We also wanted to view some American art, particularly the work of Thomas Cole, but we were having some difficulty locating it. That was remedied when a very helpful staff person walked us to the proper elevator and sent us on our way. All of the staff members were extremely helpful and it made for a very pleasant visit.
Another painting on our list was Grant Wood’s American Gothic. I did not know that it was housed here but everyone else seemed to…this painting attracted quite a crowd. After viewing this classic piece of art, we walked through a collection of photography, some works by Andy Warhol, and a sculpture exhibit. Although we left without seeing much of the Institute, we left grateful for the opportunity.
We had lunch across Michigan Avenue at The Gage. The restaurant was busy but we were served quickly. I chose a meal of split pea soup plus Fish and Chips (wrapped in newspaper). The fish was very good, and the soup was outstanding. Helen chose a Cuban sandwich of smoked pork, ham, Swiss cheese, and pickles (a must for Helen). It too was very tasty.
After lunch it was time for a walk so we entered Millennium Park for some sightseeing and some jazz. Music could be heard everywhere, but before we took the time to enjoy it, Helen looked up a couple of reviews in her guidebooks which suggested that we see the Cloud Gate sculpture and Crown Fountain. Off we went.
The Cloud Gate sculpture (sometimes referred to as “The Bean”) is a favorite of picture takers due to the distorted mirror reflections of those standing below it. This sculpture is huge and is quite a gathering place for tourists as can be seen in the picture shown here.
The Crown Fountain is a large structure which resembles a chimney. Images are projected on either side of the tower by LED lights projecting from the back side of the bricks. Children are drawn to the pool around the tower because a large burst of water is shot out at visitors about every five minutes. The water provides a great place to cool off. The tower and the image are pictured here. The water is projected from the mouth of the face in the image.
From Crown Fountain we ventured into several pavilions before deciding to concentrate on one group of musicians. I needed to sample the music because, even though I love jazz (and blues), I am not familiar with jazz musicians by name. All were excellent, but ultimately we ended up spending a considerable amount of time listening to the Victor Garcia Organ Septet. Victor Garcia played the trumpet skillfully and held us through most of the hour he was allotted. I managed to capture a video of a small segment of his performance and have posted it on the Easin’ Along You Tube page. We could have stayed and let music waft over us into the evening, but we had a train to catch for the ride back to Great Lakes. After a couple of performances by other musicians, we walked back to Union Station.
Art and the art of jazz had made for a great day in Chicago. Even though we’re not big city people, we had learned that the Windy City is our kind of town. Nevertheless, it was time to take our retirement road trip to Harbor Springs and Mackinaw Island, MI…so, with the wind at our back, we’re Easin’ Along.