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Timeless Architecture

A rubbernecking ride

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CONCRETE JUNGLE: The complex canal system of river Chicago has played a big role in turning the city into a metropolis. (Right) The iconic Wrigley Building

 

One of the best ways to do Chi town is a river ride though you may get a crick in your neck trying to catch a glimpse of all the historic and modern architectural gems floating past

WARNING: The Chicago riverboat tours can give you a crick in your neck at the end of the tw ohour sojourn. HINT: It is because of Chicago's stellar architecture and history. And because there will not be a single moment when you might want to look down at a normal angle because you will never pass a non-descript skyscraper or a non-historic building. Even on an unseasonably chilly, dark and drenched mid-April afternoon, I found myself hatless on the boat deck (because sitting in the warm and toasty cabin would be criminal), clutching a wet camera and forgetting that I ever had feet.

The shimmering glass on the skyscrapers, the art-deco gems, the modern classics, and the skyline stand in attendance to Chicago's history, the sentinels of its aspirations, both past and future. The Chicago River is a complex system of canals and it is one of the main reasons for Chicago's transformation into a metropolis. The value of a river view is evident in the concentration of landmarks along the river. From the iconic Wrigley Building and the achingly beautiful Chicago Tribune building to the modern Trump Tower, the cutesy "corn cobs" of Marina City and the imposing John Hancock tower, the sluggish boats take you through years of "upward mobility" with a lot of grace. Be prepared for a lot of rubbernecking as the buildings slide past pretty fast.

A very interesting side-story to Chicago's timeless architecture is the adaptive re-use of its old buildings that were decaying. A few of them, including old cold storage buildings and warehouses, have been refurbished into lofts, apartments and office buildings.

The trolley architectural tours of the city, on the other hand, allow visitors to pick their way through its culture, people, intense traffic and endless shopping. The best would be to walk every inch of the energetic downtown area but the fun and feisty cherry-red, old-world trolley buses with their jovial guides can be just as entertaining. (They make up a lot of stories for the laughs but they do disabuse you later). The bus has its advantages - it can give you an up-close view of the buildings as well as take you to the best spot to photograph Chicago's immense skyline, from the shore next to the Field Museum of Natural History. Another tip for a good skyline pic - walk to the lakefront early in the morning and wait for the sunrise.

If you're done with the view from the ground, there is only one way to go - up. If you want to imagine what the city looks like at night, go back to the scene in the film The Dark Knight when Batman surveys Gotham City in a sweeping aerial shot. That is how spectacular Chicago is at night from above - good enough for Christopher Nolan. Even the clanking, raging machine-villains in Transformers: Dark of the Moon chomped their way through Chicago monuments.

The city has been the backdrop for several films and boasts of quite a few Hollywood tours. Bruce Wayne's penthouse bedroom in The Dark Knight is in Hotel 71 on Wacker Drive. As for the view from the top, you can either express-elevator your ear-popping way up to the John Hancock building for a dirty martini or the skydeck at the Willis Tower (103rd floor). For the deluxe version, you can swim at The Peninsula's rooftop pool or have a meal at its roof-top restaurant. The Peninsula has room views to kill for - they look over the Magnificent Mile (Michigan Avenue) in the middle of downtown and the Chicago Water Tower, the only building that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

If you are dizzy of the heights, you can walk over to the Millennium Park for some open-air architecture and art or amble over to the Art Institute of Chicago, the country's second largest art museum, most popular for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections. Between the walks and the elevator-rides, what is Chicago without a Bourbon in a blues bar and a pizza? If you're downtown, visit Atwood Cafê, a classic Chicago Loop restaurant, for some art-deco atmosphere and a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati's pizzeria, where you will have a minimum wait of one hour which you can while away at its wooden bar.

Chicago is a city of tours, but one tour that you will never find in Chicago is the biggest surprise - an Al Capone tour. That is one part of history the city would like to forget.

Qatar Airways has grown rapidly in its 16 years of operation to 126 destinations in the world. The newest gateway for the award-winning airline is the Windy City, Chicago. Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al Baker, spoke with TOI-Crest about its new destination and the soon-to-beopened Hamad International Airport.

There has been a lot of buzz around Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar. What is special about it?

Hamad International Airport will accommodate approximately 28 million passengers annually, increasing to 50 million beyond 2015. It will include an airport hotel and a 100-room transit hotel within the terminal, a swimming pool, squash courts, its own monorail transport system and more. Qatar Duty Free is creating more than 25, 000 sq. m. of retail space with branded boutiques and products.

Why did you choose Chicago as the next destination in the US?

Chicago is a key route for business and leisure travellers, home to the world's second busiest international airport with 70 million passengers a year. With the local tourism industry receiving 50 million visitors annually and Chicago being the headquarters of some of the world's biggest corporates, including Boeing, there are many business opportunities linking our two cities and regions.

Government data released recently showed that together Emirates, Qatar and Air Arabia flew nearly 22% of the international passengers from India. You seem to be serious about the Indian market.

How has the response of Indian travellers been on the US route?

The US route is one of the most popular regions for travel from India. The Chicago route will be instrumental in serving the high demand from India to the US, which is due to the large number of NRIs either working or running businesses. There is also huge Relatives), followed by corporate and we see a major exodus of international students travelling to the US. Like our other US routes, we anticipate a large market for the Chicago route.

(The writer was in Chicago at the invitation of Qatar Airways)

 

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