A Fabulous Day in Chicago

Chicago has to be one of the world’s best sightseeing cities, and yesterday we saw it all.

Well, we didn’t see it all, of course, and in fact only scratched the surface, but probably did as much as one could possibly do in a single day. It was chilly; even for those of us who dwell in the frozen north, the wind off Lake Michigan brought distinct nip to the air.

We wandered north from the Loop into the Magnificent Mile aiming at the Driehaus Museum; this fascinating display (well, I will assume it if fascinating, because as it turned out we didn’t actually see it), is a perfectly restored mansion, originally built in about 1880. Originally costing an eye-watering $450,000 the building, a testament to the rivers of money that have flown through Chicago, has had a number if incarnations over the years and is now, thanks to the philanthropic efforts of Richard Driehaus as a museum. The $25 entry fee may appear steep, and in fact is, but for this outlay one is transported back to the luxuriant life of an industrial baron of the nineteenth century.

However, as one buys a slot on a timed tour, and the timing on offer clashed with our other activities, we set it aside for next time, and headed instead to the absolutely riveting Chicago History Museum. This is an absolute must see; a vast collection of utterly absorbing material that brings the city’s timeline to life, and gives visitors a sharp view of Chicago until today; leaving no doubt that the next one hundred years will be as interesting as the past.

Also interesting were the tours offered through the museum; mostly for the spring and offered as walking tours (Gold Coast, Old Town), “L” Tours (The Brown Line and many others), conventional bus tours (Ethnic Chicago and the Prohibition Era among others) and the tempting Pub Crawl genre. More than enough good things to tempt a tourist back, and in fact I have already pencilled the weekend of April 10/11 to take in a couple of these offerings.

We headed up to Belmont afterward in search of Vintage Shops, and having been assured by Google that three or four lay within a smallish area off we went; the shops seemed to have moved, and one transmogrified into a bank. It was a pretty lively area though, and interesting enough to absorb us for a while before we jumped the Brown Line train (in the direction of Kimball) to go and have a look.

The El offers a great way to see neighbourhoods, amazing engineering, old industrial areas and new developments, and although we did not have the benefit of a guide from the History Museum (this time) we rode out and back, peering into apartments, spotting the most unusual fence ornamentation, admiring idiosyncratic buildings isolated among newer developments and generally nosing around.

Then to Macy’s and the dreaded Shopping; having done our bit for the Chicago economy we could see the lights on Michigan Avenue shining just a little bit brighter, and so illuminated crossed over to the RL bar for a well-deserved refresher.

And so the day went; after a forgettable dinner in a small Thai place way up Halsted we settled in to Enjoy the music at B.L.U.E.S., another really fine venue. Cosy, welcoming and with spectacular music, we just had a ball.

I love this place, and can’t really understand why it isn’t filled to the gunwales with tourists from Winnipeg every weekend. Return airfares start at about $300 (all in), and a good time is guaranteed.

This afternoon I head to Iceland for a day’s meetings tomorrow with Iceland Express who have announced a charter flight to Winnipeg through the summer months. I would love to see this happen, as we have a great expertise in travel to the region, but I can’t help feeling a touch sceptical. The airline industry is facing hardship on a daily basis, and the over-capacity on the Atlantic is driving prices down to unsustainable levels and competition is at its fiercest for years.

To bring a new route, and let’s face it, Reykjavik to Winnipeg is not the most obvious choice to make money on in this environment needs deep pockets and a dedicated team of partners to make it happen. I hope it does, and by tomorrow night will have the assurance that I need to start to aggressively market a tour program to the North Atlantic.

It is truly a gorgeous region, and not only Iceland, but also the Faroe Islands and Greenland offer travellers unique destinations that will not fail to enchant.

So to New York and on to Reykjavik this afternoon, and tomorrow I will enjoy Iceland, as I always do, and in addition to the business at hand, take the opportunity to spend a little time with a couple of old friends. Iceland is, of course, the centre of a new economic tsunami as they face a referendum on the repayment of billions of dollars of savings lost when their banking system melted down.

It is an interesting dilemma; the savers, principally British, only used Icelandic banks to gain a considerably enhanced interest rate. With greater reward comes greater risk, and whether or not that should be indemnified is a good debate.

It is interesting to note that a number of British local governments had also invested their constituents’ money in Iceland in order to gain superior interest rates. Could these be the same local authorities that so unwisely lost millions in the collapse of BCCI (Bank of Credit and Commerce International) in 1990? Surely not, lessons would have been learned.

In banking as in travel as in the rest of life; if a deal appears too good to be true, it probably is.