Almanac Travel: Willis Building and the Chicago Institute of Art


Day 3 in Chicago, on our way to Montreal


I was born with a rather large head. A head that comedian Bob Mortimer would describe as a ‘Sniper’s Dream’.

Sadly it doesn’t contain much grey matter, but I’m someone who has always walked with his head looking down. A couple of friends have suggested it may be that the head works a form of ballast. Either way, when Lynda exclaimed “look up” whilst wandering around Chicago it was excellent advice.

The best way to take in the spectacular skyline of Chicago is to hop up to the top of the Willis Building

It’s important as a great travel writer to be accurate with any geographic references used. That’s why as a mediocre travel writer I didn’t discover, until I was 103 storeys above Chicago, that the vast body of water adjacent to the city is, in fact, Lake Michigan, not Lake Ontario as posted previously. Michigan, Ontario whatever. It’s huge and wet, right?

I have no idea where Ontario came from but it’s likely to be a song by Neil Young, “Helpless”. It’s interesting, now that I’m travelling more later in life, that song references keep flashing back out of the moth-ridden archives of my brain.

For instance, we were in the exquisite Chicago Art Institute yesterday and we were looking at some paintings by Georgia O’Keefe. The cogs in my brain were working overtime as they recognised the name, and after looking at four or five more paintings I suddenly yelled out, “Warren Zevon! He mentioned her in a song.” Lynda replied, “That’s nice dear.”

Anyway, we started yesterday by patiently waiting two hours to reach the top of the Willis Building. Can I suggest if you are visiting Chicago and you want to do this, get there early? It’s something that you should do if visiting Chicago but don’t let it interfere with the rest of your stay.

The view is to die for but the facilities and size of the viewing platform are a bit dated. They seem to have focused more on putting in three of those glass platforms like the Eureka Building rather than upgrading anything else. The glass platforms are great but every man and his dog was queuing up for them, hence the bottle neck downstairs.

After finally getting downstairs we had our second Chicago hotdog in two days. I’ll see if I can remember what’s in them. A hotdog clearly, tomato, relish, finely chopped onion, two mild whole green chilli’s, mustard, a long pickle and celery salt. It won’t be the last Chicago hot dog I’ll partake in before we go.

The Chicago Arts Institute has claims to be the best in the world. That will always be debatable depending on one’s taste but it is seriously impressive by anyone’s standards. We only had three hours and we barely touched the sides. So much to see including an exhibition by photographer Robert Frank who did the album art for the Stones’ “Exile on Main St”.

Apologies for so many photos below but it’s mainly for my own benefit to look back on when I’m old and senile. We had to get through pretty quick. We are off to two festivals today so should be fun. Hope all is well. Saints got done again. Might put that thought to reside with Georgia O’Keefe and move forward.



More from Ian Wilson can be read Here.

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About Ian Wilson

Former army aircraft mechanic, sales manager, VFA footballer and coach. Now mental health worker and blogger. Lifelong St Kilda FC tragic and father to 2 x girls.


  1. Thanks Ian for your interesting travelogue. The photos are brilliant and complement your article.
    Safe travels and enjoy the yummy hot dogs.
    And Sean Mannagh, ex Werribee, played well again, last night.

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