In light of the Picasso exhibition that recently opened at the Art Institute of Chicago, there is a pedestrian day trip that is a highly recommended prelude:
Almost every train in Chicago stops at or near the Chicago Civic Center, where the monumental sculpture known simply as "the Picasso" stands in Daley Plaza, a perfect match for the iconic building that it embellishes.
Arriving here early in the morning on the first warm day in Spring, it is one of the joys of life to take a few minutes to admire the beauty of this old friend, who is both a bird and a woman, depending on where the viewer stands. (It is the head of a woman that should be sought, not an entire woman, and she is wearing a beret.)
Stepping a few feet away from her and looking east down Washington Street, the sun is blazing already on the tumbling chunks of brushed steel that are the rooftop of the Frank Gehry performance stage in Millenium Park. This inviting view is like the mirror in fairy tales that is stepped into just before arriving at some fantastic place.
Dwarfed by some of the city's most beautiful skyscrapers, take a quick walk through the supurb sculpture gardens and get a peek at the newest wing of the Art Institute immediately to the south. Then walk north on Michigan Avenue to get to the northside beaches.
A couple blocks down, Michigan Avenue widens as you near the Chicago River at Wacker Drive, and a panoramic view unfolds where the river flows out to Lake Michigan. The architectual landscape surrounding these shimmering waters on a sunny day causes the charmed pedestrian to stand on the bridge and marvel as crowds rush past. This is the gateway to the Magnificent Mile, where the lacey white Wrigley Building and the legendary Tribune Tower stand.
Window-shopping is the name of the game for this last leg of the walk. Yet along the way stands the great John Hancock Building, the quaint little Old Water Tower, and the truly lovely Fouth Presbyterian Church, with its unexpected cloister walk.
A couple blocks from here, the great expanse of Lake Michigan overtakes you as you come to Oak Street Beach. From here, it is worth walking a mile or so along the beach to North Avenue Pier, where the view of the skyline is absolutely inspirational.
There will be just enough time for a late lunch or early dinner before your evening at the Picasso show.