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Chicago architecture, seen from a river cruise

Architecture River Cruise, Chicago IL (courtesy Chicago's First Lady and CAF)How do you trick your kid into admiring modern architects like Mies van der Rohe and the wedding-cake intricacies of the 1925 Chicago Tribune Tower?

Take her on a river cruise run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF.)

They offer all sorts of interesting tours, but on our July 2007 visit to the City of Big Shoulders, we wanted a maritime version.

We grabbed sandwiches and drinks at a local grocery store, and caught the 1:00 pm departure of the boat Chicago’s First Lady from the pier at the Michigan Avenue Bridge and Wacker Drive.

An experienced docent (trained guide, usually voluntary) kept up knowledgeable, fun patter for 90 minutes as the boat glided up and down different parts of the Chicago River, showing us over 50 significant sights and giving us great background info about why this city is known for creative buildings.

We learned how the city’s role as a commerce hub was established through the railroads, canals and Lake Michigan. In 1871, the devastating Great Chicago Fire wiped out the central business district and leveled more than 17,000 buildings, so architects and developers went to town, so to speak, designing and constructing striking edifices.

The tour was rather pricey ($26 on a weekday, $28 on a weekend, no discounts that I could find) but I thought it was worth the big bucks and my teenager actually paid attention and enjoyed it.

The top deck is open and there’s also an enclosed, windowed area with tables below….we sat below initially just to eat our sandwiches, but we were so comfortable and had such a good, air-conditioned view through the glass that we stayed down there the whole time. The docent’s descriptions were quite clear over speakers and it was nice to see what everyone else was seeing without baking in the sun.

The cruise operates May-November.

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