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Art, pizza and one crazy night in Chicago

  • Story Highlights
  • Paintings by Edvard Munch, famous for "The Scream," are at the Art Institute
  • Explore nightlife in Lincoln Park, a trendy area north of downtown
  • Enjoy breathtaking views of the city from the 96th floor of the John Hancock Center
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By Elizabeth Landau
CNN
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CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- Whether entrenched in business meetings or stuck on a layover, you may find yourself in Chicago with limited time to spare. But this vibrant city has so much to offer that it's worth using every free moment to see something new. Here are some of the things I managed slip in on a recent business trip to Chicago.

Stand back from "Cloud Gate," and you will see part of the city reflected in the sculpture.

Underneath the "Cloud Gate" sculpture, the perspective gets distorted in the reflection.

Museum: The famous Art Institute of Chicago (111 S. Michigan Ave.) has enough rooms of artwork to keep a person exploring for days; unfortunately, I got there just before it closed at 5 p.m. Still, it was worth a peek.

In 15 minutes, you can see the impressive gallery of Impressionists, including Renoir and Monet, and dash through to some of the nearby rooms to glimpse medieval religious art. Allot more time to explore, if your schedule allows! For those who plan a little better, a number of works by painter Edvard Munch, famous for "The Scream," are on display until April 26.

Public art: Hey, look, it's a giant bean! Just a few blocks north of the Art Institute, this gigantic reflective sculpture called "Cloud Gate" weighs 110 tons, stands 33 feet high and is made of stainless steel plates. British artist Anish Kapoor designed it with liquid mercury in mind, says the Millennium Park Web site. Chances are, there's probably a bunch of tourists taking pictures of themselves reflected in it.

International food: Chicago has a plethora of cuisines from around the world. For my first dinner, I went to the Berghoff (17 W. Adams St.), a German restaurant near Millennium Park downtown. Even if you're alone, this is a fine place to sit at the bar, munching delicious wiener schnitzel and potatoes, and have casual conversations with the locals. The service is excellent, so if you're in a rush, you'll probably make your next appointment.

Bonus: Take the famous El train back to your hotel; there's a stop right on Adams Street.

Views: Night has fallen, and so has the temperature, but the adventure is just beginning. For a breathtaking view of the surroundings, take the fast elevator up to the Signature Room at the 95th in the John Hancock building (875 N. Michigan Ave.) and ponder the panoramic scenery over cocktails and snacks in the lounge on the 96th floor. The Chicago area is so flat that you can see for miles: endless rows of streetlights extending into the horizon. A chocolate martini and a view like that go well together.

Music: If you're still restless and eager for adventure, head to a different neighborhood. Lincoln Park, a trendy area north of downtown, has a slew of bars that cater to the young and the young at heart. Duffy's Tavern (420½ W. Diversey Parkway) will have either a live band or the standard selection of pop music. The local beer on tap, called 312 after the city's area code, has a refreshing lemon-wheat taste.

Movies: Can't sleep? Now that you've seen some of the city, maybe you'll recognize it in films. Chicago locals seem extremely proud of the presence of their city in last summer's Batman hit, "The Dark Knight." Try watching it on mute so you can focus on the scenery rather than the shooting, and maybe that will help you doze off.

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Pizza: Don't leave Chicago without trying some of the famous deep-dish pizza. I was rushing to make my flight, but fortunately Giordano's (various locations throughout the city) accepts take-out orders half an hour in advance, even in the morning. Since there was a huge line for dinner the night before, in the morning I ended up ordering ahead and then eating half of it right there at the restaurant while my colleagues unhurriedly ordered at the table. Before their food came, I ran to get a taxi to the airport with pizza box in hand.

Update: Airport security did not question the cheesy goodness oozing in the box in my carry-on bag. The next day, the pizza took at least half an hour to reheat, but it was still pretty tasty.

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