I just returned home after spending a week in the Windy City.
I’d be happy to return pretty much anytime.
It was my first visit, and initial impressions were of a big, brawny metropolis, full of new skyscrapers and too many fast-food joints, but also a place that respects the past by refurbishing old buildings, brewing great beer, promoting seedy little blues clubs and maintaining a long, loud love affair with its sports teams.
A friend once described Chicago as “New York with cleaner streets, nicer people, weird pizza and ridiculous hot dogs.” I cannot honestly argue. The streets were incredibly free of trash, locals offered directions when we looked lost and while The Husband ate a Chicago dog and deep-dish pizza (on the same day), I was not tempted by either. OK, I did have a bite of the pizza. Not as doughy as I expected, but it’s still not pizza as I know it.
Chicago seems to have a lot of emergencies involving the need for an ambulance. The constant cry of the sirens never seemed to let up. One afternoon, while having lunch near Michigan Avenue, we saw the same ambulance by our restaurant five times. Werethere multiple incidents that necessitated the ambulance, or was the crew doing drive bys,
looking for the next pickup? We never did figure it out, and later heard that the firefighters, in addition to getting an 11% raise this year, will also get more ambulances and paramedics. Good for them, but hard on the hearing.
Then there’s the Lake Michigan Effect: an odd weather phenomenon that provides slightly cooler air along the lakefront than in the downtown metro area. It’s nice to walk along Lakeshore Drive and feel the difference, especially in the summer. In the winter, however, there is lake effect snow. I have seen lake effect snow in October while in Cleveland and do not ever want to see it again.
Beer is brewed and coffee is roasted in Chicago and the immediate environs. Both are outstanding, and you should make an effort to bring some of each home. The food scene is as varied as the neighborhoods. Be willing to take the Red Line south to Chinatown for real Chinese food and north for Ethiopian food , the Blue Line for Polish food or walk to the east side of the city for the Irish food scene in the bars and pubs. There is more to Chicago than deep dish pizza and hot dogs slathered in neon-green relish.
Speaking of things to do, there are world-class art and history museums, theater, year-round professional sports and festivals almost every week. One of the best things about our trip was arriving a day earlier than planned, and attending the final day of the Chicago Blues Festival. One band, the Homemade Jamz Blues Band, was worth the walk and the long wait until the gates opened. There’s nothing fancy about this festival, only a few food and souvenir booths. It’s all about the music, played on multiple stages throughout the day and night. Admission is free and you can bring chairs and coolers to the venue.
Downtown hotels aren’t cheap, and nearly all of them charge for parking, since few have their own parking lots or garages. You can stay cheaper in the Chicagoland area (as the suburbs are called) and catch a train into town. But it’s an experience to stay in the city, hear the noise, eat and drink with the locals and get to know the streets and waterways. Take a riverboat or bus architecture tour your first day, just to get acquainted. Then get out there on foot. Chicago is a city that deserves to be known at street level.