(Column published in The Rapid City Journal on October 4, 2009). Despite the fact that I am no longer abroad, I am still a broad, and these are my notes!!
Chicago. The windy city. The city of big shoulders. The city that works. My kind of town. Not just Mr. Sinatra’s. Mine. (Full disclosure: I lived in Chicago for 10 years in the 90s. I return to Chicago frequently. It’s my emotional hometown.) If you’ve read any of my past columns, you already know that I have been to some of the world’s great cities. What you don’t know is that, to me, Chicago is the greatest of them all. If you’ve not been to Chicago, this giant chocolate box of a city awaits you! (The chocolate comparison is apt. In addition to being full of surprises, Chicago’s own Blommer’s confectionary frequently fills downtown Chicago with the fragrance of milk chocolate. It’s a sensory experience you won’t soon forget.)
This city buzzes with activity and excitement – but it’s still the Midwest, so even people that claim to ‘hate’ cities still find something to like in Chicago. Sports, theater, music, architecture, dancing, dining, shopping, Chicago offers it all – in superlatives. The best part is: come as you are! There’s no pretense in Chicago, no “New York” attitude. If you’re breathing, you’ll love Chicago.
There really is no bad time to visit Chicago, although I might think long and hard before coming here in February or March – the winds that sometimes blow off Lake Michigan make our Chinooks look like little puffs of warm air. But, even then, the natural ice sculptures that occur along the lake front are a marvel to see.
Summer is the queen of seasons here; the parks are in full swing (you can even take a free dance lesson and then put your newfound skills to good use dancing to a live band at the Spirit of Music park four nights a week all summer). There are free world-class concerts nearly every night at the Pritzker Amphitheater, right in the heart of downtown in spectacular Millennium Park.
Designed by Frank Gehry, the ‘Pritzker’ looks like an explosion of sound barely tethered to the ground. The knock-out architecture is matched by the superb acoustics – and given that it’s an outdoor venue with a huge lawn for picnicking, that’s no small feat. It’s surrounded by arguably the best urban architecture in the world. Listening to music under starry skies, surrounded by glittering skyscrapers and twinkling lights is nothing short of magic.
In autumn, the Bears return to Soldier Field, elite runners ply the streets during the annual Chicago Marathon (10/11), the red carpet is rolled out for the Chicago International Film Festival (10/8-21) and this year, the theme of the Chicago Humanities Festival (11/2-15) is laughter! Even though park activities wind down during the fall, it’s still a great time to visit. The city fills every planter and boulevard with fall flowers and foliage ,replacing the verdant summer bouquets that make Chicago one of the most floral of all cities; you can walk virtually everywhere although riding the “el” is an experience every visitor should have – elevated transportation affording 2nd story views throughout downtown. Peeking into offices and urban lofts as you trundle past will satisfy the hidden voyeur in you – for a mere $2.25.
Other advantages to enjoying Chicago in the fall: Hotel rooms are less expensive, restaurants aren’t as crowded and the weather is perfect. You can take an exciting boat ride on Lake Michigan or be dazzled by the Achitecture Foundation’s tour on the Chicago River, ride the ferris wheel at Navy Pier or visit all the animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo (free admission), and still have time to enjoy pre-holiday savings at all the shops.
Come to Chicago. It’s kid friendly. It’s adult friendly. It’s walking friendly, cheap-eats friendly, sightseeing friendly; it’s the big city that will change your mind about big cities. It’s easy to get to and even easier to navigate once you’re here. Chicago: the city that works – for you. Drive, fly, take the train, take a bus. Just get here. It’s your kind of town.
Postscript: If you’re planning a trip to Chicago, I have TONS of recommendations regarding hotels, restaurants, entertainment – far too many to list in this column. Please contact me via my email address : firstname.lastname@example.org