"My First Time... in Chicago"
People whirl through revolving doors. Sirens whirl and blare in 5-minute intervals. Potted wildflowers divide the North and South lanes on Michigan Avenue. Children run splashing across a large outdoor work of art: Two 30 ft tall screens project ethnic faces, sporadically spitting out water onto the children that wait anxiously below them. This is Chicago.
Ernest Hemingway, the father of modern literature, was born here. So was the most notorious gangster of all time: Al Capone. Comedian Bill Murray is from Chicago. The city's most identifiable citizen, one of the wealthiest and most influential women alive today, is Oprah Winfrey.
There is so much to do during the day that even the most decisive person feels dumbfounded. We spent our days walking around aimlessly, straining our necks to admire the world-renown architecture. I shared an elevator with some German tourists, and later found out that many people fly in from Germany to go on the $10 'Mies and Modernism' architectural tour, which traces the buildings of German-born architect Mies van der Rohe.
Chicago lacks a downtown "core" because every corner of the city thrives in its own way ' each one different, yet just as fascinating as the next. The endless supply of 50-plus storey condominiums and eighty-story buildings is astonishing. But you don't feel dwarfed by these towering edifices because of the expansive, meticulously kept sidewalks and pleasantly 'green' streets. The windy city allows you to breathe, in the midst of an urban jungle.
Chicago's appeal is broad because of its variety of attractions. The Shedd Aquarium is located 25 ft underground and boasts one of the most diverse collections of sharks in North America. The Art Institute is internationally known for its French impressionist collection, but also displays art from Renaissance Italy and Ancient China.
But art isn't simply contained within the museum walls: Modern art pieces are scattered across the city's several parks. Tourists flock to the entrance of the United Centre to see the world-famous sculpture of basketball legend Michael Jordan. The Uptown Jazz Club is a living museum of 1930's Chicago. Oh, and jazz bars are everywhere.
Although jazz music and prominent players came to Chicago from the south in the 1920's (the "Jazz Age") to enliven the city's nightclubs with their performances, the excitement still resonates. One of the most scenic bars is located on the 95th (yeah - 95th) floor of the John Hancock building, with floor-to-ceiling windows and an unbelievable view of the city.
From the top of the city, you can admire all of Chicago's greenery, there are several major parks spread out across the city. Grant Park is known as Chicago's front yard, because it's situated right on the waterfront. Lincoln Park contains the world's largest free zoo.
After walking the city on our first day, my boyfriend decisively declared: "Chicago does everything big!" He was right. Chicago has the largest aquarium, the largest public library, the largest candy factory, the largest food festival, the largest collection of impressionist paintings outside of Paris, the longest street, and of course, the tallest building in North America. The Sears Tower is 110 storeys, and 1353 feet tall.
But we didn't see any of these things.
Because there's so much to see and touch and hear and taste that unless you're on a rigid schedule, it's impossible to see everything. We shopped along Chicago's "Magnificent Mile," a stretch of higher-end shops along Michigan Avenue. We started at one end of the street, where we got a bird's eye view from the 94th floor observatory of the John Hancock building. After dinner, we rushed to the other end of the Mile, where we hopped onto a speedboat for nighttime, picture-perfect view of Chicago's skyline from 500 metres offshore. And don't listen to what the tourist guides say; the view is definitely better at night.
We watched fireworks flash and flicker from our 25th floor hotel room. We ate deep-dish pizza. We walked along the lakefront towards the world's largest illuminated fountain, the Buckingham ("Married with Children" fountain). We rode on Navy Pier's Ferris wheel, and gazed at the city lights that twinkled 150 feet beneath us.
"It is hopeless for the occasional visitor to try to keep up with Chicago ' she outgrows his prophecies faster than he can make them. She is always a novelty; for she is never the Chicago you saw when you passed through the last time." Mark Twain was right. I look forward to my next trip to Chicago.