Travelogue #2: Chicago or why being the second city has it’s perks

“Yet once you’ve come to be part of this particular patch, you’ll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.” Nelson Algren, a man worth a post of his own, says it like I feel it. Chicago will greet you with buildings so high you’ll crane your neck, it will seduce you with food worthy of poetry and it will bind you to it with people so open, lively and full of creativity that you’ll never get rid of this feeling of longing whenever you’ll have to leave again.

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The second city is like no other I’ve yet encountered in the US. It’s a buzzing metropolis with over 2,7 million people and yet it isn’t as hectic or frenzied as other cities this large seem to be. And still I dare to say that there probably is something to see on every block in the city. Narrowing down the places you absolutely have to see here is the most difficult task yet for me while writing this blog.

One of my favorite things to do is people watch, and Chicago is a perfect playground for that. I loved to just sit on the Great Lawn or walk around Michigan Avenue and watch the people passing by. It’s an odd mix of business men in their high quality, probably Italian suits, women in female suits and neon sneakers, tourists with maps and cameras around their necks and stylish looking hipsters and artists. It shouldn’t fit together, but somehow it does.

But there is so much more to do than just roam the streets and watch people. Chicago is famous for its architecture and its dining scene, as I was thought by my fabulous hosts the first time I was in the city. Living with a chef definitely has it perks too. They showed me some really great places to eat, some of them you can find in my tips further down.

I tried to make a short list for you with things to see and do here. It shouldn’t be all you see, but I think the following things are a must for a good impression of the beauty that is Chicago. Go have fun with it, and if you have some tips of your own please let me know. I surely will return and am always happy to see new sides of this great city.

Freebies you shouldn’t miss:

Cultural Center | In the heart of the city, between the Loop and Millennium Park lies a building you never should just walk by. The Cultural Center isn’t only a place to rest your feet between all the sightseeing or a place to get all the Infos and maps you could possibly need (Tourist Information). It’s also a place where you can get a glimpse at the busy art scene of Chicago. on the ground floor are small galleries where artists can present their work and communicate with the visitors. Don’t miss out on skipping the upper floors with their huge glass domes and beautiful views over Millenium Park. There are also free tours of the building. Just have a look at their website and get the info here.

Millennium Park | Nestled between the Loop and Lake Michigan lies one of the best city parks you’ll ever see. The retrofitted train track area is now the home of some of the best sights of the city and a great place to relax and people watch. Millenium Park s divided into different areas. There is the Jay Pritzker Pavillion and the Great Lawn, which is one of my favorite places in the city. On lunchtime in summer you’ll hear classical music from the Philharmonic practicing in the Pritzker Pavillion, on Tuesday evenings, half the city seems to be picnicking on the Great Lawn and watching one of the free movies at the Pritzker; don’t even get me started on all the other events held here. The Lurie Garden is a beautiful and tranquil place to sit in summer and get your feet wet in the little stream along the wooden pathway. AT&T Plaza with the Cloud Gate, or Bean as it is called in Chicago, can be a little hectic because of all the tourists wanting to take a photo of it/ with it but still a must see in my opinion. A great joy for kids is the Crown Fountain. All summer long you’ll see hundreds of kids running around the two pillars displaying 1000 faces of Chicagoans, playing in the water and parents resting on the benches at the side.

Skyline View at the Adler Planetarium | This one is an absolute must. It’s so important that you go there that I’d even dare to say that if you don’t go you haven’t really been to Chicago at all. Sitting in front of the Adler Planetarium and looking out on the city is a view you won’t ever forget. The best way to encounter it is doing something a friend of mine, who is from Chicago, told me to do. If the weather allows it, walk from the Loop or Buckingham Fountain along the waterfront towards the Adler without ever turning back to take a peak. It’ll be hard, believe me. You’ll want to turn back just slightly to have a little peak, but try to resist, the reward will be breathtaking. Especially if you go after sunset or just before, so you’ll see the sun setting behind the skyscrapers.

A few things that are worth the price :

The Art Institute of Chicago | Everyone knows to go to the Louvre when in Paris, well it’s the same with Chicago and the Art Institute. They have some of the finest art you’ll ever see. Interested in European paintings, Modern art, photography or Indian art of the Americas? You’ll find something for everyone. Their collections are huge and their exhibitions are legendary. Even if you’re not an art buff, go and have a look. You won’t regret it.

Skydeck @ Willis Tower | This is something I want to recommend you because it’s something unique to Chicago. But at the same time, I want to warn you: This is one of the Must sees in every Travel guide and it draws huge crowds, especially between opening and early evening. You’ll probably have to wait a long time (between 1-2 hours) to get to the top. But still, I think it is worth the wait and you’ll be blown away by the view you get on the 103rd floor. The absolute highlight is standing in one of the glass boxes that protrude beyond the building and looking down.

Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise | Walking around the Loop and taking the Brown Line of the L are great ways to see some of the fine architecture of Chicago. None the less, a boat tour along the Chicago river is something you want to do when in town. There are other vendors that offer river tours, but the boat cruise from the Architecture Foundation is the best. You’ll not only see the city from a whole nother angle, you’ll hear all that there is to know about the city, the architecture and some of the best stories about its people.

Where to eat when in town:

Winchester | One of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to and my absolute favorite when it comes to eating out in Chicago. You can find this jewel in the Ukranian Village near Wicker Park, at the corner of Augusta and Winchester. I love the interior design and the food is to die for. It’s that kind of neighborhood restaurant that you can go to, to have a relaxed evening with friends or to impress your family with their fabulous brunch. Info here.

Homeslice | We stumbled upon this one by chance and loved it at first sight. Homeslice hast great food, super nice staff, a cozy yet trendy interior and the cutest dog ever, that loves to get petted by the costumers and run around the tables on the back porch. In the heart of Lincoln Park this restaurant is a perfect place to get a good meal in you and a feel for the neighborhood.

Sweet Mandy B’s | I already shared this little piece of desert heaven with you in a Wanderlust Wednesday travel tip. None the less it’s worth sharing again.If you have a sweet tooth like me you’ll love this place and another pro: it’s not far from Homeslice. So if you’re already in the neighborhood, why not go by there too.

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