Chicago was the last stop on my American road trip in 2006, and I spent three days there before leaving to explore the rest of the world. I had always heard a lot about Chicago, and was excited to finally see the Windy City (named because of the politicians who blow hot air, not for the climate).
The Windy City has a long-standing spot in American history. Incorporated in 1833, Chicago has played an important role in the country’s history ever since. In 1840, Chicago was the 92nd most populous city in the United States, but it grew so rapidly that, 20 years later, it was the ninth-largest city in the country. By 1900, Chicago had 1.7 million residents.
Chicago was the rail link between the west and the east, and its meatpacking industry was the biggest in the country. Beef from the plains and Texas came in and was then cut, packed, and shipped to the rest of the world from Chicago. However, the notoriously unsanitary conditions of the industry led to the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and the founding of the Food and Drug Administration.
In 1871, most of the city burned down in the Great Chicago Fire. Over 300 people died, 18,000 buildings were destroyed, and a third of the city’s residents were left homeless. One of the factors contributing to the fire’s spread was the abundance of wooden buildings and narrow streets. The fire led to strict fire-safety codes that included a strong preference for masonry construction, which helped contribute to the architectural tradition that has emerged in the city.
Chicago is very cosmopolitan. From food to parks to shopping, Chicago has it all. If you like to shop, there are the upscale stores along the Magnificent Mile, where you can buy from all the top designers. Chicago is a surprisingly good place to do this. You’ll find everything you need here (and everything you don’t need) at prices sure to empty your wallet.
For architectural lovers, Chicago provides a plethora of buildings to see and examine. Chicago is filled with amazing turn-of-the-century buildings mixed with modern architecture. There’s the famous Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower), the Chicago Building, the Tribune Tower, the Hancock Tower, and the old Water Tower, one of the few buildings to survive the great fire. The infamous Loop is a great way to see old buildings in the Chicago Style.
Chicago’s architecture is famous, and the city is currently continuing to lead the architectural world in developing environmentally-friendly LEED buildings. Former Mayor Daley embarked on a campaign to “green” the city a few years ago, starting foremost with its buildings.
For those looking for something more relaxing and entertaining, there’s Navy Pier by Lake Michigan, which has shops, restaurants, museums, exhibition halls and auditoriums, and a Ferris wheel. It’s one of the most visited landmarks in the Midwest.
Also along Lake Michigan is Millennium Park. The huge park has a lot of green space, concert halls, and some serious chess players who will beat you for one dollar. The park includes the reflective Cloud Gate sculpture (“The Bean”), which reflects the Chicago skyline and makes for great photos! Millennium Park also has an outdoor restaurant and two tall glass sculptures that make up the Crown Fountain. The fountain’s two towers display images of local residents with water spouting from their lips. The park is active year-round and was one of the highlights of my time in the city.
Chicago is also famous for its pizza. Chicago developed the deep dish pizza, as well as the stuffed crust pizza, and no trip is complete without trying at least one. The deep dish pizza was invented by Pizzeria Uno, which is now a national restaurant chain. Since I can go to a Pizzeria Uno in Boston, my friends and I ate at the equally famous (but local) Gino’s, and it was very good. Worth all the hype.
Chicago is a great city, and a lot of flights route through Chicago O’Hare Airport, since it is a major hub. If your flight does go through O’Hare, I suggest setting some time aside to explore the city. Or why not just stay for a few days? You’ll enjoy it. Promise.