I went to Chicago with zero preconceived ideas about the place. Uncharacteristically, I had done no research about the place beforehand and bought a guide book the night before I left. I confess I never paid much attention to Chicago and never even recognized it in movies. Did you know that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Fugitive were set in Chicago? Well, I didn’t.
All I can say is that the city took my breath away. I’m not a real fan – architecturally – of big, modern cities. Give me a nice European city any day. But Chicago really impressed me in a way I couldn’t have imagined before I went. I never really left the downtown core but what I saw was enough to make me fall in love with the city and decide to go back with more time. I have tons to say about it, including the friendliness of its people, but for now, I’ll leave you with a short slideshow. Just click on the image below.
Update (7/4/08) – OK, so let’s talk about the trip itself before I forget the details. If you’ve already seen the pictures on the slideshow before, check again as I’ve since added some new pictures.
After an uneventful flight on an Embraer plane in which I set right in front of CBC host Evan Solomon, I arrived in Chicago around 12:30 pm on Wednesday. The city has a very good public transit system and it was easy to catch a train right at the airport to take me downtown. It was sunny and 10 C in Chicago, which put me in a very cheerful mood. My friend Joanna was already there and after going out for something to eat to hold us over until dinner, we settled at the window of our hotel room to watch people coming and going while waiting for our other roommate, Jamie, to arrive.
That evening we went to Quartino for dinner. An Italian place that serves food meant to be shared and a really great selection of antipasti, Quartino was a lot of fun. So much so that we went back the next evening with some other friends. The wine was quite good as well and we ate and drank to our hearts’ content for about 25$ each.
Thursday was Conference day. While Jamie and Elizabeth went on to watch some sessions, Joanna and I decided to explore some of the city since we were both rather nervous about our presentations and needed something to get that fast-approaching event out of our minds. So we went for breakfast and then decided to take the El around the loop.
“The El” is the elevated rapid transit system that characterizes Chicago. In the downtown core, all the lines meet and go around on a loop. We wanted to simply go around the loop and get off where we started. In order to do that, we had to get off at Library station and exchange trains. As soon as we got off the train we looked up and saw the most impressive building. It was the Chicago Public Library and we knew right away we had to go in. You can see some of the pictures in the slideshow above.
After we explored the building and rightfully fell in love with it, we went back to the hotel to meet the others for lunch and go on to our sessions at the conference. Joanna, Jamie and I were all presenting together and were very relieved that our session went well and that our papers were well received. As mentioned above, we went back to Quartino that evening to celebrate.
The next morning Joanna and I went to the Field Museum, a place famous for housing a vast collection of dinosaurs. Joanna had dreamed of visiting it since she was 4 years old. I was once more impressed with the architecture of the place, and after paying our due respects to Sue, the largest T. Rex ever found, and the mummies, we went back to the conference. The plan that evening was to go to Buddy Guy’s Legends, one of Chicago most famous blues bars. Unfortunately, although we got there almost an hour before the live entertainment was supposed to star, there were no more tables and it was standing room only. We were all pretty tired from walking all day and the girls voted to go back to the hotel. Oh well, next time. We walked back to the hotel along Michigan Ave and it was so nice. That’s when I saw those funky bike stands.
The next day, Joanna and Jamie went to the Aquarium while I went to the Art Institute. I stopped at the Cultural Center on my way there and was once more taken aback by the beauty of it all. The building used to house the Public Library before it moved to the its current location in 1991. The land for it was donated to the city by a Civil War veterans’ group in the 1890s; in exchange the Library promised to hold a Civil War collection and exhibit until the last Civil War veteran died. The building now hosts the Chicago Cultural Center and a visitor’s information service. I then walked all over the loop that afternoon.
It’s hard to point out precisely what impressed me most about Chicago. Perhaps my top five are:
- The friendliness of its people – from the staff at the hotel to strangers on the streets, everybody was SUPER nice. Someone once said that Chicago was like New York City, only with friendlier people.
- The majestic nature of its buildings and the way the new and the old complement each other
- The cleanliness of its streets – I’ve never seen a city that large be so clean
- How engaged its citizens are with their city – from the bits I could see and read about, it seems Chicagoans are VERY proud of their city and love to talk about it. A friend of mine ventured a comment about one the building out loud (something on the lines of “I wonder if that’s such and such building”) and a stranger stopped to confirm and say a few words about it. Along with free walking tours, the city also organizes a meet-a-resident kind of program in which a resident of Chicago take visitors to some of their favourite spots. Pretty cool.
- The positive energy – I felt a very positive, vibrant energy through the city while I was there. Maybe it’s the spring in the air, but it was quite nice.
I definitely need to go back!