22.10.2015

THE WINDY CITY

THE WINDY CITY, Gönül Midesiz | 22.10.2015

The Potawatomi, the Native Americans who lived in Illinois before the arrival of European immigrants, described Chicago as "a nice place to spot wild onions." The city was named after the word "checagou," which means "wild onion" in Native American language.

Chicago, the third biggest city in the United States, is situated on Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is the only one of the Great Lakes located entirely within the United States. It is connected by the Straits of Mackinac to Lake Huron to the north, and experiences severe storms.

You might think that Chicago is referred to as the Windy City because of the harsh winds coming from the lake, but that's not precisely the reason. The New York Sun columnist Charles A. Dana compared Chicago and New York for the World Fair that took place in 1893, and coined the name to describe the people of Chicago as unreliable. 

I've been to Chicago many times; both for leisure and business trips. Contrary to chaotic, crowded, and crazy New York City, Chicago has a neat, relatively calm, and pleasant atmosphere. State Street's intersection with Madison Street marks the base point for the city's address system, and it is almost impossible to get lost in these parallel, crisscrossing streets.

Chicago was rebuilt for the second time following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Water Tower located on Michigan Street, is one of the few buildings that survived the fire.

After the Great Chicago Fire, the use of wood as a construction material was forbidden and buildings were constructed with steel framing, a far more durable method that can bear more weight compared to traditionally constructed buildings. Built between the years 1884-1885, the ten-story Home Insurance Building is considered to be the world's first modern skyscraper thanks to its structure.

Completed in 1973, the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) is Chicago's tallest tower, the second tallest in the United States, and the eighth tallest in the world, and should be one of the first stops for visitors. The skyscraper has 110 floors and is 442 m tall, excluding the antenna. You can get a bird's-eye view of the city from the glass terrace located on the 103rd floor. Be aware that the queue is often quite long; however, the view is definitely worth the wait.

John Hancock Center is the city's most popular skyscraper. On the 94th floor, there is a restaurant and a bar, and also an observatory called 360° Chicago, which affords visitors an incredible panoramic view of the whole city. The view of the skyscrapers and Lake Michigan at night is particularly spectacular. This really is the perfect place to grab a coffee and use the restroom facilities while drinking in one of the best views in the city. :)

Those with a sweet tooth cannot leave the John Hancock building without stopping by the Cheesecake Factory located on the first floor for some of their famous cheesecake. Depending on the crowd, you might wait 20-45 minutes to get something to eat, but if it's just cheesecake you're looking for, you might get a table quicker. The portions are huge; there is ample to share one dish with a friend with room to spare. There is a bewildering array of cheesecake available. My personal favorite was the key lime and red velvet. The experience is only enhanced by the fairytale decorations, making you feel as if you are walking around Alice's Wonderland.

Exiting the John Hancock building and heading to your left, you'll get to the Gold Coast Historic District can find Beach situated on the Lake Michigan shoreline. The locals come here to run, cycle, take a walk, or simply sunbathe on the banks of the lake.

If you walk toward the Ferris wheel that you can see from the beach, you'll reach Navy Pier, situated on the shoreline. This is one of the most fun-filled places in Chicago, especially for kids. The pier is home to restaurants, a Children's Museum, an amusement park, and a variety of stores. A ride on the Ferris wheel will also provide great views of Lake Michigan and the city. If you'd prefer to experience the lake from closer quarters, boat tours that depart from Navy Pier.

If you are the kind of person that loves walking, Chicago is a very walkable city. Otherwise, take the subway, Loop. There are daily or two-day passes on offer for cheaper and convenient travel. You can get to anywhere in the city center using the red line.

Millennium Park is referred to as "the front garden" of the city. It is located between Michigan Avenue and Lake Michigan. Inside the park, the Millennium Monument, the Pritzker Pavilion, the Bean, and two modern bridges attract vistors' attention. The Art Institute of Chicago is also located in this park. The museum features collections of works by many famous artists.

If you keep on walking from Millennium Park, you'll reach Grant Park, and from there to the Shedd Aquarium, thought to be the oldest of its kind. Shedd Aquarium is also famous for housing the oldest living fish in any of the world's aquariums. Right in the middle of Grant Park stands the Buckingham Fountain. In addition, there are baseball diamonds, bike paths, statutes, and rose gardens inside the park. Both Millennium Park and Grant Park host numerous festivals, concerts, and events. You can check the event calendar before you get there to see what's on.

Chicago River runs through the city, and tour boats run along it, offering visitors another perspective. You can also relax at one of the cafés, or taking a walk along the waterfront.

Crossing the river over the bridge, you will get to State Street, which is the main entertainment spot and the theater district of Chicago. Years ago on a Thanksgiving Day, I ran into a parade and felt as if I were in Disneyland. In addition to the Chicago Theater, a large number of enormous, multistory department stores and shops such as T.J. Maxx and Macy's can be found here.

Chicago is an immigrant city. There are large populations of Polish, Mexicans, Greeks, and Italians, in particular. Since the immigrants brought their own cuisines with them, Chicago is gastronomically rich with almost limitless options in terms of dining and drinking. While you are in Chicago, you should stop by Uno, Pizano, Gino's East, or Giordano and try the thick, deep-dish pizza. Remember that there will be a very long queue, though. Chicago is the center of the cattle market, which makes the city an ideal place to find some quality and delicious meat. You will see many steakhouses; try one of them for dinner.

The first thing that comes to mind when Chicago is mentioned is the famous mafia leader Al Capone, who took the city by storm during the Great Depression in 1920s. It is believed that Al Capone is the source of inspiration for the movie, The Godfather. The story of his capture was dramatized in the movie, The Untouchables.

For me, one of the must-do things in Chicago is visit a nightclub to listen to some jazz and blues. I went to the Blue Chicago club on North Clark Street to listen to Chicago-style blues, and purchased the CD of the artist, whose music I simply loved. Other than Blue Chicago, clubs like Buddyguy, B.L.U.E.S, and Kingston Mines are also great places to enjoy some great blues.

If shopping is more your bag, Michigan Mile Avenue dubbed the "Magnificent Mile," is the ideal place with its famous designer department stores. If you face away from the John Hancock building and continue straight ahead, you'll first see the 8-story shopping mall, the Water Tower Place (which contains a Macy's). Continue a little bit further and you'll see all the famous department stores. If you are a Lego lover just like me, there is a huge Lego store on Michigan Avenue. If you continue walking, you'll reach Rush Street and the above-mentioned State Street, which are good alternatives for shopping. If you have the time, and if you are traveling with your kids, you can add Jackson Park and Lincoln Park, inside which there is a zoo and a nature park, to your itinerary.

The best way to get to know the city is to explore it on foot; that way you may sometimes stumble across the unexpected. For example, while I was walking towards Washington Park, I entered Chicago Cathedral and witnessed a wedding ceremony as an uninvited guest. :) 

The best time of the year to visit Chicago is May and June. Even though the city is full of skyscrapers, it does not make you feel detached from nature. You do not feel overwhelmed by the tall buildings, as you may do in New York City. Many cities in the United States resemble one another, however Chicago truly stands out with its unique ambiance.

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