Before touching down on to Chicago soil I was unsure of what to expect from this super sized American Midwest city and although I arrived after dark, the illuminated neon vistas which greeted me on my taxi ride to the hotel did not disappoint.
Waking before the birds with a traditional dose of jet lag, I ventured out onto the Saturday morning streets before the world was awake to explore, under a vague flutter of snowfall. The central CBD buildings towered above, but what struck me instantly was the seamless merging of old and new buildings. I felt as though I had stepped back in time to the late 1800s when Chicago went from a city devastated by a great fire to a leader in skyscraper engineering and design.
Chicago is actually a pretty easy city to navigate and get around, compared to some cities and has one of the world’s easiest street patterns and numbering systems. For those with limited time the trolley hop on hop off tours are the perfect way to commute however, I was happy to make use of the public buses, river boats, the efficient and cost effective subway system and of course by foot which is still hands down my preferred means of transport in any new city.
Although I visited a range of different eating establishments from the grand, with tailored menus and the largest whiskey bar in the city, to a quick bite at a burrito street vendor, no visit to Chicago is complete without a Deep Dish Pizza experience. I use the word experience because it is a true Chicago tradition and a feat to reach the end. Deep Dish has a crust up to three inches tall at the edge, slightly higher than the ingredients, which include large amounts of cheese and chunky tomato sauce. Epic pretty much sums up the taste.
I always maintain that American people are some of the friendliest people I have encountered around the world, however the people of Chicago are fiercely proud of their city (with good reason) and will go out of their way to make a traveller’s experience a pleasant one. With their iconic accent and refreshing style I couldn’t have received a warmer welcome.
Chicago boasts an array of activities to keep the traveller busy but among my favourites was a stroll along the Lake Michigan shore line with the Chicago skyline as a backdrop. It feels very strange to be in the central CBD but to also have that relaxed ‘seaside’ view. I also took an architecture boat trip onto Lake Michigan which helps interpret more than 50 buildings along the Chicago River, revealing how the city grew from a small back-country outpost into one of the world’s most important crossroads in less than 100 years. The Science Museum is a worthy visit and unlike your typical stand and watch museum, the exhibits are fully interactive, you can even walk through a submarine and inside a plane.
To wrap off my Chicago experience, I entered the elevator at the Willis Tower which shot up 108 floors to the viewing platform offering 360 degree views. There is interesting information available on how Chicago became the city it is and glass floor viewing platforms where you are suspended high above the city with only glass separating.
I always judge a place on how easily I could live there, and Chicago definitely ticks all the boxes! If you’re joining us on our Historic Route 66 tour or America’s Beautiful West by Rail tour, I would definitely recommend spending a few days in the ‘Windy City’ beforehand!