After ruffling through numerous cities in the US, almost none has really impressed me. Being an urban girl myself, city life is just the same to me anywhere – shops, shows, buildings, museums, and clubs. So I have seriously considered whether I should visit Chicago or spend time in some rural areas of laid-back Southern states. My superficial side told me to go, since I’ve been to almost all of the most famous metropolitan cities – NYC, Philadelphia, LA, San Francisco, etc. But my poor side told me to just skip straight to Tennessee, Alabama, or Louisiana for fear that the urban Chicago would disappoint me again just like San Francisco, Boston, or even Miami did. My nostalgic side urged me to go back to the first US city I set foot on. But my cynical side discouraged me from arousing all the tears and sad memories. The indecisive and kind of greedy me chose a happy medium – go, but just for 2 days.
As they call it “Wind City”, Chicago is just insanely, annoyingly, incredibly windy. The wind could easily blow anyone, again, a-ny-one. It was fun at first, but then it just got on my nerves when my hair was a mess, and the dirt in my mouth made me realize Chicago was not that clean. The wind made it feel more chilly, too. And I simply hated the cold.
Try not to travel at the beginning of spring when the buds haven’t sprung out yet and there are no holidays. Celebrating holidays in huge cities where no one knows you and you don’t know anyone is fun though, I did that in San Francisco and that was the only mesmerizing moment during my 4 days there. But when winter hasn’t left the city, everything looked dim and deadly. You would think climate did not make a big difference on an urban landscape where there are literally only skyscrapers, people, concrete, and vehicles. You are just as wrong as saying 1+1 = 3. Fountains are not flowing, roads are under construction, gardens are cut down for renovation, and the trees simply look hibernating at best. And amazing enough, there are not fewer tourists at all.
Where to stay?
As a college student traveling alone on a tight budget, I always stay at hostels, guest houses, whatever you call them in different parts of the world. It’s cheap, it’s close to places I want to go to, and I meet new friends who are just like me there. HI – Chicago is definitely a “high recommendation”. Location is more than great – right in middle of downtown, 1 block from metro station, Michigan lake, dozens of restaurants ans stores less than 1 block away. Rooms are clean, bathroom is clean. Front desk is helpful and inviting. They let me leave my luggage in a locked room for a few more hours until my bus departure although I already checked out. Guests are trustworthy and polite. And they have everything that a 4-star hotel would offer: free computers, wi-fi, kitchen, dining room, information desk, gym, meeting room, lounge, etc.
What to see?
Definitely go for a walk around downtown. If you’re a business person, Chicago would overwhelm you just a little bit less than NYC. Try going in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange building. Federal Reserve Chicago, Chicago Stock Exchange, Chicago Board of Trade, do they stir some feelings within you? No? Ok. Still should go for a walk around downtown, slowly and just forget about the people rushing around you. Take time to read the signs about history of the neighborhood and its buildings. A walk north would lead you to theater district and Chicago river walk, which I did not really enjoy.
If you have time, and money, should definitely go to a musical show. Broadway NYC is more famous, but Chicago shows are no less in terms of quality.
Sears Tower is just insanely famous. The view is not that great though, and for those who think the ticket price for Empire State Building is way too high for what you get, my advice is to not go to Sears Tower, or Willis Tower, like what they call it now.
Millennium Park is another famous place in Chicago, and it’s free, so it doesn’t hurt to go there. I was kind of disappointed to see all the reconstruction and renovation. The view from the park is just stunning though.
Navy Pier – go during the day, or summer nights, not on a freezing cold spring night where no one was there. It would be fun to hang out with friends, watch a movie, or just kind of lose yourself a little bit at the bars. Or simply enjoy the skyline of Chicago and the blueness of Lake Michigan is worth going to Navy Pier.
Museum Campus – Northerly Island: I walked around that area for hours looking for the perfect shot of Chicago skyline. Not interested in natural science at all, so…
What to eat?
Stuffed pizza, stuffed pizza, stuffed pizza, they’re simply the best. Giordano’s is a recommendation.
Italian beef is ok. Not much better than Philly cheese steak, but the juice is kind of special
Don’t bother with Chicago-styled hotdog unless you’re one of the “if-it’s-famous-I-have-to-try” kind of person. Look up the recipe online and you can make better ones for much less.
What to do?
Climb out the ledge of Sears Tower and challenge your bravery.
Watch a movie at the Imax at Navy Pier
Watch a show at Chicago theater
Simply sit on a bench in a park and think lol