The Windy City had me Blown Away

22 Jun

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I’ll be honest. It’s rare that a city soars above my travel expectations. I love visiting every major tourist city, but usually, cities are what I expect: the unique tourist sights in the center, with an outlying assortment of hipster neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods, and ethnic neighborhoods. Occasionally, a city just really blows me away. St. Petersburg did, Seoul did, and Kyoto did. Today, though, I am happy to say that a new city has been added to the “way better than I expected” list: Chicago.

Chicago has unique skyscrapers, a wide variety of different neighborhoods, and great public transportation. But for the most part, it can seem, at least from a quick google map search, like a typical American city, just very large and placed by a lake. It has a small downtown area, surrounded by an endless ocean of suburban sprawl. Tangles of highway intersections appear to tie up the landscape in knots when viewed from above. In all honesty, I half-expected it just to be a bigger version of Columbus, OH. I didn’t realize what all the fuss was about. Now I know though.

Chicago’s layout is very American. Where Chicago excels is not in the sense that it is unique among the layouts of American cities. It is nothing like the Bay Area or Manhattan. Rather, it features the classic American city layout, but does it well and makes it very enjoyable to explore.

Chicago’s downtown area really is incredible in the way of architecture. It’s especially amazing if you take a tour. The free tours at HI Chicago Hostel are great, despite not being paid. They do a great job of explaining each building’s history and how the skyline of the city tells the story of the American skyscraper.

The Art Institute of Chicago is one of my favorite art museums I’ve ever visited. It is easy to navigate, massive, and filled with great art. Their European section is predictably not as good as that of the Metropolitan Museum or that of any major museum in Europe, but its still filled with great art, such as an Assumption of the Virgin by El Greco. Their African section (I love African art) is small but has some great works too.
My favorite artwork was A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by George Seurat from 1884. The artwork, according to the museum, was a commentary on the artificial, posturing nature of upper-class French Society at the time. The painting style, done with many little dogs that formed idealistic, postured people reminded me of computer pixels. But the painting was done far before the time of computers, of course.

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Outside the art museum is Millennium  park, with its incredible Buckingham Fountain. I’ve never seen a more spectacular fountain.

The city of Chicago is more than the loop downtown. It is also the surrounding neighborhoods. I went to a Southern Vietnamese restaurant in a Vietnamese neighborhood called Argyle. I had some great noodle soup, a different one, not the usual Pho. The city also has some great Mexican neighborhoods, and the usual hipster enclaves.

Overall, I’d highly recommend Chicago because of its great architecture, sights and its neighborhoods.

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