Back in Chicago

Driving down Lake Shore Drive on Friday afternoon, it was unbelievable to me how sparkling turquoise the lake looked. I couldn’t decide if the color came from the St. Patrick’s Day dye, or an effluent coming from a chemical discharge. It never occurred to me that this could be the real color of Lake Michigan. Isn’t it terrible that I think that way?

When I was a kid, raptors were rarely seen. I remember one winter that we regularly saw an owl hunting in our backyard at dusk. We would run to the kitchen window, turn out the lights, and watch its wide-winged swoop over the ice crusted snow. Even my mom, a devoted non-sentimentalist, would get excited.

I recount this story for the significance that these birds were so rare in the seventies and eighties. Now, we see falcons nesting on city skyscrapers, owls perching on backyard swing sets, and bald eagles scouring creek valleys. Generation X takes these sightings for granted. Before Rachel Carson, these birds of prey were nearly extinct. We have come a long way in fifty years.

Seeing city folk out in the green and blue beauty of Lake Shore Drive gives me hope that many people value the natural environment and are willing to protect it, even at some economic cost. After all, isn’t that what we mean when we speak of our values?

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Cineraria “Senetti Blue”

Chicago’s streets are brimming with trees and plants twelve months of the year. In the winter, evergreens replace the flower planters. Now, the spring brings tulips in lipstick hues. In the evening, candles and table lamps throw a warm glow on the sidewalks. At midnight, fairy lights and floods illuminate the trees. It feels like a happy festival that never ends.

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Night lights on the Magnificent Mile

There is more to this city than decoration that makes it warm and comfortable. It is the people. Sure, you will always have the busy A-types who won’t hold doors or stop for slower pedestrians. You have the cabbies for whom stressful encounters with other cars actually seems to be their stress release. But outnumbering them five to one are the clerks who patiently wait while you try to recall your cell phone number; The waiters who bring extra napkins, and ice water, and appetizer plates without being asked; the young men who give up their train seats for the struggling moms.

If America’s largest cities have turned you off, Chicago is definitely worth a visit. Forget the bad press; this is a city that  offers all of the urban amenities plus the warmth and hospitality of an ethnic base.  Chicago values nature, and culture, and it values people.

Chicago Things To Do

There are a multitude of things to do in Chicago, and as many neighborhoods to explore. Previously, I posted about a fun day we had in Old Town being food tourists. Here are a few more adventures we’ve had in the Windy City.

Magnificent Mile

It’s free to window shop! The Magnificent Mile is definitely the place to be when it comes to retail shopping. You’ll find all of your usual favorites, but they are still worth a look because the selections are large and so are the sales. When you are getting tired, stop at Garrett’s Popcorn shop at North Michigan Avenue and Ontario Street. Get the Garrett’s Mix — trust me. Warning: the entrance is actually on Ontario Street. See, I’ve already saved you the time that I spent walking back and forth trying to find 625 North Michigan Avenue.

photo credit: Wesley Fryer

Navy Pier

It’s a big shopping mall, but so pretty sitting out on beautiful Lake Michigan. Plus, you’ll get some awesome photos and see all of the day cruises on the pier. If the weather’s right, you may want to take a boat tour. The Pier also has modest size convention facilities, so be sure to check the Navy Pier Calendar of Events for upcoming attractions.

navy pier
photo credit: Bernt Rostad

There are no trains that run directly to the pier, but buses provide public transportation to Navy Pier. You may also be lucky enough to catch a Navy Pier Free Trolley, so definitely check out that schedule.

Art Institute of Chicago

This huge facility would easily devour your entire long weekend. It’s got everything from a complete reconstruction of the original Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room to a room full of dazzling glass paperweights. Don’t miss the miniature rooms display, and get there early! This is one of the most popular displays.

Arthur Rubloff Paperweight collection

Ancient art, American arts and crafts, modern art — this museum has it all. Plan to spend hours here, or download the Art Institute Chicago museum map , or the App, and target your visit. You can always come back. If it’s a nice day, you’ll want to stroll through adjacent Millennium Park, so plan ahead and wear sneakers.

More to Come…

This week, I’ll continue posting recommendations and tips for a great Chicago visit, including hotel recommendations. Time to start planning!

featured photo credit: Tony The Tiger at English Wikipedia 
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