Impressions of Chicago from a first-time visitor

//Impressions of Chicago from a first-time visitor

Impressions of Chicago from a first-time visitor

Chicago Theatre

My niece Angelika, who lives in Poland, visited the United States for the first time last summer. The trip coincided with her 18th birthday – not a big deal on this side of the pond, but in Europe it marks your entry into adulthood. I hoped to make it memorable.

I had moved to Chicago when Angie was six years old, so she was familiar with the city through stories and photos. And she wanted me to show her ‘my Chicago’ – the places that make me feel at home.

With me and Mr. JA as guides, the plan of action included exploring neighborhoods (downtown highlights and beyond), trying different types of cuisine (especially Latin, which is standard in Chicago), and attending events (baseball and soccer games, JA Café, music performances). Angelika also spent some time on her own, going to museums and biking in city parks.

After nearly a month in the city, she wrote down her impressions of Chicago. Here they are.


Besides finally spending a lot of time with my Auntie and Uncle, I was able to explore the city which Auntie can call the second home now. As a resident that loves the place where she lives, Pola let me feel Chicago’s soul. We would drive through town and I would go jogging or ride a bike, so I saw a huge part of Chicago.

We would visit some cafes, restaurants, parks or squares, or we would meet up with Auntie’s friends, so I was able to talk to different Chicago people and get to know some characteristics they have in common that make them distinct from Europeans.


I was positively shocked by employees welcoming a customer with “How is your day?” instead of a simple, formal “hi” or “welcome.” Far more kind was that they were really keen on having even a short conversation with me or any client. If I lived in such a place where people talk this way to each other, my each school day would go easier.

I got the impression Americans live together, that everybody is not only in his own world. They are also more confident and see no barriers to express themselves. As a result, I could see people dressed up in different styles, often representing distinct world views.

Downtown Chicago mural

I noticed it is in common for Americans/Chicagoans to meet up with new people that you share the same interests with. A great way to spend leisure time, get more open to the world, acquire some life energy and find new friends. I also experienced more than once that somebody would smile at me on the street for no reason when our eyes met. A nice and simple deed, but made the rest of my days more pleasant.


What I definitely love in Chicago is parks anywhere you go, especially the huge Lincoln Park. You will find there some botanical gardens or little ponds and skyscrapers in the background. A perfect solution for those who prefer living in a city, but like spending time around nature.

I’m sure I don’t have to convince you how cool Lake Michigan is – you can sit, run, or ride a bike by it. (You can ride a bike almost anywhere you want to go in Chicago, because of widespread bike lanes. Traveling on CTA buses and trains is comfortable, too.)

Chicago skyline

Lake Michigan and Chicago skyline; Willis Tower (formerly Sears) is the second tallest building in the United States


One of the things you should do in Chicago is try different types of food. Many people who live there arrived from all over the world (e.g. Latin America, Asia), so that there is a big chance you will be given an authentic dish.

Speaking about food – if you have special needs because of an allergy or any diet, paradoxically you will feel good about that in Chicago (or in the USA). Americans are crazy about serving food that is gluten-free, organic, vegan, free of lactose/soy/peanuts/sugar etc. Even in restaurants it is not a big problem to get such a special meal.


I went to the Chicago History Museum, which let me discover more magic about Chicago. Sightseeing this city without being aware of some points in its history is a non-perfect trip. It is good to know about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, because of which the authorities could let all the skyscrapers be built. Chicago wouldn’t be same city without jazz and blues. You have to listen to this music that is closely connected with the city.

Chicago bridges

First shocking and annoying, the lack of any central square becomes quite a nice thing, largely because of all the neighborhoods, of which Chicago consists. I like that a regular Chicagoan lives in a huge city, but still has a chance to live in a small community, e.g. Roscoe Village. You can find nice quiet places with green areas where you can have a walk and meet your neighbor, still being in the middle of the big city.


Diagonal streets, terraced houses with patios, small theaters located only in parts of other buildings inside, big cars, huge portions in restaurants, breathtaking architecture that a great deal of film directors used for their movies, nice places to stop by, and ethnic diversity – this is a small piece of what defines Chicago, but what comes to my mind when I recall some pictures. I strongly recommend a visit. 

Pola & Angelika

Angie was a little girl when I moved to Chicago. This year, she got to celebrate her 18th birthday in my adopted hometown.

Photos by Travel in Pixels 

By | 2016-05-24T17:43:48+00:00 November 2nd, 2014|STORIES|47 Comments

About the Author:

18-year-old Angelika Janosz is a high school student in Krakow. Every chance she gets, she explores the city, usually by bike. She has been pursuing her interest in writing, including creative fiction, for several years now, and her 2010 guest post for Jetting Around was her first publication.


  1. avatar
    zof November 3, 2014 at 7:17 am

    Congrats on the first publication!
    zof recently posted..Why Armenia? (IV)My Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 6, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      So glad to have Angie as a JA contributor.

    • avatar
      Angie November 7, 2014 at 2:12 pm

      You mean this one in 2010 ? Thanks ! :)

  2. avatar
    kami November 3, 2014 at 8:35 am

    when I eventually come to Chicago I would love you to guide me around!!! Most likely I’d fall in love with the place then!!!

    The thing with people being nice – I was so surprised in Canada too!! I couldn’t get used to that for few solid days!!
    kami recently posted..Sunday with Pictures: beautiful Graz, AustriaMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 6, 2014 at 1:38 pm

      You know you’re invited, Kami! I’d love to hang out with you outside of Facebook – it’s time, haha…

    • avatar
      Angie November 7, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      Oh, thank you for being so nice :) Take care !

  3. avatar
    Cassie November 3, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    Such lovely observations! It’s clear that Angie is a city lover, just like Aunt Pola :)
    Cassie recently posted..Dia de Los Muertos: A PlaylistMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 6, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Cassie! As you can imagine, I’d love to travel to a few cities with Angie, maybe in Europe. :-)

    • avatar
      Angie November 7, 2014 at 2:31 pm

      So nice to hear such an opinion :)
      And you know what? My love for ,city exploring’ started exactly when it became our habit to hang around in Cracow everytime Auntie was in Poland :)

      • avatar
        Jetting Around November 7, 2014 at 2:36 pm

        Aww… Great to know that, Angie. :)

  4. avatar
    Wojażer November 3, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    Ok, that means I have to schedule a visit to Chicago as well! I always used to stay on East Coast only. Time to go West, or maybe a bit to the North! :) May I then ask you to be a guide as well? :)
    Wojażer recently posted..Weekend w Bergamo, czyli 24 godziny we Włoszech.My Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 6, 2014 at 1:36 pm

      Come on over! I’d be happy to show you around. Zapraszam. :-)

    • avatar
      Angie November 7, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      Glad to hear that my post provoked you to visit Chicago once again :)
      Huh, it would be pleasant to see Chicago together if I lived there, not in Poland ! : ))

  5. avatar
    Cathy Sweeney November 3, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    Angie touched on some of the same reasons that I love Chicago so much (as a former resident and frequent visitor). It’s an amazing city and I’m so glad that she enjoyed it and is spreading the word here on your blog about her impressions. I see that she is also as photogenic as her lovely aunt.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..From Foggia to Bari: Our 7-Day Puglia Road TripMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 6, 2014 at 1:35 pm

      I was so glad to see her enjoy my city! When I first visited, I was just a year older than her, and some of our observations were similar (e.g. the lack of a main square. It took me longer though to get used to it!). And thank you for your kind words – the camera sure loves Angie. :-)

  6. avatar
    Mike (Nomadic Texan) November 4, 2014 at 9:30 am

    I am happy for you. Must have been such a great feeling to have “Angie” celebrate her 18th with you. I am sure she was mesmerized by Chicago! Take care young lady!
    Mike (Nomadic Texan) recently posted..Holiday in Lanzarote: Top 5 active pursuitsMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 6, 2014 at 1:33 pm

      Thank you, my friend! I waited a long time to have her visit, so indeed it was special. I hope I won’t have to wait another 12 years… :-)

  7. avatar
    Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) November 5, 2014 at 8:14 am

    I’m so happy that I got to meet Angie when she was here! Such a sweet, gorgeous young woman. Because I spent a bit of time with her, I could hear her voice as I was reading this and know she means every single word she wrote. So, Auntie Pola, I think you and I need to take a trip to Krakow so you and Angie can show me around :-)
    Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) recently posted..Halloween traditions around the world – past and presentMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 6, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      You got it, Francesca! I don’t need convincing. :-) And thanks for coming out to the Fire game with us, good times.

    • avatar
      Angie November 7, 2014 at 2:54 pm

      Wowowow, thanks for such wonderful words!! You are amazing ! Of course when you are here, feel invited to have a ,tour’ together through Cracow : )))

  8. avatar
    Colleen Williams (@AdlibTraveller) November 6, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    Great photos, sounds as though your niece had a fab first experience of America, especially to commemorate her 18th!
    Colleen Williams (@AdlibTraveller) recently posted..Haggis, a ‘Sweet Bed’ and new heights in Edinburgh, ScotlandMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 6, 2014 at 6:54 pm

      Thanks, Colleen! We did the photo shoot on her actual birthday, so it was a day to remember for many reasons. :)

    • avatar
      Angie November 7, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      Thank youuu :)
      For sure it was a memorable experience :)

  9. avatar

    […] I let the little things in our fine city annoy me (traffic!), so this was a refreshing take on Chicago from a first-time […]

  10. avatar
    the lazy travelers November 7, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    she is like your mini me!! it’s always fun to hear how an outsider views your hometown!
    the lazy travelers recently posted..the ultimate hunt for craft beer in philadelphiaMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 7, 2014 at 1:41 pm

      I’m so glad she liked it! And you know, I told her to come back for her 21st just to show her a bit more of Chicago… ;)

  11. avatar
    Lucy November 9, 2014 at 4:17 am

    A great introduction to Chicago – it’s high on my list of places to visit in the US and hopefully won’t have to wait too long to get there!
    Lucy recently posted..In pictures: Poppies at the Tower of LondonMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 9, 2014 at 12:03 pm

      Great to hear that, Lucy!

  12. avatar
    Lance | Trips By Lance November 10, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    I always laugh when I hear/read a European’s perspective that always includes a mention of our huge food portions in restaurants. One of the things I love about Chicago is the great number of ethnic neighborhoods. It’s a city with great culture. What an amazing experience to be able to spend a month in Chicago for her 18th birthday.
    Lance | Trips By Lance recently posted..Five Reasons to Visit San Juan, Puerto RicoMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 10, 2014 at 3:27 pm

      Ha, I had the same observations about food portions when I first came here. Took me a while to get used to leftovers… :)

  13. avatar
    Traveling Ted November 10, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    Great insight into our city. I am so used to living here that I forget how great it is. Sometimes it takes an outside view to remind me how beautiful Chicago is in many ways.
    Traveling Ted recently posted..Hiking Sturgeon Slough is just goldenMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 10, 2014 at 7:08 pm

      So true, Ted. Showing Angie the city sure reminded me of why I like it.

    • avatar
      Angie November 22, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      That’s how I noticed that Cracow is a great and worth-seeing city – Auntie provoked me to look at it from a ,nonresident perspective’ :)

  14. avatar
    Kieu November 11, 2014 at 2:14 am

    You guys look like twins! Sounds like a perfect intro to the States.
    Kieu recently posted..Don’t judge me – the Asian things I packMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 11, 2014 at 7:44 am

      Thanks! Funny, we get that a lot. :)

  15. avatar
    craig zabransky (@StayAdventurous) November 12, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    So great to read the impressions of a young traveler on Chicago… I love that she was excited to explore, experience America too…glad to hear we are friendly too ;-)

    One thing that struck me, is I love the central squares.. I always enjoy my time in those squares overseas or south of the border, wish we had more cities, town with that design in the states…

    stay adventurous, Craig
    craig zabransky (@StayAdventurous) recently posted..Tower of London’s World War I TributeMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 12, 2014 at 6:34 pm

      Oh, I hear you about the central squares… It took me much longer than Angie (a few years) to get used to the way cities are laid out in the States. But I’ve come to appreciate neighborhoods with their Main Streets here, and I continue to love squares in Europe and South America.

  16. avatar
    Leah November 13, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    I love reading this! Angie has such insightful observations on America and Chicago. Well done!
    Leah recently posted..What I wish I knew before Renting a Car in ItalyMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around November 13, 2014 at 5:07 pm

      Glad to hear! I was looking forward to her post.

    • avatar
      Angie November 22, 2014 at 2:39 pm

      Thank you for saying that ! So nice to hear that someone liked it :)))

  17. avatar
    Shikha (whywasteannualleave) December 2, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Lovely post! Must have been so nice having your niece with you! I would have loved to have done something like this on my 18th! Also reading this really makes me want to visit Chicago@
    Shikha (whywasteannualleave) recently posted..The Weekend Markets of BrusselsMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around December 2, 2014 at 3:42 pm

      Hi Shikha! I had a lot of fun with Angie in Chicago, and I hope you’ll get to check out the city too! Thanks for the note. :)

  18. avatar
    Jolanta aka Casual Traveler January 8, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    Very nice post! Have you convinced Angie to start a blog about Poland by any chance? ;) I’m pinning this to my Chicago board, since I’ve never been to Chicago, but hearing so many good things about it makes me want to go.
    Jolanta aka Casual Traveler recently posted..The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with kidsMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around January 15, 2015 at 5:56 pm

      Good idea about the Poland blog, hmm… :) Thanks for pinning the post and I hope you’ll get to visit us in Chicago. I’d be happy to show you around.

  19. avatar
    Fabiana January 26, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    I loved this! It is the best review I could have read about Chicago. I am thinking about going there ant it trully convinced me to do it.
    Fabiana recently posted..The Best travel apps and websitesMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around January 27, 2015 at 3:59 pm

      Ha Fabiana! I’m sure my niece will be happy to hear this. Hope you’ll make it to Chicago soon! :)

    • avatar
      Angie February 1, 2015 at 10:37 am

      Wow *_*
      This is so nice to read :> I would be very happy if my article makes somebody want to visit Chicago more <3

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