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.
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.)
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.
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.
Photos by Travel in Pixels