I used to frequent the mid-west city of Chicago in my 20s but on this trip I felt like I was seeing the great metropolis for the first time. Since my last visit, I had traveled to many new places and so now Chicago’s bridges reminded me of Dublin’s bridges over Liffey River and the city’s many museums reminded me of the museums of Berlin. Traveling abroad had also helped me look at my own country with new eyes as well and so Chicago’s wide sidewalks, tall buildings, and big…well everything from party boats to pizza slices, told me that not only was I in the US, but in the Midwest and I loved it!
I loved how the public transportation reached to virtually every corner of the city and beyond, I loved discovering Divvy Bikes for rent, I loved playing in the reflection of the Bean, listening to the loudness of the city’s bustling, seeking out the vegan restaurants, walking along the Chicago River and basking in the parks – I was taking it all in as if for the first time and I fell in love with the city all over again.
I spent my first full day in Chicago on the Lakefront Trail along Lake Michigan, one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world. I started by walking through Millenium Park to the water front where I picked up a Divvy Bike and began riding south through beautiful greenery that even formed a canopy over the bike path at times. It was such a gorgeous sunny day with the perfect cool breeze coming off the lake. As I traveled further away from the city center, there were decidedly more flowers and gardens and even more vibrant trees. Eventually, I came to the McCormick Bird Sanctuary.
McCormick Bird Sanctuary
The McCormick Bird Sanctuary was designed in 2003 to provide a rest stop for migrating birds. It also makes for a wonderful walk through 6 acres of shade while listening to birds talk to each other. Part of the sanctuary was built on top of an existing parking garage, making, in my opinion, an excellent use of otherwise wasted space. While walking through the prairie, I saw many birds and something I had never previously witnessed: a butterfly chasing a bird.
There is something really awesome about riding on an elevated train above the traffic below and next to houses and office buildings getting a glimpse of the lives of others. In addition to it just being fun to ride, Chicago’s transit is also well-connected to virtually every aspect of the city and will even take you to both of the city’s airports (Orange line to Midway and Blue line to O’Hare). It’s easy to use and you get good exercise climbing the steps to the platform.
Chicago Institute of Art
Whenever I would fly into Chicago in my 20s, I would take the orange line straight downtown to visit the Chicago Institute of Art, which is home to an amazing collection of some of the most famous artists. They house important works by some of my favorite Impressionists like Monet, Renoir and Degas and the Institute is also home to Picasso’s famous Broken Guitarist, one of my favorite Picasso paintings.
One of the things that I really admired about the Chicago Institute of Art was their pay-what-you-can program making visual art available to everyone. After noticing that the prices were now $25 for an out-of-state visitor, I was told that the art museum had lost their federal funding and so could no longer offer this affordable option. While there are discounts for folks who live in Illinois and even more for Chicagoans, I was saddened to learn that these priceless pieces of art are no longer available to everyone.
Lyric Opera of Chicago
I used to frequent Chicago’s gorgeous opera house and I found that the standard for their performances were high and could compete, in my opinion, with the houses of Europe. Unfortunately, this trip to Chicago did not coincide with any opera performances.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago’s symphony orchestra has been active since 1891 and is world-renowned with a very compelling calendar of concerts. I looked up their schedule and it turned out that I missed Yo-Yo Ma performing by one day!
Another reason Chicago is an awesome city is its variety of architecture. You can find all sorts of interesting buildings in the city from ornate designs that include gargoyles to round parking garages. Chicago is also home to the country’s tallest building: The Willis Tower which used to be called the Sears Tower. Either way, the sky deck at the top offers stunning views of the city and Lake Michigan and is well worth the hefty ticket to the top.
A River Runs Through It
I think a river can bring so much life to a city and, like everything else in Chicago, the Chicago River is big and seemingly powerful. The beautiful waterway lends itself to a water culture of sorts with industrious bridges connecting one side of Chicago to the other, making a great place to stop and watch the many boats of all sizes pass underneath you. And because there is nothing quite like strolling next to a river, there is a wonderful vibe to the Riverwalk that is full of bustling cafes, quaint shops and busy boat docks. At night the lights are reflected in the water making the city quite literally twinkle.
It’s Easy to be Vegan
After doing my usual vegan restaurant search on HappyCow.net I was pleasantly surprised to see so many vegan eateries in Chicago. There were so many in fact, that I would have to be very selective about which restaurants I dined at as there simply weren’t enough meals in the day to try them all. Here were my two favorites:
Native Foods Cafe
There are several Native Foods Cafe locations, but we went to the one at 218 S. Clark Street in The Loop. We were so pleased to see just how busy this casual vegan eatery was! There were so many tasty-looking dishes, but I finally decided on the Moroccan earth bowl with tofu marinated in Moroccan spices with grilled vegetables on a bed of quinoa and with raisins and toasted almonds. What a flavorful dish!
Located at 1550 W. Fullerton Avenue, Vegan Plate serves up excellent Thai food, creating vegan versions of some of the traditional Thai dishes. I knew we were in for a good meal, when the Thai chef asked the Thai waitress to ask me if I wanted my glass noodle salad Thai-spicy or American-spicy. My dish was both colorful and full of bold flavors which reached my taste buds at different times. The flavor profile of the crispy tofu that Mindy ordered also reminded us of the meals we enjoyed in Thailand. We will make it a point to eat at Vegan Plate the next time we find ourselves in Chicago.
It’s Easy to be Lesbian
It was so easy to be lesbian in Chicago. Mindy and I walked around together, sometimes hand-in-hand and not only did no one stare or point but no one even seemed to notice or care. In addition, many large hotel chains even flew the Pride flag making us feel very welcome indeed! It was fantastic! Chicago is also home to lesbian nightclubs, lesbian events, lesbian-owned businesses and plenty of opportunity to join several lesbian meet-up groups. At one point we were even approached by a nice lesbian asking us to support a law to ensure that LGBT rights are federally protected. In short, we would encourage all lesbians to visit Chicago. 🙂