My #1

“(Chicago) Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler; Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders”em> ~ Carol Sandburg

I’ve traveled all over the world. I’ve been to a lot of cool places. I’ve met some fantastic people. I’ve done some awesome things. People often ask, ‘Where’s the best place you’ve been?’ While my mind used to race to exotic locations such as Belize or Qatar or lively spots such as Austin or New York, I’ve recently found myself coming up with the answer without hesitation or the need to search my grey matter. My answer is: Chicago. Yes, right here, in my own back yard is the #1 place I love to visit.

Chicago Skyline in 2011 (Photo credit: Rich Wellner)

I would love to say I was born and raised here, but sadly it’s only a half-truth. Raised here, yes, but I was born in Topeka, Kansas and while I’m proud to be a native Kansan, Chicago has always been my home. I moved to this ‘toddlin’ town’ when I was 6 months old. Okay, okay, we moved to the Chicagoland area, but if I say I’m from Carol Stream anywhere apart from Illinois, most people give me a bizarre glare. After I quickly explain that it’s a suburb of Chicago they flash that smile of recognition. Might as well cut to the chase and skip all the unnecessary dialogue by saying, ‘I’m from Chicago’.

I’ve found that the image Chicago has portrayed over the years has changed in my lifetime and I didn’t even realize it until a few years ago. On a trip to Ireland in 1982 someone inquired where I was from and when I said Chicago, they smiled and said, ‘Oh… Al Capone!’. However, on a trip to Japan in 2007 after I revealed that I was from Chicago, they replied, ‘Oh… Michael Jordan!’. Interesting.

So, what is it about this city that is so great? I could say it’s the people, but there are friendly people everywhere. I could say it’s the climate but… let’s be real. For me it’s the city itself. The iconic buildings, landmarks and of course, that glorious lake! Chicago has some of the most stellar architecture in the world including the tallest building in the US as well as the western hemisphere. The former Sears tower, Merchandise Mart, Wrigley building, John Hancock center and the most recent addition, Trump International Hotel and Tower, loom above the streets of Chicago bringing the native home and the visitor into an architectural gem.

No visit to Chicago would be complete without a visit to the many landmarks the city has to offer. Any time, day or night (from April thru October), is the perfect time to see one of the largest fountains in the world. Buckingham fountain’s 150 foot center jet rises above Grant Park in an impressive display of water and light. Solder Field, the unnamed Picasso statue in Daley Plaza, State Street and Cloud Gate (or, the ‘Bean’, as most people call it) are iconic features old and new.

Buckingham Fountain (Photo credit: Lindley Ranke)

Chicago would be a magnificent city no matter where it sits but the fact that it lies on the southwest side of Lake Michigan, the only Great Lake to be located entirely inside the US, bumps it up to the top of the awesomeness scale. Add sail/power boats, kayaks, jet skis and famous beaches to the mix and you’re in for a treat. An amble along the lakefront for a stunning view of the classic Chicago skyline is the quintessential Chicago experience and I guarantee you’ll leave feeling that special something that flows through the city. A 307 mile-long, 279 feet deep lake is not Chicago’s only aquatic marvel. Stroll along the famous Chicago River for another unique perspective among the towering edifices or take in an architectural boat tour. If you’re lucky (heh, get it?), you can see the river dyed green every March 17th in honor of St. Patrick’s day.

Yup, Chicago has it all and I haven’t even come close to including everything that makes it a magical place. Theater, art, shopping, food, music, sports, zoos… you name it and Chicago’s got it in spades. If you haven’t been here, you must come. If you have been here, you must return. Wherever I travel in the world I feel the magnetic’pull’ of Chicago calling me back and even though the world is a formidable place I find myself firmly in the city’s grips. Some call it ‘The Windy City’, some call it ‘Chi-town’, some call it ‘The Second City’… but, I call it home.

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