Heart’s Words: Chicago

ItsBohemian Travel Contributor, Belle Zaccari, writes her heart’s words about former hometown Chicago, and why it’s definitely worth a visit in 2015.

As a self-identified wanderluster, the idea of enrolling in grad school, which meant a commitment of five years (that ended up being seven) to stay put seemed…..unappealing. At the end of the journey, applying to internship in one of the most competitive cities for my field meant having to consider leaving. When I started grad school, to eventually leave was the light at the end of the tunnel. A “legitimate” reason to move somewhere new (again) and start over (again) as a stranger in a strange land (again) while exploring and adventuring? Yes, please!

By the time that day actually came around, my love for Chicago was so deep I mourned the loss of a city in which I had found an unprecedented sense of home. And I’m not sure I could wax nostalgic on this wonderful city without the tumultuous love that made me fall deeper than I was willing only to eventually leave, like every wanderluster must….

(click to enlarge photos)

Chicago Skyline, Photo Credit: Belle Zaccari
Chicago Skyline, Photo Credit: Belle Zaccari

Chicago is eclectic and bold. A city equally big and busy yet inviting and genuine. The cycle of seasons reminds me of the changing nature of life told with moments of extremes. Fall and spring made me introspective then excited and hopeful, respectively. All necessary emotions reminding me I’m human and alive. The depth of winter made me ecstatic for summer and gave me a sense of hardiness that I wore like a badge. And summer….oh summer…..summer is the reason people live in Chicago. There are pieces of Chicago I only understood by letting myself fall fearlessly and entirely in love – the love/hate relationship with the Bears and the Cubs, digging my car out of two feet of snow and claiming the spot with a chair and a broom only to come home and find it tossed on the sidewalk by someone who just doesn’t get dibs, and the value of the loop despite it being a tourist trap.

There are certain characteristics and qualities that Chicagoans possess. We’re willing to work hard, very hard, on days when getting to work means waiting for an el to come in the freezing cold with inches of snow on the ground with more still falling….days that causes other cities to shut down. We know to pick a loyalty with respect to newspapers (Tribune or Times) baseball teams (Cubs or Sox) and side of the city (North, South, or West…East? East is the lake…Michigan that is). These loyalties make for banter and ball busting that to others may seem dangerously serious. We’ll tell you how it is…whatever “it” is… and what we think…on most topics, sparing the niceties in a way that somehow is less rude and more direct. We walk fast, so don’t get in the way while you’re staring up at the Sears Tower (it will never be Willis Tower to any real Chicagoan). But if you need directions, we’re happy to take the time to orient you to where you are on the map, point you in the right direction, and tell you about a local gem you should check out on your way to whatever your next obligatory tourist stop is.

'The Bean' aka Cloud Gate - the iconic, obligatory tourist stop in Millennium Park
‘The Bean’ aka Cloud Gate – the iconic, obligatory tourist stop in Millennium Park

Speaking of…tourist traps in most cities elicit a “meh” reaction from me or cause me roll my eyes with such intensity I’m surprised they haven’t gotten stuck. But my love for Chicago compels me to affirm that even our most touristy attractions are still pretty cool…except most of Navy Pier. “The Bean”, Millennium Park, Maggie Daly Park (soon to be finished), the Magnificent Mile and Water Tower, Comisky, Wrigley, Soldier Field, Sears Tower, the Hancock building….are all things I visit regularly and thoroughly enjoy whether I’m living there or visiting. But take my word, GET OUT OF THE LOOP, the heart of Chicago is found in the neighborhoods, dicey as they may be at times.

Chicago icons like architecture along the river, blues and jazz music, the lake and the skyline are critical must-dos when (not if) you visit. If you want the insider scoop….take a drive up Lake Shore Drive from Hyde Park to Evanston for the best skyline views (time it to avoid traffic), do the architectural boat cruise (most seasons are fair game), bring a picnic and catch a movie in the park during the summer, take a ride on the brown line from the loop to the last stop and back, go for a walk around University of Chicago, see live blues music at Rosa’s, and eat pizza at Pequod’s….trust me….you won’t regret it.

Chicago River that runs through the center of the city, Photo Credit: Belle Zaccari
Chicago River that runs through the center of the city, Photo Credit: Belle Zaccari

I both want you to visit Chicago and don’t. That’s the truth. When I live there, I hate the additional congestion and skyrocketing prices that tourism adds. When I travel and meet people from other places, I can’t do enough to convince them to go to Chicago, IMMEDIATELY. All in all, there is no city that has so aggressively stolen my heart. I’ve travelled the world over and have had some pretty intense love affairs – Prague, Ilha Grande, Istanbul, Madrid, Cartagena…but nothing compares to the feeling I have when I’m flying home for a visit and upon deplaning I feel my walking pace picks up.

Chicago's Fine Architecture
Chicago’s Fine Architecture

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