The fact my ‘To do’ list in Chicago had three words - one of which was the word ‘Chicago’ - is a good way to describe how I spent my time in my first US city ever: fortunately, in the care of relatives and friends, blissfully doing nothing while recovering from two months of continuous travel. To be able to sleep in, to spend the whole day drawing and editing photos on the computer, to play with the family dog, make dinner with relatives and not feel pressured to fill my day with sightseeing was one of the peak highlights for my introvert self. Even banal activities can be super fun in a different country - I had my first yum cha (apparently it’s dim sum in American) in 8 months and almost teared up biting into an egg tart, I went shopping in Illinois’ sprawling outlet stores and malls (why are all the shopping malls flat and large? Why are your parking lots so big and how do they all have unlimited parking???), did groceries with my aunt, watched Crazy Rich Asians with a Hershey’s chocolate chip cookie pizza and “regular” popcorn (yep, the food portion stereotypes are true), got a tour of Wholefoods with my friend and just inhaled all the Asian food I could find (Europe, I love you but I do not adore your Asian food selections, I’m sorry).
The rest of the time, I just walked, and it did not disappoint. I wound my way around the blocks and eventually down Madison Ave to slowly meander to the Chicago Art Institute from the Water Tower. I did the Chicago river walk and went over to bridge to go to Au Cheval to try the ‘best burger in the world’ (verdict: good but I’m clearly not enough of a hamburger connoisseur to taste the difference between it and every other decent burger I’ve had), then to the Navy Pier at 6AM. I wouldn’t call it a ‘deep’ tour of the city - but it did feel like a kind of American ‘home’ away from home.
If Europe’s architectural alleys and architecture had the silent gravitas of centuries of history, Chicago’s architecture mostly had that 20th Century feeling - just adjacent to ‘modern’, mesmerising geometry everywhere I turned my eye, a sort of faded wear to the city that - in my head - I imagined to be a result of the wind and snow and sun, lashing against these ambitious buildings. And damn, those rusty exposed train tracks spurred a slew of The Dark Knight nostalgic feelings.
Do a river tour (universally recommended, pretty worth it), walk along the city at sunset, marvel at the sun bouncing off the windows and the abstract shapes that light creates on the skyscrapers. Chicago is a city where you’ll never regret looking up.