Wednesday, August 5, 2009

10 Things I Love About Chicago

I have had my fair share of negativity when it comes to my new home. This transition hasn't always been easy for me. 
Maybe I just entered stage 3 of culture shock, maybe it's just because the sun is shining almost every day but on some days, Chicago feels like the greatest place on earth. So here is my top-10 list of things I love about Chi-town:

1. The Lake

I won't lie to you. The lake was one of the big draws for me to move to Chicago. I told E my requirements for where we would move are: at a big body of water, easy to cycle, big city, good public transportation and not as much rainfall as in Holland.  Chicago fulfilled all of those requirements, so did San Francisco, New York and Boston. But in the end Chicago is not only cheaper than those other places but we already knew a lot of people which makes life a lot easier.
And Chicago has the lake. The beautiful Lake Michigan. 
I had no idea how beautiful the lake is. I didn't know that the beaches here are much, much nicer than the beaches of the North Sea in Holland. 
When I feel down or stressed, I often go for a long bike ride along the lakeshore. Nothing relaxes me more. Unfortunately it's forbidden by law in Chicago to drink alcohol outside (unless you are in your own garden or on the terrace of a bar or restaurant) because nothing would be more perfect than a cocktail at North Avenue Beach.

2. Bikeability

According to my spell check - bikeability is not a word, neither is cyclebility (which I found out IS a word but means something else). Anyway, if walkability is a word, then so should bikeability be.
Chicago is definitely not the most bike friendly city in the US. I remember when I was planning to buy a new bike here, I was talking to a guy from a cycling meet up group, asking him how he likes cycling in Chicago. His word were "It's great, I mean, I cycle all year round and I love it. I mean, it's not very safe of course. I have had a lot of accidents and I have a near-death experience pretty much every day but you know, it's still fun."
After hearing that I still bought a bike and four month later, I am still using it almost every day to get to almost anywhere. Sure - it's definitely not as safe to bike around Chicago as it is in Holland. There are even a lot of American cities that are way more bike friendly than Chi-town. I have had a lot of car drivers threaten and yell at me even though I follow traffic rules religiously (unlike most other cyclists here who don't even know what a hand sign is. Seriously - I saw a Chicago cyclist giving a hand sign for the first time yesterday. I was so impressed, I tried to follow him to see if he would do it again but alas he was way faster than me) and I try to stay out of the cars way as much as I can. And for the first time in my life, I am wearing a helmet even though it gives me really hideous helmet hair.
But what makes cycling in Chicago fun is the cycling community. The people who cycle here are proud to be cyclists. They help each other out and I haven't seen cyclists trying to cut each other off or be mean spirited against each other. I have seen this sense of community before with joggers. Many years ago I used to be a jogger. I ran between 30 minutes to an hour a day, almost every day and whenever I ran past another jogger they would wave or say "hi". I tried to start jogging again in Holland, about two years ago and I saw the same thing there. I quickly found out that I prefer cycling to running though and I am glad I have the same feeling of community here with cycling, that I used to have with jogging.

3. Art

My pictures hanging up at Logan Bar&Grill

I just got myself a membership card at the Art Institute of Chicago. This place is definitely one of my favorite art museums and it's so big that even after having been there quite a few times now, I still haven't seen all of it. Chicago is full of art. Most cafes and bars have art from local artists hanging up (for example the Logan Bar and Grill which has MY photos hanging up), there are art walks all around the city. If I am ever going to make it as a photographer, my chances are definitely better here in Chicago than they would have ever been in the Netherlands. It's a very inspiring environment. 

My husband found out about this place through a friend who was visiting and we have been back a few times since. Two weeks ago I helped out with some admin stuff they needed done and got to meet the crew and some of the actors which was fun.
Their main show is called "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind" and it consists of 30 plays, 2 minutes each, which change weekly. All those plays have been written by the people who perform them, they are personal and touching and sometimes funny, sometimes sad. Seeing one of their plays is an experience and a treat.

Lincoln Square is the German neighborhood of Chicago. I am sure I have written about it before. There are German shops, a German/European cafe, there is a German spring festival and a German October Fest. It's easier for me to buy German food in Chicago, than it was in the Netherlands!
But even if you ignore the German influence Lincoln Square is just a lovely place. It looks like a village in the middle of the city. And they have a wonderful farmers market every Tuesday morning which is much cheaper than a lot of the other farmers markets.

6. Culinary Chicago
If you have ever been to Chicago you have probably heard or even tried the famous Chicago Deep Dish pizza. I am personally not a fan but luckily Chicago has a lot more to offer than pizza. In recent years Chicago has become a culinary mecca, people traveling from all over the country to visit some of the best restaurants of the United States. Most famously - as I have mentioned before - Alinea. Alinea is not only one of worlds top ten best restaurants but it also has a very touching story to it. In 2007, Alineas chef - Grant Achatz - was diagnosed with tongue cancer. He went to different doctors and all of them told him that his tongue needed to be amputated. He wouldn't have any of that. Imagine having your tongue amputated when you are one of the worlds best chefs! Not being able to talk or taste is as depressing as it gets but he would also not be able to do his job anymore. After a long search he finally found a doctor who was willing to do chemo therapy first and only amputate the tongue as a last resort. The radiation worked and Grant Achatz is now a cancer survivor with a functioning tongue and a world class restaurant. Of course after I heard about this story I started panicking about tongue cancer myself. 
The large ethnic diversity in Chicago also provides beautiful ethnic foods from flavorful Korean food to fresh Vietnamese to authentic Southern Italian cuisine. Who wants a Big Mac if you can have Bánh mì made with freshly baked French bread? I know I don't.

7. Free festivals

In the summer there is always something going on in Chicago and almost all of it is free. There are the local street festivals which celebrate the neighborhoods with music and food and little stands that sell home-made stuff. There are free dancing classes with an orchestra playing, so you can try out your new moves on the spot. Almost every day there is a "Movie in the park" where you can sit on a blanket or a camping chair in a park and watch a movie for free. 
In Chicago there is always a reason to celebrate.

8. Fashion

The first two times I was in Chicago I was pretty underwhelmed with the Fashion choices of people. I saw a lot of black and grey and boring. But Chicago has really taken it up a notch in the last few years. I LOVE the style of Chicago women. Because everything goes. 
Let's have a look at the rest of the US: You have New York style which is very high fashion, Prada, Burberry, it all screams rich and perfect. LA is all lazy and relaxed, sweat pants, hippy style, lot's of jewelry. Boston is preppy and styled but not very inventive. New Orleans is hip and funky all the way. Miami is as little clothes as possible with hints of vintage.
Well, Chicago is all of those things. You go downtown and you see women in power suits as well as soft, feminine Michelle Obamas (who is definitely a style icon for a lot of Chicago women). If you go to other parts of the city you see all kinds of people. Fashion in Chicago is something more personal. Having your own style is appreciated. There are people who follow fashion, people who create fashion and completely unfashionable people and that mix makes it such an eclectic, interesting place. In the Netherlands I often felt overdressed (even though 90% of the time I wear American sports wear like the Gap, because I think it suits me and it goes well with my lifestyle - cycling everywhere). If something in Holland was in fashion, you could be sure everyone would be wearing it. There was no space for individuality. So I absolutely LOVE that  people here just wear what they want. 

9. Thrift Stores
I know I have mentioned this before and it kind of goes with fashion but I think it deserves a place on its own.
Thrift stores are awesome. I got so many cool things from thrift stores. Granted - you need to look around a bit. Clothes are difficult because often all the sizes are all mixed up. I got two silver watering cans at thrift stores for $2 and $5 dollars which are each worth about $100 and look really good with flowers in them. I am also buying most of my books in thrift stores. I am very lucky to live in a neighborhood populated with people with the same taste in books as my own. I can get new bestsellers for $1.50 and I always find a book I want to read whenever I go to a thrift store (however I don't always allow myself to buy it). 

10. The fact that I live in the middle of a giant city and I can grow tomatoes in my backyard

Chicago has trees and gardens and parks and probably much more greenery than most other American cities. Right now I am sitting in my living room, looking out of the windows to the street and all I can see is green. 
The lake is surprisingly clean and you can swim in it most days without getting trash stuck in your bathing suit. The many, many farmers markets around the city enable you to buy fresh, home-grown produce that tastes like it came from your own garden. Yet at the same time you do get that urban feeling that only a really big city can give you.

And that is why, ladies and gentlemen, I am glad we chose Chicago over all those other interesting place. Sure, all of those cities have some of the things I mentioned but only Chicago has all of them.


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


The Austrian said...

Thank you Margaret! It's great to know who is reading my blog and that you are enjoying it!