July 12, 2017

A Portrait of CHICAGO

When the GPS navigation voice made us turn on Washington Street because our hotel would be on the right, I realized we were right in the heart of the city. While the valet waited for us to take our luggage from the car which we stopped almost chaotically in the middle of the busy street, I listened to the street musicians jazzing under the iconic green Marshall Field's Clock. Inside of an unassuming perfectly preserved Historic Building – typical office corridors with mahogany doors and trim, multicoloured marble walls, ceilings and floors, and an original ornate open elevator grill – a friendly smile from hotel receptionist welcomed us to the Loop. From the window of our tiny, but comfortable room, I was able to see the illuminating sign of the Historic Chicago Theatre in the bustling Theatre District. I felt that our weekend trip to the Windy City, the Working City, the Second City, the White City, whatever name you pick from the numerous nicknames given throughout the years, was going to be fabulous. And partially because it was the beginning of June and every local we met affirmed us that there was nothing like summer in Chicago – boats would be on the lake, festivals and concerts in the park and locals on the beach soaking up the short months of sunshine.  
I thought a lot of how to describe this wonderful, self-made, industrious American town that had surprisingly impressed me with its hospitality, unpretentiousness (perhaps realness), bold spirit and most of all its remarkable ART. What was that single word that defines it, that identifies the life that was happening there, that establishes Chicago like a place nowhere else among the metropolises of North America. And the word that came up first and most often to my mind was LIVEABLE. It is an adjective, of course, but derived from a verb and as a visitor I think it captures the vibes pretty well.
Chicago is a LIVEable city, a working city, and as one English Professor once said "an underdog city and a good place for an underdog to live". Frankly, I felt that from the first minute I put my feet on Washington Street, sort of inexplicably, but tangibly. Against my dislike to compare one city to another or one country to another, Chicago seemed to me more liveable than the city of New York, one of my all time favourite cities in the world, and more real than Miami, for example.
Despite all the beautiful signature clocks registering the time, Chicago happened rather slowly... like the gently moving Chicago River in the middle of downtown. Chicago happened less ostentatiously, but not less convincingly for a huge, yet life-sized city... like the great waters of lake Michigan which is as big as a sea, but it is still a lovely lake. Even the iconic 'L' trains passing over the river seemed to move slowly than any other trains in the world and I mean it as a compliment.
Chicago is a city of details. You might not get the big picture at first, but if you look up and look closely you will see the spectacular details that are everywhere and make the picture unforgettable. The wealth of innovative architecture rebuilt in record speed after the destruction of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 and the museum collections as well as the outdoor public art (created by Miro, Picasso, Moor, Chagall and other prominent modern artists) is impressive and inspirational for every art lover.
Chicago also gives an impression of a city that stays true to itself, to its roots, to its communities, to its waterways. Diverse. Creative. Dichotomous. Strangely attractive. Modest.
And I believe it will always be there waiting for my return with a glass of Rosé and a romantic Riverwalk view of the boats going by under the movable bridges...


The Alise Chicago
Housed in a landmark 1895 skyscraper, designed by the widely known architect Daniel Burnham, this elegant hotel is a short walk away from Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park and all the major cultural institutions in the Loop. Personable and polished service. Pricey valet parking.  

Located in the heart of downtown, this cozy, a "Cheers"-like type restaurant, opened in 1974 by two Italian brothers immigrated to Chicago from a small town near Torino, serves the best, fresh from the oven, steaming hot, picture-perfect stuffed deep-dish pizza; the recipe is the same as the recipe of their Mama Giordano's double-crust, cheese stuffed pie which she used to serve on special occasions.
What a wonderful story it is, isn't it?      

For a Chicago-style hot dog: an all-beef frankfurter on a perfectly steamed poppy seed bun, topped with yellow mustard, chopped onion, relish, a dill pickle spear, sliced tomato, sport peppers and a sprinkle of celery salt. Actually, where you go to try it seems to me less important than how you eat it – Do not put ketchup on a Chicago dog!

Toni Parisserie and Cafe 
Located in the Pittsfield Building, one of Chicago's finest 1920-era beautiful skyscrapers on Washington St, right off Michigan Avenue, it is a good choice for a French-style lunch with delicious macarons and pastries for a dessert.
Do not forget to wander into the lobby of Pittsfield and take delight in its gorgeous interior and coffered ceiling.

City Winery on The Riverwalk
With its wonderful location, nestled next to the water, this is a place for true relaxation on a summer evening with a glass of Rosé while people-watching. It offers Mediterranean-style dishes.

3 Arts Club Cafe
One of the highlights during our trip!
Located north of downtown in the Gold Coast Historic District, this place is really special. I suggest to take a walk and explore the charming, affluent neighbourhood. The restaurant inhabits a five-floor landmark building of 1914 which used to house young women studying music, drama and the visual art from where it has obtained the name Three Arts Club. Restored by Restoration Hardware, the Grand Courtyard with its historic fountain, window ceiling, gorgeous chandeliers and Heritage olive trees is nothing less than spectacular.

Millenium Park
A place for art, music, architecture and landscape design, this big public park features:
Jay Pritzker Pavilion , designed by Frank Gehry for outdoor concerts;
Cloud Gate or The Bean, one of the largest sculptures in the world made from highly polished stainless steel plates by British artist Anish Kapoor that provides a distorted mirror of the city skyline;
Crown Fountain, an interactive video fountain inspired by the people of Chicago, whose faces appear via LED display on the 50-foot-tall glass block towers. Truly impressive!
Lure Garden, a leader in cutting-edge design and responsible gardening, the garden pays homage to the city's motto "Urbs in Horto", City in a Garden;

Buckingham Memorial Fountain
One of the largest in the world, this beautiful fountain is located in Grand Park close to The Bean and produces a major twenty-minute water display every hour; at sunset it is accompanied by music and colourful lights.

Willis (formerly Sears) Tower
The Chicago's tallest building, once the tallest building in the world, with its glass Skydeck puts you 1,353 feet over the city simply to experience the amazing 360 view spanning up to four states.

Architectural Boat Tour
A fantastic way to explore the architectural history of Chicago along all three branches of Chicago river.

Chicago Riverwalk
Stroll the scenic 1.25-mile pedestrian stretch on the Chicago River full of restaurants, places to just sit, public art exhibitions and boat rentals.

Theatre District 
Chicago owns a well established live theatre scene and many, many theatres in downtown. The famous Chicago Theatre, opened in 1921 is probably the most recognizable landmark of the city with its massive, vertical sign. It offers a variety of performances as well as a behind the scenes tour. The very popular musical Hamilton can be seen at The PrivateBank Theatre through January, 2018  

Chicago Cultural Centre 
A beaux art-style building that hosts a variety of free performances, events and exhibitions. Here you can see the spectacular world's largest stained glass Tiffany Dome.

The Chicago Picasso 
Perhaps the most iconic piece of public art, located at Daley Plaza, the untitled Picasso sculpture celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and you can even climb on it if you feel like doing so.

Abraham Lincoln "Return Visit" Sculpture 
A 25-foot-tall interesting bronze installation created by 86-year-old artist Seward Johnson, who also designed the well known big Marilyn Monroe statue, is located at Pioneer Court on Michigan Avenue until the end of the year. It depicts Abraham Lincoln handing a copy of the Gettysburg Address to a modern-day man, with Lincoln gesturing to the window where he stayed the night before delivering the "all men are created equal" speech.  
Navy Pier
It is a 3,000-foot-long pier that reaches across lake Michigan and is full of restaurants, theatres, boats amusements, live performances and attractions. There is a tall ferris wheel, called Centennial Wheel, offering an amazing view of Chicago and Lake Michigan. Fireworks in the summer – Wednesday and Saturday nights.  

 Art Institution of Chicago
My favourite personal experience! I could easily spend my entire day contemplating all the masterpieces on the walls.   
The second largest museum in the country, the gallery is voted the best museum in the world for 2016 by TripAdvisor, based on an analysis of travellers' reviews. But even if it is not, the Art Institution of Chicago sure felt like a world-class art museum with its 300,000 pieces of art and the largest collection of Impressionist art outside of Paris. It is like time travel with so much to see and so little time (especially if you are not a local). Do not forget to take a coffee break at one of the fine cafés in the museum. I enjoyed every bit of my visit there and can't wait to go back and explore more.


  1. Dearest Sylvia, I don't know where to begin. Your work is art, not trends. Your work speaks for itself, and has no need to shout out and beg for likes, followers, tags, friendships. It just IS, and it's splendid.

    Is there a way we could "chat" via email? I need to go further but not here...

  2. Amazing photos....I feel like I was there too!

  3. Thank you. Thank you.

    I could go on forever, of course, but I'm simply so grateful that you have captured the spirit, diversity and beauty of 'my' city. Again, thank you.

    Jane xxxx

  4. I just found you, by following some Bella Grace photo credits. (I keep and reread BG.) I LOVE your work. The August raspberries are amazing. Chicago pics seem old and new and original and traditional. Although I am grandmanaturediary.blogspot.com, I love cities--NY, London, Chicago, St. Louis (my home town). Thank you!


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