It took Getaway many years to discover the delights of Chicago, a city which welcomes 32 million visitors a year. It is an amazing metropolis with a bold history, tall buildings and many claims to being responsible for the world's first or biggest or longest this and that.
Chicago is in the north-eastern corner of the state of Illinois, right on the south-western shore of Lake Michigan, one of North America's Great Lakes. Its weather can be quite vicious but when it's good locals make the most of its 50km of lakefront and 24km of bathing beaches.
Chicagoans are incredibly proud of their city, which was built on a marsh in the middle of prairie land. The city skyline is evidence of a serious commercial city and one which defiantly recovered from The Great Fire of 1871. It began when Mr O'Leary's cow knocked over a lantern in his barn and the city, most of which was wooden, was razed, leaving nothing but, ironically, a water tower.
America's Temperance Movement thought it was on a winner when the "manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors" became prohibited. In fact America's underworld had been busily making its own bootleg in readiness for rumoured Prohibition and the infamous era of "Joe sent me", speakeasies, bathtub gin, standover tactics, corruption, Al Capone and his nemesis Eliot Ness began.
Al Capone is the most infamous of the many underworld characters of the time. He fled his native Brooklyn in 1899 with a murder suspicion hanging over him, and soon showed Chicago how serious he was about taking over every illegal operation going. He simply killed anyone who got in his way. The Prohibition era has provided much fodder for books, films and television shows.
Sears Tower at 442m was for a long time the world's tallest building until Taipei 101 came in at 509m and the two Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur at 452m edged Sears into third place. Its 530m antennae could be included to give the tower back the title, and that's what locals like to think. From its Skydeck you can see across Illinois to Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin on a clear day.
The John Hancock Centre is the city's second tallest building. It was named after a wealthy New England merchant whose signature appears on the Declaration of Independence. He signed it with such flair and force, "John Hancock" has become a figure of speech for a signature.
Scattered amongst the tall buildings are some beautiful old buildings, such as Palmer House Hilton. It burnt to the ground just 13 days after opening, but was quickly rebuilt and is a grand historic statement. The Green Mill is home of blues and jazz and a must to visit, if just to admire the classic example of art deco. In 1907 it was Pop Morris's Garden and was renamed Green Mill as a parody on Moulin Rouge. It boomed during Prohibition and performers such as Billie Holiday, Al Jolson, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman attracted thirsty crowds. It has featured in many movies and is a popular place where, for $5, poets can test their writings on an audience.
The Navy Pier opened in 1916 as the only pier ever to combine public recreation with practical shipping. During WWI it was used as housing for soldiers, Red Cross and Home Defense units. By the '20s it had reached a level of cultural activity, boasting a streetcar line, theatre, restaurants and an emergency hospital.
It fell into decline during the '40s and eventually became an undergraduate campus for the University of Illinois. Its degeneration continued until 1977 when it was reborn after a grand renovation with a 1500-seat outdoor skyline stage, Shakespeare Repertory Theatre, shops, restaurants and plenty of other attractions including the Smith Museum of Stained Glass.
The Magnificent Mile is Chicago's main shopping area, stretching from North Michigan to the River. The affluence is evident by the clothing of the shoppers, particularly during the lunch hour, and the Merchandise Mart is worth seeing. It measures more than one million square metres!
Chicago is absolutely famous for its deep dish pizza. "Best in the world", they say. It has a crispy base, heaps of cheese and Gino's East on Superior Street has been voted the city's best.
When you are ready for some wide open space, Grant Park is where you will find it. It is on the edge of the lake and built from rubble from the Great Fire. An 1836 charter states it shall remain forever open, clear and free.
Long avenues of trees line the lakefront and the original plan of sculpted formal gardens, similar to those of the Palace of Versailles on which it was designed, is still evident. There are mounted warriors, Augustus Saint-Gaudens' second statue of President Lincoln and the pink marble Buckingham Fountain.
Chicago is sometimes known as the City of Neighbourhoods. It owes its cultural diversity to 77 ethnic neighbourhoods where more than 50 languages are spoken. The motto is "visit the world, one neighbourhood at a time".
You can board Chicago's First Lady or Little Lady and take an architectural tour on the lake in comfort. Guides relate the architectural significance of around 50 buildings, while you enjoy a coffee or cocktail.
Chicago is a city full of people proud of where they live and an absolutely wonderful way to see the best of the best is to contact Chicago Greeters. The volunteers, who speak 18 languages between them, aim to match a friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable local with an interested visitor for two to four hours and show them the city from a local person's perspective.
You can pre-register by phone or on-line, and this wonderful service is absolutely free! So is public transport if you are on a Greeter Tour.
Illinois in the United States of America
Palmer House Hilton rooms start at around $250 a night.
Flight Centre has return economy airfares to Chicago, including taxes. Conditions apply.
Brisbane/Sydney/Melbourne/Adelaide: October 31, 2005
Perth: March 31, 2006
Brisbane/Sydney: September 1 to November 30, 2005
January 16 to March 31, 2006
Melbourne/Adelaide: October 29 to December 6, 2005
January 28 to March 15, 2006
Perth: November 3 to December 8, 2005
January 26 to March31, 2006
To book call Flight Centre 131 600
Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.
Chicago Greeters Service
Ph: 0011 1 312 744 8032
Hancock Tower Observatory
Ph: 0011 1 312 751 3681
Sears Tower Skydeck
Ph: 0011 1 312 875 9696
Green Mill Cocktail Lounge
Ph: 0011 1 773 878 5552
Palmer House Hilton
Ph: 0011 1 312 726 7500
Gino's East Pizza Parlour
Ph: 0011 1 312 943 1124