Updated: Oct 28, 2019
New Zealanders hear “the windy city” and they think of Wellington, but anywhere in the US the windy city refers to Chicago. Sure, us kiwis may scoff at what they call windy, but as it turns out not even Americans know why they call it that. Some people think it is literal because of the breeze that blows into the city from Lake Michigan, while others think that it may be a tongue-in-cheek moniker from the 19th century referring to the swarms of politicians “full of hot air.” No matter which story you believe though, nothing beats Chicago on a summer’s day.
With Air New Zealand flying the Dreamliner direct from Auckland, getting there is a breeze (pun intended). For anyone connecting to the east coast of the USA , it’s much more convenient to only have to travel a short distance on the internal US carriers from Chicago than it is to travel from the west coast to the east. Travelling from LA to New York will take about 5 hours whereas from Chicago to New York is only 2.5 hours.
Even if it’s just a couple of days just to break up your flights, Chicago is full of so much history and culture that you’ll barely scratch the surface to what the city can offer. The city’s long history influences the modern metropolis with ample nods to its past. No matter who you speak to, anyone will be able to tell you about Mrs O’ Leary and her cow but the truth is that no one actually knows how the fire started over a century ago but everyone knows how it ended – with a fiery inferno that decimated an entire city (dubbed the Great Chicago Fire of 1871). In 1997 Mrs O’ Leary and her cow were officially exonerated by the city, but the story is so wide spread that it’s hard to dispel the rumours. The impact of the fire set the stage for a sort of architectural enlightenment as the city became a clean slate for architects to design and thus the birth of the modern sky scraper with the Home Insurance Building completed in 1885 leading the way.
If you’re an art enthusiast, then look no further than the Art Institute of Chicago. It costs about $25 USD per person, but that is easily justified as soon as you walk in. The building itself was built just after the fire in 1879, but today houses some of the most well-known pieces in modern history. I got to experience it firsthand a couple weeks ago and was not disappointed. I dedicated 5 hours to the museum and only got through the top 2 floors…so it can easily be a half-day venture if you map out what you want to see or a full day if you’re wanting to see everything.
Been to the US before and wanting something very different than the usual sightseeing? Victory Cruise Lines has departures out of Chicago that will take you through the Great Lakes into Canada with multiple itineraries from May – October. Described as old-world luxury, the all-inclusive ships have a maximum of 202 guests so it is sure to give you a unique and intimate experience.
Chicago’s past mixed with its present have created a resplendent city bursting with gems that you’ll never know unless you visit. As a stopover or a visit on its own, it’s a great alternative to the west coast.