The first thing that strikes any visitor to downtown Chicago, America's so-called 2nd city, is the amazing architecture on display everywhere you look, with its stunning skyscrapers, the biggest in the country, artfully arranged amongst a myriad of other impressive buildings. It's in this mighty hub city, where people and commerce have crossed paths for years, the American melting pot puts on one of its most impressive displays.
Besides having the country's foremost architectural schools, Chicago also has some of its finest music schools, resulting in student opera singers and musicians of every description practicing in streets and restaurants everywhere.
But most famous of all is its blues scene. The Chicago blues style was an electrified version of the Delta blues that got started in the early half of the 20th century when poor blacks started moving north. Well known Chicago blues players include singer/songwriters Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Willie Dixon, guitar players Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley, Mike Bloomfield, and Elmore James, and harmonica players Big Walter Horton, Charlie Musselwhite, Paul Butterfield, and Junior Wells.
Anchored in the small clubs of North Halsted and Maxwell Street, old favourites and up and coming blues players continue to perform with the annual blues festival being Chicago's biggest annual event and the biggest blues festival in the world.
Being the distribution centre for the country means Chicago is also the headquarters for most stores, and therefore the shopping choices for goods of any description are almost overwhelming. The city has managed to avoid the construction of any major shopping malls so that most of the stores are at street level. You can window shop in and around the downtown core, which is alive with people walking everywhere, or stroll along the aptly named "Magnificent Mile".
A huge park complex along the shore of Lake Michigan contains the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and the start of Route 66 amongst other attractions. It also links the old neighbourhoods of North and South Chicago.
After checking into our room at the Roosevelt, conveniently located near the beautiful Grand Central Station where all the trains and subways intersect, we started to explore our hood. The hustle and bustle hits you immediately as the crowds surround you with everyone in a hurry to get somewhere. But somehow it all works and there is a certain beauty to the sea of humanity in all its colours, sizes, and shapes going about its business in a ceaseless ebb and flow.
The streets are crowded day and night with people on the move, be it for business or pleasure, and acres of yellow taxis and black limousines are constantly picking up and dropping off their hurried passengers.
The intensity of the city is almost overwhelming and climbing up the Empire State Building to look around Manhattan, makes it even worse. Only when you see how many high-rise buildings exist, and try to imagine what exactly is going on inside them all, does the magnitude of New York's role as the financial centre of the world, become apparent.
Yet amidst all this high priced real estate, the people still go about their lives in the old neighbourhoods of Greenwich Village, Tribeca, or Soho, which are filled with boutiques, jazz bars and restaurants.
One of the best ways to get oriented in Manhattan is by taking a Circle Line cruise and seeing things the way most newcomers do, with the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France following the American War of Independence, welcoming you.
New York is also the centre of the art world, and there are amazing museums and art galleries to visit that would take days to fully explore and even then with the displays constantly changing you would never get through it all.
If there was any doubt about which city is also the centre of the baseball world, a trip to Yankee Stadium will soon set the record straight. Yet in spite of being the most raucous baseball field in the country, it's also the only one with a quiet little shrine off to the side of the outfield dedicated to the memory of its most famous players including, or course, Babe Ruth.
And at night, as befits the largest city in the country, there is every conceivable type of entertainment available, from first run Broadway shows and the action at Times Square to the concerts at Lincoln Centre and an eclectic music scene being played out in venues of every size.
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