JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH MARITZA CHAVEZ FROM CHICAGO, ILLINOIS !
Maritza believes that there is no better way to experience life and learn about the world than through travel. After coming home from studying abroad in Greece a few years ago, not only did she experience the hardest reverse culture shock ever, but she also realized the beauty in travel from the shift in mindset to the need to keep exploring the world. After graduating college, she decided to take a year to explore that very thought and moved to Madrid, Spain, where she taught English part time and explored other countries full time. She thinks it was her “Best.Decision.Ever”. She came out of these travel experiences so inspired and awakened with new knowledge, lessons, gratitude, and clarity. So when she is not traveling far and wide, you will find her writing about it on her blog travelnotesandthings, or she is locally travelling and getting to know her surroundings a little bit more.
Chicago is the third largest city in the United States after New York City and Los Angeles. It is located in northeastern Illinois on the southwestern shores of Lake Michigan.
Chicago is also known as the United State’s railroad capital with over 1,300 trains arriving and departing from the city each day.
If you’re into architecture, Chicago is one of the best cities to visit to gaze up at the innovative and beautiful designs of the classic and modern; all in one city.
Which is the best time to visit Chicago?
This is a hard question for a city that has events all throughout the year, however I would definitely recommend the summer months (June/July). Since we are a city that lives through longer and cold winter months compared to summer months, when the summer arrives, we like to go BIG. Chicago is a huge foodie city and we love to spend our time outdoors, so naturally we have a lot of food festivals like the Taste of Chicago, the Windy City Smokeout, the Windy City Ribfest, the Chicago Hot Dog fest, the list goes on!
We literally have every cuisine you could want; local, national, and international. For instance if you want to try classic Chicago dishes like Chicago Deep Dish pizza and the Chicago dog, definitely come here in the summer to experience that and so much more of Chicago’s finest. Also under the foodie category, we have many other cultural food festivals either located downtown Chicago or in one of the close cultural neighborhoods, like some of the best Greek food during Greek Fest and Mexican food during Fiesta del Sol. To walk it off, the summer is the perfect time to take a stroll around the city, take a walk down Magnificent Mile for world class shopping, or down to Navy Pier which used to actually be a U.S. Navy Base way back, but now houses theaters, botanical gardens, shopping, museums and even more restaurants.
If you’re into architecture, Chicago is one of the best cities to visit to gaze up at the innovative and beautiful designs of the classic and modern; all in one city. While you’re here definitely plan on checking out the Chicago Architecture tour that will take you along the Chicago River (or on foot if you prefer) and where you’ll be able to learn more in depth about the history, the designs, the architects behind the skyscrapers, and so much more. It’s really awesome!
Which is the most convenient and favoured transport of Chicago?
After you arrive at the airport, there are multiple ways to get to your destination depending on where you want to go and which airport you arrive at. To start off, there are 2 airports in the Chicagoland area; O’Hare (our main international airport) and Midway (also international but not as big as O’Hare). You pretty much have the same transportation options to get from the airport to your destination, and those are the L (elevated subway), the bus, an Uber/Lyft, and the Metra. Let’s say you have arrived at O’Hare and you want to go to downtown Chicago, your options could come down to using the L (the stop is at the airport) and taking the Blue Line all the way down to the city, which will take around 50 minutes. If you’re more in a hurry, you may want to take an Uber or Lyft and depending on traffic, you could be arriving in the city in around 30-40 minutes. There are also bus options as well from both airports as well as Metra if you’re going into the suburbs for instance. This link will help break down your options a little more clearer. https://www.flychicago.com/ohare/tofrom/pages/default.aspx
If you are planning on staying locally within the city, I would say first and foremost walking is the best way to get to know the city and it’s corners and charm. No bus or train is going to be able to take you along the streets like your own two feet, especially in finding little gems along the way and especially in the summer! If you do however prefer to take and get to know the public transportation here in Chicago, I recommend taking the L train which is basically Chicago’s version of the subway. However instead of being underground like a normal subway, it’s is elevated and it transports people in and around the Loop area (the main downtown area with all the main attractions). The L is great to also take if you want to go to some of the nearby cultural neighborhoods, however if you do want to go a bit further, I would recommend an Uber or the bus – depends on your preference as both are easy to take :). Ticketing for the L and the bus can be done by purchasing the Ventra card which you can add money to it directly from your bank account, and just swipe it every time you enter the L and bus. You can also opt for the single ride tickets and one day passes which can be purchased at the train stations.
If you find yourself either staying in the suburbs or wanting to travel to the suburbs from Chicago, I would definitely recommend the Metra, which is a larger train system that extends into the rest of the Chicagoland area, and is best to use if you’re going to be traveling longer distances. For example, if you have ever seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Home Alone and you want to check out the houses they used in these movies, you can totally get there from the city by using the Metra! Chicago also has bikes available for rent, so those would be a fun option to take, but I wouldn’t use those to actually go around the city as much because it can be a little confusing to know where you’re supposed to go and where you cannot. I would use the bikes more so if you wanted to ride along Grant Park for instance, or along Lake Michigan.
Which are the top 3 must visit places in Chicago?
Ahh so hard! I think that definitely one not to miss is the Skydeck at the Willis Tower. The Willis tower, which actually used to be called the Sears Tower and still is by many to this day (like me) the Sears Tower is a 110 story building, and it used to be the world’s tallest building in in its completion in 1973. When you climb to the Skydeck on the 103 floor, you’ll be able to see not just Chicago, but also the immense size of Lake Michigan, and all the way over to 3 other states at the same time; Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. If you’re brave enough step into the glass boxes AKA The Ledge, you will be able to get a 360 degree view of the city!
The second place to check out I may cheat a little bit with, sorry not sorry! Chicago has such a rich diversity in food as I briefly talked about already, and with that, a variety and richness in immigrants and cultural customs. Go check out some of the most colorful and cultural neighborhoods close to the city such as Greektown, Little Italy, Chinatown, La Villita and Pilsen (Little Mexico), and so much more! Get a feel for these different cultures and neighborhoods, with a Chicago influence! Something else to check out are Chicago’s districts, one of which is Chicago’s Historic Gold Coast.
There are many reasons why I love to visit the Gold Coast, but some of them are for the architectural gems you will find here, gorgeous vintage home adorned with curled up vines, and picturesque tree lined streets; it’s a perfect neighborhood to walk around in and get ideas for your future home haha. This is Chicago’s posh neighborhood. Here you’ll find one of my favorite cafe’s, 3 Arts Club Cafe as well as other little upscale shops, cafes, and sights. Chicago has many sides to it and it carries a lot of diversity, so I definitely think that if you come to Chicago, you should experience this which is not only an attraction but also a component that makes Chicago unique. Fun fact, our new governor JB Pritzker is a resident of this luxurious neighborhood along with actor Vince Vaughn whom also has a home here too!
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Chicago?
Hands down, one of the best day trips to take from Chicago when it comes to nature is a stop at Starved Rock State Park. At only 1 hour and 45 minutes away from the city, here you’ll find beautiful canyons formed by glacial activity, beautiful waterfalls, native plants, animals, and some of the best hiking around. Though there isn’t a bus that will take you directly, the best method to get to Starved Rock would be by renting a car and going there yourself. The road trip however is half the fun as the further away from the city you are, the more you get to see small towns that make Illinois so charming.
For culture and history, I recommend the small and picturesque town of Galena. Though it’s a little bit farther away than Starved Rock is to the city, Galena will take you around 2 hours and 49 minutes to get to. Even though it’s a little bit of a stretch, I will say that it is worth it. Galena is one of THOSE picturesque towns that you see in the movies. You will want to take a picture of almost every corner.
What makes Galena a cultural and historical town to visit is that to begin with, it is a very well preserved town that looks almost identical more or less to when it was established in the 19th century. Galena was also the home to one of America’s important Civil War and Government figures; Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was a Civil War general who led the North to victory during this very decisive war, and was also later on our 18th president. His original home from 1860 is currently situated in Galena, and offers free tours (which I totally recommend if you’re a history nerd like me). Aside from the impressive history, Galena keeps building their culture and maintains their name up high with their hospitality and amazing chef owned restaurants and seasonal menus. Definitely a place that is worth visiting!
What is the most celebrated holiday of the year in Chicago?
I don’t think that no one (outside of Ireland) does St. Patricks Day the way Chicago does. The Irish were some of the first immigrants to settle and build a community in Chicago, so holding on to this strong cultural influence is extremely important to a lot of Chicagoans. Chicago dresses in Green (literally). In other cities, people may dress in green colors, but we take it to the next level and we (safely) dye the Chicago River green! As soon as the sun rises, people are out and about, all decked out in their green attire, ready to participate in the huge annual St. Patricks Day parade, restaurants all over the city have amazing deals, especially on drinks because, well St. Patty’s Day!
In all seriousness though, Chicago does it all the way uuup on this day, and it is something that if you can, definitely try to come to experience yourself!
Aside from St. Patty’s Day, I would say that Christmas in Chicago is something close to magical. We start off the season in around mid November (yeah, kind of early haha) with the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at Millennium Park. The streets are lit up with Christmas lights and Christmas music (literally it’s non stop Christmas music). Of course, there is also Christkindlemarket, which is a free Christmas market that is held at Daley Plaza, which is Chicago’s take on a European Christmas market, and is not to be missed to get into the holiday spirit!
What is the most loved local food of Chicago?
Of course, I have to include the Chicago Deep Dish Pizza as the number one thing that you MUST try when you’re here. It’s a hearty, warm, comforting, cheesy, saucy, pizza pie (literally) and everything you could want on a harsh wintery day in Chicago. We *RaReLY* get compared to New York, but one of the never ending debates always comes down to pizza, and who’s is the best. I’m not saying ours is the best, but ours is extremely good. Like TOO good. Like you have to try it the next time you come to Chicago! 🙂 Another favorite has to be the Chicago style hot dog (a Chicago Red Hot) which is a beloved street food here in the city and one that you must try as well. The main difference between a Chicago Red Hot and a hot dog? The Chicago dog uses poppy seed buns, all beef frankfurter (thank you German immigrants!) and all the tomato, onion, and relish toppings. That’s a Red Hot, and that’s what you have to get the next time you’re walking the streets of Chicago.
Where to head for shopping in Chicago? Which is the local craft, product or souvenir of Chicago?
The Magnificent Mile (Michigan Avenue) is the premiere place to go shopping in the city. It has everything you could want/need! In addition, also in Chicago you can check out State street, which is a loooong street full of different shops, cafes, and restaurants. It’s also a really good option! Now if you want to check out a good flea market, definitely check out Wolf’s Flea Market near the airport. Literally you will see planes flying so close over the flea market, it should be on one of those crazy airplane YouTube videos. Here you can find everything from spiritual crystals, to car accessories you didn’t think you needed! Of course, it’s seasonal with only opening April through November.
A souvenir that will immediately identify your visit to Chicago will be a tin can for your popcorn from Garret’s popcorn shop! Garret’s is a Chicago tradition that for years has offered the best, gourmet popcorn, so if you love popcorn, you definitely have to stop by and grab yourself some and a souvenir! Are you into sports? Definitely try to catch a game (depending on the season that you’re visiting) and take a home a Chicago Cubs jersey for example or a Chicago Bull’s cap!
Can you suggest a place from where one can get the best view of the city?
Without a doubt, take a sunset/night sightseeing cruise of Lake Michigan. These cruises usually come with dinner included in the ticket (depending on the ticket you purchase) and entertainment. However, the best entertainment you’ll receive will probably be seeing the entirety of the Chicago skyline from Lake Michigan, all lit up and glowing in its beauty. Another option would definitely have to be the ferris wheel at Navy Pier. Leisurely taking you to view some of the best sights of Chicago from all different angles. Truly a beautiful sight to see. If you’re going for more of a birds eye view of the city, obviously I would have to say the Willis/Sears Tower, but also if you want to catch a drink with your view, check out London House Hotel’s Rooftop bar and Cindy’s Rooftop bar just to name a few. These rooftop bars have some of the best views of the city, enough to leave you speechless.
Which are the best streets of Chicago worthy of taking a stroll on?
Some great places to take a walk through are Michigan Avenue where all the shopping is, along the shoreline of the Lake Michigan by Navy Pier, and last but certainly not least, the Chicago River Walk. What is the Chicago River Walk you ask?? Well, it’s basically a pedestrian friendly, waterfront walkway where you are walking literally along the Chicago River. There are shops, here you can grab a water taxi which can take you to a different part of the city, and you can also check out the many restaurants as well! At night, it is lit up and it is a really a beautiful sight to take in as you gaze up and see Chicago’s skyscrapers even taller, and lighting up the night sky.
Would you suggest any shows in Chicago to drama, music or art lovers?
Chicago is known for comedy if you didn’t know, so Chicago’s comedy clubs are must to visit while you’re here! Some of the best comedians dazzling our screens today had their start in our Windy City comedy clubs, including Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Bill Murray, and Steve Carell. Some of the comedy clubs that I and many others will recommend that you check out are The Comedy Bar, The Second City, iO Chicago and the Laugh Factory.
Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in Chicago?
Yes! If you are planning on taking public transportation around Chicago, I definitely recommend that you download the free Ventra app! Some of the highlights included in this app are that it allows you to seamlessly add money to your card without actually having to go to a vending machine. Also, the app will come in handy if you do decide to go visit Ferris Bueller’s House in the suburbs and you’re taking the Metra, as you can buy your Metra ticket ahead of time on the app and show it to the train conductor once you’re on the train. Side note, I would strongly recommend you buy your ticket ahead of time and on the app because if you don’t, you’ll get charged an additional fee on top of your ticket price.
Also, I recommend that you download the free CTA transit app which will let you know the times that your bus or train will be arriving, and how frequently they make their rounds throughout the city. It’s full of very useful information including cancelled routes for the day, or any delays they have happening that you wouldn’t otherwise know about. A good source to have at your disposal again if you’re using public transportation.
If you decide you want to drive yourself, parking can sometimes be a little bit difficult to find in the city, and most of the time if you do find a parking garage, it can be expensive. I would recommend you download the free SpotHero app which will literally find the most decently priced parking in the city and exactly where you want to go. It’s easy to find the spot, pay for it, and voila! Avoid getting your car towed or paying overly expensive parking tickets/parking garages. It’s a lifesaver and I use it all the time when I drive in the city.