Friday, April 30, 2010

Comparing Chicago and Vancouver - a hockey tourist view

Welcome to Chicago, Vancouverites. As the city's visitor campaign states, "We're glad you're here", mostly because we're happy to take your tourist dollars while we rinse/repeat the 2009 performance ... uhm ... well, we're generally nice people, a few random idiots at last year's matchup not withstanding.

I figure that now is as good a time as any to point out that while the media is desperately trying to fuel the fire of past animosities, that perhaps we can look at each other and see the similarities instead. 

First, a little comparative city history:

Chicago was founded in 1833 and went on to establish itself as a major transportation hub, financial center, and industrial area. It is the third-most populous city in the U.S., with 2.8 million people living within the city limits and 9.7 million in the greater "Chicagoland" area. After the Great Fire of 1871, the city rose from its ashes, and under the Burnham Plan, laid out ideas for urban development and architecture that shape modern cities to this day. Modern Chicago is a vibrant, lively city that welcomes more than 35 million visitors per year.

The city's flag depicts two blue stripes, one of which represents Lake Michigan and the North Branch of the Chicago River, the other, the South Branch and the Great Canal. The three white stripes represent the north, west and south sides of the city (Lake Michigan being the "east" side). The four red stars represent Fort Dearborn, the Chicago Fire of 1871, the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the Century of Progress of 1933. Each star's point represents even more (listed here).

Vancouver was incorporated in 1886, and like Chicago, became an important transportation and shipping hub for its country. Like Chicago, Vancouver is the 3rd largest city in its country, with a city population of approximately 580,000 and a metropolitan population of over 2 million people. On June 13, 1886, Vancouver was destroyed by fire. (Are you seeing the parallels yet?)  Like Chicago, Vancouver hosted its own share of political and social intreague over the years.

The city's flag depicts the city's badge on a green background. The city badge depicts a crown, signifying Vancouver's status as an incorporated city; and an axe and paddle, which stand for logging and fishing, two major industries in the area. The green chevron depicts the forests that once covered the area. The five wavy blue lines symbolize the Pacific Ocean and the rivers that run through the city.

Both Chicago and Vancouver are waterfront cities: Chicago on Lake Michigan; Vancouver on the Pacific. If you want to see spectacular sunsets like this, head out to the Museum Campus on the southeast side of the Loop (downtown area).

Unfortunately we don't have any mountains like Vancouver does, but the flat terrain means that when the weather's nice, the locals come out in force to play. Miles of lakefront trails, parks, and recreational land invite locals and visitors alike to come outside. Locals like to joke that there are two seasons here: "Three months of summer, and winter."

Chicagoans take great pride in withstanding their weather, however, and you won't get much sympathy complaining about it. If you can't stand outside BBQing in 40 degree weather in shorts and a t-shirt, you're just a wuss.

If the cityscape seems vaguely familiar and gives you a sense of deja vu as you walk down the street, don't be surprised. Chicago was Hollywood's predecessor, and today, the city is enjoying a resurgence in its screen presence. Many popular films, ranging from John Hughes teen flicks as diverse The Blues Brothers, The Color of Money, The Hudsucker Proxy, Rookie of the Year, My Best Friend's Wedding, Public Enemies, and High Fidelity were shot here; with more Chicago recently playing the role of Gotham in Christopher Nolan's vision of Batman

Since the current sitting President calls Chicago home, we're used to being under lots of media scrutiny. No big deal. Our mayor, Richard Daley Jr., is a second-generation mayor here.

Recently, the city hoped to land the 2016 Summer Olympics, but the citizenry gave a collective sigh of relief that we weren't the final choice. Frankly, most locals find traffic here annoying enough without interrupting it further with parades, ceremonies, marathons and everything else. (Besides which, our city is so parade- and party-happy, that happens plenty enough as it is.)

Chicagoans are serious sports fans. In addition to the Blackhawks, we have the Bears (football), the Chicago Fire (soccer),  and not just one but two major league baseball teams - the Cubs (who haven't won a World Series in over 100 years) and the White Sox (who won one a few years ago). Both baseball stadiums are on the Red line "El" - the Cubs at Addison, and the Sox at 35th.

Despite their amazing losing streak, the Cubs have some of the most die-hard fans in the nation, and the waiting list for the Cubs season tickets is longer than the entire stadium can seat (over 41,000). Wrigley Field is one of the oldest ballparks left in the majors, and it is an experience all its own. Plus, what's better than sitting around on a weekday, getting a tan and drinking beer in a ballpark?

Oh right - HOCKEY.

Since our summer season of street and park festivals hasn't really kicked off yet, you can enjoy a ramble downtown to such sites as Millennium Park (above), the Art Institute, take in some public art, or make your way over to the Museum Campus to check out the Alder Planetarium (established 1930), the Shedd Aquarium (also opened in 1930), and the Field Museum of Natural History (founded 1893). There are more than 200 art galleries and dozens of museums in the city.

The "Toews-saurus" at the Field Museum, visible from Lake Shore Drive

If the hockey games aren't exactly going to your liking (and you haven't already stopped in at one of our many fine pubs to drown your sorrows), you can always check out Chicago's vibrant theater scene (more than 200), our exciting selection of restaurants (more than 7,300), go shopping in a wide variety of places such as Michigan Avenue's "Magnificent Mile", Lincoln Park, Armitage, State Street, or River North.

If the weather's nice, you might even spend some time on our 15 miles worth of beaches. Of course, if the weather's crappy, don't blame us - that stuff comes down from Canada and blows across three flat states before reacting to Lake Michigan.

Or you can explore the city: with 77 distinct "community areas" with many more distinct neighborhoods flavored by the many immigrants who helped build this great city. For example, the Sedins might feel at home in Andersonville on the north side, which celebrates its Swedish and Scandinavian history.

No matter how you visit our city, you will find plenty to interest and entertain you. The locals are friendly, the pubs are relaxing, our restaurants are world-class, our museums are reknowned, and there's shopping for every budget.

Top it off with playoff hockey, and you're going to have a good time here in the Windy City.

1 comment:

  1. I was recently in Vancouver for a few weeks, and I have some totally random stuff to add to this excellent article.

    Vancouverites should be sure to allow some extra time to get around the city when taking public transportation (and be aware that the el might have better signage than the skytrain, but it's much louder and dirtier). Trains and buses do NOT run on time here, and so you shouldn't cut things too closely if you have important hockey business to attend to. You will also actually need to pay for riding the el. (That sounds ridiculous, I realize, but the skytrain and seabus don't have turnstiles or people checking that you actually bought a ticket, and so many people just don't. That won't work here.)

    Also, if there are no cars coming (or if they're coming sort of slowly), it is okay to cross the street! We Chicago pedestrians do not believe in waiting our turn. If you see an opening, take it. Otherwise you're not going to get anywhere, especially if you're downtown. Just follow the crowds, and you'll be fine. (I haven't encountered this in other Canadian cities, but man, Vancouver, I cannot count the number of times I started to cross the street of a completely empty intersection, only to have my friends grab me and tell me that it is not my turn to go yet. What is that about?)

    You're used to Starbucks up there, and we've got plenty of those, but if you want something more like Horton's, Dunkin' Donuts is a better bet. Note that an extra-large coffee at DD is like twice the size of an XL at Horton's. Most bars here do not have any Canadian beer, but sometimes you can find it in liquor stores, especially the sketchy ones. I do not believe that "currency exchanges" here actually exchange currency, so you'll need to do that at the airport or a bank, although if you're at a decent hotel, the front desk should be able to help you. And lastly, instead of Shopper's and Rexall, we have Walgreens and CVS (I always end up in dire need of drugstores when traveling).

    And that concludes this grab-bag of a comment. Welcome! We're happy to have you.


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