I had that same belly-patting, satisfying feeling upon leaving Chicago. Em and I both have familial roots there, specifically in Rockford, so Chicago has always been one of those cities I can very easily associate myself with, despite only going as a kid and then in my senior year of high school. But I didn't know it very well, and I wanted to make sure we had a nice introduction. Fortunately Em's Aunt, a Chicago native, was an incredible tour guide and walked us around the city on two separate occasions, giving both of us enough of a taste that we left hungry for more.
You see, I've always wanted to be a city girl. I like the idea of urban living, but it's been challenging to find anything that felt right. While DC is my home, it's kind of boring and bland. There is no liveliness or excitement, no strength and solidarity within the confines of its four quadrants. I know some people will disagree, but I just genuinely don't feel like it's my favorite place. Baltimore is awesome, and it's home to some of my favorite people in the world, but again...not home. NYC is a temperamental beast, and while I like the glitz and glam, I am too small town to love it there. I need a second go-'round with Boston, as she was chilly and grey the only time I got a visit (though I heart the North End!). So, this wishy-washiness has carried through to every other city I've visited, near or far, since becoming an adult.
Chicago, though. It was fantastic. The architecture was stunning, whether it was the new plopped into the old at Soldier Field, or the incredible mosaic work in the Public Library turned Cultural Center. When we walked through Macy's (formerly Marshall Fields), I felt that feeling you're supposed to feel when you walk into a magical department store that stretches far and wide, fully of holiday decor, but also full of history. When I sat down in the Walnut Room for lunch, I felt like I had been there before, and I later learned that was where my great-grandmother used to lunch with her sister on Wednesdays, their shopping day. The Bean was magical and my favorite spot of all. We also took one of my favorite photos ever of us by the Bean. And the little shops nestled on the outskirts were quirky and irreverent. The pace was decidedly midwestern, something that I definitely enjoy, and the city seemed like it was about to burst (again) with creativity and awesomeness.
The family time was also heartwarming beyond words. Em's family is big and loving, just the way a family should be. We walked around a preserve filled with very curious elk, we played multiple rounds of Cranium and I found myself pathetically humming Amy Winehouse songs, drawing with my eyes closed and running around the dining room trying to act out "free range chicken" without an ounce of concern for how I was perceived. It was incredible. Em's Uncle has an incredible train set, both vintage and new, that he shared with us too. That was a big highlight; trains are my favorite. The big Italian family reunion was also beyond words. There was so much love and acceptance...and delicious food.
So, overall, Chicago gets a big A+. We'll be going back very soon, I hope. And maybe one day...permanently.