Chicago is an ideal weekend city, with many attractions that can be described only with glowing adjectives. And, though not really at the geographical center of the United States, as we often think of it, its location does make for relatively short flights from many directions. There are those who claim Chicago got its ``Windy City'' nickname because its natives do so much boasting. But in fact, they have good reason to be proud.
For one thing, with all the diverse ethnic groups here, there is an astonishing abundance of culture, seen in music festivals, concerts, theater groups, and neighborhood fairs. During the summer, Chicago is one big ongoing festival.
For another, the abundant art in this city isn't treated as sacrosanct. If you stroll along the downtown streets, you're bound to run into a mammoth sculpture by Calder, Picasso, Chagall, Dubuffet, or Mir'o.
Or, if you prefer your art indoors, you'll want to explore some of the city's 21 museums, or possibly a few of the 14 to be found in the suburbs.
Included among the Impressionist paintings at the beautiful Chicago Art Institute is Seurat's ``Sunday on the Island of the Grand Jatte,'' a work popularized in the musical play ``Sunday in the Park with George.'' The galleries appeal to all tastes, with contents ranging from avant-garde painting and sculpture to such collectibles as fanciful glass paperweights.
For visitors whose interests run to nature rather than art, a good stop is the Lincoln Park Conservatory, a living museum whose Victorian hothouses are fragrant with flower displays.
Then, right next door, you can get a close-up of exotic animal life at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
The Museum of Science and Industry's serious name belies its amusing, instructive exhibits. Where else under one roof could one explore a German U-boat, a coal mine, and a movie star's dollhouse/miniature castle?
Baseball fans will want to see Wrigley Field, especially if they time their visit for a Chicago Cubs home game.
For those who appreciate architecture, Chicago is incredible - especially at night. A full moon over the city's bridges and skyscrapers makes for an ethereal cityscape. There are so many buildings of historical note silhouetted against glittering glass structures that one might conclude Chicago has found the perfect blend of old and new.
A good vantage point for a spectacular view is the Sears Tower - at 1,454 feet the world's tallest building.
The clock-topped Chicago Tribune building and the Water Tower's ``castle'' are two smaller structures with plenty of character. For a good overview of the city's past and present, drop in at the Water Tower and watch the ``Here's Chicago'' slide show/movie.
Chicago's ``Magnificent Mile'' is the place to find glittering boutiques, hotels, and restaurants. A trailblazing indoor mall is lavish and sleek, with cascading fountains and plants lining its entrance escalators. Glass elevators zoom to retail meccas like Gucci and I. Magnin.
The Hyatt and Westin hotel chains are represented by sparkling buildings. In the Hyatt's glassed-in lobby, guests can relax while browsing through free newspapers from all over the States on Sundays. The nearby Knickerbocker offers more intimate Old World charm and personal service on a par with London's Dorchester.
The L'Escargot Restaurant, 701 North Michigan, is a mere step away from Paris, with cuisine to whet the appetite of any Francophile. The birch wood walls set off rare antique posters and paintings. Best desserts (in plain English): chocolate cake and lemon tart.
In the Loop area, the Palmer House lobby is likely to impress visitors with its vastness and elegance. Recent additions to the hotel include a gym, pool, sauna, and, among other good restaurants, the French Quarter, whose d'ecor is cheerful New Orleans and whose cuisine is Cajun.
After a morning of exploring, you may want to drop in at the Walnut Restaurant on the seventh floor of the Marshall Field's department store for the freshest seafood salad imaginable.
An inexpensive neighborhood restaurant of note is Berghoff's, at 17 West Adams. It has a huge menu and great German potato pancakes.
So next time you need a minivacation, Chicago should be on your list of possible destinations. In fact, if you decide to drop in, you may find a weekend isn't nearly long enough.