A Weekend in Chicago



I rolled out of bed at 4:30am on a muggy Friday morning to catch my 6:30 flight from Rochester to Chicago. The flight was delayed a half hour, so I grabbed a cup of coffee and I watched the sunrise through the window of the airport terminal. When the sun finally emerged from below the horizon, everything around me became tinged with a hazy orange hue. Though short lived, it was a truly magical moment that few seemed to notice. I think that many of the people around me were too caught up in the hustle to care. 

I’m no stranger to air travel. I took my first solo flight to Washington DC when I was eleven years old. While in school, I flew back and forth between Rochester and JFK more times than I can count, since I didn’t have a car. Because of this, I’ve grown to feel rather at home in airports. I love existing in the gray area between here and there. I love the excitement of a new place. And at the end of a fulfilling trip, I love the comforting feeling of going back home. 

Traveling on your own has a way of quickly forcing you to learn how to rely on yourself. You have to learn how to deal with the inconveniences and quick, unexpected changes without anyone there to hold your hand and guide you through it. You have to learn how to trust your gut and roll with the punches. I think the best way to foster independence in young people, especially young women, is through solo travel. It is empowering being confident in my ability to get myself anywhere I want to go, whether by plane, train, car, or any other means.

I didn’t travel to Chicago on my own. I tagged along with my mom, who was going there for work. But because she had a conference to attend, I spent a lot of time wandering around on my own. During my 4 days in the windy city, I walked nearly 35 miles. By the end of my long weekend, my feet were sore and my legs were tired, but I was at peace knowing that I had spent every moment I could exploring.



I’d never been to Chicago before and I had no idea what to expect. I was a little nervous in anticipation, and I didn’t expect to fall in love with it in the way that I did. Of course, I tend to fall in love with every place I visit – that’s what happens when you love to travel. But Chicago has its own unique charm, especially when it comes to its architecture. I tend to have little interest in architecture but in this city, you can’t help but become fascinated with it.

I took so many photos of the towers along the riverwalk because of the incredible aesthetic. There are so many architectural styles represented in the city skyline, and somehow they all tend to blend well together despite those vast stylistic differences. I think what stood out to me the most in this respect was the old clock tower on the river standing among dozens and dozens of modern metallic skyscrapers. I couldn’t stop looking at that clock. I think I photographed it at least ten times.

On my first evening there, I witnessed an incredible golden hour. I didn’t have my camera with me at that point, which sort of saddened me. But I appreciated it as fully as I could while I was wandering about. The golden glow of the sun illuminated the Chicago River and the humidity in the air softened the dark silhouettes of the bridges over the river and everything looked hazy. It was a dream. 



When I was growing up, I was convinced I was destined to be a city girl. I dreamed of cities and the fast paced life with the notion in my head that it was the kind of life I was made for. The more time I spend in cities, the more I know how untrue that is. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the energy of cities. I love it. But it’s also very draining for someone like me. By the end of my long weekend in Chicago, I was more than ready to return to the quiet, small town life. 

The idea that at my core, I am a small town rural girl is very new to me and it’s a bit unsettling. I’ve spent so many years thinking that cities were a better fit for me that the realization that this isn’t true is earthshattering. It’s funny how strongly we hold on to our own expectations for ourselves. Sometimes I think I get too caught up with who I think I am and aspire to be and tend to be a bit out of touch with who I actually am. I don’t think I’m alone here. I believe that many young people struggle with this.

I came to this realization while on the plane headed home. I was reflecting on my trip as I always do after I visit a new place, and I realized that I was consistently drawn toward the city’s parks and gardens and, most of all, the lakefront. I felt the most calm in these places. And by the end of each day, I wanted nothing more than a quiet, cozy place to collect myself.



On my last day in the windy city, I was lucky enough to meet up with a friend of mine who lives a bit outside of the city and it left me pondering the magic that is the human experience. As I become more confident in myself and my ability to interact with the people around me, I realize how important human connections are. In the past, I didn’t have a solid understanding of the magic that happens when you share yourself with others. 

I’ve always had a hard time opening up to people and it takes me months, sometimes longer, to show my authentic self to a person. But more and more, I am starting to be more open with the people I encounter and this blog is partly responsible for that. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop yearning for deeper connections with people and it doesn’t mean that my distaste for that superficial level of interaction is going to dissipate. But the more courage you have to open yourself up and let people in, the greater your chances are to develop those deep connections with the people you meet.

My long weekend in Chicago taught me so much about myself and the world. It’s astounding how much you can learn in a few days. This, I think, is the best part about travel. If you go into an adventure with an open heart and an open mind, it creates the ideal internal environment for learning and growing. And you know what? I am so excited to see what my future travels have in store for me. 

TravelHannah ZelaznyComment