Windy City is worth a look in September
I HAVE a secret to tell and it may come as a surprise to some of you. America is made up of 50 states of which New York, California and Florida are but three.
Hidden in that huge space between the east and west coasts is Chicago, the Windy City, home of Al Capone, the Blues, Saul Bellow, Frank Lloyd Wright, the Bulls, the Bears and much of what is good in America.
At the southern tip of Lake Michigan, Chicago may have little to recommend it weather-wise, its inhospitable climate is likely to boil you in the summer and freeze you in the winter.
But point your wheels at Illinois around September and Chicago will charm you and make you a friend for life.
It is a pretty city to look at and, for a big town, the locals are surprisingly friendly.
Of all Chicago's sights, the Sears Tower is the most famous. The world's tallest building stands 350 metres tall and - once you have braved the express elevator to reach the 103rd floor and the Skydeck Observatory - the view is magnificent.
But it depends on what you want out of Chicago.
For the desperately organised, there are architectural tours, historical trips and cultural expeditions. For the sightseers, there is the Shedd Aquarium, the Museum of Science and Technology (where they have everything from a coal mine to a German u-boathoused in the building), the Art Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Lincoln Park zoo - the list goes on and on.
If you favour food, whatever your taste buds desire, from French to Italian, Chinese and Thai to Greek and German, it can be found in Chicago. But, for the impecunious, Chicago is the home of the deep-pan pizza, a four-course meal piled on to a pizza base.
Chicago is a sports mad city. In the summer, it boasts two baseball teams - the Cubs who, on their day, can lose manfully to anyone, and the White Sox based at Comiskey Park with its famous exploding scoreboard.
In winter, it is the turn of Dabulls and Dabears, known in English as the Bulls, basketball team, and the Bears, football team. Add to these the Blackhawks ice hockey team and it is possible to savour the best of American culture all year round.
But one of the best ways to sample Chicago is to grab a street map and just go for a walk.
Don't do this at night with a wad of $100 bills hanging out of your back pocket, though. Chicago may be friendly, but not that friendly.
Once the feet are starting to complain, the river cruise takes you up stream and around the impressive architectural sights of the city and then out on to the lake to see the place from afar.
Incidentally, around the turn of the century, the city engineers decided they wanted the river to flow inland and away from the lake.
After a great deal of hard work, they produced one of the few rivers that flow backwards. Come St Patrick's Day, they also dye the water bright green. What this tells you about the psyche of Chicago's city planners is unclear.
Chicago may also be Frank Sinatra's kind of town, but don't hold that against it.