When COVID-19 made world travel impossible this year, our family decided to pretend to travel the world right here in Chicago. We began the project in the summer of 2020, finding landmark replicas, architecture, public art, and restaurants that recreate the experience of traveling the world.
Chicago’s neighborhoods have rich cultural histories and offer so many places to explore. Four of Chicago’s dynamic neighborhoods — Greektown, Hyde Park, West Ridge and Chinatown — are perfect spots to kick off a pretend family vacation around the world in Chicago this summer.
Pretend to Explore Greece in Greektown
Chicago’s love affair with neoclassical architecture, combined with the influx of Greek immigrants who arrived in Chicago in the 1840s, created a strong Greek presence in Chicago. Most of the restaurants and businesses that make up today’s Greektown are approaching their 50th birthdays.
Begin your trip to Greektown with pastries and soda to go from Artopolis Bakery & Cafe. We love their portokalopita (orange cake) and sokolatina (rich chocolate pudding cake). Bring your pastries and Greek Epsa soda for a walk to find all 24 of the suns that make up the Hello Helios art installation on Halsted Street from Monroe to Van Buren. They’re painted by a diverse group of Chicago artists and named for Helios, the Greek god of the sun.
Walking south on Halsted will bring you to a great photo op at the stone structure built in the style of an ancient Greek temple across from the National Hellenic Museum at the corner of Van Buren and Halsted.
Pretend to explore Haiti in Hyde Park
Chicago has a cool historical connection to a famous Haitian: the city’s founder, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, was likely Haitian. He was a fur trader and the first non-indigenous settler to the Chicago area in the late 1700s. Chicago is filled with nods to this famous Haitian-American, including a beautiful likeness of him that’s part of the “Instinctive Movement” mural by Rahmann Barnes (southwest end of the 47th Street viaduct, just west of Lake Shore Drive) in Hyde Park.
Not far away, experience Haiti by ordering some hibiscus iced tea at Sip & Savor Hyde Park. Hibiscus is the official flower of Haiti, and you can pretend you’re on the island of Hispaniola as you sip blueberry hibiscus or pineapple hibiscus tea. Honor our city’s founder one more time by visiting the DuSable mosaic mural inside the entrance of the DuSable Museum of African-American History.
Pretend to Explore India in West Ridge
Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood is one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the city. It’s home to Devon Avenue, a busy street known throughout the Midwest and even internationally as a destination for a wide variety of South Asian businesses. Park between Oakley and California on Devon Avenue, and walk around the neighborhood to experience the sights and sounds. Look for colorful saris and salwar kameez in clothing shop windows. Peek into the large storefront window of the Shree Ganesh Temple of Chicago and visit their shop filled with statues of Hindu deities.
Almost 80% of India’s population is Hindu, and 94% of the world’s Hindus live there. Walk west to Sukhadia’s Sweets and Snacks for pistachio kulfi, an Indian ice cream formed in the shape of a cone, or try other sweets like burfee, halwa, or ladoo. If your kids are less picky eaters than ours, order takeout from Uru-Swati.
Pretend to Explore China in Chinatown
A pretend trip to China in Chicago is full of pagoda roofs and mythical animals! Begin the adventure on Wentworth Avenue south of Cermak in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood. The most iconic building in the neighborhood is likely the 93-year-old Pui Tak Center. The gorgeous Chinatown Gate is just in front of Pui Tak, stretching across Wentworth on the south end of Cermak. Walk north under Chinatown Gate toward New Chinatown.
In the plaza of Chinatown Square, take some time to search for which animal sculpture represents your Chinese Zodiac sign (square entrance on Cermak just west of Wentworth). Grab bubble tea at Joy-Yee Noodle and walk south to the “Nine Dragon Wall” statuary. Walls like this one are typically only found in imperial Chinese palaces and gardens. Chicago’s 2004 wall was modeled after a 600-year-old wall in Beijing. It is one of only three such replicas outside China.
The Around the World in Chicago travel guides are available as digital downloads and in print at a handful of Chicago retail locations! The eBook travel guides are available at aroundtheworldinchgo.etsy.com.
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