CHICAGO It doesn't take long to realize just how fascinating "The Windy City" is.
The Navy Pier is an absolute must for Chicago tourists. Used as a U.S. Navy training base from 1941 to 1947, the family entertainment center offers a spectacular view of the city skyline from the Chicago River.
In addition to a wide range of eateries, the facility features the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows. There are hundreds of beautifully crafted pieces of colorful artwork on the free walking tour.
If money had been no object, I would have taken advantage of the various tour and charter boats. There are also three dining cruises.
I had a marvelous time simply "people watching" while meandering through the carnival-like atmosphere, complete with a Ferris wheel ride.
Another Chicago landmark is the Sears Tower, the tallest building in the United States. The 110-story structure on South Wacker Drive took three years to build, starting in 1970.
I'd recommend visiting the skydeck. The view from the enclosed observation area is well worth waiting in line. You can see the almost the entire Windy City from three sides, including Soldier Field where the Chicago Bears play their home games. There also is an informative collage of photographs and illustrations about the city's history.
When I visited Chicago for a campus ministers conference in 2002, I could hardly contain my excitement as I took the long elevator ride to the top. As I watched the specks below me walking on the sidewalks, I once again was perplexed how terrorists could conceive of destroying New York's World Trade Center not quite a year earlier.
Now having been to Chicago twice and marveled at the gothic facade of one of downtown's many skyscrapers, I understand why "Batman Begins" director Christopher Nolan wanted to return there to film his sequel.
Where else can you see the Trump International Hotel & Tower under construction while dining in a patio off the Chicago River that runs through the city? You know you're in a fascinating metropolis when city hall about eight stories tall has an office strictly to handle the mayor's media affairs.
In June, I stayed at my cousin's apartment on North Lake Shore Drive. I took daily and nightly trips downtown to catch the goings-on of the 2008 Batman sequel, "The Dark Knight." The crew shot footage of a bank robbery involving The Joker at the old post office for one week starting April 18. They returned to Chicago in June to continue shooting through September.
Each day I walked about 10 blocks down West Addison Street to reach the city's transit system, better known as the "L." My stop was two blocks from yet another Chicago landmark, Wrigley Field.
Although I didn't take in a Cubs game, it was easy to get a sense of baseball history even at the empty park. Fans obviously had made contributions to have their names engraved into bricks on the West Addison Street sidewalk outside Wrigley. A nearby statue, dedicated by the Cubs on April 12, honors the late announcer Harry Caray, depicted with a microphone in his hand.
About six blocks east of Wrigley is the 42nd precinct of the Chicago Police Department. I didn't spot any officers wearing hats with the unique checkerboard on the brim, but I did see a fleet of 11 police four-wheelers parked behind the station on my daily treks.
One female officer at the Navy Pier said there are about 13,000 total officers, but added: "The city pumps up the numbers." That's quite a difference from Norwalk's finest, which has about two dozen full-time officers.
I highly recommend taking the "L," which runs 24/7; it gets you within reasonable walking distance of many parts of the city. The stops are easily accessible. There were days when I didn't use to the same stop for my return trip.
My cousin (technically my wife's first cousin), Andrew Hahn, said using the "L" makes you feel like a true Chicago native. True enough, I took the lead getting out of one of the downtown stations when we went to the theater district on West Randolph Street to spy on a "Dark Knight" filming location.
As I rode the train downtown, I noticed the wooden stairs and landings of the apartments between the North/Clayborn and Fullerton stops. I'm positive Nolan used that simple bit of architecture as his inspiration and likely a nearby shooting location for the "Batman Begins" scene when the hero pays a surprise visit to Gotham Police Sgt. Jim Gordon at his home.
It also was fun thinking how many scenes from the NBC TV series "ER" had been filmed at the "L." When I walked down Lower Wacker Drive, I couldn't imagine stuntmen driving the Batmobile down the narrow lanes at speeds as high as 90 mph with police cruisers right on its tail.
I guess the Frank Sinatra song is right: "Chicago is ... my kind of town." ON THE WEB
Check out reporter Cary Ashby's four-part report on his "Batman Chicago Vacation" under the TV blogs onwww.norwalkreflector.com.