For 500 years, Germans have done their holiday shopping at open-air Christmas markets in town squares.
Named for the Christ child, the markets traditionally start on the first Sunday of Advent, with shoppers warming up with hot spiced wine while browsing at garland-draped timber kiosks.
It's a tradition worth importing, and that's what Chicago did in 1996 with its Christkindlmarket, where two-thirds of the vendors come from Germany.
Visiting Chicago during the holidays, I'm always bowled over by how merry everyone is.
Can it be . . . Chicago Nice? It's either that or pixie dust.
Chicago is an exciting place to be any time, but at Christmas, it pulls out the stops. The Magnificent Mile sparkles. Ice skaters do pirouettes in Millennium Park. There are free concerts everywhere.
There's a reason why winter is the favorite season of many photographers — it's gorgeous.
You've seen this region's icicle-draped sea caves, volcanic Great Lakes waves and dancing northern lights on social media. Now get out there and enjoy the scenery yourselves.
Snowshoe up frozen river canyons, barrel through the woods behind a team of huskies and go to bock festivals at breweries. Learn to ice fish, track wolves and look for bald eagles.
Some people may guess that lakes or bicycle trails are the chief attraction for travelers in the Upper Midwest. Other might say museums, state parks or stadiums.
Wrong, wrong and wrong. The No. 1 attraction in travel is . . . shops.
Shopping is sightseeing for a lot of people. On vacation, they shop not as they would at the local mall, but as if had all the time in the world to browse, stroll and sample.
In the Upper Midwest, finding a good deal is a sport second only to football.
Some of us need a bargain. Some of us just like them. But we all need to get away occasionally, especially when cabin fever strikes in winter.
The easiest way to save is to round up a group of friends and rent a guesthouse in a state park. After that, most of the fun — skiing, snowshoeing, bird-watching, festival-attending — is free.
Eagles don't really have lovable personalities. But, man, are they fun to watch.
Those haughty pale eyes, that 6-foot wing span, those wicked talons and the flesh-shredding beak — eagles are just plain cool.
Everything about them is larger than life, right down to their nests, which are so big and sturdy that bears sometimes climb into them to hibernate.
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