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Illinois (pronounced ill-i-noy) is derived from the Algonquin Indian word meaning the tribe of superior men. It is also known as The Prairie State and the Land of Lincoln. The first moniker is based on the fact that a large portion of Illinois is part of the Great Plains region of the U.S. and prior to its settlement by European immigrants, great herds of buffalo and wild game roamed across its prairies. It is situated along the banks of Lake Michigan, which is part of the Great Lakes Waterway, and the only great lake to be located entirely within the U.S. boundary. The Land of Lincoln nickname is in reference to Abraham Lincoln, who relocated to Illinois at age 21, became a successful lawyer and State Representative, and went on to become the 16th President of the United States. In 1818, Illinois was granted statehood and became the 21st state in the Union. Presently, it is ranked 25th in size.
Illinois is located in the Midwest Region of the United States and is one of the nine states and Canadian Province of Ontario in the bi-national Great Lakes region of North America. Illinois covers about 150,000 square kilometres and has roughly 13 million inhabitants. It borders Wisconsin in the north, Iowa and Missouri in the west, Tennessee in the south and Indiana in the east.
Illinois' eastern border with Indiana consists of a north-south line at 87° 31′ 30″ west longitude, from Lake Michigan to the Wabash River above Post Vincennes. The Wabash River continues as the eastern/southeastern border with Indiana until the Wabash enters the Ohio River. This marks the beginning of Illinois' southern border with Kentucky, which runs along the northern shoreline of the Ohio River. Its western border with Missouri and Iowa is the Mississippi River. Its northern border with Wisconsin is fixed at 42° 30' north latitude. The northeastern border of Illinois actually lies within Lake Michigan, within which Illinois shares a water boundary with the state of Michigan.
Though Illinois lies entirely in the Interior Plains, it does have some minor variation in its elevation. In extreme northwestern Illinois, the Driftless Area, a region of unglaciated and therefore higher and more rugged topography, occupies a small part of the state. Charles Mound, located in this region, has the state's highest elevation above sea level at 376 metres.
Starved Rock State Park
Canyons of sandstone is not what you think when you picture the flat state of Illinois. Starved Rock State Park is an eroded butte overlooking the Illinois River and has 18 distinct canyons. During the winter time there is ice climbing and in the spring time the water run off can be quite pretty. Starved Rock State Park is located 75 miles (120 km) southwest of the city Chicago. There is a nice 1930s lodge that offers nice hotel rooms and camping options in the park.
For those who enjoy a road less traveled...
Historic Route 66
On September 22, 2005, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated the portion of Route 66, which winds its way through 421 miles of Illinois, as an American Scenic Byway. Those who enjoy motoring through small towns and countrysides will appreciate this paved piece of American history. The route begins in Chicago and exits the state as you cross the Mississippi River into St. Louis, Missouri. There are approximately 70 small towns along the way, several still sporting vintage signage and continued connections to the Route 66 heyday of the 40s, 50s and 60s. At the Williamsville Die Cast Auto Sales, you can still get a soda pop for 25 cents.
The Great River Road
In 2005, the Great River Road was also designated an American Scenic Byway. Though the route is actually comprised of several state highways, it runs along 550 miles of Illinois' western border as it follows the mighty Mississippi River southward. The journey begins in East Dubuque, Illinois and ends at the Fort Defiance State Park, where it meets the Ohio River National Scenic Byway. One is sure to find many small towns, nature areas, state parks and definitely beautiful scenery to enjoy as they make the drive. For the history buff, stops in Galena, Nauvoo, Cahokia (Collinsville) and Cairo are highly recommended. The area around Cairo is also known as Little Egypt.
Illinois State Fair
The Illinois State Fair is held over a 10 day period during the month of August in the state capital of Springfield. The fair has been held almost every year since it's beginning in 1853. The event highlights Illinois' agricultural roots with livestock, crop and machinery exhibitions. There is also a "midway" area with carnival rides and games. Beer tents and food vendors can be found throughout the 366-acre grounds. The Grandstand featured performers Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, Gin Blossoms, Seven Mary Three, Sponge and several others in 2007. Approximately 700,000 visitors attend the Illinois State Fair each summer. About 650,000 of those visitors are there to see the life-sized Butter Cow which is 400-600 pounds of sculpted butter.
International Route 66 Mother Road Festival
At the end of each September, Springfield, Illinois is host to the International Route 66 Mother Road Festival. Car enthusiasts will enjoy this 3-day event which features free car shows, a street festival, swap meets, demonstrations and workshops. There is a Southern Illinois Route 66 Tour for those wanting to hit the open road. Other activities include the Route 66 Cruise Parade of Cars, lots of live entertainment and a travel expo. Begin the adventure in Chicago and just follow Route 66 all the way to Springfield. Arriving in time for the festival is a great way to end such a trip.
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Windy City Classic
The Windy City Classic, also known as the Crosstown Classic, The Windy City Showdown and the Crosstown Series, used to be annual Memorial Day game outside of regular season between the two Chicago baseball teams the Chicago Cubs and the White Sox. Both teams belong to different leagues meaning that they could not play each other in regular games, unless it was the World Series, until inter-league play was allowed in 1997. At the present time the teams play two 3 day tournaments against each other every year. One tournament is at Wrigley Field the home of the Cubs and the other is at U.S. Cellular Field, former Comiskey Park, the home of the White Sox.
Because of its nearly 650-kilometre distance between its northernmost and southernmost extremes, as well as its mid-continental situation, Illinois has a widely varying climate. Most of Illinois has a humid continental climate, with hot, humid summers and cold winters. The southernmost part of the state, from about Carbondale southward, borders on a humid subtropical climate, with more moderate winters. Average yearly precipitation for Illinois varies from just over 1,219 mm at the southern tip to around 889 mm in the northern portion of the state. Normal annual snowfall exceeds 965 mm in the Chicago area, while the southern portion of the state normally receives less than 356 mm. The all time high temperature was 47 °C, recorded on July 14, 1954, at East St. Louis, while the all time low temperature was -38 °C, recorded on January 5, 1999, at Congerville. Illinois averages around 51 days of thunderstorm activity a year, which ranks somewhat above average in the number of thunderstorm days for the United States. Illinois is vulnerable to tornadoes with an average of 35 occurring annually. While tornadoes are no more powerful in Illinois than other states, the nation's deadliest tornadoes on record have occurred largely in Illinois because it is the most populous state in Tornado Alley.
O'Hare International Airport (ORD) is one of the busiest airports in the world. From O'Hare there are hundreds of flights to just as many cities within the USA and almost all continents. It is located in the far north west corner of the city, about 17 miles (27 kilometres) from the Chicago Loop. It's the 4th busiest airport in the world with around 65 million passengers a year. There are numerous airlines serving hundreds of cities, both in the USA as well as other countries in North America, the Caribbean, South America, Asia and Europe. Some of the main destinations include New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, Las Vegas, Denver, Tokyo, Paris, Frankfurt, Rome, Mumbai, Dublin, Delhi, Toronto, Vancouver, Seoul, London, Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Zürich, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Mexico City. Nearly all main cities and towns in the USA have direct flights to Chicago O'Hare.
Midway international Airport (MDW) is the smaller of the Chicago airports. It is located conveniently near the city centre on the west side of the city. Midway Airport is a hub for many domestic discount airlines, flying to almost any city in the USA and has limited international service.
There are several trains travelling from Illionois to the south, east and west of the country. Most trains arrive and depart in Chicago.
The main trains include:
Illinois is accessed through interstates 39, 90, & 94 through Wisconsin, 74 and 80 through Iowa, 55, 57, 64, 70, and 72 through Missouri, 24 through Kentucky, and 64, 70, 74, 80, 90, and 94 through Indiana.
Check Greyhound for options.
Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.
For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.
Illinois has a number of National Scenic Byways which offer a great way to explore the state crossing beautiful landscapes. Mostly, there are lots of national parks, state parks or monuments along the way and it's generally a better alternative than the faster but boring Interstate Highways.
Check Greyhound for options.
Chicago has many specialties, the most famous of which would have to be its hot dogs and its deep dish pizza. Central Illinois is known for its Horseshoe Sandwich, an open-faced sandwich of toast, hamburger, french fries, and cheese sauce, with regional variations.
The rural water downstate, excluding municipal water but including untreated spring water has a "sulphur" taste and odor to it. It is safe to drink, but the odor and taste can be hard to swallow.
There are dozens of hotel and motel chains, ranging from budget to top end. Allthough they are not the most charming accommodations, they usually have a very decent midrange service with good rooms and are generally good value. At least you know what to expect and in some cases they are either the only or the best option in the area. Some of them include:
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