written by: Natasha Khalid
Inspired by Instagram accounts and upsurging travel industry, traveling to a destination unknown (less popular) was on my bucket list for long. However, the way life was shaping up, I had kept that thought dormant since I knew I will be traveling soon but to places that most of us talk about and have been to. Nowhere interesting in the sense of exploration to be precise.
Little did I know that after months of planning and contemplating about a travelogue, I will in a matter of days run to the States and live in a small town near Chicago. Thanks to my best friend who was residing there.
For someone raised in the company of books and coffee, when not stuck in traffic, this was mentally perceived as an adventure on its own.
To talk of the place located 215 Km south of Chicago is the city Champaign, which shares a border with city Urbana, hence Champaign-Urbana is also known as the Twin Cities. I discovered this a week after residing there that Champaign is also a city.
As to my amusement, the city has only one strip mall and one Wal-Mart which is good enough to cater to the population. The best thing about it is the fact that you face no traffic and the town has a beautiful fall. Every place is accessible in a matter of minutes.
What makes Champaign-Urbana captivating is the campus town of the University of Illinois, which has a great architecture and a small downtown area that covers most happening and aesthetically pleasing places a tourist would enjoy. Also being in the company of people around your age is always fun.
Inside the campus town, you not only find beautiful buildings of various departments but located in University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the Krannert Art Museum, the second largest general fine arts museum in the state of Illinois that holds an excellent collection of 10,000 works of art from ancient Egypt to contemporary photography along with artwork from fourth millennium BCE to date. It also exhibits a vast range of culture and various modes of artistic expression which is definitely a fascinating sight.
Situated in the same area, a few steps away is the Krannert Center for Performing Arts which usually is the happening hub of theatres, plays, concerts, orchestra and various activities. An educational center and performing arts hub that caters to everyone. If nothing interests you at this place then it also has an (overpriced) café and a bar that serves good coffee and probably good beer too.
A little walk down the road leads you to the famous Grainger Engineering Library, one of my favorite spots where I used to instantly feel intellectually stimulated. Quite a few times I thought about being an engineering student instead of being a doctor.
It is the largest library located in Illinois with an exquisite architecture and a space good enough to accommodate people comfortably. It has a center area with five different levels dedicated to studying and small café inside it behind the elevators. The backside of the library encompasses an appealing view of a huge lawn bordered with aesthetically pleasing buildings which are departments employed for teaching specific specialties.
The best thing about this place is that you find all ethnicities under one roof. While I had my cup of coffee in the café inside the library I enjoyed the conversation of two students sitting right next to me about "Sattar Buksh" back home in Karachi. Hence even in a place that is far from the maddening crowd of Chicago city you hear of sounds of Karachi and its eateries.
My favorite part of the day was usually spent getting a quick caffeine fix or ice cream from café’s located in the downtown or enjoying the sight of great buildings on the campus along with some cool graffiti on the walls and obviously taking pictures. The other days, I used to take long romantic walks to Sephora and enjoy exploring cosmetics that are heavily priced in my hometown.
Besides the campus town of the university, there was a downtown area of Champaign too which was small and engaging. The best part was that you couldn’t get lost in that area despite roaming around for three hours. The bus terminal was always my landmark and found myself near it despite going in different lanes on my voyage of discovery.
The small cafés, coffee joints, bakeries, and eateries had quite an interesting décor, cozy and well themed.
The other best thing about this place was the people. Since many people stay here because they are either studying at the famous University of Urbana or working at the hospital located in the area. Hence you run into a mix of ethnicities and cultures that are humble enough to take your photos on the way and help you out with directions and information or some are even kind enough to help without asking. Once someone was paying for my bus as I was juggling to pull out coins from my wallet. That attitude makes you realize how goodness still prevails in the society regardless of race. The same factor leads to finding eateries that cater to all palettes and hence a place you will love if you love trying different cuisines. Even though a small town but you can still find halal, Indian, Mandarin, Italian, Mexican and etc..
While on the street you bump into frequent words of wisdom or sculptures.
Besides various parks this place has, Crystal Lake Aquatic Park is a must go to place. Serene and large, you can fish, walk, have picnics or enjoy the pool.
Life in Champaign is work, eat, movies, plays etc. and repeat. However, if you visit you will find it as pleasing as I did.