Iíve stood where worlds collide, at the corner of Mulberry and Canal streets, the fierce, unrelenting fault line of Manhattanís Chinatown and Little Italy.

Bright red Mandarin scripts hang above Sicilian cafes adorned in gleaming tinsel and waving flags, accordion moans played to no one wafting through storefronts stocked with dead birds upside-down. Sewer smoke floats amid the endless traffic, and each day two small city streets dangle a million people and secrets you will never know. As cities go, Columbus is a different world. Down in lovely little German Village, life is simple, breathing easy. I got a Metro Park within walking distance and a neighbor named Carl. Sometimes we work on cars.

Smack in the middle of this fascinating mess called civilization lies Chicago, Americaís greatest city, a metropolis thatís wholly manageable, yet infinitely exciting.

You've heard about the Magnificent Mile, Wrigley Field, The Second City -- there's enough attractions for an encylopedia of badass postcards. What was most interesting to me was the way that outdoor activities have been integrated into a place that offers so many great things we expect from dense, urbanized areas that survive in part because they conquer nature.

I can get from Capitol Square to my favorite fishing hole in 20 minutes, but that's expected in a city the size of Columbus. In Chicago, you can get from world-class steakhouses and towering skyscrapers to a beautiful Lake Michigan beach in about the same time.

That's impressive.

Bike trails line the Lincoln Park neigborhood where my sister lives, and the shoreline wears a necklace of public parks. There are boat tours, kayak rentals, Downtown birding spots and much, much more.

I'll have full coverage in this week's Venture column, so be sure to pick up the paper in the waning days of this fantastic summer. For now, here are a few links to help you start planning your trip: Tourism bureau: general info about big attractions, restaurants and lodging Bike map: great info about cycling along the coast and within the denser areas of town Boat tours: a list of great skyline and architecture tours along Navy Pier City parks: List of beaches and other public lands Chicago Wilderness: a resource for all types of outdoor and nature activities, including boating and birding Lincoln Park Zoo: more on the world-renowed conservation facility that's open daily and completely free

(Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau photos)