Monday, 3 September 2012

Round The World Travel: Chicago, Illinois, USA

Where I am

'The windy city' and indeed it was a little breezy, though after 5 years in Scotland, by no means what I would call strongly so.  After the downer that was Washington DC, I stepped out of the train station and thought, 'Yes! This is more like it.'  Bustling streets and cool eateries combined with the warmest welcome I've had yet.  As I walked along smiling at how great the place was, everyone smiled back.  People laughed and joked with each other.  Whenever I was drawn in to conversation the second my accent became apparent, a 'Welcome to Chicago!' soon followed.

Chicago for me had operated till now as the back drop for ER, a place where an unfortunately large amount of horrific accidents occurred and hot doctors ran around shouting, "Person vs automobile over on Michigan, 3 minutes out!"  The only other pop-culture reference point being Bugsy Malone, meant I was pleasantly tested in my loose grip on reality by the large number of people sporting scrubs, lab coats or trilbies.  It doesn't take much.

Where I stayed

Oak 112 Hostel. But no, I didn't hate it! Woop!  A newly opened hostel, this was very lovely, clean and modern and roughly half the price of the place in Washington.  Staffed by three charming young men, native Chicagoans, and a 20 minute walk from the lake or downtown, it was excellent.  Good spread for breakfast, too, and no one seemed to mind me stealing an extra bagel for lunch.

I stayed in the female dorm which was a definite improvement; no bunk beds and no smelly boys.  Apparently I am past the time where the presence of 18 year old lads is a plus point. The other girls were all friendly and we were each grateful for some company at the end of the day.

What I read

Mostly still 'The Line Of Beauty' - long book, busy week. It's a book full of aching and longing and it's breaking my heart a little.

Also, 'The Swimmer', by John Cheever

A short story which was mentioned in one of the many reviews I read of Cosmopolis as a rich/poor divide study of a man who swims across the county via his neighbour's pools.  For a film I don't think I enjoyed, I sure can't seem to stop dwelling on it...

What I listened to

Sufjan Stevens - (Come on feel the) Illinois

Had to be done really, especially Chicago.  If you've never heard Chicago, click below and thank me later.  Lifechanging.

An old, stately black gentleman in a trilby with a tarnished saxophone playing some of the most beautiful, plaintive jazz I've ever had the good fortune to hear.  I gave him all my coins, because he was wonderful and they are heavy and I can't understand them.

What I ate

Pancakes, specifically multigrain (totally healthy, yeah?) with maple syrup and whipped butter pancakes from the famous Lou Mitchell's diner.  The best introduction to a city ever in the world, Lou's is a proper have-I-stepped-back-in-time? diner where you're offered free doughnut holes on entry, free coffee refills and sincere friendliness from the wait staff, who, when not taking your order, are singing duets with each other or conversing easily with the regulars.  Perfection.

Deep dish pizza pie at Giordino's.  I had a personal size ($5 - seriously good value) and still had to have half of it boxed up to take home, because it was the most filling thing I've ever tried to eat.  They really aren't lying about it being like a pizza crossed with a pie.  Not for the lactose intolerent.

My first ever Chipotle (which I insist on mentally referring to as chipottel).  I was very excited after trying the healthy versions on Skinnytaste and it was good, cheap, filling and without the gross feeling I normally associate with consumption of fast food.  Still think I prefer Gina's versions however.

Free muffin samples at ING Direct Cafe.  A super nice, extraordinarily cheap cafe in a bank. I know, weird, but true.  $1.50 refillable coffee, free wifi, big sofas and a nice atmosphere despite all the orange branded furnishing.

What I did

Visited the world famous Art Institute of Chicago. It was pretty amazing, a good mix of modern and, ahem, real art. The room full of Monet's was luminous and breathtaking.

Ate my lunch lounging in Millennium Park, a new-ish park/ art space in the heart of the city. The giant shiny blob thing was my favourite.

Swam in Lake Michigan at the Oak Street beach. I went very early in the morning, like my mummy always does, and had the place near to myself. It was easily hot enough even then and the freshwater was just gorgeous to swim in.  Chicago really does have it all.

Sadly that's all I managed as I sprained my ankle rather badly on my way from Washington DC and could only hobble a few hours. Day. Am on the mend now though, thanks to Dr Carter (in my dreams).

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