I actually feel guilty with each post that I make here, because it pushes my SE Asia entries (which are the real adventure) farther down to blog oblivion where no one ever manages to go while reading. Oh well, domestic travel is the best that I can offer for now unfortunately. Plus, I am actually sitting in the student center at DePaul university “borrowing” their internet in the cafe here. I looked all over the city and knew that if I could find students, I would find internet access and cheap food. Its supposed to be reserved for students, but I managed to accidentally walk up and grab a terminal behind someone that had not logged out properly.
I finished my week here in Chicago with a big smile on my face. This was my favorite big city in the US and once again, it managed to retain its title with ease. I’ll give a lazy summary:
Visit to Millennium Park which has the giant metallic bean sculpture and is just generally a nice green space in a sea of concrete. We checked out Grant park and all the downtown and Loop fountains and points of interest. I could walk for days just down Michigan Ave and the surrounding streets without getting bored. There is enough peoplewatching (is that a word?), shops, sculptures, and street performers (including a scary old mime dressed as an angel on rollerskates that called himself “the roving angel” and wanted $5 a picture) to keep someone busy for days. We walked to Navy Pier and watched the boats, skyline at sunset, and a million fat seagulls that don’t know how good they have it compared to their Thai cousins.
The temperature dropped and the wind came back, so as usual, I am dressed improperly and jumping up and down in place to stay warm. Jessica just returned from 2 years in Thailand so all she could think about was Mexican food. We walked 6 blocks in the cold wind (yes, you get those kind of cravings after rice and noodles for months) to an incredible Mexican restaurant and ate enough for 4 people. Later that night, Rob’s family prepared a beautiful Salmon dinner for us and stuffed us yet again. It still never fails to surprise me at how friendly and helpful the locals have been here, every time I pull out a map people that were carrying briefcases and running to the next train or meeting, are stopping in their tracks to offer help and direction. One guy had a short lunch break, but walked with us for a while to make sure we knew the way to the Mexican place! This is definitely not like some other large, northern US, cities that I have been in where a question might return some general nastiness.
Although Rob’s parents were amazing and offered to let us stay as long as we wanted, my unwritten rule of backpacking is to not to push my couch rights more than 2 nights with someone that is not a close friend. We moved to Arlington House hostel, a huge hostel on the north end of Chicago. The place had all the amenities of a hostel, but all the personality of a hospital. The walls were whitewashed and bare lightbulbs lit the way. Other than that, there was a nice shared kitchen, common areas, movie room, and terribly slow yet free internet access. Also, the location was superb – right on the University campus and surrounded by great cheap eateries. I did manage to meet a couple travelers, one was a guy from the Ukraine that wanted to practice Russian with me a bit.
The weather has become painful for the month of May. The sun is deceptively inviting and warm, but the temp has to be lower 50F in the shade with wind. Despite the weather, we took a visit to the free and nice Lincoln Park Zoo and lingered in the awesome greenhouse that was a humid 85 degrees and full of tropical plants that I recognized from Hawaii and Asia just to warm ourselves. A visit to the beach was odd, there was a strange mix of people in shorts with no shirts on rollerblades zipping past people bundled in hats, scarves, and huge coats! We hit Gino’s East for some original Chicago style pizza which took bloody forever to come out of the oven. I had a pool of saliva on the table around 21:00 when it finally came out after smelling it in the oven for 45 minutes. As expected, one 2 inch thick, cheese covered, slice filled me up, after two slices I was hating life and making Jabba the Hut sounds.
We finished the night up at the famous 2nd City comedy club which had free improv night shows. 2nd City is a breeding ground for talent and feeds shows like Saturday Night Live with comedians like Mike Myers, Jim belushi, Dan Akrynoid, etc… The show was intimate and hillarious as well as very professional. Afterward, we went across the street (still giggling) to a pub that had a car theme. There was a full car on the ceiling and you sit on old car bench seats around the room that form a very cozy sectional type couch.
Today was the free day for Museums in Chicago so we took advantage and crashed at the Chicago Art Institute. The place was huge and simply amazing. There were many famous works of art from Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso etc…as well as tons of contemporary art which I really enjoyed. There was one fascinating “piece”…(more a piece of crap rather than art) which was called “lights on a string” and was simply a string of Christmas lights that had been thrown on the floor in disarray. There was even a proper name plaque and info about this artist that creates art by throwing strings of lights on the floor. Damn, why didn’t I think of that???
After some souvey shopping for people at home, we went to the Hancock building which is VERY bloody tall (I think the 2nd tallest in Chicago behind the Sears tower) and took a very fast ride in the elevator to the lounge on the 95th floor. My ears were popping like I had just returned from a dive trip as they adjusted to the quick 1000ft change in elevation. The view of the Chicago skyline was stunning and to the chagrin of our server, we loittered around for a couple hours until the sunset which we had a commanding view of. From my seat, I could see the skyline, the lake, and the Illinois horrizon with the sun setting. Amazing – both the view and the $40 tab for 2 drinks and 1 appetizer! An interesting event, I watched in disbelief as 7 Thai monks in orange robes walked in and sat down in the lounge. Did the elevator ride do something to my head? Seeing the same sight that I had witnessed all over SE Asia for months, suddenly transported here, a lounge in downtown Chicago, really messed with my brain for a few seconds. They must have been visiting and had come up for the view. We watched in horror as the friendly waitress had her hand inches from the monk’s shoulder as he was ordering, she had no idea that he would be cleansing himself for weeks if she touched him. (Monks and physical contact with women don’t mix) Of course, after coming to America and a wild city like Chicago, they might be doing it anyway.
I finished the perfect week in Chi-town with Rob and Jessica at Kingston Mines, a famous blues club that has been here since 1968, watching some awesome live blues and listening to Dion Payton absolutely shred the place with ungodly blues guitar solos. Being an ex-blues guitar enthusiast, I wanted to throw myself on the floor at his feet in unworthiness when he finished.
Did I mention that I love this town? !!!