Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Week 50.1 - Chicago

Last time we got the MegaBus it was a bit of a disaster, (you remember the time San Fran to L.A), but this time it was surprisingly better, even if the journey was 9 hours long. We were picked up on time from an actual bus station instead of waiting at the side of a random road and actually set off a couple of minutes early once the driver was happy that everyone had arrived. The change of drivers went quickly and smoothly, all passenger pick ups and drop offs were done within 10 minutes and we only took a 20 minute break for lunch, plus the loo was kept exceptionally clean on board. The only issue I had was the change in weather with each state we passed through, from Tennessee to Kentucky then Indiana it just seemed to get colder, until we reached a freezing cold Illinois. 

MegaBus were up to their old tricks in Chicago, dropping us on a street corner 15 minutes from the central loop. I didn’t moan too much about the walk to the train station, having got rid of most of my stuff (thanks mum) my backpack is finally loads lighter and a lot easier to carry, so this walk was one of the most pleasant we’ve ever had whilst carrying our stuff….it’s only taken us a year to not argue when the bags are on. It was eerily quiet Downtown on a Sunday evening and we were worried that the trains weren’t running, but a kind lady at the station helped us with our tickets and ushered us on board the brown line. Panic set in once we were on board when Kyle couldn’t find our stop on the map or work out which way the train was going. After he made us jump off at the next stop we quickly learnt that we were on the right train, it just does a loop before continuing on, this good effort from Kyle meant a 20 minute wait for the next train to come along, this made me really hangry. 

We soon made it to our hotel, Fieldhouse Jones, a century old converted dairy house. This building was empty for almost a decade until it was purchased by the hotel owner, and it now represents a modern hotel decorated with old sports memorabilia along with some of the buildings original features. As our room has a window with views of the city loop train line, I feel like we have been housed in a true American apartment. After a quick check-in we were finally able to eat, a massive Gyro delivered by Uber eats…I know, I’m worried that we’re taking this America thing too far to. 

Stepping outside on our first day in Chicago we were immediately struck by how cold it was, a total shock to the system after 11 months of being mostly warm. It was actually fucking freezing, we wrapped up in layer upon layer and even contemplated buying wooly hats and wonder it was so quiet the night before, everyone is avoiding frost bite. We soon warmed up once we got walking along the river walk, the many, many skyscrapers acted as a great wind block. Taking us along the deep blue Chicago river the walk offered great views of the city skyline, even if we couldn’t see the tops of most of the buildings due to the fog, this city still felt tall and huge in comparison to Nashville and El Paso. Leaving behind the modern buildings, we crossed the river and found ourselves at the top of the Magnificent Mile, a street lined with designers stores and expensive restaurants, such as Micheal Jordans steakhouse. But it wasn’t the shops we’d crossed for, it was the British/French styled architecture of the Tribune Tower and surrounding buildings that had caught our eye, that and the huge statue of Abraham Lincoln. The Tribune Tower was built in 1972 and consists of 36 floors, housing the Chicago Tribune, Tribune Media and Tronc, Inc, this gothic building reminds me of an old English church..well a really tall one anyway. 

My favourite building is the Carbide and Carbon building. Now home to the Hard Rock Hotel, this building stands out thanks to the black granite and terracotta facade that covers it, making it look like a green bottle with a gold lid on top, you can spot it from miles away. Next stop was the Chicago theatre, we were too late for the inner tour, but the outside of the building was so bright with it’s flashing lights it was reminiscent of a theatre from New Yorks broadway, as was the Oriental theatre around the corner.  All that walking had got us feeling pretty hungry so we headed to a local restaurant, Big & Little’s. Featured on the U.S’s version of an Ainsley Harriett restaurant show this diner is famous for being on Diners, drive-ins and dives, looking like a bit of a dive but offering amazing tacos, salads and burgers, this little find has to be one of the cheapest places to eat in the whole of America. Our food and drinks cost us little more than $15 and Kyle couldn’t move afterwards.

The plan was to visit the John Hancock building and take a trip to the top of the tower for views over the city, and once again Kyle was adamant that he knew which way to go. About 1 hour 30 minutes and 4 miles of walking it was clear that he actually had no clue where we were, or where we were supposed to be going, especially when the Hancock tower was only 1km from our hotel. Instead we ended up walking around the loop about 10 times, but we did find a nice church to light a candle in for Nana. St.Peters sits in the centre of the loop but surprisingly stands out amongst all the skyscrapers, inside is decorated in wood and marble with pristine white statues and a fountain of holy water, I think that my nana would of really liked this one. We also found the Willis tower, a 1450 foot high skyscraper offering a skydeck and 360 degree views of Chicago…but with the fog still sitting low and a $18 per person entry fee, we thought better of going in. 

A walk through Millennium Park took us to one of the busiest attractions in the whole of Chicago, The Cloud Gate. A public sculpture by Indian born, British artist, Anish Kapoor, the Cloud Gate is the centrepiece of the plaza in the park. Weighing in at 110 tons, this sculpture is made of highly polished stainless steel and reflects the skyline of Chicago and on a clear day, the clouds above. Our final destination was 3,300 foot long Navy Pier on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Offering fair ground rides, cruises, food and souvineers, the Navy Pier was opened to the public in 1916 after originally being built for freights and outdoor recreation. Originally named Municipal Pier, the name was changed in 1927 to Navy Pier to honour the canal veterans who served in the First World War. It was a bloody cold walk along that pier, but it was lovely to look after the bright blue lake, you could even see the beaches along the shoreline…shame it wasn’t warm enough to visit them, maybe next time hey? 

We didn’t actually find the Hancock building until the next day when we stepped outside of our hotel and looked left, and there it was, right where I said it would be. I’ll let Kyle blame the fog for that one. We’d arranged to go on a tour of Lincoln Park to learn more about the area and Chicagos mob history with a company called, Free Tours by Foot, and met our guide Hillary at Julia Porter park. She showed us many blues clubs and buildings that used to be speak easys back in the days of the prohibition when the distribution and sale of alcohol was illegal. We learnt about the battles between the North and South mobs and the Saint Valentines Day massacre….famous as this was when Al Capone forced George “Bugs” Moran to go into hiding when 7 of his men were killed, including his best fighters and document keeper. This also led to the people of Chicago making an appeal to the government to stop the mob related crimes in Chicago.

Stopping outside the old Biography theatre we learnt about John Dillinger, Public Enemy number 1. Hailed as a hero by the public, Dillinger stole from banks and helped the poor, escaping prison twice, he later had plastic surgery and got a new identity to avoid further capture. He was later found and shot dead in an alley next the theatre where fans and crowds of women soaked their skirts and handkerchiefs in his blood, something to remember him by, and a little creepy in my opinion.

The Cider house in Chicago is known for being one of the few buildings that survived the great Chicago fire of 1871. The story has it that Officer Bellinger who owned the house at the time wet down the house and fought the fire with barrels of water, before using cider to fight off the fire. His wife later said the cider part wasn’t true, but you can still visit this building today on your way to Lincoln Park, and Lincoln Park zoo. Though I don’t agree with zoos and we passed on the visit, you may like to know that this zoo is one of the only free zoos in the world. We also visited Oz Park which is, as you can probably guess, filled with statues of your Oz favourites including the Tin man and the Lion. Named in 1976 Oz Park is in honour of Lyman Frank Baum, the author of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz who settled in Chicago in 1891 a few miles of West of the now park.

Though it’s been bloody freezing and I’ve not been able to feel my hands or nose 80% of the time, Chicago has been a great city. Surprisingly peaceful, this city combines old European charm with modern skyscrapers and has plenty of parks and suburbs to enjoy…I think next time though I’ll come in summer. 

So next stop is our last stop, New York City. On one hand I have been desperate to get there to see if it is as good as I remember, but on the other I haven’t wanted this time to come as it marks the end of our journey…but lets not think about that for now and roll on the Big Apple.

Love Carrie xxx