Published: April 24th 2009April 24th 2009
Home of the Cubs, baseball's best losers!
"We're coming in, sir, you have to wake up. You got everything you brought with you? We'll be at the station in five minutes. You're still sleepy, huh?"
There were streaks of rain against the window pane and a numbing ache in my neck but after 17 hours of running along the edge of the waters of the Hudson, then plunging into darkness as we sped through Indiana, I was finally in Chicago. There were dark clouds overhead and the industrial wasteland that was scarred with the blackened, overused freight train lines gave the Windy City a foreboding appearance.
Through some small miracle I'd managed to salvage some sleep in the journey, despite the constant wingeing and moaning of the two small kids on the seat across from me, whose mother's best effort at consoling them was "what's your problem, child? You keep your mouth shut!"
Good stuff. Obviously took the Britney Spears parenting class. Wonderful.
Union Station was cold despite the five or so layers I had on, a marked difference even from New York. I was even further north now, on the banks of the turquoise Lake Michigan. Outside the rain was pelting down, and
Sweet Home Chicago
The cityscape as seen from the Adler Planetarium
I felt a touch depressed that I wasn't still on the train. A quick stop in the bathroom cheered me up, however, at the discovery of the Dyson Airblade hand-dryers. Good fun.
Still dazed and half asleep, I stumbled out into Chicago itself, the Sears Tower across the road reaching high into the clouds and casting cold shadows around it's base. My directions to the hostel were vague - get a 126 bus to the corner of Jackson and Congress.
Right. Nice and easy.
Only not. It took me nearly an hour of wandering in the rain to find the ruddy bus, at first getting on one heading the wrong direction. Off I got again, back into the torrential downpour. Excellent.
It turns out (as I found out today, a good 4 days later) that the hostel is a 20 minute walk from the station anyway. Past numerous coffee shops and three Dunkin' Donuts. On reflection I should have walked, picking something up to pick me up a bit.
My day of arrival was a typical dreary Sunday in April and it showed. The streets were near-empty.
Eventually I found the hostel and dropped my
The Big Bean
Millenium Park's main feature
bags off. Check in, as usual, was at 3, and as the Amtrak trains have a particular knack for arriving at, say, 9am, I had a few hours to kill. To the coffee shop it was then, a bit of diary and a sandwich and I was alive and kicking once more. Who says the trains are hard work?!
Checking in was an event in itself. Assigned room 319 and bed B, I discovered that somewhere along the line someone in 319 had decided "you know what? I think I fancy the wrong bed!" and thrown the entire bloody system off. Not a problem, really, but a bit of a pisstake for the newbie like me who has to try and figure out which of the beds are free and which is best to use. As it goes I got an excellent bottom bunk with bed E and though the mattress could be comfier it's not a bad little spot in the room!
The next morning, feeling refreshed after a quiet evening at the hostel, I headed out into the rain to check out the nearby Shedd Aquarium. After a misadventure with an attempt to buy a hot-dog,
No Blues Brothers car chases tho, alas...
only to be told at the register that I could only pay in cash and there were no ATMs around (seriously, though...what were they thinking?) I skipped out and headed into the aquarium.
I've seen a few aquariums now, and was hoping that this would be quite cool. They have WHALES! Whales, I tell you! It's not every day you see a whale!
Unfortunately though, I didn't see the whale after all, discovering only after I'd paid 20 bucks for my entrance ticket that a major section of the aquarium (the exciting part, in fact - the oceanarium) was closed until the end of May for renovation.
Wasn't going well so far.
After the frankly crap aquarium I headed next door into the planetarium, which was actually quite fun. I went to a 'Sky at Night' presentation where they pointed out constellations (BTW AJ we've been getting a few wrong - I'll point them out in Peru) and gave general pointers on where to find the north star etc.
Exhausted from the exciting morning (and genuinely depressed by the weather) I headed back to the hostel and chilled out again, just reading and listening to
One of the merry men from India House in NOLA
music as the rain lashed down outside.
The following day I used as an excuse to explore the city's bus links, and in my mission to get to Union Station to change my bus tickets I went to the very north of the city limits and back again. This took all day and by the time I'd sorted out an extra day in Seattle it was getting on a bit. Back to the hostel to avoid the rain and another quiet evening.
Finally, on Wednesday, the sun reared his head again and I went to the big bean thing in Millenium Park. A long while of wandering and it was time to head to the airport.
Avril was in town as an IB advisor at a local school so we had to meet up and do something! Heading out to Wrigley Field, we were set to meet Woody, one of the guys I'd met in N'awlins, and his mate Lindsay. They showed up and we watched the Cubs lose in freezing cold surroundings. Avril left a little early to do some paperwork, and we agreed on doing dinner the next night. For the rest of Wednesday night I
Finally, and two continents later, our paths cross!
hung out with Woody and Lindsay, grabbing a few beers and hanging with some her friends - all cool people, really chilled out and it was a good night!
Eventually though it was time for me to head back to the hostel, and with some trepidation at half midnight I board the CTA back to downtown. It was a breeze. As soon as we reached the red line station, where I was transferring, it became as busy as it would have been in rush hour and the worry of being mugged, stabbed and left for dead on the subway vanished. I got back to my room and crashed.
Up late this morning and I went back to Millenium Park, taking a book with me and reading. Subconciously I put my phone down beside me on the bench.
Which is where everything took a streetcar to the Twilight Zone.
Somehow, through some amazing idiocy on my part, I was robbed in broad daylight. By a bum posing as a newspaper salesman.
The bastard nicked my phone while I was distracted and happily took the 2 bucks change I offered him!
Still, at least I had my Ipod
One of the fountains in Millenium Park. You can see the bench I got my phone nicked on...
and wallet and important stuff. It was a crap phone anyway. But still, feeling pretty stupid now.
The afternoon was pretty cool though - met Bumley at the station before he headed off and caught up about his trip and exchanged stories. Was cool seeing him after such a long time! Then it was off to meet Avril for dinner, and I finally had a stuffed pizza, Chicago style!
So here I am now, back at the hostel and updating before my 2 day mission across the continent to get to Seattle. Apparently there is a massive snowstorm sweeping across the route and heavy thunderstorms all the way, so should be an interesting trip. Fingers crossed it clears up for Seattle tho!
There are more photos below