Sun, snow and ice

Trip Start Dec 26, 2009
Trip End Nov 08, 2010

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Where I stayed

Flag of United States  , Illinois
Sunday, February 14, 2010

To nobody's surprise, it's cold in Chicago in winter!!! In fact it's rarely above freezing. It's hard to tell exactly because it's all in Fahrenheit, and I have to sit there and think, now take 32... and divide by two... and it's a little bit less than that... I despise the Imperial system. I would give up chocolate if I never had to hear of it again. Well, maybe... I'd give up one type of chocolate anyway.

It's very well set up for the cold though. Almost all the doors are revolving, there's heaters everywhere and they all work really well, the roads and sidewalks are always cleared of snow, and everyone knows how to rug up! I have a nice thick fleece, thermal leggings and a thermal long-sleeve shirt, thick socks, gloves, a scarf and a beanie, so I was prepared also. Ben had.... a fleece and a short sleeved thermal shirt. Boys.

We stayed at a hotel, because Ben got his laptop delivered here! (and some books, his driver's license, headphones, and a mouse. The hotel wondered who we were to get so many packages delivered). Which is what I am using now, and is the reason all the photos are finally uploaded. Yay for our (his) own laptop and being able to access decent wifi! And finally, at long long last, we are getting free breakfast that is decent. Because we booked online they are giving us $15 worth of breakfast at their restaurant free every day.... it is heaven. They have Eggs Benedict! Real eggs! Although it is still the thin deep-fried American bacon that Ben hates.

We were very good, and managed to catch the subway from the airport to our hotel, even though we had to change lines. We are getting better at this! (and Chicago has a ridiculously easy system. It's wonderful). The hotel is also wonderful. We have a large bed, complimentary chocolates, a nice hot pressurised shower, a heater that we control the temperature on.... aaaaaaahh. And a toilet you can flush paper down!

Chicago is probably the most beautiful city I have seen. Everything here is art. The buildings are all known for their lovely architecture,  sculptures abound, and in general everything is built to be  aesthetically pleasing, harmonious with its surroundings, and elegant.  All the bushes and much of the ground is currently covered with white, and the bare trees are twined with fairy lights. And the people are incredibly friendly... if you stare at a map looking confused, someone will ask if you need help. I have now been asked for directions 3 times, and although it is nice to look like a local, I can't help other people when I am also lost! It's okay, as soon as I open my mouth they realise I'm not from around here.

Our first day here, after arriving the night before, was Valentine's Day. Ben didn't feel well... he caught my cough (there is no unshared sickness when you are with someone 24/7) and was very tired. We decided to postpone Valentine's Day, and Ben stayed in the hotel to rest and I went out sightseeing! It was actually nice and sunny (although still just below freezing) and a nice day to be out. I saw the Daley centre, City Hall, the James R. Thompson Centre, the Cultural Centre, Chicago Theater, Millennium Park, the silver bean (Cloud Gate), the Art Institute (which, in another moment of wonderful timing, is free all this month), the Symphony Centre, Buckingham Fountain and I wandered over to Monroe Harbour on Lake Michigan. A very full day! Most of these places I didn't actually go inside, but just went to see the architecture.

I did go in the cultural centre, to see their art galleries and lovely roof (see pics), and wandered all through Millennium Park (yes, I did take pictures of snow and poke at it and walk through fresh bits so mine were the only footprints, and generally be entranced by the funny white stuff). I spent several hours in the Art Institute, which is impossibly huge and has impossibly many works of art. I liked the Impressionist/Renaissance section the best, which had many Monets, Van Goghs, Degas and Renoirs, some of which I actually recognised. I don't know much about art! But there were also massive sections devoted to African art, Chinese art, Indian art, Contemporary art... and 'art' is pretty massively defined. Much of the institute is like an archaeological museum. There were old weapons, jewelery, sculptures, clothing, miniatures, decorations, statues, parts of carved walls, architectural models... pretty much anything that was anything. Despite the hours I spent there, I had to rush through much of the museum to get a glimpse of everything. I saw some very famous paintings, some of which I took pictures of. If I recognise it it must be pretty famous.

I was pretty arted-out after that, and wandered down to Lake Michigan to watch the sunset colours. It was so cold that the top of the harbour water was frozen! I saw a few people climbing down ladders to tap it and confirm it was only thin ice. I wasn't going anywhere near it... I hate the cold and thought of falling into water like that terrifies me. It got colder with the dark so I caught the subway back to my nice warm hotel room to entertain Ben with what I had done. We considered going out, as it was Chinese New Year, Valentine's Day and a public holiday the next day but decided it wouldn't be good for Ben.

The next day was our postponed Valentine's Day! Ben felt better but we had a nice easy day. It snowed lightly, which was fascinating to us, and we kept laughing and breathing out to see our breath steam up. We caught up with a couple we met in Santiago for a chat, and it was nice to see them again. I dragged Ben off to see the movie Valentine's Day, which I quite enjoyed. We then walked up the magnificent mile, seeing the Wrigley and Tribune buildings and the Water Works, which were the only public building to survive the great 18-- fire. We went shopping also... Some of us needed better winter clothes! Ben now has waterproof shoes that he is very proud of: the laces are a wire that tightens by a twisting a knob, they look very cool and they are half the price they would be in Australia. He also has a beanie to protect his cold ears (now it is only our noses that freeze and feel like they will fall off), socks for his cold feet and gloves for his cold hands. Ben hates the way he looks in a beanie but likes unfrozen ears.

We had reservations that night for Sushisamba (they have one in Chicago!!) which was quite nice but not as good as our original night in Miami.... things that are so wonderful the first time never seem to quite live up to it on subsequent visits. We dressed up a little, which is hard when you have to wear so many clothes and your fleece is nowhere near as stylish as the gorgeous jackets all the other women are wearing, and your sneakers are nowhere near as fabulous as their fashionable boots - why yes, I am longing for a more diverse wardrobe and wishing a trench coat and boots would fit in my backpack and feeling frumpy, how did you guess? - and it turns out that metal hoop earrings actually hurt your ears when they get to a certain level of freezing-ness. We went out for a night of Chicago blues - we tried House of Blues but they were hosting a sold-out Killswitch Engage concert (we were a little puzzled by this also) and so we ended up at Chicago Blue, a lovely smaller blues bar with a very, very good blues band who got the crowd into it and a bartender who made great fuzzy navels. We had a great time.

Ben had serious munchies after all his Buds, and what should happen to be nearby but a giant 2-storey McDonald's. Hot fries are even better when it's really cold. And it was a very cold walk back to the hotel late at night!

The next day we did some more sightseeing. We went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, and discovered that neither of us appreciate contemporary art as much as older art. Especially when it goes on and on about meaning and significance of things, and at the end of the day it is still a block coloured-canvas. We went to the navy pier and looked around, but its pretty quiet in winter and we decided against the giant ferris wheel after considering the wind chill factor at the top. And then we went in search of a great Chicago tradition - the deep dish pizza! It takes almost an hour just to cook this pizza, and we were hungry by the time it was done. It is soooooo filling! And ridiculously deep....

Feeling exceptionally full of pizza, and thinking our arteries may never be the same again even though we shared a small (you should have seen the large!!) we set off for the John Hancock Tower to stand above the city at night. The blazing lights were lovely, and the audio tour was by David Schwimmer - it was amusing. See the pics, since I can't really describe it.

The next day we were pleasantly lazy, starting out very late and going to the free ice skating rink in Millennium Park, were I helped Ben learn how to ice skate! He has never skated or roller bladed, so it was all new. He started out slow and wobbly, something like a cross betweena giraffe learning to walk and a frictionless rhinoceros, but got better by the end. I saved him from falling a few times (you should all be proud I managed that!), but he also fell over a few times. He found it quite tiring, but it was nice to get back on the ice again for me - I skate well enough to stay upright and cruise, but certainly no jumps or backwards skating or quick stops! Ben got stopped at one point by a hockey mum from Maine, who told him how badly his skates were tied and relaced them for him - it was hilarious! She then assigned her 8-year-old to help Ben, so we had a little boy skating backwards in front of us to keep an eye on us, and he zoomed off to dart through packs of people and come to skidding stops when we paused... I think he was just there so we knew how terrible we were! We visited Lake Michigan again so I could show Ben the ice covering - but it was gone! I have photographic proof it was there, before you start giving me those funny sideways looks.

We eventually got tired and went in search of dinner - and ended up with Chinese. It was snowing again that day and it got quite cold as darkness fell so we went back to the hotel to relax on the laptop and read.  It was our last night there, as the next day we had a train to Cincinnati booked! It's so nice to be able to book things ourselves, over the Internet. We just stayed around the hotel, packing etc, and went out for Starbucks at check-out time. I've tried Starbucks twice before in America - once I had a white hot chocolate that was like drinking melted white chocolate, far too sweet, and once I had a caramel apple spice that was like a liquid apple pie, and was also far too sweet! Americans and their giant meals and their sugar, you can't escape it. And it's obviously far too cold to try a frozen drink. It was lovely and sunny again, and we made it to our incredibly luxurious coach train, which was only slightly delayed. Heaven after South America, with soooo much leg room!

Love, snow and sugar,

Amanda and Ben

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