All That Jazz

Trip Start Sep 04, 2006
Trip End Oct 13, 2006

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Flag of United States  , Illinois
Tuesday, September 19, 2006

ROB - And so we finally made it to Chicago and the hostel - and boy has it hit the heights.
Driving in, something we had both been a bit worried about, was remarkably straightforward - a road straight from the interstate to the hostel, with valet parking for $50 for three days. Can't be bad.
Unfortunately, we had left ourselves much longer to get there and so could not check in for a couple of hours.
So, after a quick walk around the neighbourhood, we settled into a local bar to watch football (their version) and have a quick drink. And another. And another. And....well you get the drift.
After check in, there really was only one thing to do, so we headed for another bar and did our best to help local businesses, helped by a guy from Oxford University Press over here on a conference (that's not fraternising with the enemy is it Dave?).
Meal of the Day had to be my chicken pot pie - which I can't pronounce without breaking into a Cartman impression - because Nick bailed out just after 7pm and was fast asleep when I got back to the hostel.
Today was far more productive - once we'd spent half an hour looking for a breakfast place and ended up two minutes from the hostel.
We hopped on an open top bus tour, which we are fast realising is an excellent way to get your bearings in a new city and work out where you want to go. The guide was not as good or amusing as the one in Boston, but it was a really good two-hour trip.
Chicago has a totally different feel to Boston. While Boston seems comfortable and relaxed with its place in the grand scheme of things, Chicago seems to be striving to keep pace or break new ground, aiming to be bigger, higher, better. And the people reflect that as well, they are in much more of a hurry than the Bostonians, chasing that big chance.
I like it though, it's been well thought out and the strip of parkland which runs between downtown and Lake Michigan gives it a really open feeling.
After a late lunch in an English pub - the same chain we stumbled upon in Boston, although sadly a day late for Sunday lunch - we opted to head up the Sears Tower.
And boy was that a good idea - 103 floors up in the skyway of what was once the tallest building in the world, you get the most amazing view. We were both a little bit apprehensive about the height, but it was something else.
They say the skyscraper started out here because the prairies don't have any mountains, so they had to build their own. And you can see why, it is totally flat for as far as they eye can see on three sides, with Lake Michigan on the other.
And there was plenty to learn about Chicago up there, before heading back down in a rapid elevator to the inevitable gift shop on the way out.

NICK - There's no wonder most tourists leave Chicago with a stiff neck. You spend all your time looking up at the dozens of sky-scrapers which line the streets.
It is quite an unbelievable place in terms of architecture and art.
On one hand, you've got all these ultra modern buildings with hundreds of floors and on the other, these amazing sculptures, fountains, libraries and museums going back hundreds of years. Very impressive and more of that tomorrow.
At this point, I should perhaps explain why I was tucked up by 7.15pm on Sunday.
Sunday afternoon drinking? Isn't it a wonderful thing. But normally when you've eaten more than a Snickers bar. That was Sunday's Meal of the Day, a bar of chocolate and also my excuse for being rubbish and going to bed early on the first day in Chicago.
Still, we did get to spend a couple of hours in a top bar a few blocks around the corner from the hostel and meet the very generous Simon from Oxford University Press.
The bus tour was excellent and took us all over the city, giving us a couple of good ideas for places to go - again, more of that later.
Whoever designed the place after they had this rather large fire a few years ago certainly wanted to get their money's worth in terms of cramming as much in to as tighter space as possible.
When you're in the Loop (city centre-ish) and you look up, the building you see will have at least 20 floors. Some will have 50 and the Sears Tower has 110. Now, as many of you will now know, not only am I not exactly Dan Dare when it comes to flying but I'm not the late, great Fred Dibner when it comes to heights. Still, when in Chicago...
It was well worth it as I hope the pictures show. As the Who once famoulsy sang, You could see for miles and miles and miles and miles. Thirty, to be exact. It was a pretty clear day but apparently on a really clear day, you can see up to 50 miles.
It was also a chance for me to use the bathroom (sorry toilet) in the highest place I will ever need to go (apart from on a plane).
We ended the day in a dive sort of bar a few blocks south of our hostel. Really excellent place. Lots of sport, lots of characters and free beer!
Meal of the Day - chicken ke-bob. Cheap as chips and very meaty!
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