1 day in Chicago.
Getting there from New york: Our journey to Chicago was almost as exciting as the actual Chicago bit itself, with a little bit of discomfort thrown into the mix (Read: Bring a pillow, seriously, always TAKE A PILLOW ON THE AMTRAK). Waiting in Penn Station, New York, for our evening journey to Chicago was just as shambolic as trying to travel 2 stops on the London underground during rush hour, and just as confusing. We were told to move here, there and everywhere by a bunch of ego trippin’ employees who just loved their little bit power.
Once on the train, we were thrilled at the legroom… a feeling that was soon replaced by the stark reality that despite the space, overnight on this thing was still going to be a little bit painful. Quite literally, in the buttocks. Once that deep strain in the ass-bone sets in, and once your legs get so numb that you wouldn’t even notice if someone was drumming a U2 number on them, you know there is no hope of shut eye. And why-oh-why do hot countries pump up there aircon to minus degrees? It’s a boiling hot summer and everyone has to carry around a coat? Really? We lay there awake and uncomfortable most of the night, cursing anyone who snored or looked like they were capable of snoring. How do they manage to get so much sleep when these seats fold you like the bellows of an accordion?
The only good thing about our lack of sleep was that we didn’t miss a thing that went on outside the window. I felt like I was the girl from ‘’The Girl on the Train”; trying to see through the windows of the houses we went past just to catch a glimpse of someone else’s life. As this was my first time in America, it was strange seeing all the wooden houses, with porches and rocking chairs facing the railway tracks like I’d seen on films. The picturesque scene of golden corn fields flashed by with factories and junkyards breaking up the tranquility, adding an unexpected, certain charm. While caught up in my all-American dream world, I overheard the funniest conversation. Not something you’d ever hear in the UK. A man with a deep booming voice and a thick american accent said on the phone to his wife/mistress, “I’m tired, save me a pig’s foot”, then belted out a deep hippo laugh that could wake the dead. It was fantastically bizarre, like something Bubba Gump would say.
Once in Chicago, we lugged our ludicrous so-called ‘nomadic’ belongings from Union Station into the clearly ageing ‘L’ train System, and out to the Wicker Park area, to find our hostel “IHSP Chicago”. This area has a hipster sort of vibe - an artisan beards and hand-knitted cheeses sort of thing.
We were finally here, after a long 18-hour train journey, with the opportunity to get some proper sleep and some wholesome food down us. We were so sleep-deprived that our eyes looked like drooping foreskins. Sorry for the imagery. But we only had one day in Chicago and although we headed out of the hostel after a much need shower, in search of a healthy vegan restaurant called Mana (found on the Happy Cow app), we found ourselves doing something totally different. On our way to our sensible evening, we were seduced by the sinners outside “The Parlour” - their promises of cocktails and ice cold beer was too irresistible to ignore.
Hours later, we were still sipping on local ales recommended by the bearded hipster barman, Justin, while his Britney Spears look-a-like colleague showed us how to use SnapChat. We still didn’t know how to use it, and we still don’t months later, but the face-swap thing had us in stitches. We must have looked rather odd, this weird English couple sitting at the bar giggling at their phones for hours. We spent around $60 on booze that night, eating noting but cheap, tasty ‘artisanal’ tacos crafted from the local takeaway. A mis-spent introduction to Chicago indeed, but who cares? These are the days…
The next day, we woke up surprising early (5.50am, to be precise) with banging heads and mouths drier than a cream cracker in a toaster. Thank goodness the hostel provided a free breakfast, because we were not fit for the outside world not just yet. While eating our delicious free pancakes - with dried blueberries and chocolate chips - we had our ears talked off by an irritating hostel dweller who thought he knew everything there was to know about everything. If you’ve ever stayed in a hostel you’ll know exactly who we’re talking about. They’re in every hostel.
We then caught the Blue Line from Damen Street to Washington Street (23mins) to see ‘The Bean’ or ‘Cloud gate’ (see our 360 video) - a random, yet fascinating stainless steal dome, inspired by liquid mercury…and from a distance that’s actually what it looks like. It reflects and distorts the city's skyline beautifully, creating a great opportunity for some fun photographs and laughs when your legs shrink and your stomach bulges. Hold on, maybe that wasn’t a distortion.
Take a little walk around Millennium park while you’re there, it’s pretty beautiful, then soak your weary feet in the Crown Fountain, which is located in the Loop Community. These ludicrous towers are 50 foot tall human faces, that literally spit at you. Possibly the only time you don’t mind being spat on. It was a great way to cool off before heading to the Willis Tower.
It took around 20mins to walk to the Willis Tower using our TomTom Go Mobile app, it’s a great way to get around as the maps are offline. We then paid good money ($22 to be exact) to stand on the Sky Deck’s glass floor. 103 floors up seems to take forever, in the over crowded body-odoured elevator (see below). But you’ve got to do it, even though it’s completely safe, it’s still totally exhilarating! Though my husband - the king of vertigo - missed out. He refused point blank to put so much as a toe on the glass. He couldn’t even look at it. Instead, he watched me from a safe distance through the safety of his camera lens…as I sat with my legs folded like a pretzel on the glass floor. Supposedly Zenning out, for a decent Instagram shot. In fact, I was not as brave as my calm face suggested. My inner gizzards where in knots, because of the children behind me. They kept jumping on the glass, like they were playing on a bouncy castle! (*throws up in mouth a little bit). OK, it’s probably built strong enough that the worlds fattest man could jump on it, but that knowledge doesn't help when all you can imagine is a small crack forming and stretching and finally giving way and me ending up at the bottom like a tin of chopped tomatoes. But I survived and so will you, so go on, do a handstand on the bloody thing.
After the Willis Tower excitement, we found a really amazing raw vegan restaurant using the “Happy Cow app” called ‘Karyn’s’. You can get there via the Brown or Purple Lines, and takes around 25min from Quincy or Wells. Or you can walk it like we did, which takes around an hour.
It’s pretty pricey in there, but then again food in America is surprisingly pricey. No wonder McDonald's is all the rage! But if you’re after something healthier than MaccyD’s, then we highly recommend this place, whether you’re vegan or not. We enjoyed a delicious ‘Sublime Lime Pudding’, with avocado, chia, coconut, butter, honey, lime and spirulina. We also had a ‘Seaweed Tuna (fake tuna) Savoury’. They were both delicious and nutritious, not very big but it was definitely the perfect hangover health kick lunch.
From there, you can make your way to Lincoln Park (15 min walk), where you’ll be greeted with beautiful wide open spaces and a majestic view of the city’s skyscrapers jutting out across the horizon. It’s the perfect place to rest your weary legs after all the walking. We spent time lying under a cool tree, making pictures out of the clouds.
And I don’t know about you, but I just can’t help but take my shoes off whenever I see cool green grass, there’s nothing like that feeling between your toes on a hot summer’s day.
We then briefly visited ‘The Lincoln Park Zoo’. We’re not massive Zoo fans, but as far as zoos go, this one ain’t so bad. Entry is free and the animals have decent-sized cages (well, some of them). The best bit is actually as you’re leaving the zoo, out the back entrance, as the views are stunning…scenes of mirrored skyscrapers reflecting off the lakes. Makes for a lovely afternoon stroll, if you have the time.
From there we walked 40 minutes to get to Navy Pier, for a taste of the world-famous Chicago style Pizza. It’s all over, but we went to ‘Giordano’s’. It’s a must. The law. You really can’t leave Chicago without trying one. Get me? Promise? Though I’d recommend sharing, as these things could seriously clog up the most able of digestive systems. They’re ludicrously big. Think pizza, but like a gateaux pizza. As thick as a pie.
We rounded the late afternoon off with a little stroll around the Pier. I image it would be a great place to have a couple of sundowner drinks, but after the previous night’s shenanigans, I don’t think our stomachs could handle it. Also, it would have just sat on top of an enormous backlog of mozarella and bread.
It then took about 32mins to get back to the hostel from Navy Pier. Catch a bus from Navy Pier Terminal (65), hop off at Halsted and Milwaukee, then get the Blue Line from Grand to Damen. Easy. Freshen up at the hostel (and for all you yogis out there, IHSP Hostel’s rooftop decking is the perfect place to do your practice), and you’ll have the most beautiful views of the city to look out to. But get up there early or before all the drinkers come out to play in the evenings.
Then maybe head out for drinks (or some non-alcoholic beverages if you’re feeling a little ropey) at one of the trendy little bars along Damen. We hit Nick’s beer garden - a dive bar really - where I enjoyed a brandy and coke and Spence enjoyed a beer and a shot for $5.00. Cheap as chips and the perfect place to end your day. So much for feeling we couldn't handle another drink but it was just one, promise.
It's now time to wrap up our day in Chicago and we hope yours ends as beautifully as ours did. All the local hipsters were gathered in the streets, iPhones pointing at the sky to capture this amazing end to an amazing day.
Click to read about New York City.