"Chicago, Chicago, it's my kind of town"
21.06.2016 - 23.06.2016
The drive from Nashville to Chicago was particularly long. We'd originally planned on diversionary stops along the way but the delay in New Orleans meant we were now running behind time so we pressed on. We arrived in the Windy City in the late afternoon. I don't know what I was expecting but Chicago was huge. We drove along the lake side up to the Linkin Park area where our hostel was located. It was a nice, green and gentrified area filled with 19th century townhouses. We illegally parked, unloaded the bags and checked in. The hostel recommended a couple of streets were we might the park the car but an hour of driving around and around the airport revealed there was no parking to be found anywhere. That was a problem. Although we had the car for another two days we decided there was nothing for it but to drop it off. This meant a drive to the airport and then training back to the city. Fortunately there was a stop a short distance from the hostel. By the time we got back it was well after 10pm so we called it a night.
The next day we took the train into the city where we had a food walking tour. We we're the only foreigners but at least it was more than just us. Overall Id say it was a fair tour - nothing amazing. One place we visited was the Billy Goat Tavern, which is famous for being used in a John Belushi Saturday Night Live sketch. Apparently it's famous and we were all invited to watch the sketch on YouTube, which I did. To save you time I'll explain the sketch - John Belushi is behind the counter and says "cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger" in a Chicagoan accent. Yep, that's it. It's not funny. And the cheeseburgers aren't great.
We did the river and lake cruise, which was very interesting. Chicago has a spectacular skyline mixing 19th century, interwar and modern buildings. Trump Tower is particularly notable.
One interesting story that says a lot about Chicago. At the turn of the century the Chicago river was a cesspool of pollution so the city cut a channel linking the river directly to the lake. This allowed the pollution to flush away and everyone in Chicago was happy. However, soon after the Canadians and communities around the Great Lakes were not. You see, the water flows down from the lake into the Chicago river and away to the sea. Basically the canal washttps://www.travellerspoint.com/my_blogeditentry.cfm?blogid=135520&entryid=611279 draining the entire Great Lakes system. Canada complained to Chicago who politely told them to go fuck themselves. It became an international incident and eventually the US Federal government was forced to install locks on the canal, allowing the lakes to stabilize.
After the cruise we wandered around the Navy Pier, which reviewers on TripAdvisor gave rave reviews. In reality it was a rather tedious and empty conference center. The only interesting thing about the place was that it was used during WW2 to train navy pilots for air craft carrier landings.
After all that walking we were pretty exhausted and took the train back towards the hostel, but then Shelly suggested we go to the baseball. I wasn't keen, but then thought "why not." We rocked up bought some scalped tickets and enjoyed the show. A little background about the Chicago Cubs - they haven't won the World Series since the early 1920s and their fans have a love / hate relationship with the team. T-shirts abound with catchphrases like "CUBS - Completely Useless By September" and "CUBS - please don't suck!" It's hilarious - just like supporting the Fremantle Dockers.
Chicago is synonyms with organized crime so we did a Chicago Crime tour, which was excellent. We discovered that John Dillinger was gunned down a few streets from our hostel. We walked past that alleyway every day going to and from the train station.
That night we planned to go to a blues club around the corner but then there came a hurricane warning for Chicago. We asked about this at the reception - I mean, come on , a hurricane? In Chicago? The staff were pretty chilled about it and didn't think it would amount to anything but by the time we were dressed and ready to go out the skies suddenly opened up and I mean opened. The rain pounded down in a fearsome torrent and the sky was ripped with lightning. We stood at the door of the hostel and gazed out thankful that we hadn't stepped out two minutes earlier. That put paid to our plans that night. We had take away delivered in ( the poor delivery boys earned their tops that night ) and called it a night.
Chicago is home to four skyscrapers over 350 metres. The tallest is Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) at almost 550 metres, although about 75 metres of that height comprises TV and radio aerials. We opted to visit the John Hancock Centre observation deck, which is around 340 metres above the ground. We visited on two occasions - first during the morning but the top of the building was covered in cloud so we decided not to go up.
We returned in the late afternoon when the cloud had dissipated. The view was very impressive. If you're crazy you can pay extra to be hung out in a glass box overlooking the street. No thanks!
That night we continued our tour of American tiki bars at Three Dots and A Dash. We had visited lots of Tiki bars and they were all invariably empty, but not Three Dots and A Dash. It was absolutely pumping but as we were dressed appropriately we were escorted straight to a table - VIP treatment! The food and drink was excellent and we walked out with another set of tiki mugs to carry home.
The next day we wandered rather aimlessly, visited a couple of museums and headed up town to see 'the Bean', which is an amazing piece of modernist sculpture. The best view of the Bean however was had from a rooftop bar across the street.
Our last night we attempted a bar crawl through a couple of speak-easy bars but we didn't make a big night of it as the next day we were flying to the Big Apple.