A Day in Chicago

Our first day on the Chicago trip. It started badly. Departure at 5 o’clock in the morning, after only two hours of sleep (remember Boston). Flight on 11th of September, violent turbulence, landing in the rain and to finish, nowhere to sleep! Yet, barely out of the subway under the cloudbursts, on an empty (Sunday and weather working together) street in the Loop (the business district),  we lift eyes and know instantly, “that’s it, we are there. Chicago.” And without being able to explain it, we’re already won over…

The issue of housing has been quickly resolved. A room reservation website, has, despite ourselves, put us in the Hilton hotel… the living room was luxurious, in perfect sync with our backpacker lifestyle. To honor the class, we enjoy our MacDonald’s burgers on the 2 king size beds in the room. So chic! Note in passing, that it is in the suburbs of Chicago that the first MacDonald’s opened, there is even a museum! We have not had the time to visit it. Personal disappointment! It seems that there is the entire collection of Happy meal toys, in other words the cult objects!

The time to settle, the question of the weather has also been resolved. Lucky you say? The weather would remain beautiful throughout our stay. We didn’t need more to make this city, that we would discover over 5 days, a real favorite.

chicago the loop

The loop: open air architectural Museum

Chicago has everything that a big city should have, and everything urban tourists such as we are, dream to see.

The Loop, the business district, is a condensed version of the history of the architecture of the buildings, or a harmonious mixture of recent glass towers in which are reflected the first skyscrapers, survivors of the great fire of 1871. It is crossed by the ‘El’, an above ground train running by the buildings at the level of the 3rd floor. It gives a peculiar air to the downtown. The shadow of the rails, the squeaking of the wheels of the subway, workers busying around by day, but one can imagine very well, at nightfall, the slums of Gotham.

getting me the gshock watch

Getting me the gshock watch

Um, one thing was trippy that day: my old G-shock watch died, after 6 years of faithful service. I hit the Internet in search for new options. Found atomic811.com and read the watch reviews there. I decided for the GA100-1A1. It’s a good looking analog-digital, with an inverted screen. I love those. For 70 bucks, I hit the road looking for a watch store to buy it. And here I am, watch on my wrist!

Chicago is the city of the United States which has the most green spaces, its motto is even “city in a garden”. It was founded on the shore of Lake Michigan which resemples the the sea, and its shores a coastline. Especially as we are on Sunday, magnificent sailboats and yachts sail and compete. A 10 mile promenade was built along the coast, generating an animation that makes the windy city (down to minus 40°C in winter) so summer-like, it’s hard to believe.

The water is omnipresent, the Chicago river flows right through the middle of building 1900, lessening the coldness of the wide avenues sometimes totally devoid of green areas. Chicago has even a beach! Sand, real, hot, white with green palm trees and the translucent lake water. A fake Miami-like air against the fantastic skyline. We fall for it…

With our hosts in the port

With our hosts on the pier

This city is amazing! The atmosphere is comforting and at the same time lively. Millennium Park opened in 2004 in the heart of the Loop. On our first evening in Chicago, we were able to attend a concert of the Philharmonic Orchestra, in the amazing Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by Gehry, the architect of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, a mass of people of all walks of life and of all ages gathered to listen to a castra… Amazing. The Cloud gate called “the bean” is surely the element of this ingenious Park which held us longer, like many other passers-by. A species of bean therefore, but including the appearance of a bead of mercury, offers a deformed reflection of the surrounding skyscrapers. In General, the city is using all the ways to create animation (and certainly reduce crime, if I am to remind you that Chicago was the headquarters of Al Capone during Prohibition) focusing on art in the street: faces on large screens and a giant eye. A little Big Brother or a benevolent glimpse, your choice.

The Bean: Millennium Park

The Bean: Millennium Park

Our poor feet accumulate miles. Chicago is very extensive and we are going through it long and wide. The city resembles a puzzle of neighborhoods of distinct appearance, around the Loop and its Magnificent Mile extension, with no apparent connection. But it works. We travel from Greektown to Chinatown to the South. To the North, we are going through Old town; knowing that almost everything downtown burned at the end of the 19th century, this is limited to two symbolic doors and a few charming shacks.

At the edge of the Lake there is Lincoln Park, an upscale neighborhood with a free zoo (curious association). Further to the West, Bucktown is a neighborhood of small brick buildings of 2-3 floors with shared gardens and hip shops. Eileen and Elliott are our two colloquial Chicagoan hosts (curious but it is like that that the inhabitants of Chicago call themselves). They live in the latino neighborhood, close to Bucktown. Again the couchsurfing experience is successful. Eileen and Elliott are a couple that we would have never met in real life. Eileen is a fan of vintage, working her pin-up look. Elliott, biker with a big beard has a cult for beer (that he manufactures), barbecue (which he regaled us on) and has a beautiful Harley that he tends lovingly.

On to food. Chicago is clearly a culinary capital. Well Yes. Chicago is not only the MacDonald’s, it also has the Hot Dog. Chicago style, a traditional hot dog in bread brioche, with a sort of fluorescent green jelly. We learn later that it’s pickled peppers, but everything has the taste of sugar here. Otherwise, on the menu, we suggest the original deep dish pizza.

Imagine a pizza baked in a flat cake pan, with a thick bread dough, crispy and chewy at the same time, topped with a good tomato sauce and a layer of cheese base… And to complete the picture of refined cuisine, there’s R.J. Grunt, the restaurant with Obama’s burgers, if you please.