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Alana's Travel Page

It's take me a lot of years to get to the point of travelling on my own to distant shores. Still not sure whether I like it but here goes...........

Diary Entries

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Location: Chicago, USA

………..and my last night here. Nice day at the zoo today & very pleasant bus ride getting to there. Spotted how to get to the Marilyn Monroe sculpture, another (but bigger) Disney store & the Apple shop (several floors of it !!). Noted as places to visit on way back.

Very impressed by the Lincoln Park Zoo – apparently only one of three in the whole of the USA continuing to be free to visit. Still not convinced that I like to see wild animals enclosed – even if they look very well cared for & have imaginative enclosures – glass walls / outdoor spaces surrounded by moats & high walls still seem like prison bars. Fantastic to see children’s faces though as they marvel at the animals. Gary the glum gorilla & family were quite entertaining, along with the more active smaller monkeys whose swinging antics brought squeaks of glee from some very young children observing their show. Clearly a great place to take a picnic as many families were doing just that on a warm day with not too much wind. Whiled away a few enjoyable hours & found my way back to the bus & the stop I had sussed out on the way to the Zoo.

Disney store bigger than the one visited earlier but still over-priced – to be expected on the Golden Mile I guess. Apple store amazing but just too much of a reminder that I don’t have a bottomless purse. Bought a new case for my phone which I later discovered doesn’t fit. Perfect excuse to upgrade to a 4S now though !! Fascinated by a larger than life black guy who looked like he was buying up the whole store & talking music all the while to the sales assistant. I’m sure I should have known who he was & lost an autograph opportunity – what the hell!! Found the magnificent Marilyn sculpture & realised just how huge it is. Why oh why do people find it funny to be photographed looking up her skirt though – nowt as queer as folk !! Jumped back on a bus, got lost & found myself in the jewellery district – diamonds galore but I never did like them anyway – much prefer something with a bit of colour but maybe that’s because I’ve never been able to afford diamonds. Give me a firestone / black opal instead any day.

Wended my way back to the hotel & sorted out the shuttle to the airport tomorrow. Can hang out in my room until noon which is great & then on to the airport. Short stopover in Montreal & then back to Heathrow & the National Express bus home to Portsmouth around mid-day on Friday. Think I’m Chicagoed out for now but looking forward to dinner tonight at D’Agostinos after braving the urban highway crossing. My own bed & a drink in the local pub just round the corner are sounding most fine right now. No more walking miles & miles for a while – even if it is good for me !!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Location: Chicago, USA

Hated Hooters last night - sardined into a seat at the bar whilst waiting for a table. Busy, noisy & very unfriendly - oh yeah - maybe that's cos I'm female !! Had a beer & left without eating cos couldn't face anything fried after watching a ton of chicken wings being tossed into bubbling fryers. Somehow didn't feel very hungry after that.
Promised myself a relatively relaxing day today - exploratory journey to Old Town to check out some of the architecture. Had the rail connections all sussed & looked an easy walk on the map in order to see some of the houses where the originals were razed in the Chicago Fire but reconstructed in the same style as part of gentrifying the area. Also guidebook promised lots of small & unusual shops.
Earwigged on a fascinating conversation between two musicians – juxtaposition of young & old with the declared 29 year old white blues guitarist (working at Buddy Guy’s) shaking his head & not recognising much of the musical reminiscing of the older black guy who was into rock music. Desperately wanted to join in (I am that old !!) & demand to be taken to Buddy Guy’s as a guest that evening – bottled out !! Respect though to the younger guy’s claim to fame – “I was at Buddy Guy’s house for Thanksgiving last year”.
Got off at the right stop & walked miles – saw architecture – shops seemed closed & took me ages to find anywhere for coffee & breakfast. Upside of all of this – fitter due to loads of walking instead of driving a computer at a desk most of the day. Thank goodness for Starbucks within supermarkets !!
Lunch next (well my main meal of the day really due to dearth of choice around my hotel) – had checked out Chicago’s “finest & oldest pizza joint” & rode the Brown Line round the Loop to get to it. Can’t get over the voyeuristic delight of peering through windows on the elevated line & feeling sorry for that dentist’s patient , lawyer’s clients, worried looking individuals in suits in conference rooms & tons of nondescript people glued to computer screens. Lunch a disappointment despite the forewarned wait of 35 mins due to everything being made fresh to order. I can usually take cooked tomato (allergic to fresh) but this was overladen & tasted decidedly acidic & a strange kind of “deep pan”. Stomach reacted badly not much later & have decided that Pizza Hut has moulded my taste buds lol. Maybe I’ll seek out a chop house or spaghetti joint tomorrow. Definitely decided to check out Chicago Zoo as the City Fathers have benevolently kept it free of charge. Can’t quite suss out how to get there yet so will have to go on line & sort.

Achievements for today:
** Grandkids order for Disney Store “Princess” gear
** Daughter’s request for a Disney cover for her 4S
** Order for American chocolate / Hershey bars / Baby Ruth’s

Monday, 09 April 2012

Location: Chicago, USA

Good food last night – shrimp starter (prawns to me) & steak – and even managed to get a Peroni beer. Hair-raising getting across the freeway & back for the restaurant but worth it as went to bed tired but replete.
Didn’t realise how hot it actually was yesterday – might have been something to do with being on the top deck of an open air tour bus for 2 hours. Woke this morning with a perfect replica of the necklace I was wearing picked out in relief by a not too fetching lobster red. Must remember how easily I burn & will have to find a round necked tee shirt to cover up today as the weather gloriously sunny again. Discovered an evening Blues trip on line last night so went into the Culture Centre to book – foiled again !! Only runs certain times of year in peak tourist season (not April apparently) so dipped out again !! Sigh………… ok…… art instead.
Achievement – got a burger & a pint after bumping into an Irish bar when looking for breakfast / coffee. Nice people & enjoyed chatting before venturing into the Art world.
Fascinating time in the Art Institute of Chicago which is a quite amazing place. However there are a few things that would enhance the experience for donuts like me:
• Checking your bags in is a great idea so you are not lumbered whilst enjoying the art experience but:
1. Give people the map / guide beforehand so that people like me will realise that they need they need their reading glasses for the tiny print before the bag is checked in
2. Take pity on those who are not skilled map readers / have no sense of direction & can’t see the damn small print anyway
3. Carefully explain why certain parts can only be accessed from Floor 1 due to elevator renovation & point out exactly where Floor 3 is i.e. in a different building
4. Tell us that Chicago is laid back about its art (not snobby like us Brits) & that it’s cool to take a camera round & photograph your favourite for posterity
5. Again, do the above before people like me have checked the bag in that contains both the camera & the reading glasses
• Your guides are great - very patient when the same person appears several times & explains the above & that they are lost – however their explanations for where to find things are a puzzle in themselves……….. NO…….I am not “good to go” and don’t understand when something “looks like an exit but isn’t really”.
I’m sure I missed out on a few things but did get to see what I had intended to e.g. “Nighthawks”, “American Gothic”, lots of Impressionist stuff & a Picasso or two. However, was delighted to also find Turner, Georgia O’Keefe & jazz related paintings as well as Japanese art & Chegall “stained glass”. Optimum ambient temperature for paintings etc was a bit warm for me – maybe because it was inclemently warm outside & glad to leave to rest aching feet (again) in a pleasant garden housing a Henry Moore sculpture. Surprises round every corner in this place !!
Spent the rest of the afternoon in Millenium Park checking out the various random sculptures – do a lot of artists donate to Chicago? Checked out the coffee bean (properly known as “Cloud Gate”) & was amused by the antics of people wanting to get a particular photo shot. So many people jumping / standing on their hands / taking photos of themselves taking photos etc etc. Mind you – the mirrored surface reflecting skyscrapers, clouds & people at funny angles is fascinating. Impressive arrays of tulips in bloom everywhere (early because of the inclement warm weather apparently) & was fascinated by a bird flitting around that looked like a blackbird but had a distinctive red strip on its wings – must find out what it is. Pity none of the fountains / water sculptures are working at the moment – apparently a fear of a late frost !! Ended up at the magnificent Jay Pritzker Pavilion with its state of the art sound system & incredible architecture for an outdoor music venue. Pity nothing is happening yet but, apparently, in summer the venue for free early evening concerts.
Wending my weary way back to the Blue Line train for returning to my hotel I came across one last thing to amuse me for the day. Young black guy (looking a bit too well turned out for a beggar) was propped against a lamppost wielding a handwritten tatty bit of cardboard stating:
Couldn’t help but commenting “Well two out of three aint bad” – congratulated him on his accurate spelling & gave him $5 – sucker as always for humour !!
Back at my hotel & knackered – probably will sample the delights of “Hooters” this evening !!

Sunday, 08 April 2012

Well Day two really – can’t really count the arrival evening as did nothing but sleep. Up early & back on the transit system feeling quite confident with my new found ability to find my way around. Pride comes before a fall & all that. Got very lost but eventually found the relocated Maxwell Street Market. Not sure what I was expecting but disappointingly familiar i.e. Ford Market on a Sunday in my neck of the woods at home. Stallholders mostly Mexican & goods mostly tatt & hardly a word of English being spoken but with intriguing smells of food on the air. Had been forewarned that I was more likely to bump into a Mariachi band & advice was right. Note to self – never go looking for something that’s thirty years old. No little backstreet bars playing blues music & not sign of John Lee Hooker a la the Blues Bros film :-(. Eventually got my sense of direction back & tried the Chicago bus system – great bus driver who helped & wanted to chat about where I was from. A character really – especially when he threw three black youths off the bus for not paying & harangued another woman for trying to help them. Surprised all the passengers when he stopped the bus to take photos of a bridge with a very swish SLR camera – hey – everybody needs a hobby !!
Found my way back to the Institute of Art so on safe ground after checking out the sculptured forest of disembodied legs gifted to the City. Great toasted tuna mayo pannini at the Potbelly & decided to try the City tour hop on / hop off open topped bus. Another glorious day of sunshine – even caught the sun – although quite breezy when we drove along the lake front. Weird to think it’s a lake when you can’t see the distant shoreline so a bit like the English Channel. Fantastic architecture with lots of socialist commentary from a well-informed tour guide so was able to check out where I want to come back to. Even discovered that the Picasso sculpture is just called that – donated to the City by the artist & not named so that the viewer must decide for themselves what it represents. Apparently lots of people think it represents a horse – surely they can all see it’s a dragon lol !!!
Tried to book onto the Blues Brothers Tour or the Chicago Film Tour but drew a total blank – damn – something to so with some bloke rising from the dead & we all needing a holiday to celebrate. I ask you – what a notion !!! (Apologies for the blasphemy for all I might inadvertently offend).
Had been recommended to take a ride on the brown elevated line for interest so did. Fascinating journey winding through the canyons of central Chicago at a level where you can easily look into widows. Tired & explored out for the day so took myself back out of The Loop & back to my hotel via the supermarket I’d bumped into for snacks. Bit scarey negotiating an urban highway with no pedestrian crossings but needs must & my feet were aching. Major decision for where to eat tonight – Hooters next door appears close, judging by the empty parking lot. So it will be traversing the highway again for D’Agostinos which looks to be a good pasta/pizza joint & advertises itself as having a pub. Do you think I might even get to imbibe some alcohol? Hope so – not used to desert conditions when it comes to alcohol. Leisurely art tomorrow + the Millenium Park with the famous coffee bean & hopefully the weather will stay this pleasant.

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