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Alana’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 07 Apr 2012

Location: Chicago, USA

Had booked a tour with a Chicago greeter who had been in contact via e-mail & arrangements made to meet in downtown Chicago. Great system that I’ve not experienced anywhere else in the world where you register online previously, declare your interests & the day you want to use the service. A volunteer is matched to you – no paying or tipping the person – and you have their services for 2-4 hours or so. So easy – would highly recommend it.
First foray into Chicago public transport surprisingly easy & felt relaxed looking into the faces of the commuters / truck drivers fighting their way downtown on the freeway. Sounds weird I know but the line runs right down the middle of the freeway at the same level as the traffic in places. Weird sensation. Directions given were great & emerged from underground to the sight of Picasso’s Dragon sculpture – awe inspiring. What a great place to make arrangements to meet – “I’ll meet you at Picasso’s Dragon at 6pm & we’ll take in show” – in my dreams !! McDonalds breakfast in this, the theatre district, had to suffice.
Met up with my greeter at the Culture Centre, discussed possibilities & how to get about Chicago generally & agreed places to take in. Started with the library upstairs & its incredible stained glass domes with an extra surprise of it being set up for a Muslim wedding. Built after the Chicago fire to house the donation that England made to help Chicago get back on its feet – books!! Somehow fits the oddities of my homeland.
My guide was knowledgeable about the architecture of the City so was entertained by explanations of the rise & fall of certain districts (e.g. Printers Row ) & the tell-tale signs of these facts. Some recorded for you on plaques but a lot of more detailed knowledge was shared with me. By this time I had discovered that my guide was a keen hiker in her spare time and a GIS professional for the City – trust me to find a walker !!. Had to declare my 2 replacement hips & some limitations on walking long distances but we agreed to use public transport whenever I felt it necessary. Turned out I only needed to do it twice – once on a bus when my legs were giving out & once on the underground to get back to our original meeting point. We were on the go for most of 4 hours so I did well !!
Unfortunately, my declared interest in the Blues was not shared by my guide but she had done her research & took me to Willie Dixon’s Blues Garden next to Chess Records – the latter now being a kind of museum . Promises of a tour didn’t happen – firmly closed – I guess being Easter Saturday had a lot to do with it. Same went for Buddy Guy’s Blues Club which advertises lunch & music on Saturdays but not this one it seemed!! Fascinated by the mosaics of famous people outside – visual illusion cos you couldn’t really make them out until you viewed through a camera lens. Great fun!!
As my guide was half Chinese I had been promised a visit to Chinatown (new & old) some of which was originally an Italian district & still houses the church Al Capone frequented – now with Chinese stone dragons keeping guard !! Also has Chicago’s version of the Bejing Dragon Wall – very colourful. Old Chinatown is slightly tacky & very touristy whilst New Chinatown is very open & welcoming . Chose to eat lunch there in a restaurant recommended by my guide – trying to sound knowledgeable but failing re the menu & realising that my guide did not speak Chinese – usually taken by her friend who ordered for her. She was relying on me to order !! The appetiser of shredded cabbage nearly blew my head of – chilli & me don’t mix too well !! Finally managed to order green tea, a delicious candied walnut & prawn (shrimp in American terms) dish & a version of sweet & sour chicken (phew!!). A very nice meal it was too & meant I didn’t have to go searching an evening meal around my hotel. We made our way leisurely back to the meeting point and said farewell. I had brought a gift from England with me and my guide seemed quite touched by that.
By this point was head was filled to bursting with information& I just needed to chill out, filter some of this & plan what I wanted to do the next day. The Culture Centre is a great place for this & my feet enjoyed a good hour of relaxation whilst my brain sorted itself out. Arriving back at the hotel I figured a rest was in order & 2 hours later I woke up (just shows you how exhausted I was!!). I blame the hot sun – apparently very unseasonable for Chicago at this time of year. Easter Sunday tomorrow – what to get up to? Maxwell Street market – although I’m told that it has been moved & is not quite what it used to be - & possibly a Blues Brothers tour. Maybe I will break out of the mould & attend the interdenominational sunrise service at Picasso’s Dragon………….. maybe…………