Travel Diary- Chicago, Illinois

Sun 21 October

We were so not prepared for a mid-Autumn cold snap in the mid-west. Only a week ago we had left Houston Texas where it was hot and humid, around 30 degrees C and on this clear Sunday morning it was only 1 degree C! Like what the!

This was our last full day in Chicago so we didn’t want to waste it, so we forged ahead with our prior plans. Pulling on everything that we had (for me it was beanie, gloves, a thick jacket over a long sleeve shirt which was over a t-shirt, but for the lower half it was just jeans, a pair of ankle length socks and a nearly worn down pair of Lacoste casual sneakers). On top I felt really toasty warm, but for the bottom half, we had to keep walking to maintain warmth.

We were staying a stone’s throw from the famous Magnificent Mile i.e. Michigan Avenue; so it was always a treat to walk down this stretch of road, lined on both sides by high end stores.

And this moment was truly unbelievable, like straight from a movie scene. The whole entire Michigan Avenue was shut down (well the bit near the bridge), to allow a construction company to raise some steel girders to the top of some high-rise they were erecting. But don’t picture tall cranes, but check this out!

They had a helicopter hover right down (probably only 20m off the ground) to pick up a steel girder. And like a buzzing bee, the laden chopper lifted up into the sky, taking its load to some tall building out of sight! The entire road was closed for a good 20 minutes while the helicopter came back multiple times to pick up its load. Crazy! The noise of the helicopter in full throttle so low to the ground, was pretty amazing. The pilot had to be pretty skilled to manage it.

And when the road was opened again, we continued on our way to Chicago River, to join our morning Architectural River cruise.

On a nicer day, a stroll along the banks of Chicago River would be real nice. A step down away from the cars on the surface level, and with restaurants and cafes sprinkled along the way it would be a really nice way to pass some time. But on this morning everything was still closed as it was early, so we were just walking to stay warm.

But as soon as the River Cruise company were ready for passengers, we climbed aboard the open top boat and settled ourselves on our metal benches. Oh boy, this was going to be a painful 90 minutes (I thought to myself) as my butt was fighting a losing battle to try and warm up the cold metal seat with my own body warmth.

The cruise was a slow putt up and down Chicago River, where a tour guide provided commentary on all the iconic buildings within sight lines of the river. He added in scripted jokes, personal antidotes and considering he was just as cold as we were, he did a great job of conveying his passion for his city and the buildings which stood on its land.

My favourite part was when the engines were shut down, allowing the boat to just drift, it was so tranquil and there is something fresh and reviving about cold cold air which we don’t experience here in Sydney.

When the tour ended, I stood up and literally couldn’t feel my legs! They were completely numb from the cold and inactivity. So as we walked off the boat, down the gang-way back to the dock, I was just praying that I wouldn’t stack it. I was like “Come on legs, we’ve done this over many decades, just do your thang, muscle memory, muscle memory!” And thankfully we got off without a hitch.

So as we trudged back up to the street level, it was 11am and too early for lunch; and an hour seemed long to just hang-about in the cold before restaurants started to open for their lunch trade. We decided to walk back to our hotel, thaw out and then worry about what to eat for lunch.

But like an aberration, when we walked past Michael Jordan Steakhouse, they were already open! Thank God! We had spoken about eating here, as I was a kid of the 90s and grew-up watching No. 23 play. And to eat at his restaurant, that was going to be a dream come true! Although their steaks were on-average $60 US each, we were like whatever, we’re hungry cold and miserable, let’s just do it!

And thanks so much to the Maître d’, we were just walk-ups and it was clear that he was expecting a full lunch service but he still accommodated us.

We were presently surprised to find that they had a breakfast/lunch menu, so we didn’t have to order like an $AUD100 piece of steak. So we ordered an Italian Beef Sandwich (a must try when in Chicago). It was a roll, stuffed with tasty rare beef and other fillings, and it came with a gravy boat where you drizzled the gravy into your sandwich. For me, I was just content using the gravy as a dipping sauce for my tasty thick cut chips!

My wife had a savoury Bacon and Cheese Waffle, served with 2 large pieces of fried chicken. If you ask my wife what memorable meal she had in the States from this trip, her answer will always be this dish! I think it was a combination of the situation (we were cold and hungry), and then we were served up this awesome meal. The waffle had bacon and melted cheese bits cooked through the batter, while the fried chicken was crispy and it also came with a hot dipping sauce. Finger Freakin’ Licking Good!

And when we were done, tummy filled, blood flowing to all the extremities, we were steeled to confront the cold again. And it must have warmed up, as all of a sudden it wasn’t so bad the second time around. Not to mention after 2 blocks we ducked into Starbucks for some hot beverages and the use of their Wi-Fi. And another 2 blocks after that, we ducked into a high rise shopping mall for some retail therapy.

Chicago is a very pedestrian friendly city, depending on time-of-year and package deals, accommodation near and around the Magnificent Mile is quite affordable. It was an idyllic spot to set up camp for a number of days, and we highly recommend others to make Chicago a future destination.

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