All things go, All things go, Drove to Chicago

*While reading this blog entry, I suggest listening to all versions of Sufjan Stevens’ Chicago and Rogue Wave’s Lake Michigan because they were the soundtrack to my weekend*

I had never been to Chicago before and I was excited to visit the windy city as I’ve heard so many wonderful things from friends and family. I was so ready for a holiday as the New York summer was reaching its brutal last few days and I couldn’t hack it anymore. I was also super stressed as it was coming up to the last month of my visa and my mind was in overdrive of things I had to do so of course, running away to Chicago seemed like a practical solution.

We left New York early on Thursday morning and flew into O’Hare airport, I was exhausted and sleepy but I was happy to finally be in Chicago and meet Conor’s lovely friend Scott and his girlfriend Phoenix who were absolute angels and picked us up from the airport and drove us all the way to our accommodation in Oak Park, Illinois, if you don’t know Chicago- just know, it’s a very far away drive from the airport. The weather was great as well, for once, I felt as if I could breathe and actually get air into my lungs. The New York summer is heavy and muggy so a literal breath of fresh air was a welcome change to my mood.

We were dropped off at our friend Hannah’s house (shoutout to Hannah) and was welcomed in by her lovely mother and cute little cat Chala who showed us around and rolled around on the bed to show us how comfy the bed is. After freshening up and changing, we headed out to explore the neighbourhood of Oak Park and had a delicious Sushi lunch at SEN Sushi BarI had a bento sushi box for $12 and I was a happy camper. So much food and so much cheaper than NYC (if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll notice that most of the time, I compare how everywhere else is cheaper than New York, I still love New York but it’s expensive AF).

After we finished lunch, we head on the train towards the city centre. The CTA trains are cleaner and bigger than subway carriages and that was another welcomed change. We got off at the Cloudgate area and walked around to get our bearings. Chicago city is so clean, quiet and spread out and the sun was shining; it was the perfect start to our weekend trip. Surprisingly, not that windy but there was a nice breeze coming in from Lake Michigan.  As we headed towards Cloudgate, there was one thing I had to do was check if there was any available tickets for Hamilton at the private bank theatre and unfortunately I did not have a spare $190 for a balcony ticket so I went on my merry way. We walked towards Millennium Park and got up close and personal with ‘The Bean’ the Cloudgate sculpture and of course took touristy photos as seen below.

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We tried to take some nice photos but the sun was blinding us also.

The Bean was surrounded by tourists as it was a glorious day and the reflections were especially good. We then mosied towards the lake and taking in the sights around Millennium park. It felt nice being able to walk slowly and not feel the crazy rush the New York streets can bring with it sometimes. We strolled along the harbour and was intrigued when there was a boat tour offering a trip around the lake so of course we jumped on the offer for $10. It was so surreal being on Lake Michigan and feeling the wind in my face (pardon the pun) and I just had to put Chicago by Sufjan Stevens while we were floating in the water, probably the most clichéd thing to do but I had to. We thanked our boat captain and told him that we would see him in Dublin one day. We continued to walk down the lake shore mile and stopped at The Buckingham Fountain which is gorgeous and a definite must see.

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The photo does not do it justice, at all.

We then looped around the fountain and walked back up to The Crown Fountain and watched in amusement as people and children were playing in the sprinklers and cooling off. It was coming into the early evening and like on any holiday, the one thing on my mind was alcohol. It was time to wet my whistle. Thankfully, we found a good happy hour in The Adamus Lounge as part of the Silversmith Hotel. $5 for a glass of wine? Yes please! I will gladly help myself. This bar was so swanky and quiet for a thursday evening which was nice as we had optimum choice for tables. The tunes were also unreal as they were playing the best hits of 2008-2009 and I was living for it as well as I had about 5 glasses of wine so I was ready to party.

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Evidence of round 1.

As we enjoyed our drinks, we recieved a message from Phoenix saying that she was coming to pick us up and I was ready for the night to begin, unfortunately there is alot of traffic on Chicago’s highways so to in order to pick up Scott from work and get to our next destination; it was nearly 2 hours in the car but that time is prime catch up time and it was so lovely to be in a car, taking the sights and letting conversations just flow. We also picked up their friend Nick and went onto downtown Chicago to get to The Escape Game ChicagoIt was 11pm at this point, we had a late booking and I had been up since 6am so I was exhausted, anxious and a litlle drunk so naturally the best thing for me to do would be to be locked in a room for an hour and having to figure my way out by using my problem solving skills…what could go wrong?

I was pumped however that this was gonna be fun and I was determined to escape ‘the mission to mars’. That was our escape room theme. We had one hour to repair our oxygen, communications and power to our space shuttle and make it off mars. No joke- that was our mission and I spent most of it running around and trying to open every nut and bolt and punch random numbers in all the ipads to open the doors. This is how I try to escape most problems in my life. With one minute to spare, we succeed our mission and successfully got off Mars. It felt good and it is great fun, I really reccommend it if you’re in Chicago.

By then, It was late and I was exhausted still but the adrenaline has kicked in and I feel hyped up but also hungry and unfortunately nothing was open in the area that was vegan or celiac friendly so we headed to Scott and Phoenix’s apartment in Irving place and they scraped together to make us a feast of vegan patty burgers and vegan eggs but the best part was meeting their Chow Chow Frankie.

This big ball of fur was so cute, again the pictures don’t do justice.

By now it was probably 3am and my eyes were falling out of my head and I was ready for sleep, Scott kindly dropped us home and Chala met us at the back door and followed us upstairs to bed.

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I had too much energy and woke up early on Friday and was pottering around the house, playing with Chala and getting readying for our next adventure in Chicago. We once again walked through the lovely neighbourhood and tree lined streets of Oak Park to the train and heading towards Irving Park to meet Scott and on our way to get food.  We had barely eaten yesterday so I couldn’t wait for all the good food Chicago had to offer.

We wandered through to Boystown which is the LGBT district of Chicago and there were pride flags galore, every window and every shop front had a pride flag. We picked The Chicago Diner for brunch and this is a good spot if you’re vegan because it is a vegan friendly diner and the food is amazing. I got a vegan breakfast platter, all the trimmings include toast and I was stuffed and feeling happy and healthy for long after.

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It was so filling. I devoured it.

After brunch, I was full of energy and ready to keep exploring. We got the train back into the city and walked around the loop area. The city was once again full of people enjoying the sunny day and light breeze in the air. We visited Phoenix at work which was right on North Michigan Avenue in the giant Apple flagship store so playing with all the gadgets was fun but I’m not the most tech saavy person so I tried my hardest not to break anything.  We then continued onto Willis Tower to get to the Skydeck Ledge and to get alook onto that amazing view of Chicago and the Chicago River. The line was unfortunately and painfully long but once you get up there and battle your way past the other tourists; the view is worth it. We arrived in the early evening hours to Chicago looked glorious in the golden rays. Again, we tried to take pictures but it was difficult when we were being blinded.

We tried our hardest to look nice in these photos, we really did.

The views from Willis tower are breathtaking, stepping out onto the ledge is a little daunting but completely mesmersing at the same time. It was hard to leave the sun drenched views but we eventually got our heads out of the clouds and headed for our next adventure. It was winding down into the early hours of the evening and our stomaches were growling so food was next on the agenda. We headed to Wicker Park and Native Foods Cafe  hit the spot. This Californian style cafe was just what we needed and the Chicken and waffles was just what I needed after a long day.

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I ate every bite and washed it down with some craft cider.

The night was young but before we headed out, we decided to go back to Scott and Phoenix’s apartment and walk frankie around the neighbourhood because he is adorable and I am now a bonafided dog lover. After our little night stroll, we continued onto our next location: The Upside Down. Yes, that’s right, we went to a Stranger Things pop up bar and it was pretty awesome. The line getting into the bar was not but it was amusing to watch the drunken antics surrounding Logan Square. While we were waiting, we saw ‘missing Barb’ posters taped all over the telephone poles and a giant Eleven mural staring at you from outside the bar. Once you enter, you leave the safety of the treehouse in Hawkins and enter through a curtain to the upside down where there is a DJ and a dance floor filled with 80’s tunes and a bar making excellent cocktails such as ‘Mouthbreather’ and ‘She’s our friend and she’s crazy’. They even have the show playing on a loop in the background as well as the infamous alphabet wall.

As you can see, it was pretty awesome. Thankfully there was no demogorgon waiting for me in the restroom but unfortunately there was no barb either.

We headed home after last call and at least we escaped The Upside Down.

I awoke on saturday to meet Hannah’s father who had returned from Tampa in the living room and after having a pleasant chat, he kindly took us for breakfast in the neighbourhood diner and there is nothing better than diner pancakes and fresh orange juice. I strangely missed mid western diner food living in New York, although the food is amazing, nothing beats good old comfort food.

Again the sun was shining and the weather was wonderful, we happily walked back to the house while Hannah’s dad gave us a history tour of the neighbourhood and a brief history of the Chicago fire. It’s incredible to think that Chicago literally rebuilt itself into this incredible metropolis that it is today.

We then continued back into the city towards the cloud gate area. We actually wandered up getting lost trying to find the architecture boat tour. We ended up off the beaten track, way down south loop in the city but I didn’t mind wandering through the quiet and spacious Chicago streets. I actually ended up finding some pretty cool graffiti.

(I like to think that this represents me trying to figure out my life and where I’m headed)

We unfortunately didn’t find a boat tour so we headed back to the cloudgate area and thankfully got the last hour entry in The Art Institute of Chicago which was amazing because it was $5 cheaper which means an extra $5 for a drink.

I was in awe of all the Gauguin and Degas art that hung on the walls and the contemporary photography exhibitions were just stunning. I only have one photo however so here’s a little snippet.

This was probably my favourite photo in the whole collection. It is untitled but I like to think of it ‘A Burst Of Positivity’ because that’s what I felt when I looked at it. My anxious mind calmed for a moment and all was well (sneaky Harry Potter reference for you all).

There is also a great miniature model exhibition downstairs and it felt like walking through history as there were so many different styles and periods; everything from a 14th century gothic church to a 1930’s Art Deco living room.

The piece de resistance for the museum though had to be Monet’s water lilies.

I thought these paintings were just exquisite and gauked at them for ages, until the security guards came to usher us out and close the doors. We were back on the streets of Chicago once more and started hunted for some deep dish pizza before getting on the train out to Orland park.

We quickly stuffed our faces with pizza as we ran down the train platform before catching the train to Orland Park (Scott’s family home out in the suburbs). The train was nicely relaxing and it was nice to see the green fields pass as we moved further out of the city and into the suburbs. After running to Whole Foods to pick up some wine, we were on our way to Scott’s family home and to watch the McGregor/Mayweather fight.

Now I am not really a boxing fan but it was nice to be in the company of boxing fans. It was nice to be welcomed into a family home and be surround by friendly people and good conversation. The wine was flowing just like the conversation and I was getting pumped to watch the fight. I felt a weird sense of Irish pride talking about McGregor and Dublin. I got passionate talking about Dublin and Irish culture so much that a pang of homesickness hit me so hard that I started to choke up before the big fight. I know it sounds stupid but it’s true. I was just really homesick, it had been a long time since I had been home or seen family or friends. Maybe it was being surrounded by an Irish family made miss my own so much. I felt right at home in that moment even though I wouldn’t be watching the fight if I was in my own living room but it was still lovely to feel accepted and in good company with good food.

It was a long wait for the actually fight but it was worth the hype. We screamed and cheered at the TV screen. The fight was intense and fast; it was a thrill to watch and before we realised, it was over like that. McGregor graciously accepted defeat and we hung there gobsmacked. It was hard to believe the fight ended like that. It was not the result that everyone wanted but it was still a fun evening. We thanked Scott’s family for such wonderful hospitality and we left Merry; filled with wine and pizza and high spirits. Scott and Phoenix generously drove us home as they sang in the front seat and we fell asleep in the back seat.

Sunday morning came. Our last day and I woke up in disbelief that the time had gone by so fast. We got ready and had one final breakfast with Hannah’s parents. It felt so nice to have a proper home cooked breakfast of eggs, bacon and orange juice. It felt so nice to have good conversation at breakfast again. The feeling of homesickness washed over me once more as it made me realise that I miss home but that it’s so close. Our time on visa is limited and before I know it, I will be back in my own home with my family and of course my cats. After breakfast, we said our final goodbyes to Hannah’s parents and her cat Chala.

We left for the city once more and ended up in Scott’s apartment and said goodbye to Frankie as we left for our last deep dish pizza. We drove through the neighbourhood and I was in the back seat, watching the world go by and playing the Ukulele. It was Phoenix’s Ukulele for the record. I am not musically talented but it soothing to just make up melodies and songs while the world passes by. I was daydreaming and trying to calm my anxiety so the Ukulele helped.

We finally arrived at Gino’s East for some deep dish pizza and I couldn’t wait to devour it but unfortunately I had to as deep dish takes forever to make.But the wait was worth it as it was so heavenly.

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Just look at that prefection. It was so filling however I could only eat 2 pieces but thankfully it filled me for the flight ahead.

After pizza, we had just enough time to check out Lincoln Park Zoo.The best part: it’s free admission which is wonderful because I’ve missed free things. It’s hard to love in New York on an Intern’s budget. We wandered through the park and enjoyed strolling through all the different houses such as the reptile and primate houses. They are definitely worth exploring the next time you visit Chicago. It was filled with families and groups as well enjoying the last of the summer rays and the  good weather. I was told that it has been a mild summer this year in Chicago and I was eternally grateful for that.

Alas, our time had come and Scott, being the gentleman that he is, drove us all the way to the airport. We said our goodbyes and thanked him for his wonderful genorsity over the weekend. Chicago is a wonderful city but it was made even better by Scott, Phoenix Nick and Hannah as well as their families’ hospitality.  I will always remember it when I think about Chicago.

And on that note, I will finish this post about my love for Chicago.

Much love,

Ari

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