07/06/2013 - 11/06/2013
Chicago was the first place we used Airbnb, which had been recommended to us by a few people. If you're unfamiliar, it's a website where people let out spare rooms or whole apartments, like they're running their own B&B (though breakfast's not always included!). We'd booked a room with its own bathroom, though it was pretty much like having our own apartment as it was totally separate from the apartment of the lady we were renting it from. It was down in the basement, but all was good - nice size, clean, tidy etc. Marie met us and showed us around, plus even did some laundry for us. The only problem we had while we were there was a problem with the plumbing, but that wasn't a major issue as we were mostly out and about anyway. We were staying a little way out of the centre, but we could get the subway in fairly quickly, plus there were a lot of good cafes and restaurants in the neighbourhood.
I didn't have a preconceived notion of what Chicago might be like, but I was still slightly surprised by how much I liked it. There was a good vibe to it as a city and there was loads to see. In fact we could easily have stayed longer as there were quite a few things we just didn't get time to do.
Talking about Chicago as a tourist destination, I just realised I forgot to mention our border crossing from Canada to the USA in my previous blog entry. As is usual, the border guards quizzed us on where we were going and why. When we said we were flying to Chicago the following morning, we were met with a derogatory "why are you going there? That's not exactly a tourist destination! It gets cold there." Jamie pointed out we'd just spent a year in Toronto, so were used to the cold. This seemed to arouse his suspicions even more - he asked us why we were over on the west coast when we could have just travelled directly from Toronto to Boston (where we'd said we were flying home from). We attempted to explain the appeal of travelling across Canada and getting to see the country, as well as a bit more of the USA, before just flying back to the UK. He still didn't seem hugely impressed but proceeded with the next stage of the inquisition, which involved scanning our passports. By doing this, it flagged up that we already had permission to be in the USA - we'd gotten it on our way to Buenos Aires when we'd had to change flights at Newark. Despite only being in Newark for about an hour, we'd been granted 60 days in the USA. It had seemed silly at the time, but was now incredibly useful and meant we didn't have to go through the whole fingerprinting rigmarole again. It was also funny to watch the customs guy instantly shift from suspicion to satisfaction.
But back to Chicago - after arriving at Marie's place, we pretty much headed straight back out for a gig we wanted to go to - Eleanor Friedberger at the Empty Bottle. We met up with a girl that Jamie knew via last.fm and had a good evening.
The rest of our time in Chicago can be bullet-pointed thusly:
- We had a nosey at The Bean and other interesting sights at Millennium Park and Grant Park
- We went to some great places for food. Chicago Diner was a standout - it's a veggie restaurant with some awesome food, plus a peanut butter milkshake that Jamie described as "amazing". The guy serving us was brilliant too - he spoke some Welsh and recommended other places for us to go. There was also a radio station on that seemed to only play songs that Jamie loves - it was freaky. Another place worth mentioning has to be The Wormhole - a coffee shop with an 80s/early-90s film and video games theme. They have a Delorean up in the rafters (for want of a better description) and an old Nintendo, complete with a load of games, which you can play. We had a coffee and played some Super Mario Land 3. Not a bad way to start the day.
- We went to the Museum of Science and Industry, which isn't cheap, but is really good. The exhibits are very interactive and there's a lot to see, including some chicks hatching (so cute). I also volunteered to make my DNA visible through an experiment you can do yourself at home (one I've seen Brian Cox do on one of his shows), which was cool. Another favourite part was where you could challenge another person at relaxation. Yep, competitive relaxation. You and your challenger put sensors on your head and a computer then monitors your brain activity and if you're more relaxed than your competitor, it moves a ball along a track in the direction of your opponent. It's quite hard to then stay relaxed as you see the ball heading towards you, but the less relaxed you are the quicker it's going to head your way. Jamie and I were fairly equally matched, we were both really relaxed, but he just had the edge and beat me, damn it.
- We went to the Art Institute of Chicago. That wasn't cheap either, but again it was really good with a lot to see.
On the morning we left Chicago, we went to say goodbye to Marie as she'd left us a note. Because she felt bad that we'd had to put up with the plumbing problems, she'd made us a pair of gloves each. How sweet is that? A great first experience of Airbnb.