Wednesday, 30 January 2008

heading off soon...

Today is my last day in America - tomorrow I'm off to London.

I've spent the last two days in Chicago again, and this time I've actually had a bit of a chance to have a wander around. Well, wander around a bit. Apparently there are lots of dodgy bits of Chicago and with my sense of direction I've stuck to a 3km square bit of the CBD. Chicago is absolutely huge, and because it's packed with tall buildings, it feels very commercial, and in some places even industrial, and is not really set up for wanderers. Andrew, for example, works in an average building on th 41st floor. The State Bank by comparison has only 31 floors. (Now I know why they add Vitamin D to the milk...). Despite this, there's a lot of elegance to the city and I enjoyed discovering iton foot. Chicago feels different to either San Francisco or New York, but you get an interesting sense of being very small compared to everything around you, and as a result you feel somehow closer to the beautiful details you come across.

Yesterday first thing (well...kind of...) Andrew and I went for lunch at a cafe within a hippie supermarket (tomato soup, turkey baguette) and then I began my travels. I walked to Erie St and saw the Cable House, which despite actually being a very large mansion, looks teeny weenie compared to all the skyscrapers around it. I saw the Water Tower and walked down Michigan Avenue and looked in all the fancy shops and detoured along the way to look at some other historic buildings, including the Tribune Tower (which had stones from famous landmarks set into its walls), the Carbide and Carbon building, and the Chicago Theatre, eventually eding at the Chicago Library and Cultural Center which was breathtakingly spectacular. It's all marble inside, with jade and pearl mosaics covering the ceiling and much of the walls and with a beautiful Tiffany dome. For all it's tall modern buildings, Chicago seems to have a strong history of building beatiful structures - more than one building I came across had a plaque saying it was the result of a competition to find 'the most beautiful' design for a building. I wonder when we stopped aiming for beautiful, and just started aiming for tall?

To finish my long walk I had one more look in Millennium Park and then stopped at Russian Tea Time (think red plush furniture, fake candles and traditional Russian music) for a cup of chamomile tea. It was a lovely day for wandering around the city, being relatively warm at 10C.

I went out for dinner with Elsie and her colleagues - we went to a Mexican restaurant. I was quite interested to see how this would compare with the (few and far between) Mexican restaurants at home. It was a little better than at home, but basically the same. While we were at dinner, the weather turned and suddenly it was snowing again. It turns out there is more than one kind of snow, and this was more like caster sugar in terms of looking a little sparkly on the ground, and being painful when hitting you in the face. Snow does make a lovely squelchy sound when you walk on it though - a little like running on hard wet sand, only with an added crunch.

Today was very cold, so I did my best to stay inside. I had breakfast at famous Lou Mitchell's with Andrew (buckwheat pancakes with maple syrup), climed Sears Tower (which is over 100 floors) and saw the wonderful views (Chicago is so big I couldn't see the end of it). Then I went to the Art Institue and saw some amazing paintings - Monet's waterlillies and haystacks, Seurat's 'Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand Jatte' (it's huge, much bigger than I expected and it's not all dots, but little lines and other shapes as well), Wood's 'American Gothic' (they look friendlier than I expected), Van Gogh's self portrait (very small), and a gorgeous serious of miniature room dioramas.

After this I headed for the train, and, managing to go in the exact wrong direction for about twenty minutes (I realised when I found myself back at the gallery) missed my train. I took the opportunity to try some American food - a peanut butter cookie from Mrs Field's and a choc chip peanut butter shake from Ben & Jerry's. The cookie was ok (not spectacular), but the shake was a bit gross. I think I've decided that peanut butter really shouldn't be a flavour.

When I finally made it home, I went back outside (after a brief thawing-out period) to make a snow-man. It turned out not to be the 'right kind of snow' for snowmen, and the tactic of making a ball and rolling it until it grew did not work at all and it only yielded a teeny tiny snowman. I ended up just treating it like a sandcastle and piling it up which worked reasonably well for a bigger one.

Elsie and Andrew took me to 'Hooters' for dinner, as it's apparently an experience not to be found elsewhere in the world. It's a restaurant, a bit like Sizzler (except with table service) but the waitresses wear very small shorts and tshirts. The funny bit about it is that it's perceived as a family restaurant in America!!! Anyway, it was a good laugh.

Tomorrow I think I'll be running errands preparing for London, so here endeth my trip to America, effectively. Perhaps I'll post one more entry overviewing the whole trip though. The short answer is that it has been great!

Monday, 28 January 2008

eating up the Big Apple.

Well, we arrived back from New York this morning, and I have to say it really is the most amazing city! We packed a LOT into two days, but we walked most of it and it felt like there was something interesting around every corner. We just kept accidentally finding places that made me do a double take because it didn't seem reasonable that they should just be...well...real...and right there...!

Anyway, we arrived late on Friday night and caught a cab to our hosts' apartment on Broadway. The cab driver was a bit rude, but he was honestly the only rude person we met the whole weekend. For its reputation as a violent and unfriendly city, I felt totally comfortable walking around, and even down in the subway at night. And as opposed to San Francisco, I could count the number of homeless people I saw all weekend on one hand.

Nick and Gin had an amazing apartment with views of Broadway, Wall St, Trinity Church and the Twin Towers sites.

Elsie and I got up bright and early on Saturday morning to spend the day wandering the city. Whilst heading for Wall Street, we wandered by the Trinity Church which seemed surreal to me - a huge cathedral with graveyard in the middle of skyscrapers, but actually there were churches like this all over the place. We went in and found the Rebel Baroque Orchestra rehearsing for a concert of the Monteverdi Vespers, so we stayed and listened for a bit, before taking a few happy snaps of the New York Stock Exchange on Wall St.

We went and had a look in yet another big church, this one next to ground zero, which was equally ornate as Trinity but in a very different way, with chandelliers and seating in the round. We visited ground zero and looked at the construction going on (it's still pretty much a big hole at this stage).

We then walked through an area with lots of people selling fake handbags etc, and then wandered through Soho and Greenwich Village, where there were lots of funky little shops and cafes. We stopped for brunch at Joe's Pizza, which is famous for making New York style pizza. It was a bit of a dingy place, and full of workmen (and no women at all), but full it was, so we assumed we were onto a good thing. We ordered a (huge) slice each for below $3 each, and it was delicious. The pizza was thin and crunchy on the bottom but without being hard, and it had a simple tomato sauce with cheese on top. Really really tasty!

After brunch, we took the subway to Central Park. The subway was pretty grotty and smelly, but safe and fast. We didn't have to wait more than 5 minutes for a train all weekend, and the tickets were less than $2. First off in Central Park we saw Strawberry Fields - the section dedicated to John Lennon. We couldn't see much apart from a mosaic in the ground, so we wandered further through the park.

It's definitely an oasis in the big smoke, but I think it would be prettier in Spring, when it would be great for a picnic or something. In winter it was basically just grass and trees, although we did see yet another bird of prey (this one eating a pigeon).

We stopped in at FAO Schwartz - one of the largest toy stores in the world, and saw the big keyboard that you play with your feet which was great fun, although the toy store itself was a little disappointing. I think Mr Magorium has spoilt me.

For linner, we opted for a real New York bagel from Ess-a-bagel, and stopped in at the 5th Avenue Tiffany's along the way. . I went for the 'everything' bagel with olive cream cheese and Elsie had a sesame bagel with walnut and raisin cream cheese. They were good - nice and doughey, but BOY do those New Yorkers like their cream cheese! Almost an inch worth! They were very tasty, but I think the pizza was better. I also tried Matzah ball soup.

We found ourselves at the Chrysler building (what did I say about randomly coming across amazing things!?) which was just beautiful, and walked through Grand Central Station (ditto). We made our way to Times Square (I'm not really sure how it's a 'square' because it's very crowded and higgledy-piggledy and full of neon and people selling things) to try and figure out how to get Broadway tickets for the next day.

We then aimed for an Australian Pub (the Sheepstation?) in Brooklyn to celebrate Australia day and decided to get there by walking the Brooklyn Bridge by dusk. It was a great view of Manhattan, however when we reached the other side, we couldn't find a cab (because they were all heading from the bridge with passengers or for the bridge without) and ended up walking through some (slightly) dodgy areas to the last subway station before the pub and catching the train for the last little way.

The pub was weird - kind of what you'd expect an American version of an Australian pub would be, with lots of corrugated iron and wood, and playing 'Waltzing Matilda' and 'Khe Sanh'. But they had Coopers and a (n overpriced) bbq dinner. After dinner we went back to Manhattan for coffee, and stopped by Heath Ledger's apartment where there is an impromptu shrine of flowers and messages for him. Although I wasn't a big fan, it was nice to be able to pay our respects (in a way) to someone we knew a little (in a way).

We finished the evening at Cafe Reggio, which was apparently the first Cafe in New York with an espresso machine. The coffee apparently wasn't too good, but the place was great, with lots of dark, rich furniture and the walls cluttered with old paintings and busts and all sorts. I had a mint frothed milk which was tasty, and now I know what to do with the Italian mint cordial in the pantry.

On Sunday, we accidentally slept in and then got on the Staten Island to see the views of the city, and the Statue of Liberty. Elsie's camera carked it, but I made up for it by taking 75 photos! The views were beautiful, and it wasn't too cold, and all in all it was a lovely way to spend a relaxing morning.

After we got back we finally found a post office machine that would sell me postcard stamps, but I only bought 5 in the end because they were ugly printed ones and not actual stamps. We took a train to Spring Street and looked in the MOMA shop and bought some gifts for our hosts before heading for lunch.

We were aiming for Katz's to have a Reuben sandwich, but on the way found famous Jonah Schimmel's Knish Bakery, so stopped for a knish or two each. A knish is a big potato patty flavoured with different things. Elsie had a spinach one and a sweet potato one, and I went for the traditional plain topped with mustard. They were also very very tasty and I'm going to have to learn how to make them. We kept going to Katz's which turned out to be HUGE, as were the sandwiches. The place was absolutely packed and there were about 10 men behind a counter making sandwiches with lines before each. My sandwich cost $15 plus tax (!!!) but I think it was worth it - it was a serious serious sandwich, with freshly made corned beef.

We took a train to Times Square and joined a giant line for cheap broadway tickets. The line was actually quite fast moving, and we got tickets to Spamalot, a musical based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail. We walked to the Empire State building, which was a bit of a disappointment, and I think the Chrysler building was much more beautiful. We decided not to go up, but jumped into a cab and headed for the Museum of Modern Art, to which we got free tickets which was lucky because we arrived at 4:30 and it closed at 5:30 when we were expecting 8.

MOMA completely blew me away, and I just couldn't get over walking around each corner and finding not only works by artists that I studied at uni, but their most famous works - the kind of paintings that they put not only in textbooks, but on the front. I got a bit excited (and dorky) made Elsie take pictures of me in front of Van Gogh's 'Starry Night', and Duchamp's 'Bicycle Wheel' among others. There's definitely something about seeing these works in real life - it's so surreal to think that these works that you think only exist for you in books, are completely accessible to millions of locals every day.

After getting kicked out, we wandered up 5th Avenue (and looked in the windows of the expensive shops) before going into the Disney shop where I found a Sorcerer's Apprentice Mickey pin. We had a quick look at Rockefeller Centre (and decided that Americans musn't know the difference between the Australian and New Zealand flags after finding ours conspicuously missing for the second time!). Elsie thought about buying some pretty gumboots while I got excited about Radio City Music Hall and CBS and then went to the Shubert (no that's not a typo) for Spamalot.

Spamalot was very entertaining - as funny as Monty Python but thankfully strung together with more plot. The theatre itself was absolutely beautiful inside - quite small but really intricately decorated and painted and gilded.

We went to an Irish pub for dinner and then into M&Ms World which is 3 storeys high and has every kind of M&Ms merchandise you can think of. You can buy M&Ms in any colour under the rainbow, and Elsie and I had our photo taken in front of the giant Elvis M&M.

That was it for the night, and first thing in the morning we jumped in a cab and got on the plane back to Chicago (and I have to say, Australian flights may be overpriced, but Qantas kicks the American airlines all around town in terms of quality, comfort and service).

All in all I loved New York. It was just like I imagined with tall buildings everywhere and something new and exciting or beautiful and interesting there for the finding. There were yellow cabs everywhere and even steam coming out of the grills in the road (apparently that's from the sewage in the subway...ewww...). I think I could quite happily live there because there'd always be something new to do or discover, and surprisingly I felt completely comfortable and safe everywhere. Hopefully I will come back for a longer stay one day.

Friday, 25 January 2008


I've been in Chicago since Tuesday night and I'm afraid it's been a bit uneventful because a. I've been taking it easy and b. it's VERY COLD OUTSIDE.

On Wednesday I had a big sleep in (we arrived back in Chicago after midnight) and then bummed around. I spent some time on the balcony trying to photograph a snowflake (see most successful attempt left, along with a view from the balcony, notice the yellow schoolbus.)

When Elsie got home, and then we went to the mall. We only had a little time there and it was absolutely huge - at one time it was the largest mall in the world, apparently. I bought another pair of pants from Anthropologie and I think I might be suffering buyer's remorse, but at least they fit. After that, we went to the supermarket which was also huge and it took us an hour and a half to get the whole way through because I was so amused by everything. They mist their fresh produce (which looked incredibly good - much better than Woolies) periodically, and when they do they play 'Singing in the Rain'. I bought a bunch of American foods to try, and I'm afraid the results were not overwhelmingly positive. (Photos above: giant bottles of cheap wine available in the supermarket; unrefrigerated tubes of coloured icing).

Clockwise from top left:
Stripes & Blues chips: not tried yet but Elsie says they're good.
Animal Crackers: Animal shaped biscuits, like a yoyo or the biscuit from an orange cream, only smaller.
Oreos: DIY version like a le Snack. Ick.
Pringles Extreme dill pickle flavour: very strong flavour. Might be nice if you liked dill and salt.
Jarritos Mexican Mandarin Drink: Yum!
Snapple Rasberry & Pomegranite: sweetened fruit juice, like cordial. Quite nice but quite sweet.
Tictacs: berry sour and cherry passion. The passionfruit ones are nice, the others are not.
RiceRoni: flavoured but not instant rice. Tastes a bit like packet chicken noodle soup. Not bad but a bit salty.
Extra apple and watermelon: The packets are much better than ours. You get more per pack, the pieces are bigger and you don't lose them in your bag. The watermelon ones are my new favourite thing and I'll be taking some with me.
3 Musketeers Bar: Like a Milky Way only bigger and not as nice. Milky ways here have caramel like a Mars Bar. I'm not sure what Mars Bars are like.
Butterfinger: crunchy crumbly peanut butter flavoured caramel covered in chocolate. A bit ick.
Baby Ruth Bar: Like a Snickers with 3 Musketeers filling, caramel and nuts.
Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Valentine Heart.
HoHos: yes really. It was a choice between HoHos and DingDongs which I think are the same only a different shape. Chocolate cake filled with fake cream covered in a chocolate coating. Non-refrigerated. Pretty gross.

Yesterday I went to Elsie's building's gym (which I understand the point of in a country like this where you really can't run around the block in this weather) and did my running on the treadmill. I can't say I like it very much - there's nothing to look at but the stopwatch and I felt very dizzy when I got off. After that I steeled myself for a trip 'downtown'. I put on two pairs of stockings, one pair of leggins, two pairs of socks, jeans, boots, two singlets, two tops, one thick jumper, a coat, a scarf and two hats. I jumped on the train (which are old and double decker) and bought a ticket from the conductor. They look straight out of Enid Blyton with navy blue suits (with waistcoat and red tie) and a navy blue hat with gold trim which says 'conductor' on it.

I got into the city after about an hour and started walking towards Millenium Park. After about 5 minutes I was seriously frightened that I was getting frostbite on my fingers because they hurt so much that I went straight into a shop (the Marshall Field's Macy's as it turns out) and bought a pair of gloves and another scarf. After that I worse Elsie's earwarmers and ski gloves as well. I made it to Millenium park and had a quick look around at some of the sculptures closest to the road. I saw 'the bean', which is a great big polished steel been that reflects the city (and you) and these two huge screens that stand opposte each other and show faces. The faces change expression, and apparently in Summer they spit water at each other! I also went and had a quick look in the Art Insistute which also looks unreal and so I'll have to make a trip back to both next week.

I met Elsie after work and we went ice-skating at Millenium park OUTSIDE. This was excellent because it was so much more fun to skate outside and it's such a pretty area too. The Americans skate the wrong way (ie. clockwise) which made things a little more difficult, but doing some exercise meant I wasn't so absolutely freezing.

After skating we had a nice dinner of pumpkin apple soup a green salad with fetta which was very nice indeed.

Today we're heading for New York which should be exciting as we've got lots of fun things planned. Hopefully it should be a lot warmer than here (ie. it is forecast to be hovering around 0C which will be a nice change) and hopefully I won't freeze on my way to the airport!

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

adding more photos.

This bird was outside the hotel window.

San Francisco is a hilly city part 1: this is steps instead of footpath.

San Francisco is a hilly city part 2: the path to these houses.

Architecture around the city.

Cable Car.

Simón Bolívar and friends.

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza worship the head of Cervantes in Golden Gate Park. (Notice the gum trees. Weird eh?)