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!

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