31st October - 5th November
01.10.2011 - 05.10.2011
My overnight Amtrak train departed from Manhattan on the 31st of October, a bitter Halloween afternoon. Halloween fever had New York and America in a tight grip, and after feeling as though I'd already had 4 weeks of it, I wasn't too sad to be leaving it behind. My train left Penn Station discretely, through an underground tunnel which took us from the heart of Manhattan to some leafy New Jersey suburb where no trace of the metropolis could be seen. Again, in true American fashion, the double decker Amtrak trains were spacious, with wide reclining chairs and dining cars. The 20 hour westward journey to Chicago passed quickly, as my two reclined chairs made quite a palatial sleeping space. Even though I woke relatively refreshed, I could feel mt New York hangover setting in. At the same time however, I couldn't wait to explore and eat my way through Chicago.
After eating only snacks for the duration of the trip, I set my priorities and headed straight for one of the institutional Chicago pizza houses; Giardino's, who served the famous deep pan 'pie' pizza. It didn't disappoint - a 2'' deep crust packed with sausage, cheese and thick tomato sauce. It was like nothing I had eaten or seen in the Uk - and comparable only to eating a hardback book.
Together with a few mammoth burgers and famous Chicago 'dogs' (eating them with ketchup is a sin), I put on a good few pounds during my time in the city.
Other than the food, I loved Chicago for its architecture and sculpture dotted throughout the city. Downtown Chicago where i stayed also had a great sense of character created by the 'loop' or suspended metro system which snaked itself around the city and past the window of my hostel communal area.
4 days in Chicago felt like enough, and even though I was lucky with some sun during my stay, an incredibly wet day was kept dry when a friend gave me their unused 'city pass' which allowed entry into the Chicago Aquarium (home to some Beluga whales who were awesome) as well as the history museum (home to the world's most complete t-Rex, Sue).
I also wanted to experience some music in Chicago, as it was famous for blues and jazz. On my second evening I ventured to a jazz festival which I stumbled upon. What I didn't know however was that the whole programme consisted of avante garde jazz. Even though I eventually lost my patience with the music, it was worth sticking around to see a number of sour faces in the audience and some overly serious ones from the performers.
On my final evening I decided to check out one of the most famous Chicago blues clubs; 'Buddy Guy's Legends Bljes Club', established by the blues legend Buddy Guy, who actually made a rare appearance on stage alongside a steaming funk-blues band.
On the next and final day in Chicago, with blue skies back, I decided to head up to the 103rd floor observatory at the Willis Tower, or the highest building in the Western Hemisphere. Even though I was accompanied by half a schools worth of kids, the views over the city and Lake Michigan were terrifyingly incredible, but were made even better by the 'sky deck'; a pane of glass which could be stood on allowing you to lean out over this massive drop.
All in all, the 'Windy City' (utterly miserable when combined with rain) provided a lovely little stop-over on my way to the West Coast.
CHICAGO TOP THREE...
1. Chicago deep pan pizza (definitely check out Giardino's)
2. Millennium Park and 'The Bean'
3. The Willis Tower