Week 2 in Chicago (17th - 23rd September 2007)

Monday, 17th September 2007: Oh, I think I forgot to mention that Antonio loaned me a prepaid mobile phone for use during my time here (apparently it belongs or belonged to his friend Claus). Works like my Vodafone prepaid mobile in NZ but the company I use here is called T-Mobile. Costs heaps when someone calls me because I have to pay for it but handy to have around while travelling in the States. Thanks Antonio!

If you spent some time doing a bit of research, you’ll find that most of the places of interest in Chicago have ‘free days’ i.e. free admission. It was free admission today at the Museum of Science and Industry located on 57th Street. I spent about 4 hours walking around the museum – very interesting place with lots to see and it was interactive i.e. you could play around with gadgets and pull levers to see what happens.

For an extra USD5, you could take an on-board tour of the U-505 Submarine, the actual craft that stalked the waters of the Atlantic before it was blown to the surface and captured on June 4, 1944. Complete with dramatic lighting and sound effects, the tour lets you experience life aboard this sub first-hand in the days leading up to her capture. I was somewhat disappointed because no one was not allowed to take photos on board the submarine (I could take as many photos as I wanted of the submarine I visited in Perth) :( Photos at the museum: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603782093864/detail/

I had a sudden craving for noodle soup and headed down 57th Street to Noodles Etc. Restaurant (Asian diner) for dinner. Ordered myself a Japanese udon noodle soup – yuck! The udon was all slimy and literally melting into my soup. Not what I expected it to turn out to be and it was a huge serving. Oh well, I won’t be ordering this dish next time I’m there that’s for sure.

Headed to Happy Village at night with Antonio to meet another Uruguayan, Gabrielle (aka Gabi) for supper and drinks. The 3 of us went over to Laura’s place to pick up Gabi’s stuff and helped him move to his new place couple of blocks away. Another building with no lifts up to the 4th floor – could this only be for the older buildings in Chicago??

Tuesday, 18th September 2007: Today, I went to test out the subway and went Chinatown on the Red Line. Oh, by the way, the Transit Card works on the subways too just like in Singapore and Perth. Sweet!

The subway station in town was hot, humid and stuffy (subway means underground) but overall clean and brightly lit. It was interesting because I've only seem subways on TV - this was the first time actually being in one!

I walked around Chinatown for about an hour. Honestly, I didn’t expect it to be this small given the huge population in Chicago – only 3 main streets of shops! But I can’t complain because we don’t even have one in Wellington! It was strange to be in a place where most people were Asian (the locals look like tourists).

It was a very hot day and I felt like I could get heat stroke anytime! Stopped by at Ten Ren Tea & Ginseng Co. Ltd tea shop for a cold bubble milk tea drink. Turns out the lady who was serving me came from Taiwan and we conversed in Hokkien (oh my Hokkien is so rusty!). I wanted to take a photo of the shop which had gigantic gold-painted canisters of different tea leaves but the lady said no. Okay…Photos taken in Chinatown: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603786645884/detail/

Took the subway back to the city and spent the rest of my day walking around town and visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art which was free admission today. Saw several exhibits that didn’t make a lot of sense to me (contemporary artists will tell you otherwise) – mobiles pieced together with wire and polystyrene balls, exhibits made of pipes etcs. Photos taken the rest of the day: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603800093672/detail/

Antonio took me out for some salsa dancing tonight. We went to check out Club 720 in town. There was a introductory class going on when we got there and it was pretty quiet even after the class so we headed further north to Green Dolphin Street which was packed! In Chicago, you can pretty much dance salsa every night of the week. You just need to know where and have a car to get you there. I’m not surprised if some salsa enthusiasts go to them all!

Wednesday, 19th September 2007: Didn't get up to anything today. Need some rest from all the walking and dancing yesterday...

Thursday, 20th September 2007: A must-do when you are in Chicago is the river architecture tour. There are many companies that offer this service for varying prices and packages – do a bit of homework beforehand. The one I went on this afternoon was with Urban Adventure Cruise with Mercury Chicago’s Skyline Cruiseline. Costed me $20 for a 90-minute tour of the river and lake cruise. It was a guided tour through Chicago’s downtown river and harbourfront. The guide Steve was really funny and gave a lively commentary on the 17 bridges, 82 buildings and landmarks during the tour. We even got to experience the famous Chicago River locking system as we entered into Lake Michigan.

Early Chicago sewage systems discharged directly into Lake Michigan or into the Chicago River, which itself flowed into the lake. The city’s water supply also came from the lake so there were fears that sewage could infiltrate the water supply, leading to typhoid fever, cholera and dysentery. The sewage systems no longer flows into the lake but there are fears that the water flowing into the canals will drain the lake itself thus this locking system helps to retain water in the lake. Hmm, not sure if it's really necessary to be honest but it was quite interesting to see how it works.

Was walking around in search for lunch after the cruise and stumbled into McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum. Another free admission day so in I went only to walk out in less than 10 minutes. Antonio rang me to say he was in town so I joined him for coffee at Bella Luna CafĂ© (yes, finally somewhere I can eat something). Oh well, I can always visit the museum another day – thank god it was free! :P Photos taken today: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603800350246/detail/

A quick snack and coffee later, I continued on doing my own thing whilst Antonio headed back to work. I got dropped off near Latin Street Dancing, a dance school in the city to see what classes they had. Hmm, most classes are in the evening and I don’t really like to travel on public transport so late at night on my own. Besides, I might go away to the neighbouring States – it wouldn’t work out very well for me to pay for a block course and miss a chunk of it. Good news though – I found out that Excalibur has a salsa party tonight with 3 bands playing. Might go check it out later!

Walked towards the other side of town (was that like 10 blocks?! Felt so damn far…) to The Art Institute of Chicago for their free admission night (it’s free admission on Thursdays from 5-8pm). I was quite surprised to find out that you could take photos in the museum (most museums I’ve been before never allowed for that). The museum was nice but I didn’t have much time (I was due to go to Chicago Cultural Centre for a show before 7.30pm and it was about 5pm when I got into the art institute) so just did a quick glance at the exhibits, stopping to photograph a few of interest. There were lots of people though - hehe, I guess free stuff attracts people...

I had planned to watch an African drum show but the seating was full (and this was about 45 minutes prior to the event)! The show was one of the many held as part of the World Music Festival Chicago 2007. Since I’m already here, I might as well go check out what else is on…

Headed over to the information counter to find out more but got myself stuck in a sticky situation. This Italian/Latino grandpapa was trying to seduce the sweet old lady behind the counter until I turned up – his whole attention shifted to me and he started ‘seducing’ ME!! He was asking me why a gorgeous woman like me was by herself at the event and started to hook his thick arm with mine (that looked like a stick next to his) and caressing my hand, holding on to it and not letting me free because he has intentions to keep me by his side the rest of the night at the event. Oh no! Thank god for the nice lady behind the counter who told us the event I was going to was about to start – sorry Grandpa but I need to go! (Thanks kind lady – we both knew it was a lie just for me to get away…wink, wink!). Hmm, need to avoid bumping into Grandpa the rest of the night…

I ended up watching the last quarter of Kiran Ahluwalia and her band playing Indian and Punjabi songs. Kiran Ahluwalia is known for her Indian folk songs, ghazal and Punjabi. There was quite a crowd and it was alright (I can’t comment much since I don’t know anything about such music).

Travelling alone can be lonesome and interesting at the same time. Here I am minding my own business when the old lady sitting next to me started to tell me her life story (I didn’t mind but a rather irate woman in the audience came by to tell her to stop talking). Ops…It was so weird – she gave me her daughter’s New York phone number and asked me to call her daughter to tell her that I’m sitting with her mum and that her mum is alive and kicking. Okay, time to move to another seat…

Chango Spasiuk was up next (this was the event I wanted to see after not being able to go to the African one). He’s an accordion-player that transforms the Argentinean rural dance music, Chamame, into a concert-ready art form. His music contains elements of Schotis, rural Polkas, Rancheras and Rasguidos Dobles. Very nice music though I suspect the guy might be a little eccentric (he looked as if he just woke up from a really bad hangover). But then again, great musicians are a little cuckoo in the head. Ooo, but his percussionist was really cute :P

There was this psycho gay guy (no offence to the gay community) who just wouldn’t stop calling out to Chango and it got a somewhat annoying – most of the audience was staring at him, even Chango himself! Shh!!! Photos taken this evening: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603810534821/detail/

All these great music is making me full of energy to go dancing! Had a quick bite at McDonald’s (urgh, remind me not to eat it next time – the idea of eating it attracts me; actual eating disgusts me as it makes me feel sick inside after consumption) and headed off to Excalibur for some salsa dancing. I had a lot of fun dancing to a live band and did some bachata too! There were dancers from all races – African Americans, Latinos, Asians etc. And boy can they dance – I had a hard time keeping up with the leaders!

Poor Antonio was stuck at the front door – the bouncer wouldn’t let him in because he wore a pair of ripped jeans (one that has rips at the knees). I came out to help him, explaining to the bouncer he was here to join me but the big guy wouldn’t budge unless Antonio changed his pants. No way would we go home and return – it was too far so we decided to call it a night. I couldn’t help but laugh at Antonio’s predicament (he was not happy at all). You sure you won’t go back there ever just because of the dress code rules? It is after all one of the most popular salsa dancing place in the city. Hmm…

Friday, 21st September 2007: Most days while I was in Chicago, the weather has been very kind to me – warm and sunny (and it’s supposed to be autumn). I headed to Jackson Beach on 57th Street to get some suntan since the weather was so nice. Haha, you wouldn’t believe it but I had my own private beach. Yes, I had the beach ALL TO MYSELF! People who saw me in my bikini lying on my towel probably thought I’m nuts. It did felt odd being the only person at the beach. It was not a very clean beach though (technically, it’s not a beach because there’s no sea but the lake) and the sand is very fine – gets annoying when the wind blows and you get sand everywhere. Photo of the beach:

Didn’t do much the rest of the day at home. Went to the university to meet Antonio and tagged along to his work BBQ. I was introduced to another young professor Francesco (aka Paco) and his wife, Maria, who are both from Spain. A lovely couple who had recently moved to Chicago and will be staying here for at least 3 years. Maria and I were about the same age and we hit off pretty quickly. Yes, I look forward to catching up again soon :)

Saturday, 22nd September 2007: Antonio and I decided to have a picnic lunch together by the lake today. Another gorgeous day in Chicago – ah…I wish we had good weather like this in Wellington…Photos by the lake:

We headed off to Chinatown for dinner and there was a huge crowd tonight. Turns out it was a celebration for the Moon Festival and there was a concert and talent show on. We managed to find a small restaurant amidst the crowded place for dinner. Antonio was keen to try out Salty Fish and Chicken Fried Rice for dinner but the waitress just wouldn’t let him order it! She was like ‘You? No, no, no – you will not like it. Very smelly…’. Come on, it isn’t THAT bad…true, for some, it smells like rotten meat or road kill but it’s tasty, really! We ended up having Combination Fried Rice instead – boo, so boring! :P

Jonathan texted us and we caught up with him and Claus at the Museum of Science and Industry. I think it was some orientation event for the university and the whole museum was booked out – free food and young kids (18-year-olds) running around like mad! And we blended in with the students – I doubt the security guard or other students knew that some of us are professors at the university! Hehe…It was pretty cool to roam a museum at night. We went to see a movie about Antartica in the Omnimax (a theatre with a 72-foot diameter dome approximately 5 stories tall and contains 342 seats). It was supposed to be a serious documentary but I don’t know why it seemed funny to most of us. No, I wasn’t drunk, ok? Didn’t even drink anything! Perhaps the other kids were…

Sunday, 23rd September 2007: I tagged along to Lincoln Park to watch Antonio and gang play soccer. Lincoln Park is located on the northern end of Chicago city and you will find a lot of dog-walkers with their dogs here. They even have a play pen for the dogs where the owners let them loose to roam. Unfortunately the spot where we were playing soccer was next to the pen – periodically, someone had to jump into the pen to get the ball.

Go Uruguayan team! The ‘Uruguayan’ team made of Antonio, Gabi, Enrico (he’s Italian), Laura and Vlado (definitely not Uruguayan - he's Serbian) won this round. It was fun to watch them and their antics. Laura, being the only girl on the field plays mean – boys, watch out! She will come charging at you and give you no mercy! Haha! Photos at soccer: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603810577679/detail/


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