Thursday, 3 November 2011

Rewind: My Trip to the US of A - Chicago

Way back when in the midsts of time (a.k.a five weeks ago) I went on a little trip to the USA. My mum and hubby paid for my flight to Chicago and NYC for my upcoming (this month, in fact - argghh!) 40th birthday. Am I lucky, or what?

Needless to say, I had a wonderful time and thought I should probably blog about it, before I forget what I did. Beware, this is a long post. Grab a coffee, sit back, and come with me on a trip round Chicago.

On the Wednesday afternoon I drove up to High Wycombe to stay over with my dearest friend L; this was a fab start to my sojourn as we met up with our mutual friend B and went to Yo! Sushi for dinner - yum!

Thursday morning (ayyyyyeee, it felt like the middle of the night) at 3.45am I crawled out of bed and drove to Heathrow. I'd booked the 'Meet & Greet' car parking service, which gave me probably an extra 30mins in bed and a lot less stress of trying to find their 'middle of nowhere' car park in the dead of night. Then I checked in and headed for the departure lounge where I continued my holiday eating-fest with a Starbucks coffee and blueberry muffin. The flight to Chicago was uneventful. I had two seats to myself, which was great and much more relaxing than being crammed in next to a stranger. The entertainment options were dire, so I spent most of the flight reading a clutch of the Hello magazines I'd brought along. Plane landed at about 10am Chicago time (above is the skyline of Chicago as we were coming into land) and I was in my hotel room in downtown Chicago by about 11.30am. Straight away I met up with a group of the people I'd flown out to meet and we headed out for some lunch. After that I headed for Starbucks (of course) and swooned at the sight of their new drink - Salted Caramel Mocha. HELLO???? Two of my favourite things - salted caramel + coffee - in one cup? And it tasted as good as I'd hoped. Needless to say, I drank rather a lot of those over the five days I was in the USA. Then it was time to hit the shops on the Magnificent Mile. First stop, Crate & Barrel, and first purchase, a pumpkin scoop for hubby - no home should be without one... And there the shopping floodgates were opened and I couldn't/didn't stop til it was time to come home on Monday evening.

A quick meet up with more friends in the afternoon, then I headed out for a light bite dinner - hot dog and cheese fries at Portillos (when in Rome...) before a group of us met up to go to a drag show. That's me on the right, in case you were wondering what I look like, as I'm not sure there are actually that many photos of me on this blog.I've never been to one before so didn't really know what to expect. It was a bit disappointing at first, but the acts slowly improved and by the end I was really enjoying it. Sorry there aren't any photos of the show but cameras weren't allowed. Then it was time for bed - the jet lag was kicking in and I was ready to drop.

The next morning Iwoke bright and early and headed out in the direction of the Mag. Mile once more, but ostensibly not for shopping; this time it was sightseeing. There are fabulous buildings a-plenty in Chicago, apparently due to the fact that the city all but burnt down in the late nineteenth century. One of the most famous is the Chicago Tribune building that has stones embedded in its walls from many monuments around the world - apparently the owner of the Tribune newspaper instructed his reporters to bring/send them back when they were overseas (not sure if this was done legally or whether they snuck up to edificies such as the Great Pyramid at Giza under cover of darkness with a chisel and mallet?!)

There's also an enormous and, dare I say, tacky statue of Marilyn Monroe in that 'infamous' pose which gives lots and lots and lots of people the chance to have their photo taken looking up her skirt. I'm not sure why it's there since she was born and died in LA. Does anyone know the Chicago-Marilyn connection? Am I missing something really obvious?

My sightseeing continued over the other side of the river as I walked through the Loop district, heading for Macy's - a girl has to shop in between all the sightseeing! I was very excited to see the El trains trundling round the overhead tracks, it was just like a scene from ER! My Macy's pitstop lasted longer than I expected due, in most part, to the fact their Christmas Dept had just opened, and I LOVE me some Christmas. Obviously I had to buy a few deccies, including this mega tasteful one. Impressive, non?!
After Macy's I headed for the Chicago Cultural Center to check out the world's largest Tiffany glass dome; it was lovely to see, but actually I thought some of the other parts of the building were just as stunning, if not more so.

After a quick stop to use the free internet in the center, it was over the road and into Millennium Park to see "The Bean" (aka the Cloud Gate sculpture by Anish Kapoor.) Apparently when first suggested, the idea wasn't very popular but since it was unveiled it has been admired and visited by tourists and locals alike. It makes for some great photos, with the city's buildings reflected and distorted in its surface. And you can take self portraits - look, there's me with the Macy's bag!

After all that walking (and shopping) it was time to head back to the hotel for a little bit of R&R, before I headed out to dinner at Pizzeria Uno, one of several pizzerias in the city that claims to have invented the Chicago pizza pie. I had a mushroom and spinach version (please excuse dreadful photo - no flash on my iPhone) which I would probably have enjoyed a whole lot more if I hadn't eaten an entire side order of mozarella sticks before the pizza arrived. Luckily, this being America, they were more than happy to box it up for me and I enjoyed the leftovers later!

Later on it was time for a get-together with friends in the hotel lounge before we headed out to a karaoke bar, which most of us promptly left after one drink in order to find somewhere quieter where we could sit and chat over a Baileys and ice. And that was the end of Friday.

Saturday I wasn't up quite so early, but still early enough as I'd arranged to meet Tina in Starbucks at 9.30am so we could enjoy a day of shopping and sightseeing together. We pretty much followed the same route I'd taken on the Friday, with a walk along the Mag. Mile, over the river and into Millennium Park, where this time I got my photo snapped in front of The Bean.

This time I also got to see the Crown Fountain which I'd missed the day before; this installation features two 50-foot high towers which project video images of 1,000 Chicago citizens with water spouting from their "mouths".After that it was across the road to the Art Institute of Chicago shop (not cultured enough to do the Institue itself!) and then on to the Chicago Artchitecture Foundation shop, is there a theme developing here? Then finally we found the place we had been headed for all along - a knitting shop - Loopy Yarns. I bought a great pattern book for knitting an Afghan blanket, which I might get round to opening one day...After all that walking and shopping it was time for lunch - pulled pork sandwich with onion rings and fries. Shopping and eating, eating and shopping. Seems about all I did when I was in Chicago...One last shop - the Hershey store; not for the Hershey chocolate which I think is foul, but for the Reeses's peanut butter confections. OMG, I LOVE LOVE LOVE Reese's peanut butter cups, and even more than that I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE Reese's peanut butter chocolate bars. I bought three and I've got half of one left, even though I've tried to ration it. I really need to get back to the USA soon! In the evening it was time to head out for dinner to a Churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse). I'm not a big meat-eater, so I went for the all-you-can-eat salad bar option. I'm also not a big salad person, so I expected to be a little bit hungry come the end. How wrong could I be? There was sooooo much to choose from (50+ dishes, apparently) that I only visited the salad bar once. Look at my plate: there was chicken salad, bacon, artichoke hearts, potato salad, mozarella balls, asparagus spears, haloumi, sushi. It was absolutely not like going to a Harvester. Here's Tina and I looking happy about the food.After dinner we headed back to the hotel lounge and spent time chatting and eating ice cream - there are a lot more flavouts of Ben & Jerry's available in the USA! And that was pretty much the end of my trip to Chicago.

And when I checked my bag in at the airport for my flight to NYC, look what got attached to it.

I wonder why??!!

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