Chicago Part III with Lady O and a little Goodwill………

I really am a city girl and Chicago had me from the moment I set foot upon its sidewalks.  Dependent on where I am, I can tend to fall in love with places…….just a little.  It is a  love of the casual kind.  An unpretentious and easy-going bond which can develop for a place one has visited, lived or a place one just longs to be.

Chicago for me was all about those frequent busy streets, those soaring skyscrapers, the cherished anonymity one feels in the presence of many strangers and the wind gusting down the lanes.  It was the colors of the antiqued copper, the dark glass and the greys and silvers of the steel.  It was the sound of the traffic, the grilled shop fronts, the symbols of great imagination and the mathematics of the city blocks made into such perfect squares and rectangles.  Around every corner there seemed something interesting, curious and uniquely Chicagoesque and even under a grim sky it was always a stunningly beautiful city.

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Wherever I find myself in the world, I also like to take a little time out.  In these quiet moments I will literally walk for miles and miles and miles.  My walking brings a blur of happiness and a deeper appreciation of all things as I see parts of a city and its neighborhoods so often lost to the eyes of others.  Solitude is something I easily slip into and when alone, I seem to garner a little more appreciation of all things.  When you have gratitude, as we all should, your appreciation can become boundless.

I was also on a bit of a mission in my alone time too as I was on the look out for a Goodwill store.  And this was no ordinary Goodwill store either.  This was the largest store in Chicago.  In the back pocket of my jeans and neatly folded I had my trusted little paper map of the city, some money for my impending purchases (always optimistically hopeful) about my person and no doubt there was a little spring in my step.   I walked up Washington Boulevard lost in my thoughts when I stumbled upon this………….

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Ms Lady O’s Harpo studio.  The home of The Oprah Winfrey Show.  The studio was huge and took up almost an entire city block.  On the day I saw the studio production had ceased so there were no lines of audience members and there was little traffic on the boulevard.  Now Oprah may not be everyone’s cup of tea and truth be told, I would rather be someone’s good shot of rye whiskey than cup of tea, but you really do have to admire this woman and what she has achieved.  Born into poverty in Mississippi she rose to become a world renowned philanthropist, billionaire, talk show host and multimedia personality.  An impressive achievement in anyone’s book.

And the Goodwill store?  Well that was everything I ever hoped and dreamed it would be and although I was travelling light on this journey back to Australia, I still managed to fit in a couple of little pre-loved purchases into my port.  Happy days x

Although I ended up walking much further than I anticipated, I did eventually make it back to the hotel room and the next day we headed out together to the Lincoln Park Conservatory and Park District which is located near the shores of Lake Michigan.  The Conservatory is a beautiful Victorian Glasshouse built between 1890 and 1895.   Within its walls is an exotic, lush-green oasis of orchids, ponds, paths and rare and beautiful plants.  It really is a lovely and peaceful way to while away a few hours in Chicago.

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Next stop was The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.  A charming museum founded in 1857 and now one of Americas oldest scientific institutions.

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Walk through the 2,700 foot greenhouse which is home to over 1,000 butterflies.  Wander the nature trails and seek out the sculptures hidden amongst the tussocky grasslands and in particular look for the ‘Lost Bird Project’.  This is a bronze image depicting 5 birds of North America now lost forever to the tragedy of modern extinction.  Inside the museum brows through their impressive scientific collections and exhibits of eggs, birds, manuscripts, motion picture film, fossils, artifacts, reptiles, amphibians and photographs.

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A snap shot of our final days in Chicago……

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The odd thing about time is that it marches forth even if you are not ready to do so.  The memories of the trip back to Australia are still vivid and at times achingly raw yet one day I know they will begin to fade.  How much I will preserve of this time I do not know for no matter how much we try to contain some things, we really have no control over how it can contain us.

So goodbye Chicago and next stop, lovely Seattle where it was anything but sleepless……. xx

Nothing gets on my goat more…….

Part II – Eat, Drink, Love Chicago…….

As lovely as the architecture in this cloud scraping city is, Chicago is also an epicureans delight.  Here you will hit the absolute mother load in terms of great restaurants and great bars.

In Newcastle there is a saying and that is – ‘there isn’t a pub on every corner but every pub is on a corner’.   Well in Chicago, it can be stated this – ‘there really is a bar on every corner!’

Hip and beautiful cocktail bars, cosy or noisy bars, lounge bars, dive bars (always a favorite of mine), sip wine and eat charcuterie and pate and elegant cheese platter bars, slick bars, sports bars, roof top bars – a perfect accompaniment for summer, outdoor bars, old world bars and coffee bars……yes, there are such things as coffee bars and they will serve you up wonderful hand roasted bean water to perfection.  And Chicago really does do great coffee!

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Beer, and in particular craft beers, are big in Chicago.  As with most places in the world the craft beer industry has really taken off but sometimes you just want to go a little old school.  You want to find a beloved watering hole, faded and as well-worn as your granddads favorite old slippers.  So how do you find the perfect old school Ale house amid the thousands of Ale houses in Chicago and its neighborhoods!  Well that’s easy. You just need to look up.

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Above the door-ways of most good Ale houses you will find either a flashing vintage neon sign or look for a wooden swinging ‘ye olde’ sign.  These places tend to be real Chicago gems and I think if anyone ever tried to change or modernise these places into a hip gastro-pub then there would probably be rioting on the streets.  I love that much of the original charm and nostalgia of these places remains.

Quite often the guy behind the bar with the large white tea-towel draped across his shoulder is, by rule of thumb, the one who owns it.  These guys are genuine and down to earth and have an ancestry which dates back decades of tough working class immigrant families.  Their history, by way of old black and white photographs, adorn the walls of their establishments and these photos tell stories of many years passed.

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I guess you really have to admire a place that greets you with a warning sign as soon as you step through the door………….

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The Billy Goat Tavern is a place you are either going to love or run screaming from.  Grab a seat at the bar as this is the perfect place to people watch while you chow down on your cheezborger.  And here’s the thing……..the cheezborger is so simple but ridiculously good.  The tavern is located under Michigan Avenue so it can be a little hard to find but everyone who lives or works in Chicago knows where this place is and they can tell you how to get there.billy-goat-tavern1

This is where, on a good night (or day) or both, you can chug handles of warmish beer and eat humble cheezborgers ’til your heart’s content all while chatting with the locals, the newspaper journalists from papers such as the Chicago Tribune, old guys, old sports guys, the occasional D grade celeb and tourists.

Now truth be told, this place isn’t for everyone. People come in, look around then very often (and hastily) take their leave. But if you are up for some local history, a good ‘borger’ (and my tip for that would be to go the two patty) and if you don’t have a shitty attitude…….and honestly, nothing gets on my goat more than a whiny negative attitude!!  then you will be most welcome and you will have a great time.

Sometimes when it comes to food, I have little resistance.  Please note that dark chocolate (always 70% and over)  and ice-cream should never be placed in arms reach of me plus I am a sucker for hot chips and gravy.  But in Chicago we found the real Holy Grail Trinity of food:

  1. The Legendary Deep Dish Pizza – Chicago’s most iconic of big cheesy food.
  2. The Authentic Chicago Style Hot Dog – an all-beef frankfurter on a bun which has been sprinkled with poppy seeds and stuffed with fresh tomato, onions, sport peppers, a pickle spear, drizzled with yellow mustard and finished with a dusting of celery salt.
  3. The Italian Beef Sandwich – heaven!

No fancy pants dining or airs and graces required because this food will hold its own.  Just great Chicago food where little more needs to be said other than these will be some of the best things you will ever eat…….and this is coming from someone who is not ‘big’ on pizza.  I guess perhaps that’s just the comfort of food sometimes.

You will also find rib sticking Polish food, fantastic smokehouses, sandwich shops which are no ordinary sandwich shops, popcorn shops given popcorn is Illinois’ official snack food and it fabulously comes covered in cheese and caramel, iconic steak houses, roasted pig face….hello and more deli’s than you could ever imagine.

Life is so much more than your little microcosm of the world.  It won’t always be perfect and sometimes it won’t work out the way you planned but do make every single wonderful moment of it count and in the mean time……. eat, drink and love where ever you are xx.

Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all our enemies, because when we love all living beings, we have no enemies……..Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

First stop, Chicago Illinois…….

“I just flew in from the windy city.  The windy city is mighty pretty…….”

I had always thought the name ‘Windy City’, a tag used to describe Chicago, was due to the bleak and frigid gusts which must come off Lake Michigan during Winter.  According to the Chicago Historical Society however, that now famous moniker came about from an observation made in the late 19th century of windbag politicians blustering hot air!  Hmmmm, I guess not a lot has changed since those days but one thing I will say is this!  Chicago is one hell of town!

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I love cities. I love being in them and I love living in them.  For me, cities hold extraordinary beauty and a thrum of inexplicable energy which almost feels like a heart beat.  I am however, very mindful of the fact that cities, for all their allure can be as fickle and as harsh as a foe and for some, and this is particularly true of the homeless, they can be a cold, unforgiving and often brutal place.  No doubt some big cities are difficult locations for one to find their feet or their rightful place in life and everyone, no matter their circumstance, are deserving of that one small mercy………

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The city of Chicago is world class and well set out.  And the best way to appreciate it!  Well that would be on foot.  Chicago really is the perfect city for walkers.  There are a couple of very good designated walks to take including the ‘Magnificent Mile’ and ‘The Loop’.  The ‘Magnificent Mile’ is an easy walk beginning at the Michigan Avenue Bridge then encompassing the Chicago River, towers and buildings, retailers, landmarks, restaurants, the famous Billy Goat Tavern (more on that little gem later), the John Hancock Center and it ends at the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

‘The Loop’ runs through the heart of Chicago’s downtown financial hub.  This walk begins on Jackson Boulevard and takes you through the labyrinth of densely packed commercial buildings, skyscrapers and architectural history and ends in the theatre district near Washington Street.

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The people of Chicago are easy to like.   They are friendly, generous and very proud of their city and rightly so.  They have a nice blend of non-arrogant swagger, a grounding of blue-collar edginess and a little uber cool white-collar hustle.  The real draw-card however, are those towering skyscrapers.

These massive structures punctuate the skyline with their steel, glass and granite.  There is a mix of stunning Art Deco exteriors, modern and post modern facades, Gothic splendor and iconic and elegant structures.  Some buildings, including their stair-cases, elevators and fire-escapes are graced with the most beautifully ornamental ironwork.  It is timeless, elegant and very intricate and these buildings alone are well worth seeking out.

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These massive silhouettes cast an impressive shadowy gloom and this is especially true on very cold days but almost all of the buildings are floodlit in a perfect golden glow from dusk until dawn.  One building in particular, the Art Deco inspired Merchandise Mart, with its 372,000 squares of interior space was so large when first built in the 1930’s it even had its own postcode (zip code).

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This city is architectural splendor at its very best and although you can appreciate it all from the relative safety of the pavement you really do need to go up.  And when I say up, I mean nothing under 90 floors.  Up in the clouds you not only get a birds eye view but you will also get up close and very personal with Chicago.  Most skyscrapers have offered to open their top floors to the public and from these vantage points there is no better way to see this city.

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Frank Sinatra said it best when he sang ‘My kind of town.  Chicago is, my kind of town…….’ so grab an Old Fashion (or seven), sit back and enjoy the view.  The sky really is the limit in this stunning city……. xx