Week 32 – USA Road Trip (Chicago)

Week 1 of our North America road trip and we’ve driven 780kms so far. I know that doesn’t sound like much but that’s only one day of driving, when we headed to Chicago on Wednesday. Each week I’ll start the post in the same format because I think it’ll be interesting to watch the kms grow each week.

The remainder of our time in Waterloo with Anna’s parents was based around finishing our bootcamp sessions and getting organised for the trip. Before setting off on such a long journey we thought it would be best to take the car on some test drives to make sure all was in order and nothing required attention. I’m very pleased with how the car has performed so far and I’m quite surprised with the fuel economy too. That’s really going to help on a long trip like this. Getting motivated to complete the 2 last bootcamp sessions was a struggle for me, especially since they were both morning sessions, but Anna was up and ready both times so I dragged myself out of bed and tagged along.

Last November, Anna and I flew to Toronto for Alana and Garry’s wedding. In April when we were in Florence, Alana and Garry caught up with us during their one day in Florence on their honeymoon. This week they came through once again and we met up for dessert in downtown Waterloo. It was great to catch up and to hear how the remainder of their honeymoon went in Greece. We’re so jealous that we didn’t make it to Greece after hearing how nice it was for them. We’ve been so lucky to see so many friends and family on the trip so far and we really appreciate the effort it takes.

Catching up with Garry and Alana in Waterloo

Even though we weren’t invited, we felt very welcome with Anna’s parents. It was great spending time with them and enjoying some downtime in Waterloo. We watched movies together and went for evening walks, but the main highlight for me was meal time at the dining table. What’s not to like about feasting on copious amounts of food while listening to funny stories about Anna as a chid. Wanda even made Aussie burgers on our last day and they were great. Our last outing all together was to St. Jacobs to walk along a trail that snakes along the river to a small dam. We also went to visit Anna’s dad on his break so we could see him driving the bus. The whole time we were there we were trying to figure out how we could surprise Zbyszek by catching his bus, but the timetable changed everyday and most of the routes were in different areas. He really enjoys driving the bus and it seems like a nice stepping stone between his engineering profession and retirement. It was sad to say goodbye, but it was made easier knowing that we’ll be back for Christmas.

The drive to Chicago was pretty straightforward on the highways and we only had a small section of rain. At the US border we had to pull into the center so that I could have my passport stamped and my wallet lightened by US$6 for the privilege. Of course Anna glided through border security with no issue due to her Canadian passport. Holding both a North American and European passport is the best combination for worldwide travel – an Australian passport… not so much. The US border was a very serious operation and quite intimidating, so I was surprised when the two officers who were serving us started making jokes. I learned that because I’m in the banking profession their computers are unlikely to find any criminal history on me because it’s all white-collar crime. But they did point out that I’m a good candidate to offer a hefty bribe since I have so many offshore accounts. As tempted as I was to play along with their jokes, I thought I’d be best to play it straight. It was totally unexpected though.

Accommodation in Chicago is very expensive so trying to find anything under AU$100 per night is near impossible. We decided to check out Airbnb and we landed a place in the suburban district of Oak Park. It was just by chance that down the street is the Frank Lloyd Wright home & studio and it turns out that this area is full of houses he designed. Frank Lloyd Wright became an internationally acclaimed architect and worked on all sorts of buildings, but it all started with the abstract houses he designed. We did the interior tour of the house & studio and then walked the area using a map we found online. The facades were different from others of the same period and the internal footprint of his own home was very intriguing. It appears that he used his own home to test different techniques he later adopted in commissioned works. Oak Park is very pleasant and we’ve really enjoyed it. It might also be helped by the fact that our hosts have two dogs, Kramer and Ralphie. If we stayed downtown we wouldn’t have an appreciation for the greater area of Chicago, and Anna wouldn’t have had dogs to play with. It is only 30 mins by train to the city centre and it’s a raised train network, so you’re able to see the different neighbourhoods on the way.

When we first arrived on Wednesday evening we parked the car on the driveway and we haven’t touched it in the 4 nights here. The train is the easiest and cheapest way into town, but we also want to get back into the habit of walking everywhere. Each time we get to a city, we’ll try and park the car for a few days and explore on foot. On our first day out we racked up 34,000 steps and that’s the first time we’ve done that in over a month. We roamed around the city checking out architecture of the early skyscrapers and getting a lie of the land. Going up a skyscraper is a must-do activity in Chicago but the observation decks cost over US$20 per person. We cheated the system a little and went to a bar on the 96th floor of the John Hancock building. We ordered a beer each and left after that, at less than half the cost of the observation deck. That was Anna’s idea and I think that might be due to her Polish side.

Another thing Chicago is famous for is street art so we kept an eye out for different pieces in our travels. Cloud Gate would be one of the most famous and it definitely pulls the crowds. There are other ones that are very artistic and others that are a little too out there for my taste. We walked down to the planetarium last night and took a bunch of night shots of the Chicago skyline using Anna’s new lens. It looks like the new lens has fixed the issue of blemishes in night photos. She’s very happy with the lens and the auto focus is far superior. The shots of Buckingham Fountain with the skyline in the background are my favourite from our time here.

Today we ticked off something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, a US baseball game. We were very fortunate that our time in Chicago lined up with the Cubs playing some home games. The Cubs are doing very well this season so the city is really behind them. It is also very fortunate that the Cubs home ground is Wrigley Field which is said to be one of the best in USA due to its historic features. I’ve never really paid too much attention to the baseball draw, and I was surprised to see that the Cubs were playing the Cardinals Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Luckily we were able to score some of the last tickets for the game with all three days being sold out. Unfortunately the game wasn’t as close as we’d like it and the Cubs lost, but we still enjoyed the atmosphere. The footlong chilli cheese dog was a definite win along with the mandatory Bud Light.

You may have noticed that there’s something missing from the list of Chicago icons. If you’re thinking the Navy Pier you’re somewhat correct. We went there but it’s nothing too exciting. I’m actually referring to the Chicago deep-dish pizza. Our hosts gave us the local knowledge on the best place to go. It takes 40 minutes to cook because the base and crust is so thick but it’s worth the wait.

Our next stop is Saint Louis and then onto Kansas City. We’ve got a rough outline past that but nothing is set in stone.



Fail of the Week

On our way into Chicago we had the option of going the toll road into town and then along the expressway into the suburbs, or we could go the highway without tolls that circles around the outside of town. The GPS thought that would be quicker and we didn’t have a SIM card so we couldn’t check traffic. After such a long day of driving I made the call to go the toll road. We took the exit and almost immediately hit road works and then when we reached town it all came to a grinding halt. It took over an hour to make the 15 minute drive.

Meal of the Week

The aforementioned deep-dish pizza from Pizzeria Due was a clear winner this week. Not only did it have a thick crust but also thick topping of cheese, sausage and pepperoni. Anna suggested a small but I bumped it up to a medium since that was all we were ordering. We only just made it through half of it, and I was blown away with how heavy the pizza was. The crust was almost like a quiche base. So delicious, but we both voted that the thin crust Italian pizzas win.


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