Windy City Kickoff

Kicking off my adventure in Chicago worked out really well.  In fact, I don’t think it could have gone any better when you consider that I did a lot of what I set out to do, namely: 1) I arrived there by bus which fits within my surface travel objective, 2) I couchsurfed for the first time, 3) hung out with locals and saw the city from their perspective, 4) navigated public transit on my own, and 5) I checked out several major attractions within Chicago

My friend and host, Mel, was awesome.  She, her roommates and friends crash at her place a lot, along with surfers, so they like to refer to their home as a hostel.  They live in Wrigleyville (nestled within Lakeview) which as the name suggests is because it’s where Wrigley Field is located.  The main thoroughfare has a lot of bars and souvenir stores, but as you venture off, you find some really cool older neighborhoods that have been well maintained.  I spent several hours just roaming through Lakeview in addition to my downtown explorations.

On my first full day, Mel recommended buying a 3-day CTA pass instead of just paying the $2.25/ride for the train.  This worked out brilliantly as I was riding the train a lot everyday to get around.  I stuck with the red and brown lines, and didn’t venture out to the burbs.  However, from what I could tell, Chicago’s CTA is a breeze to navigate.  I guess it’s called the “L” for Loop which is what all the trains do once they get far enough down.  I never felt lost roaming around downtown or in the neighborhoods I was in.  I even checked out the REI store (gear update below).  Michigan Avenue and Millenium Park are definitely a must for urban trekking if you’re there.  The amphitheater in the park, which I have photos of in the prior post, was designed by the same group that created the Sydney Opera House.

As for the obligatory tourist stuff… Mel and I went to a Cubs game with some friends, and I spent one very humid, 100 degree day in the air conditioned art institute.  I was glad I had spent an earlier, cooler day exploring the city, because I wouldn’t have walked around outside my final day there.

Some highlights…

There are a lot of well known paintings in the Chicago Art Institute, but my favorite piece was this giant Buddha statue.  I went back to look at it a few times and finally took a shot.

I thought this room was interesting and very relaxing to sit in as well.

There was a Roy Lichtenstein exhibit as well, but the museum was being a tad anal about taking pictures of certain pieces so I didn’t get any.  Apparently, if the museum owns the piece, it’s cool to take pics, but private owners weren’t allowing photos of their pieces.

Gear Update:  I went to REI and bought two shirts, a day pack, and a rain bag for my big pack.  I dumped three older shirts that I had planned on getting rid of anyway once I had some proper travel shirts.

All said and done, I love Chicago!! Can’t believe that was my first time there.  It has a lot of the big city energy of NYC, but there’s still that Midwest influence and personality that makes people seem nicer and less stressed out.  Also, based on what Mel told me, the rental and property markets aren’t outrageous.  If I had my old, pre-unemployed-bum salary there, I could live pretty well and have a nice place.  So I could definitely see myself living there and getting engaged with the CS community presence.  Chicago will become a regular feature of my travels and can’t wait to go back.

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