Chicago – Chapter Four

Day 7, April 1: No fooling, this was a cloudy morning (sorry). Breakfast was a croissant in the Cultural Centre a few blocks away, where I relaxed in the company of some wifi as I checked how the rest of the world was getting along without me. Quite well as it turned out. It’s always nice to be missed. Wonder if I’ll ever know how that feels? 🙂

As I had particular plans for the rest of the day, I filled an hour or so roaming the shops of the North Loop, noting in particular the Amazon-inflicted wilderness of book stores. Borders and Barnes and Noble were located after a short struggle, but they didn’t quite have what I was looking for. Still, nothing wrong with a bit of browsing and I did at least manage to identify a couple of potential gifts. Mostly though, I was just marking time, and before long I was heading back to the hotel bar.

One of the nicest things about the Chicago trip was the prospect of catching up with an old friend, Liz, who happened to be in town at the same time with her boyfriend. My directions can’t have been too good, as they were a bit late getting there, but after catching up on several years of news, we headed to the Gage, where my relative’s recommendation came in extra handy, as we were treated to a round of pink champagnes by the owner, yet another Irishman in Chicago. The food was even better than it had been on my first visit too.

After food we arranged to meet later in the day, so I retired to the hotel to rest and wash, then head out briefly to book shop a little more. It was kind of a trend for the day. Broken up as it was, I didn’t have the chance to make serious plans, so it was nice to spend the spare parts of my last day without any pressure. It was slightly less nice to be feeling the first raindrops of my trip, but the sight of the tops of Chicago’s skyscrapers lost in low cloud was pretty cool.

When we gathered again, the first goal was to find food, but it was a Friday evening, and there were massive queues in the best places – Giordano’s and Gino’s East. Both the originals and the franchises. Eventually we gave up and decided to hop on the El for Clybourn and the Goose Island Brewery. Definitely a good idea – the queue was actually manageable, rather than more than an hour long, and the food was great. I had a very tasty pulled pork burger, and we sampled a whole range of craft beers. The brewery has been bought by Anheuser-Busch, but the very friendly staff assured us that nothing was going to change. We’ll see, but for now it made for a great evening.

Liz and the boyfriend headed to their hotel and I headed back to Hotel 71 for a last few drinks there. Which lasted longer than I expected because, yay, Friday night was late night. It got a bit strange at times, with the arrival of a crowd of people, some of whom were almost certainly underage, and my efforts at helping the hostess to come up with suitable descriptions for the wines behind the bar. Honestly, my last evening in Chicago was the most fun I’d had in the city. I was just a little happy though that my flight home the next day didn’t require me to get up early.

Day 8, April 2: One last sunny morning greeted me, shining down on that view as I packed up and cleaned up. Checking out wasn’t too much of a hassle, and I got to stow my bags behind the desk for the rest of the day, so I revisited some favourite haunts. The Cultural Centre for breakfast, and Millennium Park and the Bean/Cloud Gate just across the road. I even visited a few shops as I waited for 10.30am and the first river tour of the day.

The Chicago River cuts right through the heart of the city, offering some of the best views of the towers and the architecture. Wendella run tours from the Michigan Avenue bridge, right beside Hotel 71. Chilly though it might have been, the sunshine didn’t fail during the hour and a half it took to roam the watery canyon. The tour guide was well informed, and fond of some really bad jokes, but if you go on the same tour yourself, sit on the right hand side of the boat – most of the commentary relates to sights on that side, for some reason.

The Saturday crowds were heaving when I headed up the Magnificent Mile after the tour to meet for a last lunch with Liz and the boyfriend. We had lunch in the Tempo Cafe – I should have gone for the omlette rather than the waffles, given how much travel I was within a few hours of beginning. Afterwards, there were some fond farewells, and I did my best to pick up a few last presents, notably some Garrets’ popcorn (more queues) for friends who are a little bit addicted.

After that, all that remained was to pick up the bags and head for the airport, pausing only to wrestle once more with the ticket machines. There wasn’t too much drama to be faced though – getting out of the U.S. is a lot easier than getting in. Night fell swiftly as we took off, heading east, and I did my best to catch some sleep. Not all that easy, but I managed a couple of hours. One final struggle awaited with Sunday morning buses in Dublin, then home.

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