Stop 9: Chicago
We arrived into Chicago and were pleasantly surprised by the above and beyond service we received from our new host Leo, who not only collected us from the subway station to drive us to our new home, but also proceeded to take us to the grocery store nearby, patiently waiting while we stocked up on supplies before chauffeuring us home again. We soon worked out the reasoning behind his unexpectedly protective behaviour when we stepped outside our apartment the following morning to find ourselves very obviously the only white blondes in the area of Bronzeville. Whilst waiting for our bus Downtown, we were accosted by not one, but two heckling men, seemingly cruising the neighbourhood aimlessly. All fairly harmless - although Nat did panic momentarily when we found ourselves cornered by cars and men (they even hopped out of their cars to get a closer look of us), fearing a kidnapping was imminent!
Chicago brought us our first bit of warm sunshine since Miami, and we began to feel that we might soon be able to say goodbye to Helen's ultra fashionable Nerd hat / Fagan glove ensemble...
We enjoyed a couple of morning runs along the shores of the turquoise Lake Michigan with a spectacular view of Chicago to spur us on (plus the heckling made us run faster than normal...) and the next few days involved wandering in the sunshine through Millennium Park, taking in the giant metal 'Bean' sculpture and coming across a group of students distributing free hugs and compliments - our kind of people! We searched for nearly an hour for what was possibly the least dramatic sign in the world - the start of Route 66 - a slight anticlimax, which deserved a treat at a French cafe for macaroons to make up for it.
We enjoyed a Sunday afternoon of sport, taking in our first ball game at a Chicago Cubs versus Philadelphia Phillies baseball game. We didn't have a clue what was happening but jumped up and shouted as loudly as the rest at what we thought were the appropriate times. Especially enjoyed joining the locals with hot dogs and beer - we could get into this sport malarkey!
We explored the Navy Pier which was pretty much shut down for winter apart from the Conservatory midway - which was warm and full of tropical plants - and decided the best thing about the pier, given its state of renovation and off-season shutdown, was definitely the gourmet popcorn store where we finally settled on a purchase of caramel and cashew nut popcorn - only fair given we had eaten our body weight in taster pots pretending to consider all the flavours. We took our snack on board the Architectural City River Tour - a chance to see all of Chicago's skyscrapers by boat, which wound its way through the heart of the city along the river. Much as we enjoyed the river cruise, sitting on board an open top boat in 5C degrees left us in need of a warming mulled rum, bourbon and apple cocktail at the top of the Hancock Center, Chicago's third highest skyscraper - a visit we timed perfectly to see the sun set over the city.
We also visited Lincoln Park's free zoo - where Helen was again unsuccessful in her attempts to snatch a pet - before demolishing a famous Chicago Deep Pan pizza from Giordanos which definitely lived up to its reputation.
Next stop - a brief return to Miami to surprise Helen's parents who are in in town on holiday with friends - bring on the sunshine!