Many will question the logic of someone who flies for 8 hours for a long weekend. To me however, distance is but a number, and being slightly further away than the merits of mainland Europe does not justify ruling out destinations such as Chicago for a city break. Another thing I always try and maximise on is the opportunity to visit people I know who are living abroad somewhere. Firstly, free accommodation. Secondly, it allows you to explore somewhere not previously on your radar. Thirdly, you have a ready-made travel partner. When the news dropped that my cousin was off to spend a semester in the land of cheese the question was – where shall we meet? It was this version of events that led up to me arriving at Edinburgh Airport for the VERY early morning flight to Dublin with Aer Lingus. When you are short on time many would discount a non-direct flight but this would be a mistake. Not only do Aer Lingus offer incredible value for transatlantic offerings (and their service I would choose over any of the American airline offerings) but they are a US customs point in Dublin making for a speedy immigration procedure pre-arrival meaning you can just walk right out of the airport. Wallah – I grabbed a cab to Chicago Getaway Hostel and arrived just after 3.30p.m.
The hostel is not right in downtown Chicago but there is a train station a 5 minute walk away making all of Chicago accessible really easily. The room was simple with bunkbeds and only a private toilet. However, the shared bathrooms were really clean and female only (big plus!) and there were a lot of nice common areas for chilling out. After checking in and changing I awaited my travel partner, Yasmin who arrived after me even though she was just coming from the neighbouring state. After the reunions we headed off into town for some dinner and a Chinese treat! This might be giving the game away but Chicago is one of my favourite cities in the US and I was never even particularly fussed on going! The food is phenomenal (everything we ate was amazing) and Lao Szechuan was certainly a top hit to start the trip. Having spent 3 weeks living in the Sichuan mountains Sichuanese cuisine is a particular favourite of mine. Given it was the US we asked the friendly server for some help in ordering and she definitely went overboard (on quantity and price) but it was delicious nonetheless. 2 dishes would be more than enough for 2 people. We ordered the Chef’s special dry chilli chicken (think KFC but better), a traditional Sichuan hot and spicy seafood pot (basically a spicy stir fry with tongue numbing peppercorns and my absolute favourite lotus flowers), some xiao long bao which I shouldn’t have ordered given it was a Sichuan restaurant and these are Shanghainese and so the quality was lacking and the Chairman Mao Hong Sue Pork. The meal was massive and came with rice portions too. We obviously left quite a bit of food but I think between the 2 of us we made a good dent and like I mentioned, the quality was fantastic other than the dumplings.
Feeling like we could roll out we headed out onto Michigan Avenue and did some shopping stops on our way to the John Hancock Centre. When we had been planning the trip, given the short time we had the amount we wanted to see we opted for the Chicago City Pass which included some set attractions and others you could pick. It was our first night in the city and so we wanted to get a glimpse of the skyline and city lights at night. When we arrived there was no queue at all. This was great as it meant no queueing and we were up and taking in the spectacular views of the city in no time at all (this would never happen at the Empire State Building). Chicago is situated right on the banks of Lake Michigan and so you have a sprawling cityscape right along the water. From here you could spot Trump tower, the Willis Tower and even all the way to neighbouring Wisconsin. You were free to wander round at your own pace so we spent a while checking out each of the different views and getting some great pics. Another feature of the tower is TILT. You have to pay a few dollars extra for the experience and basically go in in groups of 8, stand up against the window holding onto handles and the window tilts out 1000 feet over the magnificent mile below so all that is between you and the ground all that distance below is a sheet of glass. From 94 floors up this is a cool experience but definitely not worthy of the dramatic American reactions of screaming. You could stand up and back at any point and you would not be tilting anymore.
After the excitement of our TILT experience we headed back on the train to the hostel for an early night. We had 3 days left to fit in the best that Chicago has to offer!