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Posts Tagged ‘Windy City’


Our last full day in Chicago began with waving off our San Francisco housemates. Their presence had re-energised us at a time when we were starting to dwell on the imminence of our return home.

Having already visited the attractions we most wanted to see, we decided that we would have a leisurely day walking around the city, particularly the riverfront.

Once Alicia, Jerry, Aiden and Ely had set off for O’Hare Airport, we finalised the packing before strolling to the Chicago train station, the nearest to our house, but still a decent hike.

We alighted at the Merchandise Mart, the world’s largest commercial building in floor area (four million square feet), and home to the city’s premier interior design trade showrooms. Only the Pentagon is larger in the United States.

But what was far more impressive than any of this was that it had a Pret a Manger cafe!

American sandwiches are great, don’t get me wrong, but they are just TOO BIG! It was so refreshing to have a proper English sandwich – two pieces of sliced bread hugging chicken, egg, avocado and tomato –  delicious! Manageable size too.

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I think the following photographs speak for themselves. We spent the next couple of hours strolling the riverfront and lakeside before returning to Millennium Park, where we had marvelled yesterday morning at The Bean with the kids.

We may have shed fifty degrees since the beginning of the trip in New Orleans, but we cannot have experienced a sharper, bluer sky than this afternoon.

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The Chicago Riverwalk is an open, pedestrian waterfront on the south bank of the main branch of the Chicago River, spanning from Lake Street to Lake Shore Drive. We sauntered almost the entire length of it. Restaurants, park seating, boat rentals and other activities are dotted along the walk, though the declining season meant that several were now closed – frustrating as I was by now in need of bladder relief!

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Although there were few other pedestrians around, there was a steady procession of river traffic.

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There were some spectacular buildings along the walk, though one with an obscenely huge five letter name memorialising the current incumbent of the White House, was not one of them.

Watching the elevated trains trundling over the river was endlessly fascinating.

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No buildings were more eye-popping than the two 65 story apartment towers at Marina City, a mixed use residential cum commercial building complex that occupies almost an entire city block on State Street on the north bank. The parking garage portion below the twentieth floor was amazing.

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At the end of the Riverwalk, we turned onto Lake Shore Drive and then Millennium Park.

Opposite the park we took up two stools at the bar of The Gage pub and restaurant. We had inadvertently timed our arrival perfectly, as within minutes, the bar was crammed with some of Chicago’s smartest citizens demanding tables or forming large, vocal groups around the bar.

And it was a great bar! Janet was so impressed that she declared immediately that she wanted to live in Chicago!

Aside from the impossibility of such a notion, neither of us would have expected before the trip that it would be the Windy City that would have such an impact. To be fair, the stunning weather helped. Had it been raining during our stay, we may have formed a different opinion.

But even so, Chicago had startled and thrilled us.

One final ride on the “L” to our Chicago stop, and we were walking back to the house, enjoying  intermittent glimpses of the receding skyline.

We had already decided to eat back at the house, feasting on the pizza leftovers from Pequod’s the night before. To be honest, it tasted better the second time around!

Though not as good as that Pret a Manger sandwich!

I’ll leave the last word to The Grinch.

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The idea for this trip came thirteen years ago when I bought the book entitled The Blues Highway: A Travel and Music Book by Richard Knight.

But then, as we were on the point of booking the trip, Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans, the planned starting point for the trip. We resolved then that we would wait to do it when life in the city had returned to some semblance of normality.

In 2012, we did finally embark on a road trip, but in a very different part of the country – the National Parks of the South West, covering the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

Setting off from Las Vegas, our expedition took in Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Lake Powell, Monument Valley, Arches National Park and the Grand Canyon, followed by a sizeable detour through New Mexico, visiting Santa Fe, Albuquerque and iconic locations on Route 66 such as Winslow, Arizona (“Standin’ on a Corner”) and Gallup, New Mexico before returning to Vegas.

Numerous trips to San Francisco, Tahoe, Vegas as well as the North East (of the U.S, not England!) followed, as the Southern states, other than Florida, failed to seduce us sufficiently into venturing in their direction. Maybe their racist past (and present), Christian fundamentalism and gun culture all have had something to do with it. Moreover, the scene from Easy Rider where the main protagonists get short shrift in a southern diner still haunts me, and the song by Folkestone band, the Transients, entitled They Don’t Like Hippies in Baton Rouge, only serves to exacerbate the anxiety.

But now, with mid-term elections looming and the divisions in America widening, we have chosen this moment to plunge ourselves into the belly of Trumpsylvania, though a Californian friend’s recent assertion that we were essentially visiting “blue cities in red states” is a comforting and far from innacurate one.

So what is the attraction of this particular itinerary that has stubbornly refused to disappear from our vacation radar?

The Blues Highway, essentially Highway 61, runs, for the most part alongside the mighty Mississippi, from New Orleans  to Chicago and traces the migration of many African Americans from the Deep South to the Northern cities following the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Equally, it charts (sic) the development of the major music genres for which we are so much indebted to the United States for, principally the blues and gospel (Mississippi delta, Memphis, St Louis and Chicago), but also jazz (New Orleans), cajun and zydeco (Lafayette), country (Nashville) and soul (Memphis again, and not forgetting Elvis!).

After an initial overnight stay in Newark, New Jersey (flights from the UK being so much cheaper), we fly to the “Big Easy” for four nights before hitting the road with single overnight stays in Lafayette, Vicksburg and Clarksdale. A three night residence in Memphis follows before we head east to Nashville for four nights, arriving on the eve of my birthday.

From “Music City” we cross country back to the main road for three nights in St Louis, followed by a night in Peoria before arriving in the “Windy City” for another four nights, when we are hoping to be joined for a couple of nights by friends from San Francisco. Two nights in New York City conclude the trip before we catch our return flight from Newark.

The trip has the added bonus of introducing us to seven new states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois with brief detours through Kentucky and Arkansas. The prospect of experiencing new cultures, historic tours and spectacular scenery is, of course, exciting, but it is the music that is the driving force of the trip. Clubs, bars, museums and street musicians will, therefore, be the major focus of the next three weeks.

And we must not forget the other star of the show – the road itself.

Little thrills the blood more than the thought of exploring this amazing country by car with the radio blaring out the music style that reflects the landscape you are travelling through at the time. I am sure it will reveal some entertaining adventures as this blog grows over the coming weeks.

So let’s get on with the show!

See y’all later!

 

 

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