Day 1 – Friday, August 14, 2015
The air around me sizzled with excitement as I climbed into the parking lot transport shuttle to the Richmond International Airport. With a kathunk, I laid my bags down on the shaking bus' floor, and trembled in anticipation, knowing that within a few hours time I would be in Chicago. A place I had never been to before, and where I didn't know a soul.
I left Richmond, Virginia on early Friday morning, August 14th, with one goal in mind: have fun in the windy city. I was going simply to go; to see the sights, and see for myself what this famous Chicago deep-dish pizza was all about. I was in for a wonderful weekend!
Aside from the plane ride (I hate planes), it was a pretty decent trip. After a layover in Detroit (which I used to log some Minecraft time), I was in Chicago by about 11AM. I hailed a taxi and within the hour I was at my destination.
A nice apartment in the sleepy suburb of Elmwood Park; I had found this house on AirBnB. A single room rented out in a small apartment. It was affordable, and offered everything I needed. It was only an hour bus ride from the city and served as a great home base. The best part of it was my gracious host, Halyna. She wasn't the best emailer, but once I met her in person, none of that mattered. I couldn't have asked for a kinder, and more accommodating host. Halyna was happy to share her story with me: she was a resident of Ukraine and a citizen while the Soviet Union was still a thing. She decided to immigrate to the United States with her children and husband. Her daughter, she informed me, is an adventurer like myself. She's currently pursuing an education in a school in Australia. Her son, she informed me, is a bit lazier (also like myself), but was doing well. She shared with me stories about how she got started in America. She worked her way up to management where she is now. She said, "life is hard, but it is good." And she still loves her home country. And when she visits she even refers to it by "let's go home," which is funny because when leaving Ukraine to come back to America she says again, "let's go home." To me this is a perfect example of what Naruto meant (in an over the top, dragged out filler arch) by saying, "home is where the heart is."
Once I got to Chicago, I took it easy for a couple of hours. I wanted to make sure I was well rested and prepared to adventure through the city. Around 5PM I left for 360 Chicago (previously known as Hancock Tower). I discovered that it’s important to always carry cash and quarters on one’s person, as buses don’t provide change.
The view from 360 Chicago was awesome.
Unfortunately, they don’t allow tripods unless you call and ask ahead of time, but not all was lost for my photographic endeavors. I met a German fellow named Maui Pascal who had a handy bit of camera gear; it was a camera stabilizer that fastened onto a window via suction cups. I made small talk with him and he let me try it out, to get a few shots.
I’m glad he did – look at this beautiful city!
After marveling for a little while longer, I got hungry… so I went to get some Chicago style deep-dish pizza at Giordano’s! It started raining on the way over there, and after meeting some fellow rain victims huddling under an awning, made the mad dash for my destination. I got there and was surprised to find out there would be an hour and a half wait. I didn’t have any other plans for the night, so I placed my order and decided to wait. To pass the time, I introduced myself to a pair of nice girls who were travelers as well.
After some friendly conversation, and trading of Facebook invites, my pizza was ready at last. And it was well worth the wait.
I can normally eat a whole large pizza by myself, but I could hardly finish three slices of this delicious behemoth before packing it up for lunch the next day.
The rain had slowed down and I boarded the bus to take me home.
Day 2 – Saturday, August 15, 2015
The next day I left around noon for the Museum of Science and Industry, the largest science museum in the western hemisphere. I had originally planned on visiting two other museums that day, but I just couldn’t force myself to leave this one – it was amazing! I spent about 3 hours there, and probably didn’t see even half of it. What I did see was super cool though – they had a tornado generator, a tesla coil, a bunch of full size aircraft, an Apollo 11 training module, submarine, robots, and much more! I’ll definitely have to go there again if I ever get the chance.
After I managed to finally pull myself away from the science museum (they were closing), I went and scouted out Adler Planetarium, which I would be visiting the next day. I’m glad I did, because the view from the peninsula on which it stood was phenomenal. I got a beautiful shot of Chicago’s skyline.
I also got to meet a really cool lady, fellow photographer, named Lynda, and her husband. Lynda gave me plenty of tips about the city, and informed me that there would be fireworks that evening, as well as an astronomer’s club public viewing of the Perseid meteor shower. We shared some photographer stories and took some pictures, and then I went with her and her husband to the astronomer club meeting and got to look through a telescope and see Saturn!
We exchanged websites, and parted ways. I left for Buckingham Fountain to see the fireworks launched from Navy Pier.
I got to Buckingham Fountain, and unfortunately, the fountain wasn’t running. It was supposed to, but for some reason wasn’t and a lot of people left unhappy. I still got to see the fireworks from there, though, which was nice. I also scouted out the area, as this would be where I’d spend most of my time the next day.
I then boarded the bus for home.
Day 3 – Sunday, August 16, 2015
On Sunday I got up early because I had a lot to pack into my last full day in Chicago. I wanted to (and did) check out the Art Institute of Chicago, the Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium, and Millennium Park to see Idina Menzel. I had also wanted to visit the famous Skydeck, but, with an hour and a half wait, I couldn’t fit it into my schedule.
The Art Institute was really cool, and I got to see a lot of famous artworks. I didn’t have a ton of time to peruse, if I wanted to get to all my destinations, but the time I was there was well spent.
After the Art Institute, I went to the Adler Planetrium. On my way there, I noticed the famous Blue Angels of the Chicago Air and Water show, and took a photo!
I then walked a bit further before taking a break along the walkway by lake Michigan and enjoyed the smell of fresh water air and a view of the city. Although I was in this busy city, it was nice to find places every now and then to simply relax and appreciate where I was, and thank God for this great opportunity to travel.
After a restorative nap, I continued my trek towards the planetarium. Out of all the touristy places I went to, I have to say the planetarium was the least amazing. Their exhibits were nothing extraordinary;
It was still cool, but not really worth the effort. I’m sure it would have been if I had time to see one of the shows, but I had other places to be!
Next up was the Shedd Aquarium, which proved to be much cooler. Being the biggest indoor aquarium in the WORLD, I got to see a lot of cool animals. Pro tip: otters are a lot bigger than they look on TV, and sea lions are really fast.
I got to see sharks, dolphins, and beluga whales, in addition to all sorts of crazy looking creatures.
After the aquarium I stopped by a food cart for a Chicago style hotdog, which was amazing. Putting peppers on hotdogs… why didn’t I think of that?!
I then made my way toward Millennium Park. A wagon bicyclist offered me a ride for $5, which I took graciously.
At Millennium Park I got to see some weird sculpture things.
And I also got to see Cloud Gate!
However, the main attraction was yet to come! Somehow, I managed to choose the exact weekend Idina would be in town, to visit Chicago. I know this sounds really convenient but I promise this was not planned! It was, however, a very nice surprise!
I didn’t even have to pay for a ticket. It was an outside concert. So although I couldn’t see her, I got to hear her. Personally, I think the Richmond concert was a little better because of the venue and intimacy of Altria Theater, but it was clear she had learned a few things since I saw her a month ago. This time, she made sure to ask for good singers to help with her duet, and also expedited a lot of things. It was kind of funny to hear her tell the same jokes she told before, but she did mix it up in other areas.
I lied down on a bench in Millennium Park and relaxed, looking out at the garden, sky, and city, with the wickedly talented, Idina Menzel, singing in the background. What could be better?
After the concert, I went to Buckingham Fountain again, so I could see it with water actually in operation. Fortunately, it was, and it was beautiful!
Also, I discovered a possible income source for future travels… A couple asked me if I was taking pictures and how much they’d cost. For $10, I took a picture for this couple so they could cherish their adventures in Chicago for a lifetime. It was a decent surprise, they got a great picture, and I now had bus fare.
After that, I was exhausted and decided to head back to my Chicago home in Elwood Park for the last time.
Day 4 – Monday, August 17, 2015
The last day I’d be in the windy city.
I had originally wanted to go to the zoo this day, but decided against it as I didn’t want to risk missing my plane. I played a round of League of Legends, and got packed up and ready to go. Halyna and I said our goodbyes and I got in my taxi headed toward O’Hare airport.
I got to the airport, ready to board the plane headed Detroit for my layover. However… my adventures weren’t over yet.
Because of the weather, my flight got delayed. But this gave me the opportunity to meet a fellow Richmonder! Jess, like me, had a flight to Detroit, ultimately headed toward Richmond. We were both a bit worried, though, because we had a connecting flight in in Detroit, and didn’t want to miss it. We got to know each other a bit, and fortunately, the flight to Richmond was delayed as well, and we were able to make it. Jess told me about her aspirations to become a doctor, and I told her about mine to continue traveling, and pursuing photography and other creative endeavors. We parted ways, exhausted, but home safe and sound at Richmond International Airport.
I got in my car, and drove home; reminiscing about all the great times I had the past few days.
A few things I learned about traveling:
Always carry a bit of cash; you never know what food cart or ice cream truck will capture your interest. Plus, bus fare.
Get a comfortable backpack. My handy Jansport (which I’ve had since 4th grade) has served me well over the years, but simply did not provide the type of cushion and support that I needed to walk around carrying a camera, gear, and tripod, for hour and miles on end.
Stay longer! I realized, once I started doing things, that I didn’t have nearly enough time to do everything I wanted to get done, and to appreciate the things I did do to the fullest. In addition to that, plan everything with an hour cushion. You never know how long it will take for a bus to actually arrive at the stop (sometimes they run late), and even if everything were on time, it wouldn’t hurt to spend a few more minutes at your destination.
Stay as close as you can to your destinations. I loved staying with Halyna, but the hassle of dealing with the buses, and the time it took out of my day was not worth it. I would have much rather have paid for a hotel in the city and have had the extra time to actually enjoy my time there. So if you can afford it, try to stay in a place close by.
Make friends. It’s weird traveling to a place all alone where you don’t know anyone. But meeting new people and making friends out of fellow travelers helped to ease that burden. I’m pretty good at the lone wolf thing, but it would have been nice to have a friend to share and talk about all the adventures I had. I’d love to bring a friend with me to the next place I go, but the con to that is that your schedule is now dependent on two people’s desires, and if you already have someone there, you won’t be as driven to introduce yourself to new people.
Take time to relax. This is one of the best things I did while in Chicago. Just being there and enjoying the view and sounds made me feel like I was truly there.
Chicago is beautiful, and a lot of fun
Unfortunately, there are a lot of smokers there (why?)
I’m sure I learned even more than that, but those are just the biggest things that come to mind.
I’ve caught the travel bug. I look forward to exploring new and wonderful places. Up next is Virginia’s Skyline Drive. And in the future I also want to see Los Angeles, San Francisco, places in Arizona, Las Vegas and the Mojave, and many other places in the US, until eventually going across seas to see Europe, Russia, Australia, Brazil, Africa, and more. Honestly, I want to see it all. Even space. There’s just so much in this world to see, it makes no sense to stay in one place.
And my personal belief for my reason for being is to follow my dreams and to take in and appreciate everything the Lord has created. Luckily, traveling the world accomplishes both of those things.
Thanks so much for reading my blog, and stay tuned for next time!
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