Chicago

The Baha'i Temple in ChicagoMy visit to Chicago didn’t get off to a good start and I found myself suffering a head-cold within my first few days of landing.  If there was a perfect place to be stricken with a cold though, it was where I was staying thanks to my great hosts.  I was collected from the airport and put up in my own room by Gareth, an old friend of my mum’s and while recuperating made good use of his excellent home theater.  The start of my stay was therefore largely spent watching movies such as Casino in-doors, whilst fog and rain draped itself over the city.

When I had finally recovered and made it out into the city, I did get a good opportunity to check out what Chicago has to offer.  There was of course the obligatory viewing of the Chicago bean, a giant reflective sculpture that attracts tourists like flies to honey.  My first trip into the city also happened to coincide with a large parade, celebrating Memorial Day and was a great display of American patriotism.  Since Chicago has such a large number of museums and art galleries on hand, I felt obliged to check out one at least, so spent some time in the Art Institute of Chicago where I came across perhaps the most well recognised American painting, American Gothic –  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Grant_DeVolson_Wood_-_American_Gothic.jpg.

Further time in the city was spent checking out a few of the bars where I quickly made friends including some locals and a couple of English girls, Harriet and Kirstie, who were on a road-trip across the States.  Since I’ve arrived in America, I think there’s barely been a city where I haven’t had a bartender or local shout me a drink and Chicago was no exception that night.  Kasey’s Tavern, whilst certainly a bit divey, comes highly recommended due to the friendly staff, close proximity to one of the only hostels in Chicago city and a good atmosphere.  As well, I continued my hot-dog tour of the States, eating a authentic Chicago Dog which specifically must have yellow mustard, white onions, sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle, tomato and a pickled green chilli (or sport pepper as they’re known in the U.S.).  Also important to note that an authentic  Chicago Dog must have no ketchup!

Visitting ElaineMy host Gareth, something of a gourmet cook, had a very well stocked kitchen, therefore I took it upon myself to cook a curry, completely from scratch, which I had never done before.  I tackled an Indian classic, Vindaloo (using chicken instead of the usual lamb), complete with Raita, Burnt Onions and Basmati rice.  The dish turned out well, though was a bit on the mild side with respect to the heat, but all in all made for an impressive display and a great way for me to repay the hospitality of Gareth and his family.  Later on, we also enjoyed drinking some scotch and smoking cigars outside.

Last but not least, I also paid a visit to the adorable Elaine Maller, the best-friend of my Grandmother Adele who has known her since the two were in high school together in Chicago back at the beginning of last century!  It was great visiting with her and her daughter and hearing about the mischief she and my Grandmother got up to back in the day.  My trip to Chicago while definitely far too short and somewhat hampered by bad rain and my cold, but overall I found Chicago an excellent city with plenty to offer.

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Seattle

I had enjoyed excellent weather in San Francisco and Oakland while visiting, but things had started to turn in the last couple days as some drizzling rain set in.  Then on my last day as I was set to fly to Seattle, dense fog fell on the bay and I ended up stuck in the San Francisco airport with my flight delayed for several hours.  Despite the delay however, I did arrive in Seattle that night and was pleased to find I had timed my trip well with more good weather greeting me.

Seattle was another city I had visited on my trip the year before, although had stayed only briefly for two nights last time.  I planned to stay for a week this time round and was hoping to get a better sense of the city.  The other main reason for having Seattle on my itinerary was to visit with Marie, the girlfriend of my best mate Matty who had passed away at the beginning of the year and to also meet some of the other friends Matty had made in Seattle.  Matty was my host last year, therefore I certainly had some mixed emotions returning to this city.

Marie had a great little apartment quite close to the city (quick ride on the bus, but certainly walkable as well) and not far from the river.  Finally having some free accommodation and somewhere friendly to crash again, I quickly became a vegetable however and didn’t find myself venturing out too much while Marie was at work during the week.  I did manage some random wandering on my own though which included an unsuccessful attempt to find Bruce Lee’s grave at a nearby graveyard and a stop at an Outback Steakhouse to have a good chuckle at the ridiculous menu.

The highlight of my stay was attending my first sports game in America on a Saturday afternoon, Marie’s favourite sport in fact, soccer!  I’d heard about her enthusiasm for Seattle’s local soccer team, the Seattle Sounders, but despite being warned I wasn’t quite prepared for the spectacle that was to follow.  Marie is a member of ECS, the Emerald City Supporters, which is a large independent group of Sounders supporters.  I should also mention in addition to being large (2200 members according to their website) they’re also extremely vocal and well organised, booking out a large section of seating for every home game behind one of the goals.

After being outfitted in Marie’s spare ECS scarf, we then headed to a bar in the city where Sounders supporters gather prior to the game for pre-drinks and then marched to the Stadium.  The march was quite a spectacle and something ECS does every home game, I was handed a card with all of the club’s songs on it (over 10 in total I think) and then joined the group chanting through the streets of Seattle.  The members of the ECS knew the march so well in fact, they even commented on a certain section where the acoustics caused by the buildings distorted their singing.  Hanging around this group was great fun and whilst certainly not child-friendly, their chants whilst often crude were easy to pick up (see http://www.weareecs.com/media/songs/ for lyrics and some great videos).  One example is the following:

I’m a Sounder, I’m seldom sober

I’m a Sounder, all blue and green

Its when I’m drinkin’, I’m always drinking,

To a Sounders victory!

The soccer match itself wasn’t all that great and a lot of the time due to being in the middle of the ECS crowd I had my view obstructed by swinging flags (and even lost a beer to one)!  The result was good though, with the Sounders scoring the final and only goal right at the end of the game to win 1-0, needless to say the Sounders supporters were excited.  After the game it was recommended I try a Seattle Hot-Dog, which is served with cream-cheese and grilled onions and it went down a treat!

The rest of my stay consisted of some good meals and drinks out meeting various other friends of Marie from around Seattle.  Also an important lesson was learnt that when planning to go out at night in America, a passport should generally be carried since many stricter places such as night-clubs won’t accept out-of-state or international drivers licenses.  I paid for that mistake on Friday night by having to cab back to the apartment to fetch my missing ID.  As well, it turned out whilst I was in Seattle there was also the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) on, therefore the last night before my departure we went to see a movie about fifteenth-century German Pirates called Twelve Paces without a Head.  The movie itself was a bit average and hard to follow, luckily though due to some excellent foresight, beers were snuck in and on hand, something which would seem obvious an obvious strategy when seeing a movie about pirates.  Thus concluded an excellent but far brief visit to Seattle, can’t wait to go back again soon!