Monday, October 31, 2005

Zips and Pockets and Velcro - oh my!

Calvin & Hobbes 14
Originally uploaded by tmichaelmurdock.
I shopped on Michigan Avenue yesterday which was a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday. In fact, I'd wager that it's a good way to spend just about ANY day.

Both sides of the Magnificent Mile, as it's known here, are lined with shops ranging from 'high end' like Chanel, to my end, like H&M. Bliss.

So I went into 'The North Face' to see a man about a coat. As you do. I have been doing informal research (ie watching people on the bus) to see what brands are popular, and what coats I should be considering to buy for myself. I chose to visit The North Face primarily because it is very trendy, but also because it seemed the more popular of the ranges on the street. I figure if so many people are buying it, there must be something in it. Yes, my keen fashion sense people. Observe and learn.

Well what a trip it turned out to be. I came away without John's phone number (unfortunately), but with a stunning black ski jacket that can accommodate a fleecy jacket zipped into it. The jacket is thick and toasty on its own but you can elect to zip an extra layer of warmth around your being, if you so desire it. Plus it zips and clips in all the right places, so I won't be faced with some cold wind blowing right up my jacket.

Isn't that something?

Plus it's black, Mum, so it won't show the dirt as much.

John earned his commission in my book, so well done to him. If you're in the Chicago area, my friends, pay a visit to the North Face. Michigan Avenue. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The night the Tooth Fairy got narky

zombie stare I
Originally uploaded by Jay.

The Halloween party was great last night. Caro and I got all dressed up, though it took me a while to get my makeup right. I didn't have the face paint to make my goth eyes to look scary enough. But I got there in the end.

I pinned my costume up at the back, because I put my foot through the hem a few times and nearly face-planted. And that was BEFORE I'd started drinking. So the costume alterations were required early in the night.

Caro dressed as a fallen angel, and wore the black eye and busted arm to prove just how far she'd fallen. The blonde wig was a nice touch, and the false eyelashes just added to the theatrics.

I made a great punch for the pre-party at Rakesh and Nicolette's. Their converted warehouse apartment west of Downtown is simply gorgeous. A great view of the Sears Tower from their balcony, and a really quiet location to boot. I was fairly liberal with the vodka for the punch, so I think that helped both punch bowls to empty fairly early in the night. As a result, most of us switched to Jack & coke for the remainder of the night (a blessed reunion, if you don't mind me saying so). Rakesh lowered himself sufficiently to play 80s music for me at the party, and no one minded when I requested Madonna's Immaculate Collection on the stereo. Rakesh's friend from Ireland danced along with me and knew all the words. Comforting and not just a little surprising. His rendition of "Like A Virgin" was pretty good actually.

Once we'd all checked our face paint one last time, we walked a few blocks towards the City to find cabs. The girls (plus Rakesh) squished into one cab and made our way to Sonotheque, the club with the Russian bouncer. Sadly he didn't remember me, but given my goth get-up, it's hardly surprising. The music was as crap as ever, and I just can't bring myself to find the rhythm for house music. I just looked like I'm flailing around, and I don't want that!

But my dancing wasn't what was attracting attention last night; rather, it was the fact that we were the only costumed people there. Niiiiiiice.

Just as it was looking scary for us, the tooth fairy arrived. Imagine the tooth fairy on speed, and this is the creature that was leaping around on the dancefloor. She was having a fantastic time - and I loved her costume. The front of her leotard bore the warning to children everywhere: Give me your f&*!ng teeth! I loved it.

And then I went to the ladies room, and emerged to find myself face-to-face with a gypsy queen from Los Angeles. Who decided she was uncomfortable in her costume. And decided to take it off right in front of the mirror. While talking to me. Not a comfortable position for me to be in. The gypsy didn't seem to mind but, then again, she was from LA. She probably wasn't even in costume really.

Declaring what I already knew (that Sonotheque was crap), Caro and I bade everyone a fond farewell, and paid a quick stop-off to the 24 hour diner around the corner from our place. There we met Marilyn Monroe, Colonel Sanders, a few vampires and a couple of extra zombies. But no more tooth fairies or disrobing gypsies. Phew!

So we've woken up this morning feeling human again and packing the goth gear and face paint away for another year. I had a great time for my first Halloween, but it was largely due to the people I was with. We all made an effort with our costumes, and pledged to do the same again next year.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Being someone you're not

Originally uploaded by mrbadguyva.
If I have a say in it, one thing I'd like to do before I fall off the mortal perch is to be in Venice for the Carnevale.

For those of you who don't know, this is an annual festival, held in April I think, in which the city fills up with mask-wearing revellers who dance and celebrate something pretty special. I will clearly need to work out what that is before I go there.

But the point is, the 'masks and costumes and party' bit if what I want to be there for.

I read an article in yesterday's "Red Eye" (Chicago's equivalent of "The Messenger") in which a female columnist reflected on the Halloween custom of wearing costumes.

She posited that Halloween provides women with the once-a-year (ahem) opportunity to wear the dodgiest outfits possible - and get away with it. According to the 'journalist', the motivation for this is that women can hide their true personalities (and not their bodies) under cheerleader outfits or waitress mini-uniforms, and become someone they're not (but would like to be?) for the night.

I thought Halloween was about dressing up as something scary; not dressing up per se. But apparently I am mistaken.

So I got to thinking about my own outfit from the perspective of the columnist.

I am dressing as a vamp by default. I had wanted to go as the Angel of Death. So I figured that the black angel wings, the satin dress, and the black wig with pink highlights would be ideal.

But when I got home and tried them on together, they just looked too naff. So I bought cheap nail varnish and lipstick, a red plastic gothic medallion, and some black hairspray, and that was it.

The fact that my chest looks fabulous in this satin frock is just incidental. Right?

Hehe sorry Dad. Maybe next year I'll dress as something wholesome on purpose. Because wholesome is what I am, after all.

But just so you know, my new flatmate is going to a party in Wisconsin tonight dressed as "trailer park trash pregnant Britney Spears". I love that.

Let the Sunshine In

I walked along Broadway this morning, humming this tune to myself and wondering whether "Zipedeedoodah" wasn't more appropriate. We had sunshine and a cool breeze, but it gave me a chance to wear my sunglasses again and look very cool, as I shopped until I dropped.

This area is home to some of the best outlet shopping around - and don't I just love it. So for $99 this morning, I got two pairs of shoes - both real leather uppers and soles. I know, I was gobsmacked too. I got some knee-high boots with a smallish heel (so I won't fall down and kill myself), and some flats from the Nine West outlet section of DSW. My sister would adore this outlet store - there are more shoes and handbags at discounted prices than you can poke a stiletto at.

Then it was off to the Gap, where I picked up some tops for work and a truly fabulous little handbag. Of course the cashier told me she loved the bag too (which is what they're supposed to say), so I obliged with my part in the conversation and told her that she should have got in earlier, because now it's mine. Or something smug like that, I don't really remember what I said.

And now Caroline and I are sitting around at home drinking beer, whiling away the hours till we have to frock up for the Halloween party. I have volunteered to make the same punch that was such a hit at Kate and Kirstin's 'house cooling' party in Paris earlier in the year, and so I hope it goes down just as well here.

My outfit is all set to go. I have decided to go as a vamp goth - resplendent in a black bustier and bustle satin dress ($12 bargain), plus red nailpolish and red lipstick (Katie, this stuff gives Cherry Bomb from Australis a run for its money!), and black hairspray. I hope I look good, and not like Kelly Osborne.

Please God let me look elegant and vampish on my first Halloween in the US. And please don't let me get my satin dress stuck in a cab door. And please don't let my punch go down TOO well and make me do silly things - or worse, sleep through Halloween.


Friday, October 28, 2005

When buying a sandwich becomes an artform

Originally uploaded by Mimmo's Visual Experience.

There are lots of things about this City that are making me like it (and I mean LIKE like it).

We've already talked about a few of them - the people; the clean streets; the lifestyle; the coffee shops, etc.

But today I visited the kind of store that Starbucks would be, if it specialised in sandwiches.

"Potbelly" is fabulous - let me just say that up front. Love the name, love the colours, love the fact that it's a chain store that is spread all around the City.

So you're seeing the Starbucks analogy already. But that's not where I'm going with this story.

When Starbucks customers have downed their 'upside down caramel extra caramel red eye macchiatos' (and that's NOT made up!), they head to "Potbelly" for lunch. Because only the staff at "Potbelly" can make sense of their orders!

The most inspiring assembly line of lunch preparation is in full swing at every "Potbelly" across the City from 12 noon during the week. If those stores are anything like the one on North Wacker and Randolph, that is.

My store was GOING OFF at lunch time today. And put it this way, I ordered a turkey sandwich with provolone cheese, tomato, mayo, and lettuce - and the woman serving me looked visibly relieved.

Because unlike me, she had been used to preparing the wacked-out, self-indulgent orders of my fellow customers. I'm talking about people who want vegetarian sandwiches, but with one meatball pressed onto one side of the bread, for flavour. And the lady in front of me who wanted a mixed salad sandwich with arugula and provolone with one wheat slice and one white slice of bread.

But no one bats an eyelid there. The service is friendly, fast, and very accurate. Today I walked in and there were 15 people ahead of me, but the guy behind the counter had already served them. So he shrieked at me for my order and, from 3 people deep back in the queue, I had to shout my required sandwich back at him. It was a farce.

And so then I stood back, riveted and fascinated and dumbstruck all at the same time, as I watched how smoothly my sandwich passed from him, through the toaster, to the packing guy, to the condiments lady, to the cashier, to me.

It truly was art. And I shall go back. Oh yes, I shall go back.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

What did Julia Roberts do?

I had a real "Sleeping With The Enemy" moment this morning. Fresh from my encounter with the centipede, I returned to my bedroom - clad in only a towel, I add for dramatic tension and authenticity - and stopped in my tracks.

My bed was immaculately made.

That is a scary concept on its own, but the point is, I have absolutely no memory of having made it before I went to my shower. Clearly this means I either have alzheimers, or an intruder*.

Problem is, I don't know what prospect scares me more! How's that for perspective?!

* I don't believe the centipede made my bed but, then again, I didn't ask him.

Pay rent or get out!

Originally uploaded by mthw.
I have been living in Caroline's house while she's been in Washington and, up until this morning, I thought I was doing so alone.

But then THIS creepy critter launched itself at me from the bathroom ceiling. Fortunately this is a G-rated blog, so I can't transcribe the array of noises I emitted at the discovery of my multi-legged roommate. But needless to say, he scuttled up the bathroom wall quicker than I could grab my shoe and wallop him.

I respect the concept of karmic retribution enough to know that I shouldn't indiscriminately squash bugs. But I had never seen a creature like this before. For all I knew, it could have fangs, or poisonous spurs, or spit fire darts. The most menacing thing it DID do (other than scare the crap out of me), was to stare at me from its new home above the showerhead.

If it drops on me tomorrow morning, I'm going to send it to a watery grave faster than its 100 legs can carry it.

That is all.

Batter, swing batter!

The White Sox have won the World Series!!!
For the first time since 1917, the Chicago boys have done the City proud. I bet you that Mayor Daley is going to rename city streets after the players. Just as I'm starting to get used to the existing street names now! ARGH.
I joined an all-boys night out at a place called "Jak's Tap" on the West Side, and it's an amazing place. There are 40 beers on tap, but I chose Heineken cause I was under pressure, and hadn't even heard of some of the others on offer.
With us tonight was Rakesh and Brad (naturally); plus "Bush Taco" Rob; and their frat brother, Trey, a lawyer originally from Boston. All the boys know a bit about baseball but Rob is the afficianado of the bunch, but he had 'issues' because he's a Cubs fan and hates the Sox with a passion. We kept him plied with beers and shots of Jagermeister, so he tolerated our company.
We were quite a noisy bunch by the end of it, but it was more to keep up with the excitment in the bar. No one wanted a lengthy repeat of last night's game (14 innings, compared to the normal 9 inning game), but our spirits soared.
I still don't really know what won us the game. But it had a lot to do with a Sox player who leapt the railings to catch a ball. Then the last catch of the night got a player out who was running to first base. And he was only JUST out - it was magic.
But it's all over now. We move on to Halloween and other things. Weird really that the Sox won the Series 4-0. That's not really a competition I suppose, is it?
And it's not even like I can become a groupie, since I know neither the rules of the game, nor the players that play it. Perhaps I'll get it next season...
It seems the good Aussies are more au fait with this baseball malarkey than I; so I'll leave it to them to fill you in on the details.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I've 'bean' apartment hunting

lunch time
Originally uploaded by andrewc.
This is a picture of a shiny silver statue in Millennium Park here in Chicago. Interestingly (I guess), the City just spent some exorbitant sum to polish the sculpture that locals affectionately call the Soy Bean - much to the sculptor's dismay, I'm sure.

Of course, the photo is not relevant to this blog posting (naturally), except to assure you that the following story takes place in the same City. And given that there's no connection like a tenuous connection, let's just move on.

I found a place to live!

Details will be forthcoming for those of you interested in these domestic situations, but I am a very happy girl.

After Halloween I'll be moving into an apartment to share with two other girls, friends who have moved here together from Wisconsin. One is in insurance (financy things), and the other is a Graphic Designer. They are as new to Chicago as I am, so we can work this big town out together!

My room is not large, but has its own bathroom joined onto it, which is both rare and a special treat for me. The room is unfurnished, but I've already been considering the IKEA range of bedroom furniture, and am planning to visit there with a girl from work next weekend.

The rest of the apartment is great. It's what they call a "third floor vintage walkup", which just means it's in an old building, on the third floor - with no lift. Eek. But there are only three floors in the whole building, so it's no so bad. Given we're on the top floor, it means that I won't ever be disturbed by high heeled shoes trampling the floor above my head. Fantastic news.

The rest of the flat is furnished beautifully with dark wooden floorboards througout; high ceilings; and lots of natural light.

It's also in the same area I'm living in now, only about 5 blocks in the other direction. It's on my same bus route, so no need to learn any new timetables or bus numbers. I am close to supermarkets, restaurants, coffee shops, and that suits me just fine.

So great news from this side of the world - more news and photos to come!

A Chicagoan Halloween

Ewok brothers
Originally uploaded by Naofrog.
Have made plans to go out on Thursday night and shop for a Halloween costume. This is no small task, because clearly we've all left it very late this year and will no doubt have to settle for whatever's left in the store.

Firstly let me clarify that Halloween in Chicago (indeed across the US and Canada) is as big for adults as it is for the kids.

So I am going to join fellow boozehounds in a costumed pub crawl on Saturday night. Starting with cocktails at Rakesh & Nicolette's house, then we move to a funky bar Downtown, and then to the same club with the Russian bouncer that I visited last weekend.

I'm not so keen on that last venue but by that time of night, I might just find the rhythm to move my feet to the sound of house music. And then hell might freeze over.

But before I set out for the store, I have been doing a little brainstorming about the things I wouldn't mind wearing if I actually DID get a choice and don't have to pick through the dregs after all.

So let's see. It will be freezing cold walking between bars and clubs. My first choice is therefore to moonlight between venues dressed as an Ewok, hence the photo. In any case, I figured a full-blown Chewbacca costume would be a little long in the leg!

But the Ewok is the OUTER costume (a fabulous fur coat of sorts). I was considering leaving the Ewok costume in the cloakroom at the clubs I go to because, underneath it all, I will be resplendently frocked up as a princess or a pixie or something equally girlish and simple to piece together.

Of course I will end going as none of these things, both due to lack of interest and lack of motivation to trawl the stores for that perfect ensemble.

I bet you $5 that I end up going to Walgreens, buying a tray of facepaint (no doubt toxic) and go as Frankenstein's Bride or something!

But in my heart of hearts, an Ewok would be my favourite costume. Dead easy, very warm, and no makeup required. I will just need to remember to outrun the anti-fur demonstrators!

Let's Go, White Sox!

Sox fan
Originally uploaded by the Runyon.
I don't know how it happened, but somewhere between Saturday night and today, I became a baseball fan.

It's 1.53am here in Chicago and I should be in bed. But instead, I'm sitting at my PC full of adrenalin; pumped from having sat through 5.5 hours of baseball.

The White Sox have taken the World Series against the Houston Astros 3-0. This is monumental for Chicago, and I'm quite sure if I rang the Mayor's Office, he would answer the phone with an excitable squeak.

No-one quite knows what to think. The World Series is a 'best of 7' game, so if we win the next 2 matches, we will take out the title. If that happens, I think Chicago will simply implode with excitment. I can't wait to be part of that.

I'd like to say that I will remember forever the key points of the game but, in typical fashion, I was in the toilet for anything remotely interesting that happened. When I emerged, I was greeted with thunderous applause and "High 5 Sweetie" from all the waiters. I had the sneaking suspicion that they weren't congratulating me on my ablutions!

So the City of Chicago is in awe of the Sox. I'm going out again tomorrow night to watch the crucial Game 4. I just hope we wrap it up slightly earlier than tonight's game, else I fear Halloween may be an early night - lest I turn into a jack-o-lantern at midnight?!

Monday, October 24, 2005

I'm sorry, Mr Cyborg isn't in right now...

Afbeelding 3
Originally uploaded by

My earlier post suggested that I'm quite happy with the American philosophy that everything can be done via the phone.

But this isn't always the case.

I find that America is full of those voice-automated businesses. People don't answer the phone anymore, machines do. And the machines don't speak my kind of English. And that is grossly inconvenient.

Ask my friends Kate and Stoney, and they'll tell you that the sound of me putting on foreign accents is enough to make your ears bleed. I'm terrible at them. But to deal with an American Cyborg down the phone means I have to put on the dodgiest American accent you've ever heard.

I have to roll my Rs; draw out my Os; and say the word 'period' instead of 'dot'. And because I don't know the worldwide airline alphabet (Alpha, Beta, Charlie, Delta, Something, Foxtrot, Something with G), I am left sounding like a twit from "Wheel of Fortune". Example:

Me: J as in Jack; A as in umm, no wait - Antelope; C as in Cactus; K as in wait, I know this one...dammit.

I say, bring back people on the phones. Period. Exclamation point.

Here's Johnny!

fall branches
Originally uploaded by Funki Sock Munki.
Given the hailstorm that pelted my suburb on Saturday afternoon, I should have guessed that the cold snap was on its way.

According to my online weather monitor, in Chicago today, the temperature did not rise above 8 degrees Celcius. Single digits, people!

There was a nasty accident on the North Lakeshore Drive today and, from the warmth of the bus, I couldn't help but wonder how cars manage to pile up like that in seemingly bumper-to-bumper traffic. All I can say is that if those drivers walked away from the accident, they should go and buy a lottery ticket.

But the weather is not all bad. Fortunately I now live in a country where you can have anything delivered. Is it lunch time and it's too cold outside? Order in! And so it was that after a quick whip-round the Office for last minute orders, a near frost-bitten chap presented me with a hot chicken roll in record time. I was grateful, and I tipped accordingly.

Fast food nation? Definite plus. Cold wind blowing up your trouser legs on the walk home? Not so great.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Do you reside here?

The Face Of The Fountain
Originally uploaded by Kalabird.

One of the good things about speaking in a foreign accent is that I don't need to worry about telemarketers or filling out surveys on street corners.

When someone walks up to me in the City, with a clipboard and a serious expression that clearly means they need my help with something, I can utter the useful phrase: Sorry, I'm not from here - I'm just visiting friends.

Ahh instant freedom. Yes it's a lie, but that's tough. If they're not offering any freebie incentive to complete their little survey, I ain't playing.

But there are times when it pays to be a local. The City of Chicago's website features very useful information for residents of this beautiful city. The site talks about things to do on weekends; what new city developments are springing up; and restaurants you simply MUST visit dahling.

The one thing that I really enjoy reading about right now is the Chicagoween celebrations for 2005. The whole city is getting right behind Halloween celebrations and the Daley Plaza (named after the Mayor) in the centre of the city is the place to be seen this Scary Season. The City has got haunted El trains (the Elevated trains you see on "ER"); haunted houses; ghoulish karaoke contests - the town is going off!

But outside of the Downtown area, things are also getting festive. The photo attached to this posting was taken in Milennium Park, where a series of facial photographs are digitally displayed on a giant waterfall/board. Every now and again during summer, the lips of the face pucker up and a water jet shoots out of its mouth, drenching the kids playing in the puddles. Obviously a great way for the kids to spend a hot Chicago day.

Quite clearly it's way too cold for those shenanigans right now, but that hasn't stopped the Mayor's Office. If you go down to Milennium Park now, you'll see that the water is now a brilliant shade of orange, and still gets shot out of puckered lips to the delight of the masses. Just because you're not playing in the water, doesn't mean you can't enjoy it I suppose.

And can you believe that the photos and water jet etc are all controlled via satellite from Atlanta!? Weird.

I suppose if I keep stockpiling little bits of trivia like that, I'm going to have to admit to living here soon!

Home of the taco?

Uluru at Sunset 4
Originally uploaded by steven_jj.
Some things that I say in this country get lost in translation.

I get so many kind comments about how 'cute' my accent is, that it's very obvious to me that some Americans have NO idea what I'm actually saying.

Last night at the pub, musing over his nachos, Rob asked me whether we have Mexican food in Australia. After I blinked a few times and realised he wasn't kidding, I admitted that we did.

Then he asked me what the Aboriginal people eat. Again, a bit of blinking from me.

To clarify, I asked "do you mean traditional food, in the Outback?". He nodded.

Not really my area of expertise, but not wanting to let the ignorance show, I told him: bush tucker. Summoning up all the footage from documentaries I'd seen in the past, I started to regale Rob with stories about Witchety grubs, berries, honey ants. I was on a roll.

And Rob was impressed. "These bush tacos sound really neat".

Hmm. Not really what I meant, but it convinced him Australia was cool. And that was enough for me.

Take me out to the ball game

Well didn't I just look the part last night, seated in a smoky pub on North Lincoln eating my burrito and drinking beer poured from seemingly endless pitchers?!
I had been invited out with Brad, Rokesh, and Rob to learn a little more about this nation's current obsession: the baseball. The fact I was the only girl at this little testosterone-fest didn't seem to bother anyone; in fact, the boys were rather impressed that having me there meant we all got served our beer faster. Nice one!
The Chicago Whitesox played the first game of the World Series against the Houston Astros (with me so far?) and we won! The whole place erupted! I had absolutely no idea what was going on half the time - well, more than half - but I was able to cheer when the crowd cheered and by the end of the game, I knew that we'd won. So that's something, I guess.
One guy had been on his feet the whole game (baseball cap turned backwards for good measure) and was slamming chests with his buddies when the Sox did a good thing. When we won, he was right up to the big screen, hooting and carrying on. I thought he was going to go straight through the screen! Some people just get quite passionate about the sport, and they let it proudly show.
After the game, Rob drove us to a cool club on the Gold Coast (yes, even Chicago has a Gold Coast) where we caught up with Caroline and some more of her friends. But this Gold Coast is just a suburb, and can in NO way be confused with our tacky piece of paradise in Queensland. Chicago's Gold Coast is a collection of clubs, restaurants and coffee shops in between rather dinky little houses. But boy, the club I went to last night was very cool. After much scrutiny of my passport and particularly the diplomatic visa, the crazy Russian bouncer was convinced I was a spy. But somehow that raised the calibre of his club so he ushered me through personally. Weird.
And here I am on Sunday morning, with bleary eyes, a dry throat and an empty purse. If the White Sox continue their winning streak, this World Series is simply going to take it out of me!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Ghostly Night Out

Chicago is gripped by Halloween and it's quite funny because I'm not quite sure what I'm meant to do.

In the midst of my apartment-hunting exercise, I pass all manner of grocery store and clothing shop whose windows are decorated with any manner of cobweb and/or jack-o-lantern.

So tonight's sojourn to the Ghost Bar suggested some sort of freaky visit to a place where grown men dressed as Frankenstein or Dracula.

Sadly, in a way, this was not the case.

I went out - AT MIDNIGHT NO LESS - to one of the coolest clubs in Chicago. Called "The Ghost Bar", it is a haven for cool music, ultra modern decor, and not altogether bad music. Plus the barman is a friend of my friend, so we got free drinks.

I found it amusing to explain to the American barman (very cute - by the name of Ryan) how to make a vodka, lime, and soda. Very complicated list of ingredients haha.

But hey, I was getting free drinks, and I was in one of the coolest places in town. Did I argue? Hell no.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Show us yer nuts

These nuts will do !
Originally uploaded by digiquest.

Okay that was a rather unsavoury (!) title for this post, but I was stuck.

I wanted to show you the size of the black squirrels that populate this area. From a distance, they seem almost childlike. They scamper and dash up and down tree trunks, chasing each other like the front yard is their playground.

But close up, they are steely-eyed, fleet-footed little critters with bad roadsense. I've seen a few near misses (thankfully cars swerve), while others have stood toe to toe with an oncoming vehicle, and lost in the most unflattering fashion.

And the black squirrels are bigger than you think they're going to be. In the same way I wouldn't cross a possum in the East Parklands back home, I wouldn't get in the way of one of these guys. I'm kinda panicked that I'll encounter a really brave one that will either mug me, or else run up my leg and sit on my head or something. Either option is equally distasteful, don't you agree?

So I will stay on my side of the footpath (oops, sidewalk) and they can stay on theirs.

Pennies from hell

Floating dollar
Originally uploaded by Rockies.

American money is a pain in the buttocks. There, I said it.

At first glance, all the paper money looks the same and it feels the same. And because of all that, it causes commuters great consternation to be behind me on public transportation as I check, and re-check the money I give the driver. Well the buses don't give change, and I'm not going to take a $15 bus ride, when other people have paid $2. It pays (literally) to be cautious about these things.

But don't even get me started on the coins in this country! Whoever made the dime and the nickel the same size and the same colour should be run out of town. Preferably by an angry mob armed with spiky pitchforks. I am prepaed to lead this charge, but from the comfort of a heated car of course.

Yes I'm whining, but I miss the feel of Aussie plastic money, a rainbow of colours in my purse. And the way that the Aussie Government did away with 1c and 2c coins - what a stroke of genius.

Since I went away in February, currency from no less than 6 nations has resided in my purse. And I have quantities of all of those currencies left, upstairs in my suitcase. But given the pittance I have, and the dodgy exchange rate each currency is now experiencing, I could cash it in and perhaps just about afford a half cup of lukewarm coffee. Maybe.

I'm sure all of this money-handling stuff will be a source of amusement for a long time to come, but it's actually an irritation right now. I want so much to blend in, but with every cash transaction, I turn into an old lady at the checkout. Not cool.

My American VISA card arrived today and I opened up my purse to give it a home. I discovered, despite the bulge in my purse that threatened to bust the zip, that I have a grand total of $6.73 in there.

I just don't get it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I spy with my little eye

Sears Tower!
Originally uploaded by radiant star.

Chicago is a city of endless surprises.

Sometimes the surprise is a person whose kindness takes me aback; and sometimes it's a building that makes me gasp when I round the corner.

This afternoon, I experienced both - and it turned my rather average week right around.

I had been having a rather ordinary, not to mention busy day, and was sitting in my boss's office going through the diary with him.

My boss mentioned that his wife was taking their Melbourne visitors up to the Sears Tower this afternoon, and I was invited along.

It was less of an invitation, and more of a statement. Was I supposed to accept or, because I was technically still at work, do I politely decline? I knew it could be a potentially destructive career move to accept too quickly, so I sort of grimaced and half smiled. An unflattering expression for what was an awkward moment.

But as if reading my thoughts, my boss jumped in and told me it was non-negotiable, and I shouldn't argue with his wife. And within 5 minutes, I had my jacket on and was being ushered out the door.

So there I was, joining a tour group ably trudging down North Wacker Avenue with my boss's wife. Our destination - the tallest building in North America. In fact, the Sears Tower would have been the biggest building in the world had it not been for the pesky Hong Kong towers, and that eyesore in Taipei or wherever.

And 103 floors up, I went around the Sears Tower Skydeck, reading every word on the display boards. They were actually quite interesting, and I never realised just how many accomplished writers, musicians, actors and athletes hailed from Chicago. Fascinating stuff.

And though it was cold here today, the sky was clear, so we could see everything. You can see 4 states from the top of the Sears Tower: Illinois (naturally); Michigan; Indiana; and Wisconsin. Not bad.

But the thing that I loved the most was the mass of buildings. I had to wonder just how much empty office space there is out there? Surely not every building can be fully occupied?

This little tourist has just begun....

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Not the Griswold Epilogue

Vatican corridor
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.

Over in kilabyte's world, Mikey has compiled a great rundown of our recent trip around Italy. After I left to come to Chicago, Mikey's blog continues with a summary of experiences in Paris and Singapore.

Now that I'm waiting for his epilogue to bring his masterpiece to a close, I was thinking about the things I found amusing about our trip.

Since I left Australia in February 2005, I've been to lots of different countries, but seem to end up on the "ABC Tour" (Another Bloody Church) of each one.

If there was a church built within a 5 mile radius of where I was, I went there. Sometimes I rocked up when Mass was on, sometimes I just poked around and subversively took photos.

But by far and away the most impressive churches are found in Italy. I know that the Vatican itself is not a Church, but you've got to agree that this hallway (that butts up against the SOUVENIR SHOP for pity's sake) is pretty darn special. And that's not the half of it!

St Peter's Basilica in Rome will blow your mind; St Mark's in Venice looks creepy and haunted but I think it's gorgeous. And then there is the oft-forgotten Basilica of St Paul, a short Metro ride from central Rome. Well worth the excursion, because it is bloody huge and you won't belive how huge till you see it for yourself.

And what about the holy relics contained in the churches? I've seen wrinkled skeletons, haunting crypts, tasteful shrines, and bogus plaques. It's all right there for the tourist to see.

Why am I going on about Churches so much? I don't know. Most of my photo album is full of them, as it has turned out. I had a thing for stained glass windows for a while, and archways were another big feature. Neither of these were in short supply in the churches, let me tell you.

Every square inch of many of the ceilings were painted in such ornate detail. The Sistine Chapel is one such example obviously, but there are also plenty of others. Craning your neck to experience the whole work of art is a painful task.

So while I loved seeing the Churches and particularly enjoyed sharing it with the Griswolds on the ABC Tour of Europe, I think I'll give them a miss for a while.

So you're off the hook folks; no more Church photos for a bit.

Five, Six...Pick Up Sticks

Originally uploaded by Sean Stayte.

You know those days in the Office where everything you touch turns to crap? Welcome to my life today.

I really did just drop my bundle today and even had to do the "count to ten" thing to relax myself and not work up to anything. I was just frustrated with myself I guess. I don't remember things like I used to - dates and names are getting all confused in my head.

I am having a tough enough time remembering where I live, and my new cell phone number, and the code for the work security doors. Names, telephone numbers, and systems are the last things I can retain right now. But thank you Jem for suggesting that I remind you of Goldie Hawn in "Protocol" - she was competent eventually, right?!

Fortunately the source of today's frustration had nothing to do with people in my Office, so that is something. In fact, the people in my Office are super supportive. I admitted to one of the girls that I felt like I was losing it a bit, and just needed to systematically get things done. Last seen I found myself invited to her place this Friday for drinks and perving at her cute neighbours. Nice one.

Don't worry about me, I know what it is. It's the fact that it's been so long since I juggled multiple work-related tasks. Perhaps I'm just a bit rusty...but give me plane schedules, bus timetables and hotel bookings - all in French, with no maps provided - and I'm your gal!

As they say in the movies, this too shall pass, and tomorrow is another day. Of course, I've always preferred HASTA LA VISTA BABY but that's just me.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Sox play baseball, right?

Originally uploaded by sscornelius.
Here in the States right now, all eyes are on the baseball. Particularly in Chicago, where the White Sox are kicking butt in the League (?!) right now.

Word on the street is that we're headed into the World Series and have a pretty good chance of winning.

So I wanted to have a bit of an understanding about all this baseball malarkey. After all, Chicago hasn't won the World Series in about a million years.

And so it was that I found myself adopted by Caroline's friends on Saturday night, and sitting in the beer garden of "Justin's" pub.

It was about an hour later that I came up for air after some animated discussion with her friends and realised that my back was to the TV the whole time!

So I didn't learn too much about baseball on Saturday night. Still, I have a few weeks to get myself together before the World Series.

I have to admit though, the City is really behind their team. The Mayor has put congratulatory signs all over the city lamposts and stuff, and the newspapers have been splashing all kinds of good news stories over the pages every day.

Some of the players are pretty cute too....and they are talented athletes I'm sure.

But I had to laugh when I found out that in baseball, you have hitters and runners, and if someone hits the ball, they can substitute someone to run to first base for them. They OUTSOURCE their running. So they hit a ball, and someone runs like the clappers to first base on their behalf, while the batter goes back to the dugout and has a sandwich.

Big girls.

Won't someone please take my money?

I forgot to post about a conversation I had the amusing misfortune to be a part of on Saturday afternoon.

Along the main shopping street near Caroline's (Broadway) is an establishment that lists "Currency Exchange" as one of its services. What follows is a rough transcript of the interaction between myself and the proprietor, a woman of considerable girth and Elton John-style glasses:

Me: Hi, I'm wondering if I can change some British pounds here
Her: No, we don't do that here.
Me: But doesn't it say "Currency Exchange" out there?
Her: Yes.
Me: But you don't change currency here.
Her: No.
Me: That's a little confusing, don't you think?
Her: Yes, but not many people come in here to do that anyway.
Me: Um, okay. Can you tell me where I can change currency
Her: No.

It's about that time that I backed away from the counter, too afraid to ask what she actually DID there. And I still haven't found anyone to change my British pounds for me. You can forgive me for being wary of future stores that advertise "Currency Exchange" as one of their services.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Now, THAT'S Chicago!

Chicago from Museum Park
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.
The Chicago photos are up on Flickr. You can view them by clicking on this photo.

Admittedly the weather was not great when I took these pics, but you get the idea of the scale of the City.


PS. All the Italy pics are up now too. It was a big exercise, but I got there.

Mary's Boy Child

Here is the news I was waiting for - Crown Princess Mary has given birth to a baby boy. With those genes, you can bet the Little Prince will be an absolute stunner.

And not that he's the first man in history to do this, but to read that Crown Prince Frederik cut the cord, and cried at the birth, say it with me peeps: Awwwwwww.

Now where do I send the balloons and fruit basket?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Bella Italia

Rainbow angel at the Vatican
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.
Am making good headway in publishing my photos on Flickr this weekend.

I am nearly done uploading the photos from the trip to Italy I took with my family in September/October.

You can browse the Italy album by clicking the photo on this post.

Chicago photos to come...

A Fendi Baglady's Tale

Originally uploaded by aitchbee.
One of my favourite episodes of "Sex and the City" is the one in which Carrie runs the risk of losing her apartment. She makes the quip that she may soon be a baglady, but at least she'll be a Fendi baglady. I've always liked that. And it's starting to ring true to me.

I know I've only been here a week, and I shouldn't put too much pressure on myself, but I need to ramp up activity to find myself somewhere to live.

I'm seeing two apartments this weekend, and waiting on callbacks from two others. But nothing ever happens quickly. And just living here over the week has made me a bit of a snob about what I'm looking for.

I know I want to live here because even though many of the men here are gay, they're very cute. Plus there are fab restaurants, coffee shops, and clothing stores just a few blocks away. And it's a 30 minute walk to the zoo, and a 10 minute bus ride into the city (in good traffic, granted).

I don't mind sharing with people, but I want to meet them (and see the apartment) before I commit to anything. Am happy to take a trip out to Ikea to furnish a bedroom if ABSOLUTELY necessary. But obviously my ideal place would be one in which I can hurl my (many) suitcases onto my bed, unpack, and move in.

This is proving a tricky and frustrating search. But I shall prevail. More news to follow.

Friday, October 14, 2005

I declare a day of rest

I have just come home after my first full week at work and, frankly, I'm exhausted. I'd forgotten how much a regular routine can knock you around.

I thought I'd missed my bus this morning. Not because I'd slept in or anything. It was all owing to the distracting frolicking of a grey squirrel on a front lawn. Yes, I watched a rodent run back and forth, to and fro, up a tree and down a tree.

It wasn't until I was at Groovy Gems in London early last week that I saw my first squirrel. It looked like a cat running up the roof of the house over the road from her. And then last weekend I was at Museum Park here in Chicago and saw a whole family of squirrels playing chasey on the lawns. I know that they carry as many, if not more, diseases than the flying vermin (pigeons) in Venice, but I find them fascinating. And they have so much energy. If only they'd give me some of that - and not something deadly, like rabies.

Anyway, back to this morning. After watching my little grey friend having his morning exercise, I rounded the corner onto Lakeshore Drive (and caught sight of beautiful Lake Michigan twinkling in the early morning sunlight), and freaked out. I thought I saw my bus pull away.

Damn, and the day had started so well. Was it the 135 bus? Was it the 141? Why can't I see distances without my glasses on? Oh the trial of getting older and falling to bits.

So I sat at the bus stop for a while, wondering how I was going to report this oversight to my boss. But I needn't have worried. My bus had been caught in traffic, and was actually a little bit late.

As it turned out, I arrived Downtown in enough time to visit Starbucks, read some Bill Bryson, and have another chuckle at the myriad of outrageous coffee choices made by seemingly normal people.

Then it was on to work where the pace did not slow down until a glass of Coonawarra red was put in front of me at around 4pm. Let me tell you, wine has never tasted so good.

So this photo is very much ME for the rest of tonight. I have a date with the cable television and the leftover Milk Duds. I'm sure the squirrel is doing exactly the same thing, somewhere out there.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Golden Ticket

I went out earlier tonight to the gourmet supermarket down the road from Caroline's place.

It is called "Treasure Island", rather appropriately as it turns out. For it provides aisle after aisle of products from both the US and overseas.

No Vegemite, but I got over that when I saw the Lindt chocolates, and the Hershey brand mass. Milk Duds are my current favourite - gooey caramel bits coated in chocolate. A bit like smaller Cobbs from back home. But they purport to have 35% less fat than other leading brands, and I believe it. Really I do.

There was even a fridge down the back of the store, containing - wait for it - LIVE LOBSTER. I wanted to ask how one would transport a live lobster home, but I chickened out.

At the cash register, I was asked another typical Americanism, "Paper or Plastic?". I giggled inside...they really do say that. So I caved under pressure and took both. A paper back reinforced by a heavy plastic one outside.

But don't worry folks - I will reuse the bags, because old greenie habits die hard after all.

Hacking up a Fleming-ball

(gets on soapbox)


Okay what would Sir Ian Fleming think if he knew that Daniel Craig was being touted as the next James Bond?!

If the rumours are true, who - and I mean WHO - is in charge of casting these bleeding films anyway? Certainly not anyone with an eye for a hunk.

Come on, people. Explain the logic that enables you to jump from Hugh Jackman to Daniel Craig. I'm at a loss.

Daniel Craig has an accomplished filmography so I suppose he can act. But am I alone in thinking he's kinda funny-looking? Isn't Bond supposed to be conventionally handsome and someone that ladies of all ages would be gagging for?

So I support Daniel's inclusion in a Bond film - as a Bond villan. That might be credible. But as the tuxedo-clad, martini-swilling, lady-lovin' hero? Nahhh.

That is all I have to communicate.

(gets off soapbox once and for all)

Insert evil cackle here

Originally uploaded by Kicking Designs.
No prizes for guessing which of the quintessential American events is coming up....

There is no mistaking the fact that Halloween is nearly upon us. Notwithstanding the fact that I have to get through my first Thanksgiving beforehand, the stores are packed floor to ceiling with spooky merchandise.

There are hairy spiders hanging from the rafters; inflatable witches circling above cash registers; and dracula fangs aplenty.

I don't know if I go in for all of this Halloween malarkey. I wonder whether in this day and age, parents still allow their kids to go 'trick or treating'. That remains to be seen I guess.

Still, I'm lucky. Fortunately for me, Caroline's place is like a fortress and no Augustus Gloop wannabe is getting past the front gate. Unless some softie in this complex has given him the code, that is. Must check that.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Best Foot Forward

Camper Shoes
Originally uploaded by Spacecake.
At Caroline's dinner party last night I met a girl named Nikki who is from Minnesota. Fluent in German, Nikki is now working in Chicago as a translator for an American company with links to Germany.

Nikki is also a die-hard shoe fan, and an even bigger devotee of shoe sales. She has invited me to accompany her to a 13-hour marathon shoe sale this Friday night. The shop specialises in Camper shoes (check out for an insight into the rather eclectic collection).

Sale customers get to browse the collection armed with a flute of champagne, which is the only incentive I needed really.

Anyone home?

Well Caroline has buggered off to Washington DC for three weeks to do some project work, leaving me in her house all alone.
But don't worry about me. I am now super proficient at catching at least 2 Chicago buses (ie the one I get to work and the one I get home again); but it's the neighbourhood here that impresses me the most.
I'm living in a place called Lakeview, in the heart of Chicago's celebrated Gay District. If the rainbows on lamposts didn't give it away, the fact that Lakeview has Chicago's grooviest restaurants, coffee shops and clothing stores should certainly tip you off.
The street I'm living on is one block up from Lake Michigan. Incidentally, because the Lake freezes in winter, all the boats from the marina sailed through the city down the Chicago River today. All the City's bridges were raised simultaneously to let them through. Pissed off the traffic no end, but delighted the pedestrians and office workers.
I'm a 15 minute bus ride into the City (peak hour), which is absolutely NOTHING. Sure I have to stand for most of the journey but, with the Lake as my view for most of the commute, who cares?

Just heat and pour, Mack

Originally uploaded by

Arnold and Willis were right - the world don't move to the beat of just one drum. And today's trip to this multi-million dollar global coffee empire on La Salle and Randolph proved it.

I was feeling a little flat this morning and the bus ride was a stop-start affair in peak hour traffic so, upon arrival Downtown, I figured a restorative jolt of java was in order.

Calling into the nearest Starbucks, I placed an order for a 'tall cappuccino'. I obediently stood back with the other customers to await its production.

The two over-worked, and evidently under-appreciated baristas beavered away behind their respective steamy, noisy machines. And every so often, the most bizarre beverage combinations were bellowed across the store:

Skim mocha latte!
Venti Vanilla half macchiato!
Semi skimmed grande frappaccino!
Very hot grande decaffeinated mocha!

You get the idea. But I swear, in all the time I stood there, not a single coffee order was replicated. Different strokes for different folks took on a whole new meaning here.

So when I meekly shuffled to the counter to collect my (comparatively no frills) TALL CAPPUCCINO, I was met by stares that seem to communicate one word: Simpleton.

It was so funny. I have to go back tomorrow. This morning's episode was Steve Martin's "LA Story" all over again. [If you have no idea what I mean by this, rent the video - it is classic].

Have I mentioned I love this town?!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Are you on drugs?

Originally uploaded by Fahad Inc..

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the store that has surpassed the UK chain "Boots" in my 'Favourite Pharmacy EVER' poll.

Walgreens sells vitamins, makeup, toiletries, film, chocolate bars, EVERYTHING. And people serve you with a smile. Perhaps they visit the vitamin aisle a bit too often?!

I have been to the Walgreens on Illinois Street and tonight, I visited the store on Clark. I am willing to share the love (and the cash) across the City.

While I'm trying to get my American vocab down (ie. coffee to go; taxi cab; cell phone), I'm particularly grateful that Walgreens is a pharmacy and not a drugstore. I don't think that has a nice ring to it at all.

Having sampled Starbucks in various locations during this trip, I am disqualifying it from the 'Best Coffee in Chicago' poll. I think I can find a winner amongst the lesser-known (but highly numerous) alternatives across my new town. Will share the results, and the rationale, in a later post.

While we're on the subject, are there any other polls I should be conducting? Ideas in the Comments box please!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Culture Vulture

Originally uploaded by louise person.
I have to admit that I laughed when people at work said that coming to America would be a culture shock. I didn't appreciate what they meant but, after today's adventure, I think I'm seeing their point.

Today was my first day at work and, going into zero detail whatsoever, it was a great day. Very busy, but nice people, and loads of variety. Spent the day finessing my boss's diary (to iron out the last-minute changes but also to get my head around what we're working on). I am going to be a busy girl in the next year or so.

So while the workplace is as straightforward as always, out in the Big Smoke, I am betraying myself as The Rookie at every turn.

Take this morning's rather simple coffee-purchase. At least, it was supposed to be easy. At the coffee shop adjacent to my building, I ordered my coffee to go, sat down and waited for it to be delivered to me.

For three minutes (that felt like an eternity), the cashier looked at me; I looked at her. We traded smiles. I looked away. I looked back, she was still staring. Why wasn't she making my coffee? Hmm. Because at this particular store, you order your coffee, you get an empty cup, then you go to another counter and pour your own filtered coffee. I felt so stupid. But are there any signs up to explain this procedure? No.

So I came back at lunch time, convinced that I would not be stumped again. Wrong. I ordered my combo lunch (sandwich and salad), but forgot to order it TO GO. So the poor man shows up with my lunch on a plate, and I had to ask him to return to the kitchen and hurl it in a take-away box for me. And the worst thing? I was served by the same cashier as this morning. Lordy.

But the upside to today's cultural exchange is that I successfully navigated the bus route home, and the nearby grocery store without incident. Yahoo for me.

When I don't have to speak to anyone, I am culturally at one with the Americans. It's when I have to speak up that I get into mischief. Bless.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Cheers and Goodnight

John Hancock Building
Originally uploaded by Thadeus Maximus.
I met up with Caroline last night, who has graciously agreed to let me inhabit her spare room for a few weeks while I find my feet.

In terms of how I know Caroline, the short answer is - I don't. She is a friend of a friend of a friend's friend. Follow? Forget about it.

Suffice to say that Caroline is a Manchester native who has moved to Chicago for work. She has a lovely bunch of friends, many of whom I met last night at The Tasting Room, a cute wine bar on the outskirts of town [with a view like this one!].

Caroline is helping me get organised with a bus schedule; a mobile; and an apartment - all things for which I am really grateful.

We went to a 24-hour diner last night after the wine bar. I revisited "When Harry Met Sally" when the young people on the neighbouring table made the waitress take down THE most complicated order known to man. They couldn't have toast - it had to be rye toasted on one side, with bacon and THEN the eggs on top. Sheesh. And the waitress didn't even bat an eyelid.

Off today to have brunch with Caroline's friends and then into the City, so I know where to get off the bus tomorrow morning. Public transportation can be a confusing thing, so the fact I can catch the same bus as Caroline in the mornings is a big bonus for my confidence. Still, Caroline goes to Washington for work this week (for a fortnight), so I'll be making the bus trip on my own and need to know what I'm doing. Or at least LOOK like I do. Cross fingers!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

That's my home town

Today I set off rather early to explore Chicago on foot. I was alone, but it didn't matter because it meant that I was on my own schedule; and could see and do anything I pleased.

With this indulgent mindset I headed off across Grant Park, past Buckingham Fountain (taking photos for tourists again), in the direction of Navy Pier.

Owing to a bad sense of direction and some rather confusing highway intersections, I found myself walking AWAY from Navy Pier rather suddenly. But not to be outdone, I walked along the Chicago River, past some of the most glorious condominiums I've yet seen.

And the silver lining to my misadventure was a River Cruise showcasing the architectural history of Chicago. The 90-minute cruise was really interesting, albeit freezing. I took some great pictures, and only managed to get the heads of other tourists in a few of my shots.

Then I walked along Illinois Avenue, inadvertently ending up alongside the Tribune Towers. I popped in for some warmth and postcards, and emerged infront of a trolley car company offering tourist trips. So I jumped on.

I opted for the ride-along version of the tour (rather than the hop-on, hop-off variety) and had a great time. The ride took two hours, and so it was a great and warm way to spend the afternoon.

I saw where Oprah now lives (the top 2 floors of the Ritz Carlton); where Jerry Springer is still taped (the NBC building); and a whole other range of great sites I must revisit. The trolley also went to Navy Pier, but by then it was too cold for me to get out and enjoy the fun. I will head back there another day for sure.

Then I walked along N.Michigan Avenue, past great department stores that I cannot afford to shop in. Found Walgreens pharmacy (akin to Boots and/or Priceline), and I have found my home. PS, don't try the pork rinds. Yuk - my addiction has been cured (pardon the pun).

I stopped off at Benigan's, a neat little bar/restaurant and had spicy tortilla chicken soup. Yum. The coffee wasn't bad either. I learned that waitresses here earn $2 per hour, so that's why tipping is so essential. I tipped well at Benigan's.

By then it was about 5.30pm and I needed to get in touch with Caroline before 6pm. So it was back to the youth hostel, pretending I hadn't checked out this morning, so I could use the phones and internet. Sneaky.

All in all, a really good day. I am tired now, but feeling a little less daunted by this big city. More news and gossip to follow.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Windy City is right!

Had my first day in the Office today and, all things considered, I think I did pretty well. Battling jetlag and the associated splitting headache for much of the day, but at least I turned up, and stayed. I also vowed to come back on Monday, so that is pretty good too.
Of course I got lost this morning, partly because the street on which my Office is located actually runs around a corner. So much for 'the grid system', eh? But I accosted a poor office worker on her way to work and she helped narrow things down for me. She even walked with me for a few blocks, which was unnecessary but very kind.
It's 8:50pm now, and I have just returned from a reception, hosted by my Office, for the Aussie runners in this weekend's Chicago Marathon. The weather has been awful today (the sign of things to come perhaps?), so I hope the sun shines by the time the race starts. If nothing else, the Marathon has proven to me why it was so hard to secure Chicago accommodation when I first knew I was coming here!
The Office is really smart, and the people I work with seem really nice. Have already had offers of assistance to find a decent winter coat etc which I think is great.
Will write more next week - this weekend is a busy one, moving out of the hostel and into a spare room graciously offered to me by a UK 'friend of a friend'. Wish me luck!

Rise and shine

A quick post this morning because I nearly have no internet credit left.

Put myself to bed at 7pm last night (very sad) and didn't stir until 9am today. Not a bad effort I think. Sharing a room with a crazy American lady; 2 Swiss girls that speak VERY little English; and another American lady who is in town to check out her daughter's college chums. I have visions of her camping out up a tree with binoculars and warpaint on.

Am off to meet with my bosses this morning, and will no doubt post afterwards.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

All credit to the VISA section

Originally uploaded by philippi.
I made it!

At this very moment I am in the centre of Chicago, at its very snazzy youth hostel.

After getting to bed at 2am, to rise again at 5.45am, to fly for 9 hours (two separate flights), I'm a little spaced so forgive me.

First impressions of Chicago, eh? Okay, here goes:

- green, leafy trees
- buildings that look like a pin cushion (at least from the plane)
- foggy/smoggy/cloudy
- lakes and golf courses
- defined neighbourhoods and house properties (very un-UK)
- United Airlines planes look like Air Force one (intimidating paintwork)
- O'Hare airport is a microcosm of the City; loads of languages, loads of pushy people
- 8 lane expressways
- SUVs and big Chevys really do exist
- Ditto people wearing cowboy hats in public, but perhaps these are real cowboys??
- the black men have rich, soulful speaking voices
- one man has already given me the Rikki Lake headbob (Girrrrrlfriend)

So there you have it. I've been in town for 2 hours and all I've seen is the airport, the shuttle bus, and the youth hostel.

Am now planning tomorrow's activities, which will include a meeting with my new employer. Tres exciting.

Mwa mwa from this corner of the world, dahlings.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Up and away

Originally uploaded by noqontrol.
I don't know what strings were pulled or what promises were made, but I now have my working visa for the USA.

After two awful days in London, spent lining up at the US Embassy, and being rejected for inadequate paperwork, I've got it.

My diplomatic visa (that apparently gets me no perks whatsoever but neverthless sounds impressive) is a black and white photo that looks like a stunned mullet's mugshot.

Who cares, I'm off to Chicago tomorrow and that's all that matters.

Ciao for now - will post more news soon!!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Kindness of Passengers

Originally uploaded by slabbers.
My flight from Milan to Glasgow was an eventful one, and all the action started at Milan airport.

First of all, two guys from Scotland were ahead of me in the check-in queue. They both wore jeans (with belts) that were not up around their waist; rather they were slung at butt-crack level, and their unattractive undies poked out the top. Foul.

Then one of them started sniffing. And not a discreet sniff, either. This was a snuff-sniff. One that is generated right from the chest and is a sound you'd expect a tuberculosis sufferer to come out with. Double foul.

So when I was frisked by the airport staff after having every page of my passport scrutinised, I figured that the was the icing on the proverbial cake.

When I was one of the first people on the flight, I figured I'd scored a winner, and my day was turning around.


I sat in Row 6. Apparently the first 6 rows of the plane were out of bounds. Did anyone tell us? No. So I had to move, after all the rest of the rabble had come onto the flight and picked their seats. The luxury of an early boarding was absolutely wasted.

But then I sat next to Lesley and Angela. They bought me coffee on the flight and we talked the whole way. When we arrived at Glasgow airport I bought them a coffee and we talked for an hour more.

Leaving me at the airport for my connecting flight to London, they drove off to their farm 2 hours away. But if they had have sprouted wings and floated off to heaven, I would not have been a bit surprised. Sometimes there ARE good eggs out there, and it is a joy to find them.

Monday, October 03, 2005

A goodbye is a false friend

When I was learning French and Italian at school, my teachers introduced me to the concept of a 'false friend'. This is a word that you THINK will mean one thing, but turns out (upon translation) to mean something completing different. For instance, in Italian, the word CALDA actually means HOT. Didn't see that one coming, eh? Bit of trivia for a quiz night I guess.

But I AM going somewhere with this.

Am sitting at Milan's regional airport contemplating the word GOODBYE. Far from being a misnomer, I would say that it is an English 'false friend'.

It doesn't feel GOOD to say it, and it doesn't feel GOOD to hear it.

And in the words of Forrest Gump, that's all I'm going to say about that.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

At one with nature

Laughing Buddha
Originally uploaded by Smaragd.
I wouldn’t call myself a sporty person, so I’ve enjoyed the freedom of catching the regional train from Riomaggiore into a different town, and then doing a short hike to the neighbouring one.

The first walk we did, from Manarola to Corniglia, was really easy (until the steep and winding stairs at the end). The hiking trail hugged the coastline so the views were magic the entire way.

Yesterday’s walk from Monterosso to Vernazza was harder and longer, but it was also punctuated with fabulous views that make up for all the muscle strain. There is something nice about finding a spot between two trees, seeing the view between them, and taking a perfect postcard photo all by yourself. Trouble is, this place has so many such spots, you use up a lot of film.

It was a great walk and we all made it through together. We passed people from all over the world while we walked, and the mix of accents and backgrounds was great. There were Swiss and Germans, literally bounding up and down the paths like proverbial mountain goats; there were Americans and Canadians with walking stocks; and then there were Aussies like us trying to pretend they exert themselves to this extent all the time.

Today is our last day in the Cinque Terre, and this time tomorrow we’ll be on the train back to Milan. From there I leave the relatives on the Eurostar for Paris, and I fly to London to sort out USA visa issues.


No touchy, noooo touchy

Originally uploaded by mis-nagid.
If you know me at all, you know that I will usually only permit body contact upon satisfaction of one or both of the following conditions: 1) that it is Friday; and 2) that you have bought me drink and/or dinner.

Clearly I need to practice how to communicate these conditions into Italian. After we completed a 2 hours (plus) hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, we collapsed into café chairs and ordered the biggest beers the barista could bring us.

It was then that the barista regaled us with stories about the services he provided to exhausted tourists at his bar. To name but a few, he was bartender, psychologist, and masseur.

It was then that he put down his tray to grab my shoulders and then plunge each thumb right into the knots in my base of my shoulder blades. Kneading for about three seconds, I was feeling a mix of shock horror and absolute bliss. I was feeling violated and bloody fantastic at the same time. Mum confided that she felt pretty nervous that she might be next.

Too tired to protest, I let him have his grope and then sent him back to the kitchen for bruschetta. And I didn’t tell anyone just how good it felt either.

Keep it down, scallywags

Blah! I'm a monster!
Originally uploaded by robotgirl.
There are lots of young people here. While I collapse into bed just after 10pm, having played endless games of cards with Mum & Redda, I fall asleep to the sounds of young revelers getting up to mischief in the street below.

How old do I sound, eh?

All the other places we’ve stayed to date have been big cities, or we’ve been in relatively deserted accommodation. We’ve not had to listen to street noise and our collective slumber has not been interrupted by the sounds of partygoers enjoying their holidays.

The houses and apartments of Riomaggiore are perched right up either side of sheer cliffs. From your balcony, you can see the activities of the boat harbour, and up into the main street (if you lean out – but not too far, that is!). There isn’t any real vehicle traffic, other than the odd train, so the only night time noise SHOULD be the ocean.

But this is a tourist holiday spot, and there are always people out having a late and happy dinner. I just don’t think they realize how good the acoustics out here, so they race up and down the street, calling out to each other (usually Aussies, naturally) at the top of their lungs.

Fortunately the pace of our days have made it relatively easy for me to sleep despite this noise. Somehow I’ve managed to blank out the voices and focus on the waves rolling in. I think there is something really soothing about that, as many of you readers are lucky to know already.

This here's mountain goat country

Italië, Noord
Originally uploaded by stroomopwaarts.
Given all the stairs I’d been up and down on this trip, I thought I’d be prepared for what the Cinque Terre would throw at us. The five hilltop towns gave it away that stairs would be involved somewhere (since a helicopter drop was out of my price range).

But the manager of our apartment did not even attempt to hide his smile when he took me on the wild goose chase through the back lanes of Riomaggiore to find our accommodation. I followed valiantly behind him, up and down countless stairs, smiling meekly (and for mercy) at the old ladies standing in their door frames to ogle yet another breathless tourist.

Like all exercise, it’s how you feel afterwards that’s important. And opening the balcony doors to view the stunning ocean made all the sweating and straining with luggage worth it. The glass of wine helped too.

The Cinque Terre is a national park and a marine protected area. The five towns – Riomaggiore; Manarola; Corniglia; Vernazza; and Monterosso – are linked by hiking trails, a regional train line, and a ferry service. Buying a three-day ticket is the most cost effective way to see all five towns, just like we have.

I’ve never been to Tasmania, Mum and Dad tell me that hiking between the 5 towns in the Cinque Terre is very much like the walks you can do there. They tell me that the scenery, the terrain, and the level of difficulty is much like what you’d encounter at Wineglass Bay and Cradle Mountain (Dove Lake, particularly).

From the relative stability of our balcony, I look out at the locals and their chunky calves. They have been climbing these hilly towns all their lives, most probably. All I have to do is give this place a go, and try not to have a cardiac arrest halfway along the hike and need one of them to come and fetch me.