Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fish, food, and freebies

Happy goldfish at The Shedd
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.

The last couple of days have been a whirlwind of last-minute tourist activity here in Chicago. Mum & Jems head home tomorrow (Thursday) and given the fact that we just vegged out during the day on Saturday, we're playing catch-up now.

The other day, we went to The Shedd Aquarium and spent nearly 4 hours wandering around the exhibits and enjoying the dolphin show in the spectacular Oceanarium. I took this photo too - can you believe it? Pretty artistic I reckon, even if it does make you a little cross-eyed.

After the Shedd, we walked along Michigan Avenue to State Street, and past the historical Harold Washington Library, to admire the gargoyles that adorn the facade. Pretty timely for the approach of Halloween really.

Later that night as the rain fell, we grabbed a cab to "Starapolska", a quaint Polish restaurant in a very dodgy part of town, way west of where I live. Bork had told us not to walk the streets late at night in that area, but my fave waiter at the Park Hyatt had recommended the restaurant as authentic, so we had to go. And indeed, "Starapolska" (and the adjoining delicatessen) is a treasure trove of authentic, and often home-cooked, Polish delights. I had a home-made Polish sausage with sauerkraut and potato and I was good not to eat it all, because I had forgotten how rich Polish food can be - and my poor belly was not feeling too hot by the end of the meal. But the dishes were great and I will definitely go back - but next time, I'm going to scoff a plateful of potato pancakes; they were delicious!

Yesterday was not great weather, but at least it wasn't raining, so we seized the moment and walked around the Lincoln Park Zoo. It doesn't cost anything to get in, so it's a great day out. The only complaint I have is that Lincoln Park (the parklands, not the suburb), seem to be a haven for squirrels - it was like a squirrel plague in the zoo yesterday! One of them launched itself out of a rubbish bin and scared the hell out of Jems, which made me happy hehe.

So today we're just going to stick around this area so Mum can come back here and do laundry before she and Jems pack in readiness for their flight home tomorrow. Tonight we might even go out for an Italian meal, which I think will be a nice last hurrah for all of us before the rush of tomorrow comes.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Shake your groove thang

Solar System
Originally uploaded by Tommy Simms.

We went to Sidetracks last night for Showtunes and had an absolute blast - but I always knew we would. Mum & Jems did not sing as loudly or dance as energetically as I did, but I think that's because they were mesmerised by the big screens and astounded by just how much the boys get into performing the show tunes for one another and dancing all the routines.

After show tunes, it was 70s night and I turned into a disco diva and boogied with some friends while Mum & Jems continued to look on.

We then had a late-ish meal at a diner nearby and called it a night. And today, my feet aren't even tired from all that booty-shakin', nor am I hoarse from all my harmonising. Awesome.

Today we're off with the fishes at the Shedd Aquarium to take in yet another cultural site for Chicago before Mum & Jems head home on Thursday and I succumb to separation depression.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

It's fabulous, dahling

Originally uploaded by melisdramatic.

The lovely Bork took us all out last night to a show at Chicago's famous "Baton Lounge" in River North. Why have I not known about this place before? It was AMAZING. I couldn't believe that the gorgeous 'girls' on stage (all post-op from the looks of them) could lip synch quite so well. We had impersonators for Tina Turner, a rather rotund Cher (complete with body stocking costume - yikes!) and one of the ladies did an homage to Stevie Nicks & Pat Benatar - it was awesome. They were wonderful entertainers.

There were loads of bachelorette parties in there with us last night, many of whom were already about 5 beers ahead of us so you can imagine how raucous it got! But everyone was in high spirits and in the mood for a good night, so before long we were all woo-hooing and clapping along and being thoroughly entertained.

At around 10pm, we walked to the Park Hyatt and had some delicious cocktails at NoMi, and we were well looked after by my favourite waiter, Stefan. He even gave us some recommendations of a Polish restaurant we could go to before the girls go home later this coming week. Jems was a particular fan of my favourite cocktail - The Looking Glass Martini - so I was well chuffed.

When NoMi closed (around 1.30am), we walked to a very cute piano bar (not sure what the name is unfortunately) but that place was closing as we got there. Very unfortunate. So I took Mum home in a cab while Jems & Bork went to Hang Ups to dance to 80s tunes. I grabbed a cab back to town once Mum was safely tucked up in bed and danced with the girls until the bar closed - are you seeing a pattern here?

I took Jems to my favourite dive bar downtown but that too was closing (last drinks were called just as we got there). How inconvenient, right?

Needless to say we were both ready to call it a night at that stage - well it WAS morning after all. But we got home before the sun came up, just.

Okay my vision is now blurring because I have to squint to type this - the daylight is piercing my eyeballs. I think I'm going to lie down. I can't quite hack the pace anymore I think haha. But you know what? I got to introduce the girls to another close friend of mine (who they understandably loved) and me and Bork got to show them some amazing after-hours sites in Chicago. What a great night out!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

And all that jazz

green mill interior
Originally uploaded by falsefridays.

Last night we caught the bus with Wongy up to Andersonville to see some live jazz at Al Capone's old bar, The Green Mill. It's only a small venue, but it gets absolutely packed and, as it was, we had to sit at the bar (where we were served by the surliest bartender in Chicago - it was quite funny really).

I hadn't realised that The Green Mill was a jazz place; rather I had thought it was a blues bar. No matter. The live music was wonderful and there is no denying the musicians were a terribly talented bunch. But after about 90 minutes, we were pretty much done.

We caught a cab to Guthries (the board game pub) but vowed to return there on Sunday afternoon because there was just way too many people there last night. So we walked up to Southport and when the SoPo Bar seemed too packed (and way too cool) for us, we crossed the street to Coobah and shared some calamari and cocktails instead. That turned out to be the best part of the night - no crowds, and just delicious.

Speaking of delicious, I've put Mum to work today, making me heaps of her famous pea and ham soup so I can freeze it and enjoy it all through the coming winter months. I know, it's mean, but that's just tough because the soup is so good and I can't make it myself (that's my story, and I'm sticking to it).

Friday, October 19, 2007

Canada, oh Canada!

Self Portrait #1
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.

We have returned safely from our few days in Canada and we had an amazing time. I've already added the pics to my online photo album right here.

The trip up there was very smooth, and having scheduled an early-ish departure from Chicago, we had most of the rest of the day to play with when we arrived in Toronto.

Quite by accident, I had booked us into one of the most historical and certainly one of the most celebrity-frequented hotels in Toronto, Le Royal Meridien King Edward. John Lennon and Yoko Ono had staged one of their lie-ins for peace there, and David Beckham stayed there only a few weeks before we did. Nice one. I don't think any celebrities were there while we were though. But above all things, the hotel is centrally-located in Toronto's Financial District, so we were in close proximity to just about everything.

We spent the rest of our first day walking around, first to Union Station to buy our tickets to Niagara Falls, then just wandering. We went to the huge Eaton Centre shopping precinct on Yonge Street, and ended the day with a delicious dinner at The Beer Bistro across the road from our Hotel, where beer is used as an ingredient in all the cooking, just as wine can be.

Our concierge arranged our tickets for the sightseeing bus tour and we rode around on that for most of Tuesday. One of the first places we stopped was Casa Loma (which translates to "house on a hill"), a HUGE house/castle that was built by Sir Henry Pellatt, the man who - among other things - brought electric power to Toronto.

We then picked up the bus again and went to the St Lawrence Market, which is a smaller version of Adelaide's Central Market, with some flea market-style trinkets on sale besides. We walked back to our Hotel and, like a trio of grandmothers, we enjoyed a very early night.

The next day, we made it to Union Station in plenty of time for our morning train to Niagara Falls. The trip was beautiful, as the train wound through lovely scenery and we saw the leaves on the trees changing to their beautiful autumn colours. It was a very different scene when Kate & I went through there at Easter last year, when all the trees were pretty much bare.

We caught a cab to the Falls and then bought ourselves a day-long, hop on and hop off Niagara Falls and Great Gorge Adventure Pass that is organised by the Niagara Falls Parks Commission. We didn't have time to see all the sights included with our pass, but we DID go Behind the Falls, on the Maid of the Mist, to the Butterfly Conservatory, and then we had tickets to go up on the Sky Wheel (a ferris wheel in the touristy Clifton Hill area of the Falls district). It was all amazing and the weather held out for us too - in fact it was unseasonably mild at the Falls - the only thing we really had to contend with was the mist. Oh, and the might and majesty of the Niagara River rapids of you think you could boogie board down this?!

And though our time in Canada was predominantly spent on hop-on, hop-off bus and trolley tours, we really did do a lot of walking. Our legs were sore but our smiles were big; we had a great time. Even when we got delayed for 3 hours to come back to Chicago - it seems they don't call it The Windy City for nothing!

You can check out all my holiday photos, including the Canada ones, right here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Praise the Lord and pass the biscuits

go bears
Originally uploaded by m. day.

Chicago's Greektown neighbourhood only extends for three blocks, but those few streets are chock full of restaurants, food shops, bars, and cafes with an amazing array of Greek delicacies busting out of them. I'm right into the restaurant scene of course, and any opportunity to stuff my face is seized, and so it was that we ended up at "Venus" for dinner the other night.

After a combo plate of dips and pita, Jems ordered the delicious lamb and veggies that had been cooked low & slow for six whole hours, and it literally fell off the bone when the waitress unwrapped it. Mum had the octopus flavored with balsamic vinegar, and I enjoyed some chicken medallions infused with lemon juice on a bed of rice (half of which came home with me for lunch another day). Our meals ended with ice cream and Greek coffee, which easily complemented the glass of Greek wine that we'd earlier enjoyed.

Sunday morning was a little rough, admittedly, but it was just because we had to be up early to get to Chicago's iconic House of Blues for the gospel brunch. In typical Aussie fashion, we located the two Aussies at the HOB (one works in the souvenir shop and has been in Chicago for about 10 years, and the other was a visitor who was in Chicago solo for work). We invited the latter lady - from Melbourne - to sit with us and she happily obliged. The buffet brunch was typically over-indulgent and the complimentary mimosa was yummy. But the piece de resistance was easily the talented choir - they are just amazing and their rich voices filled the venue beautifully. We used to sing "Oh Happy Day" and "Amen" at school - but not once did we ever sound like that.

To get out of the rain afterwards, we went to Macy's and spent some holiday cash - on things we desperately NEEDED of course - and then it was home to relax and do laundry, and then pack for today's trip to Toronto.

We will be on blogging hiatus for the next few days but when we come back on Thursday, I'll do my best to upload some Canadian photos (particularly of us in blue ponchos aboard the "Maid of the Mist" at Niagara Falls....very fetching!).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A day of culture in Chicago

Sue at The Field #2
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.

Today was quite exhausting, even though we walked around exceptionally slowly. We got to The Field Museum around 11am and there wasn't much of a line-up which was good. I had only been to the museum once before, and only then to view the King Tut exhibition, so I hadn't even stayed on to experience the rest of it. Let's just say that there is so much to see and experience inside Chicago's musuem of natural history, it blows your mind. Even with all the little kids running around and their frazzled parents chasing after them, the day was very pleasant in there.

I think one of the most impressive things about The Field is that the animals are posed rather naturally in the exhibits; they aren't just staring out, glassy-eyed at you, all in a row. I took some photos of my favourite exhibits, including Sue - the fabulous T-Rex skeleton that takes up some prime real estate in The Great Hall.

You can find the day's photos in my Chicago album here.

We left around 3pm and walked to The Shedd Aquarium to take in the beautiful view of the City skyline. Then we wandered through Grant Park and saw the new public art installation called "Agora", and wandered slowly along Michigan Avenue up to Millennium Park to see the face fountains and The Bean. It was a cool day but not cold, and while the sky was grey, there wasn't any rain at all, so we were pretty fortunate all round.

We're about to head out to dinner in Greektown and I'm hopeful that we will have some Greek musicians to entertain us, like I had the last time I went there. We'll see...

Taking Chicago by storm

On State Street, that great street
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.

You know when you're waiting for something and it seems like it will never get here, and then all of a sudden - WHAMMO - it's right on you and you can't believe it? Well such has been the arrival of Mum & Jems, who are staying with me in Chicago until the end of this month. We are also heading out to Toronto for a couple of days to see the sights of the City and up to Niagara Falls too.

I am steadily uploading my photos of the trip, and you can view the album here.

In the few days that Mum & Jems have been here, the weather has deteriorated dramatically from what it has been. No more days of 90+ degrees and humidity. Now we're back to true Chicago autumn weather - cold winds, crisp temperatures - the perfect time of year to be busting out the coats, gloves, and scarves. And while Mum & Jems did not anticipate such weather (and therefore pack for it), fortunately I've got plenty of spare clothes to go around.

While the girls have been with me, we have done a few local things (like shopping at The Discount Shoe Warehouse (DSW), and heading to some Boystown diners for quadruple chocolate cake!) as well as some tourist things (like a trolley tour, and taking in the Art Institute of Chicago when it is free on Thursdays from 5pm to 8pm - saved ourselves $12 each woohoo!). I took the girls to see a hilarious new musical that Lex has long been recommending to me, called Altar Boyz and it is a scream. Then we scurried across the street and catapulted ourselves in to the stratosphere, more or less, for cocktails in The Signature Lounge, on the 96th floor of the John Hancock tower, which is essentially a tourist thing to do, but I reckon everyone enjoys it. How could you not love to overlook such a beautiful city with all its twinkling lights? Puh-lease.

Last night we went to Navy Pier for Friday fireworks in the lead-up to Halloween. We got a chance to see the pyrotechnics on a very clear night and then retreat inside to browse the many souvenir shops and craft stores as we wandered back to the bus stop.

Speaking of which, we've been very good at avoiding cabs here, electing instead to travel around by public transportation. We have all agreed that where we can, we should take buses and trains and make the most of them. As it was, we had a fairly white-knuckled cab trip from the Art Institute to the Hancock the other day. Not a long trip by any means, but a bumper-to-bumper, peak hour trip where we ran a few red lights, nearly caused a few car accidents, but managed to miraculously get there in one piece. It was pretty awesome.

Today we're off to the Field Museum which is Chicago's Museum of Natural History, do some shopping at Macy's and then Bloomingdales, and then for dinner in Greektown at a restaurant that I incidentally saw on The Food Network. Don't even pretend to be surprised about that.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Navel gazing and whatnot

I never actually intended to take a hiatus from blogging, it seriously just happened that way. I could give the usual excuses - being snowed under at work, living a crazy busy social life, nursing an addiction to Facebook, and all that stuff - and none of it would be a lie. But I guess no one likes a whiner, and nobody cares what my excuses are, so I'll just throw myself back in the online literary community, and reflect on the weeks that have been. And as this story unravels, you'll see that I have been quite the sportsfan in recent weeks. I know, what the?!

Anyway, I choose to tell this story retrospectively, as my memory works better that way:

  • All three sports teams that I cheered for on the weekend lost. I actually bothered to get out of bed to be at the pub at 8am to watch the Wallabies get beaten (by the Brits, no less!), then observe New Zealand (aka the best looking team in the business) lost to France, and THEN the Cubs got their butts handed to them - again - by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the baseball playoffs. Fortunately I was not sober enough by that stage of the evening to logically register this as a true trifecta of defeats.
  • I guess the AFL grand final set the stage for the defeats, now that I think about it. The Chicago AFL team hosted a sell-out grand final party at a neighbourhood bar and the night was great. Until the football started and Port Adelaide Power played like a bunch of primary school girls. I was so embarassed I wanted to leave at 3/4 time.
  • But the news has not been all bad on the footy front. Our local Chicago AFL team won the Midwest grand final the other week and we celebrated in spectacular fashion. I missed the game of course (as IKEA summoned me and then I had to set my new furniture up - and drop it on my foot for good measure), but I was there for all the fun of the after footy party. We left the bar when it closed, and then processed down the street to the footy President's house for a roof top party. Hmm that was another weekend I got home at around 5am Sunday. Weird.

So there you have it. I have been absent for a little while, but apparently screaming myself hoarse for a bunch of football players, rugby teams, and baseballs stars, who proceeded to lose in dramatic fashion. Am I really such a bad omen for this big, weird world of sports?!