Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Vive la France!

I'm going to Paris tomorrow.

This will be the first trip since I went to the US for my birthday last year. I must admit I developed an itch for traveling then and now I've finally saved up enough money and courage for another adventure.

It's only a short trip; four-days in Paris. I arrive on Bastille Day and will be staying in another hostel. Apart from the sights and sounds of the city, I plan to spend a day at Disneyland Paris.

I've invested in another Let's Go Guide to find my way and a copy of The Da Vinci Code for entertainment and flavour.

Vive la France!

Sunday, November 07, 2004

The Last Day

I did return from America and I will complete the post for my last day at some point ... honest.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Sweet Home Chicago

After another night of drinking and blues, I decide on a quiet morning. As it's another clear, blue day in Chicago I ride the El up to a place called Oz Park, a Wizard of Oz (which was written here) themed community park in the Lincoln park area. Thus ends the Wizard of Oz theme to my trip.

Then I ride the train around for an hour or so and final make my way up to the Magnificent Mile area. I take a look at the water tower (the only building in the area to avoid the Great fire), the Tribune Building and the shopping district. The Tribune Building has a series of rocks and stone pieces from around the world embedded in the walls around its base. So you can touch parts of buildings and mountains from all the corners of the world.

Next I trek across to the Navy Pier, to take a look at the outdoor art and ride the 150ft Ferris Wheel. On the way back I stop off at Billy Goat's Tavern. It's an old, greasy-spoon which is underground. Most of the Magnificent Mile is actually one storey up, the actual street is underground and mostly parking. It was part on a Saturday Night Live sketch with John Belushi. The make the best cheeseburger I have ever tasted! I have two and an ale and head back to the hostel.

Ashley has turned up at the hostel now. So after an hour or so of chatting. Me, Ash, Iain and a New Yorker from Wall Street, head down to Buddy Guy's Legends Bar for my final dose of blues and booze. The support act is a two-piece, a woman singing on lead and a guy on base. The main act is a guy called Paul White Jones, he looks about 60 and his backing guys look about 25. The guy looks and sings like a veteran. We drink and listen to him (and his sister when she gets up to sing a play guitar) until 1.30 then head back to bed.

One day to go...

Friday, November 05, 2004

Kingston Mines

We decide to go to a club called Kingston Mines. It's recommended in the guide books and by one of the guides from the Untouchables tour. It happens to be just across the street from the B.L.U.E.S. Bar we went to the other night. So me, Iain, Lonnie, Karen, an Australian girl called Neel and a Southern lad head out for the night.

The bar is split in two, with a small stage in both rooms. Each of the two bands does a 1-hour set then takes an hour break while the other band does their hour. Everyone moves between rooms so there isn't any break in the entertainment. The main act is a guy called Lynsey Alexander, the Hoochie Man - the ladies call him coffee, because he grinds so fine! He has a radio mike on his guitar, so he can wander through the crowd an play right in front of your face.

The 2nd band isn't so great, so we only change rooms once. While we're hanging out in the other room, we get chatting to some local girls. Two 22-year-olds, who are a little dizzy and very drunk. One spends about 2-hours trying to do an English accent and the other keeps telling us about her boyfriend in Iraq. The big, gravel voiced compere does a rendition of the 8 Mile theme and we drink and listen to blues until 3.30am.

Bullets and Blues

The sky is clear and blue today so after my morning trip to the library, I head uptown.

When I came to Chicago I thought of two things - blues and gangsters. Strangle when I got hear there aren't many gangster theamed activities. I guess the don't like to talk about it. The only thing I did find is a bus tour called the untouchables tour. So I board the black painted school bus and out two guides (Southside and Al Dente) take us on around the city showing ups where the big faces of the prohibition era lived, 'worked' and died. Along the way there are a few laughs and some contemporary advice.

At the end of the trip I make my way downtown towards the Sears Tower. I stop off at the House of the Blues. The building is hidden between the hotel complex and two giant, cylindrical parking garages. Inside though it's wonderfully colourfull and ethnic. All wooden and upholstered. I had agreed to come hear tonight with some of the gang from the hostel, but I find out that the show is sold out for the weekend. A shame but talking to one of the bus guys and looking at the program, they only seem to play non-blues stuff.

After stopping off at Union station, I head up the Sears Tower in time for sunset. It's easier to get into than the ESB and view is amazing. You can see for over 50 miles on a good day and because Chicago stretches along most of the western coast of lake Michigan the whole view lights up at nighttime. So I've now been up three of the tallest buildings in the world. Somebody get me a frickin' medal already! At the top I bump into Ashley from that terrible train journey from Niagara to NY. Small world?

Then it's time to head back to the hostel, to re-arrange the evenings plans...

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The 2nd City

First stop is the Public Library building down the street, apparently they provide foreign visitor with free internet time. The building is wonderful art-deco design but is only 10-years old and is massive inside. The computer room is large and well equipped, it feels good to use a real keyboard for a change.

The weather isn't great. It rained last night and this morning is grey and a little damp. Not a great day for sight-seeing, but with only a couple of days in the city I can't afford to waste any. So, I head of for my now patented random wandering/picture taking of the city. I spend the next couple of hours going up State St, through millennium Park and Grants Park. I walk along the lake shore all the way down to the Field Museum and the Planetarium.

When it starts I head back to the hostel. A group of kids from a nearby school are doing a cultural exchange project at the hostel. In exchange for chatting to some teenagers and listening to they presentation on Morocco, I get a free Moroccan dinner. The meal is made up of a chicken in honey with apricots and prunes (which is quite nice), a vegetarian cous-cous dish (not so good) and some almond biscuits (hard).

After this I head out to a comedy improve night at Second City with the hostel crowd. On the way, I get to ride the El for the first time. It's not bad, but as we only go to the free after show section, it only lasts about an hour or so. So with it being only about 10.30, and being abandoned by our guide again, we head back to the hostel area to find a bar for drinks. I end up in Miller's Bar again and spend the next couple of hours chatting and drinking with, Karen, Iain from Liverpool, Lonnie from Edinburgh and a local guy at the bar called Tim. I assume I make it back to bed...

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Windy Wednesday

I spend most of the morning on the train. We are running about 3-hours behind, which only counts as about 2 as I've crossed across in to the Central Time Zone and the clocks go back an hour. I mostly doze and watch the countryside go past.

Chicago is a big industrial city and the center of the transport network for the whole US. Approaching the city we travel through an hours worth of factories and railway junctions.

When we arrive at Union Station, I catch a cab to the hostel. WOW! The place is huge! Apparently it's only a couple of years old. It has 6 floors, loads of function rooms and my 6-person dorm has it's own on-suite shower and toilet. It's almost like a hotel.

By now the whole election is over. It was close (Bush 51% - Kerry 48%), but Kerry concedes and the local have George W for another 4-years. I spend the next couple of hours chatting to the other guys in my dorm about travel, sport and politics. After a whole day on a train, exploring Chicago can wait until tomorrow.

For tea I go to a restaurant a couple of blocks way called Millers Bar and have a half order of BBQ ribs, a couple of Goose Island ales and a tiramasu for afters. When I get back to the hostel I sign up for an outing to a Blues club uptown.

About 8 of us ride the subway up to the B.L.U.E.S Bar with our volunteer guide. The bar is a spit and sawdust type of place, it's small and a little run down but it's celebrating it's 25th anniversary next week and has a real venue feel to it. The four-piece band starts playing after about an hour. Very electric blues; two lead guitars, a bass guitar and drums. Apparently, it's the drummers birthday. After an hour or so, the singer appears an take over the lead of the band.

It's about this time that our guide abandons us, apparently she has work tomorrow. This is when things go a little crazy. Because it's the drummers birthday, loads of his musician friends have turned up. So over the next couple of house they keep rotating player and singers, so in all about 20 different people play or sing. Oh, and we all get birthday cake. At about 1.30am, there's only me and a woman called Karen from Congleton left, so we call it a night and head back to the hostel.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Super Tuesday

I had to catch the 9am train from Boston to head for Chicago. I was a little ominous about the trip after my past experiences. That and the fact the trip was scheduled to take around 21 hours! Yes, an entire day on a train!

I never finished the Freedom Trail, which I'm not too bothered about as I saw most of it from the duck tour, and I never made it up the Pru Building, but I've already been up two tall buildings and there's still the Sears Tower in Chicago.

This is also the day of the US Presidential Election. Apparently they are setting up lots of events in Boston, Kerry's home town. It would have been nice to say 'I was there' but I have to get to Chicago and politics never was my thing.

The train journey starts OK. It's a 4-hour trip to Albany then we change trains for the long haul to Chicago. When we change trains the conductor says turn left for coach passengers and right for sleeping berths. What!?! The woman at the Amtrak station had lied to me, there was sleeping carriages on the trip. I'm gutted. I wanted to do the whole train cabin experience but now I have to spend all night in a train seat. I asked the conductor if I could upgade, but no dice.

The rest of the trip goes relatively uneventfully; we hit some more train traffic, we have to stop for half-an-hour when the electrics go of in the carriage and we loose the lights. Apart from that I finish my 3rd book of the trip, eat lots of train food and get a few hours sleep.

Across from me is a woman who seems to have brought a whole bedroom with her, she regularly phones home to check on the progress of the election. No gossip there though, the only response she gets is 'it's too close to call'. When everything goes dark, I curl up to sleep.