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Friday, 19 February 2010

And so it began!

Planning all the things that i needed to bring with me for the trip took place over a month or so after Christmas. By the time it came round to actually packing my rucksack, i had an extensive list of things which i would need, and another list of things which I wouldn't so much need, but would quite like to bring. It just so happened that packing was a rather painless procedure and i managed to get both lists into my bags and managed not to bust any zips. The only real discomfort attached to packing was the worry and nerves as to how well i had actually planned for what I should bring. In the end it seemed to work out well and on the way to the airport the only thing I could think of that I didn't bring was the list of vaccinations I have had, in case I need to present it to a hospital if I ever happen to be involved in a horrible accident or get bitten by a rabid animal.....

When I got to the airport check in desk in Dublin I sighed with relief because I felt that nothing could stop me getting onto the plane. I was on time, I had my passport, plane tickets, had thought of every eventuality that might occur and as far as I was aware would have no problems. It was at that point that the thing that has to go wrong went wrong. The check-in woman inquired as to whether I was flying to the US with a visa. When I booked my tickets, I checked whether it would be necessary to have a visa, as I planned to stay overnight in Chicago before getting my flight to Mexico on Sunday evening. I found out that there was a visa waiver program that meant it was not necessary to have a transit visa when traveling through the US from the UK. I read lots of forums and the US embassy website and assumed that I would fill in the immigration form on the plane like you do when you enter any country. Someone once told me to never assume, and how right they were. The check-in woman informed me that if I hadn't filled in an ESTE form online I would not be allowed to fly. I nearly had a heart attack. I could feel the blood draining from my face as the words came out of her mouth. I inquired as to 'WHAT THE HELL IS AN ESTE FORM?!!!' to which she informed me that it was a necessary requirement for entry to the US. She then said there were computers upstairs in the airport and if I ran quickly and filled it out now, there was a chance she might receive the reply quick enough to get me on the plane. Luggage in tow, I raced up the stairs, sweating like never before to use the internet. I filled the form in online, rushed back downstairs and after a while she called for me and said I would be OK to board the plane. Crisis averted!

Everything after that (until the flight to Mexico, but I will explain that later) went swimmingly. 3 dodgy in flight movies later, I arrived in Chicago. My first impression of Chicago was how incredibly overbearing the security and police are in Chicago Airport. Their general manner and appearance could make an otherwise innocent passenger behave like a suspicious 'terrorist'. They found it completely unreasonable that I would arrive in Chicago, and didn't know the exact address that I was staying at. After some interrogation and me convincing the security to let me use their phone, I called Shea to get the address we were staying at that night. After much hustle and bustle I was allowed to walk out onto the Chicago streets.

Shea's friend Michelle kindly picked me up at the airport and acted as our tour guide for much of the trip as well as allowing me to sleep on her sofa. First priority in Chicago was to go and get something proper to eat. We found a little biker 'diner' which served some really unattractive but quite tasty food. I think it was the skeleton biker and dead motorcycles which attracted me to it.

When driving around the city Shea pointed out one of his favorite shop signs in Chicago. How I laughed when he pointed it out. America however, fails to see the funny side.

I was immediately in awe of the sheer scale of the city. It was my first experience of a city full of skyscrapers. One thing that struck me about Chicago was how clean it is. I admit that I was mostly in the center and only a little towards the suburbs but everywhere I went was really well kept. When I have spoken to other Americans since they informed me that Chicago is a pretty 'green' city.

The whole time I was in Chicago everyone kept referring to this structure as the bean´, but I imagine that it has some other more serious name. It’s a really beautiful thing up close. It reflects the whole city skyline.

When I looked at it from underneath, i have to admit, it made me feel kinda sick.....

After a bit of walking around and taking in the sites on the ground, we made our way to Sears Tower, which has been recently, or possibly not so recently renamed Willis tower. Even though it is the tallest structure in the whole of the city, finding it while walking around within the city proved to be rather difficult. I think it was a combination of not knowing what it looked like exactly, and confusing it with other smaller, but similar looking towers. The queues to climb up to the top of the tower were reasonably big, but didn't take as long to get through as we expected. It cost $15 to get into the viewing gallery, but it was worth every dollar, and possibly more! It was one of the best things I have ever seen. I couldn't really picture how high up we would be in my mind before we got the top, so when we got there it was breathtaking. It was an incredibly clear night and we could see for miles. We arrived at the top just as the sun was setting, which other than sunrise, is the optimum time to be up there. I could have stayed up for hours. As the city lights came on it become more and more spectacular. It was quite difficult to take good photos due to the windows and my limited photography knowledge.

There were three glass boxes at the top which hung out of the edge of the tower. It meant standing over the massive drop with only a sheet of glass holding you up. I don't really have a problem with heights as such, but I took very small tentative steps out onto the glass. It was pretty terrifying even though my rational mind knew that there was no chance the box or I would fall.

My photos don't really portray how epic being up there was but Shea and I had our photos taken by a photographer in the glass box which I will put up as soon as Shea sends them to me. Until then, here’s another dodgy photo some other tourist took!

After Willis tower Shea insisted that we head over to the ice rink in the middle of Chicago for a spot of skating. Initially I was quite reluctant to take part in such a treacherous activity, due to the fact that I had to fly to Mexico the next day. I had images of falling over, doing myself an injury of some kind, incurring a massive health bill and missing my flight to Mexico. After some resistance we headed over and after a display from some professionals I was quite confident that I would no doubt be a candidate for the Olympic ice skating team........After being held up around the ice rink for a good half an hour by Shea and Michelle I had the balance and elegance of a newly born giraffe, that was also walking an ice. Luckily I emerged from the experience relatively unscathed.

I was told that if I ever went to Chicago I had to sample to famous Chicago deep dish pizza. We went to downtown Chicago to a restaurant that came highly recommended and we weren't disappointed. Being called a deep dish pizza is definitely an accurate description for what it is. We had a small pizza between three people and I could only eat one slice. It was massive! I recommend that if you ever get the chance you should go and check it out.

We spent the rest of the time in Chicago taking in other sites and in a couple of different bars. For the short time I was staying in Chicago there was so much to see and do, and I barely scratched the surface of what there is available. It looks particularly good at night when all the buildings are all lit up.

When it got late we went to a few bars in and around the city center. My particular favorite was a place called 'Hogs and Honeys'. It was what I would have imagined an all American bar to be like due to the decorations on the inside and the mechanical bull which was the main source of everyone’s entertainment. We didn’t stay until the end but as the night went on it progressed from simply riding the bull to everyone cheering until whoever was riding the bull took some of their clothes off! It was pretty bizarre.

We got back pretty late and Michelle kindly let me sleep on her sofa. We woke up the next day in plenty of time to go to the airport but due to some slightly misinterpreted directions, we got lost on the way. I calculated that I needed to be at the airport for 1oclock, and when it came to 1.30 and we were still looking for the airport, I pretty much admitted defeat and was fully expecting to miss my plane to Mexico. When we eventually made it to the airport I was just in time to get on the flight. It was the second time in two days I felt like I was going to have an airport related heart attack. After a rapid tear dodging goodbye to Shea, I left for Mexico!

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