Chicago

The Transport For the American part of my travels, I wanted to travel in a typically American style. Many people suggested that a Harley-Davidson motorbike would be a great idea, but to be quite honest that would not be my style (and would potentially be cold, wet, noisy, uncomfortable... I could go on...) so I chose the other classic US vehicle, the RV. Hedging budget against utility, my family procured a 1989 Glendale Sterling motorhome, based on a Ford Econoline E-350 (a grubby old minibus, in English terminology). While a 40' bus (with slide-outs, sofas, a satellite dish and two bathrooms) might have been a more comfortable way to travel, the 24' Glendale is really more practical for a solo traveller (who hopes to have occasional travel companions) - and at less than $10k, seemed a bargain. I'll go into the delights of camper travel at various points in later posts, but to whet the appetite, here's a quick shot to give an idea of my US home...
Muriel

Muriel

Having collected the bus (I will variously refer to the camper as 'van, bus, boat, and b*st*rd depending on how it performed) in Canada, I started to learn the steer distances involved in North American travel - the six and a half hour trip from my brother's house to my cousins is considered a relatively short hop here, but it was pretty draining. The US border control didn't help, as I was held up for ninety minutes while they checked... well, I have no idea - the officer seemed to just be sitting in the van for the best part of an hour before he came out and told me that my story "don't check out, but i'll let you through this time". Strange man. At least I was across the border - and only an hour from my stop at my cousin's house. Chicago The Windy City (so called because the people bluster, rather than literal wind) was to be my first major destination on this leg of my journey. My route from Detroit took me past the southern shores of Lake Michigan, and curiosity drew me to make a brief stop at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The concept of a 'National Lakeshore' tickled the cynical side of me, and I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but was quite pleased to find a wide sandy beach running down to the lake (which, incidentally, is nearly three times the size of Wales). A cold breeze from the water stung my face with sand, so a hopefully planned picnic was aborted, but it was still a nice place to sit for a while and rest. The afternoon was running on by the time I approached Chicago. My night stop was to be in the car park of a Walmart superstore - possibly a strange idea to some, but a common occurrence in the US - and my sat-nav dutifully guided me as best it could towards the shop. This route passed through South Side Chicago, which presented an interesting view of a deprived part of the city which I suspect not many tourists get to see. To be honest, I didn't want to stop at any point - I was more than a bit nervous driving a slightly ridiculous camper through a rough area of town - and then I arrived at my overnight stop... The Walmart was next to a train yard, under the flight path of an adjoining airport, and its car park was only occupied by big trucks, most of which had their engines running through the night. Ah well - at least it was free 😉
Indiana Dunes beach

Indiana Dunes beach

Foggy morning at the Adler Planetarium

Foggy morning at the Adler Planetarium

Fog shrouded the city as I started my explorations early the next morning. I began with two modern installations - the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and Cloud Gate, designed by Frank Gehry and Anish Kapooor respectively. They are both shiny pieces of modernism, and while the Pavilion was a bit gaudy for my tastes, Cloud Gate was a gorgeous piece of art providing lots of different photographic opportunities - when I managed to find a moment when the thing wasn't swamped by pesky tourists! The views of the city's architecture stretched out across it's surface made me want to see more, so I began my standard new city meander. I walked down Michigan Avenue - known as The Magnificent Mile - gawping up at the towering buildings on either side of the road. Many were in an Art Deco style, my personal favourite, and so when I found the canal in the centre of the city, I booked myself onto an architectural boat tour. My standard 'turn up and hope for the best' style slightly failed me here, as I had a four hour wait until the start of the tour. To fill in the time, I thought I'd pop into a local art museum... The Art Institute of Chicago turned out to be one of the best art galleries I've ever visited - vast, varied and a place to get totally lost in. A particular highlight was American Gothic - you know, the one with the creepy farmer couple with the pitchfork. I was lucky that I'd set myself an alarm on my phone for the boat trip, as I could have stayed there all day.
Jay Pritzker Pavilion

Jay Pritzker Pavilion

Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor - better known as The Bean

Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor - better known as The Bean

The boat trip was good fun - a tour through the centre of the city on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship canal (terrible name) and a quick jaunt out into Lake Michigan. Being at water level, several stories lower than street level, the buildings loomed even more than before. Fun fact - because of the soggy ground on which most of Chicago is built, traditional pile foundations wouldn't work, so the majority of the skyscrapers are 'floating' on platforms of concrete. The cute narrator spotted Uncle Travelling Matt poking out of my camera bag and was very excited - apparently Fraggle Rock had been an important part of her childhood. She demanded a selfie with him - sadly a photo with me too wasn't part of the deal 🙁 My final stop of the day was at the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) - the tallest building in Chicago, and it promised great views across the city. It's 108 storeys high, and was the tallest building in the world until the completion of the World Trade Center in New York. The advertised views were indeed amazing, and I managed to take one of my all-time favourite photos - all the while dodging screaming groups of schoolkids. The city looked like an '80s sci-fi electronic circuit, streams of luminescence crisscrossing each other, while looming rainclouds darkened the sky above.
The El

The El

One of many gorgeous Art Deco buildings

One of many gorgeous Art Deco buildings

The city from Lake Michigan

The city from Lake Michigan

Nighttime view from the Willis Tower

Nighttime view from the Willis Tower

Night was drawing in as I headed back to the bus - why I chose to walk the two and a half miles rather than take a cheap bus is still a mystery to me. I hadn't arranged anywhere to stay for the night, and so headed off on the highway towards my next destination, Indianapolis. As can be seen from the Willis Tower photo above, the weather was turning sour, and I experienced my first night drive in the rain on that journey. Not something I want to repeat too often, as the combination of pretty ropey headlights, potholes, wind, rain, and psychotic drivers on the road, made the trip a pretty terrifying experience for an hour or two until the traffic thinned. It was a struggle to keep the boat (while useful in a watery environment, not known for being easy to manvoevre) in a consistent lane when I could barely see the road markings. Finding a campsite for the night a mere stones-throw from the highway was a welcome relief.
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