The hostel was located by Wrigley fields the Chicago Cubs stadium and one of the oldest in the country. The L ride there showed something which looked particularly unique to Chicago to me - lots of covered wooden balconies and stairs out the back of the buildings, apparently sometimes fatal for partying students when not maintained, but they looked cool for BBQs and just catching some rays :)
The next day I caught up with my couch surfing host, 'Michael' and we grabbed a quick bite at M burger - very good for fast food! Then we headed to Brown Elephant in Boytown, a thrift shop, to check out any hidden gems on sale for $5 (there were none this time!)
That evening I caught up with Lori and Tony - friends of friends in Denver - and they introduced me to some of the downtown bars and local beer ;) as well as showing me the Millenium park and the 'bean' Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate sculpture.
The following day was taken up with trying to move my stuff from the hostel to Michael's place - unfortunately he hadn't given me the actual address, so most of the day was spent in Dunkin Donuts using their wifi trying to locate the apartment and arrange to meet up with him...
Eventually I found the flat and the keys and managed to dump my stuff with enough time to head back downtown to meet Lori and Tony for a sunset boat cruise. We had perfect timing - we caught the sunset and the Wednesday night fireworks!
I also learnt a great many interesting facts about Chicago - they reversed / rerouted the flow of the river from emptying into the lake to instead meet up with the Mississippi River and empty into the Gulf of Mexico. They did this as the amount of pollution in the river was contaminating the water supply from the lake - so as you may have guessed the people on the Mississippi weren't very happy about this! The river was meant to be so polluted at that time that it was self igniting and there was a crust on it that allowed pigeons to simply walk right across it - inspiration for Ankh-Morpork perhaps?!
Also it's not called the Windy City because its anymore windy than anywhere else, apparently it's because Chicago's politicians can talk the hind legs off a donkey and were nicknamed gas bags!
The next day was my Bobby's Bikes Bites and Beers tour! We met up and headed off in hi-vi and sexy helmets to get deep pan pizza at Gino East, washed down with local beer.
The story of pizza in Chicago starts with GIs bringing back the snack from Italy after the Second World War and the race across America to make this antipasti a main course. The route this took in Chicago was to make the dish deep like a proper pie. The crust is prebaked in a cast iron skillet and then filled with pizza toppings in reverse of normal - so cheese first then, toppings then the tomato sauce. This meant that the cheese protects the crust from getting too soggy from the sauce when loaded right up. And very good it is too, with flaky pastry and yummy cheesy tomato fillings.
We then cycled to Lincoln Park to taste some boutique cup cakes at Swirls cupcakes.
We then headed to Murphy's for traditional Chicagoan hot dogs - no ketchup allowed!!! Instead they put pickles, pickled relish, mustard, hot chillies, tomato and cucumber. It was yummy!!
A couple of beers from Goose Island - local brewery and we were stuffed and ready to cycle the 7 miles back to the bike shop - a great tour!
At evening I went to the Couch surfing meet up Sheffield's bar with Michael and lots of other local Chicagoans as well as others visiting town - a great crowd, really friendly people and some good local beers too!
However that evening was when it went a bit weird - my host Michael turfed me off the couch at 1am to sleep on the floor in the empty spare room, so his friends could come over... This wasn't the best move to ingratiate himself with me, you basically give up 24 hour access to your couch when someone is sleeping on it! So I didn't leave him any goodbye pressie as I would usually when I moved out back to the hostel.
Unfortunately he then decided that it was a good idea to proposition me on Facebook and just got unbelievably insulting and rude when I declined to respond - apparently I was the worse couch surfer he ever hosted (I lost the plot a bit in his long diatribe though - I think not buying him a drink, letting him cook breakfast in his own house and accepting his offer of a burger was 'taking advantage' - so I had to point out that he should not expect every couch surfer to sleep with him - I mean WTF, it takes more than a burger and some eggs to woo this girl, the minimum is a lot of drinks and some flirting lo!l).
After reporting him to couch surfing - remember he was meant to have someone else staying with him that weekend, another girl... I headed downtown for a self guided architectural walking tour, which accidentally stopped in Nine West... Well they had 30% off the sale items, so that was practically free, and my trusty New Look sandals had pretty much died from over use (thanks for them Jen!)
That evening the hostel was buzzing with the weekend crowd, including a bachelor party, and we went drinking and dancing locally - I was showing my moves, including shaking my thing to Jump in the line (shake señora)!
The next day my plan to get to Pilates in the park didn't happen - but I did manage to get to the John Hancock tower in time to see the Geico sky typers do their thing at the Chicago Air & Water show - truly spectacular when you are on the same level as them when they are loop-de-looping (it doesn't really come out in the pictures though)
That afternoon i had a matinee ticket for the Book of Mormon. I loved the show, a complete mix of the usual Trey Parker and Matt Stone irreverence and lots of cheesy broadway numbers! Highlights include 'Turn it off like a light switch' (about suppressing your feelings that are incompatible with the religion), 'Man up' (self explanatory!) and 'I believe' (that made up stories are the word of God etc). It was very funny and completely took my mind off my weird couch surfing experience.
I caught up with the hostel mob again that night and we went on a pilgrimage to Giodanos pizza for more deep pan action, running into Cubby beer on the way...
Later that night we went around the corner to a bar called Sluggers which is so named for the baseball/softball practice nets upstairs (as well as possibly for the duelling pianos!)
Sunday funday was a little lacklustre given that the coffee had run out at the hostel! We managed lunchtime beers with our local tacos, apparently Chicago is meant to be known for its Mexican food. We then headed to the beach, which was a little uninspiring given that swimming was difficult in thigh high water, before the Sunday night BBQ on the hostel deck.
We also went to Lincoln Park to check out Stanley's bar where they had karaoke backed by a full band, but we got there too late to embarrass ourselves (luckily!).
The next day my hangover and I caught the flight to DC to catch up with the Goshorns in Greenbelt..