Feeling connected to my destination has always been important to me. For the most part, cities I have visited are ones that I have wanted to go to all my life. This however was new. I did not choose Chicago. It got chosen. It had a lot to live up to.
We landed at O’Hare international airport at 9:00am. Coming from Kansas, I could have been intimidated by the sheer size of it. Coming from New Delhi, I wasn’t. Within half an hour we were onboard the Blue Line Chicago Transit Authority train heading downtown. With very light luggage, traveling by CTA turned out to be economical and user-friendly. We bought three-day passes allowing unlimited travel at $15.00 each for Baroon and myself. Tanvi, who is under 6 years, rode free throughout.
So far, I liked what I saw.
‘I need breakfast,’ declared Baroon. Having gotten off at Jackson station in downtown loop we had been walking around for nearly 40 minutes. People heading to work on a Friday morning is all we had been able to see. At this point, breakfast seemed like an enticing option.
- Chicago skyline
Gobbling freshly made chocolate chip cookies, we walked some more. What had started out as spontaneous and fun was beginning to get tiresome. Chicago downtown is big and we were getting nowhere.
‘We should look for the Visitor Information Centre’, I said. Located on Wacker drive just above the Chicago Riverwalk was a cabin like structure with only one person sitting behind the counter. ‘That looks small’, I remember thinking. Not expecting much we stepped inside. Turned out, we could not have asked for more. This mini information centre had all that we needed and more. Detailed pamphlets about food, attractions, tours, accommodation, you name it. Walking out, I had a spring in my step. We were back on track.
A small round of applause followed each of the introductions. ‘What about you at the back?’ questioned Rachael, our guide on the tour.
‘India’, I replied.
‘Give it up for India!’
- Chicago Trolley and Double Decker tour bus
For the next two hours we were going to be taken around fourteen downtown locations on the Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Company tour bus. At $35.00 for each of us and at $15.00 for Tanvi, we had decided this was a good option.
‘Hop on’, Rachael had said as we boarded.
‘I am so ready to be surprised’, I had said leaning towards Baroon as we took our seats on top.
We had been on the bus a total of ten minutes when it started raining. At first, no one budged. Rachel kept talking enthusiastically. As the rain got heavier, we found ourselves seated on the bottom floor of the bus, at the back with no windows whatsoever. Having gone past two stops, we had no idea what Rachael was talking about. Frustrated, we looked at each other.
‘We should go upstairs,’ suggested Baroon. Back on top, I wiped the seats with my jacket. It was still raining but it wasn’t as bad. Two more couples followed and so did Rachael.
From there on, for the next hour and a half we were on what I would like to call the ride of a lifetime. Going past Millennium Park, The Chicago theatre district, The Art Institute, Navy Pier and many more stops, taking in the Chicago skyline combined with detailed information provided by Rachael, we were on a roll. The city of Chicago was mighty, flamboyant and impressive.
- Chicago theatre district
‘How are you doing back there India?’ Rachel screamed into her microphone. We were going past lake Michigan and it was pouring. We had officially been christened ‘India’ for the duration of the tour. Wiping my eyes with one hand and holding Tanvi close with the other, I gave her the thumbs up!
- Braving the weather with a smile
‘The city is holding you by the horns, isn’t it?’ She laughed. We laughed too. It was cold and it was wet. It did not matter. We had already warmed up to Chicago.
Disha joined us that night at the hotel. Too tired to talk we decided to meet in the morning at the hotel’s breakfast buffet. Taking the Blue Line CTA train,we were in downtown by 9:00am. Light familiarity had set in. We recognized certain streets names from the day before. We were on our way to the Field Museum. Having seen where it was from the tour bus yesterday, the walk today was purposeful and self-assured.
By 2:00pm we had touched upon the Field Museum as well as the Shedd Aquarium, both located in the Museum campus. In actual fact, one can spend over a day in each one depending upon what one likes. A common interest however was awaiting us someplace else.
‘We are going to have Chicago deep dish pizza for lunch, followed by Garret popcorn as afternoon dessert’, declared Disha. We had already been instructed by Rachael not to miss out on either. ‘Which way are we going?’ I asked. Clueless, all three of us stood huddled over the map held by Baroon.
‘Can I help you with something?’ I turned as someone tapped on my shoulder.
‘We are trying to find our way to Pizzeria Uno.’
‘Walk two blocks straight down from here and take a left. Second shop on your right.’
The lady smiled and walked away. We had been helped without asking for it. We talked about it endlessly on our way to Pizzeria Uno. Suddenly, Chicago had raised the bar.
- outside pizzeria uno
The evening was spent looking at the bean structure in Millennium Park and later visiting the Chicago Skydeck. We did not get lost again. It did not matter even if we had. We knew we were in safe hands.
‘Passengers traveling to Kansas City on American Airlines flight 197, please proceed towards gate number six for boarding.’ Holding Tanvi’s hand I walked towards the boarding gate. Two days in Chicago had gone by quickly. The city had treated us well.
As our flight took off, I looked out of the window and reflected on what had happened. I knew. I had been introduced to a new kind of traveling. The spontaneous kind. The kind where all you do is land up and let the city hold you by the horns and wrestle you around. Any which way it likes. No plans and no preparations. It had been a fantastic experience. I had just tasted blood.
Suddenly, I turned to Baroon and pointed at the map of America on the back cover of the in-flight magazine. ‘Pick a city’, I said. He did.
‘That’s where we are going next.’ I declared. Then I turned and carried on looking out of the window.