After spending 2,5 days in Cleveland it was finally time for us to get up stupid early and get on a bus to Chicago where we would be staying with Moa’s friend Jared. Chicago was one of the places I was most excited about seeing, largely due to my family history with the city.
On our way to Chicago we got to tick off Indiana as another state we had set foot in and Moa got herself another rest stop postcard. In case anyone back home is wondering: Ohio and Indiana basically just look the same as southern Sweden. Farmland, farmland, farmland!
We finally arrived in Chicago around 15:00 and it was COLD. Should we be used to this by now? Yes, we should. But after spending 8 hours on a warm bus it’s still a bit of a shock. If you’ve not been to Chicago before, you should know that in the metro there are two maps within the map. If you do not find your stop on the big map, look for the tiny Loop one! It may be in the corner somewhere. The Loop is basically the downtown area. After some initial confusion regarding this, we managed to make our way downtown.
We met up with Jared at the Merchandise Mart and got on a train heading North. Moa and Jared have known each other since they met on a Paris trip a few years back, but it was my first time meeting him. As luck would have it, we all got along very well. It would have been a very awkward couple of days otherwise! We mentioned that we wanted to go see the Swedish American Museum the next day and were surprised to learn that Jared’s place was located a mere 10 minute walk from there. We were basically staying on the border of Andersonville!
After dropping our bags off, we were taken on a walk through Andersonville. You can really tell that people are proud of their Swedish heritage! The main street is filled with Swedish flags and Swedish American businesses. We made some mental notes on what places to visit the next day and then headed back home to eat some deep dish Chicago pizza. It was very weird! Good, but weird. It’s like a pizza in reverse (cheese at the bottom, sauce on top). It’ll also make you REALLY full after only 1 or 2 slices.
Our Friday morning adventures were all located in Andersonville. The day started at the wonderful SVEA Restaurant which is a small Swedish American café/diner that has been open for a century. We were pleasantly surprised by the food! The menu was naturally a bit Americanized but it still had plenty of Swedish elements which made us feel right at home. (This was a pretty big contrast to the “Swedish” coffee shops we encountered in New York, where the only Swedish connections were a flag and maybe a couple of translated words on the menu.) I had pancakes with lingonberry jam and Moa went for an omelette. Delicious! If you’re ever in the area, you should definitely visit this place. It has a great atmosphere and they only accept cash – just like back in the day!
At the next table were two very nice American ladies who struck up conversation with us when they found out we were Swedish. They gave us some great tips on places to see in Chicago and where to go for a good book or a meal in the surrounding areas. They ended up offering to pay for our breakfast which had us a little speechless and very grateful. “We have to show you there are still some good people left in America!” And there are indeed! I think that’s one of the things that so far has really left an impression on us in both Canada and the USA – people are generally very open and friendly. We love it!
After breakfast it was time to visit the museum down the road. We were greeted by a lovely lady by the name of Diana who volunteered at the front desk. She gave us a rundown of how to best experience the history museum upstairs and also some background info on the exhibitions currently on display downstairs and in the Wallenberg gallery. We were definitely made to feel welcome from the moment we stepped in the door.
The museum upstairs was great and had paper guides in both English and Swedish. We had already learned a lot in school about the Swedes emigrating to America so there wasn’t brand any new information for us. It was, however, very interesting to read about it from “the other side”. The room is set up so that you walk counter clockwise in a circle and get to see each step of the Swedish immigrant’s journey. For me it was cool to see how my great grandmother would have travelled and spent her days in the city. The museum also had a lot of info about Swedes who made an impact on Chicago and the country in general. For example, Swedes played a large part in building Chicago and other cities, both as architects and as labourers. And Walgreens, a huge American drugstore chain, was founded by a Swede in Chicago!
We spent quite some time upstairs as we wanted to read and look at everything. Once done, we had to visit the museum store downstairs which was packed with Swedish things. They stocked Kosta Boda glassware which is created not far from my little town in Sweden. And the most important thing – they sold Marabou chocolate! It was of course very expensive but we both decided to treat ourselves.
In the afternoon we made our way downtown where it was apparently very important for us to see “the Bean”. I didn’t know what this bean was or why we should see it. Moa, Jared and the ladies we met at breakfast did however assure me that I should see the Bean. It is allegedly a famous Chicago landmark, but I mean… I didn’t know it existed… Sooo… here is a bean:
Post-Bean we went for an ice cold walk by the beautiful Chicago river. I was very surprised at how clear the water looked. (I guess that’s what looking at the dirty Thames for 5 years does to you.) We then decided to go for an early dinner to warm up and make plans for the evening.
Ever since we decided to visit Chicago we had been talking about seeing some improv comedy, as we’d read so much about the Chicago improv scene. So during dinner we looked up possible shows to see in the evening. We settled on an 8 o’clock performance at the iO Theatre – another place we can highly recommend to everyone! Just walking around the place and seeing the pictures on the walls is very cool. It shows you just how many famous comedians and actors that have passed through the theatre over the years.
The show itself was great, with the improvisers taking inspiration from a “mindreader” performing tricks on the audience in between scenes. The particular show we went to was apparently new but we wouldn’t have been able to tell! In general I felt the tempo and overall standard was higher than the improv we saw in New York (and that was still VERY good). So thumbs up for the iO!
Saturday started with breakfast at SVEA Restaurant once more. I opted for the viking style french toast with bacon. Also delicious! We then made our way downtown and wandered around as Jared showed us the city. When going by the Chicago Cubs stadium I made the mistake of asking what sport they play and was quickly hushed by Jared (all in good fun). “Don’t say that too loud around here!” But I mean, every American city has all the sports… how am I supposed to know which team does what?!
Early dinner was had at a great place called Cheesies which serves grilled cheese sandwiches. Moa and I had our minds BLOWN. “I would be so fat if I lived in America, there’s too much tasty food” – direct quote from Moa. After our big cheese experience, Jared took us out for our first Target experience. We spent a pretty good amount of time in there but didn’t come out with much. I can definitely see how one might spend a lot of money in there, though…
Our Chicago visit ended with cider, snacks and a movie at Jared’s place. He had bought all the snacks he thought we should try before leaving the U.S. and we combined it with the original Jumanji movie. I had wanted to see it ever since I was a kid but somehow never got around to it. I guess a trip to Chicago at age 26 is as good a time as any to fulfill your childhood movie watching goals!
Our American roadtrip had now come to an end, and we prepared to get up depressingly early and get on a flight to Calgary the next day…
I think we can both say for sure that we will be back in Chicago! In the summer, though. Definitely in the summer.