Chicago and the Bean

[Matilda]

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!

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Meeting a dalahäst in the middle of Chicago!

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!

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The corner of Andersonville where the Swedish American Museum is located!

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.

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It probably snowed for about 95% of our visit. PRETTY!

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:

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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.

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iO Theatre stage pre-show

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.

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On your left! (Washington, D.C.)

[Matilda]

Next stop: Washington, D.C. and the start of our “epic” Greyhound roadtrip! The express bus from New York got off to a rocky start when the bus driver decided not to show up to work. We ended up being delayed by an hour before we finally made it out. I fell asleep almost instantly and woke up in Delaware. We arrived around 3 hours later at Union Station in DC. While trying to figure out how to get to our Airbnb (and probably looking very lost), we were approached by a very nice man heading home from work in the city. He showed us to the DC Streetcar which is free to ride from Union Station down H Street Corridor and Benning Road. We were given lots of information about the area, and advice on what corners to avoid during the night. He then proceeded to walk us to the Airbnb, to make sure we got there safe, and gave us his business card in case we needed any help.

Our Airbnb room was really nice and located not too far from the U.S. capitol. If it weren’t for my inconvenient knee “injury” we could definitely have walked there, but on this occasion we did have to settle for public transport.

On Friday we had a guided tour of the Pentagon booked. It was completely free but subject to application and background checks in advance. As you come out of the metro there is a strict no photography policy around the Pentagon – they mean serious business! We were around 15 minutes early which meant that we weren’t allowed inside and had to take a short walk and come back. We were then subject to airport style security checks before being allowed in the waiting room and eventually invited to a tour group of around 10 people. Our guide was walking backwards while taking us through the history of Pentagon’s different departments and we got to see quite a few areas of the building, including the 9/11 memorial.

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After our guided tour, we got the metro back into the city and visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum which was really cool. They had lots of stuff from NASA, such as satellites, astronaut training facilities, and a piece of the moon! We were very fascinated by the space part of the museum but also enjoyed learning about the history of air travel.

We did become a bit tired of looking at airplanes towards the end and decided it was time to find something to eat. As we walked around the city looking for food, we were struck by how empty it was. There were virtually no people, which in contrast with the wide streets and grand buildings made us feel like we were walking around a model city rather than a real one! It was definitely very different from New York.

 

Our main aim for the Saturday was to visit the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. We ended up spending most of the day inside the museum, and there is so much to take in that your brain just starts shutting down after a few hours. We particularly enjoyed the exhibit about human evolution, but the mammal and narwhal rooms were amazing too. The nature photography exhibit on the second floor is also something that you do not want to miss.

After frying our brains with information we spent some time sightseeing. It was a beautiful and sunny afternoon/evening – not as cold and windy as the day before.(Warning: when it’s windy in DC, it’s reeeeally windy! Too many open spaces!) There were a lot more people out and about on the weekend, which made it feel more like an actual real life place.  We started out by Capitol Hill and made our way to the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the White House. Unfortunately we did not manage to find the exact bench that Leslie Knope was sitting on in an episode of Parks and Recreation, but we did get to walk where Captain America and Falcon used to go for daily runs so it’s okay.

 

On Sunday we had arranged to meet up for lunch with my friend Faith, whom I got talking to online through a very dedicated group of Alex Lambert fans a few years back. (Actually, this was back in 2010 so it’s almost a decade ago… what’s up with time, guys?)

Here is a thing that happened while we were waiting for the streetcar in the morning:

Random man: “Are you watching the Superbowl today?”

Us: “No, don’t think so.”

Random man: “What?”

Us: “Well, we’re Swedish so we don’t know much about it.”

Random man: “That’s no excuse.”

MOVING SWIFTLY ON. We had some time to kill before lunch so we popped into the National Archives to take a look at the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the United States. It was very interesting to see the original documents up close and then to be able to read about how things lead up to each and everyone of them being signed.

 

At 1 PM we headed over to the Hill Country Barbecue Market to meet up with Faith. It was really cool to finally meet face to face after all these years! The restaurant choice was Faith’s idea and it was mine and Moa’s first introduction to a real Texas barbecue. The food was absolutely amazing and we had a very nice time, chatting away. We are hoping to visit California later this year and got some great tips on what to do there.

After lunch we decided to check out the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. It was cool to learn about how American culture developed through various different cultures coming together over the centuries. A huge amount of Swedes moved to the USA in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s so it’s not uncommon for us to have American relatives. Two of my great grandmothers popped over to work in the USA in the early 1900’s. One of them was in Chicago for around 12 years before going back to Sweden, but her brothers stayed in the U.S. and had families. A third great grandmother was actually born in New York!

We found a little corner at the museum about Swedish immigration to Chicago and a note recommending a visit to the Swedish American Museum there, which we immediately wrote down. (More about that will come when we tell you about our Chicago visit…) When we left the museum we were absolutely drenched by heavy rain. What better way is there to end a day, really?

That’s a wrap on our Washington, D.C. tourist adventures! I bet you can’t wait to hear about our next stop. You are going to be SO jealous… but I won’t spoil too much. I’m sure Moa will have some fantastic things to say about it.

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Moa, thinking about that next blog post… probably