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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New York, New York; The Sequel

[Moa]

So while I’m writing this blog post I am actually sitting in Cleveland, Ohio. What better way to spend a morning than reminiscing back to what we did in New York? (This is also an excuse because we’re trying to catch up with our blog posts…) 

In our last blog post (which you can find HERE) Matilda covered the first half of our wonderful New York week, so if you haven’t yet; check it out! Before I dive into the second part I just want to add to her post that the climbing place which I went to on the Monday morning is called Brooklyn Boulders and is AMAZING. So if you’re a climber, I highly recommend that you check it out if you’re ever nearby!

Anyways, Tuesday!
We were approaching the end of our New York stay and by this point we had already crossed of quite a few things from our bucket lists. While we had already spent a significant amount of time hanging around the NBC building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza when lining up for Saturday Night Live we didn’t get the chance to check out their gift shop properly (I love me a good gift shop), so that became our first destination of the day. A lot of both mine and Matilda’s favourite TV-shows aired on NBC (Parks & Recreation anyone?) so they were bound to have some pretty cool stuff!

As soon as we walked through the doors we were approached by a staff member.
“Hi, do you have anything planned for this afternoon?” 
We didn’t. 
“Do you want free tickets to the monologue rehearsal of Late Night with Seth Myers?”
Uhm, yes? You had us at free! 

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Yay – free tickets!

We were handed a ticket each and were told to come back at 3.30pm and suddenly we had a plan for the day. Since we didn’t want to go too far from the Rockefeller Center we decided to check out a building called the Citigroup Tower which I knew was nearby. This building is quite famous as it’s a skyscraper built on stilts and it has an interesting background story; basically the design ended up being flawed and there was a big risk of the tower collapsing! Who could have known that a 59 story building on stilts wasn’t a good idea? You can read more about it here if you’re interested, it’s a pretty cool story!

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The Citigroup Tower

The above picture isn’t mine as I sadly couldn’t get any good pictures of the building, but regardless it was impressive to see in person. Whilst on this little mission we found out that our Australian friend Harley, who we volunteered together with at the farm in Canada, had just arrived in New York. He also had time to kill so we decided to meet up and spent the next hour wandering around Midtown Manhattan together. 

Fast-forward to 4pm and suddenly Matilda and I found ourselves back inside the NBC building for the Seth Myers monologue rehearsal. If you’re unsure what a monologue rehearsal is (which I was – we had no idea what we had signed up for) it’s where they try out the jokes written for the upcoming show with an audience for the first time and decide which ones are funny and which are not. This was a really cool experience as it was quite relaxed – Seth Myers was dressed in a hoodie and was stood chatting with the audience for a bit before they started and then they did a few takes on the monologue. It was basically a free comedy show which lasted for just under an hour – Thanks NBC! 

Below is the bit we got to see;

At 5pm we found ourselves back outside the studios. We felt that we might as well keep this NBC-related day going, so we decided to sign up for last minute standby tickets for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon that same evening and were once again told to return a few hours later to see if we could get in. 

We decided to head over to the Marriott Marquis which is in the centre of Times Square as they have a spinning 360 restaurant and bar called The View, located at the top of the building. Yeah that’s right, the whole restaurant spins and gives you an amazing view over all of Manhattan – I can highly recommend to go here if you’re travelling on a budget! It’s completely free to go up as long as you order something from the bar, so instead of spending $30 on a ticket to the Empire State Building or Top of The Rock, this is a great and cheap alternative for a skyscraper view of the city. 

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Our view from The View

Around 7pm we had made our way back to Rockefeller Plaza (again) but sadly our luck had now run out – as we were last in line we didn’t manage to get inside to watch the show. We didn’t really mind though, as we had already gotten to see Saturday Night Live a few nights before and this also meant we could go for NEW YORK PIZZA! 

Our Airbnb hosts had recommended Joe’s Pizza for this activity and luckily there was one located 10 minutes away from us. As a pizza lover and advocator for Swedish pizza being the best kind of pizza (if you’re a Swede you know what I’m talking about) I was doubting this hype about New York pizza. However, this doubt was quickly knocked sideways because damn – That was some delicious pizza. I just mentioned the word pizza 7 times in for sentences by the way, go me. 

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Matilda is excited for the pizza

After pizza we found a desert place called Junior’s Restaurant & Cheesecake which served… you guessed it, cheesecake. If you’re going to be unhealthy you might as well go all the way right? This place was also AMAZING and the cheesecake pieces are massive, definitely worth the money. Go here, you won’t be disappointed. Eat all the food. With our bellies full and an awesome day behind us we took the subway back to Brooklyn.

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Don’t trust this picture – she loved her cheesecake
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This is how much I enjoyed mine!

Wednesday morning came around and Harley met up with us in Brooklyn to spend the day exploring together. We didn’t really have a plan on where to go but the weather was beautiful so we just started walking. Somehow we ended up in Queens and Long Island City which offered some great views over the Manhattan skyline along the way. We decided to cross Queensborough Bridge which was not as pretty as we had hoped and ended up just being a very cold half hour walk next to a highway. Oh well, not everything can be picturesque and perfect, so I’ll forgive New York for that. Or just blame Queens. 

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Beautiful Manhattan

After some coffee at Starbucks (there are a million Starbucks in New York by the way) the three of us headed to Central Park. Matilda and I had already been there on our first day but as we were about to find out, we had barely seen the start of it. We spent a good few hours exploring it further, walking around the lakes and making friends with the squirrels and birds. In the middle of Central Park we found Belvedere Castle which you can go up in and it offers an incredible view over the whole park.

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When the sun started to go down and we all realised how cold it actually was becoming we headed to 30 Rockefeller Plaza (AGAIN) to grab some food at one of the restaurants there followed by a drink at an Irish bar nearby. It was now 7pm and time to say goodbye to Harley before we headed back to Brooklyn for our last New York activity – Another comedy show! 

One of the things both myself and Matilda had wanted to do in New York was to s hopefully catch a show by one of our favorite comedians as they quite often do last minute shows here and there. Luckily enough, we found out that comedian and SNL cast member Chris Redd was doing a standup show at a venue literally 3 minutes from where we were staying, so of course we had to check it out. 

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This is how close we were…

The show was called Comedians You Should Know and was located in the back of a bowling alley/bar called The Gutter in quite a small room. As we got into the venue quite early and were seated at the very front of the stage – the last place you want to be at standup comedy if you want to avoid getting pulled into the jokes… I’m happy to say that I managed to get through the evening without this happening to me, but Matilda was not so lucky. She had Chris Redd do a handful of jokes on her expense which was something I thoroughly enjoyed watching. I’m such a good friend. The night eventually came to an end and the show was AWESOME – all the comedians on stage killed it. I’m pretty sure I had a full core workout just by laughing so much.

We headed back to our Airbnb to pack our bags and prepare for the next day, all of which seemed bittersweet. By this time I had completely fallen in love with New York and knew that I would be returning to this amazing city.

So that’s all of our New York adventures! Like you’ve probably understood by this point I am in complete awe of “The Big Apple” and I know that I still haven’t seen more than just the surface of it. I’d love to come back again and explore it even further, but all in good time right? 

So thanks for everything New York – we will be back! 

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