Welcome to Chicago

We flew into Chicago on Tuesday evening, after catching a midday flight from Seattle (where we’d spent a few days visiting our friend Ted).

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I got a window seat which was very cool. I love aerial views. I’m always trying to remember what I learned in geography, like oxbow lakes (formed when a meandering river takes a shortcut).

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I also got a good sense of how Chicago is laid out from above.

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Lots of trees.

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Couple super tall buildings. You can just see the top of the Hancock building, the black blob peeping out above a white building on the left, and the Sears’ Tower, the big black blob on the right. We’re looking towards the east in this photo.

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Once we had taxied over the train and car highway (very bizarre) we were quickly off the plane and greeting Duncan by the baggage collection. Then we went to get on the “L“, (equivalent to the Underground), which mostly goes overground or above ground here – L standing for elevated.

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The line which runs out to O’Hare airport runs up the centre of a 4 lane highway. It is a bit full-on standing in the middle all that.

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And here is a detail of Duncan’s goofy wave in that last photo.

It is hot here in Chicago. Actually a bit hotter than usual for May, though June through August is always hot and humid. It’s been around 27 degrees celsius the last few days, reaching a staggering 30 this afternoon. Thankfully, our hosts, D&J, have air conditioning throughout their house. It’s like magic!

Here’s their house.

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They just bought a new rocking bench for the porch there, which is lovely to sit in and watch the street or read a book. They live in the Albany Park neighbourhood. It is in the north of the City of Chicago, and is “one of the most ethnically diverse in the United States”.

Appropriately then, we went out to a Columbian place for dinner when we arrived, just round the corner from D&J’s house.

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This was the grilled steak and chicken dish (meant for one? we shared between 2!), which was deeeelicious. That’s a yummy empanada (top left) which we had as a starter, next to the green garlicy sauce, cilantro [fresh coriander will be known thus, while I am here ok!] and/or parsley, we weren’t sure. There’s a fried plantain on the plate too.

The next couple days we all had work to do, so we got on with that. This is me working in the dining room which has a mirror at the end, reflecting the lounge and its windows which look out onto the street.

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We did explore the local neighbourhood, taking a walk, checking out the local shops. I also went to the lovely Bloom Yoga studio in Rockwell for a class one evening. On the way home I made a little video of the “L” level crossing.

I was intending to take a photo of the station but my phone camera was on video so I got video instead. Out here the tracks run along street level or a bit higher, so there are lots of level crossings. I was in the middle trying to take my photo, when the bell started ringing, and I didn’t fancy being in the middle of the tracks when it went by. So the video starts with me dashing to a safe position behind the barrier! Hang on in there for the bit with the train rushing past.

There was more excitement to be had on my way home, as I saw a couple rabbits hopping around the wide grassy area between the pavement and the road. Chicago turns out to be ‘green’ down on the ground and not just from the air, which makes wandering about this neighbourhood very pleasant.

Okay I’ve run out of time – the new (gas) BBQ which North assembled in the garden today needs some food putting on it now. So I will have to save my impressions of downtown, which I explored yesterday, for next time. I’ll leave you with a little taster though – the view of downtown Chicago from Millenium Park.

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Timelapse self portrait video with an extra dimension

The Longest Way 1.0 – one year walk/beard grow time lapse from Christoph Rehage on Vimeo.

This video is brilliant to watch because of the journey that you get to see a glimpse of as the background to this guy’s walk across China. But the reason I like this video so much -given that the self portrait timelapse video has been done many times before, the best one by Noah which was even parodied on The Simpsons- is that it uses video and not camera, and so each shot that makes up the timelapse has a little movement in it. Not always, but occasionally. From just a blink of the eye, through hair blowing in the gail force winds, to a brother or lover dancing around in the background.  It gives the whole concept a new texture which I haven’t seen before, and I love it.

A summer frenzy of fireworks

For 2 nights each summer, most of its local population descends on Plymouth’s waterfront, the Hoe, and (by boat to) Plymouth Sound to watch 2 nights of the National Fireworks Competition. This year I got to experience this delight for the first time.

Fireworks display on night 1 of the competion

I took the week off to it spend with my friend who lives in Plymouth, and also to celebrate my birthday which happens to coincide with this spectacular event (as well as the annual Perseids meteor shower, which unfortunately we were prevented from enjoying due to cloud cover).

Plymouth is a great location for the fireworks competition because the waterfront of Plymouth is large, meandering and on many levels which means there is no jostling for positions and you don’t have to worry about being stood behind the tallest-person-in-the-world. Having said that, there are definitely some prime spots for watching the fireworks display. The grassy embankment of the Royal Citadel is a prime spot.

People watching the fireworks from the Hoe

In fact on the second day I was walking on the Hoe at about 4pm and I saw people taking up their positions at the top of this embankment already, 5 1/2 hours before the fireworks display begins! Not surprising then, that they were kitted out with deck chairs, tents, tripods and cool boxes.

Photo of a grassy embankment

I’m imagining that the person who made the following video was probably one of those getting into position early. This video is a recording of the winning display which was by a company called Phoenix Fireworks from Sevenoaks. Apparently members of the public could vote online, though we didn’t. If you have the broadband speed, I recommend you watch this full screen and in HD – it’s pretty impressive. Oh and listen to the background commentary too, its quite amusing.

In this photo of one of the lower levels of the Hoe I explored earlier in the day, you can see the jetty from which the fireworks are set off. All the water surrounding the jetty is full of boats during the displays, though overnight mooring isn’t allowed so they all go shooting off to their marinas as soon as the last firework has exploded.

Lower levels of the Hoe with the jetty beyond

Here you can see the little fishing spot where we sat on the 2nd night, with our feet dangling off the edge as we enjoyed our front row seat of the fireworks displays.

Photo of the rocky surrounds of the Hoe

I know I said you don’t have to worry about people getting in the way of your view, but I took this next photo while I was still getting into position. I rather like the way the person’s head has a halo of firework though, don’t you? The big firework above reminds me of photos of jellyfish underwater.

A big blue round firework explosion

You can see all my photos in this slideshow below. They’re a bit blurry but they do capture the scale and calibre of the displays. Check out the reflection of the light in the water. That was really fab.

What and where to eat in Montreal

A friend of mine is going to be visiting Montreal on her honeymoon soon, so I thought it was a good excuse to get my recommendations for where to eat there out in the open. Though I moved back to the UK in 2003 so I’m afraid they might not all still be there, but from what I’ve seen online, they mostly seem to still be going. (Please add comments with any corrections or further recommendations you have!)

There are many wonderful things about Montreal, that would require several posts here, but what I tend to focus on most is the food. Eating out in Montreal is cheap, easy and absolutely delicious. I think it is quite impressive that I only went up one clothes size in the 3 years I lived there, because the food is irresistable!

On “the Main” or St. Laurent, just south of Duluth is Schwartz‘s Smoked Meat Deli. I’m afraid my friend’s vegetarian husband is going to have to close his eyes and nose while she indulges in this most delightful sandwich. Mounds of steaming tender smoked beef quivering between two slices of sour dough bread. STUNNING.

Just next door, at Mondo Fritz, is something for meat eaters and veggies alike. If you like chips and gravy, you will just adore this Quebec speciality, Poutine. Poutine from Mondo Fritz Poutine is chips served with gravy and melted cheese curds, which are like lumps of cheese. You get this dish at all fast food joints in francophone Canada but Mondo Fritz has a gourmet version which I’d say is unbeatable. You might want to go for the Gardinier version which has some green vegetables like peas or brocolli in it. Their gravy is vegetarian, but they also do Poutine au Steak and other meaty delights. Or you can just go for their chips straight up with a choice of about 6 different mayos. All this washed down with a nice big pitcher of beer! YUM!

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The Bowl Inn, Hastingleigh

We discovered this fantastic Kent pub in the village near the “Malthouse Barn” where we spent a long weekend this January. We ended up staying near Hastingleigh because I searched the English Country Cottage website for a cottage in walking distance from a pub and the ‘barn’ near Hastingleigh was the result. The pub just happened to be this amazing old Inn which was recently taken over and restored by ex-antiques dealers, so they’ve done a wicked job. You can see a picture of the lovely fireplace via this page (of their website which i’ve just discovered!!):
They are in the Good Beer Guide 2007 (quite a feat for such a new Real Ale serving pub) and have a pet Owl… Oh yes, we got the full lowdown from the lovely landlord Ron. He runs a music festival in the village at the end of the summer, so perhaps then is a good time to go check out the pub and area.

Pierogies + Warsaw

Pierogies I thought everyone knew about the pierogi, a pasta parcel with filling, but when I mentioned them on my return from a trip to Poland last Autumn it turned out not many really know what they are. So here I present to you a home cooked version, served with fried onions and lardons. You can buy these ready-made and frozen from your local Polski Sklep (which, if you are living in London, is never far away) and they take only 8 mins to cook in boiling water.

Pierogarnia restaurant, WarsawThere are various fillings, one of the most popular is sauerkraut and mushroom – but there are a plethora of options as we discovered at the Pierogarnia restaurant in Warsaw – you can check out their menu here. (Check out the price on the menu – 12 Polish Zlotych = £2 for a plate!!) One of our choices was buckwheat and wild mushroom filling – very nice. They were all served with a lovely, freshly-made sauerkraut (grated cabbage, carrot, onion) with dill.