We arrived into the city of Chicago late and starving, so decided to dump our bags in the hostel room and head off in search of food. We had heard about the famous Lou Malnati’s deep-dish pizza, which was just a couple of blocks from where we were staying at Hostelling International Chicago. We ordered two ‘personal’ pizzas and decided to split them so we could try the different toppings. The pizzas were delicious and cheesy and only made my love for pizza even stronger. My only regret was that I didn’t order a bigger size!
We got back to the hostel and showered before going to sleep in our 8 person dorm room. Surprisingly the beds were super comfy and the room was quite spacious with a bathroom.
After a half decent nights sleep we decided to head out to explore Chicago’s city. It was freezing cold outside, yet sunny with blue skies. We walked straight to Cloud gate, also known as ‘the Bean’, a massive mirrored sculpture in the shape of a kidney bean. It was quite mesmerizing and we spent a while walking around it, taking photos from all the different angles. The underside of the bean is concaved which makes for a trippy effect and about 10 different reflections of yourself when you walk under it.
After that we took a short stroll to Maggie Daley Park, which has a playground, climbing wall, and ice skating in the winter time. The ice was not in the shape of a rink but rather a course that you could skate around, so we sat and watched the few skaters for a bit. Our plan was to try to ice skate here but we decided we couldn’t handle the low temperatures and might do it another day. We then set out to find a special toy store that had a really cool, massive door that we had seen on Buzzfeed. When we got there it turned out the door was for a toy making factory that you couldn’t enter, but there was a normal toy store around the corner.
After taking some photos and checking out the real toy store which wasn’t too exciting, we headed back towards the city, walking along the river before crossing one of the many bridges that connected one side of the street to the other. We ended up at the Magnificent Mile, a long, mostly high end shopping strip. After looking in a few stores we arrived at 360 Chicago, one of the cities observation decks. We paid the $19 entry fee and whizzed 94 floors into the sky. The view from the top was beautiful, as you could see the urban landscape, beach and shoreline, and out into the suburbs. We chose a good time to go, as not long after the sun began to set. We stayed until it got dark so we got to see the city from both day and night perspectives.
We took the lift back down to the bottom and found a protest going on outside on Michigan Avenue. The police had blocked off the road and cars couldn’t get through. After a while of wondering what was going on we ended up walking through the protest, which was protesting police violence in the city or something. We went to Trader Joe’s (our new favourite supermarket) before walking back to the hostel to make a lovely little dinner of veggies and pasta, before attempting to play pool and table tennis (which we sucked at).
As tired as we were this morning, we had signed up for a free walking tour of Chicago, which was leaving from our hostel at 10.30am. There was a bunch of others doing it too, including another Aussie from Sydney! As soon as I heard he was from Australia I started chatting to him and we soon became friends. The walking tour was lengthy and freezing, but gave us a good idea about the city and its history.
After the tour was over Alex and I went to Panda Express with our new friend Tom. Have I mentioned they have the best orange chicken ever?!
We chatted over lunch and bonded over our stories from our student exchanges that we had just finished. Alex studied at University of Florida, while Tom studied at Oregon State (who WSU beat in football!) We went back to the hostel for a bit over an hour, where I thought it would be a good idea to take a short nap before we went out again. After finally waking up, we walked down the hallway to get Tom, before catching the bus up to the Lincoln Park Zoo. We met Tom’s friend Graham there, as well as my friend Joel and some others, which was cool. We walked around and saw most of the animals before it got dark and the zoo was lit up with Christmas lights.
What’s great about the Zoo in Chicago is that entry is free! After that, Alex and I got dinner nearby at an Italian restaurant with Tom and Graham. I had deep-dish pizza again which was amazing, yet so filling that I couldn’t finish my half. After, we all caught the train back to the hostel and had some drinks in Tom’s room while playing a couple of drinking games.
This morning we were feeling lazy so got up and going fairly late. We went to a special Christmas market, which was so packed we left after about 15 minutes (10 minutes was trying to get through the crowd to leave! Lol) We saw a moving puppet show which pops up at random places around the city and then headed back down the magnificent mile to explore.
We found a massive candy store that was really cool yet overpriced. They even had mean girls themed candy, which I just had to take a photo of! We then found a huge fancy mall and had a look around before we headed back outside. We went into Burberry as we were curious to how expensive/ fancy the store was on the inside. Instantly we felt like poor young girls as we were not greeted by the sales ladies, while the people who walked in straight after us were. How awkward! After looking at the price tags on some fancy coats and scarves I could understand we didn’t fit the target market but nevertheless it was still downright rude. If I ever do have the money to spend at Burberry, I wont. Ha.
We then went to Trader Joe’s again to grab some dinner to make back at the hostel. We walked back and hung out in the lounge for a while, chatting to people back home on our phones. I messaged Tom to see what he was up to and invited him to have dinner with us. When he arrived we hung out in the kitchen while we cooked orange chicken and veggies to eat. We planned to nap/ relax after dinner, until we would head out again to see the bean again at night this time. Alex’s ankle wasn’t feeling great after having injured it the night before so it was just Tom and I. We saw a cool art installation on the way, before heading to see the massive Christmas tree and mirrored bean once again. The city looked so different at night; it was so dark yet lit up with lights everywhere. It was interesting to see the bean again at night, as I felt I was seeing it from a different perspective.
After taking some photos we headed back towards the hostel and stopped at Baskin Robbins to get some ice cream. We met Alex in the lounge and hung out until it got quite late. Tom had an early flight so we said our goodbyes, which was sad but I’m sure I will see him again soon!
Today we didn’t do too much as we had to get a shuttle to the airport in the early afternoon. We went and ate Subway for lunch and hung around the public library for a while. Our shuttle arrived on time, 3 hours before our flight was due to depart. By the time we got to the airport and checked in, we realised that the security line was super long and moving very slowly. We waiting in line for 75 minutes, sweating at the thought that we may miss our flight to NY. When we finally made it through we ran to the departure gate and walked onto a plane full of people. We had just made it with about 5 minutes to spare.
Aside from the (almost) Chicago airport disaster, I really loved this city. Chicago is a large, grand and clean city, which has a lot to see and do. It is also home to the famous cheesy deep dish pizza which is unlike any other pizza I have ever eaten in my life. Simply delicious (and slightly fattening)!
HI Chicago hostel rating
Value for money: 8/10
Activities: 9/10 organised city walking tours, nights out, dinners, etc.