Saturday, 10 October 2015

Cycling around the Windy City...

I wandered down to the river and slightly beyond to locate the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park hotel, which, understandably, is close to Chicago's Millennium Park. As I expected, it was one of those loomy, dark and luxurious 'corporate' hotels loved so much by conference organisers. I asked a few questions and then discovered that North Michigan Avenue, the road on which my hotel is situated, is bang in the middle of the city's shopping district. I was located on Chicago's answer to Oxford Street and decided that I'd take a look later on in the day. For now, though, I continued my walk until I found a cycle hire place on the outskirts of the aforementioned Millennium Park.

Riding the streets of Chicago on an Electra Townie – very comfortable
I hired an Electra Townie bicycle, put my copy of Beaumont's The Man Who Cycled the World in the small pouch on the handlebars and set about riding around the city. While it was busy, it wasn't what I'd call dangerous, but being as I stuck to the city centre, it was all rather samey. In total I cycled for about two hours, probably a little more, weaving in and out of the traffic and watching the city from the perspective of a cyclist. I found myself on North Michigan Avenue and decided to dismount and check out some of the stores. The obligatory Apple Store was right next door to my hotel so, having padlocked the bike in the street I wandered in to take a look at the Apple watches and the lap tops.  The Apple Store is like some kind of temple for tech heads.

Crossing the river...
Across the street is Banana Republic, a shop they don't have in the UK and one I'm sure the two women in my family would enjoy. This one is huge, on three levels, and they have a 50% sale going on. Some interesting stuff – for women and men – but being very utilitarian where clothes are concerned (why have a 'trendy' tee shirt emblazoned with some kind of message or logo when a plain tee shirt will suffice?) I eventually left the store empty-handed. They have a Macy's department store so I wandered in, checked out the perfumery department and the menswear and again left empty-handed.

I thought it best to hand the bike back before having lunch so I pedalled off towards Millennium Park – which involved riding back along North Michigan Avenue and negotiating a busy left turn near the park. Over the road from the park is the hugely overrated Tavern at the Park, a kind of pub with tables and space at the bar to sit and 'enjoy' the cuisine, which is very predictable and not, in my opinion, that great. It was one of those places where you can bet you'll get unnecessarily large portions. I ordered the chicken hash lunch with a Revolution Porter – and to be fair the portion was average-sized – and finished off with apple crumble and ice cream. The main course was fine (ish) but it came with truffles and I've now discovered that I'm not endowed with expensive tastes. If I had to list the things I really hate eating, I'd definitely have foie gras at the top of the list followed by Queen scallops – let's make that all scallops – and now I'd like to add truffles. They overpowered my chicken hash, which was basically chicken stew (but not as good as my wife makes it). It came with two poached eggs, which I knew would be runny and messy-looking on the plate once I had sliced through the egg and allowed the yoke to mingle with the stew and...ugh!

Scenes from the city as seen from the bike...
Foolishly I asked for dessert and, to be fair, was told that the portions were pretty large. I opted for something I thought would be safe: apple crumble and ice cream. But it was far from safe. I don't know what they did to it, but it was overly sweet and sugary, the ice cream smothered in something that was bound to be really bad for the health – some kind of syrupy, caramel concoction. Other guests passed comment on the size and I smiled back with a look of apprehension, wishing I'd never bothered.

Multi-storey car park and apts.
Next to me was an investment banker from California and after a couple of Revolution Porters the last thing I wanted was a big political conversation, not least because I know fuck-all about American politics. Equally, I didn't want to talk business either, but we did both and I was quietly glad that I was finished eating and simply awaiting the return of my credit card.

I ambled back along North Michigan Avenue amidst the crowds of shoppers and tourists, clutching my copy of The Man Who Cycled the World, which, for some reason, attracted the attention of the Americans, some of whom passed comment. "Did he do it?" And I'd reply, "Yes, he did it and then he cycled the Americas." The book became a kind of icebreaker as, earlier, the investment banker had asked me about it too. So if you own a copy of this book and don't want to be bothered by strangers, leave it at home.

Revolution Porter
When I reached my hotel room I hit the sack. I have, in fact, just woken up at 0400hrs UK time and whatever it might be here in Chicago (2200hrs). I was woken up by the female voice on my lap top exclaiming, "It's four hours." I thought I was dreaming or that the clock radio on the bedside cabinet had come on or there was an intruder in the room who liked to remind people of the time. It was a good excuse to get up and clean my teeth and check out my schedule for the day ahead (until I realised that it was only 0400hrs in the UK and that here in the Windy City it was still the night before. So I turned to the computer and here I am. That same female voice has just told me that it's 'five hours' back in the UK, meaning it's 2300hrs here. I think I might hit the sack again, or watch some TV or just lie on the bed and contemplate great things (like what I don't know).

But I haven't mentioned the bike or the Chicago Marathon, both of which need to be discussed. First, the bike. An Electra Townie, which they sell in the UK. It has a front brake and a mechanism whereby you pedal backwards and the bike stops. It works well, This is a comfortable bike, ideal for the city, but I'm not sure how good it would be on the sort of rides (and distances) covered by NoVisibleLycra. Don't get me wrong, if I owned one, I certainly wouldn't be trading it in for something more suitable as it would do the job. Remember that in most cases a bike is a bike is a bike, although I'm sure Mark Beaumont would disagree and I certainly wouldn't fancy cycling the world on an Electra Townie.

Not as good as my wife's chicken stew...
Sunday sees the Bank of America Chicago Marathon and all over the city I've seen people in trainers, especially in the hotel. Going back to my room in the elevator (lift) I got chatting to a guy from Ecuador who was running his first marathon. We were soon joined by another Ecuadorian doing the same thing, but not necessarily for the first time (I didn't ask him).

Wherever I go there are people wearing brightly-coloured trainers who, I'm guessing, are fast asleep at this very moment in preparation for the big day tomorrow. I say 'tomorrow' because it's still yesterday as I write this. It's only tomorrow in the UK.

And now it really is time for me to revisit my bed and get some more sleep, although I doubt I'll get much now that I'm fully awake and in writing mode.

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