Reading: Ulysses (James Joyce) [Forever…]

Listening: Yeezus (Kanye West)

London, its manifold structures, its frantic medley of sound and sight, gave way to a long, pure note of grayish green as our train rolled further from the metropolis. By way of the Great Western Rail, and eventually a bus ride, our destination promised a complete one-eighty in terms of setting. A farmstead, deep within Wales’s Brecon Beacons National Park, would be our new home for the next few days. The lack of urban comforts wasn’t the problem, in fact I welcomed the prospect of a quiet, more introspective pace of life. No, as we would soon find out, the real challenge would be getting there in the first place.

After a train delay, a frantic dash for cash from what must be Abergavenny’s only ATM, and a recuperative pint amongst friendly but slightly concerned Welsh folk at a neighborhood pub, we boarded the night bus for the mountain village of Tal-y-bont. Well past sundown, the dim lights of local towns grew yet dimmer and less frequent. Finally we arrived at our stop, marked by a single bench under a single amber-hued street lamp. To our right: the village, dormant. To our left: a solitary road, narrow, lightless, and hemmed on both sides with tall hedges.

Shouldering our packs, we turned towards the road, laughing and joking nervously as the  streetlamp gave way to the blackness of the road’s mouth. It felt as though we were entering a fairytale, not the modern g-rated kind, but the kind in which the path before you ends up being the esophagus of some hungry Welsh giant.

I held a cheap flashlight, Sarah her phone. All was quiet but for the occasional chirp of insects and the tramping of our advancing feet. That was until we turned off the road, up a steep dirt path still shrouded in darkness. The hedges continued up, but now they rustled occasionally; not softly with the breeze, but suddenly and fiercely, willed by some unknown force. “What was that?!” “I don’t know!” Terror gripped us for a moment. “Uh… Hello?” To my surprise… a response was issued. “Baaaaaaahhhhhh.” Sheep! The bleating of sheep all around us! Just beyond the hedges! Relieved, we giggled the paranoia away and continued. Still, the scene reminded me a little too much of Hannibal Lector (thankfully, the sheep were somewhat conversational) and we got a move on. Though the climb was tough, we finally found our little red cottage near the top of the hill. It wouldn’t be until morning that we’d discover our new home was shared by other furry (and gaudily feathered) inhabitants.

Brecon Beacons

A breathtaking land in the heart of South Wales, Brecon Beacons National park is home to the “central beacons” range and the “Black Mountains,” including South Wale’s highest peak “Pen-y-Fan.” The area feels relatively untouched by modern civilization, as glistening moss blankets the ancient limbs of Oak, Ash, and Yew. Dense woodlands are fractured by precipitous hills and rolling fields dotted with the cumulus outlines of sheep. In lieu of steel or iron, the grazing animals are enclosed by dense hedges, adding to the sense of pastoral tranquility. Due to inconsistent weather caused by the approach of Winter Storm Ciara in the UK, we did not get to explore as much as we’d liked to. In fact, on our way back from a brief hike, we found ourselves assailed by a torrential downpour without shelter. To my dismay, the compact camera in my jacket pocket was drenched, and I felt terrible after we discovered the power button was unresponsive (though miraculously, weeks later, the camera had a Lazarus moment and resumed full functionality!!). Due to the inclement weather, we spent a lot of time on the farmstead. Sheep, a cantankerous old goat, a flock of peacocks (who took cover from the rain on our porch, using our chairs as toilets), and two lovely Newfoundlands became our constant companions. The Newfoundlands, with their initially alarming size and strength (I’m glad we hadn’t bumped into them on our nighttime ascent), were in fact totally chill and left quite the impression on me. I love those fluffy beasts!

 

 

Cardiff

While Wales is largely known for its natural beauty, its unofficial capital, Cardiff, offers a great deal in terms of nightlife and urban living. Again, getting here wasn’t as easy as planned. We learned a valuable lesson about buses in the UK: if you don’t wave them down, they’re likely to just roll on past the bus stop (even in the middle of nowhere!). This particular bus driver even waved back as we chased after him, which struck me as pretty cheeky. A few hours later, we caught the next bus with prompt, extended arms. It was on this particular ride that we met a kindly gentleman named Alan, who gave us an impromptu guide on the various natural landmarks and towns we passed through. He expressed his fascination for American mafiosos, and told us how he frequented Brecon Beacons to visit a family grave (and to go on scenic walks). He was very helpful in directing us to Cardiff, and a testament to Welsh hospitality. Thanks Alan!

Downtown Cardiff sports innumerable restaurants, cafes, pubs, and “arcades” which are mall-like shopping centers akin to outlets in the US. I particularly enjoyed the central pedestrian street, lined with Welsh flags sporting the iconic red dragon of St. George and leading towards the walls of Cardiff Castle. I highly recommend checking out the castle grounds (discounted entry with a student ID + having a baby face in my case), as it includes an opportunity to explore medieval battlements (the top offering a great view of the city), as well as a gorgeous and remarkably intricate gothic-revival style mansion renovated by the illustrious William Burges. The ceilings of the mansion are especially stunning.

Finally, if you happen to be in Cardiff during the Six Nations Rugby Cup, prepare yourself for a wild time. I felt right at home amidst the flurry of red and white (Wales’s team colors), public intoxication, and hearty banter. Think Lincoln, NE on game day hosting Wisconsin (hard to say which is crazier!). Also, the best fish and chips I had in the UK were consumed during this match, though that may have been due to an appetite worked up by zealous day drinking (for cultural immersion, obviously…).


 

Swansea

Even in Swansea, people asked “Why Swansea?” And for a few rainy days, with few options for dining or nightlife, I too began asking myself, “why Swansea?”. But then it happened: radiant sunshine stretching out over the sea , beckoning us out from our shoddy apartment and towards the shore. We strolled along the coast to the “Mumbles” area, around the pier, and up and up and up upon absolutely stunning cliffside trails. For two blessed days the sun shone, and we walked miles along the ocean cliffs, from Langland Bay to Caswell Bay. Shocks of samphire plants and yellow wild flowers fringed our path as ocean waves spit white froth, lapping at the cliffs below us. We ended the second night with wine and sandwiches snuggled within a small alcove overlooking the sea. We watched the setting sun. Blushing, sleepy sky. It felt like a dream.

Reading: Ulysses (James Joyce) [Why am I putting myself through this?]

Listening: TOTAL (New Order)

Poet, playwright, and tragic figure Oscar Wilde once wrote of his love for the city of London, remarking “it is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics.” Over a century later, I wonder to which camp our descent into Heathrow bolsters. Marrakesh had been fun at first, yet as sickness gripped our lungs, the packed markets and enterprising merchants had grown stifling. Haggling can be a joy, but a fever under the Moroccan sun makes for a poor business associate. London, cool and damp, sounded a relief to our sweat-slicked brows. Plus, Sarah needed to get her drone back from the authorities!

Directly after our arrival, we took “the tube” for first time. Our public transport repertoire growing, we were awed by just how subterranean the tube actually was. We dove deeper and deeper into the earth’s crust, marveling at the extent and depth of earth displaced. After a few transfers, we arrived at our Airbnb in North Lambeth. Every floor of the flat was distorted and slanted in one way or another, owing to a sensation of having entered an M.C. Escher painting. The bed, however, was quite comfortable.

Highlights:

Kennington Park:

A lovely swathe of green on our walk from Lambeth to Chelsea. Moss-gowned trees and wagging puppy-dog tails abound. Would highly recommend when seeking a place to stretch your legs and enrich your lungs.

 

Natural History Museum London:

The structure itself is nearly as interesting as the exhibits it holds; weathered busts of lions, goats, and even pteranodons glean from various precipices overhead. A cavernous central hall makes for a unique, waterless aquarium in which a massive whale skeleton crashes towards the entrance. The various halls that offshoot from the central one can be a tad restrictive at times (depending on the crowd) but all promise something remarkable (i.e. DINOS!). Even better, it’s completely free.

 

The Walrus:

A place we ventured frequently, The Walrus was doubtless our favorite pub in North Lambeth. Being a pub/hostel hybrid, a revolving door of new faces inhabits the cozy interior. Drinks are cheap and the people watching is priceless. (Or you could be a normal person and actually socialize, yikes!)

 

Pétrus:

Sarah and I absolutely adore Gordon Ramsay, though “adore” may be an understatement. Does calling yourself “Gordy’s Boy” for nearly five years sound like adoration? Fanatical derangement? You decide. Anyways, Sarah and I were determined to eat at one of his many restaurants here in London. Though the flagship The Gordon Ramsay was tempting, it was also very difficult to get a reservation. We settled on Pétrus, and by settling I mean enjoyed the most delicious five-star meal of our young, impressionable lives. Order the Orkney scallop, then contemplate the gods of Olympus and pity they’ve only tasted ambrosia. Apparently, according to our dashing French waiter, we’d missed Gordon himself by a mere week. And so the quest of Gordy’s Boy continues…

 

Leake Street Tunnel/Bahn Bao Brothers:

The Leake Street Tunnel is a graffiti artists dream for two reasons: a.) the amazing range of styles and images literally coating the expanse from top to bottom, b.) tagging here is completely legal! Underground art is thriving in London, and there’s no better gallery than these public tunnels in North Lambeth. Sarah and I also encountered a troupe of bongo drummers (numbering around 15), which frankly scared the crap out of us due to the thunderous acoustics of the place. Adjoining the tunnel resides a real stylish gem of a joint, Bahn Bao Brothers. Curving brick interior meets hip contemporary asian aesthetic (complete with perennially blooming cherry blossoms). The modern Vietnamese cuisine is top-notch.

 

Soho:

Grey days in London can make for dreary streets after a time. Where’s the color? The vivaciousness? Well, if anywhere, it’s in a bumping area dubbed “Soho” of London’s West End. Pubs, restaurants, theaters, and jubilant shouts of “cheers!” coax a twinkle of gaiety (or even mischief) from the downcast eye. Though we only experienced a fraction of the nightlife Soho has to offer, our favorite spot was a little cocktail bar called Jimi Loves Gloria. If RuPaul’s face is part of the wallpaper pattern it has to be good, and the stream of Bowie from the stereo lifted us from London gutter to glam-rock heaven.

 

Unfortunately, Big Ben was feeling a little camera shy and covered himself in scaffolding. Still, such a gorgeous face!

Next, the majestic wilderness of central Wales!

Cheers,

Julius

Reading: Ulysses (James Joyce)

Listening: “She Like I’m Like” -Young M.A.

Now I’m reclining in a small, red leather couch. A small, red leather couch in a small cottage in a large farm within Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales to be precise. A massive Newfoundland is keeping vigil on the front porch as I type. I don’t know his name, so I’ve resorted to calling him “Doggo Jones.” He’s a very stoic, very good boy. I must admit I’ve been remiss in my blogging duties as of late. Between a bout of chest sickness and the day to day logistics of traveling (primarily walking) all over the place, the tank has been hovering around ‘E’ by nightfall for the last week or so. Though today, surrounded by green pastures and fastidious farm animals, I feel recharged. So now, if you’ll pardon the hiatus, allow me to recount our last days in the Big Apple!

The eighth day of our journey was without doubt the least compelling thus far. Unfortunately, it was spent sorting out a technical issue with our main external hard drive. Whenever plugged in, the damned thing would fry the computer and force a shutdown. This was bad news, as this particular hard drive was (and still is, thankfully) the depot for nearly all of the images we’d collected between Omaha and NYC. Plus, it was brand new and pricey. Sarah and I spent hours trying to figure out the issue. Our only respite was a visit to an anonymous deli down the street. I say anonymous because I can’t remember the name nor can I find it on Google maps. Just one of those days! Eventually we discovered the root of the problem: a faulty lightning cable. Luckily we could still connect through your run-of-the-mill micro-usb. Crisis averted. The only excitement occurred later that night. The shriek of the fire alarm sent Sarah and I out of our bed and into a scramble. I grabbed my laptop and my passport and we filed into a narrow staircase with the rest of hotel guests. Apparently, it was a false alarm. I asked a little girl outside if her stuffed animal dragon was the one responsible. She giggled and shook her head no. I reckon a different magic dragon may have been the culprit… 

With technology placated, the ninth day was spent reattaining a more human connection. An advertisement reading “The Best Damn Chicken Fingers You’ve Ever Had” caught our eye. It belonged to Sticky’s Finger Joint, and the bold proclamation won our patronage. Perhaps it was my empty stomach, perhaps the remarkable variety of sauces paired with tender, crispy chicken, but at the time I couldn’t recall having better. Talk is cheap, but so were the chicken fingers, and they were damn good. After lunch we head to Sarah’s go-to photography equipment purveyor, B & H. She’d seen the value of my backpack’s hip strap and found B & H carried one for her pack. Despite the many shiny temptations the store offered, I convinced her the only technology we needed concerned weight displacement. We left with a new strap and a weight off Sarah’s back. Across the street and over a pint at yet another Irish pub, McGarry’s, we discussed our next move. Another recommendation had been to catch a concert at the historic Bowery Ball Room in the Lower East Side. I checked online, and sure enough there was a booking for that night. Though I’d never heard of Mark Guiliana before, once we’d seen he’d preformed with Bowie regularly, we were sold.

Back in the Lower East Side, we stopped at a moody hipster haven called the Home Sweet Home. A spectacled cobra and a mongoose wage perpetual war in a taxidermy display near the entrance. Candles and a single shimmering disco ball provide the only light sources. I felt quite at home sipping suds there. Finally, we hit the venue. The interior bar is warm and venerable. Upstairs, the concert hall. Ringed by a dark-wood balcony with yet another bar looming center, the ballroom is spacious yet intimate, dark and inviting. We walk in half way through the opener’s set, a frenetic and unique ensemble of instruments with equally unique performers at the helm. I’ve never seen a violin chopped so violently, or cello sawed with such fervor, yet the sound produced by yMusic was an enchanting cacophony. Next, the soulful Taylor McFerrin, who even had his sister offer a rapturous R&B hook over silky smooth beats. At last, Mark took the stage, along with a troupe in matching construction-orange hoodies. Their outfits enhanced the industrial flavor of the set, and Mark’s almost machine-like precision on the drums made for some pulse-pounding vibrations on the floor. We left the Bowery a little deafer, but satisfied.

Our final day in NYC was spent doing laundry. This meant I was out in the streets wearing shorts, a coat with nothing under, and some purple knee-high socks. I felt like a true blue New York trendsetter. Before the airport, we got our last little taste of Mexican food at Taqueria Diana– delicious traditional tacos and quesadillas. Highly recommend!

Next, our first international destination, Marrakesh!

Cheers,

Julius

Reading: Ulysses (James Joyce)

Listening: To Pimp a Butterfly (Kendrick Lamar)

Sarah and I arrive at New York City’s Penn Station after nightfall. Foggy from the hours in the cramped train car, yet giddy at the prospect of reaching another itinerary destination, we squirm our way through the busy platform and find our way to the streets. Emerging from underground, we take our first gulp of New York City air; dense, a little smoggy, yet sizzling with gritty energy. We marvel at the great swathes of people, their multitude looks and languages and accents blending and crashing around us. Shouldering our packs, we descend further into the concrete jungle. Beneath the canopy of skyscrapers and high-rise apartments, through thickets of food stands and merchant carts, upon cigarette-butt and candy-wrapper speckled trails, we trek. The great starry gaze of American deities follows our progress through Time Square; even the illustrious Michael Phelps, illuminated and thousands of feet tall, smiles down on us (advertising dog food, of all things). Finally, to the delight of our weary calves, we reach the Pod Hotel in the Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan.

For $100 a night, the Pod Hotel is definitely one of your best bets if you’re looking for something even remotely affordable in Manhattan (if you want your own room, anyways). The place is modern, in a convenient/fun part of town, and sports fantastic showers (two faucets; one on the wall, one ‘rain style’ above). There’s even a Polynesian themed bar connected to the lobby, though we never ventured in ourselves. No, our favorite haunt, and most visited on account of being across the street from our hotel, was Dave’s Tavern. We stopped in for the first time after dropping off our packs, and were delighted by the grungy dive interior and the cheap beers on tap. A snarling boar’s head overlooks the scene, thousands of stickers (including one our own) forming a colorful and eclectic mane around the bar itself. Though there’s only one pool table, it seemed a popular spot for the game. On that first night, Sarah and I witnessed a “duel” between two rival pool squads. A young woman squared off against a stocky fellow in the first round, and the match was heated. Between shots, teammates would whisper into the players’ ears, offering tactical advice and encouragement. Their level of skill was astounding. A tough looking guy approached us and asked if I was taking a picture of his ass. “Not intentionally, sorry.” Oops. Luckily he laughed it off and we enjoyed more sharp-shooting games of pool before heading out. Next door is a small establishment called FOODY’S DUMPLINGS. Delicious fried dumplings for anyone seeking a quick snack!

Craving some live music, we wandered into a cute little jazz club called SWING 46. As it so happened, we were just in time for dance lessons. Sarah (and our instructor) graciously endured my second left foot as I attempted to learn some formal dance technique (I’m usually more of a ‘free-form’ dancer, for lack of a better term.) After the lesson, a fully loaded swing band took the stage and thrummed up some classics, though shamefully I only recognized the Frank Sinatra (Fly Me to the Moon). Sarah and I cut a rug, which I’m sure pleased the band since we were the only ones to do so. Next, we headed to a quaint little gay bar and joined the locals in mocking an introductory episode of The Bachelor airing at the time. Tired and little drunk, we ended the night with some 99 Cent Pizza. I could hardly mask my joy at the size and cheesiness of such a cheap slice! (Pizza Boy 4 Life!!!)

Our first full day began with coffee (of course) at the unassuming Empire Coffee and Tea Company. Next, lunch at Nizza, where the $10 home-made pasta lunch special was too good to pass up. It was here that Sarah and I cast out our narrow lines of communication, each knowing an Omaha to NYC transplant apiece and hoping for recommendations. Both came through, and we set our sights on a change of scenery for later that night. Taking the subway from Time Square, we cut through The Village and arrived in the Lower East Side. A place that both of our contacts had recommended was Ippudo, an upscale ramen place with rave reviews. Though we had to linger at the bar for about an hour, the wait was well worth it. Froth from our Asahi beers complimented the broth of our premium ramen. For Sarah, the Karaka Spicy: “Pork tonkotsu broth, thin noodles, pork belly, chashu, sesame kikurage mushrooms, scallions, cabbage, fragrant garlic oil, topped with Ippudo’s special blend of hot spices.” For me, the special: “tonkotsu pork soup mixed with 3 kinds of Japanese miso for a mild and rich flavor, sliced pork chashu, sansho minced pork, scallion, shiraganegi, miso paste, and fragrant garlic oil.” I can say with confidence that the ramen here rivaled the quality we’d experienced last year in Japan. Simply delicious.

Invigorated by our outstanding meal, Sarah and I took to the streets in search of a local nightclub called the Kind Regards. Hip, youthful, and low-key, we met with Sarah’s contact Dalton. A fellow Westside graduate, Dalton is a fashion designer, DJ, and all around cool dude. Between chopping up some mesmerizing beats on the turntable, he issued us free drink tickets and we enjoyed some tantalizing craft cocktails and unrelenting good vibes. Thanks again Dalton! After a couple hours, flushed with drink and smiling like buffoons, we head for the hotel… And take the train the wrong way. Luckily, our midnight visit to Brooklyn was brief and we quickly sort out how to get back. Returning to Hell’s Kitchen, four bucks means four slices of pizza in our stomachs. The perfect midnight snack before bed!

 

 

 

Stay tuned for more.

Cheers,

Julius

 

Reading: Ulysses (James Joyce)

Listening: Lofi Hip Hop Radio (YouTube)

Now I’m sitting in a train car, the locomotive sputtering toward New York City along rough, icy stretches of track. My laptop keys vibrate beneath my fingertips as the train shivers on. It’s admittedly a tad difficult to concentrate. However, I can’t help but reflect over my last two days in “Chi-town” as the Midwest, with its familiar customs and voices, gives way to the Eastern United States with each passing mile (a place I haven’t known since infancy).

Saturday morning through the afternoon was spent diligently enough, with me writing and Sarah performing site maintenance and various photography tasks (downloading, uploading,  editing, etc.) As Bowie said, we wanted to “stay in and get things done.” Until dusk, anyways. As the sun descended we climbed the metro stairs to meet an old friend (and to make a new one).

Early for our rendezvous, Sarah and I wandered into O’Leary’s Public House for a quick pint. Low-hanging Chandeliers and an oak interior suffused the pub with an innate feeling of warmth while the presence of Christmas wreathes and other seasonal knickknacks reminded us that the holiday season was still very much in effect. “Cheers!” Much to celebrate. The barkeep was even generous enough to wave $20 minimum on credit cart purchases (oops) as we departed. Good will still lingered here too, it seemed.


From O’Leary’s it was a quick jaunt to our rendezvous point: The Wildfire Restaurant. Visiting the States from Zurich, Switzerland, my mom’s good friend Melinda (and ours’, duh) received us with drinks, appetizers, and introductions. We had the fine opportunity to reconnect, or in Sarah’s case, meet Melinda’s friends and family. This only seemed appropriate, as Melinda had parlayed and partied with many of our close friends just this past New Year’s Eve. I remember admiring her tact in the face of such hooliganism… Though our gathering was bitterly brief, I have a feeling we’ll cross paths later this year. Especially if she jingles more of those heavenly Swiss chocolate coins our way (the currency of the gods, I swear).

Leaving Melinda to enjoy a family dinner, Sarah and I attempted to enter an establishment called The Blind Dragon. Locked. (Turns out we weren’t really at the entrance). Oh well, what’s next door? The appropriately named FOUND bar. Sleek marble bar-tops and a shimmering assortment of fine booze left us equal parts dazzled and dehydrated. Happy hour priced cocktails with upscale descriptions seemed a good bet. A few gilded barstools down, another patron chimed: “So where all are you going?” She’d overheard our chatter with the barkeep, and with earnest we elaborated. Adrienne, a transplant from Michigan, had nothing but kind words and encouragement regarding our excursion. Soon, we were discussing the real estate market, regional politics, and our shared awe at the religiosity of Big Ten Football. Adrienne was kind enough to buy us another round and we clinked glasses and cracked jokes until our growling stomachs inevitably intervened. Reinforcing our prior inclinations towards a corner shop called Al’s Italian Beef, Adrienne wished us luck on our journey (for full experiences and stomachs alike).

Al’s Italian Beef is a Chicago staple, and for good reason. A no nonsense sandwich and sausage joint, we tried one of each to great delight. Photographs of famous visitors crowned the walls, and a picture of the late Anthony Bourdain underscored our hunger for adventure and tasty food. Prioritizing a good night’s rest, we headed back to the Hostel International in preparation of the day ahead.

 

 

 


 

On Adrienne’s recommendation, we headed to Wicker Park the following morning. Hip, youthful, and aswarm with local charm, we settled in for some much needed caffeine at Bru, a neighborhood coffee shop flush with cozy couches and smooth tracks on the stereo. Sarah worked on the computer and I devoured a good chunk of Ulysses, awaiting our chauffeur. Yes, that’s right, a free ride from none other than my darling little sister Honor who made the trip to Chicago to see us off one final time. After a brief stop at her friend Sydney’s (thank you for the hospitality and the White Claws!) we again took to the streets, satisfied with cruising and drinking in the sights. By nightfall we found ourselves traveling South on Highway 41, great yawning Lake Michigan on our left, lush and lustrous Grant park on our right. Skyscrapers loomed in the distance, their soft lights filtering through the cool night, ghostly and enchanting.

How lovely.


Soon after, the three of us enjoyed an incredible seafood dinner at the Lowcountry restaurant in South Loop. The self-proclaimed “hottest spot for boil-in-a-bag seafood” in Chicago, Lowcountry isn’t bluffing. Stepping onto a motley of different colored planks, your senses are immediately met by the vibrant foliage bursting from the ceiling and the crisp scent of lemongrass and cajun seasoning wafting from the kitchen. Red and white checkered picnic tables line the dining area, some amidst a delicate bramble of artificial grass. The ambiance is simultaneously modern yet homey. Though Sarah, Honor, and I were plenty hungry, a quick scan of the menu revealed the “For 2” as the ideal portion for us (though I’m sure the “For 3” would satisfy big eaters). A pound of headless shrimp, another of snow crab legs, six pieces of corn, six supple lumps of cornbread, and two soft drinks sounded plenty to tide us over. After a fairly short wait, our order arrived. Behold: everything previously mentioned (sans cornbread) waiting to erupt from a durable plastic bag. All marinated in a marvelous blend of garlic, lemon-pepper, and cajun seasoning (the ‘EVERYTHANG’ mix, which I’d highly recommend) we hungrily sliced the bag open and began to feast. We took primeval glee in devouring the meal with our hands, with everything steamed and saturated in the delicious blend. “It’s finger-lickin’, finger-lickin’ good ya’ll” (Beastie Boys). Honor and Sarah looked super cute in their bibs. Will definitely return!

 

Now onto another feast… The Big Apple!

Cheers,

Julius

We’ve arrived at our first itinerary destination. Our eight hour train ride ended at Union Station in the heart of downtown Chicago. Dark, damp, and industrial, the station platform seemed at first like a cold reception. Once inside the station proper, however, our shivering ceased and we were warmed by radiant marbled staircases flowing upwards unto the clamoring streets above. Exhausted of anything to do with rails, Sarah and I hoofed it about for about twenty-five minutes (no small task considering the weight of our packs, at least 50 lbs a piece) until we reached the Hostel International Chicago. So far I have nothing but good things to say about the place; modern amenities, a private bedroom (shared bathroom and living area), and a mere five-minute walk from the nearest metro station all for $55 a night (this includes both of us). Not too shabby.

           

With nothing in our gut but some overpriced Amtrak potato chips, our next most pertinent need became food. Something decadent but cheap, something to awaken our inner gluttons while quieting the needling protests of our wallets… Eureka! A meaty slab of Chicago-style deep dish pizza. What else? That’s how we found ourselves at Gino’s East (South Loop) directly after shouldering off our packs. House made mozzarella sticks and a 9” pie took us straight to carbohydrate heaven, the reversal of toppings (sauce, meat and veg, then cheese) adding some much appreciated novelty to the meal. Upon discovering that we were far from home, our overbooked waitress was kind enough to take the time to explain that we should venture out from Chicago’s “touristy” urban center in favor of some neighborhood fare. We took her up on it and navigated to Lincoln Park the following day.

Upon departing the metro, Sarah was kind enough to personally survey the health of the local dog population. Yep, a nice healthy log right on the bottom of her shoe. She’s quite the dog lover, you know. Missteps aside, our walk East on Fullerton Parkway towards Lincoln Park was a pleasant one. Edwardian style houses lined the street, parted occasionally by the monolithic steeples of local churches. Along the way, a dashing blind man carved a path of sound to some unknown destination. We followed his rhythmic tapping, and his fedora, to lunch that day. If you’ve ever wanted to encounter cheeseburger built horizontally rather than vertically, this is the spot for you. We split a 12” “Bro Burger” Philly from Chicago’s own halal adhering Philly Bro’s restaurant. Yum.

The absence of skyscrapers on the horizon was the first hint that we were approaching our penultimate destination. Behold, Lake Michigan! A waveless mass of blue undulating softly in every direction. A severe outcrop of skyscrapers meeting the timid waters at the southerly shore. Marvelous. We snap some photos and head back to prepare for the night ahead.

Admittedly not knowing as much as we should about our fellow Midwestern city, Sarah and I landed on ‘jazz’ as something we’d like to encounter in terms of Chicago nightlife. Hoping for some live music, we were instead treated to Ed Sheeran and other contemporary pop at the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the Hancock Tower. Though the music did it no justice, the ambiance was incredible. From up there, the lights of Chicago mirrored the candle at our table flickering demurely, longingly. Their combined luminescence formed a hazy glow above the city. Beneath and above it all, Sarah was there. Absolutely stunning. After a stiff cocktail we descended in search of jazzier pastures.

Another 20 minute walk (thankfully with only satchel and ‘murse’ in tow) found us at the Winter’s Jazz Club. Dark, moody, and intimate, this space had all the trappings of what we were looking for. We’d arrived early enough to skip the cover, though only seats at the bar went unreserved. No issue, as an opening in the center of the bar offered the perfect frame for the stage beyond. We also had the good fortune of meeting Jane, originally from Zimbabwe (though English in parentage and accent) with whom we discussed everything from politics and inflated college tuition, to life philosophy and, of course, travel. Though settled in Woodstock, Jane shared with us her experiences with world travel (of which there were many) and Sarah and I expressed both our envy (at the cost) and our shock (at the relative lack of safety regulations) that traveling in the 80s afforded compared to now. Together we sipped whiskey, our cheeks growing rosier and our hearts growing closer before at last, the band took the stage. The Victor Goines Quartet Band did not disappoint, as Goines’s buttery smooth tenor sax lifted the entire room before the band’s drummer punched out an uproarious beat before slowly, yet steadily decreasing the same arrangement to hardly beyond a whisper. The crowd was spellbound, us included. After a few more performances, including a dynamite rendition of Horace Silver’s “The Natives Are Restless Tonight,” hunger got the best of us and we bid Jane a heartfelt farewell.

In an attempt to ward off the quickly declining temperature, we decided on something hot and spicy. The Indian Garden did not disappoint, as we shared a pot of Murg Madras (chicken cooked In spicy gravy with coconut milk & coconut powder) and two steaming bowls of mulligatawny. Delicious.

Enjoying Chicago even more than expected so far.

Stay tuned for more.

Cheers,

Julius

 

A day that has long been shrouded in abstraction is beginning to take form. On this cool January night, the second day of the year 2020, I sit dumfounded and amazed. Mournful yet exuberant. I have yet to lay eyes on that track of cold steel that promises anything and everything besides a set path. With Sarah at my side, and Tyler at her’s, I’m prepared to face the unknown. With love, together; revelation.

In the depth of winter, I finally found that within me there lay an invincible summer.” -Albert Camus

Take good risks.” –Tyler Lemke

Onwards! Chicago! Ho!

**Thank you to everyone that gathered to send us off, though I doubt I’ll be so grateful for the hangover later this morning ;)**

Cheers,

Julius