There is nothing quite as all-American as the road trip.
We have been visiting America since 1978 and have covered most of it over the years. This year we decided instead of doing our own thing, we would take a coach tour. We had always steered away from these, thinking they would be full of elderly or lonely people wanting to cling to those looking as if they were having a good time. However, we were pleasantly surprised as they are just the opposite. There’s a good mix of ages, some singles, some couples and different nationalities, our tours have included Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, some from Uruguay as well as Spanish, French and of course us Brits. The seating rotates daily so you are never next to the same person two days in a row, which is a good way to get to know everyone. Of course a major benefit over DIY is everyone, including the driver can always see what is going on, rather than miss the best bits or be constantly pulling over.
This was our second coach trip, the first last year, took us to Spain, Portugal and Morocco, and next year we are planning using the same company to visit India. So all in all, our concerns were totally unfounded and we have become coach tour fans.
For May 2010, we chose to tour America taking in iconic cities associated with music, starting in Chicago. I used to visit the city every quarter when I worked, but OH had not been and I knew he would love it. After arriving at the Windy City early afternoon, we were met by our tour director and transferred to the Essex Inn. Considering the tour had a musical theme, this was an ideal location; Buddy Guy’s Legends club was at the end of the block and the hotel gave good discounts. Our timing couldn´t have been better as the ‘old’ club was still open and the new one was being fitted out so being the sort of folk we are we had a nosey into the new one which is at the far end of the block.
Although I had been to Chicago many times, it was never as a tourist so we took all the tour options. First stop, the Gangster Tour, a romp back to the Roaring Twenties, following the exploits of Capone and Ness. It was fascinating to see the speakeasies, the site of the St Valentine’s Day massacre and where Dillinger was killed. The theatre is exactly as it was, the only difference – the films shown. We even took in some movie locations such as Rays Music Store from “The Blues Brothers”.
Next morning, we walked to the deli on the corner and joined a group of locals for breakfast at $2.95. Only complaint, considering how much they drink, Americans can´t make a decent cup of coffee! Then joined the coach orientation tour, taking in Grant Park, the lakefront and the Museum Campus with its Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum. This is a great location to get photos of Chicago’s famous skyline.
Leaving the coach at the Wrigley Building, we took a River Tour. There are lots of these, ours lasted 75 minutes and although the student guide was terribly boring, everyone was impressed by the architecture. Chicago is one of the biggest and most beautiful modern cities in the world with its tall glass, steel and concrete buildings, but it is a very green city too with many parks and gardens.
The Millennium Park is a relatively new addition to Chicago, since I was there, it has grown incredibly. We loved the “Bean”, and spent a long time catching our reflections and distortions as we wandered around and under it. The Crown fountain two giant glass towers that project images of Chicagoans and spit water much to the delight of children playing in the pool, and the futuristic stainless steel Pritzker Pavilion.
The afternoon was our own so we wandered down to Navy Pier sat in the sun eating our lunch and watched the Ferris wheel slowly turning round and round. Then on to the Willis Tower, our friends’ couldn´t face the Skydeck and I would defy anyone not to feel queasy standing in the glass-bottomed lift. I’m sure the views will save until OH and I return on our own.
Cutting through to the Magnificent Mile, we did a bit of shopping in the Water Tower and finally hopped a local bus back to the hotel where the night’s entertainment was capped with a morsel of heartbreaking blues music.
After all these years, Chicago is still one of my favourite cities. The crowded streets, ethnic bakeries, popular malls still call me back and two days just wasn’t enough so must start planning a longer stay.
Tomorrow, travel across Illinois farmlands and the mighty Mississippi River to St Louis, the ‘Gateway to the West’.