The quickie Chicago Tour of Awesome in photos

Chicago is no small city, especially after spending time in Omaha.

It’s huge. Huge.

I grew up in a suburb of Washington, DC, which basically doesn’t have any skyscrapers. Then, living in Las Vegas, the closest thing to skyscrapers we got were the resorts on The Strip.

So, coming in to Chicago and seeing those tall, lanky buildings shooting upwards towards the clouds bordered on absolutely awesome.

This isn’t my first visit to Chicago, but it is my first time as an adult.

Waking up following a good night’s sleep inside my “blanket burrito” at the Hyatt Regency is bliss. It’s the first time in days that I’ve felt well-rested.

Erica and I pack up our belongings, grab the car from valet and head to the ‘burbs to meet Katie, a dear friend of mine from my previous travels.

Then, we head back to the city via her quaint little town of Hinsdale (with a stop for a Chicago Hot Dog) and  the Metra, landing us at Union Station.

With budget in mind (we didn’t have much), Katie crafts a nearly-free tour of the Windy City.

We start by passing the Sears Tower (yes, I know that is not the name), with a walk across the Chicago River, then walk to the financial district …

… and Garrett Popcorn Shop for some of the famous popcorn.

The cheddar and caramel is the popular Chicago Mix for all you lovers of the puffy kernels wanting to try something truly “Chicago.”

Even with clouds hanging low and the chance of rain lingering, we continue on to the gorgeous grounds of the Art Institute and then Millennium Park.

Our first stop at the park is the Crown Fountain. It’s actually two glass towers that feature LED lighting and images of more than 1,000 Chicagoans’ faces. On this day, even with the lingering clouds and threat of rain, children and adults alike frolic in the shallow water.

When a stream of water comes out of the mouths of the images, children giggle with delight while we sit back and watch.

After the fountain, we stroll over to the famous Cloud Gate, a huge structure that visitors flock to daily.

We stick around Cloud Gate for a good bit, taking photos and exploring the area immediately surrounding it.

In true Winos on the Road fashion, after Cloud Gate, we head to the Fairmont Chicago for a quick glass of wine at Eno Wine Room before its time to return to Hinsdale.

On our train home, somehow we end up in the “quiet car.” Of course, keeping three giddy travelers high on the city quiet is no easy feat.

 

Just before the train begins its chugging, I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn around.

“This is the quiet car,” the woman behind me says sternly, pointing to the blue sticker that looks as if it was just slapped on the wall of the car yesterday.

I close my mouth, along with the other girls. For the remainder of the trip home, we silently make faces, do little dances in our seat and send each other text messages.

Katie’s mom picks us up from the depot in Hinsdale and we head back to their house, where champagne, wine and the most amazing lobster pot pie ever awaits us.

In the morning, Erica and I begin our journey to Louisville, Kentucky … the last stop before we arrive to my parents house in Maryland.

Editor’s Note: This post is a part of the #winosontheroad series. Over Yonderlust and d travels ’round went road tripping and exploring America from Colorado to Maryland in June 2012. Be sure to check out all of the posts of life on the open road.

 

Americas Blog Illinois

The art of a good night’s sleep

I can feel myself getting sick. I’ve felt it for days, but originally brushed it off as altitude sickness when I was in the Rocky Mountains.

But now … in Chicago … I can feel a gland pop up on the side of my throat. I can feel my head begin to thump.

This is not good.

Erica and I had wanted to go out on our first night in town. Wanted to explore the city beyond just the Hyatt Regency, but, after dinner and drinks, we just couldn’t move beyond the safe confines of our plush hotel room.

And, for both of us, that is just fine.

Our trip en route to Chicago from Omaha was uneventful, just like our drive through Nebraska.

Crossing into Iowa from Omaha was absolutely beautiful.

Fields of green and yellow, dotted with trees against a bright blue sky and fluffy, popcorn clouds provided for those special moments of awe. With so much gorgeous out of our windows, it made the trip fly by.

Clocking in at around 470 miles, we figured we’d get there in less than six hours.

Then, Katie, who we were visiting the next day, called. When we thought we were about half-way there.

“So, I will think of you in six hours when you get in to town,” she said before we hung up the phone.

“Oh, no,” I corrected her. “We only have three hours left. We’ll be there before five.”

About two hours later, I realize she’s right.

We are stopped. In horrific traffic. For more than 20 miles. For two hours, we creep along as cars snake their way in front of us. The skyline of Chicago teases us in the far distance.

I just want to get there.

Finally, we exit off of the highway and being our drive through the city.

Coming from my home of Las Vegas, entering Chicago is like another world. The buildings here tower over us as people begin to leave their offices and head home. There is this hum … a pulsing energy that reaches up through my car and wraps around me.

I can feel the city in my bones. That hum of excitement. That LIFE.

It’s simply magnificent.

When we finally arrive to the Hyatt Regency, we have 10 minutes to freshen up and meet someone for dinner and drinks.

Erica and I walk into our room and immediately love it. It’s spacious. It’s got two inviting beds. And, the view is nothing short of fantastic.

We rush through getting ready, throwing a little color on our faces, changing out of our driving clothes and into less casual clothing.

The two glasses of wine and food are just what we needed at Big Bar, one of the drinking and dining options at the hotel.

We sit at a high top as we look out onto the city, thanks to one entire side of the restaurant being made of glass.

We have enough energy for one more drink before we head back to our room.

Tucked into the 31st floor, she and I both sit and stare out the huge window at the night sky. Dotted with twinkling lights that reflect into the Chicago River.

It’s nearly magical.

After showering, I climb into my own bed. And bliss.

My head sinks in to the mountain of pillows under it. I curl up, pulling the thick comforter under my neck. I’m tucked in without even having to exert any effort.

It is absolutely lovely.

The next morning, we are supposed to wake up early and head to Hinsdale, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, to go and meet Katie.

But, I cannot move. The bed has wrapped its sweet arms around me and won’t let me out. It has nearly removed the sick from my body.

Finally, two hours later, Erica and I both get up and head to Hinsdale. Refreshed. Relaxed. And extremely well-rested.

Editor’s Note: This post is a part of the #winosontheroad series. Over Yonderlust and d travels ’round went road tripping and exploring America from Colorado to Maryland in June 2012. Be sure to check out all of the posts of life on the open road.

I was a guest of the Hyatt Regency during my stay, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read my disclosure policy 

 

Americas Blog Illinois Iowa

Omaha: somewhere (awesome) in Middle America

“Why are you going to Omaha?”

Nearly every person who I told about my road trip asked in the days leading up to the cross-country adventure.

It’s an easy answer, really: two of my closest friends who know me very well told me to go. That’s it. There was no research. There was no hemming or hawing. It was simple. They said “go.” I put it on the itinerary.

So, trusting them, Erica and I pulled up to Howard Street in Downtown Omaha. Running perpendicular to the river, Howard Street is this little hamlet of quaint, restaurant-lined adorableness.

Old brick buildings baring marks of decades past with faded paint and rickety awnings give way to a patio-lined street on a brick road dotted with restaurants and bars with ample outdoor dining to take in the summer weather. And, as Erica and I sit at one of the town’s award-winning (and inexpensive) restaurants, Indian Oven, we are delighted at the charm this city oozes.

People here are friendly. Even when a driver cuts me off as we turn out of Super 8 and onto the main road, she waves, smiles apologetically and keeps going. (Which of course delights the two of us, resulting in comments to the extent of “Oh, what a sweetheart!”)

When we walk inside the restaurant to take the obligatory photos, Erica and I meet Kim Reid Kuhn, a local artist who is about to have a show there.

As we look at her work, she politely asks us if we would like to see her studio down the street.

Of course, we oblige.

 

Kimberly, along with another artist, Sarah Rowe, guide us on a walk past antique shops, vintage stores and restaurants, before we arrive to her studio. The old building with brick walls and corridors that end with huge windows letting in blankets of light, is home to numerous studios and apartments.

We enter her space and both of us smile with delight.

We are in Omaha. And have already met people to make this trip memorable.

“You all want to come out with us tonight?” Kimberly asks as we walk around her studio, taking in her latest work — a huge piece of canvas secured to the wall. “We can show you all of the cool dive bars in town.”

Erica looks at me like she just got the best present in the world — eyes wide, smile encompassing her entire face. I am pretty sure her delight at being asked mimics mine.

Why, yes. Yes, we do.

We spend a few more minutes chatting with the two artists, learning about their work and marveling at their talents, and then head out.

Later that night, after dinner and a quick walk through a little slice of downtown, we find ourselves sipping PBR for $1.75 in Midtown at a punk rock bar, Brother’s Lounge.

The bathroom at Brother’s, complete with a false lash.

“Let’s do this tour!” Kimberly exclaims as we scoot out of the first bar and head to the next, Bud Olson Bar.

When we pull up and parallel park in front of the bar, she give us a friendly warning.

“This bar … it is old men and old hookers, plus an ugly mural in the back room and birthday cake on the ceiling.”

You have to see it to believe it.

We walk into Olson’s and the smell of cat piss permeates the air. Tonight, there aren’t many old men or old hookers there. But, just walking in and sitting at the long, smelly bar seems oddly comfortable. It is a neighborhood bar, a place that has long since vanished from many cities I have visited.

Kim and Sarah know the bartender and when we go in the back to take photos of the mural, no one questions us or our loud laughter.

Then, it’s on to the last stop of the night, Oleavers, a “club” with a mix of artists, musicians and hipsters.

“Careful, you can get an STD here just by taking off your shoes,” Kim warns, laughing.

Yes, I did sit on this chair.

For a couple of hours, Kim, Sarah, Erica and I hold court at the bar, learning about the music and art culture in Omaha. We chat with the bartender, a skinny guy with thinning hair and a full beard who wears a red and blue tasselled shirt and proudly pulls out a calendar featuring the Oleavers staff. His photo instantly draws smiles. He’s perched on a motorcycle, shirtless, doing his best “rawr,” complete with a come hither look.

When it is time to go, the owner of the bar takes us into a back room to give Erica and I “gifts” to take with us — a LP, a torn poster, his employee’s Christmas stockings from last year. When he tries to give us a bottle of lighter fluid, we pass. Arms full of these little tokens of our night, we head back to our hotel on the other side of town.

As we drive home, late into the evening, Erica and I take it all in.

What an amazing night, we say to each other on repeat.

One meal, one little decision, changed our entire time in Omaha.

And, that, my friends, is the beauty of travel. And Omaha.

Editor’s Note: This post is a part of the #winosontheroad series. Over Yonderlust and d travels ’round went road tripping and exploring America from Colorado to Maryland in June 2012. Be sure to check out all of the posts of life on the open road.

Americas Blog Nebraska

There’s more to Nebraska than flat roads

“Oh my god,” I moan, pounding my head against the steering wheel as Erica and I drive east towards Nebraska from Denver. “It’s flat … forever!”

I look towards the horizon and see nothing but straight road, surrounded by flat farmland as we progress away from the Rockies and towards America’s Bread Basket.

“This is going to suck,” I say, half under my breath.

I’ve done road trips across America twice already and one thing has remained consistent: the middle of America is one hell of a boring drive if sticking to the interstates.

Two lanes on each side. A few trucks. Lots and lots of flat land that give way to gentle rolling hills.

I’ve seen it on I-70. I’ve seen it on I-40. And now, I get to see the same, in all of its flat glory, on I-80.

Only, this time, Erica and I have a plan.

Well, a little plan.

We’re going to make it fun.

So, as I kick my left foot up against the dash and roll my eyes at the landscape, Erica pulls out her iPhone and we start to shoot video of our ramblings.

When, after hours of driving, we hit the Nebraska border, I pull over and we get out to celebrate at the Nebraska sign. We have a little photo shoot. [Note: if you want to see even more cool photos of our cross-country trip, check out Erica’s post that features some amazing pics from out the window of the car.]

Then, we hop back in the car until we see a place to stop to film a “must see” spot along side the road. As trucks whizz by, she and I treat ourselves to a little break from the monotony and have fun with our stop.

We giggle like teenagers at our own silliness. (Editor’s Note: I’m pretty sure only Erica and I find any of this funny, but still!)

Hey, whatever makes the trip fly by, right?

Outside, in the heat (hello, 100-plus degrees) and humidity (I’m so very sorry, hair), we notice the beauty around us.

Yes, the road may be flat, but within that flatness is a still and a calm. A piece of nearly untouched land that is home to roaming cows, fields that will soon spring to life, and views that, on a stormy day, must be nothing short of simply spectacular.

When we finally reach Paxton, Neb., the two of us, only on our first day of our trip, are achy. Hungry. Ready to go and see this little town that has earned itself a niche for one particular spot — Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse & Lounge.

As we roll through town in the Prius, we are greeted to a little snapshot of a simpler life where one main road crosses through fields. Where a gas station has painted on its side the offerings, including ammo.

“Oh my gosh,” we both say softly as we park the car on the side of the main road.

Across from Ole’s is a winery. It’s not open, but we press our faces to the glass, longing to try a pour of the Nebraska wine. Then, we cross back over to Ole’s and step inside and are instantly transported to another world.

The restaurant, known for one of the largest collections of taxidermy in the world, is dimly lit with a long bar dotted with stuffed ducks, birds and more. While I am not a fan of hunting for sport, and certainly got the creepy crawlies eating with these once-living mounted animals on the wall, I did appreciate where I was and the fact that not everyone agrees with my particular point of view.

Over a late lunch, we figure out a place to stay 300 miles down the road in Omaha, and book a hotel (Super 8) just outside of downtown.

And then, we are off … again. This time, into the Nebraska sunset, alive with glorious colors that dance off the fields of green.

Editor’s Note: This post is a part of the #winosontheroad series. Over Yonderlust and d travels ’round went road tripping and exploring America from Colorado to Maryland in June 2012. Be sure to check out all of the posts of life on the open road.

 

Americas Blog Nebraska

Rocky Mountains, sigh

Editor’s Note: This post is a part of the #winosontheroad series. Over Yonderlust and d travels ’round are road tripping and exploring America through June 27. Be sure to check out all of the posts of life on the open road.

The rustic smell of the wooden stairs hits me as soon as we walk in to Pine Ridge Condos in Breckenridge, tucked into the vast expanse of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

It smells spicy, like winter.

The view from Pine Ridge Condos in Breckenridge

I don’t think anything of it when Erica, Shaun and I begin our ascent up the six flights to our condo, carrying two suitcases (because you never know if the warm clothes are needed), my bag of toiletries, my bag with the hair straightener, and my bag with my electronics.

I take the first flight with ease. And the second, too.

Then, it hits me.

I can’t breathe very well. 

My legs turns stiff. My heart races. What would normally take a quick minute to climb the flights of stairs lapses into a story in and of itself. Pauses. Moments where I feel my pulse in my ears. Lots and lots of curse words and mumblings about why the hell the condos are missing an elevator.

I’m not in THIS bad of shape.

High up and feeling ... awful

I like to think I am exempt from all things that suck, like jet lag.

I learned my lesson about jet lag back in September when I crashed and burned hard after arriving to Las Vegas from Thailand (and a disgusting 14-hour time difference).

And, now, this.

I get altitude sickness.

Granted, Breckenridge, where our condo is located, is more than 9,000 feet above sea level.  But, I don’t expect to feel … so entirely shitty.

The three of us clamor up the stairs, heaving by the time we traverse the entirety of the building.

Later, we attend an event a top Keystone, some 11,000 feet above sea level.

“Be careful and drinks a lot of water,” warns our friend. “If you don’t drink water and drink a lot of booze, you could end up in the hospital.”

Gondola rides

I quickly recount the start of our evening, which included two gondola rides with my old friend Anna, Dave (who was my road trip partner from Vegas to Colorado), Erica, Shaun and me. On the second, we were handed champagne as we hovered a good distance above the life on the slope below.

As soon as our friend mentions getting sick so high up, I look down at my glass of wine. At the plate of food I have barely touched.

I don’t want to be that girl.

Even later in the evening, when our group heads down to River Run to drink at Kickapoo, her words repeat in my head.

The entire weekend, my body feels the effects of being in such thin air.

I can’t form sentences correctly. I know what I want to say, but the words just don’t come out right.

I can’t walk great distances without feeling winded.

Stairs? Forget about it. Instead of walking through the tunnel to cross the street safely from the Keystone Lodge to the Conference Center, I opt for risking it and hauling it across Route 6 instead of having to climb the little beastly stairs.

I moan. I complain. I feel like someone is punching me repeatedly in the stomach.

On our last night, as Erica and I discuss the merits of leaving the Rockies a few hours ahead of schedule, the final decision is made because both of us are not only excited to start our cross-country road trip, but to get the hell out of the high altitude and back down to some place where we can feel more normal.

As we crawl into bed, down in Denver, at 2 a.m., it feels incredible to take a big breath of air into my lungs.

Yes, the Rocky Mountains are gorgeous. And yes, by Day Three of being at such a high altitude, I was able to feel more like normal, but in order to get the most out of the region, more than three days are definitely needed.

When the two of us loaded into the car Monday morning, I gave the mountains one last glimpse in my rear view mirror, then smiled.

It’s time to go to Omaha, where we can breathe (a lot) easier.

30 Life Crisis Americas Blog Colorado

On the open road …

It’s dark, but above me I can hear the pitter patter of little feet on the floor. Little voices delighting in the morning.

I roll over.

It’s too early. I’m too tired.

But, I’m awake. Awake. In Denver. Starting Day Four of my Life After Las Vegas.

Laying in bed at my aunt and uncle’s house in Colorado, it has yet to hit me the huge life change I have just endured. The decisions I have made. The hole in my heart.

None of these things have hit me yet, but I know I can feel something.

Movers empty the van

My last days in Vegas came and went with only a little fanfare. My going away party a few days before I left was calm, spent with some of the people in my life I love with all of my heart. The second-to-last night in town, I spent with my best friend and her family, watching a boxing match in the comfort of their home. And my last night in the life I have lived since 2010 was spent with Dave as we prepared for the start of our road trip exploring America and my life as an expat.

Over drinks at the dive bar across from my house, he and I sat together, talking travel.

Absent was the large amount of pain I was feeling about my decision to leave this world. But, the next morning, as the movers hauled my material possessions out of the condo I rent and into storage, as I dropped my cats at their new home, the tears fell freely. Dripping down my face, drying in the desert sun.

This is pain. This is change. This is life.

But then, as quickly as those tears seared their way down my cheeks, they disappeared.

At my last meal in Las Vegas, sitting at the bar at the local wing joint, Dave turned to me.

“This is the start of your new life,” he said.

How can tears fall when there is something so joyous beginning?

Even now, three full days into life post-Las Vegas, I have yet to really cry. The adventure we’ve been on the past few days has been spectacular.

We’ve wandered through Zion National Park, just outside of St. George, Utah.

The entrance to Zion National Park in Utah

During our visit to Zion, we stayed at the “budget” motel, Terrace Brooke Lodge. For a mere $83 (plus tax) a night, we got two beds, slow (and often times non-existent wifi) and quite possibly the worst free breakfast I’ve ever had (including the 60 plus hostels I have stayed at). But, it was fun!

Nighttime at Terrace Brooke Lodge

Aside from the lodging, Springdale, which touches the entrance to Zion, is filled with beautiful restaurants that let guests enjoy the surroundings with huge patios. We checked out Bit & Spur and Oscar’s. Both were great, albeit pricey.

Bit and Spur reflects the stunning Zion

The view from Oscar's

We’ve driven through desolate (and still beautiful) parts of the desert southwest in Utah, complete with obligatory stop in Salinas for Denny’s at 10 a.m with an old friend (it’s the last stop before hitting Colorado, some 100-plus miles beyond).

Denny's

We’ve even cruised through the Rockies.

The Colorado Rockies

Yes, there are times when my heart feels that tinge of pain. When I long to have my cats snuggle in the crook of my arm and fall asleep together. When I realize I don’t have a bed, a home, a life in America anymore.

Then, I remember this is the start of the next amazing adventure. That I am seeing America. That I am going to Thailand. That I am living my life according to my own set of rules.

And that, my friends, is an awesome thing.

30 Life Crisis Americas Blog Colorado Nevada Utah

The price of becoming an expat

 

Curled up in my lap, light blue eyes heavy with sleep, Jagger barely whispers to me, “will you bring my back a coconut to drink from?”

I fight tears as I twirl his blonde shaggy hair between two of my fingers.

“Absolutely,” I promise, even though I know there’s no way I am going to be able to leave Thailand with a coconut. I promise myself to figure it out before I come back to Las Vegas.

As his eyes close, sadness washes over me.

It’s not the first time I’ve felt like this since I’ve made my decision to become an expat.

I don’t want to leave him, or his eight-year-old brother, Presley, or his mother (and one of my closest friends in the world), Kyla. They are my Las Vegas family. And leaving them makes my heart hurt in that way impending loss just aches through your entire body.

When I come home, Jez greets me on the stairs, meowing a conversation to me. She neck-dives into the carpet, turning up her chest for me to scratch. Then, Keeley, the cat I’ve had since 2007, comes down, too. Meowing her approval at my return.

It’s gotten worse lately with the cats. It’s almost as if they sense I am leaving. That I am passing them along to a new home, and the bond we have created, the relationship we have, will cease in a few short weeks.

That tears my heart into shreds.

Even sitting on my couch, taking stock of my Las Vegas life, my gorgeous condo I rent, the paintings that hang on my walls … the life I have here … it makes my head swirl with doubt. With second thoughts.

Am I really ready to exchange this for a new life?

I knew when I returned to Las Vegas it wouldn’t be forever. This is my home, but it isn’t the place I want to live right now.

I know very well that my future does not lie in the southwest desert.

But, as I sit, nearing my last weeks in this town, in this life, I wonder to myself if I really know what it is I am doing.

Within a matter of weeks, my life has changed entirely. I have accepted a position with Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. I have quit my job and gone into business for myself. I have gotten a non-immigrant visa to live in Thailand for one year.

Life changes oh so quickly.

And now … I am leaving the life I have lived since November 2010. Since returning from my long-term travels. I knew this life was not permanent. But suddenly, it’s just so hard to say “goodbye.”

When I left to go on my travels in 2010, I didn’t feel like this. I knew I would be back. I knew it was temporary. This is, too. But, it feels far more permanent. Maybe it is because I am getting older. Maybe it is because I know in the next few years I want kids, and by leaving, by uprooting my life once again, it means I am still as far aways as ever from that goal.

Does it delay me from the inevitable growing up? Or, is this my grown-up life? Where nothing is permanent? Where I live my dreams but at a price of not ever having a truly stationary existence?

The other day at lunch, an editor asked me where I saw myself in five years. I looked at her, dumbfounded.

Five years? I can hardly imagine five months.

The truth is, I don’t know what I want for my future.

Nor do I know the extent of what I want to give up.

Leaving Las Vegas this time is bittersweet. I leave all of my loves behind. My best friends. My cats. My life. And, a few weeks after I leave Las Vegas, I leave my parents, my brother, my niece …

And I exchange it for something brand new. And entirely different. And beautifully wonderful.

30 Life Crisis Americas Nevada