(To see what this post is all about, check out Day 1 above!)
Day 2, Thanksgiving Day
It’s Thanksgiving Day! I wake up at around 8am, getting a full eight hours of sleep. My legs are feeling SO much better. Today’s gonna be great!
Except that I chose Chicago primarily for their parade, it takes about half an hour to get there, and it starts at 8am! SHOOT.
I ran out of the house ASAP and caught the upcoming train ride, ended up near the end of the parade route. It’s 9am and turns out that nothing has reached there yet, confirmed after asking someone nearby. At the same time I snagged myself a decent spot; I’m right in the front of a corner of a block. It’s almost as if I arrived just in time!
I hadn’t really grown up seeing many parades, so this event was especially stimulating. The cultural diversity, the enormity of the floats, the sheer happiness and joy among the holidays, the closeness of family and friends – the vibes all around are simply amazing. The weather was rather nice as well, being rather cloudy with barely any rains, except that when it rained, it poured in basically two-minute intervals. This is definitely an event worth checking out at least once in your lifetime!
Afterwards at around 11am, I wanted to check out a museum or two right away, grabbing a bite at the museum, but I realize that I didn’t have my CityPass with me! I had wondered where it could have been, remembering that I had it with me coming back home the night before in my camera bag, but it was not there when I checked for it right after the parade. I take the unfortunate trip back to my AirBnb room, scrambling trying to find it, but even more so to my dismay, no luck! I was so frustrated! I tossed out nearly $100, only using it on one event, I’d have to pay MORE if I still wanted to check those places out, and I still had to wait in long lines even after purchasing the fast passes! (The CityPass provides the highest-quality tickets, a bundle for basically half the original price). Even more so, I just wasted an hour half leaving Downtown and coming back. I thought for a while about catching an Uber ride, but my stinginess with my rail pass got the best of me.
After that series of unfortunate events, I decided to go back to the Loop to grab a bite, since by then I was starved! Maybe treating myself to one of the deep-dish pizzas would do the trick. After walking a few minutes, I spot a Pizano’s in sight. Turns out that almost all of Chicago’s renowned pizza places such as Lou Malnati’s and Pequod’s were closed that day, so I settled for this one. Also within my line of sight I saw two homeless men just sitting alongside the sidewalk. Revisiting my gratitude and all my thoughts from the night before at the Christmas tree (and trying to forget about what just happened), I decided to try lend a helping hand, seeing if the two of them were interested in sharing a pizza with me at no cost. (I also thought that this place didn’t sell any individual slices!) They were absolutely ecstatic, expecting zero mercy in Chicago, even during the holidays, and accepted my offer.
We ordered a large, deep-dish pan pizza with pepperoni and sausage. I wasn’t aware that these took an average of 45 minutes to prepare, but I took advantage of that waiting time just trying to get to know the two men and understanding where they had come from. One had actually owned a restaurant of his own in Chicago – a Mexican restaurant – having done well in the beginning but having his business slowly dying out further and further. He was especially committed to keeping his business alive, having high hopes of a turn of events, so he kept investing his resources into this business, spending his own money into advertising, his staff, the food, etc. He finally claimed himself and the business bankrupt after having only $80 left in his pocket.
The second man also suffered through a bankrupt company, but instead he was working as an accountant for a corporation a city or two away from Chicago. He decided to lurk along the streets of Chicago within the Loop, hoping that more traffic would result in good fortune. He was trying to find a new job for almost two years when his funds eventually ran out. He had worked part-time at a local retail store at that time while he kept applying for jobs, but not even that could sustain his lifestyle during that time. Eventually his had to pay more for his rent than he was receiving in paychecks, losing both his home and his job not too long after.
It was so disheartening hearing about the two, so I was extremely relieved and grateful for having made such an impromptu decision. They both admitted to making about $50 on a decent day, and said that with that money they could never afford to eat out like this. Our pizza had finally arrived, and the pizza smelled greater than ever! This was my first time experiencing deep-dish pizza, so it was definitely a treat in itself with its crispy crust and natural ingredients – there was definitely a lot of tomato, that’s for sure. While it was a great meal, I honestly did not think that Chicago’s pizza was to die for; it’d be worth trying out once or twice, but that’d be it. They were so stuffed that they actually begged not to get any dessert! I had only eaten about three slices, a little less than a quarter; they definitely devoured the rest! I was still a little hungry myself, but decided to grab more food later somewhere else.
After the meal I continued on with my travels, wishing them the best of luck and providing them $10 each (unfortunately I rarely carried cash on me, even while traveling, and I didn’t think about an ATM at that time). This was truly an eye-opening experience, and this will definitely be one that I will cherish for a while; I hope they do too.
(Really wish I took a picture with them, or at least of the food, but I was afraid of them thinking I had ill intentions of taking pictures for bragging rights on social media! Definitely was a tough call.)
I decided to check out the museums near the southern end of the parks: Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, and Adler Planetarium. I decided to check out Shedd Aquarium first, since it was around 1:30pm when I arrived and they were to close at 4pm that day. Adler’s website said they would close 5pm (but when I checked it out after, around 3:30pm, they were closed!), and Field Museum also said they would close at 5pm.
For time’s sake, I decided to purchase the general admission, the cheapest option that only involved the first floor. I was going to miss out on whales, dolphins, sharks, and a lot of other exciting sea animals, but I was also aiming to check out another museum after, almost just having the mindset of merely crossing things off Chicago’s bucket list. The general admission ticket still had quite a bit to offer, exhibiting animals from literally all over the world. The cultural diversity was as great as the parade the morning of! I was definitely not used to seeing such a variety. From Asian rivers, seas and lakes in Africa, and rain forests in Europe, everything was such a treat! Unfortunately that didn’t have too much to offer, making my wait time in line (thanks to my missing CityPass!) almost as long as the visit itself! Regards, as soon as I checked out all that I could, I headed off to Adler Planetarium.
Still with the CityPass in mind, I just kept trying to focus on the positives: the more museums I visited, the less each visit would cost when factoring in the sunk cost of the pass; I was on an adventure during the holidays; I was able to treat two people less fortunate than myself; and everything else that was happening in my life was just swell. Eventually it completely left my mind, and I was left admiring the amazing scenery on the way to the planetarium (about a 10-15 minute walk), including Lake Michigan as well as these bizarre zodiac sculptures right in front of the planetarium:
Once I find out that the planetarium was closed, I just wasn’t too sure what to do then. By the time I returned to the main street alongside the parks, it was already past 4, and I knew the Field Museum could not be done within that time. I decided to just walk along the parks, checking out the scenery of Grant Park and its Buckingham Fountain. The fountain itself was nothing special though since it turns out to remain off during the winter and spring seasons, but it was another thing I could cross off that list.
It’s almost 5 as I return to the street perpendicular to Millennium Park. I was then wondering what I was going to eat for dinner; I was starving after only eating about half a meal from lunch. I did a desperate Google search, trying to find a decent Thanksgiving solo meal, anything from more pizza to a more traditional Thanksgiving dinner. All I could find however were 5+ course meals for at the minimum $80 each! That was both way too much food and too expensive for my tastes, especially going solo. While I was aiming for at most a $30 meal, a little searching led me to a $55 3-course meal at Bistronomic. This was only about a 15-minute subway ride away, not too bad at all, so spontaneous fancy dinner it is!
The restaurant itself was completely packed! Fortunately using my solo travels to my advantage, they managed to provide full service to me at the bar without any wait time, even without a reservation.
Since I was at a bar and it was the holidays, I decided to start off by treating myself to a cocktail for the night. Their “Paris Twist” was an interesting citrus drink with Vodka, orange, and lime, and it was so refreshing! For my 3-course meal, I settled on a roast duck confit, roast turkey with stuffed leg, and their “Thanksgiving Dessert,” the “Baked Alaska” (these made-up names weren’t helping me but I was feeling adventurous!). I don’t believe I’ve actually had duck confit before, so to me it was an amazing appetizer, especially with its side salad balancing the weight of the fat and oil. The cranberries’ sweetness complemented everything so well too. The main dish was a mix of a perfectly moist turkey slice, extremely smooth mashed potatoes, string beans, the same raspberries, a sweet potato wedge, and stuffing inside the dark meat of a turkey leg. Everything in that dish was absolutely fantastic. The dessert consisted of ice cream with meringue, a thin cake layer in between the two, and bits of pineapple. This mixture was so unique and definitely worthwhile!
During the meal itself, I was treated by a heartwarming bartender who had actually never served an individual by himself during the holidays before; we chatted a little and he definitely gave me better service than I deserved, seemingly in awe of my adventuring. Since I was at the bar, I also managed to talk to a handful of people coming and going just for drinks, hearing small side stories from all around the world, including New York, Korea, and even Cape Town.
What made my night however was talking to a father-and-son duo all the way from Denmark. The father started talking to me as soon as he sat down, eyeing out my DSLR and how he’s never seen a white one before. The father had come to Chicago for a medical conference later that weekend, and he decided to bring his son for someone to share his experience with; he unfortunately couldn’t bring his daughter nor wife with him. While the father was kind and outgoing, his son was a quiet teenager, guessing around 15, but clearly exuded intelligence, stating when the father asked him about megapixels that the eye has exactly 576 megapixels (a Google search later that evening showed he was 100% right!).
After telling them about my situation, coming to Chicago from San Diego working in the tech industry, they talked about the son’s interests in programming as well. He had been programming for about three years now and is currently working on a simple side project in automatically solving a Rubik’s cube. The boy himself said he’s able to manually solve it in two minutes, not too bad at all! From there we talked about how he got interested into programming, especially at such a young age, and all the potential that’s out here in the US.
The father also seemed a bit confused about America’s schooling system; he kept asking where I went to engineering school after graduating from my university. From there he talked about the system back in Denmark, from its free tuition for all residents to the master’s program in engineering. The three of us had been chatting for quite a while that the two of them decided to join me in dinner at the bar as well; unfortunately I had already finished my main course by the time they decided to stay!
By the end of my conversation with them it was only around 7:30pm. Since it was so early, I decided to explore Downtown just a bit more, spontaneously deciding to check out the Riverwalk. Unfortunately, even this was under construction, so I had to take the ordinary route along the streets. The evening lights, both the natural city lights and all of its Christmas decorations, however were anything but ordinary and reflected along the river beautifully.
After walking for about 45 minutes, I decided to finally catch the rail back home. My legs were absolutely DEAD! Just like the night before my legs were scorching, so I had just lied in bed from 9pm on. However, when I got back, two out of four roommates were there as well, and I got to for the first time truly converse with them. A college girl from Korea but studying in Toronto, as well as another college girl from Taiwan who was studying in Washington DC. It was exciting how their days soloing through Chicago had been as well, almost like living in a parallel universe of my own life. By around 11:00 I had finally crashed, and boy was it the best rest I’ve had in a long time.