Tag: hostels

Back from Chicago

I don’t know if you guys could tell from the almost 40 Instagram photos I took while in Chicago last weekend, but I had a really good time.  I made new friends, finally met someone I’ve been keeping up with on social media for years, drank good beer, saw a lot of cool things, did a ton of walking, ate great food (although sadly no Chicago-style pizza or hot dogs), and just in general had a blast.  I did a lot of stuff in a short amount of time, so I will try to keep this post appropriately short.

My trip started Friday night with me making a new friend who upgraded me to first class.  I mean, that’s a pretty stellar way to start out.  (And yes, I definitely took advantage of the free drinks.)  I got in to town to find that my hostel was….actually really awesome (aside from once again being stuck with the top bunk).  A friend of mine had bristled when I told him I was staying at a hostel in America–they don’t exactly have great reputations, do they?  Had I known I would love this one that much, I would have stayed in it for my three nights instead of moving to the AirBNB rental, the location of which was out of the way (although it was easy enough to get downtown by bus) and there was little in the neighborhood of interest unless you loved Mexican food–which I do, but not enough to eat it every meal of the day.  After fees, the hostel was actually cheaper than my AirBNB rental and I was already downtown, which meant less time and money spent getting from place to place.  PLUS they give you free towels, breakfast (cereal and bread, but still; if you want more than that, go to the Panera across the street) and wifi, which blew me away since I’d had to pay extra for most of that stuff when staying at hostels in Australia.  One of the guys working at the hostel, Leo, was super cool and we talked for probably 20 minutes or more.  He even gave me his e-mail so we could keep up–to me, it further solidified my idea that people from Chicago seemed so much more polite than people in DC (Uber isn’t allowed to pick you up from the airport, so it can arrange a cab for you, and the driver who got me was also very cool).  Leo also talked about how working at the hostel gave him the opportunity to stay at hostels operated by the Hostelling International chain for free worldwide–hard to argue with that!

The reason I had gotten in Friday night was so that I would already have all of Saturday to accomplish whatever.  My friend Janice now lives in Wisconsin but is from Chicago and had already planned to be in town last weekend, so we finally got to meet over a fantastic lunch at Longman and Eagle, which is spectacularly hipstery and has a miles-long drinks menu.  While we waited for a table, we went in the back to get donuts and beer (definitely recommend the sweet potato donut).  Lunch was absolutely fabulous, and I even managed to eat all of it.

Some friends of mine from DC were also in town, and Janice had suggested that we check out the very busy (and rightfully so) Revolution Brewing, which was yet another excellent suggestion–she and I have very similar taste in beer and she knew it would be a hit (Russian imperial stout Deth’s Tar was my favorite, and not just for the name).  The food was great too, and it was a fun way of celebrating my friend Rachel’s birthday–with bacon fat popcorn and beer.  Isn’t that what everyone does on their birthday?

So Saturday I spent much of the day eating, drinking and being merry with friends.  Sunday I did almost all of my sightseeing.  I went to the David Bowie Is… exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is downtown amidst some touristy shopping and wonderful architecture.  Sadly, photos weren’t allowed inside, but I can gladly say that the exhibit was well worth the trip. There are, of course, lots of classic Bowie outfits and pieces of memorabilia from his life, items representing people or ideas that heavily influenced him (and there are tons of different and diverse influences), as well as clips from his music videos and movie appearances.  (I adored the blue suit from the “Life on Mars?” promotional clip–so funky with the red hair and wild makeup, just performing for the camera against a white background.)  I was surprised that the exhibit was so busy at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning, and pleased that there were people of all ages there–parents with their kids, teenagers, “older” folks who would probably remember vintage Bowie and the days of Ziggy Stardust.  I didn’t spend any time in the other museum exhibits…let’s just say contemporary art is not usually my thing.  (Ahem, you may remember my opinion of the MONA in Hobart…)

The John Hancock Tower was not far away, so I made that my next stop.  I opted not to do the Tilt at 360 Chicago even though it was only $7 more on top of the $18 price of admission.  Shame, really.  Otherwise, the weather was good enough that you could see for miles, and the view was fantastic.

 Afterward, I walked to Navy Pier and wandered around.  There are your typical touristy shops, and quite unexpectedly, a stained glass museum.  There was also a big “functional art” show that weekend.  I got a bite to eat before making my way back downtown, where I explored the Magnificent Mile for a while, and eventually I stumbled upon Mario Batali’s Eataly, my first experience with the gourmet grocer (that hardly seems like an adequate term for it).  Let the sandwich speak for itself.

The next morning, I was again up early and ventured into the city to see Cloud Gate, a.k.a. the Bean.  It was smaller than I expected it to be, but it was still cool.  I had no idea that Millennium Park had so many art installations, and while I was there, I checked out the temporary Red Bull Art of Can installation of “art” made from–what else?–Red Bull cans.  Okay, maybe that’s contemporary art, but I still thought it was pretty cool.  I just wish my pictures had turned out better–the lighting was not great.

After breakfast, I made my way back to the MCA in the hopes of exchanging my too-small Bowie t-shirt for a larger one, but alas, the museum is closed on Mondays, so I went back to my rental, gathered up my things, and got an Uber ride to the airport…where I was five hours early because my American Airlines flight got changed twice due to problems with two different planes.  Needless to say, I will not be flying with them when I go back to Chicago.

When will I get back to Chicago?  Not sure exactly.  But I would definitely go there again, and not just for the Chicago-specific culinary delights I missed out on this time.

Tomorrow marks two months until my friend Lance and I leave for London.  If you have any advice or recommendations, let me know!  Until next time!

Can I afford to be picky?

Looking for a new place to live come November hasn’t been easy.   Places that sounded too good to be true are, people haven’t responded to my queries, 8 people live in the same apartment in a slightly-out-of-the-way part of the city and still pay $800/month…sigh.  I had thought if worse comes to worse, I could stay in a hostel for a couple of weeks.  A month in a hostel is even more expensive than living in some of these apartments, but at least I wouldn’t have to be part of a lease.  But this week I stayed in a hostel, Backpackers By the Bay, while in Airlie Beach (a town that serves as a jumping-off point for the Whitsundays or where you can drink with other people from the numerous hostels in town, and even then the nightlife was pretty quiet) and wasn’t crazy about the experience. At almost 29, I think I’m a little too old for this, although I did see “older” people staying at the hostels amongst the dozens of under-25s.  Maybe I just like having a room to myself and not having to share with other people. Maybe I like something a little…nicer.  Or I’m too picky.  Am I not adventurous enough? I mean, if I’m in a room alone, I’m not going to meet anyone else unless I go out.  Or maybe I just really hate bunk beds and don’t relish the idea of reliving the college dorm experience all over again.  (Living with people you already know and are on good terms with is completely different to living with strangers in a revolving-door situation where people leave and come in without you ever knowing when they’ll be there.)

Instead of apartment searching, I had this hostel experience in the Whitsunday Islands.    For the record, the hostel itself was fine for what it was; it was clean and no one there seemed like a terribly questionable character.  Some of the other guests said they liked it because it was more chill than others they had been to. All the people who worked there were very nice and more than happy to help you organize trips (you could even get deals booking through them) or arrange your stay around when you would be on said trips.  The islands themselves are exactly as beautiful as any pictures you may have seen online–they need no filters to pretty them up.  The water is crystal clear and waves undulate from jade green to a deep, vibrant aqua.  Whitehaven Beach is particularly beautiful with its white silica sand.  Of course, there are plenty of companies that offer cruises out there, including sailboats that you can actually spend a couple of nights on.  I chose a day trip via Whitehaven Xpress, which was surely more casual and entertaining than any of the other cruises I could have gone on (when I asked a woman working at the hostel which tour I should go on, she asked, “Do you want to make friends or be around families and old people?”). The guys on the boat were very funny, although occasionally they’d crack and let it be known that they were finding it stressful that most of the passengers that day didn’t speak English.  They would joke with (sometimes about) passengers and with each other, climb around the boat like monkeys, and generally have a good time doing all of these things while largely making it look easy and fun.


Upon getting back to Sydney on Thursday, I figured I needed to really devote myself to looking for a new place to live.  I’ve looked at several reputable housesitting websites after reading about this idea on some travel blogs, but a lot of the assignments are short-term and I don’t really want to be moving every week.  I’ve also given thought to roaming around the country a little more, but I don’t know where I would store my giant suitcase while doing so.  I’ve gotten advice from a couple of locals and expats about where to live and where not to live in Sydney, so hopefully soon I’ll be cozying up in a decent place in a fun part of town where I live with cool roommates and not paying a ton of money to do so.  I guess we’ll see what happens.

Until next time.