Portraits of Chicago #2

If there’s one thing Chicagoans (I mix up what I call them) hate, it’s Navy Pier, “the place where families from Wisconsin who wear fanny packs go.” One of my dates warned me of it, but I’m a tourist and this is a tourist destination. If you have time, have a look. It is very much just a food court, but has good views back to the city and a neglected fareground- two things which fill my heart with a melancholic glee.

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It was meant to be

This was my tourist day, though I was self-powered rather than public transport or taxi, which is a point of difference to most tourists. The two mile walk from Navy Pier up to the Museum Campus is one of the most pleasant stretches in the city, with views to the great lake and back across the greater city. Note that if you are walking along here, you have to have a plan of how you are getting back to the main urban areas. Chicago’s urban planning seems the most overt in its trying to separate tourists from the mainland.

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A foggy Adler Planetarium, with its bus loads of school kids and other miscellaneous tourists

The Near South Side and Prairie Avenue Historic District was among my favourite neighbourhoods in the city. It’s the historian in me. Two of Chicago’s oldest houses – Clarke and Gleeser – call this district their home. Clarke House offers free tours twice daily Wednesday to Friday. I never quite got there in time. There are signs around the neighbourhood which point out the different areas of interest within the four or so block radius, from old mechanics to churches to the aforementioned houses. The district was devoid of people on my visit. People are so reluctant to visit south.

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While I missed Clarke House’s tours, I happened upon the Second Presbytarian Church during its architecture tours hours on a Wednesday (12-3). This was the most beautiful of the churches that I saw in America, and the staff were incredibly knowledgeable, engaging in a long discussion about wide-ranging worldwide architecture. Another British person came in. “You two sound similar”. Historical tour guides often lack social subtlety. A number of the windows are Tiffany, and there was an interesting fact about the window in the entrance, so interesting that I have forgotten it. The limestone/sandstone exterior brickwork is a feature of many of Chicago’s buildings, one which gives a grandeur to the city away from Skyscraperville. The discoloured bricks on this church are in their natural colour. Imperfections add to beauty. Pilgrims should head southwards and away from the fame queen that is the First Presbytarian.

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From south to north, this time to the suburbs of Evanston. The Baha’i House of Worship is on the very northernmost of the El lines (Purple, yeesh). It is impressive, but less so than I had anticipated. All Baha’i temples, of which there are very few, are arranged with nine sides, their magic number. The principles of faith. It billows impressively from the Linden skyline, completely out of place with the large white picket suburban houses, but then again fitting in so well: the middle classes love their crowning jewels. The weather was miserable so I got a mere peek at the gardens before my umbrella dragged me back to the El.

Evanston itself is very affluent-suburban. No fear of knife or gun crime here, unless there was a fight over a bag of reduced chia seeds. Norah recommended me a pie place but it was overpriced, overcrowded and I wanted to head back to the comfort of the city. The suburbs is the most discomfiting of the population clusters for me, and no-one does suburbs quite like the Americans. Clustering features several times in Evanston’s town plan, with supermarkets, coffee shops and churches all presenting visitors with choice without their having to walk at all.

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The Cultural Centre is another “worth a look”. Exit to the underground pedway, and wonder why the Pedway Tours are always oversubscribed. At ground level, the streets around shriek with the culture of theatre and retail. Prepare to elbow your way through tourists.

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A sudden freak hailstorm. I took cover in the former Three Arts Club which is now a ludicrously pompous department store, with each room laid out like a room in a wealthy person’s house. Customers are given champagne before they are sold artwork that starts from $5000. The staff didn’t seem to mind this dripping wet tourist wandering around. Look like you belong and people will expect that you do.

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The Frank Lloyd Wright suburb of Oak Park is worth the visit west, and it’s still included on the El ticket. Brett and I went on Good Friday and had a very good Friday indeed. Where Chicago is friendly, Oak Park is Chicago friendly on crack (that is: very friendly). People smiled and said hi in the street; the woman at the tourist information genuinely seemed happy to be working there an helping people (she even waved us in from the street); drinking in a coffee shop felt like you were a part of the town. I can see why people move to the suburbs in their older age, if the suburb has a small town vibe at least (as opposed to being great domestic sprawl interspersed with supermarkets).

The non-FLW houses reminded Brett of the houses back East and made him miss home a little. He said that Chicago’s buildings didn’t really have much character, which I disagree with. Armed with a map from tourist information and Google maps, we began looking around the high density of Frank Lloyd Wright houses – and Ernest Hemingway’s childhood home – and quickly became self-proclaimed Frank Lloyd Wright experts.

My favourite house is shown below. The upper storey was built twenty years after the original house following a fire. In doing so, it serves as a time capsule of domestic, and FLW, architecture from these different decades. Around Oak Park, Frank Lloyd Wright’s style clearly became an ever-present influence on other architects. This suburb could very easily just be called Frank Lloyd Wrighttown, if that wasn’t such a mouthful. A pilgrimage destination for architectureites and those who crave small town, old America.

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The land between Oak Park and Garfield Park is a great wasteland. If you want to see the range of Chicago’s wealth distribution, take the green line all the way West. Garfield Park Observatory is the preferable observatory in Chicago, and for those who are sick of plants there are good views back to the city: a view to the worship of the urban and the decay of nature. If you want summer or rainforest in Chicago year-round, this is the place. And a fine feat of engineering.

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The view from the train showed a gold building glowing in the near-distance. We went in to explore and were met by the quietest speaking woman that I have ever met. As we moved closer to hear her, the quieter she got. She thought we were lost and was surprised that we wanted to have a look around, but left us to our devices. Half a dozen people popped their heads out of the many rooms in this fading building, all curious at our curiosity. In the basement we were asked if we were here for the dance; we were not. Tis better to be an underused grand ex-municipal building than a derelict one.

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Social events over the weekend included brunch, dance, dragging people to unexpectedly good exhibitions, real American church in a real American high school, and Easter dinner. Sociability is a wonderful thing. Watching Norah dance made me beam with pride and wonder at the hidden (or thus unseen) talents of my friends, even though Duncan Dance is a quite left field practice. The Easter dinner was thrown together but spectacular and has started a sure to be lifelong love affair with s’mores, mac and cheese, ham (someone just had a ham) and “biscuits”. Planning is overrated; the company is crucial. Then karaoke to top it all off, show the Americans’ enthusiasm for it, and my ineptitude in singing.

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I spent my final day wandering around cemeteries, supermarkets and Andersonville more widely. I finally came upon the fake beaches of Lake Michigan and sat down to enjoy my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee (strong, not regular). As I looked across to the city, back to the neighbourhood, then across the vast lake, I took in how much I had grown to love (yes, LOVE) the city and while I felt a stab of sadness to be leaving, to have experienced something so enjoyable was good enough. Norah and I spoke about this phenomenon at the airport before spinning around and generally making a show of ourselves.

Sometimes all we Brits need is a trip Stateside to put our lives and selves into a better perspective.

Eternally American dreaming

Eternally American dreaming

Portraits of Chicago #1

So begins my days of frantically wandering around the full expanse of Chicago alone, and nights of socialising. Sugar, fat, and 12 miles of walking a day will either kill me or keep me alive well into my hundreds.

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Most platforms from El stops give good views across the neighbourhood. Andersonville felt like real America, the first time that I had properly had been to real America. Even when I was in Florida when I was eleven, Orlando, Kissimee and surrounds felt like an extension of a theme park that someone had created to give tourists an approximation of what America is.

As Norah’s ex-boyfriend put it: most countries (and their people) defy or subvert your expectations in some way. America and Americans are exactly like you imagine, only moreso.

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Quincy: my favourite of the stations. Sold in the guidebook as being “Victorian”. It may come from the 19th century but it certainly isn’t British Victorian.

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Business at the bottom, salvation at the top. My favourite least favourite church. Never a Methodist.

The Loop and Streeterville have some of the most overwhelming skyscrapers in the world and give you a veritable history of the skyscraper in a square mile. Where Dubai (never been) is a city that has sprung up over the last twenty years based on sudden new oil money, Chicago has gradually built up over a century and a half, with new buildings continuing to be added year on year. Jeanne Gang, SOM and Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill have been building recently, and more is to come. Outside of these two districts, the city is much lower in density. Urban sprawl will likely lead to high rises becoming more widespread in the future, but for now, this is one of my favourite cityscapes in the world.

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If you visit only one “museum” make it the Chicago Architecture Foundation, complete with an architectural model of The Loop. It cost a lot of money. Architectural models do. Looking at this model helped me to plan the rest of the day.

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Future president? So gaudy that you can’t help but love/hate it. The laws of what you can put on buildings changed after the unveiling of this mostronsity.

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Modernist corncobs. The apartments are apparently very generous. I don’t feel safe for the cars.

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The walk to Lincoln Park view (that I took) takes you past Oz Park with its numerous homage to the great Wizard story, and along some of the more attractive neighbourhoods in the city. The low density of much of Chicago leads to choice views from all directions.

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Chicago will ever be both third biggest city in the country and typical midwestern town, though the latter element is on the slow decline, much as urban dwelling is becoming the more typical living situation worldwide.

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Easter isn’t a national holiday in the US, but people sure do love their Easter wreaths. Maybe door adornments are the passion moreso than the sacrifice of the Lord.

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Robie House: the first of many Frank Lloyd Wrights that I saw. We weren’t sure exactly where on the road it was, but once you come across it there is no doubting. I travelled furthest south of Norah and her friends. Tourists often see more of a city than inhabitants. We have the time to spend full weeks exploring. The bus south smelled of weed. People were friendly, but cagey. They could smell the “other” on me. Travelling through the badlands of the nearer southside, it suddenly opens up to the suburban academic dream of the University of Chicago, which does a good impression of being much older than it really is. Much like the rest of America. I didn’t visit Obama’s old house.

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Americans are more openly religious than the English, or at least the religious ones are. I came across quite a number of religious people in my travels. American Christianity is very much an American Christianity. Its foundation as a religious colony still lives on, even as atheism and agnosticism grows. The most attractive churches, as usual, are Catholic or Episcopalian, but the Pentecostal is better attended, and by those who are doing it out of compulsion rather than guilt.

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The beer barons of Wicker Park, further evidence of the melting pot of America and the chequered criminal history of Chicago. Wicker Park, West Town and Logan Square are all too cool for me, but to pass through in an hour is a satisfactory way to spend time. The Ukrainian village is supposedly the neighbourhood on the rise. If by this they mean barren and lifeless so the hipsters are eyeing it up, this is likely true.

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Bicycle parking is a good indicator of the trendiness of an area. I am a cyclist, but I do not have a hipster bike. Or a jean jacket and lock which can be used as a gun.

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People are quick to find their neighbourhoods. People are above and beyond friendly. It all feels safe. It all feels welcoming. Norah fell in love within a weekend. For a big, modern city, it is welcoming and homely unlike any other. Ah the sweet Midwest.

 

Manger en Français: Le Garrick

For French bistro eating in opulent surroundings there is Brasserie Zedel, for something more homely there is Le Garrick.

This dinner was my first with Sommelier. I had just been to yoga so indulging was allowed. We walked around Covent Garden for ten minutes before finding it. Covent Garden’s geography eludes me, and clearly Sommelier suffers from the same ailment. It is on Garrick Street. The clue is in the name.

Down some stairs into an attractive cavern. Each table feels private. It feels like home, if your home was a turn of the century French bisto.

My first foray into snails. The garlic butter makes it entirely pleasant. I can see why the texture isn’t for everyone. I used to work in oysters so this is part of my spirit. Sommelier had the French onion soup which was deep and came with crusty bread to add to our existing pile of crusty bread.

A bottle of wine and a cocktail of beer and champagne. Both were very good. I’m a red wine girl now.

I ordered the onglet rare-medium.

“Are you sure?”
“Is it not good rare-medium?”
“No, it is very good, but I just need to check.”
“The bloodier the better.”
“Ah ha, excellent.”

And it was. It looked like it may be medium-well from the outside, but that baby bled all over my plate. Peppercorn sauce was recommended over the bearnaise sauce. The wait staff really were very good.

Sommelier was also going to order the onglet but went for the Cassoulet so we could share. I have cans and cans of cassoulet at home so never order it out. Nothing like a can of cassoulet to fill you with horror about what goes into a cassoulet. Mother recommended refrigerating then scraping the fat off first. THAT IS NOT THE SPIRIT OF CASSOULET MOTHER.

Sommelier and I had a fake fight about his forgetting Qatar National Sports Day.

The table next to us asked us to take a picture of them. We did. We advised that we would invoice them later. Laughs all around.

Tarte au citron was not a patch on Brasserie Zedel’s, but still better than the average dessert. Sommelier scored the creme brulee “Mediocre Plus”.

“Oh, sorry it’s not better.”
“No, no, it’s fine. Creme brulee in Britain is usually mediocre at best, so this is pretty good.”

Mediocre Plus: my new favourite grade.

We were the last to leave. The staff gave us shots of some sort of peach schnapps on leaving. Celebrate good times, come on!

Portraits of Rome

Looking back through the photos of Rome it struck me that either my memory is getting worse or that there was something less memorable about the trip. Thinking again, I took this trip when I was preoccupied with desperately trying to find a job and had self-inflicted accompanying stress that along with that. For June the weather was also swelteringly hot, and tired stressed and hot are not the deal trifecta for the perfect holiday. Add to this my not preparing before coming and us getting frequently lost and flitting around town illogically only added to the turmoil. I anticipated that Rome would be larger than Florence, but didn’t quite understand the extent of the sprawl of the capital city.

This was again a holiday with my mother. For the above reasons I was quite snappy on several occasions. It’s interesting how when with your family or friends from school you can quickly transform back into your teenage self.  I learned that my mother can be incredibly slow to do anything and I can be incredibly impatient, a combination that is far from winning. After one particularly dramatic argument, the air was cleared and the relationship restored: the storm before the calm. And a few short weeks after this trip I finally did get a job. Holy cities are powerful places.

In Florence our apartment was so central that we could see the Campanile from our window. In Rome, we were near the end of the 8 tram line on the less fashionable side of Trastevere. We arrived quite late on the first night, then on the second day didn’t quite anticipate how far we were from “central” Trastevere, resulting in a very long walk home and a tired following day. If you are holidaying with me, 10-15 mile walk days are the norm.

The long, late walk back

The long, late walk back

If you are staying this far out, you will undoubtedly be at the behest of the Italian public transport system. The final day saw a bus strike which led to crowded trams but empty streets – the only time during the trip when I didn’t half expect to die while crossing the road.

A man on the tram spoke to us about how corrupt the Italian government is, and that the public transport is a testament to this (strikes occurred nigh on weekly, he said). “I love Italy, but it is being ruined. Rome is our capital city yet look how far we are lagging behind other European capital cities.” He then went on to recommend going to Il Gesu at 5pm for the statue unveiling, which we did and it was a highlight of my trip and life that there is something so grand and unnecessary happening daily. Public transport may have its issues, but friendly Rome is quite in contrast to insular London.

We did get completely lost trying to change buses west of the Vatican. After half an hour of wandering in the dark, we gave in to the metro and tram links.

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Aside from ll Gesu, Santa Maria in Trastevere was my favourite church. I may prefer Florence to Rome, but Rome undoubtedly has the finest churches of any city that I have ever been to. All you need is to be the centre of a religion for it to happen. We visited at around 5pm, when the sunlight shone through the altar window and bathed the gold church in an additional golden glow. Gold on gold on gold, how decadent, how Catholic. We stayed for part of the service, I nearly cried, mother decided we should leave during the sermon which was long and in Italian.

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Sundays are for church and for families. The Parco Regionale Urban Pineto is, the guidebook told us, the park for the locals. The number of locals there likewise suggested that this was the case. Families came in their droves. Laughter, barbecued and music resonated through the air. Young couples stole afternoons under the trees. Lone runners young and old battled the heat for the good of their bodies; Rome is a very fit city. And children frolicked all around. It was busy but not crowded. Vast parkland will always be to the city’s benefit.

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Rome is a city for tourists. Maybe this is why it is decaying, as the man on the tram told us (although he went on to say that this should be the contrary, with infrastructure improved to draw tourists in. Of course, there is plenty here to attract tourists so why waste tax money on their comfort). Mother and I aren’t very touristy tourists, preferring instead to wander on our own steam and try to find hidden gems or “where the locals live.” We do still enjoy looking on at tourists with their strange ways (queuing for hours in the can’t-even-think-straight-or-stop-sweating heat). The Vatican is the most criminally commercialized holy place, but it is a law unto itself.

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From the age of 8, I largely stopped being interested in Ancient History. It is less solid than history from the early modern time onwards (medieval can still be a bit dicey), and I studied history to MA because I liked the logical rigour behind it. Ancient History seemed more like guesswork, with people being happy that their guesses were good enough. And it was so long ago, seemingly having no real connection with today.

Looking particularly at the Pantheon, Circus Maximus, and the Via Appia Antica, this ambivalence to the Ancient faded away. Here these buildings are, thousands of years old, still being, standing alongside our modern buildings and roads. It beggars belief that they are still surviving. Will our new buildings survive? Surely not this long. The Pantheon also shows how hardwearing concrete is, a material which is now hopefully past derision. Stunning and still standing.

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While Circus Maximus is now for all intents and purposes a plain, it is amazing to think that many thousands of people sat here to watch the entertainment of the day. What a vast expanse it is! If from nothing you can still get the feeling of something, this is special indeed.

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Of course, the Coliseum and Forum are worthy of a mention and on the top of most tourists’ hit list. Impressive indeed, but sullied by the crowds and traffic. The view from the outside is quite sufficient, and there are Roman remains all around (the wonder wears of quickly clearly). Lead me to the Renaissance!

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A short train ride out of town, Ostia Antica offers an alternative to Pompeii. We were too late to gain entry for the day, but enjoyed candied nuts by the gate and the calmness of the Roman countryside.

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We stopped off at Ostia on our way back from the Lido. June is not yet the peak time for beach visiting. Considering the heat of the week, we picked probably the least good weather day to visit. Nonetheless, a swim in the sea is invigorating. Mother got so into it that her sunglasses were swept away, an eternal present to the waves. It wasn’t a relaxing or even very pretty beach, with vendors badgering you occasionally and the best spots saved for those who are willing to pay. The sun worshippers seem largely unconcerned by other people, leaving you to still find your solitude in the public areas.

On departing the train, it isn’t obvious that there is a beach nearby and the streets offer very little of interest. Still, if you persist, sun, sea and sand will be your reward. And, for us, pastries too.

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Rome is not the most fashion-conscious city. The people of Rome, while among the friendliest that I have encountered, have somewhat of a world weariness about them. Maybe it’s the heat. Regardless, they still have some impressive shopping spaces.

Around the corner from this arcade is Santa Maria in Via, a church where there is supposedly the miracle of water that has been running for centuries. Around another few corners is the Trevi Fountain, closed for maintenance on our visit (which still didn’t stop the selfie sticks being out in force).

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I mentioned the Via Appia Antica earlier but have saved the story until now. Reach the old Roman superhighway on the 118 bus, which you can also take for good views around the main attractions in the city.

A man stopped us along the Appian Way, attracting us into the ruins of an old Roman home. The other ruins along the Way hadn’t let us down so far, and we were interested to see some more typical domestic architecture than the religious and vast estates that appeared earlier up the road. On exiting through a different door, he ran back over to us and started trying to chat up mother. He got her email address (she can be naive) and we left. The heavens suddenly opened and we stood under a tree. A car pulled up; it was the man. Mother got in. Not wanting her to be kidnapped alone, I joined her. Riding the bumpy road in a small Fiat in the pouring rain is a fleeting way to see one of the Romans’ great feats of infrastructure. The man thought that he had found a new family. I was praying that we weren’t going to die. He asked us to meet him the next day; I said we would (if he thought we were meeting the next day he would let us out this day, so the logic went). The old road turned off into the new road and we were in civilisation again. He dropped us off in a bus stop – mounting the curb, physically stopping within the bus stop.

“Why did you tell him we would meet him tomorrow? We have plans. I don’t like lying.”

“So he would let us out. Why did you get in the car with a stranger in the middle of nowhere?!”

“It was raining.”

Life lessons with mother. It did save us walking and wetness.

He later sent her a series of desperate emails and underwear shots. Never give your real details out.

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Back in the city, love is everywhere. The Italians are a romantic folk, if not always the smoothest.

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Of course, love isn’t always the root to happiness. In one of the most popular (and cheapest) restaurants in Trastevere, this bride looked none too pleased at her life decisions.

In this restaurant we tried the Roman specialties of carbonara and tripe. The carbonara was exceptional, the tripe too rich for me and I had to swap with mother’s steak as I couldn’t finish it. I’m sure my hardened palate one year on would easily be able to consume all of the animal’s innards in the deep tomato sauce.

Elsewhere in our food journey, the Roman pizza with its crisp base and more daring ingredients than the usual Neapolitan offerings (figs!) was satisfying, though mother wasn’t too impressed by the size of the al taglio, so we got a delightful Neapolitan-style pizza with a side of suppli from the only suppli restaurant we could find in Trastevere. Mother was exceedingly satisfied with this culinary stopping point. Such a shame that it was on our last day.

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My favourite district is that in the area of the Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori. Some (I) would say that this is the most Renaissance/Florentine of Rome’s districts, and possibly the most romantic and/or Italian. Mother dropped €70 on truffle oil which took up her entire liquid allotment in her hand luggage and which still hasn’t been opened. This was a tourist stall. The locals got their groceries from the other stalls. Watching people shop is fast becoming a favourite past-time of mine.

We refilled our bottles (never pay for bottled water. They have your back) and had one of the best wandering days of the trip. The streets are still difficult to navigate, but the whole district was charming so it was an enjoyable confusion.

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Nuns and priests abound! Of course, being the holy city. I mentioned to mother that it made me happy to see nuns. She asked whether I would ever want to be a nun and then seemed genuinely disappointed when I replied to the negative. She got talking to an African priest in one of the larger, gaudier churches while I looked on at the nuns, the original and the best #squad.

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The banks of the river are unimpressive during the daytime but come alive as the afternoon drifts into evening, with live music, bars, entertainment and restaurants all lining the banks of the Tiber. The river doesn’t feel to be the heart of the city in Rome, merely a boundary between north and south. When there is so much history, culture and religion throughout an area, nature becomes relegated. There is still a draw, but the lifelessness during the day was quite striking, especially when compared to England’s capital

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I thought that my memory had failed me, but this was a packed trip. The mysteries of Rome are still yet to be fully uncovered. In eight days, we didn’t even come across the modernist district (EUR) or the late Zaha Hadid’s great masterpiece, MAXXI. But out with the new and in with the old, the Vatican, high concentration of  sensational churches, and regular punctuation of ancient monuments and ruins will forever be Rome’s great draw.

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A gelato a day makes the tensions melt away. I continue with my preaching on the healing powers of gelato (and a smothie) and how it is a great symbol of all that there is to be enjoyed in life. Eternally. In the Eternal City.

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Portraits of Boston

4am GMT wake up call Wednesday. 4am CST wake up call Thursday. Norah commented on what a good traveller I am.

There is a free bus from the airport to South station. Other cities: take note. This makes the entry sequence very attractive.

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Where possible, my first stop on any trip is Chinatown. Boston’s Chinatown is even more disappointing than Chicago’s.

Coffee, walking. Boston Coffee Company does good coffee. I am still perturbed by the tax at the till policy of the USA.

Thinking we were walking in a loop, we ended up at the Common and ended up very late for lunch with Rob, one of our hosts for the long weekend. He looked very young but was highly pleasant. I love Americans!

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At Rob’s recommendation we walked the Greenway to Little Italy where “it’s really old and the roads are super narrow.” America doesn’t do old, not real old. And the roads were regular by British standards.

The Greenway is a lovely initiative, and all cities should consider turning unused industrial land (or land at all) into green space. People will walk if there are places to walk. It’s a nice way to see the near north side of the city with views to the harbour and exits into Feneuille Market.

Regular roads

Regular roads

Hungfusion was setting in and eating was becoming a necessity before moving on. We stopped in a sandwich shop which had a number of Italians in the window watching soccer. The sandwiches were a good shout, the dessert was not.

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Norah said her heart was set on one of the desserts upon entering. We were both disappointed. Even moreso when we saw that the highly popular and commended Mike’s was next door. I should have gone with my instinct of multicentring lunch.

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Improv as we crossed the bridge to the north, then yoga at Paul Revere’s landing. I was reminded that I used to be fun and how much I love my friends. Freedom is a feeling that can’t be bought or worked towards, it just is. Glee washed over me in the greatest extent since the beginning of the winter of discontent.

Every city has a love lock bridge. Not every city has a lot of love to share.

Every city has a love lock bridge. Not every city has a lot of love to share.

Forever smug that I am usually a self-powered commuter

Forever smug that I am usually a self-powered commuter

The Boston version of the Oyster is the “Charlie Card”, a real delight to hear in the Boston accent.

Norah spoke to a blind girl and took a picture of her and her dog to send to her mom, a guide dog trainer.

We went out to a bar for Paddy’s. You can’t not go to a bar for Paddy’s. Allston isn’t the place in Boston where Paddy’s truly comes alive. The $9.50 pitcher of beer cost me $15, and the barmaid berated me for not tipping immediately. My friend and hosts were outraged on my behalf. We ate the free popcorn. I was won over by being in a real dive bar, and by the barmaid’s Boston Boston accent. A drunk who was propping up the bar stole my stool.

Another bar said they were full. Four bagpipers then entered. “Those fucking liars! We can see those bagpipers go in!” Bagpipes aren’t even Irish, but everything’s Gaelic to America.

Peep those Sam Adams

Peep those Sam Adams

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Bunker Hill is my favourite part of Boston. It has real history (some buildings date from the 1600s) and was the stomping ground for many a literary great. Armed with our 7 Eleven coffee, Norah and I did some serious catching up and ruminating on life. These are some great walking streets.

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The Common further proves the importance of green spaces to a city. People gathered here, people ran, people lounged in the near freezing temperatures. There was life here. The sun was out. A better March morning was not to be had for me anywhere else.

Make Way For Ducklings sounds like something that should have made its way across the pond.

#International

#International

Public toilets are not a done thing in America. We spent a painful half hour looking for a bathroom before sneaking into Starbucks. Always use bathrooms where available. You never know when your next one will come around.

Wendy’s for lunch. 4 things for $4. The fries in Frosty deal is overrated, though not unpleasant and harrowing as people I described it to expected it would be.

Even the dogs are jollier in America

Even the dogs are jollier in America

Waiting in a hailing queue for a brewery tour that is never to come is fun with friends. I had got into beer the previous week and was now going gung ho. Bostonians love their beer. The craft beer revolutions rages through the states. The beer hall was full. Breweries are one of Boston’s greatest attractions.

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Uber and a coffee with Norah’s cousin and aunt, slightly hazy. The uber driver gave us gum and received a good rating. The aunt is a yoga teacher who is looking into the psychological benefits of yoga. She was incredibly interesting. The cousin was twenty but worldly with it.

A run to hibachi, a party, playing in the park, tiredness sets in. Brunch the next morning, tiredness rages on.

The only attractive church in Boston

The only attractive church in Boston

A walk down Newbury Street, as recommended at brunch. Not the best shopping street in the world, but still retaining Boston’s historic-feel. We happened into the Boston Architectural College for an exhibition and I explained my job at length, then came across a magazine with my boss in it at Trident. Where I while away my afternoons wandering around neighbourhoods, Norah does so in bookstores. Please write to me if you have bought Kim Kardashian Selfish as I am yet to think of the target audience for that book.

Monumental

Monumental

The walk to Wrigley isn’t long, especially fueled by ice cream. We sat outside Isabel Stewart Gardener, put off by the crowds and the limited time. Then wandered through a park, met our hosts, were shown their allotment, went into Wrigley, and had a long walk back to Allston along the river.

Tiredness is the greatest disease in the world. It is in this state that the majority of bad decisions are made and where joy goes to die. I longed for solitude I thought, but I really just longed for sleep.

Boston is a beautiful city, one that is clinging on to its history with all its might. The number of places with British names is charming. I wish I had had an extra day to savour it.

T[w]ea For Four: Whitmore Tea Rooms

My first Lenten failure, and it all went downhill from there. It would be rude to continue giving up sugar when Kate had already booked afternoon tea. I consulted a priest and he agreed (but would surely have been disapproving of how ferociously I broke the Lenten fast as the forty days raged on).

Afternoon tea is afternoon is afternoon tea is afternoon tea. It is lovely and quaint and pleasant and English, but for sandwiches, scones, cake and cup of tea, always slightly overpriced.

The scones were very good and quite large. I used the majority of the clotted cream and jam. I should try making more scones. Even I can handle three ingredients.

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Classy AF

Daisy sent her sandwich back because she didn’t realise that salmon came with cream cheese. The cream cheese sandwiches sat there useless. Food waste is a travesty, and the salmon was nice, if not exceptional. Daisy should pay more attention to menus and be less picky. The ham and mustard was good, but these aren’t sandwiches to write home about (my ex-boyfriend stands by that Tea and Times in Whitstable has the best sandwiches in the world).

I had the cherry and chocolate cake. There were a lot of cakes on offer. I wanted chocolate, but none of the chocolate cakes on offer shouted at me. I asked the recommendations of the waitress (as I did with the tea. I apologised for being a troublesome southerner) and she unconvincingly made a few recommendations. We went up to the cake desk and eventually I settled on the cherry chocolate. I couldn’t finish it, the first thing I haven’t been able to finish in nearly a year. I put it down to my two week sugar fast. Daisy’s lemon cake was the best of the cakes. I can’t remember Rebecca’s cake. Kate didn’t share her Bailey’s cake, saving it for her fiance instead.

We all spoke at length about relationships. Rebecca and I are the only singles of the extended friendship group and apparently this was the first time she had spoken openly about her desire to be in a relationship. We spoke about life and anxieties. People in their twenties are a very anxious folk. Life is terrifying. But this afternoon tea was not, in fact it was my most enjoyable meal of the year.

When in a funk, head northwards for reinvigoration.

 

Onkoreanfood: Onthebab

When I was in China, one of the girls on my tour said that her favourite food was Korean food. I asked her what kind of stuff Korean food was, and how it was different to, say, Chinese food. She replied “kimchee” and “tastier”. She was German/Cypriot so maybe was less eloquent here than she might otherwise be were she speaking in her native tongue.

Eight months passed and I finally tried Korean food in Ban Di Bul. I ordered bibimbap, and the person I was with ordered some type of noodle dish. The noodles seemed like 50p ramen noodles and the bibimbap, while tasty, felt more like a side dish. Maybe it was meant to be. Other tables were sizzling in the warm glow of the barbecue. We left the restaurant and the key to my bike lock bent meaning that I couldn’t unlock it. We went to watch comedy, me in a foul mood, and I got a bus home in the snow, then managed to free my bike the following day.

The second time I had Korean food was when my flatmate invited me for lunch with her and her friend: the first and only time that this has ever happened. We went to the Southbank foodmarket, surveyed the whole place, I went for the hog roast then at the last minute changed my mind and went for Korrito, where there had previously been a queue but thankfully was no more. I went for the rice box. It was very tasty, a definite step up from Ban Di Bul. My flatmate’s friend commented that she wished she had gone for Korrito rather than her Mongolian fare. As a proud half Chinese person, I would never go for Mongolian food.

Later that day I went on a pseudo-date with a comedian and we ended up looping back to Southbank market. I said that I had some food from there (Korrito) earlier and, obviously not hearing me, he went on to tell me how good Korrito was and that I should try it. To be fair, I hadn’t tried the actual burrito, but the rice box was good enough. We did not have another date, but he has been sending me intermittent updates on his dating life. Good for him.

My friend Daisy came to visit London as she had an interview, so she thought she’d stop by and say hi. The last time she did this (she had a lot of interviews) we went for Vietnamese, and this time I suggested either Mexican or Korean.

Onthebab came as a recommendation from someone at work who had also steered me in the right direction with my favourite Italian deli, Terroni.

There was a 10 minute wait. Daisy was tired from the mile walk and ravenous from the 10-hour no eating. We were finally seated, then abruptly moved as there was a wheelchair user. Our second seat was better.

Daisy told me that she had been offered three jobs.

“Let’s order lots to celebrate while you regale me with your successes.”

That we did.

We went for the Korean fried chicken as the first starter, served with garlic mayo as per the waitress’ suggestion. It was delightful. The real K in KFC is Korean.

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Half-eaten KFC (the kind of KFC that you’d want)

For our second starter we opted for the Kun Mandu, or pan-fried shrimp dumplings. As I’m half Chinese and Daisy is half Chinese/half Malaysian, we do like our dumplings. Is that racial stereotyping? Who cares. It is about myself.

We were right to order this. Flavour-wise, this was definitely the stand out of the meal. We both did that obnoxious “oh my, this sure is tasty” face, and carefully watched to ensure that neither of us were getting more than the other.

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Half-eaten kun mandu. Not much to look at, but plenty to taste.

The girl that recommended Onthebab to me said that their buns were particularly good, the saucy minx. She is a vegetarian, so doesn’t get to delight in the majesty of spicy pork, but I do, so no love lost there.

Kate, the friend through whom Daisy and I know each other and who I will be maid of honour for in July 2017, once said that a dealbreaker for her in relationships would be if the guy was a vegetarian. I don’t think she quite understood the question, but at least she knows what she wants. The koala, the deer and the cat: Daisy, Kate and I.

Onto the buns. Or should I say, “on the buns”. These were soft andstill managing to pack in a lot of meat and not be too messy an eat.

Later that evening I read that Bao’s pork bun had been proclaimed the best dish in London by Time Out so felt some regret that I’d slummed it for Onthebab, but Taiwanese and Korean are not the same. I can see why the girl in my China group likes Korean food so. It is quite a flavour palate unto itself, especially when done well. Plus Bao apparently usually has a wait time of at least half an hour which Ravenous Daisy and Impatient Sophia would not have liked.

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Bun fresh

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I am a charming dinner companion, photographing my unwitting friend and posting the evidence online. Paparazzo.

The final part of our meal was the bulgogi beef on the rice. It was the most blah of the meal, but was still not without its merits. Beef isn’t my favourite meat, and the sublime flavours from the rest of the meal left a lot to live up to, or compete with.

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We drank our tap water and left. On the way out I saw a table having an impressive beer fountain which the girl that recommended Onthebab to me also mentioned. Were I more into beer I may have had this, purely because it looks impressive.

Daisy was still hungry. As was ever-gluttonous I. The food was tasty but the portions could have been more generous. Hipsters eat for show, not for sustenance.

We went to Chinatown for bubble tea and red bean dessert.

Korean food still hasn’t stolen my heart, but it’s getting there. Onthebab is another restaurant that seems to generate queues. With so many restaurants around, it does make me wonder why people don’t just try somewhere else. Then again, good things come to those who wait.

7/10 – portion control

Onthebab, 36 Wellington Street, London WC2E 7BD. Branches also in Shoreditch and Old Street

 

A Vague Journey Through Burgers: Byron Burger

A lacklustre review for a lacklustre burger.

On my first day at a job that I took immediately after graduating and promptly quit, I was taken to Byron Burger for lunch. Hey, I got some perks in my five weeks there. I also got taken to the races. In retrospect, it was a good company to work for if you’re in to market research.

This was back when Byron was less of a behemoth, but still was a chain.

The skin on chips were recommended, so I had them. They were fine.

The chili burger was also fine.

We spoke about work and children.  I was the only girl in the quant department .

byron-b-rex-burger-we-love-food-its-all-we-eat-1

Not my picture.

The company was okay. First days are always mildly odd, especially in a restaurant when people were talking about people and projects that you didn’t know.

Don’t believe the Byron hype, and seriously question anyone that hypes Byron up. But good for them for being so successful!

Their special of the day is always burgers. But why can’t they make their burgers special?