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Hello from Chicago - First Impressions
By Susanne Pacher

So here I am again, on another short excursion away from home. I've been awake for an hour already and decided the best thing is to get up and put my first impressions on paper. Since there is only a one hour time difference between Toronto and Chicago I decided yesterday I wasn't even going to change my watch over. So when I came down this morning to use the free computer at the Arlington Youth Hostel in Chicago, I realized it's not 7 am, but actually only 6 am. Well, even better, that'll give me more chance to explore.

A trip to Chicago has been in the works for a while. I have been here twice before, once in 2001 with 3 of my friends, and once in April of 2003 to meet my friend Linda who I have known from back home in Austria since we are 10 years old. You realize you are getting old when you can say to someone that you have known them for 30 years...

So Linda, who now lives in Indiana, and I decided to reunite in Chicago again, so she is planning to come in today at 10:25 with the South Shore Railway Line. I, on the other hand, decided to fly this time, instead of driving or taking the train (15 hours from Toronto!!!) as I did the last two times.

As I've done several times this year already in my trips to New York City and Vancouver/Victoria, I decided to use my Airmiles to come down to Chicago on a free flight, and what a great decision that was since the flight is just over an hour long. With the help of Airmiles, this is shaping up to be a really reasonable and cost-effective weekend getaway in a great city that will allow me to keep my costs as low as possible.

Yesterday, I flew out of Pearson International Airport at 4:45 pm and arrived at 5:30 Chicago time. Chicago's O'Hare Airport is the world's busiest airport, and judging by the size of the terminals, I can only concur. After walking what felt like miles I reached the level where the subway trains depart, and I bought a 3-day visitor ticket for US$12.00. Chicago, similar to New York City, has a great transit system, with a large network of interconnected buses, subways and elevated trains. I am fascinated by the "el-train" system that runs through the downtown area and the "Loop" as it is called. The train on stilts has been in existence since the early 1900s, and it allows you to see some of the beautiful architecture that Chicago has to offer.

My destination was the Arlington House Youth Hostel, a place I had already stayed at during my earlier two trips. At US$56.00 per night for a private room for 2 people (albeit with a shared bathroom), you can't beat the pricing. The Arlington House is located in the beautiful neighbourhood of Lincoln Park and literally just 15 minutes from downtown by el-train or bus. It took me 45 minutes by train to get to the Washington Station downtown where I changed over to the red line which just took about 10 to 15 minutes to get me to Fullerton.

I am usually pretty proud of my 'highly developed sense of orientation', but when I left the Fullerton el-train station it was dark already and I promptly ended up walking westwards on Fullerton, in the opposite direction of where I was supposed to go. I managed to successfully delay my arrival at the youth hostel by about 45 minutes due to walking in the wrong direction and not being able to connect with anyone who might have known where the youth hostel is. None of the DePaul university students that I asked had any idea of where the intersection of Lincoln and Fullerton was, they were probably all new in town themselves. I finally arrived at the next larger intersection "Ashland" and realized I had walked about 2 or 3 km westwards, in the wrong direction.

Pretty tired from rolling my suitcase around I decided to catch the bus back east on Fullerton and arrived at the Arlington House not much later. The Arlington House with its large entrance hall full of young (and older) travellers and its absolutely spartanic rooms (no closets, no night tables, no table lamps, no chairs, no desks - just a metal bunk bed for our private room) is always an experience. But I love it, it makes me feel young again to hang out with all these world travellers and adventurers of different ages.

I had originally planned to head downtown, but due to my detour I was pretty pooped and decided to just go and eat something locally. I strolled south on Clark Street which has many lively little restaurants and plopped myself down in a place called Ranalli's where I had an extremely filling soup, salad and tiramisu dinner. After all this running around it was nice to sit down, read the paper, including the events calendar and try to figure out what adventures could be in store for this weekend.

Today I got up early, actually an hour earlier than I thought since I want to do some exploring before my friend Linda comes into town. I am planning to meet her at 10:25 at the Randolph Street train station, so I have a few hours for exploring before she comes into town.

I might take a bus north, or go south into the Old Town Neighbourhood, close to North Street.

It's going to be interesting.....

Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions(http://www.travelandtransitions.com). Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travellers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features. You will also find stories about life and the transitions that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.

Submit your own travel stories in our first travel story contest(http://www.travelandtransitions.com/contests.htm) and have a chance to win an amazing adventure cruise on the Amazon River.

"Life is a Journey Explore New Horizons".

The article with photos is published at Travel and Transitions - Travel Stories

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