What were we saying about non-moving toilets and decent bedding? Well, I’ll get to that in a little bit. We spent Sunday in a rather leisurely rate making our way through the rest of Minnesota, Wisconsin and down through Illinois, can’t say as we saw any ‘great’ sights apart from ‘the mighty Mississippi’ which was just incredible. After a childhood of reading Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, dreaming of Paddleboat Steamers and deep churning muddy waters, it was amazing to actually see this famous waterway, and pretty darn close to the start too!
But for the most part the day was slow going, and I do mean slow. Apparently during the night there had been an incident between Minot and Rugby ND and we were approximately 2hrs late! We don’t know what happened, whether there was an accident or just signal delays, but it meant that instead of being asleep through the river section we were able to enjoy both breakfast and lunch traveling through some amazing farmland and of course, crossing Old Man River. We didn’t mind one bit!
Aside from the excitement of being behind schedule we were looking forward to reaching our accommodation for the night, a nice warm, comfy bed, hot non-engineers degree worthy showers, and the mandatory ‘internet’ catch up. However, from the second we hit the bustling hub-bub of Chicago things took a turn for the humourous. When we were trying to find accommodation all those many months ago, we were dismayed to find a severe lack of basic stuff, you know, the rates under $200 a night! After all, we’re only sleeping here, hoping to grab some dinner and/or do some washing. Eventually we found what appeared to be a nice little ‘guest house’. The website looked inviting, there were good reviews for the renovations, we thought ‘why not’. Well, J can probably tell you ‘why not?’ now.
Let’s be clear. There is actually nothing ‘wrong’ with the place, it IS clean, comfortable and has all the facilities you could want/or expect. Well, that is if you don’t mind going eight doors down to use the kitchen, or cross the road and take your chances on the rickety stairs (with a nearby sign that cracked us both up) that lead to a basement where you’ll locate the laundry facilities to do any washing – oh, and watch out for the dead rat if you need to park your bike, one poor Yankee girl screamed like… well, a girl when she saw it… Didn’t phase us, and if you’ve ever heard the expression of ‘kicking someone when they’re down’? You’d best pray J isn’t around if it’s worse. She takes a few steps over, liberally eyeing the poor creature en route, assesses the situation and sinks the boot in to determine the animal’s fate. Yup, dead, and now, airborne! I’m now convinced that Americans think Aussie’s are all like Steve Irwin, afraid of no animal and prepared to tackle anything, or kick it into orbit. A quick tour of the main building and you’ll see what we mean by… interesting… There is no lift, so if you have bags, the even older, dodgier stairs will not be your friend, thankfully we were on the first floor, the decor is decidedly dated, to about 1924, and if you don’t look too closely you won’t see the broken plaster around the skirting boards, or in fact giant holes covered up with drywall where they’re obviously doing some major repairs. Or at least we hope that’s what they’re doing. The bathrooms are… well.. unique. It’s a big room, and for a bathroom I do mean big. Three or four basins, two toilets and two showers. Sounds okay right? Wrong. The two showers are somewhat ‘open’ in that they have curtains which in a light breeze will leave you a little chilled, and have no vestibule area to change in, so to shower you must either strip in the open, or in the shower, run said shower (which is great! Good pressure and great temp!) get clean, then hope either no-one is in the bathroom (which is busier than Bourke St at Christmas) or get a friend to pass you towel/clothing as required. Now, if you’re not passing out from laughter yet, you better cross your legs, because trust me, unless you’re height challenged, you do not want to go to the loo here! Toilets are spotless, and we know why. You can’t actually sit on them without performing some Zen yoga contortion of wrapping your knees around your opposite ears or appear to be straddling the worlds largest immobile horse/bull in your own private porcelain rodeo! I’m not joking here. The toilet door really does leave one inch between the bowl and the door! Ride ’em cowgirl! Yeehaw!
The actual sleeping arrangements are pretty decent, the beds are a little on the soft side, by which I mean when you sit in the middle it folds up around your butt. The comforters are new and quite warm, we were surprised at needing so litting bedding to be so warm for the night. So apart from the passing traffic of drunken boys at 4am, the stairs of death, the dungeon laundry or the public bathing house, that’s it! Clean, comfortable and ‘friendly’. I think I’m now understanding those reviews better… they were incredibly sarcastic.
Dinner time! Well, when in the heart of Greektown, guess what you’re eating… Yeah, not Mexican! Though in hindsight, maybe that would have been better. There are any number of small to large eating houses that line these streets, all look quick good, so after perusing the menus we opted for one a little ways down the street, Athena’s. Okay, I try not to pick the dickens out of restaurants, I’ve been on the other side of the counter for too many years to pretend not to care how hard the job is, but these guys were surly at best. The guy who took our order (carry out as we still had clothes washing) really was an arrogant so-and-so and if we hadn’t been so late, tired, or thrown by our location we would have been just as rude in telling him where to shove it. Order placed and eventually received we wandered back to the dungeon to dine, where we discovered more multi-legged friends, my favourite, ants. In the semi-dark, ant infested room we sat down to dinner, village salad with broiled chicken for me, and a gyros platter for J. Oops. Ok, must remember that in America gyros means that weirdass processed meat stuff, not real meat! J’s not a happy camper, although I couldn’t find fault with mine. Lovely fresh ‘Greek salad’ with some char grilled chicken. The drinks that came with it though, well, more just J’s cup lid was a little disturbing. There was some rather gross ‘dirt’ and ‘grease’ on it, so it was rather icky and she ended up going ‘topless’, to which many jokes were made.
Finally the at 10.30pm laundry is done, we’ve returned to our ‘digs’ for the night, and repacked our bags for tomorrow. I never thought I’d say this, but we’re looking forward to the train tomorrow, to a moving shower and bed, known menu and a familiar routine of sleeping, eating, and reclining through the day. Whilst we’ve only seen a small amount of Chicago, and I do mean small, we’d be happier coming back with more time and some local knowledge, and of course a trip to Gino’s East, which we were so bummed to have missed because the train was so late in. Tomorrow we’re back to the station, a quick trip around the corner to hopefully acquire some sim cards for our ipads, and then on the train bound for the Grand Canyon! Woohoo!