On the Road Again: Going Where the Wind Blows

I’m back again, apologies for the large intervals between blog posts. They would be done a lot sooner if it wasn’t for the fact that I now have a job over the summer, and the fact that I have barely any time when I get home, let alone enough to do a lot of writing. So again, I apologise for that.

If you can last remember, we’d been having a really enjoyable time in Toronto. But on the 26th of May it was time to say goodbye to Toronto and Canada and head back to the U.S. It was an early start at 7:00 am where we headed to the bus station to catch our bus to Buffalo New York. Near the end of that bus journey we had to go through immigration. We weren’t that worried though, as we were well prepared with our SEVIS form at the ready as we walked off the bus into the little office type immigration building. I ended up having a very stern and direct immigration officer checking if i could go back into the U.S. Hugo was also being checked at the same time as me with another officer, his officer asked mine if they should let us through on the student visa that was on our passports (even thought they’d run out at this point, which is why we got the SEVIS in the first place!), and it turned out we were aloud through on our expired student visas! So the SEVIS forms ended up being a total waste of money!

Anyway at least I was through! Myself, Hugo and Etsu were on the bus quite quickly, but Rikako and Caitlin were taking quite a long time which was rather worrying, as we weren’t allowed to wait in the building for them, and had no idea what was going on. They finally turned up near the end and we found out what took them so long. For some reason, the 2 of them had to pay $6 for visa waiver, we all still have no idea why that happened, but it did. Getting through immigration was very confusing with all the things that did or didn’t matter, but at least we all got through with relative ease.

With that all out of the way, we’d made it back o the U.S. and to Buffalo! Although to be honest with you, Buffalo didn’t seem that pleasant, especially compared to Toronto. It’s a good thing we were only here to get a car and get out of there! It took us some time to figure out how to get to the car rental place, as we changed our minds from getting a bus to getting a tram/subway there. The car rental place wasn’t in the nicest neighbourhood ever, but our car sure was nice! We did the same thing as last time where we pretended that Rikako was the only driver (sorry for lying Avis). Although Rikako did drive a little initially, and then we went to find a place to eat lunch.

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We came across a somewhat famous bar I suppose, as it was in the ‘top 20 American Bars you need to visit before you die’ it’s called the Founding Fathers and it’s whole appeal is that it’s filled with presidential memorabilia. It was pretty awesome, and a little cool thing to mention was that there were a whole bunch of flags hanging from the ceiling, and directly above my head where I was sitting was the Welsh flag! How cool is that!? It’s like it was meant to be!

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After some very tasty burgers it was time for the road trip to begin! However it didn’t really get off the the best start as Caitlin was directing Hugo where to go, and we almost ended up crossing the border back into Canada! That could have been pretty disastrous! After being on the road for a short while, we decided to stop at a place called Lake Erie Beach, to look at, yep, you guessed it; Lake Erie. If you’ve been paying close attention then you’d know that this was the 3rd Great Lake I’ve seen, so I’ve almost seen all 5! It was a very windy beach and pretty cold so we didn’t stay for that long, but we did all look pretty windswept as we were leaving!

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Eventually we kept going and drove to Pennsylvania, the 5th State I’ve been in! This time we stopped off at Presque Isle State Park to stretch our legs and have a little wander around. There was more beaches, more windy hair and some practice driving for Caitlin, as she’d be taking turns with Hugo to do the driving on this road trip. Being in the park was a nice little break from all the travelling and the state park itself was very lovely.

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After another long stretch of driving it was into state number 6: Ohio (which funnily enough means good morning in Japanese!). We stopped off at a service station, where I picked up a little travel map guide book thing of Ohio (free of course, I’d never pay for anything like that). This is all well and good, but the best part about it was the pictures they had on the back of it, which included a boy holding 2 ice creams doing the most awkward smile I’ve seen in my entire life. Every time myself and Hugo would look at it we’d just burst out laughing, It was brilliant!

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I’m just going to leave this here. You’re welcome!

We had another big rest stop in Cleveland to see what it was like as we were driving past it anyway. For our first impressions, it wasn’t that great, for a while we thought it was deserted; this was until we passed a baseball stadium and saw how absolutely packed it was! But in general there just didn’t seem to be much of interest there, it just felt a bit sole-less. We went to a McDonald’s and got some dinner (if you can call having food at McDonald’s dinner), where they somehow messed up my order and I ended up getting 2 versions of what I ordered for the price of one! Honestly I’m not complaining, it was just a bit bizarre and confusing.

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Hell Yeah!

You might be wondering at this point where we’d be sleeping tonight, and to be honest at the time, so were we! We knew we wouldn’t get to Chicago in one day’s worth of driving, so the plan was to just park somewhere safe and sleep there for the night. We just hadn’t decided when and where yet. So we spent quite a while in McDonald’s thinking things through and trying to think of a plan, which we eventually did! We planned to drive to a park nearby and chill there for a bit, maybe play some card games, and decide whether to stay there or find another place to sleep.

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At least Cleveland had a nice sunset

So we eventually set off again, having a bit of a hard time getting out of Cleveland. Where at one point the car suddenly made a loud bang noise for no reason, which was worrying and set off my stressed side. After maneuvering our way out of the city we made it to the area we had wanted to go to, but it wasn’t really what we expected. It was creepy and there were some weird houses that made the place look even creepier so we just decided to keep on driving in the Chicago direction. This eventually took us into Indiana (home state of Parks and Recreation so bonus points for that) and my 7th State. At this point I was starting to doze off for short bursts, and I think everyone else was getting pretty tired too. So we went off the highway and ended up stopping for the night in a Walmart car park! Oh Walmart, you never fail to let me down!

So that was a pretty long day where we saw quite a lot, it was somewhat strange going from sleeping in a minor celebrity’s house one night to sleeping in a random Walmart car park in Indiana the next, but hey, that’s life sometimes! I didn’t really sleep much and in the middle of the night Rikako tried to open the door to get something from the boot (“trunk” if you’re American), but accidentally set off the car alarm. Which at the time was very sudden and scary, but afterwards was hilarious as she told us that she was trying to open up the door really quietly so as not to wake anyone up!

It was a very early start the next morning as Caitlin got up at around 4:00 am to start driving so we could be in Chicago at a decent time so that we could check into the hostel we’d be staying at sooner rather than later. Everyone else was still very sleepy and I think just kept on sleeping, but once I’m awake, I’m awake! For some reason I seem to be able to function alright without much sleep, a hidden talent maybe? (I don’t really have much else going for me so I’ll take what I can get!). We were going to stop off at Gary Indiana before finally arriving in Chicago. We started driving into Gary (an odd phrase if taken out of context), but swiftly changed our minds, as it looked pretty industrial and not that much of a tourist friendly place. Sorry Gary, maybe another day.

So we ended up just continuing on to Chicago and that meant driving through Chicago’s confusing roads. A massive well done and special shout out to Caitlin for driving through all that and not getting worried at all, that was not an easy thing to do. Thanks to Caitlin’s excellent driving we arrived at the hostel we’d be staying at just on time. We checked in at around 7:00 am, but unfortunately we couldn’t get into our room until after midday, so we left all our stuff there and had a look around the area that we’d be staying in for the next 3 days. We deduced that we were in the hipster part of the city, as the cafe we had breakfast in had many customers that looked like they’d live an alternative lifestyle. There was also a lot of people walking into the cafe with the same bag. We realised that it was a doughnut store bag, and so of course I now wanted to go and get doughnuts. Myself, Hugo and Rikako decided to go to the store and buy some to bring back to the cafe. I ended up buying 2 as they all looked too good to only get 1.

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Whilst we did have some time to kill, there were some things that we did need to attend to. First, Hugo needed to drop his things off at the place he’d be staying at, as unfortunately his reservation at the hostel hadn’t gone through (he’d anticipated this happening so that’s why he already had somewhere else to stay). Secondly, we needed to drop our car off at as it needed to be returned before a certain time as we’d only rented it for a day like we did last time. Caitlin was very tired from not sleeping that much and from having to get up early to drive, so she decided to go back to the hostel and try to sleep on one of the couches in the common room.

Hugo wanted to go where he’d be staying at as soon as possible whilst we still had access to a car, so the 4 of us set off, with Rikako driving! She said she was used to driving in a big city, but near the end of her little drive things didn’t go so smoothly, as she mistook the indicator for the windscreen wipers! We decided that Hugo should take the car on his own and the 3 of us would go and visit the beach nearby. It was very sunny and warm so it was perfect for going to the beach, even if there was a lot of people about being healthy, which just made me feel great about myself after consuming 2 large doughnuts…

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We ended up on North Avenue beach and sat on one of the piers, mainly just taking pictures. Etsu and Rikako love taking pictures of everything, so there’s quite a lot of pictures they’re responsible for on this trip thankfully.

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True friendship

After quite a while of hanging out and taking pictures with those two dancing buddies it was time to meet back up with Hugo to go and drop off the car. We were all a bit stressed taking the car back though. We had to drop it off with a full tank, but we only remembered this right before it was due back, so we had to make a little detour through the busy roads of Chicago to go and fill it up, and then make it back in time with the deadline fast approaching. Thankfully we were able to do that all in time with no problems.

There still wasn’t any plan for the day so we just went back to North Avenue beach seeing as it was so nice outside, on our way there we visited the Lincoln memorial (no, not the big famous one) and took some funny pictures. We relaxed near the lake on another concrete pier and then decided to go back to the hostel go see our room and find out how Caitlin was doing. Luckily we were able to catch a bus back to the hostel just as it was about to leave which saved us a lot of walking!

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When we arrived back at the hostel there was no sign of Caitlin in the common room, so we thought we’d better just go ahead and get our keys at the desk from the guy that works there (he’s called Sam btw). He showed us to our room for 10 (5 bunk beds) where we found Caitlin and a whole bunch of other people we didn’t know. 3 of them sounded Irish but I wasn’t sure if they were Southern or Northern (I’m sorry Rob, I still get confused!), and the others were all American. We made our beds (I failed several times at putting the bed sheet on!) then we decided to go to the city centre and have a look around.

We took the metro, but had a bit of difficulty getting out tickets when using the machines. As the machine Rikako was using broke and didn’t accept or return her money! We went and told the guy working there and he let Rikako, Etsu and Caitlin go on for free. But for some reason he made me and Hugo buy one ticket to use between us! How sexist! Even though we told him the 5 of us were all together he still made us buy a ticket. What a weird thing to do!

Anyway, when we arrived we went straight to Millennium Park, and I got to see some more parts of it that were closed when I was previously there. There was this weird fountain-like thing that had two large digital pillars with a face on each, and a hole where the mouth was that the water would come from. It sounds very strange in writing, but the pictures make sense of it (even though it is still very weird). It was also jam packed there, the whole park was just teeming with people!

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We then walked over to the bean! Except it was absolutely packed here and you could hardly get close to the bean without pushing past a couple of people. It was a complete contrast to the last time I was here. The last time I was there it was very cold with hardly anybody around, now it was scorching and super busy. So I’m kinda glad I went there with Kristin when I did, as now I got to experience the two sides of the same bean! (lame joke, sorry!).

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Something else that was different to the last time I was there, was the fact that a random music festival/concert thing was going on at the massive stage in the park right behind the Bean. We stayed and watched for a bit just to see what the heck was going on, and witnessed some very questionable dancing from some people at the front of the stage thinking they were all that, it has to be said they were pretty awful!

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We stayed and watched for a bit, but then decided to go and get food as it as it was getting close to dinner time. We ended up getting food at a Shwarma place not too far from the park, we were also pretty tired from our long day so we decided to head back to the Hostel after we’d had our food. But we then thought we might as well do something, so when we got back the other 4 went to a liquor store, whilst I stayed at the hostel on my own for some alone time and to relax a bit. When they got back we went into the kitchen area to drink and chat a little. Then shortly after we started Sam came in with a giant pack of beer! He was having a little social gathering here for people staying at the hostel, so we just stayed with him there and played a drinking game called horse race (it can get very competitive and intense!). Then another person who works there called Dee who’s from Russia came and joined us. We then started playing King’s Cup as more people started to join in. We soon found out that a lot of Irish people were staying at the hostel as they were on a work programme with their colleges and were staying here whilst they were looking for a house/flat. All of a sudden there were a whole load of more people playing with us, and before I knew it we were all sitting on the rooftop talking and getting to know each other, as I think I got a little (A lot) drunk.

It’s not how I thought our quiet evening would go, but I’m glad it did go this way, as I had a really fun time and got to know some very cool people. It had been a ridiculously long day and after about 2:00 am, it was time for us all to go to bed! Poor Hugo had to make his way from the Hostel to where he was staying, which was pretty far away!

Okay, I think that’s a good place to stop for now. Look forward to more of Chicago next time (whenever that may be). At the rate I’m going, I’m not sure if I’ll be done with this blog by the time I go back to Swansea (I sure hope I’m done by then!). If you’re still with me at this point then thank you ever so much, your dedication is appreciated. Until next time.

TTFN

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