All Aboard: Departure!

Hello there, it’s been a while (again) hasn’t it? By the time this blog post comes out, it’ll be just over a year since I travelled to America to start my year abroad at Albany, that’s rather strange to think about, and I’m still not finished with this blog! Hopefully soon though I’ll be finished.

Anyway, on the morning of the 28th, it was a rather late start as I’m sure you can imagine after last night. But it was soon remedied by the fact that we could make our own pancakes (for free and as many as we liked!). I also had to take a shower in the hostel which was weird, just a corridor full of shower rooms is a bit odd.

Today we were going to the zoo, a place I hadn’t visited the last time I was in Chicago. The 4 of us set off on the bus and would meet Hugo when he got there later on in the day. As we were on the bus we mentioned how it had suddenly got a bit darker and cloudy. By the time we got off at our stop it was absolutely pouring it down with rain. We were caught in a sudden rainstorm which wasn’t great, so we took shelter under a large tree before deciding to move under a glass entrance cover thing of a nearby building. We were waiting for quite a while for the rain to lighten up, but once it did we could enter the zoo (FOR FREE!). It was a pretty large zoo with a whole ton of animals to see. For the most part the enclosures weren’t too bad, but the zebra enclosure (if it can even be called that!) just made me very sad. There was just one zebra on its own in a small area that was just mainly mud and rock, the poor thing started making sad whines when we were there. I don’t know how that’s allowed.

 

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Some other animals we saw included monkeys, lions, flamingos, a whole array of reptiles and rodents and an adorable little otter that I saw go down its own little water slide! I also saw some animals that I’d never seen before, including a brown bear, polar bear and a fennec fox. I was a bit confused as to why there was a polar bear here, but the rules on what to do with animals didn’t really seem to apply here. The brown bear was even in the children’s part of the zoo which just seemed strange. After we were done seeing a lot of the animals, we went and got lunch from a nearby deli like place and decided to eat it in Lincoln park which is right next to the zoo. On our way there we found Hugo and so we were all able to have lunch together. We then went back into the zoo, saw some more animals and then came back to the park again, where randomly there was a very grand and public wedding going on. Does that mean I technically went to a wedding in Chicago?

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I’d previously told the others about Navy Pier from when I was last in Chicago, and we decided that now might be a good time to go and check it out again. It was a fairly long walk from the zoo, but nothing too ridiculous. On our way there though we almost got attacked by some angry geese after some cyclists forced us off the path and into the group of hissing geese. On our walk we also passed North Avenue beach which we’d spent a lot of our day at yesterday. We also came to a spot that had a very impressive view of the city, so of course we took a lot of pictures there.

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We eventually made it to Navy Pier, and like many things on this trip to Chicago, it was very different to the first time I’d been here. It was very crowded at the pier and we went inside to have a look at some of the store/food places there. Rikako and Etsu ended up buying some special popcorn from an apparently famous store, but I was clueless to this fact. We then took a look outside and observed the cool view with the dark clouds looming above the city skyline (although the Michelle Obama song wasn’t playing this time which was slightly disappointing). We decided to then head back to the hostel as we were quite tired and there wasn’t much else we wanted to see today. Etsu got us an Uber (my first time ever taking an Uber) and we were back in no time flat.

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Tonight was going to be another night of drinking where we were shocked to learn that the hostel would be shutting down after tomorrow for good, and that meant that we would be some of the final guests that stayed there ever! Seeing the furniture being gradually taken away was very sad and rather bizarre. Compared to last night there  was just an absolutely ridiculous amount of people drinking and honestly it was just too much. The number of Irish people just seemed to triple out of nowhere, it was like they’d taken over. I didn’t drink as much as I did last night as I just felt way too uncomfortable with all these people, plus I was very tired after all the walking we’d done today so I didn’t end up staying up for that long and went to bed shortly after.

The next morning on the 29th we got up and had our pancakes like usual. Except that Etsu decided to use Baileys as a sort of sauce for her pancakes (I told you Caitlin had got them hooked on Baileys!), I also made the most perfect looking pancake I’ve ever made in my entire life, which I’ll probably never be able to re-create again. Today was memorial day in the U.S., but it was also sadly the final full day that we’d be a group of 5. Etsu was flying to China tomorrow morning, and then myself, Hugo and Caitlin would be taking a train to San Francisco, whilst Rikako would be staying in Chicago for a little longer before then heading back to New York, and then finally returning to Japan (something she wasn’t too keen on doing for some reason).

We spent most of the day walking around the area where our hostel was. It was quite quiet out today, which ended up being a problem as most food places were closed as it was memorial day. But eventually we found a nice little Mexican restaurant, where I honestly had the best burrito in my entire life (granted I haven’t had many, but still!). We also attempted to sell that umbrella we’d picked up in Toronto. But surprise surprise we weren’t able to sell it, so that means this random umbrella we’d taken in Canada would now be travelling with us all the way to San Francisco! What an adventure this umbrella is having.

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Eating pictures are never very flattering…

Our day was mainly spent just walking around before there was a little lull in the day when we went back to the hostel, which had become more and more vacant as the furniture almost entirely dissipated from the place. We even had to get off the couch as someone had come to take it! In the evening Hugo had gone out for a meal with the person he was staying with, whilst the 4 of us ordered a Chicago deep dish pizza as our final meal in Chicago, which just so happened to be on the hostel’s rooftop, giving us a perfect view of the city. I forgot to mention before, but the people who worked at the hostel have a dog that sometimes comes over whilst their working. It was a black Labrador, and he was very interested in our food and kept starring at us as we ate, giving us those puppy dog eyes at us!

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Hugo eventually got back and joined us on the rooftop with some of the other final guests and people who worked at the hostel. It was a very melancholic evening for many reasons, highlighting the fact to me that things in life inevitably have to come to an end. It was sad that our time as a group had come to an end, but I’ll look back on this experience and be happy of what we did, holding these fond memories very closely. I don’t know if i’ll ever get to anything like this again, and I’m so glad I did with such a lovely bunch of people. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it wouldn’t have been the same without them!

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Now we get to the 30th of May, and the beginning of the second part of the journey. It was a very sad start to the day as it was time to say goodbye to Etsu, who left very early in the morning to travel to the airport to catch her flight. I’m going to miss Etsu very much, she’s such a lovely and kind person, whose always willing to try new things. She treats everyone with kindness and respect and I hope we’ll get to meet again someday!

Bye Etsu

Waking up in a very empty hostel was very strange and put me in a rather glum mood. After making pancakes for one final time, myself, Caitlin and Rikako got our stuff ready to go and waited for Hugo to arrive. After he did arrive, we said our goodbyes to the remaining people there and went on our way  to union station to catch our train. When we got there it took us a while to figure out how to print out our train tickets, it turns out we weren’t putting and pulling our debit cards in the machines quick enough. Hugo had to check in his big suitcase but other than that we were free to  wait around until we had to board our train. We ended up having lunch at the station as a group of 4. We had some beer that Hugo had brought with him, as he’d somehow manged to visit a brewery this morning, I have no idea how he made time for that!

Time went by quickly and before we knew it, it was time for the 3 of us to get on the train and say goodbye to Rikako. She’d be seeing Caitlin again back in Albany and I hoped I’d get to see her there too. But for now I treated this like our goodbye. Rikako is one of the most cheerful people I’ve ever met and when we’ve been with her there hasn’t ever been a single dull moment. She’s an incredibly warm-hearted person and can never fail to put you in a good mood. We need more people like Rikako in the world and I’m going to miss her tremendously!

Bye Rikako

We’s started out as a group of 5, but now only 3 of us remained. Next stop San Francisco! I was very excited for this leg of the journey as we’d be travelling in a double decker train; The California Zephur! This was a very grand train with coach carts, sleeping and shower carts (we didn’t realize there were showers until our final day on the train!), a dinning cart and a combo of a lounge/viewing cart on the upper deck and a cafe cart on the lower deck. We had seats in the coach cart (no beds for us) on the upper deck. I love going on trains (except Arriva Trains Wales) so I was looking forward to this.

However we did have a rather disappointing start, as we found out  we’d been lied to in the fact that there was going to be no free WiFi on the train like they’d promised online! That’s 2/3 days of no WiFi! We were also disappointed when it came to food, as we thought food would be complimentary like it is on long distance flights. NOPE! We had to pay restaurant prices for meals! At one point they offered a steak for the “mere” price of $40! Needless to say, we never made it to the dinning cart the entire time we were on the train. What did we do about food then you may be asking. Well we found our salvation in the cafe car I mentioned before. It was run by a very sweet elderly southern woman called Sandy. The cafe car provided some very cheap student typical food, which is where all our meals came from for the next few days. Sandy would do very frequent announcements on the speakers to let you know that she was open and ready for business. She was like an American grandmother I didn’t know I needed. The cafe car itself was also cool, as it was designed like a typical cafe, but moving, and being on a train…

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My rule of passing through a state still counts as visiting that state, and being on a train you get to see a lot of the state you travel through. The first new state on this leg of the journey was Iowa: my 8th state! It didn’t look that different to Illinois, but me and Hugo had a very weird run in with an Iowan. It was getting late and the 3 of us had been hanging out in the lounge car before Caitlin decided to go back to her seat and try and get some sleep.  Hugo and I stayed longer and shortly after Caitlin left, a random girl came and asked if she could come and sit with us, we didn’t see any problem with this and agreed to let her sit with us. This was our first mistake! Once we’d started talking to her we soon realised that we should have just said no, she began telling us really (and I mean REALLY) personal stuff about herself in great detail, which I don’t really feel like writing as it would probably just disturb you. She was only 18 but some of the stuff she’s done made it seem like she was much older. She kept asking me if I was annoying her because I was being so quiet (I’m just a typically quiet person and don’t do so well holding a conversation I’m not interested in!), but I said no and said that’s just how I am. That was my second mistake!

She then switched gears and started creepy flirting with me and Hugo! As I was talking with her I noticed she’d gotten really close to me and started rubbing her leg next to mine. I wasn’t interested in her at all and she was seriously just creeping me out. She also reached across me to grab Hugo’s wrist, bringing it closer to her and ‘look at the time on his watch’ (yeah right!). By this point I just wanted to get out of there. She also just randomly tried to be subtle with her flirting and failed miserably it just became too cringie to bear. At one point she said, and I quote, “I didn’t wear any makeup today as I didn’t think I’d meet any cute guys, typical right!?” If it appears like I’m being rude about her, it’s because I am. She was creepy and gross, but on top of everything else she was a stalker! She confessed this to us, saying that she wasn’t initially sure whether to sit with us or not, but figured it would be okay as she she was sitting 2 seats behind us in the coach car. So she’d basically waited for her chance to strike as she knew where we sat and where we’d be!

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Eventually she went back to the coach car to do something and I saw my opportunity to get the heck out of there. I told Hugo that he should come with me, but he decided to stay a little longer. I felt really bad leaving him there to be on his own with her, but seriously I just needed to leave that whole scenario, I couldn’t stand another second of that! I passed her on the way back to my seat but quickly avoided a conversation with her by saying I was tired and really needed to get some sleep. I was so relieved when I was finally back in my seat. Whilst that whole uncomfortable encounter had been going on, we’d entered in Nebraska: my 9th state. I couldn’t see that much of it as it was dark and we’d be mainly travelling through it at night. It had been nice sleeping in a bed, but now it was back to sleeping in a chair, at least I had plenty of leg room!

That’ll have to be it for now, I start my final year of university in mid to late September, and I should be finished with my summer job by early September, that should give me a small window to do a lot of writing. Fingers crossed! Until next time

TTFN

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