Chicago

Taking full advantage of having in laws staying, Hutch and I escaped to Chicago for a mini break sans kids. It’s the first time he’s had away from them since we got to the US, I’ve disappeared a couple of times to NYC, but no real time out together in over a year. It was a toss up between Chicago and Montreal. I was keen on Canada, but Hutch had googled Michelin star restaurants and there are plenty in Chicago. Flights were cheap, we used Expedia and paid $380 return for both of us, and we found a lovely studio on Air b’n’b that was a steal! I left it to Hutch to plan the restaurants but vetoed Alinea, three stars it may be, but way too expensive.

We checked in online on Thursday night and the website said there was a possibility that the flight was overbooked and would we be interested in volunteering to take a later flight, compensation would be provided? I figured that we weren’t in a hurry, and that there were probably other people who needed to get to Chicago quicker than we did. When we got to the airport we were bumped, given hundreds of dollars in compo vouchers and access to the United lounge. Happy days! Hutch got to watch a replay of the Bombers game against the Hawks, and we ended up leaving at 930.

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Dinner on Friday night was at Sixteen on the 16th floor of the Trump Tower and Hotel. It’s got 2 Michelin stars and is fancy. Lots and lots of waiting staff, a set nine course menu with two themes; Day or Night. The day menu focusses on the springtime, new growth and fresh flavours, the night menu focusses on things that grow without light, and has more of a seafood bent. We chose the Day menu, and it was very entertaining.

 

My favourite flavoured courses were the first, ‘The Rising Sun’ was cured salmon, kumquat, haricot vert, lemongrass chantilly and osetra caviar, and the last ‘May Flowers’ huckleberry filled goat cheese mousse, with almond financier and mountain mint ice cream.

The most entertaining was ‘Melting Snow’ which involved a mushroom tea being brought to our table, heated with a small gas flame and the liquid was sucked into a top chamber to be flavoured by nasturtium and other greenery. On cooling it flowed back into the bottom chamber and was then poured over a hollow ball of ice, symbolising the melting snow. It was amazing from a drama point of view, but unfortunately because the hot tea was poured over the cold ice, actually meant the meal was tepid and probably my least favourite taste.

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The view from the 16th floor of the Trump Tower feels as though you aren’t very high within the skyscrapers of Chicago, a great view of the Wrigley building (of chewing gum fame) that has now been taken over by Groupon. Here’s before and after sunset.

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The architecture of Chicago is very interesting, it feels like a really old city, the train system is wooden and badly maintained, and the buildings are a mix of old and new. The great Chicago fire back in the 1870s wiped out over 60% of the CBD so there isn’t much left from before that time. There seems to have been lots of building done in the last 20 years and most of them are lovely.

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Saturday we didn’t have a reservation anywhere and after the hammering of the wallet on Friday night, it was probably a good thing. The apartment we were staying in was in Old Town, a few train stops north of the CBD, just near Lincoln Park. We wandered around to the International Museum of Surgical Science and spent an hour or so there, I think I was more keen than Hutch. It had a variety of examples of surgical techniques over the ages, along with some statues of important figures in medical history.

It was freezing on Saturday, about 2 degrees and low visibility. A walk down The Magnificent Mile (also known as North Michigan St) to Eataly for some lunch was about all we could manage. Eataly Chicago is just as good as Eataly NYC, think David Jones Food Hall on steroids, and only focussed on Italian food. We shared a plate of cheese and cured meats and I restrained myself from buying anything.

A short train ride took us to the Art Institute of Chicago. (Just as an aside, the train system is a bit weird, the stations are named for the streets they are on, so there are two Harlem Stations on the Blue line in very different parts of town. There are duplicates on other lines too as well as another Harlem station on the Green line. The city loop runs mostly aboveground on an old system. We quite liked the bus.)

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The Art institute is amazing. If you go, enter from Monroe st, the queues are much shorter and you get straight in to the modern section. We stuck to the art from 1900 onwards and that took us ages. It’s a fantastic collection even with the European section being closed. American Gothic is a great piece, there are lots of Georgia O’Keeffe who I’ve seen in other galleries, but she and her husband Alfred Steiglitz donated quite a bit, so it’s a comprehensive display of their work and collection. A little bit of Warhol, some Pollock, some de Kooning, a lonely Lichtenstein, brilliant. I’d have it in my top galleries in the world.

Saturday night was very low key, dinner in the Old Town and an early night.

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On Sunday we woke to a glorious day, well 11 degrees and clear skies, so we were very happy. A mile or so walk through Lincoln Park, past the zoo and up to North Pond, our brunch destination. It’s still very heavy density a few miles north of the business district, the apartment buildings are massive, probably taking advantage of the view of Lake Michigan. We noticed lots of car parking buildings and lots around the city, it seems the public transport isn’t reliable enough for people to commute in by rail or bus. With a population of around 10mil in Chicago and surrounds it’s a big city with some challenges.

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After a gorgeous brunch, we caught the bus downtown to join a river and lake cruise. Hutch got fleeced by a shoe shine guy, his lovely brown shoes were polished up nicely, ‘obligation free’ until the end when he was told it was $8 a shoe! I only had a $20 and handed it over way too quickly. After some heated discussion we walked away with $9 change, total rip off.

The river cruise was 90 minutes and the commentator was impressive, she spoke for at least 75 minutes and has a head full of facts and figures. Did you know it’s not called the Sears Tower anymore, it’s the Willis Tower? Naming rights go to the largest tenant. They have also reversed the flow of the Chicago river so the waste water goes down to the Gulf of Mexico. The lock that’s been built to make it all happen has to report to Michigan and Wisconsin every day notifying them of how much water they are taking out of the lake. It seemed quite contentious, a little bit dodgy and a lot of lawyer fees to get approval to change the river. Unfortunately the tap water is fairly gross, very chloriney which seems weird coming from a big lake. The big building in the second photo is Merchandise Mart, so large it used to have its own postcode.

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Off to the Museum of Contemporary Art after that which was much smaller than I expected. It’s supposed to be Chicago’s answer to MOMA but is nowhere near the scale.

Dinner on Sunday night was at Sepia, a one star restaurant than Hutch picked because he liked the website. Again a tasting menu with paired wines, lovely ambiance, dark with big light fittings and brown tones. Fresh flavours with peas featuring, not quite as fancy as Sixteen, but some tasty wine that was very well matched to the food.

Back to the apartment to bed before an early flight back to Boston. A few dramas there, American Airlines won’t let you store more than one boarding pass on your phone so we didn’t have one for Hutch and we arrived as boarding was commencing, a sprint to the gate after pushing to the front of the line at security, and we were allowed on the plane one minute before they drew back the air bridge. Oh and I left my passport in Chicago.

Most cities aren’t at their best at the end of the winter, snow has melted and the springtime isn’t in full bloom. Chicago is an interesting city, one that is great for foodies and with a bit of local knowledge would be a happy place for families too.

 

Cultural changes

As expected there are quite a few differences living in Boston compared to Melbourne. As a bit of a foodie, I knew I’d have to adapt some of my recipes to suit, but there were some surprises; cordial doesn’t exist except for at bottle shops where it’s more expensive to buy Rose’s lime cordial than Angostura bitters. There goes our evening tipple of lemon lime and bitters 😦  Puff pastry is also considered a seasonal thing, only available around Thanksgiving and Christmas. So no making pinwheels and home made sausage rolls for the boys to take for school lunches. I guess it can become a christmas treat!

Rose's cordial - this was $6 for 355ml!

Rose’s cordial – this was $6 for 355ml!

Everything is sweeter, even toothpaste. The only age appropriate one I could find for the kids was bubblegum flavoured, they are more than happy to do their teeth now. My deodorant smells sweeter too.

I knew the coffee wouldn’t be the same as home so I’ve weaned myself off it. I must admit though, I’m still on the hunt for a good cappuccino. There are a couple of places that have espresso machines but a cappuccino comes out with bad 70s foam. I’ve been totally spoilt in Melbourne with good coffee. There’s an area of Boston we haven’t been to yet with lots of Italians so I’m hoping that will be the place to go.

The houses are also quite different. Most have been built as two or three family homes so are massive. Sometimes they have separate entrances, other times both letter boxes are at the front door and there must be another internal door to each apartment. It’s similar to the houses in London, but bigger.

This house is across the road from school and is a two family. It's on the corner, so has entrances on different streets.

This house is across the road from school and is a two family. It’s on the corner, so has entrances on different streets.

 

See the two front doors?

See the two front doors?

In quite a few of the parks the rubbish bins have solar panels on the top and have inbuilt compactors. Great idea, makes the place so much cleaner and no need to have someone emptying them so often.

Solar compacting bin - very clever

Solar compacting bin – very clever

Something else I hadn’t even considered was that perhaps we Aussify foreign words, ie cars. We pronounce Nissan at home as Nissun, here it’s pronounced Nee-sahn which is probably much closer to the Japanese.

I’m sure there will be lots more things that I notice, so far it’s been a fascinating adjustment.

Moving to the US – part 2 Legoland

We arrived at Legoland around 7 o’clock with three hungry and hot kids. They’d snoozed in the car, but it had been a long journey and they were over travelling. As were we! We’d been given token directions to the hotel, i.e. get off the Interstate 5 at the Palomar Airport exit, but nothing more than that and there weren’t any signposts. For anyone reading who might be going, you need to turn left off the interstate, not right like we did.

We pulled up at the hotel entrance and Woo was suitably excited, but Skets burst in to tears. Poor boy, he was so hot and hungry and not as much of a fan of Lego as his brother.  We’d kept it all as a surprise so I had to manage him a bit and talk up the water slides etc. Once we got to our room which was themed as ‘Kingdom‘ so had knights and castles and cool shields.

We headed straight to dinner, which is a full buffet, with kid specific bain maries. A reasonable range of food including the usual spaghetti and meatballs, macaroni and cheese. There was also a mexican stand, roast, pasta, salad and dessert bar. With the obligatory soft serve machine the kids were in heaven! Oddly you had to ask a waitress for a glass of cold water, but apart from that it was just what we needed. Kids under 3 go free so poor Meema had to cope with us saying she was nearly three everywhere we went. She wasn’t happy about that at all!

Everyone slept really well both nights we were there, I think being out all day in the sunshine helps with getting acclimatised, and the flight over was mostly night time so the jet lag wasn’t bad.

We spent the first day on the left side of the park, going through the junior driving school, up in the Sky Patrol (stationary) helicopters and the Splash Battle. It was hot and our kids aren’t great at walking so we rented a stroller for $11. Well worth it, definitely saved us carrying Miss M. A friend had warned me to wear our bathers as some of the rides you get very wet and I’m glad we took her advice.  At the back of the park is the Water Park. You have to pay extra to get in which we did as part of our accommodation package and do need to pay $3 for the under 3s and the queue was massive. Saying all that though, we spent a good three hours there, with the kids very happily playing in the pools and on the water slides. Hutch took the boys up onto a bigger water slide and they loved it. They were tall enough to go down the rest on their own; poor Hutch was hoping he’d be needed for a few more years on water slides, but it was great to see the boys wanting to spend time together and racing off to go down again. Hilariously, the pool was closed for floaties (of the stinky kind) twice.  Yuck!

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Back to the hotel pool for the end of the day for more swimming, and an early meal and bed.

On Sunday we tried to get up early and use the priority queue for hotel guests, but again were too slow off the mark. The boys were desperate to go on a roller coaster that we’d said no to the day before because the queues were too long and of course when we got there on day 2 the line was even longer. Luckily there was a sandpit next door for Meema and I to hang out in while the boys waited. I was a bit nervous for them, I’m not a big fan of rollercoasters, but they loved it! I see a trip to the Gold Coast in the future, well, the next 5 years.

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This time I hired a double stroller which took me back to the days when the boys were small, that was $17 dollars I think and they all squished on at various stages. We went right in the park after the roller coaster and saw the Star Wars X-Wing model which had 5 million pieces in it. Fairly impressive.

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The boys then spent some time in the construction zone, building cars to race against other down a short track. I think I could have left them all there for at least an hour, but M and I were ready to go. This side of the park was geared to older kids with some bigger roller coasters, so we wandered through and had some ribs and chicken for lunch. The food options weren’t great, everything came with fries and a soft drink, but I guess that’s fairly standard for theme parks. The kids had a great time in the massive Hideaways fort, it was huge and gave them a chance to run around in the shade and for Hutch and I to chill for a few minutes. We ended up at the Pirates Reef, a splashdown rollercoaster in which you were guaranteed to get soaked. Of course we all went on and realised afterwards that perhaps it was a bit much for a three year old. whoops. She’s ok though. The rides were all clearly marked with the height restrictions and did have fairly long queues but they moved quickly and the kids didn’t mind too much.

The kids had some birthday money we said they could spend in the shop on the way out. needless to say, Woo suffered from buyer’s remorse and ruined the family photo on our departure. You may see him as extra elbows by Skets’ head below. Oh well, a funny story for later.

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We left for our drive back to LAX giving ourselves plenty of time after the bad experience picking up the car, and had a relaxed arrival at the airport ready for our red eye flight to Boston.

It’s 30 degrees in LA and 28 in Boston!

As I sit in our study, right near the heater, listening to fighting children and surrounded by boxes, I’m holding on to today’s weather forecast for LA and Boston; 30 and 28 degrees. This time in two weeks we’ll be getting settled into our new adventure, we would have had our weekend at Legoland and will be checking out the school and parks. Still feels very strange that we’re going, and I don’t think it will feel real until most of the people we talk to have American accents.

Hutch has deferred his PhD, it’s not finished and it won’t be submitted before we go. I’m actually more relieved that disappointed, at least now it can be put to one side and his focus and energy can be helping get this house packed up and ready to go. My biggest concern was that I’d be doing it all myself while he was still staring at a computer screen trying to get the last bits completed so now that shouldn’t happen.

We had a lovely farewell over the weekend, I’ve finished up work and I packed 10 boxes yesterday but there still seems a long way to go. Our friends have been amazing, taking kids, offering to help pack and providing meals and I hope when we get home we’re able to return the favour.

This time next week I’ll be giving back the keys and saying good bye to this fantastic house. One door has nearly closed, and an amazing one is about to open.

We leave next month!

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1 July today, we leave in 6 weeks. Flights are booked, kids signed up for frequent flyers, Skycouch is booked. All the important things. The final piece of the puzzle is visas. I may have thrown a curve ball into that process, but fingers crossed it works out ok.

Oh and one small issue of a PhD to complete, but I am assured it’s on track.

We’re staying at the Legoland resort in California for a couple of days on the way and it looks amazing, I’m sure the kids’ minds will be blown by all the Lego everywhere, it’s W’s dream come true. I’m looking forward to some sunshine, time by the hotel pool (note to self, go to the beauticians before we leave, winter hairiness is very uncool) and lots of laughs. I’m hoping by breaking up the trip with some fun will make it all a more pleasant experience.

Because we’ll be on a budget once we’re in Boston, trying to decide the cheapest and easiest way to do some travel was initially concerning. Getting to Niagara Falls by train was going to take 22 hours and went via NYC. A bus was around $100 each and again through NYC. So thinking it would be even more expensive I looked at car hire. $300 for 4 days including three car seats. Easy! Now we have to decide where we go, Canada, Niagara Falls, NYC somewhere else. Hutch and I will be pros at driving on the right by the end of this trip.

It’s really happening

The whole purpose of setting up this blog was in the hope that we would be moving to Boston some time in 2013. Well over the weekend we got confirmation that it all actually happening! We’re very excited, well actually Hutch is just very relieved, and the proper planning can now start in earnest. The house hunting has begun, looking into elementary and nursery schools, visas, packing up our house, the whole lot. I’m a girl who likes a project so I’m happy with a long to do list especially when it’s as big as this.

We’ve told the kids we’re going to Boston, and are selling it as a great place with lots of snow. Having just come back from a holiday, the appeal of an aeroplane is still strong, but realistically they’re too little to understand what’s happening.

I can’t quite get my head around what we”ll need to take, especially if we get a furnished house. A suitcase each and bikes?

The US Plan

The title of this blog should be an indication that we are overseas. Well we’re not there yet. The plan is for Hutch to do a Masters of Public Health at Harvard in 2013, and a fellowship at a Boston hospital the following year.

With two boys that will be starting school in the US,  a husband that can’t be too far from the hospital if he’s on call, and no one in the family who’ve actually been to Boston, I’m flying quite blind. I spent three hours online this morning looking at school districts in relation to hospitals, checking against their state performance ranking (as much as people may hate the myschool website here, its equivalent overseas is at least a starting point) and then trying to find somewhere to live. A few friends have got contacts there who I’ll get in touch with closer to the time, but at least now I’ve got a bit more of an idea where we want to be.

It’s going to cost us the same rent for a two-three bed apartment in Boston, that we pay for a three bed house in Melbourne. I truly hope the parks are good, we get cabin fever here far too often. Some places are listed now for occupancy in September, so this time next year I’ll be lodging applications!

I’ve narrowed it down to Brookline, an area east of the main Longwood Medical Area, which has JFK’s elementary school as an option for the kids. That’d be kinda cool.