Have you ever seen this woman?

1920 (approx) Winifred Bowdidge

A new season of Who Do You Think You Are? begins on BBC1 next week and it will be my must-see show for the weeks to come. If you are also interested in family history, and in the stories that leach out of old diaries and faded photograph albums, if you delight in finding one more ancestor who takes a line in your tree back into an earlier century – then read on. Perhaps you have seen a picture of someone without knowing how they fit in the family story, a picture that could just possibly be of Winifred?

She was born well before the suffrage movement reached its peak or hemlines lifted to reveal ankles and although she would later be described as having been a rather ‘fast’ young woman this may well not convey anything nearly as scandalous as one might imagine, simply that she was rather ahead of her time for someone who spent her early childhood during the Edwardian era. I have concluded that her parents were generous-hearted and fairly open-minded; they came to terms with the fact that Winifred would be the only child they could have after her birth made further pregnancies out of the question and, in 1902, they adopted a baby boy born out of wedlock to a family friend. This young woman apparently faced ostracism and disgrace at the hands of her own family but her newborn son went on to grow up in a loving household with an older sister who adored him.

Winifred left school in her teens and began a working life in the clerical, secretarial world – a working life that would span over forty years until her retirement at aged sixty. By 1939 she was a book-keeper in a hotel in Bournemouth, the place that was home from her birth until shortly before her death in 1985. But what did she do in her spare time? Who did she socialise with, and were there any relationships that held out the possibility of settling down into a family life of her own? These questions remain unanswered – and it seems that Winnie never left home. In the late spring or early summer of 1927 she fell pregnant and subsequently changed her title from Miss to Mrs. Unlike the mother of her adopted brother, she had the love and support of her parents, who helped her to bring up her daughter. She was not a careless teenager but a relatively mature woman in her late twenties – past the average age at which women married at that time in the UK – and she continued to work to provide for herself and her daughter, who benefitted from grandparents who must have effectively taken the place of a father. There is no record of anyone at all – apart from Winnie – ever knowing the identity of her child’s father. Did Winnie have a secret lover for an extended period, someone who was perhaps not free to marry – but who might have carried her picture as a keepsake? Or was there a more distressing story behind her pregnancy: was she taken advantage of by a senior colleague or a hotel guest, someone she dare not expose?

Have you ever seen this woman? She was my much-loved grandmother and I have been trying for decades to find out who my grandfather was.

Around the world in 30 days: Reflections

I am not sure that there exists a phrase that sums up the reverse of ‘home thoughts from abroad’, but that is what is attempted here, a few days after returning from circling the globe.

  1. Yes, travel broadens the mind. In many ways it is only the sights, sounds and experiences of actually being somewhere else, immersed for however short a time in another culture, that can begin to give a better understanding of other countries and their people. However, with all we now know about the causes and effects of climate change, long-distance travel is an immense privilege, and should not be taken for granted or undertaken lightly. Would I fly across the world in the interests of learning more and seeing new places, rather than primarily to visit close family members? Absolutely not. This trip has reinforced the importance of reducing air travel and taking all other possible steps open to individuals to reduce the emissions of climate-change-inducing greenhouse gases and also to eliminate as far as possible our use of unsustainable and polluting products.
  2. Stereotypes about other nations are invariably blinkered and often based upon a minority who are not representative of the real character of a country’s people. There are wonderfully warm, friendly and welcoming people everywhere and the issues from abroad that are given prominence by our domestic media may well not be the primary concerns of the majority in the country concerned. Having said that, the current political leadership in the United States and the ongoing confusion around the UK’s exit from the European Union do seem to be universal topics of conversation and concern.
  3. Home is where the heart is – it is a cliché but true. It is only where one is rooted and grounded in a local community, and with the opportunity to both draw on and contribute to all that community has to offer, that a real sense of home and of belonging can be felt. Being a ‘citizen of the world’ is fine for a while but eventually you realise that you cannot achieve anything while rootless.
  4. If you want to write about a journey then there is no better way to travel than by train.

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Around the world in 30 days: Days 28-31

Tuesday and Wednesday in Boston see a return to warm, sunny weather but having planned to take advantage of what was a better forecast for the middle of the week the first day is largely spent inside. The city’s travel passes represent excellent value and at less than the price of two separate day passes, a seven-day pass for subway and buses is a bargain for a three-day stay, especially with a subway station just a short distance from the hotel. The XV, on Beacon Street, is within walking distance of the harbour and many of the sights, is very comfortable and has an excellent and very popular linked restaurant, Mooo.

A ride out to the Northeastern University area on the subway takes you to the Museum of Fine Art. My goodness, America does these museums well, and here again there was space, light, great facilities and a tremendous amount to see. In a three-storey covered courtyard area there is a large glass sculpture, the lime green icicle, by Dale Chihuly, who currently has a number of works on display in London’s Kew Gardens. Fortunately, this runs until October and is now on our list to see. Having missed a recent Frieda Kahlo exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, it was a real bonus to find a special exhibition on her life and work here in Boston. There was also a wonderful and extensive exhibition, ‘Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris’. It was fascinating to see not only many of his famous posters but also earlier works, including one painting, ‘The Hangover’, that was very reminiscent of one of Manet’s paintings seen last week.

The Museum of Fine Art gives new US citizens a free, one-year family membership and city initiatives like this tell quite a different story about the local welcome given to people from overseas settling in America compared to the rhetoric coming from the White House about immigrants. Much the same contrast is seen in Europe, between the individuals and communities giving aid and hospitality to refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean from North Africa, and some of the European governments who want to close their borders to immigrants.

There is no Big Bus tour in Boston but the City Trolley Bus runs frequently throughout the day, taking a two-hour route around the city and up to Charlestown where the Bunker Hill monument can be seen nearby, and then back over the Charlestown Bridge giving a great view of the Bunker Hill Bridge, with its pillars that reflect the shape of the monument and cables that represent ships’ sails. The bus also goes out as far as Cambridge, over the Longfellow Bridge. Municipal encouragement for reducing plastic bag use can be seen on the pavements – which is something, if rather too little.

The driver gives an almost non-stop commentary and, incredibly, manages to navigate a fixed route through busy city traffic as well as giving a fluent presentation of a vast amount of information. Passengers learn that health care is the biggest single sector in Boston and that its principal hospital was the location for the first use of ether as an anaesthetic for surgery, the first successful appendectomy, the first successful severed limb reattachment and, in 2011, the first ever face transplant. Then there was the story, as the bus passed the site, of the Union Distilling Company’s molasses disaster in 1919, which prompted a large legal action after the destruction of property and loss of life. Boston has approximately one tenth the population of New York but has a string of city parks designed by the same landscape architect who designed New York’s famous Central Park. Boston also has the oldest public school, the oldest public house and the oldest restaurant in the United States, and on 18 July 1776 the Declaration of Independence, signed two weeks earlier, was read from the balcony of Boston’s old State House, which has really interesting displays about Boston’s history leading up to independence. It also wants everyone’s stories to be told. The new State House, with an easy-to-spot golden dome, is just along the road from the XV hotel and opposite a stop on the trolley bus tour.

With the weather as good as had been forecast, it was back to the harbour for a whale-watching cruise. This trip lasts around four hours and if you are very fortunate, as we were, then having travelled out for ninety minutes or so to the Stillwagen Marine Sanctuary, humpback whales can be seen quite close by. Individuals are identifiable by their unique tail fins and two groups totalling eight whales were accompanied by a number of playful grey seals as they repeatedly sent water spouts up into the air, swam in close formation and then, one by one, dived beneath the surface with dramatic flicks of their tails. Seeing these majestic creatures was such a treat and a reminder of just how important it is to preserve their habitats and protect them. Even here, in a marine sanctuary, half of the whales seen are reckoned by the experts to have been entangled in fishing nets at some time.

There is something rather fitting about the change to bad weather right at the end of a holiday, almost as if this rain is signalling that it is time to go home. The last full day in Boston was also the only day of non-stop rain in a month of travelling, so indoor activities were the obvious choice. Trinity Church is of national importance – but apparently funded only by parishioners and tourists, the latter charged an entrance fee although it is fortunately made clear that if your purpose in entering is simply to pray then there is no charge. The church contains some striking examples of stained glass from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, including four windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones and made by William Morris & Co in the UK. Looking down from the west end, over the ranks of pews towards the altar, is a window depicting Christ and described in the guide as either ‘Christ preaching’ or ‘Christ in majesty’. Flanked on either side by windows of bright blue stained glass, each with simple central columns, visitors are invited to think about the position of this window and what it might convey. To me it seemed as if the three could represent the Trinity, with only one of its three persons fully visible in human form, overlooking the Church.

Over the square outside – Copley Plaza – is Boston Public Library, a huge pair of internally linked buildings, with wide open spaces and a magnificent staircase leading up from the main entrance. On the second floor there were lots of people using the impressive, double-height Bates Hall reading room and there are a number of other reading rooms fully equipped with computers, all also being well used. The library has both an informal cafe, where use of personal reusable drinks cups was rewarded with a discount – and where a live local television broadcast was in progress in a pop-up studio in one corner – and a restaurant. The latter was a delightful space near an outdoor courtyard and, had it been later in the day, the afternoon tea looked extremely tempting. Access to the library is, and always has been, free, as proclaimed above the main door. On the older building’s top floor is the Singer Sargent gallery, which has twenty-six years of the artist’s work in large panels around the walls, depicting religious themes. A large empty panel is a reminder that he died in England before completing this large body of work.

A subway and shuttle bus ride out from the centre of the city to JFK/UMass was fraught with delays so that there were only about thirty-five minutes left before it closed in which to look around the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Having read a biography of JFK’s sister, there is no doubt that he was an extremely ambitious and flawed individual but nevertheless he does seem to have been a real international statesman and a politician of vision, a seeker after peace and having a real desire for justice and for harmony between nations. I was only nine years old when he was assassinated but it is one of those few world events for which I can clearly remember exactly where I was when the news came through. His youth and energy had made him a hero to many around the world. The layout of the museum’s exhibition space, with a timeline through the campaign trail, the presidential victory, highlights from key speeches and significant achievements from his term of office, is really well done. From his election onwards, display areas are set on either side of a wide, carpeted central ‘White House’ corridor, leading into a dark-walled space with screens showing the events surrounding JFK’S death. Ending with a section of tributes to the legacy of his time in office, and those things which he would surely have been pleased to see – including the presidency of Barack Obama, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the continuing work of the Peace Corps, this was a very moving visit and an interesting and positive way in which to close our trip to the United States.

An early morning departure from Boston’s airport, coupled with a flight east and a time shift of five hours, mean that our arrival back home is in the evening of Day 31. Having left during the evening of Day 1 this will have been a trip in which we have travelled right around the world, visited four countries and passed through fifteen states of the USA, all in thirty days.

Around the world in 30 days: Day 27

Early Monday morning and all is very quiet near the Niagara River’s American Rapids. One family walk near the river – perhaps they have been out to view the Falls at sunrise. There are no cars about yet, apart from one parked over the road, and the wide street is occupied only by a very noisy gull, vigorously defending an unappetising slice of dry toast from four or five other gulls, all eager to share its breakfast. Two squirrels scamper across the grass and then cross the road, one behind the other; the one taking up the rear is grey but the leader is almost black. A lot of these black squirrels have been seen here; they are fairly tame and apart from the colouring are much like our familiar grey ones. Across the street a black guy wearing a red baseball cap and carrying a large umbrella – it has been raining – is dancing and singing along with music from his mobile phone; he has headphones on so his backing track cannot be heard but he twirls the umbrella, spins around and tosses first his cap and then the umbrella to the ground before raising both arms. He is completely absorbed as he dances and sings, apparently in worship at the start of the day. His celebration complete, he retrieves both cap and umbrella before getting into his car and driving away. Another vehicle pulls up over the road and a street-cleaner emerges, armed with a large red bucket and a litter-picker, and proceeds to pick up every scrap of rubbish from the road. Waiting for an Uber at this early hour, before the tourists begin to throng the area and the trolley buses start their circling of the park – every few minutes throughout the day on a 25-minute lap, has allowed a glimpse of another side of Niagara; it is very calm, although the background roar of the rapids is ceaseless.

Back through Buffalo, today’s train journey is initially to New York on a much faster route, the Amtrak Empire Service. We are pulling out of Rochester through a residential area of neatly spaced, detached clapboard-type houses before I finally realise what it is that makes these look so different from any housing development at home: there are no fences or hedges dividing the properties one from another or from the road. There are occasional houses bounded by low hedges or picket fences – perhaps those where there are young children who may play outside (not that we have seen this, however) – but they are the exception rather than the rule.

Earlier rain has stopped and, mid-morning, the sun shines down from a break in the cloudy sky onto a lush green landscape. Smaller fields, lots of trees, pink and white ‘honesty’ at the trackside – no evidence here of routine weedkiller use – and it has been good to see a lot more birds over the past few days.

The original route for the last stage of the journey from Buffalo would have involved changing trains there back onto the line from Chicago to Boston, after our brief ‘diversion’ north to Niagara. However, track work beyond Albany would mean ‘detraining’ and completing the journey by bus. Having determined to cross the continent by rail we instead remained on board the train from Niagara all the way to New York. Following the Mohawk River on the approach to Albany and the Hudson on the south-bound stretch to New York, we are struck yet again by the huge width of these great rivers, even where they are still hundreds of miles from the ocean.

IMG_20190610_135143At Hudson, New York, there is an old, rust-red-roofed station building, fenced off and apparently empty. We have seen quite a number of older, characterful station buildings that have been abandoned and replaced by anonymous modern alternatives – a real shame.

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It is very foggy for an hour or two as the train approaches New York’s Penn Station and news reaches us of a helicopter that has crashed onto the top of a building within the city. Sadly, the pilot is killed but the fact that he is the only casualty is almost miraculous given the very poor visibility and how busy such a large city would be mid-afternoon. The poor weather and probable disruption in central New York make a fairly rapid transfer onto the Boston-bound Acela Express a logical decision and by late evening we have arrived at our final US destination. In nine days we have travelled around 3095 miles by train from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast. We have been accompanied by a facsimile edition of the 1879 Appleton’s Railway Guide, which the former British Member of Parliament, now television presenter – and train enthusiast – Michael Portillo had signed for us some months ago, encouraging us to ‘see everything beautiful, curious and memorable’. We may not have managed ‘everything’ but there has been a very great deal that has otherwise fitted his description, and for the next few days there is Boston to explore.

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Around the world in 30 days: Days 25-26

Late arrival at lunchtime in Buffalo, New York state, as a result of a three-hour delay in leaving Chicago – the name comes from a Native American word for ‘stinky onion’ but although the downtown area has abundant flowerbeds, parks and grassy areas there was no evidence of the plant that had given Chicago its name. It had been after midnight when we left Illinois and overnight the train had travelled through Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania before reaching New York. Meanwhile, mid-morning we passed through large tracts of land given over to tree nurseries and other horticulture. Lake Erie was visible to the north for long stretches and there were miles of vineyards alongside the track before reaching the outskirts of Buffalo and arriving into the small out-of-town station at Buffalo-Depew, where the connecting train departs for Niagara. Travelling in a roomette for what had been scheduled as a purely overnight journey was decidedly cosy but perfectly adequate; there was even a toilet – think bedside table (nightstand), but thankfully at the foot of the fold-down lower bunk. What would have been very cramped for much longer than a half day was fine, but with no meals served on the train passengers would be wise to travel prepared for delays, especially as the station at Buffalo could only offer vending machine snacks and drinks. Mixed nuts and a chocolate bar for lunch was not a match for the delicious falafel salad enjoyed twice at the club in Chicago.

The onward journey from Buffalo to the last American stop on the line, Niagara Falls, New York, lasts only around ninety minutes and the station at Niagara is then a taxi ride from the national park that borders the Niagara River. The station is new and has a display, and a museum next door, about the ‘underground railway’ – the various routes and people who enabled slaves to escape north.

A car accident necessitated a diversion off the main road from the station to the Red Coach Inn, next to the American Rapids, and it was immediately clear that there is a lot of neglect in much of the town: the back roads were poorly maintained and many properties rundown, with quite a number of both houses and commercial premises boarded up. Once in the park, however, the feel is very different, with wide grassy areas, a single carriageway road and a couple of footpaths separating our ground-floor room from the rushing river. A roadside outdoor covered patio was a great spot for an early evening meal in good weather and we followed this with a stroll across a pedestrian bridge to Goat Island, which gives easy access to the viewing platforms for both the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls. Mid-evening in early June neither of these were too crowded.

A surprise discovery on Goat Island was a memorial to Nikola Tesla, who designed the first hydro-electric power plant in Niagara Falls, which was also the first such power-generating plant in the world and is regarded as marking a turning point in the history of electricity; so it is not difficult to see why the founders of the car company chose to use his name. He is the only scientist to be commemorated by statues on both the American and Canadian sides of the Falls, which is especially fitting given that the two countries share the electricity generated. Also seen while walking on Goat Island, to our astonishment as we had no idea that they might be found here, was a dull grey snake that made its way briskly but ‘side-winder’ fashion across the footpath before disappearing into the grass.

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The Maid of the Mist boat tour the following morning was just astonishing. I am not one of those people who love to be by the water; I find the open sea somewhat unnerving and although untroubled by heights the views from the top of the Falls had been spectacular but also slightly disturbing. From below, however, it was just amazing to experience their power and grandeur – this was awe-inspiring in just the way I had been reading about only days before, in a book that makes a great case for looking at both the natural sciences and theology in order to have a full appreciation of life (Enriching our Vision of Reality by Alister McGrath). Before boarding the boat the vast majority of passengers – probably 95-99% – accepted the single-use ponchos; getting wet seemed to me to be a very small price to pay for an incredible experience and to avoid this wasteful use of plastic, especially on a warm and sunny day. Although there are excellent recycling efforts – every poncho is labelled recyclable and there are bins to deposit them in on leaving the boat – it was very distressing, when climbing the nearby steep steps to a spray-covered viewpoint, to see that both the steps and the rocks to either side were strewn with fragments of the telltale blue plastic. Over on the Canadian side this is all being repeated in red.

It has been quite astonishing to realise how relatively little is apparently being done – either by individuals or companies – to reduce their consumption of energy or of single-use disposable items. Requests for china cups rather than takeaway ones, or statements about avoiding single-use plastic are greeted in most places with bafflement. The exceptions seem to be smaller independents, where paper straws, for example, are much more common, while the big chains have yet to catch up. Unlike hotels in other parts of the world, it has also not been usual to see statements about only replacing towels if they are left in the bath or on the floor; even more irksome is to return to a room in the evening to find that however many hours previously it was serviced, the lights and air-conditioning have been left switched on. And as for ice – something I would only rarely choose to have diluting a drink anyway – I suspect that the entire economy of a small country could be run on what the US must spend on producing ice!

Back to Niagara – there is a marked contrast between the two sides of the river: the American has its national park, which is green, landscaped and although thousands of visitors are passing through every day there is little traffic near the Falls; on the Canadian side the buildings are high-rise, with hotels and casinos set back only a short way from the river’s edge. With Canada so close it would have felt rude not to pay a visit and as it is only a walk over a bridge it was simple, equipped with passports, to make a trip of only a couple of hours. The views of the Falls looking from the Canadian side – unimpeded by their unattractive buildings – is even better than from the US side, although America’s observation platform, at the top of a large green elevator tower, does provide a spectacular outlook. On re-entry to the US – for which there is a one dollar charge – the border guard was slightly taken aback on being given, as the reason for visiting Canada, ‘to have a cup of tea’.

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Around the world in 30 days: Days 23-24

Another day, another Big Bus tour – not quite as informative as the river cruise, this was nevertheless again a good way of seeing a bit more of the city and especially areas that could not be viewed from the boat. Out to Navy Pier, a naval training establishment at the time of the Second World War and where George H W Bush qualified as a pilot; and past the law firm where a young Barack Obama was an intern and Michelle was his boss. A break part way around the red route eventually produced an excellent pot of tea at the Langham Hotel – a welcome change from a mug of hot water accompanied by a wrapped teabag – but not before considerable dismay at being offered only takeaway cups with sip lids, from a coffee trolley. However, next to the opulent reception area, a dining area was set up ready for afternoon tea and it did look as if this might well rival the fantastic version available at London’s Langham Hotel.

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Back onto the Big Bus and our new guide, armed with a bubble gun being periodically ‘fired’ at unsuspecting pedestrians below, had obviously had experience of working in the film industry. He was a mine of information about city locations that had been used in a variety of films. As Chicago fog swept through between buildings it was tempting to suspect that ascending the John Hancock Tower for its 360-degree panoramas over the city might not be worthwhile, but deciding to risk it was the right decision: the views were spectacular and the various displays on the observation level were very interesting – especially those featuring the handwritten notes of ‘Chicago Pete’, who had worked on the building’s construction.

Anyone looking for a recommendation regarding where to stay in Chicago may need to find the right people to travel with, or obtain an American university degree. The University of Chicago Club, situated on the corner of Monroe Street and Michigan Avenue, is wonderful. The facilities are great, the service efficient and friendly – very accommodating of the vagaries of train travel – and the food and hospitality cannot be faulted. Tea readily available from a teapot and with cold milk if requested. The building also affords great views over Millennium Park towards Lake Michigan and, for anyone fortunate enough to encounter the facilities manager when he is not too busy, a guided tour of the magnificent ‘Cathedral Room’ and details of how to access the outdoor balcony on the twelfth floor.

Just over the road from the club is the Art Institute of Chicago and a day ticket is great value. Five hours spent exploring was just about long enough for a good look around the fantastic ‘Manet and Modern Beauty’ exhibition currently on show here with paintings gathered from all over the world, and a more cursory viewing of a number of other galleries where, among many others, there were works by Constable, Seurat, Rossetti, the artist who seems to be everywhere this year – van Gogh – and also Grant Wood, whose famous picture, ‘American Gothic’, was exhibited in London last year.

Having recently enjoyed an historical novel based on the life and work of Diego Velasquez it was good to eventually track down the only works by him – one early and another believed to be his – on display in the institute.

Emerging from the large building, which appears to have been built with an eye to reducing the amount of either heating or air conditioning needed, as it has a ‘flying’ roof, out into a brilliantly sunny and very warm afternoon, the Blues Festival could be heard loud and clear from the park and there were lots of people about, sitting on the grass to enjoy the music. Heading for somewhere a little quieter, an Uber ride away we entered the Episcopal Cathedral of St James. The interior, which is not huge, is richly decorated with stencilling in the Arts and Crafts style. This is another welcoming and inclusive place of worship – a couple of older folk were sleeping peacefully stretched out on pews; the only things very definitely not welcome in the cathedral are guns.

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A couple of blocks away, the much larger Catholic Cathedral – Holy Name – is higher (both literally and in churchmanship) than St James’s. It has very attractive modern stained glass, which in sunny weather was bathing visitors in rainbow shades of light. The cathedral has a soaring, wood-panelled roof above marble columns, and its magnificent organ, above the main door, was being played as we made our way out.

Having received news that the overnight Amtrak train to Buffalo, due to leave at 9.30pm, was delayed by a few hours, this was a good enough reason to check boarding details by paying a visit to the wonderful main hall of Union Station, not seen when we had left straight from the platform on our arrival in the early hours a few days ago.

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The only conventional taxi ride taken in an American city so far was a deeply unpleasant if thankfully brief experience, with a driver who spent a proportion of the journey talking on his mobile phone – not hands-free – and was viciously racially abusive about Uber drivers. This is almost certainly not typical of taxi drivers but, given that our experience of well over a dozen Uber journeys has been that drivers were unfailingly friendly, polite and law-abiding, it was a very poor reflection on their ‘older’ competition.

Transport options in the city of which we had no experience included both ‘Boris’-type bicycles, endorsed by the American Medical Association – headquartered here – hybrid ‘clean air’ buses and also the Loop overhead train system.

 

Around the world in 30 days: Day 22

Proportionally, the delay was equivalent to around eight or nine minutes on our train journey from home into London but somehow arriving at around 2.30am in Chicago on Wednesday morning, when we had been due in at 2.50pm the previous day, did feel rather late.

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A quick journey by Uber and we were soon settled in a very comfortable and spacious room and getting used to the absence of movement and railway noise. It was a leisurely start much later in the morning and after taking in the view from an eighth-floor balcony and having an excellent early lunch we took a recommendation from fellow train passengers and walked along Michigan Avenue to the boarding point for Chicago Architectural Cruises on the river. Cannot recommend this too highly – our volunteer guide, retired lawyer Bill, spoke for ninety minutes without notes and we learned more about twentieth- and twenty-first-century architecture than we could have imagined possible. He knows all there is to know on the subject and his fascinating talk was all the more incredible for the fact that he spoke facing us – about what we were seeing up ahead or on either side – and so was almost invariably describing buildings that were behind him and that he could not yet see. He must have a wonderful memory and a great mental map of this area of the city. It was a fantastic tour and a great introduction to some of Chicago’s very impressive buildings. It was also really interesting to hear about forthcoming developments, new cities within the city, that will provide more homes for people who do not wish to commute but who are able to work, rest and play within a city that has many open green spaces.

Acting on another recommendation, after disembarking from the First Lady cruise, we had supper at Giordano’s. We had been advised to share a ‘small’ pizza, and the delicious deep-dish pizza – a vegetarian choice with spinach and mushrooms – could, to be honest, have fed three rather than two, but we managed to avoid needing a takeaway box, eating every last scrap. Giordano’s was bustling, had a good atmosphere and was great fun, and the pizza was excellent but it was a big disappointment that all cold drinks were seen to be served with plastic straws – even glasses of water.

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A stroll was definitely called for and the way back was through Millennium Park, which hosts various events during the year, with a Blues Festival coming up shortly. There are some striking large modern sculpture pieces on permanent display, including Anish Kapoor’s ‘bean’. Its highly reflective surface offers great views of the skyscrapers on all sides and children seemed to enjoy the weird effects experienced when standing immediately under its curves.

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