Travel around Chicago without technology


In this technological age, is it possible to roam a completely new and alien city without access to the internet or phone, or with maps?


As I stood inside Grand Union Station, Chicago, watching my carefully laid plans crash and tumble all around me, I knew I was in trouble. I had carefully planned out routes from there to various spots around the city and had printed those maps out for myself. But a series of unfortunate circumstances led to all those plans becoming null and void.

Another problem: even with a smartphone and an iPad I was lost. I didn’t want to use roaming on my phone, and did not have access to a US number. In short, I was bereft of a phone and the internet. Even though I had some money on my phone to call Dubai, who was going to navigate me around Chicago?!

Even though my maps were useless, the addresses on it were correct. I couldn’t take any of the buses I’d so carefully written down because the departure and arrival points in the city had changed completely for me.

After losing my way to the famous Giordano’s but finding it and stuffing my face, I headed over to a bus stop near the Union Station. I figured out from the map stuck there how to get to John Hancock Center and hopped on. The bus driver (a very large female) hit my stereotype of being rude – I didn’t know how much the fare was when I was getting on the bus (A single fare is $2.25 if you must know) and I couldn’t figure out the coins so I took an absurdly long amount of time to fish out the change from my wallet. I confirmed the bus would go where I wanted it to and that was it. I sat down and let the adventure begin!

Watching the sights from the window was a lot of fun. I’m certain I looked like a wide-eyed tourist, so I tried to tone down my out-of-town look. I remember passing a café called Atwood Café and writing down what was written on the sign outside: “We refuse to grow old gracefully, please pardon our appearance while we get some ‘work’ done.” Love it!

Once I reached the correct bus stop, I hopped off and walked towards the John Hancock Center (this was easy – it’s a really tall building…can’t miss it ;)).

Went in and had a lovely time upstairs; took loads of photographs, and listened to the audio guide about the buildings around me. When that audio guide started, I could swear it was David Schwimmer (who played Ross Geller in FRIENDS)…then later on I Googled it and realized I was right! Woohoo.

Visitors get to go up to the 96th floor (with a recording playing in the elevator every time you go up or down) to see a panoramic view of the city. There’s a lounge there to relax and eat if you want to, along with a souvenir shop (where I bought my Chicago fridge magnets). I was there during the day; I can only imagine how absolutely gorgeous it also looks at night with the city lights around around. I took the general admission pass for $15, but there are other options you can look into.


Images from the 96th floor:



After that, I went to The Cheesecake Factory, conveniently located at the base of the building, where I went to cheesecake heaven. Cannot wait for it to open up in Dubai soon!


This is the part where I got a bit lost. I wanted to go to the Navy Pier and take an architectural boat tour but I had no idea how to get there from where I was. Remember, there was no internet, no phone, nothing. Just me and the big windy city. I asked the attendant at the John Hancock Center and she told me where I could go to get a bus to the Navy Pier. Okay. I managed to get lost nevertheless and after wandering around random streets off the Magnificent Mile for 10 minutes, I entered Hershey’s Chocolates (822 North Michigan Avenue) and said I needed some help.

Boy, did I get help. A slim girl with braided hair with the energy of many people packed into one, Kierra, came outside the store with me. I explained where I wanted to go and she took me near the bus stop, told me which bus number I needed (Pretty sure it was number 66), and explained to me what I needed to tell the bus driver (“Make sure it’s going to Navy Pier! Ask him ya hear?”) She was so wonderfully friendly; told me to take care of myself and be careful (I think she figured I was a babe lost in the woods). Thank you Kierra…you made me smile and I still remember your help and concern with great fondness.


Finally reached Navy Pier…and missed the architecture boat tour by 15 minutes. The next one was at 4:45pm and would be back only at 5:45pm. I didn’t know what traffic was like from Navy Pier back to the Union Station – my train to the airport was at 7pm and I was too afraid to take the chance that the boat might be back late, or there would be traffic. In addition, I had to pick up my luggage from the station locker first, and had no idea which platform the train would leave from so I wanted to get back for 6:30pm at least. Too many variables, too many ifs and buts. Instead, I walked down the Navy Pier till the end and it was absolutely gorgeous. You could see the skyline of Chicago from there. There were shops and rides for entertainment. Loads of boat tour companies. By the end of the pier, the wind hits you something fierce. Till then I hadn’t bothered wearing a jacket but when I got to the end, it became really cold and in-my-face.


Pics from Navy Pier: 

Once I was done, I headed back to the bus terminal just off Navy Pier, asked someone which bus goes to the train station and hopped in. By this time I was a bus fare expert… $2.25 ka-ching! The road back was equally fun. Passed the NBC building and saw their store downstairs with Dunder Mifflin merchandise among other things. Was extremely tempted to buy them, but decided to stay on the bus to get to the station.

IMAGES: A Borders store emptying out | Random street | Dunder Mifflin at NBC | Sticky Fingers Gourmet Popcorn

And naturally, things had to go wrong! The train was delayed by about 30-45 minutes…I waited on the cold bench near the platform where the train was supposed to arrive and people-watched. Women on heels too tall for anyone’s feet to survive. A young man wearing shiny silver leather latex-y looking trousers, uggs and orange socks. Young Indian students. Businessmen with their official looking bags and more. A woman wearing block platforms clunking instead of running her way across the floor. So much to see.

The ticket from the Union Station to the O’Hare airport was $4 one-way (North-Central service, Metra Rail) and once you get off at the airport station, there’s a shuttle bus to take you to another point where you take a metro train to the terminal. Once I finally got there after all the delays, I met this lovely guy at the metro train area who asked me where I was from. I said Dubai. He asked if they were all islands. I said no that’s just The World and the Palms. Then he was asking me about the weather and his eyes popped out when I said summer highs are near 50C, and winter it’s about 20ish usually.

At the end of it, I safely reached O’Hare airport and got online after over 12 hours of no real contact with anyone whatsoever.

And you know what? I survived.


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