On Saturday the 29th, I had my first official rest day of the trip. I stayed in Omaha, Nebraska. This was a pit stop before my stay in Chicago. I am happy that I got to stay in Nebraska, though, because it is my goal to make it to all 50 states...eventually.
As a side note, I found out through ancestry.com that my great-grandma on my dad's side was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1910 before moving to Oakland, California where she lived for the remainder of her life. This is the only connection that I have to Nebraska.
The hotel that I was staying at is very close to the court house and I found a bar and grill across the street called "The Verdict". It instantly peaked my interest because the name was creative. The pickings for good restaurants in Omaha were significantly less than all of the other cities I had been to up until this point, so my plan was to scope out The Verdict first, and if it didn't seem decent, I would leave. As soon as I walked in I was greeted with a warm welcome by the bar tender so I decided to stay. I ordered some food and a drink and noticed that all of the patrons were diverse and no one person seemed to fit a stereotypical "label". At some point I asked the bar tender if the establishment was LGBTQIA+ friendly, and he explained that yes, it was. He went onto say it wasn't exclusively an LGBT+ environment, that it was inclusive of everyone regardless of race, gender, or class. I was so surprised, but so happy to have found (yet again) people I align with and have commonalities. I learned, from the bar tender, that Omaha is having their very first official Pride event this year! He told me that many people in Omaha support the LGBT+ community and black lives matter, that things were SLOWLY starting to change in the city.
I sat next to two women at The Verdict, one was a preschool teacher and the other one was an immigration lawyer. The lawyer told me that Nebraska is a refugee state and that the overall demographics were changing rapidly even from when she was growing up (she was only 25). The teacher was telling me that the school system is struggling to support the diversity, especially when it came to supporting non-English speaking students. Instead, the schools are placing English language learners into special education classes. This is not a phenomenon that is specific to Nebraska, the same thing is happening in California schools. Regardless of the many flaws in our public schools across our nation, it gave me so much hope to hear from locals how the city (and hopefully the state!) are progressing in social issues.
I did not bring my camera with me on my outing. So here is a picture of my drink from The Verdict taken on my iPhone:
The next morning I left very early so that I could get to Chicago in time for my scheduled boat tour. Driving in Chicago is an entire task in itself. Chicago has streets underground and the GPS is not always reliable because it is not aware if you are on the lower streets or on ground level. Because of this, even though I was in Chicago an hour early, I spent a long time driving in circles trying to figure out my way around. By the time I checked into the hotel, parked in the hotel garage (which was also very confusing), I had to quickly place my things in my room and head over to the dock. I made it just in time. Chicago has the prettiest skyline I have ever seen. The buildings are spaced out and built along the river, the architecture is also so beautiful and unique. I found it so interesting that the color of the water changed depending on how close you are to Lake Michigan which you can see in the quick video I compiled from that day:
After my boat tour, I walked around the loop looking for dinner somewhere along the river. I found a restaurant with open seating called The Kitchen. I ordered a roasted carrot appetizer that was made with urfa (a dried Turkish chili pepper), whipped feta cheese, pistachios, sesame, cilantro and mint. For my main course I had gnocchi that had a bolognese sauce. Everything was absolutely amazing! The waitress also gave me a free glass of champagne AND a cookie because she was impressed and thought I was brave for taking a cross country trip on my own.
I ended my night at the hotel bar before relaxing in my room. At the bar I met a couple from Wisconsin and another solo traveler from Pennsylvania. They asked me why I chose Chicago as one of my stops. There are several reasons that I wanted to visit Chicago. One, Chicago is currently leading in Education research. I was also drawn to Chicago because of an episode of Somebody Feed Phil which encouraged me to participate in the architecture and history boat tour. Finally, one of my favorite shows, Shameless, is based in Chicago ("The Alibi" in the title for this blog entry is in reference to the bar from Shameless).
The room I stayed in had a fantastic view and there are so many things to see and do along the River Walk. I hope to go back someday and spend more time exploring. With that being said, I will NEVER drive in Chicago again!
Until next time, Illinois!