Girl Meets Bulgaria

Musings of an American expat in Bulgaria (with detours in Utah and Alaska)

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Chicago: Day Four

Last post on Chicago. Whew!

Our last full day in Chicago (Sat. Nov. 12th) was our most jam-packed of the trip and also happened to be my 26th birthday.

I am now  closer to 30 than to 20. It’s taking a bit of time to wrap my mind around!

Visiting Chicago’s Museum Campus was an awesome way to spend a birthday. My feet were incredibly sore by the end of the night, but it was totally worth it.

We started our morning a little on the late side, having gone out to dinner the night before and enjoyed a few pre-birthday beverages.

We contemplated taking a cab from the hotel to the museums, then waited around for a bus, then just decided to walk the 20 minutes through Grant Park. I am glad we did!

Grant Park must be where all of Chicago goes to walk their dogs. We saw tons of them!

View of Downtown from Grant Park



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Chicago: Day Three

Our third day in Chicago ( Friday, Nov. 11th), wasn’t quite as jam-packed as the previous day, but it still kept us on our feet (literally).

We started our day off with a short walk to Willis Tower.

Sights from our walk to Willis

Now, most people have no idea what the Willis Tower is, but when you say Sears Tower, that’s a different story. Sears’ naming rights expired on the building (the tallest building in the United States and seventh tallest in the world) in 2003, however, most people still refer to the building as the Sears Tower.

Willis Tower is one of the most famous and most visited attractions in the city. On a clear day, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin can all be seen from its windows.

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Chicago: Day Two

Day two (Thurs. Nov. 10) in Chicago saw A. and I walking all over the city (with the help of the subway, of course).

Our first stop was the historic Water Tower, the second oldest water tower in the United States.

The tower was one of only a few structures to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, in which hundreds of people died and much of the city was destroyed.

The Water Tower sits in the shadow of many high-rise buildings (including John Hancock Center) and Loyola University.

I find the near seamless mixture of the old and new in Chicago very interesting. It was common to see an historic hotel/church/etc. standing strong amidst soaring skyscrapers and bustling crowds.

I am a history nerd at heart, so I appreciated seeing a city that values and protects its historical landmarks and important sites.

After taking a few (ok, 50) photos of the Water Tower, we walked right next door to the John Hancock Center.

The Hancock Observatory is accessed via the fastest elevators in the U.S. We rocketed up 1,000 feet in under 40 seconds; it was intense!

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Chicago: Day One

My friend A. and I got home from our {awesome} trip to Chicago on Sunday night. It was a great, albeit cold, vacation for us old travel buddies.

I’ve spent the past few days organizing and uploading the nearly 2,000 photos I took during the trip. No easy feat, I’ll tell you that.

I thought I’d split up my trip into day-by-day posts. Makes it a little easier to digest, I think!

Let’s get started with Day One (Wednesday, Nov. 9th):

First off, let me tell you that I get sudden onset narcolepsy when I fly. I am usually fast asleep before the plane even takes off. It’s weird. Now if only I could stay asleep on long haul flights (my upcoming flight to Bulgaria, for example), I would be fine with it.

I don’t remember much of the flight (or connection in Minneapolis) to Chicago. It’s actually quite worrisome how little I remember. Hmmm.


My story really begins on the hour-long train ride from O’Hare to our first hotel, The Palmer House Hilton.

My first impressions of Chicago: beautiful old buildings mixed in with modern skyscrapers, loud and smelly (but super efficient and convenient) trains, and WIND! Yep, Chicago definitely lives up to its Windy City nickname.

After schlepping our bags from the subway stop to the hotel, we checked in and went up to our room.


First view of the famed Palmer House lobby

Our room at the Palmer House


After relaxing for a bit we headed out for dinner: Chicago deep dish pizza ala Pizzeria Uno.

I love pizza, so I knew hitting up a few famed pizza establishments during our stay was definitely a must.




After dinner we braved the cold and wind and stopped by Bloomingdale’s to warm up a bit. I have never been in one, so I don’t know if it’s the norm, but this one only had housewares; about 5 levels of them. I made a quick beeline to the Kitchenaid mixers and the Le Creuset cookware.

A. probably thought I was a lunatic!



My coveted french oven in Cassis


A bit warmed up, we headed back to the hotel.

After hitting up the hotel Starbucks, we found a comfy spot in the lobby to people watch and enjoy the beautiful decor.


Peppermint Mocha

Palmer House ceiling


After some late night fish tacos and a night-cap, it was time for bed. which just so happened to be at about 8:00 pm! What can I say? We were tuckered!

Stay tuned for the rest of my trip!

Oh, and I hope to have more Chicago photos up on my Flickr stream by the end of the week.





Scavenger Hunt Sunday (err… Monday): Chicago Edition

I’m beat.

Non-stop walking (and eating) can really take it out of you!

Not sure if all of these fit the prompts, but I still really wanted to take part this week and get some of my Chicago photos up.

Lots more to come in the following days.


1. Before and After

I took this shot of Navy Pier from the top of the Hancock Tower. The SOOC camera shot is hazy and just plain bleh. I thought the historic pier deserved some spicing up (or dressing down, rather) so I ran a couple of actions in Photoshop. I knew I wanted the photo to have a vintage-y vibe. I couldn’t decide which result I liked best, so I included both.


2. Opposing Lines

Visually, Chicago has a lot going on, including an amazing blend of old and new architecture in all the colors of the rainbow. I saw lines everywhere! I especially loved the ever-present iron fire escape stairs jutting off the back of most buildings more than a few stories tall. What I love most about this photo is the sheer number of buildings I was able to get into one shot. By my count there are 5 (including the reflections on the glass).

3. Custom Bokeh

Yeah. This one is definitely a stretch! In my defense, I was out of town pretty much all week and really did not have the time nor desire to fashion myself some custom bokeh “equipment.”  For this photo (a chandelier at the Shedd Aquarium), I played around in Manual mode and tried out some different out of focus shots. I think it turned out rather pretty. Creating some paper bokeh shapes has been on my to-do list for a long time, and I hope to get around to it soon. I’ll be sure to share my results when I do!


4: Which pair of shoes should I wear?

With the amount of walking I did the past few days, the answer to the above question is definitely “the most comfortable!” My Merrells may not be the most attractive things in the world (although they are purple, and quite cute I think), they are the most comfortable shoes I have.

This photo was taken (quickly) from”The Ledge” at the top of the Willis Tower. Yup… The tallest building in the western hemisphere (the ledge juts 4 feet out of the 103rd story) and all that stood between me and the ground 1,353 feet below was a thin piece of glass. Yikes!

5. Little Features

Another stretch, but I think it works! Just one of the thousands of gorgeous works of art on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. I was lame and didn’t get the name of piece of the artist, although I know it’s of Cupid. Can you see his little wispy wing?

Hope you enjoyed my photos this week! I sure enjoyed taking them.



Chicago, Here I Come!

via wikipedia


I leave for the airport at 4:30 am tomorrow morning and instead of packing, like I should be, I am blogging. That’s just how I roll.

I am very excited to be visiting the Windy City, although I am holding out hope it isn’t all that windy, at least while we are there.

We have lots on the agenda but I am beginning to think that we will ultimately find ourselves walking around taking pictures until we get tired, at which point we will find a good place to eat and, most importantly, people watch! A. and I enjoy some good people watching. Take our trip to Scotland, for example. We were sitting facing the windows in a little coffee shop in Edinburgh (maybe it was Glasgow, I forget) when a bus pulls up outside and a little old lady gets off and starts screaming at the driver, makes weird hand gestures/points, and then proceeds to spit on the sidewalk. It was clear she was putting a curse on him. It was intense! Man, I heart Scotland!

I digress…

Our first two nights will be spent at the historic Palmer House. Let me tell you, this place looks a-m-a-z-i-n-g! It is a well know Chicago landmark and has a fascinating history. It also just underwent a 170 million dollar renovation. Apparently it’s the “Chicago hotel the world knows best.” It looks pretty darn swanky:

via Hilton


Our last two nights will be at the Chicago Hilton. It doesn’t look too shabby either:


via Hilton


My camera is going to get a workout this week, that is for sure! I am hoping my wallet, on the other hand, does not!

Be prepared for a total photo dump and multiple posts when I get home.

Aw, vacations. Is there anything better?

Talk to ya’ll next week (well, maybe late Sunday night if I am up to it).



Planning a Trip to the Windy City

As I mentioned in my Bulgarian visa post, I, along with my good friend A., will be in Chicago next month for 5 days. I will celebrate my 26th birthday while I’m there! I’ve only ever been to O’Hare so I am looking forward to actually seeing the city. And I’m not going to lie, I am looking forward to stuffing my face with the myriad of specialties Chi-Town is famous for.

A. is a pretty relaxed traveler whereas I am the consummate planner and must have a detailed itinerary. In short, I am a worry wort! Usually, however, I just end up going with the flow once I am on vacation.

That being said…

After doing some online research and from my general knowledge of the city, I have put together a list of the must-see attractions. If you’ve been there or heard of anything I should add (or remove), PLEASE let me know! It’s a big place to pack into only a few days, so this girl needs all the help she can get!

In all likelihood, we will probably just end up relaxing and walking around. But again, I like to at least attempt to plan!

So far, our must-see/do list includes:

  • Navy Pier
  • Michigan Avenue (Magnificent Mile shopping, ya’ll!… OK, maybe just window shopping!)
  • John Hancock Tower and/or Willis (formerly Sears) Tower
  • Millennium Park (Cloud Gate, aka, The Bean!)
  • Art Institute of Chicago
  • Shedd Aquarium
  • Pizza! Chicago-style hot dogs! Italian beef sandwiches!

If time (and weather) permits, we’d also like to visit:

  • Lincoln Park Zoo
  • Lake Michigan (boat tour)
  • Grant Park
  • Adler Planetarium
  • Field Museum

I also plan on visiting the Bulgarian Consulate to ask some questions. I want to make sure I won’t have any surprises when I return to apply for my visa later next year.

SO excited to get to see such a cool city and spend some quality time with one of my best friends before I move.

November 9th can’t come soon enough!