Somewhere along the way...
A beautiful church near the Ritz Carlton on North Michigan Avenue
My first view of the Windy City from the room, that Monday morning when it snowed....
Just after Thanksgiving weekend, ahead of Christmas, the mall in the Ritz building was decked in holiday colours.
Ma was rather amused that day at the airport, a day after I turned 25, seeing me rather apprehensive. I was not one to be afraid of travel, the two best friends, constantly on the phone with me, knew too. But well, this was thousands of miles away from everyone I knew, my phone wouldn't be working if I needed to call and I was a bit worried. But well, it was going to be one adventure, all the way to the US of A.
Now, almost as a rule, I hate flights. Even a very short one. I like the taking off part and then when the plane banks and you see all the lights below but that apart, I hate everything else about the flight. They are long, even the blue sky gets boring after a while, turbulence is like any other bad road, food is bad, and well, the whole exercise of waiting and check in and boarding is Boring. My flight from Bangalore to Brussles, Belgium was again boring, though I managed to sleep good. We touched Brussles and I think it was then that I lost track of time for the next one week. Brussles airport is very long, being the connecting destination for a lot of countries, the queues are incredibly long too.
I must tell you here, American Airlines is BAD! Forget food, its horrible on all flights, but generally, the airlines is probably the worst I have ever been on. Severely worn out and my body clock all disoriented, I land at O'Hare Airport at whatever time it was. Long immigration queues, but thankfully, the journalist tag gets me through quicker.
I open the doors and suddenly it was like I was being slapped, such was the cold. I had on very warm clothes but nothing could have prepared me for the cold and the light snow flakes that landed on my coat. I think it was just around 5 or 6 o'clock in the evening, though it seemed darker. That's another thing that eventually begins to disorient me, by 4 in the evening, it is all dark and that began to feel a little wierd.
A taxi took me to the Ritz Carlton in downtown Chicago. First impression? Well, I was too tired to have any, everything was too dark, I kept imagining several worst case scenarios and suddenly I was missing home, all within five minutes of arrival! The hotel reminds me of the Leela Kempinski here, opulent and showy. But the room is small and warm and cozy.
Early next morning, severe jet lag and a sleepless night later, I throw open the curtains and I remember gasping. There is heavy snowfall, the first time I have ever seen snow. The buildings below are all covered, I can feel the cold from inside. In the distant, I can see water, Lake Michigan, I later discovered.
The conference I was there for was ok, the international conference of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) which I attended with another Mumbai journalist at the invitation of GE Healthcare. Two days flew past. The food! Ah, I must speak of that. Now, I am not too fussy about food. I prefer my rice but anything vegetarian will do. But there I was, desperate for food of any kind. Every meal time was spent hunting for something veg and by the end of the visit, I was thoroughly sick of bread and its variants.
And then the cold! Having been born in winter, I have always loved the cold. The snow was beautiful, everything was, the sidewalks covered in white, the rooftops, the tiny snowflakes, the slippery roads, a huge ground with bare trees, all white, everything a lovely white. It was freezing cold but not cold enough for me to not enjoy it thoroughly. The beautiful long coats and shawls and stoles and long boots...hmmm...so cozy. Wish Bangalore would have at least some bit of winter, even December doesn't get cold enough here, if you ask me.
The first few days, I was too jet lagged, too tired to have the energy to think. I met people from over a dozen different countries, Esra from Turkey, Maggie from China, someone from France, a Spaniard from 'Maadreedh' (Madrid, I love the way they pronounce the names!). Though there was not much time to try and build contacts, it was good fun to see the world there.
Every evening, I would stand looking out of the window from the 22nd floor of the Ritz Carlton, looking at the snow and the lights below. It felt strange to be so far away. There were not many, actually, hardly any, public phones to call from. The internet was missing too for most of my stay. I have this need to know that I can reach my little world any time of the day or night. That was what I missed. Missed the most that luxury of knowing that I could pick up the phone and call someone at the other end.
It felt great though, that here I was, so far away from my country. Now, the US is not that big a deal, every other person goes there. But when you are in a different country, all alone, there is this other feeling, a kind of achievement? Hmmm...not really, more like a sense of okay, I have done it alone kind of feeling. When you know that you are the only one you can depend on, there is this strange exhilaration. I see this every time I travel alone, a heady sense of responsibility.
Like I always say, there is really nothing like travelling. No matter how good or bad, it is, nevertheless, an experience. The lessons you learn, the things you see and hear, the discoveries you make about yourself and your limits....there is really nothing like travelling.
The most exciting stories of my week long trip was yet to come though....