Monday, December 21, 2009

The Interview

We caught up to this traveler at breakfast, the last one in the dining room.

HI: Hey, Whats your name?
Huw Ambrosio

HI: Whoa, that’s a pretty interesting name, where are you from?


HI: Yeah, the accent gave you away. What brings you to Chicago?

I dunno, just traveling, I have some family here that I’m visiting for the holidays.

HI: Not staying with your family then?

I’ve actually never met them before, We’ve only spoken on the phone.

HI: Are you nervous about meeting them?
Yeah, a bit. laughs

HI: How long have you been in Chicago, have you had a chance to explore?
I’ve been here 2 nights, got lost in the way to Lincoln Park Zoo Did make It to the Chirstkindlesmart and some pub though.

HI: And your plans for tonight?
Some chick said she was having a birthday party and I think I’m tagging along-

HI: Well that sounds fun. Anything stand out to you about Chicago?

Yeah, the buildings have a lot of character, beautiful facades and all. In Australia
All the buildings are rather dull. The cold is pretty intense here too.

HI: Yes, you’re right, Chicago does have great architecture and a bitter winter. What do you do in Australia?
I’m studying to become a primary school teacher.

HI: That’s awesome man! Good Luck and thanks for the interview!
No problem.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

December: A Month of Powerful Programming

Hostelling International Chicago's powerful cultural awareness programs were in full swing this month. Between the hostel's Cultural Kitchen program, which exposes Chicago high school students to the world and its people, Exchange Neighborhoods program, which brings together high school students of different ethnicities to promote understanding and peace, and Culture Quest program, which introduces younger students to the concepts of hostelling and the value of diversity, over 150 students graced the halls of our beautiful hostel. The hostel will reach over 1,000 students with our educational programs this school year.

Travelers are invited to join students for free meals associated with these programs, and volunteers are always needed for our Cultural Kitchen program to help students cook ethnic meals.

For more information about the hostel's educational programs, please visit:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Megabus is an discount intercity bus service that began in 2006. Fares start at a mere 1.00 dollar and a 50 cent booking fee although these are primarily promotions. A more typical fare like from Chicago to Minneapolis, MN is still only 20 bucks. Megabus manages to have such incredibly low fares by having very little infrastructure. For example, there is no Megabus station, with Chicago departures leaving from Union Station at a designated bus stop. Also, all purchases are done over the internet and riders must print out their reservation. Despite the low fares, Megabus manages to provide free wi-fi for its riders and its fleet of buses is soon to have electric outlets as well. It's also considered to be a more comfortable ride than Greyhound. Megabus looks like it is laying the ground work for country wide bus service but it is still only servicing three regions: Midwest, Northeast and Southwest. Below are the maps and routes:

To take advantage of the cheapest deals you have to make a reservation in advance although there usually are seats available in the last minute at highly affordable rates. Consider Megabus for your travels!

Special Offer:
100,000 seats are available for free for travel between the dates of Jan. 6, 2010 and March 20, 2010.
Use the promo code GETAWAY today to access sale seats that are available.
FREE seats are subject to availability and the $0.50 booking fee applies to all purchases. Promotion ends when all free seats are reserved.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cold Cold Chicago

The coldest temperature ever recorded in Chicago is -27°F (-33°C) on January 20, 1985, with a wind chill of -83°F (-64°C). Although this was certainly an extraordinary occasion, freezing temperatures and snow are common during the winter months of December, January and February. Being unprepared for the weather can be very unpleasant and even painful when exploring the city. Make sure you have adequate clothing for the frigid conditions. A hat, scarf and gloves are a necessity. If you were caught off guard and need some mittens you can check out the nearby H&M for some relatively cheap fashions.

Yet don't let the temperature keep you inside for the winter has its own charming beauty. A layer of fresh snow makes the city look incredibly pristine and pure. Unfortunately, that unspoiled and faultless image will soon turn into street gutters full of slush so don't forget your boots!

When your toes and fingertips get too numb to continue stop by Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea for the best hot drinks in downtown Chicago.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Neighborhood Spotlight: Pilsen

The history of Pilsen is like the history of Chicago. A neighborhood marked by history and transformation.

Although originally settled by Germans and Irish by the 1800's, the area had attracted a large Czech community who came to work in the nearby factories and stockyards. They named their neighborhood after Plzen, a city in the Czech Republic. Their presence in Pilsen is still embodied in Thalia Hall (1892), which served as a community center and dance hall. Today, the building has been restored and hosts a new resturant streetside.

In the early 1900's, Pilsen experienced an influx of Polish residents, the most recent immigrants to Chicago. The community erected a Church St. Adalbert (1914), which continues to stand and dominate the Pilsen Skyline.

Since the 1960's, Pilsen became home to a large Mexican-American Community and today the Latino character remains vibrant in the neighborhood. The district is livened with large murals, authenitic little resturants and boasts the National Museum of Mexican Art (free daily except Mondays).

The most recent change in Pilsen has been the influx of artists and professionals, creating fears of displacement among the Mexican community. Galleries, boutiques and trendy bars are increasingly common in Pilsen serving this new community. On the 2nd friday of the month (Dec 11th) artist studios and galleries hold openings and receptions for the public. For more information click here.

Pilsen is highly accesible with the Pink Line's 18th street station taking you to the heart of the neighborhood. For more ideas on things to do in Pilsen click here or here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Millenium Park

Opened in 2004, Millennium Park is certainly a necessary stop on any Chicago visit. As public space full of sculpture, architecture, gardens and people, a stroll along the promenades through this urban oasis will not disappoint. The park features the Pritzker Pavilion, an outdoor concert hall design by famous architect Frank Gerhy, Cloud Gate, a lustrous modern steel sculpture (highly popular for reflection photos) and the Lurie Garden which will take you through a landscape of plants and trees. During the winter, the park also features a free ice rink.

Built over an old railroad yard, the park symbolizes Chicago's ongoing physical and cultural transformation as it enters the new century.

To get there: make a left as you leave the hostel, followed by another left on Michigan Ave.
The park will be on your right after the Art Institute.

For information on concerts and events at the park visit:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Willis Tower

Willis Tower, formerly named Sears Tower, is a 108-story 1,450 feet (442 m) skyscraper that dominates the skyline of Chicago. From its time of completion in 1973 to 1998, it was the tallest building in the world. Although it has been surpassed by towers in Asia, it remains the tallest building in the United States and one of Chicago's most popular attractions.

With the Hostel International discount, it costs only 11$ to go up to the 103rd floor observation deck. On a clear day, the spectacular view stretches for over 40 miles! This past year the observation deck added four glass-bottomed balconies nicknamed "The Ledge" where you can straight down as if you were standing on thin air.

For more information visit:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Public Art!

106 headless and armless rusty bodies are wandering the south loop in Chicago. The stiff cast iron sculptures stand at a towering 9ft and create a solemn and almost eerie ambiance. Created by Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowic, who was traumatized by World War II and the ensuing Soviet occupation, she described her work by saying, "They must be like one body that represents so many different meanings, it's the self against the whole world."

Stroll through the scattering of bodies and experience the work yourself! The exhibit is located off the intersection of Michigan Ave and Roosevelt St., a 5 minute walk from the hostel!

For more public art in Chicago visit:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Take the Train!

There is no better way to become acquainted with a city than by using its public transit. The CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) runs Chicago's train and bus operation with over 650,000 passengers daily moving all across the city. Although Chicagoans often complain about the constant construction, delays and rising fares ($2.25 = one trip) taking the train is defiantly an urban adventure.

From people watching to the street performers to the intense rumble of the subway, the train is a quick, cheap and interesting way to get around in the city. The train lines are colored coded and most alternate between being above and below ground. The Brown Line, however, stays above ground its entire route and provides some fantastic views of the city and its neighborhoods. All the train lines have stops in walking distance from the hostel and the Blue and Red lines run all night.

you can plan you trip on the CTA right here:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Peace, Love, & Hostelling Fundraiser at Delilah's

Philanthropic Partying!

Join us for happy hour to support the hostel's cultural awareness building educational programs! Drink, eat, and meet travel enthusiasts from around the city. Bring your friends!

Delilah's is a great punk rock'n'roll bar. $25 will enable more Chicago students to benefit from hostel programs AND get you 3 hours of drinking: 8 fantastic beers on tap, rail drinks, and a selection of 3 types of whiskey. In addition, a variety of international Chicago restaurants will be donating food. We'll be offering great door prizes as well, so don't miss out!Hostelling International mission: "To help all, especially the young, gain a greater understanding of the world and its people through hostelling." Every year our downtown nonprofit hostel teaches 1500 local students to become caring world citizens.For more information about Hostelling International Chicago, check us out at Questions about the event? Contact Megan at mjohnson@hichicago.orgSee you at Delilah's!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Uniqueness of Hyde Park

by Intern Ted Gault

Barack Obama's election as the 44th President of the United States will forever be the pride of Chicago, but Obama's fame has also brought great attention to Hyde Park, the Chicago neighborhood where the President has spent most of his adult life. Surrounded by some of the poorest and most dangerous areas in Chicago, Hyde Park is a culturally, economically, and racially diverse enclave in the South Side with much more to offer a visitor than Obama haunts.

Before Obama's arrival in the neighborhood in 1984, Hyde Park had already hosted the monumental World Columbian Exposition of 1893, the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction in 1942, and the architectural prowess of architects such as Daniel Burnam, Henry Ives Cobb (designer of the University of Chicago's stunning Inner Quadrangle) and Frank Lloyd Wright. Hyde Park's municipal, and even national, uniqueness doesn't end with historical footnotes; today it is one of the most successfully integrated neighborhoods in the United States.

In the late 1950s, Hyde Park was transformed by a decade of deliberate urban renewal that displaced forty percent of its population. Like many community areas at the time, Hyde Park was facing economic and infrastructural decline, increased crime rates, and general "white flight". Residents of Hyde Park partnered with the University of Chicago to turn Hyde Park into a semi-suburban bastion on the South Side. The aim was to welcome people of all races and religions, as long as they weren't, to put it bluntly, poor. The result of the controversial process was a community that one reporter called "the most racially integrated neighborhood in the nation's most segregated city". With significant populations of whites, blacks and Asians, as well as Christians, Muslims and Jews, Hyde Park has a rich diversity that few other neighborhoods can claim.

Barack Obama won the 2008 election largely by his promise to change politics to better represent the diverse multicultural and racial interests inherent in the United States. Considering Hyde Park's unique traits, it is now obvious why Obama chose to start his political life there. Hyde Park is one of those rare places where one can find people from all walks of life eating in one place; blacks and whites, blue collar and white collar, Christians and Muslims, young and old (See it for yourself at Valois on 53rd). A flagship for his message of racial and religious harmony, Hyde Park was Obama's neighborhood before he even set foot in Chicago.

Ted's summer project was to create a Hyde Park tour, which he gave every Friday during the summer. In the process, he learned a lot about the neighborhood. If you'd like to learn more about one of the most interesting neighborhoods in Chicago, take Ted's tour! Meet at the hostel at 10am on Fridays (be sure to check the events calendar to ensure that the tour is going on).

Volunteer Spotlight: Tessa Auza

Get to know some of the hostel's fantastic volunteers...

Tessa Auza: She dances, she volunteers, she dances some more!

What motivated you to volunteer at the hostel?
I am currently underemployed so I was looking for a fun and productive way to spend my extra time. Browsing through, I discovered that HI was looking for volunteers. I love showing off the city so I signed up to help out with tours and events! Working on the blog and other internet projects is just a plus.

What is your favorite travel destination?
So I guess the answer to the question is where ever the dance party is! My usual motivation for travel is for my swing dancing adventures. While initially inspired to take a workshop or compete, I'll spend an extra day in another city to check it out. This has taken me from Austin to Boston and Montreal to Omaha. Meeting other swing dancers from all over the world and having them visit me in Chicago has been an amazing experience. Other times, I'll jump into a car, head out and figure out the destination along the way. You're very involved with the swing dancing community in Chicago - when and how did that begin?Swing dancing has been in my life ever since I'd seen the Khaki Swings GAP ad or Swingers the more than ten years now. While I had taken ballroom classes for sometime, the resurgence of swing dancing in 1997 has really inspired me this whole time. Originally, I learned to dance in Champaign, then I moved back to Chicago in 1999. Now I travel the country (and soon the world) to learn more and more...

Do you have any advice for any hostel volunteers that may want to learn how to swing dance?
For hostel volunteers in Chicago, there are so many possibilities! I'd start by looking at Windyhop. Its the Chicago website for all things swing and lindy hop. Its calender lists down classes and dance events you can check out all over the Chicagoland area. For other hostel guests or visitors who may be interested in swing dancing at home, check out Its a site based out of New York City but dancers from all over the world use it to find and connect with other dancers and events. Final suggestion for those wanting to learn how to dance... Never turn down a request for a dance. Its THE best way to learn!