Tuesday, June 29, 2010

10 Year Open House - An Electrical Evening

Thank you to everyone that volunteered or simply showed up to last week's 10 Year House Party. Braving the storm (and rare downtown tornado warning!) was well worth the great time we had. The start of the event welcomed guests with a huge spread of donated food (including ceviche from Cafecito - keep an eye out for this delicious addition to their menu) and a traditional Egyptian vocal performance by HI-Chicago's very own Ahmed Mahmoud.

Next up was a Capoeira performance by Gingarte Capoeira, who showed us the Brazilian martial art/dance and even convinced a couple of guests to give it a try - including General Manager Paul Coley!

Immediately after that, the flow of the event was interrupted by the tornado sirens ringing throughout downtown. The sirens, coupled with a look outside at the heavy, near-horizontal rain pouring down, prompted the hostel staff to instruct all 100 of the hostel guests to move to the interior hallway of the 2nd floor. Luckily hostellers are a flexible group of people, and we all viewed it as an adventure rather than aninconvenience! The party-goers sat against the walls of the narrow hallway while volunteers passed out appetizers and desserts. The Congolese drummers Tambours Sans Frontieres were up next in the entertainment program and they didn't miss a beat. They improvised with the space and performed throughout the entire hallway hibernation. They truly kept the event going with their high-energy drumming!

Thirty minutes after we piled into the back hallway, the sirens silenced and we resumed the event. Raffle prizes were drawn and happy winners went home with a variety of great prizes, most notably the travel package which featured a $300 travel voucher from STA and a 2-piece luggage set. The night was capped off with a wonderful performance by Fandanguero, a Pilsen-based band that performed Son Jarocho music from the Caribbean Coast of Mexico. All in all, it was a incredibly memorable event!

Thank you to the following volunteers who contributed their time leading up to and during the event:

Brent Swan, Adrienne Nothnagel, Jeannette Lenear, Marilyn Williams, Megeen Scovell, Simon Landon, Tom Judge, Chuck Cerny, Tom Gunning, Adam Welton, Randy Stover, George Redfearn, Megan Backes, Karen Plomin, Eva Rowe, Chuck Abraham, Jodi Cerny, Evelin Gomez, Marshall Brown, Maureen Ewing, Roger Pomerance, Miriam Scott, Koula Quirk, and Dana Immertreu.

And of course our wonderful summer interns: Elena Maker, Laura Grossman, Kylie Snowaert, Breanne Ward, Amber O'Leary, Nell McGann and Hannah Schiller.

To see photos from the event check out HI-Chicago's Flickr.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Traveler Spotlight

Intern Hannah talks to Mike Shiel, an economics student from Cork, Ireland who has traveled to Chicago with a group of friends.

So why did you decide to come to Chicago?
Well we got work visas to get jobs In the US, but so far no one will hire us.

Really?! Where have you applied?
Mostly bars and Irish pubs.

That seems somewhat ridiculous. So how long have you been here and what have you been doing?
We’ve been here for about three weeks and we’ve been mostly sightseeing and going to the beach.

I suppose if you can’t get jobs you might as well have fun! What was your favorite part of your
trip so far?

That has to be when the Blackhawks won. We were in Addison and there were people in the streets celebrating.

Did you go to the Blackhawks’ parade?
No, it was too hot.

Wait – what happens if you guys can’t get jobs?
We’d have to go home early; our trip would be a bit shorter than it was originally planned.

Have you been watching the World Cup at all?
Yeah, every chance we get. We were all really happy when France lost.

Have you noticed if Americans are more or less interested in soccer than the Irish?
Soccer is definitely more important in Ireland than in the US. People are more intense about the
sport at home.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Neighborhood Spotlight: LOGAN SQUARE

Logan Square has long been home to immigrant populations & is now predominantly Hispanic (although Polish can still be heard on the streets). Logan Square is graced with a system of tree-lined boulevards and squares, including the one for which the community is named. Today, LS exhibits a vital ethnic and economic diversity. Although the neighborhood is facing issues of gentrification (more affluent moving in and economically pushing lower-income people out), there is no doubt that it is culturally thriving with diversity and an influx of great restaurants, bars, and galleries.

- KNOWN FOR: Historic architecture; Hispanic population; gentrifying hipster culture; green boulevards; farmer’s market during the summer months

- DON’T MISS: Lula’s CafĂ© (2537 N Kedzie) for local, organic, and creative food; The Whistler (2421 N Milwaukee Avenue) for specialty cocktails & free or cheap music; Logan Theater (2646 N Milwaukee Ave), where second-run movies are $5; Taqueria Moran (2226 N California Ave), for cheap, fast, & delicious Mexican food; Revolution Brewing Co (2323 N Milwaukee Ave), a new Chicago brewery and restaurant; the Logan Square Farmer's Market (on Logan Blvd, east of Milwaukee Ave), every Sunday from June 6 until October 31 from 10am-3pm.

- GET THERE: Take the Blue Line (towards O’Hare) to California or Logan Square

Friday, June 18, 2010

Traveler Spotlight

Intern Breanne talks with Tim, a civil engineering student from Australia, at the Ice Cream Social:

What brings you to Chicago, Tim?
I am on a 14-week summer vacation road trip. I started in Berkeley, CA and next I'm heading to New York and Canada.

What were some on the highlights of the trip so far?
I was in Tennessee for the Bonnaroo music festival and that was fantastic!

What suprised you most about Chicago?
It's shocking how big and spread out the city really is.

So, what's the best Chicago pizza you've tried?
Definitely Uno's. We're lucky that we just happen to stumble upon the best places to eat in each city.

What's the best thing about Chicago?

It's much cleaner and safer than I expected. I would love to study here after my Bachelor's program.

What do you enjoy most about your trip?
The unplanned parts are the most exciting. We stayed in a Canyonlands National Park in Nevada when we couldn't find a place to camp and it wound up being a blast.

What advice can you give to other travelers?
Have low expectations, and everything will usually be better than expected in the end. But serioiusly, it's much more rewarding if you keep your mind open. Also, appreciate road trips now, because in 20 years we might not be able to. Fuel is becoming too expensive for long car trips.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Neighborhood Spotlight: Wicker Park

Developed by European entrepreneurs moving to the outskirts of the city after the great Chicago fire of 1871, Wicker Park is rich in history. Walk the quiet, tree-lined streets to look at beautiful Victorian era homes along Hoyne, Pierce, and LeMoyne Streets. After a process of gentrification and renovation in the 1980s and 90s, the main arteries of Milwaukee, North, and Damen streets now host an upbeat, artistic, and stylish urban population.

- KNOWN FOR: Endless nightlife options; trendy restaurants; funky boutiques; resale shops; art galleries; eclectic residents; and Victorian-era architecture.

- DON’T MISS: Violet Hour (1520 N Damen Ave) for the best cocktails in town in a speak-easy atmosphere; Double Door (1572 N. Milwaukee Ave) a classic medium-sized music venue; Piece (1927 W North Ave) a pizzeria/brewery with live music and karaoke; Myopic Books (1564 N Milwaukee Ave) one of Chicago's oldest and largest used bookstores; Smoke Daddy (1804 W. Division St) for awesome BBQ food and live blues or jazz music every night.

- GET THERE: Take the Blue Line train (towards O’Hare) to the Damen or Division stop.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Chiang Mai Scammer

Like any other country, Thailand has its fair share of con-artists. While studying Thai language in the northern city of Chiang Mai back in 2008, I had the misfortune of running into this little walking story.

He approached me with a smile on his face and a yellowing white hat that partly covered long black hair. Even though I had only been in Thailand for one week, I already knew to be wary. I had heard of con-men talking up cheap diamonds, “attractions” off the beaten path, “very beautiful girls” and everything in between. Being a young white male, I knew that I was a big target for these wandering salesmen, but this time I happened to be too tired to run away. We started with the usual formalities.

“Hello, are you American?


“I love Americans.” He followed this statement with, “Very nice hair.”

With a closer look at him, I surmised that this man was a little crazy. His clothes were ragged and torn in random places and he walked with just a little too much sway. Still, he had the desperate pleading eyes down better than anyone I have ever met.

He started his practiced spiel, a masterful actor of his craft, “You come from America, big country. I come from Burma, small country. We are very poor and you are very rich. I need some money to get back to Burma. Can you please give me something, 50 baht? 100 baht? I need to return home to my family.”

I’d like to say I didn’t give into his charms, but I did. I gave him about three dollars.

Right after he walked away with my baht, a tuk-tuk driver told me that the man had been collecting money from tourists all afternoon.

Oh the humiliation! I have regretted my small donation ever since. Especially three weeks later when the same con-man found me walking around the Chiang Mai moat and tried the scam all over again. I was obviously indignant. “We have already met,” I told him.

“What?” he said, his eyes spacey and vacant.

“I met you three weeks ago and gave you money for the bus.”

He still didn’t get it, “I am from small coun…”

“I know. You’re from Burma and I’m from big America. You already took my money.”

“Can you give me some money to get home?” Definitely crazy I thought to myself.

“I’m not giving you money.”

His eyes wandered across my face for a moment. I imagined little dusty calculators running in his head. “Ok friend.” His hand went out as if to brush me off, and then he was gone. To this day I still don’t know whether he was truly insane, or whether he was just that good.

-Ted Gault, former hostel intern

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Win for Chicago

If you managed to come even remotely close to downtown Chicago today (which may indeed have been difficult considering the massive inflow of people currently swarming our streets) I’m sure you noticed an oddly high ratio of people sporting red and black clothing, face paint, flags, tattoos, you name it. Now, as a newcomer to the city myself, I wouldn’t have had the slightest inkling of an idea as to why so much red and black, had it not been for the constant energy vibrating through the city for the past two weeks that I’ve been here. Having never been a sports fan before, I found myself actually watching every game of the series, for the enthusiasm radiating from the city’s residents drew me right into the excitement of it all! And so, what’s going on exactly? The Stanley Cup Final of course! The Chicago Blackhawks, our NHL team, succeeded in earning the giant silver award on Wednesday night, resulting in the sprawling, enthusiastic mayhem today.

The Blackhawks played a total of six games against the Philadelphia Flyers, and managed to win the seven game series with a 4-3 game that finally ended after an exhilarating overtime period. The triumphant Chicago team had much to celebrate, this being their first cup win since 1961. And certainly, Chicagoans were going to allow their beloved team to bask in glory by themselves. And, being a new arrival to this great city, I didn’t want to be left out of the celebration myself!

So I joined the wildly excited fans in cheering on the team as they paraded down Michigan Ave and made their way proudly to the stage in front of thousands upon thousands of people. Foghorns blast, airplanes flew, bands played, and confetti poured from the skies as I stood amidst excited fans. And the fans themselves presented quite the spectacle, with some in full costumes and others all too revealed. (Which I must tell you is not a pleasant experience for fellow fans when the temperature rises to 90 degrees!) But hot, sweaty weather aside, the rally was a truly Chicago experience, something I’m glad to have witnessed and partaken in, for I aim at becoming a Chicagoan- proud, passionate, and happy to be here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Traveler Spotlight

HI-Chicago Intern Lauraly talks with Chris from Australia about his travels:

When did you arrive in Chicago, Chris?

I just arrived yesterday. I traveled here by bus from Washington D.C.

That's a long ride! Are you traveling by bus the whole time that you're in the states?
Yes, I am. I started in New York and my next stop is Las Vegas. It will be a lot of hours spent sitting on a bus, but I know that it will be worth it once I get there. Since I don't have time to see the whole country, I like to take a bus so that I can look out the window and get a glimpse of some parts of the country I don't have time to stop in.

I think you picked some of the most exciting cities in the country; it will definitely be worth the trip. What are some of the other places you wish you had time to see while you're in the United States?
I have a whole list of places that I want to see, but don't have time time visit this time around. I really want to go to Texas, New Orleans and San Francisco next time I'm in the US. Unfortunately, my visa runs out soon, so I have limited time.

What made you decided to come to Chicago?

It just seems like such an idealistic city and it has so much to offer. It has the comforting feeling of a small town, but with big buildings.

What do you look forward to doing most while you're here in Chicago?
I have been told that I have to go to Navy Pier, so I'm really looking forward to that. I definitely want to go on the Ferris Wheel for the view of the city.

What are some of the biggest differences that you have noticed between Chicago and your home in Melbourne, Australia?
The drinking age! It's so strange to me that the drinking age here is 21. That seems like a long wait for a beer! I have also noticed that people in Chicago are extremely friendly. Everyone is so eager to give suggestions and directions, and everyone wants to play tour guide. It's so refreshing to be in a place where people genuinely want to help and are so proud of their city.
Oh, and I love watching the elevated trains from the hostel windows. I've never seen that before!

Are you staying in hostels throughout your whole stay in the US?
I'm not staying in hostels the whole time, but I definitely prefer to stay in a hostel. A hostel is such a great environment for a traveler because everyone wants to make friends, explore the city, and have a good time. Traveling in isolation isn't nearly as much fun as meeting people from all over the world. Plus, people at hostels always have the best stories.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

George Orwell - Traveling Sad Salesman

Few would argue that Eric Arthur Blair, better known as George Orwell, was a gloomy writer. His two best known works, Animal Farm and 1984, are both depressing tales of sinister governments that crush idealism into a pulp. This is probably an oversimplification, but it’s fair to say that if you are in the mood to feel cynical about humanity, go ahead and pick up an Orwell novel. Open up either of the previous titles, and you can watch Orwell suck out all your happiness with his detailed portrayals of entirely possible dystopias. What a downer.

In fact, Orwell was such a downer that he refused to contain his gloom to his ‘native’ United Kingdom. Yes, Orwell was a cynical globetrotter, hence this post. As you will see, Orwell was like one of those storm chasers who follow around tornadoes as they rip apart houses and mobile homes. He hated fascism and unregulated capitalism, but he also liked to watch them tear s*** up.

Orwell started his overseas adventures when he was born in Motihari, Bengal, India in 1903. Apparently his father worked for the Opium Department of the British Civil Service at the time, a job that I am pretty sure involved selling opium and handing out money in order to grow it, instead of trying to stop its spread. Unfortunately for Orwell, his mother dragged him away from his drug dealing father in India when he was 1 and forced him to live in gloomy, wet and pasty England. This dramatic change in climate must have forever sealed him into a life of cynicism.

At age 19, Orwell joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. That’s right, Orwell went to a country that is today one of the most depressing on earth. At the time, British India was a gargantuan monster that included modern day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma, and not many British people enjoyed living there since it was hot, humid and completely lacking in bland British foods. Unfortunately for Orwell, all of his family connections and facebook friends lived in Burma. He had no choice but to sail back to South Asia.

If India was an unpopular posting, then Burma was even more so. In fact, Burma was such an unpopular destination for British bureaucrats that by the time Orwell was 21 he was already responsible for an area that was home to 200,000 people. If the song “Under Pressure” had existed at the time, I’m sure Orwell would have had it on repeat on his iPod. As it turned out, Orwell didn’t like Burma very much and left for London after a few years. There he wrote such rosy essays as “Shooting an Elephant” and “A Hanging”. He also wrote a depressing, anti-imperial book called Burmese Days. To give you an idea of how the book ended, SPOILER, the protagonist shoots his beloved dog in the head. Orwell was such a charmer.

Burma was not depressing enough for Orwell though. Shortly after his return to England, he decided that he wanted to dress like a bum and slum around London and Paris for awhile. In his semi-memoir Down and Out in Paris and London, Orwell regales readers with tales of near starvation, drunkenness and the soul-crushing monotony of poverty. This was perhaps Orwell’s first attempt to reveal the ordeals of the less fortunate, and in the process, to bring sadness to thousands of innocent upper and middle class people. In addition to this, Orwell, who worked as a multi-purpose dishwasher in a fancy hotel in Paris, selfishly revealed the extremely unsanitary conditions of French kitchens. This forever destroyed any preconceptions that French food is in any way good. I’m sure at this point many people were begging Orwell to stop his rampage, but he wasn’t done.

In 1936, the Spanish Civil war broke out. A microcosm of the later World War II, the Spanish conflict was raging between the fragmented democratic Republicans and the fascist Nationalists led by Francisco Franco. Almost immediately after the war started, Orwell joined the Republican side as a member of a democratic-socialist (“Not communist!” he would cry) militia. Always the know-it-all, Orwell was convinced that democracy was worth fighting for, unlike most other Europeans at the time. He fought as an infantryman until a sniper shot him in the throat, nearly killing him. Apparently he was too tall and Anglo-Saxon to adequately hide behind a parapet. That is only a little funny.

After recuperating in a sanitarium, Orwell wrote Homage to Catelonia, where he guilt-tripped hundreds of thousands of Europeans and Americans for betraying democratic principles in Spain by either fighting for the wrong side, not fighting at all, or fighting in the wrong way. I guess it’s understandable that being shot in the throat by some dumb fascist would make a gloomy person slightly gloomier.

After the Spanish civil war Orwell ended his globetrotting and mostly stayed in England for the rest of his life. There, among other things, he wrote the scathing Animal Farm where he ruthlessly bullied Russia for being too authoritarian and 1984, that magna culpa that basically made everyone scared of government. Being a corrupt government official has never been harder.

I think most people would agree with me that George Orwell was a traveling sad salesman. A strident believer in democracy, he refused to let anyone be happy and content with their lives when others were suffering. Thanks a lot Orwell.

-Ted Gault, former hostel intern

Monday, June 7, 2010

Traveler Spotlight

What’s your name?
I’m Jessica from Glasgow, Scotland.

What do you do there?
I’m a student, studying Math and Physics. I’d like to continue on to get my PhD if I get the grades!

So are you traveling all throughout the States?
I’m not traveling as long as some, but yes, I’m traveling for 3 weeks. I just finished my exams and I had two days and then I got on a plane and left! It was actually pretty stressful.

Yeah, sounds like you have a lot going on! Where have you visited aside from Chicago?
It’s actually been quite a strange mix. Pittsburg, which was interesting – not really a touristy city at all. And then Philadelphia, DC, Youngstown, Cleveland, and Milwaukee.

Wow, that is a strange mix! How did you decide to visit those places?
Well, my Dad’s girlfriend son graduated from Carnegie Melon in Pittsburg. So they said, “Hey if you come we’ll buy your ticket!” So I decided to do it and then travel on my my own for the rest, staying on the East Coast and then I just really wanted to see Chicago and Milwaukee.

What is it like traveling on your own?
It’s been great. Everyone’s been really nice. There’s a lot more people traveling on their own that I thought there would be. Now that I’ve done it once, I wouldn’t be fazed to do it again. You gain the confidence to go up and just start talking to people. I haven’t met as many Americans here at the hostel, though. More Europeans.

What has been your favorite American city?
I really think Chicago has been the best! There’s so much going on here. The Art Institute is really interesting; we saw the Matisse exhibit. We went to Oak Park, and saw the Frank Lloyd Wright houses. We went to the Gospel Fest, and we saw the Chicago Symphony which was amazing. We also ate the Deep Dish Pizza, it’s kind of touristy but good! We also went to the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Any neighborhoods that you’ve really liked?
We went down to Pilsen, and I really liked it. It’s a really interesting neighborhood and kind of hipster. I had never had real Mexican food before and I really liked it. You know a place is good when you walk in and it’s all locals. The National Museum of Mexican Art was also really interesting. Not all of it was my taste but I really think I learned a lot about Mexican culture and history.

Is there something that really surprised you about Chicago?
How livable it is. I could see myself living here very happily. There is so much going on here, so much culture, and cuisine, but at the same time it’s very livable. That’s what makes it different from New York City. It’s a slower pace of life. It’s also not as expensive as I thought it would be.

Have you ever hostelled before?
This is my first hostelling experience in America. I had stayed at one in Ireland, but it wasn’t as nice. I would definitely do it again, especially here in America. I've just had such a good experience. It really seems like the HI hostels have a certain amount of amenities and level of quality. You have locals working here telling you the ins and outs of Chicago, which is great!

So, what are you doing this summer?
I need to go work at my job and make back all the money I’ve spent on this trip! Yeah, just working, and maybe doing some internal tourism in Scotland – just overnight type things.

Is summer fun in Glasgow?
Oh yeah, there’s probably not as much going on as here in Chicago, but it’s a good vibe. If there’s a good summer day - there really aren't very many of them - then everyone is outside. Plus all my friends are back from university, and it becomes like, “Okay, it’s Wednesday night, let’s go to the pub!”

Sounds fun! Well, anything else you’d like to say about Chicago?
Just that I find everyone here very friendly, very pleasant, and I’m coming back to Chicago! This experience has been really life-changing in the sense that I’ve decided that I could really see myself pursuing further education here in America. Or even just working for a couple of years. I’m coming back!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Hostelling International 10 Year House Party

Announcing Hostelling International Chicago’s 10 Year Open House Party, on Wednesday, June 23rd from 4:30pm-8:00pm! Bring your friends to this FREE event and help us celebrate a decade of bringing the world to Chicago!

What: 10 Year House Party
When: Wednesday, June 23rd from 4:30-8:00pm
Where: HI-Chicago, 24 E Congress Parkway
Why: The 10 Year House Party will celebrate the hostel’s positive impact on tourism in Chicago as well as our strong educational mission for a more peaceful planet. Every year we host over 80,000 overnights and serve travelers from all over the world. Annually we reach 1500 local students through our school classroom-based curricula that teach young people the basic life skills of openmindedness and respect for diverse cultures. In today’s diverse and interconnected world, our mission of cultural understanding is important and impactful.

Event Features:

- Complimentary food donated by South Loop restaurants such as Cafecito, Dairy Queen, Exchequer Pub, Pauly’s Pizza, Tamarind and more.
- World beats spun by DJ Sound Culture and live performances from Tambours Sans Frontieres, Fandanguero, Gingarte Capoeira, and Ahmed Mahmoud.
- Great raffle prizes from STA Travel, Broadway in Chicago, REI, ComedySportz, Metro / Smart Bar, Bobby's Bike Hike, Shoreline Sightseeing and many more.
- Tours of the world’s best large hostel.
- A peek into your future adventures with tarot card readings by Adrienne Nothnagel.

Please come join us in the fun and nurture your wanderlust with friends from near and far!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Traveler Spotlight

Christina from Austria chats with new intern Kylie at yesterday's ice cream social:

Q: What is your name?
A: Christina

Q: Where are you from?
A: Austria

Q: What brings you to Chicago?
A: I am just visiting. I heard from others that it is an interesting place to visit.

Q: What have you been doing since you’ve been here?
A: A lot of walking around. I went to a concert last night in Millennium Park. I went to the beach today and I am planning on doing the boat tour later on.

Q: What is your favorite place that you’ve visited while you’ve been here?
A: Millennium Park.

Q: Anything else interesting?
A: I went to an Austrian bakery which was really cool.

Q: Was it anything like the food in Austria?
A: Yes. It was owned by an Austrian man so the food was just like back home.

Q: How is Chicago different from Austria?
A: In Austria there are no skyscrapers!

Q: What is similar about Chicago and Austria?
A: There are a lot of similarities. It really isn’t that different.