Friday, April 26, 2013

Traveler Talk! Jean-Baptiste

Jean-Baptiste is an English student from a small town outside of Lille, France.  Between his English and my French, we were able to understand each other and have a good conversation about how his experience here at HI-Chicago has been going so far.  He arrived at the hostel on Monday, and he’ll be in the city until Sunday.  This is just the first stop for him on a long trip in the US: after leaving here, he’s going to Washington D.C., New York, and finally Miami.  He has also been to the states once before on a trip to Santa Monica with his family.
            So far, his favorite thing about Chicago is Millenium Park.  He enjoys the architecture of the city quite a bit, and he thinks that the Bean really stands out from other architectural pieces that he’s seen both here and in other cities.  He has big plans to go out on the Skydeck at Willis Tower today, and to the Museum of Science and Industry tomorrow though, so his choice of a favorite might be different by the time he heads out.  He loves the hostel, and after staying at HI locations here and in California, he decided that he was ready to become a member.  He’ll be staying at HI hostels during the rest of his time traveling.
            Chicago is an enormous city compared with his hometown that has only a few thousand inhabitants, and Jean-Baptiste really likes the atmosphere that our people bring to the city.  He thinks that we are a very friendly and relaxed group of people, and he feels comfortable asking anyone on the street for help and directions.  Besides the unique attitude of the people here, Jean-Baptiste would argue that the architecture is what makes Chicago stand out.  As I said before, he is a big fan of the Bean.  He also really enjoys the work of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, and although he doesn’t have time during this trip, he would like to come back to take the Frank Lloyd Wright tour in Oak Park

Bonne chance avec vos etudes, et amusez-vous bien pendant le reste de votre voyage!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Traveler Talk! Ned

             I met Ned while he was checking out the bulletin board at HI-Chicago to plan his last day in the city.  He was willing to talk to me for a few minutes about his trip so far, and he had a lot of great things to say about Chicago!  Ned is from Leeds, England, and he’s currently on a trip across the United States.  So far he has conquered the East Coast, and spent time in New York as well as at Niagara Falls.  He did the right thing there and made sure to check out the Canadian side for its spectacular views.  He’s been in Chicago for five days, and tomorrow he is off to spend the rest of his time out West, visiting Seattle, Portland, and California.

            So far, he’s had a great time in Chicago.  One of his favorite spots to visit was the Art Institute.  He really enjoyed all of the works there, but his favorite part was the Picasso exhibit that is currently going on.  He has also spent some time exploring the neighborhoods, and had a great time in Chinatown.  Today, he is torn between going out on another excursion to Hyde Park and seeing the spectacular views from the top of Willis Tower.  Either way, he’s going to have a great time during his last day in the city.  

Leeds is still a pretty big city, and from the pictures that I’ve seen, it’s an absolutely breathtaking place to be.  Besides the size, the most striking difference that he noticed between Leeds and Chicago is the diversity of the people.  He thinks that it’s great how you can see people from all walks of life in the Loop as well as in the surrounding neighborhoods.  Besides the United States, Ned has traveled around in Europe, and even did a cycling tour through Holland.  He is excited for the rest of his trip, and will be staying with HI for the rest of the time he is traveling.  

We are glad to have you here Ned, and good luck with the rest of your tour of the US!

By: Intern Sarah Consoer

Earth Day! 4-22-13

Happy Earth Day hostelers!  Since environmental awareness is the reason for the season, it’s fitting that we explore some easy ways that you can decrease your carbon footprint while increasing the quality of life for your grandchildren.  Of course, driving a hybrid car and installing solar panels on your roof are highly effective, but they are also pretty pricey.  Here are some simpler alternatives that are affordable and easily incorporated into daily life.

1. Avoid disposable bottled water.  The bottles are all assembled at one location, and shipped all over the world, which means huge amounts of carbon emissions are released by the vehicles that transport them.  Many people use the bottles once, and then throw them away when they should recycle them, so they also cause huge amounts of waste.  A good alternative to this is to use a reusable water bottle (like the ones available at the hostel’s front desk) or a canteen to store your daily H2O.

2. Buy organic or locally produced food.  Organic farmers tend to use fewer pesticides and other harmful techniques when growing food than commercial farmers do, and locally grown produce reduces carbon emissions because it only has to travel around the corner to arrive at your doorstep.  Many restaurants even offer a locally grown/organic option these days, so you won’t have to worry about where the hamburger on your plate used to graze anymore!

3. Take direct flights.  This one is especially important for all you travelers out there.  It can sometimes be tempting to choose a connection because the flight will cost a little bit less, or because you think you’ll be able to spend the five hour layover exploring San Francisco, but taking just one flight reduces your environmental impact dramatically.  You can also avoid feeling like this woman when your first flight is late, and you miss your connection altogether. 

4. Use eco-friendly modes of transport.  While it’s true that driving a car is very convenient and efficient, there are a lot of other options that can get you where you need to go.  Walking or riding a bike are the two most eco-friendly choices, but taking buses or trains also reduces carbon emissions because they transport so many people at one time.  It is also pretty nice to be able to sit back and relax while the train glides you speedily along the track instead of experiencing the road rage of a Chicago-style traffic jam.

5. Just hang out!  Nowadays, it’s hard to resist the incredible options we have to entertain ourselves.  We can go out to eat for a fancy dinner, or indulge in a shopping spree without even thinking about it.  But you could cut the negative effects that those activities have on the environment by simply spending time with the ones you love.  Have a game night, have good conversation, or even have a nice home-cooked dinner!  When you cook for multiple people at one time, the cost of food per person is greatly reduced.

6. Always unplug.  Even when you aren’t using your electronics, if they are plugged in to the outlet, they are still consuming energy.  Always remember to unplug your phone charger, laptop, television and stereo when you are not using them.  To make it easier, you can plug them all into the same power strip and simply turn that off before you leave.  Also, always remember to turn off the lights when leaving a room.  Don’t waste electricity on a bunch of furniture that really could care less about being in the dark.

7. Understand the beauty of cold water.  The amount of energy it takes to heat water is astronomical.  Of course, the modern conveniences that most of us have enjoyed up until this point would make it almost intolerable to take cold showers (especially in the winter), but there are many other opportunities to reduce energy consumption by choosing cold water.  When washing your clothes, cold water is not only more eco-friendly, but it also works better for removing protein stains, like sweat, and causes much less shrinkage and wrinkles than hot water cycles do.  You can also use cold water when washing your hands or washing your face.  It’s actually quite refreshing.

8. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!  This one is pretty self-explanatory.  Buying less, and fixing or reusing items that you already have, is very effective in decreasing your carbon footprint.  Recycling is also one of the easiest and most helpful ways that you can eliminate waste.  Paper, plastic and glass are always recyclable, but did you know that you can also recycle things like wooden furniture and even batteries?  It may take a little more effort because you will need to contact a local recycling agency to arrange a pickup or drop-off, but the reward of having a cleaner Earth is definitely worth it.

If you want to find out what your current carbon footprint is, visit and take the quiz.  It only takes a few minutes, and the results can be very enlightening.  Today is a beautiful day!  Go outside and enjoy the sweet gifts our planet has given us, and maybe think about incorporating some of these techniques into your life so you can give something back.

By: Intern Sarah Consoer

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Tour of the Ukrainian Village

       One of the most beautiful things about Chicago is our variety of cultural neighborhoods.  Not only do we have Chinatown and Little Italy, we also have Andersonville and Pilsen which make you think you have stumbled upon some kind of teleportation device to Sweden and Mexico, respectively, as soon as you turn the corner.  The Ukrainian Village is yet another one of these exceptionally cultural experiences.  Today, I led a tour through the neighborhood which showcased the area’s cuisine, religion, history and architecture.  

        Our first stop was the Holy Trinity Russian Orthadox Cathedral.  Construction began in 1899 and on this provincial style building, and it was completed four years later.  It was designed by one of Chicago’s most famous and beloved architects, Louis Sullivan (who also designed the Auditorium Building on Michigan Avenue right by the hostel!).  The first group of immigrants who came to the Village was divided emotionally over the existence of this church.  Some strongly opposed it because it was partially funded by Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and relations between Russia and the Ukraine have never been particularly warm.  Others really enjoyed the aesthetic appeal of the cathedral because it reminded them of the small, intimate, rural buildings of the Old World.  Regardless of the original conflict of ideals, Holy Trinity remains an important part of the neighborhood, and still boasts a faithful congregation.
            After walking farther down Leavitt Street, we came across the stunning St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral.  The building that stands now is not the original place of worship for the St. Nicholas congregation, but it has been in use since January 7th (Christmas according the Julian calendar), 1915.  The Byzantine-Slavonic architectural style was incorporated into the construction of this cathedral, and its thirteen domes stand for Jesus Christ and each of the twelve apostles.

At this point, we decided that it would be good to stop for some traditional Ukrainian food.  Old Lviv, a Ukrainian buffet, turned out to be just the place we were looking for.  It’s a pretty small restaurant, but the server is friendly, and the food is fantastic.  We had borscht, freshly made pierogies, cucumber salad, potato pancakes, and more.  Andrea came on the tour with me, and we were able to sit and have nice conversation while we ate.  She is originally from Mexico City, but she has traveled all over the world to places like Japan, India, Morocco, Egypt and Turkey.  She’s staying in Chicago for ten months in order to improve her English, and just before she got here, she spent two months in Europe seeing the sights.  Even though she had a nice job in the international department of a big company, she decided to quit and experience as much of the world as she could.  She absolutely loves Chicago, and would like to live and work here permanently if she is able to.
The next stop on the tour is the extravagant Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Cathedral.  It was built in the Byzantine-Ukrainian style from 1971 to 1973, and the structure demonstrates that style’s preference for circular patterns and avoidance of angular designs.  Patriarch Josyf Slipyj was pivotal in all of its stages of development, which instills a sense of pride among the congregation because of his role in the Ukrainian movement against the Stalinist regime.  He was the Commissioner of the Faith in the Catholic Church, and in 1945 he was arrested by the Soviets and held prisoner in Siberia for eighteen years.  Through the intervention of Pope John XXIII and President John F. Kennedy, he was released in 1963.  The cathedral is named after Volodymyr, the Grand Duke of Kyiv, who brought Christianity to the realm in 988 AD, and his grandmother, Olha.

Finally, we arrived at the Ukrainian National Museum.  There was a temporary exhibit about two Ukrainian artists who had moved to the US, and one featured impressive mosaics depicting women, flowers, and landscapes.  Upstairs, we learned about the history of Ukraine, from the joyous tradition of painting the Pysanka Easter eggs to the horrifying facts behind the Ukrainian genocide of 1932-33.  After exploring the Ukrainian instruments, clothing, weapons, and pottery, we were ready to get on our way back to the hostel.  We took the #66 back to the Blue Line, and before we knew it, we were back on Congress.  It seemed almost like a different world after our time in the Ukrainian Village, and it was definitely good to know that we could go back and visit the Old World any time we wanted to!

By: Intern Sarah Consoer

Friday, April 12, 2013

Traveler Talk! Minaz

In the lobby of Hostelling International Chicago, you are likely to meet people from all kinds of backgrounds with all kinds of stories.  Some may come from huge cosmopolitan areas, and they’ll see Chicago as a good sized city with a relaxed ambiance.  And on the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find Minaz.  He is a graduate student from Arkansas that came to Chicago for the weekend to sit in on a few classes.  As soon as he arrived in the city, he was blown away by its immensity.  He came to the pretty accurate conclusion that “you could get lost in just one of those stores on State Street!”

As he was trying to escape the sea of buildings, he stumbled across his favorite place in the city.  In his opinion, walking down Michigan Avenue is “a breath of fresh air,” and he loves looking at the architecture while simultaneously feeling like he is out in the open.  Minaz is also a big fan of the Skydeck in Willis Tower.  He didn’t come out and say it explicitly, but I’m guessing that his love for it also has something to do with the fact that you can be right in the middle of the city, but still feel as though you are on the outside looking in.

Minaz has really enjoyed the hostel itself.  He stated that “you can’t beat the cleanliness and location” of our building.  While he’s here, Minaz discovered that even though he loves the food selection that we have here, he is unfortunately not a supporter of deep dish pizza.  He does love our hotdogs though, and that means that he can stay as long as his heart desires!

Good luck on your MBA, and see you next time Minaz!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Traveler Talk! Raul

I first met Raul at the information desk when he began our conversation by asking me if I spoke Spanish.  I’m studying languages at school, and French and Spanish are my strong points, so I responded with “¡Claro que si!”  We chatted about where he was from and what he was hoping to do in Chicago, and I was able to give him a few recommendations that I think will make his experience an unforgettable one.

Raul is from Mexico City, and this is his first time in Chicago.  He can understand some English, but doesn’t speak it, so he was a little bit nervous about being here on his own.  I told him that luckily there are quite a few people in the area who can at least speak a little bit of Spanish, so he’ll feel comfortable soon enough.  Raul arrived yesterday, and so far, he has taken a walk down the Magnificent Mile and taken some stunning pictures of the scenery.  During the rest of his time, he would like to see all the sights and even visit some of the surrounding cities if possible.  I recommended Oak Park because of its history and interesting architecture, so he’s planning on taking a side trip out there within the next few days.

Other than that, Raul plans to visit the Art Institute, Museum of Science and Industry, and take an architectural tour of Chicago.  One of his big concerns, though, was to find a place that served Chicago style pizza.  He’s in luck: we are basically surrounded by delicious pizza joints here at the hostel.  When describing the pizza, he held his hands about six inches apart to indicate how thick he was hoping it would be, so I’m hoping that Lou Malnati’s doesn’t disappoint.

¡Espero que tenga un buen viaje, Raul!