My second walking tour with the hostel was to see the street art in Pilsen. It was a trial run for our volunteer guide. She had never taken a group before but she wanted to share with others the art in the area.
On the tour, a couple told me that they had gone to Navy Pier to see the 4 July fireworks. When deciding where to stay on 4 July, I had opted for Austin. This was because the accommodation was expensive in Chicago and because I would have had to cut short my stay in Austin.
My improvised way of travelling (with accommodation booked at short notice) means that in high season many places are booked and only the expensive ones remain. It’s worse when there’s a special event going on. That can limit my options but so far I’ve not found it too restrictive. The advantages of not planning too much are that I can stay longer in a place if I like it and change my itinerary if I learn about other places from locals or fellow travellers. This is, in fact, how I came to be in Chicago. It wasn’t originally on my list of places to visit but several people recommended it.
As it happens, I had a lucky escape by not being in Chicago on 4 July. Instead I was enjoying the fireworks in Austin. The couple told me that there had been a stabbing at the pier. Several people were reported as being harmed. It turned out that there were three stabbings and that about sixteen people were injured in the rush to escape the pier. The couple said that they too had run away from the pier. Understandably, people were panicking because they didn’t know what was going on apart from some sense of danger that had been transmitted through the crowd.
This explained the heavy police presence in central Chicago I had noticed the previous day. Seeing all the police, I wasn’t sure if it was normal (perhaps because of peak tourist season) or something was going on (there was a food festival starting soon). I had asked a couple of officers. The first was a bit hesitant but his colleague said it was because it was a busy 4 July weekend. I assume he didn’t want to alarm me about the stabbings.
There were various measures in place. I also noticed that there are curfews in place for young people, which are controversial but have existed for several years in Chicago and other places.
It was, however, reassuring to see the police now that I’d learnt of the incident. I generally found them friendly and helpful. Most places I visited in the US realised the value of tourism and they did a lot to make sure people enjoyed themselves.
Pilsen itself was a delightful area, one of many in Chicago. Chicago was turning into one of my favourite cities in the US. The street murals were captivating. These are highly developed pieces, covering the full spectrum from aesthetic to political.
Pilsen has a large Hispanic community. During our walk, I picked up a tasty cinnamon churros and we stopped for a light lunch at Taqueria Casa Del Pueblo, an authentic Mexican restaurant and a favourite of our guide.
After the guided tour around Pilsen finished, some of us popped into the National Museum of Mexican Art. There were a few interesting pieces but probably most engaging was the conversation I had with a woman who restored and preserved the art at the museum.