je l’ai! a weekend in chicago & my visa appointment

There are many things one has to do in preparation for a move across the ocean. One of my biggest tasks, looming, was to get a long-stay visa from the French Consulate in Chicago.

This could have been merely a chore, something I would delay and avoid until it was too late. I had heard horror stories about the process and admittedly, I was daunted and full of what-ifs. Thankfully, I had friends who were more excited and driven than I was, and their (practical) support meant everything.

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Stephanie and I set out for Chicago on a beautiful Thursday morning. We had driven to St Louis from Columbia the night before, which made the drive a bit easier. Plus it meant we had a chance to grab some Ted Drewes and discuss a hashtag for the trip.

#dontbeChi2k16 

(It didn’t take.)

I love a good road trip, probably because they combine some of my favorite things, including snacks, fresh air, and hours of singing badly to ancient hiphop. And how much better with a partner in crime.

We drove the five or so hours to Erika’s house, located in an adorable neighborhood about an hour outside of Chicago by train. We were starving, so she took us to a charming area close by, full of little restaurants and shops, and we had a progressive dinner of tacos (mine with cactus!) and then great pizza (ricotta! heirloom tomatoes!). The three of us met in France, and I love that we have similar tastes and many, many memories involving food and drink. As I get older, I realize again and again that one of life’s greatest pleasures is simple: a good meal with good friends and good conversation.

Back at Erika’s house, I had to finish paperwork for the appointment. I was a bit nervous: had I overlooked or misunderstood anything? I didn’t want to make some dumb mistake and miss my chance. Or wake up late and miss the train, miss the appointment I had planned a month in advance.

Erika’s parents helped us plan for the next morning, giving us a map, train times, and clear directions. They were so kind to us during the stay: letting us crash for three nights, making delicious breakfasts for us.

Friday morning, Erika went to work and Steph and I were off, safe on the train (after very nearly missing it). We found the building easily et voilà, I made my appointment. I was in the office for about ten minutes and it was no big deal. I said bonjour, handed over my paperwork, passport, and prepaid envelope, and got my picture taken. To any current or future TAPIF-ers: triple-check your documents and then don’t sweat it. As long as you’re not the girl I saw begging the officials en anglais to issue her a visa without a passport (?!), you will be fine.

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post-visa appointment

We were out of there by 9:15 and had the whole day to spend in the city. It was slightly cool and drizzling, loud and bustling, beautiful in a very different way from what I’m used to.

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We headed to Millenium Park and took the requisite photos, then grabbed coffee and went to the Art Institute.

It was a treat to see so many classic works in the (painted) flesh. Monet. Warhol. Lichtenstein. Dali. I was particularly interested in anything surreal or Dadaist, after taking a French class on these subjects.

Looking at beautiful things is always enjoyable, but weird stuff is what really excites me. I like things that push the boundaries and bring up that old question I never get tired of: what is art?

We stopped at Eataly for lunch, two stories of Italian food extraordinaire, then headed to Willis Tower (previously Sears Tower) for the dizzying view.

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Later in the afternoon, Erika picked us up at the train station and we went to the Ravinia festival. Erika had mentioned that picnicking was a big thing there, but I had to see it to understand just what she meant. Gathered in a grassy lawn surrounding a large amphitheater, hundreds of people sat around delicious-looking dinner spreads. It was like competitive picnicking. I could imagine a reality TV show based around some of these people. There were blankets and tables spread with candles or games of Scrabble or fresh flowers. There were older couples sharing bottles of wine and large families with a full dinner spread.

Erika had planned for us a delicious spread, so I think we held our own in the picnic hierarchy. We had cider and sangria, a baguette with several kinds of chèvre, caprese salad, salami, cookies, a candle. We ate while the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto in the evening air and the setting sun made the sky a fiery pink. A perfect night. I felt very lucky.

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The next morning, Saturday, the three of us went to the city. We spent the first part of the day at the Lincoln Park Zoo and then visited some cool shops and restaurants.

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If my iPhone pedometer is at all accurate, we took about 23,000 steps that day, and by about 6 pm, collapsed around a table at an English pub.

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About a week and a half ago, my visa arrived in the mail. Not only have I procured my way to (legally) stay in France, but I have fantastic memories of a whirlwind weekend getaway with great friends.

Thanks so much, guys. I appreciate the heck out of you.

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