The journey begins at Gatwick airport and a cheap flight with Delta airlines which includes a brief stopover in Cincinnati, not want you want after a long haul flight. I arrive at Chicago O'Hare airport and find a minibus which takes us into the heart of Chicago and my hotel.
I check into my room at Hotel 71, a twin room at the rear with city views, where I meet Pete, Di and the kids who are already checked into a family room at the front of the hotel with a view of the river and Marina City towers. It's a great location and gives us a chance to get a feel for the city that evening as we explore the local area. The following day we explore further, as we stroll down the Magnificent Mile and get some tourist shopping done, including a visit to the Harley Davidson store.
On Thursday I meet Mark for a guided tour of the city. We begin with a visit to the 95th floor of the Hancock building with panoramic views of the city. From there we walk to Navy Peer Beer Garden and then onto the Rock Bottom Brewery and choose from their menu of real ales. Despite getting a little lost looking for somewhere to eat, Mark shuns the use of a map as we'd get approached by locals, so we spot the Rainforest Café on a street corner and eat pizza next to an animatronic elephant. After dinner and a phone call later Mark recovers his sense of direction and we finish the evening at a bar called Celtic Crossings.
Friday is set aside for preparations for members of the wedding party including my role as an usher. That morning I discover the benefits of mobile phones that work in different countries as I try unsuccessfully to contact Nick using a payphone on a street corner. I take a train and then bus to Schaumburg where we're expected for a dress fitting in a penguin suit - I'm not sure if Nick was pleased or just relieved to see me there. From the tailors we go to the church and a rehearsal for the next day, followed in the evening by a rehearsal dinner at a nearby restaurant allowing us to relax and get to know each other, and where each of us are presented with a commemorative pen.
The day of the wedding and we head there in style as Nick and Karen lay on Limousines for the wedding party. At the church the photo call is pretty extensive marking the special day, before the main event, the ceremony which goes off without a hitch. We then head to Hoffman Estates for the reception, a very civilised affair with formal dinning, after dinner speeches and the first dance of the evening by the happy couple serenaded by an out of tune wedding party. English real ale is supplied which goes down well on both sides, even if served American style, chilled.
The day after I return to Chicago and Hotel 71 where I ensure views of the river and Marina City towers. Later, those still in the city meet up with Nick & Karen in their hotel bar with views over the Chicago skyline to relax and reflect.