A Travellerspoint blog

May 2015

Chicago

May 14th - 25th

I have to admit, Chicago wasn't on my radar as a destination but Ronnie was keen (thankfully) so I relented. After getting a heap of advice on sightseeing activities from a number of friends, I started to feel better about a trip to the Windy City. We decided on a 10 day stay to allow us 2 full weekends to see and enjoy as much of Chicago as possible. Alyssa has school during the week and although she is often finished around 1-2 pm, it generally doesn't allow enough time to travel too far for sight seeing. Our accommodation was booked through airbnb and like most of our trips was selected on price, reviews and access to public transport and grocery stores (usually in that order). We ended up settling on a 2 bedroom apartment in the suburb of Mont Clare, West of Downtown but only about 20 minutes on the train to Union Station. The Mont Clare train station is less than 5 minutes walk away, there are a couple of grocery stores within 10 minutes and 150m away is a park for Alyssa to play.

Although Chicago is the United States' third largest city, it is often called the Second City (New York being the First City). It is a haven of art and architecture, elevated trains, a wealth of museums and wonderful places to eat, drink and be entertained. Chicago was originally a small fort on the Chicago River, which was destroyed in a massacre. The city remained a small trading post until the Illinois and Michigan Canal and Chicago Union Railroad were opened in 1848, after which Chicago grew rapidly. In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed most of downtown and the north side of town (the entire city was built of wood). So they decided to rebuild with steel and created space for bold new structures.

Which leads us to the Architectural boat tour. When talking to friends about our intended trip to Chicago, they all immediately urged us to do the Architectural boat tour. It turns out a number of companies offer the 75 minute tour with numerous time slots during the day. It is easily the most popular tourist attraction in Chicago. The city is the birthplace of the modern skyscraper with the Willis Tower (former Sears Tower) the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the Trump International Hotel and Tower being the third largest in the US, the famous Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower where chunks of famous locations (Taj Mahal, Parthenon, Palace of Westminster, Great Wall of China and many more) are embedded in the lower walls. We decided to visit the John Hancock Tower on advice from the Lonely Planet as it is free to visit the 95th floor Signature room and get panoramic views of Chicago ..... so long as you purchase a drink. Now obviously the drinks were not cheap (still less than visiting the observation deck of the Hancock or the Willis Tower) but was totally worth it.

Chicago skyline

Chicago skyline


South view from Hancock building

South view from Hancock building


North view from Hancock building

North view from Hancock building

The Lincoln Park Zoo is the original zoo of Chicago, built in 1868 and located just North of Downtown. The zoo features many fascinating and exotic species including Tigers, Lions, Giraffes, Rhino, many varieties of birds and reptiles and even some kangaroos. One of the big perks is that the admission is free.

Grant Park and Millennium Park are located next to each other on the banks of Lake Michigan. Grant Park is home to the Buckingham Fountain, built in 1927 and having more than 5,700,000 litres going in its system, every hour the main water cannon launches a stream of water vertically 46 metres into the air for 20 minutes. Millennium Park is the city's showpiece and includes Cloud Gate (the bean), Pritzker Pavilion and Crown Fountain, a de facto water park that projects video images of locals spitting water, gargoyle style.

Crown Fountain

Crown Fountain


Cloud Gate aka The Bean

Cloud Gate aka The Bean

If you are in Chicago during Spring or Summer, you have to see a Baseball game ...... you know we did. We chose a Saturday game due to the 3pm start and caught a couple of trains to the famous Wrigley Field, the second oldest baseball stadium in the US. The Cubs were hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates and handled them with relative ease 4-1 however a day at the baseball is much more than just watching a sport. It's experiencing the atmosphere of 38,000 people, having a traditional Chicago hot dog (a wiener topped with onions, tomatoes, shredded lettuce and sweet relish) and seeing the food and drink vendors travelling the walkways servings all kinds of food and drinks directly to your seat.

Chicago Cubs Game

Chicago Cubs Game


Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field

On another day we partook in a Pedway Tour. What is a Pedway? It is a Pedestrian Walkway, a series of walkways that connect building to building so you don't have to go outside in either Winter or Summer. Interestingly each Walkway is administered by the building directly above it, so some are maintained better than others and the sections which run underneath the road are quite run down. In all it was quite an interesting and informative 90 minute tour. Afterwards we had to try the traditional Chicago style Pizza, deep dish style. Well let's just say we were Totally disappointed. The pizza is more like a quiche with a flaky type base instead of a normal dough and covered in way too much cheese.

Deep dish pizza

Deep dish pizza

Posted by V3USA 13:34 Comments (1)

RV, Chicago and beyond

May 14th

We dropped the RV back to Cruise America on Tuesday. The final tally was 4,412 miles, 7 States (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota) and a heap of National Parks, National Monuments, State parks and a Native American hospital. Long story, all recovered now.

So how do we sum up the RV experience? Well 6 weeks was probably the ideal amount of time. We clearly did a lot of travel but only in the last week did we actually feel that the time on the road was starting to take its toll. Unfortunately for us our RV already had 82,000 miles before we left and this meant a number of small issues with things breaking and needing repair. We dropped it back with a list of 11 issues that needed to be rectified. For the inconvenience we were refunded 3 days rental. However the most difficult challenge was the cold weather and how cold it is IN the RV. Although we had a furnace, it couldn't be run for more than 7 hours before setting off an alarm. This therefore meant we didn't use it at all and of the 40 nights we were in the RV, I would say only 10 were above 0c (outside temperature) - a couple degrees colder in the RV. We slept in jackets and gloves more than once and awoke breathing 'frosties' on many mornings.

Currently we are sitting at Denver International Airport about to board a flight to Chicago, the Windy City. We have booked accommodation for 10 nights before departing to New York for 3 weeks. At this stage we will then be catching up with good friends to spend some time in Boston followed by New Hampshire.

This will then end our USA journey as we will be close to our maximum 6 month stay. Our plan is to travel through to Quebec City in Canada and spend 4 months in Canada with hopefully a return to the USA in mid October.

Stay tuned.

Posted by V3USA 11:33 Comments (0)

RV Day 36

Jewel Cave National Monument

"Jewel Cave, where the twin worlds of surface and subterranean collide, a place of mystery and discovery exists. Sights foreign and strange abound, with grandeur cast in stone, beauty found in darkness, and enlightenment in silence." Lydia Poppen - Park Ranger.

Jewel Cave National Monument contains Jewel Cave, currently the third longest cave in the world, with just over 166 miles of mapped passageways. This cave was awesome; so many different colors and rock and mineral formations. Alyssa loved it and was chuffed that the ranger compared a lot of the formations to different types of food: bacon strip, popcorn, caramel etc.
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Posted by V3USA 06:13 Comments (0)

RV Day 33

Custer State Park

Custer State Park is a state park and wildlife reserve in the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota, USA. The park is South Dakota's largest and first state park, named after Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer. We drove the Wildlife Loop and we absolutely loved it. We have become used to beautiful scenery, but we were still in awe of the various landscapes that comprise Custer. From the granite spires and rock outcroppings, to the short grass prairie, Custer has it all. The bison, pronghorn, white tail deer, and burrows are an added bonus. Of course, the main attraction is the 1,300 head of buffalo and we got to see some including some little ones.

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Posted by V3USA 06:13 Comments (0)

RV Day 34

Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial

The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore near Keystone and we decided to see the Crazy Horse Memorial first before dropping in on ‘the Presidents’. Sculpted by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum, Mount Rushmore features 60-foot sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. This is something that you look at and have to just sit and stare at it. Even Alyssa enjoyed this one. The memorial is beautiful and makes you ask: Why? Regardless, it is truly fascinating to see in person.
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Like we said before, we saw Crazy Horse before we saw Mount Rushmore. I think if you are going to see both these monuments in one day, you should see Mount Rushmore first and then Crazy Horse and make sure you sit in on the 14 minute presentation on Crazy Horse to find out that the heads of the four Presidents actually fit in the head of Crazy Horse.

The Crazy Horse Memorial is a mountain monument under construction on privately held land in the Black Hills, in Custer County, South Dakota. It depicts Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, riding a horse and pointing into the distance to the Black Hills and saying, "My lands are where my dead lie buried." The memorial was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski. It is operated by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, a private non-profit organization.

The memorial consists of the mountain carving (monument), the Indian Museum of North America, and the Native American Cultural Center. The monument is being carved out of Thunderhead Mountain on land considered sacred by some Oglala Lakota, between Custer and Hill City, roughly 27 km from Mount Rushmore. The sculpture's final dimensions are planned to be 641 feet (195 m) wide and 563 feet (172 m) high. The head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet (27 m) high; by comparison, the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet (18 m) high.

The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion. If completed, it may become the world's largest sculpture, as well as the first non-religious statue to hold this record since 1967.
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Posted by V3USA 06:10 Comments (0)

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