Rob

Husband, Father and Traveller

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Chicago – Day 2

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I slept in – sort of.

After a mammoth effort the previous day, I was feeling very sore.  I really struggled and needed a long shower to try and retore some health.  It was close to 8:30am when hunger got the better of me and I decided to return to the diner from the previous day.  Unfortunately they were full, so I decided to try a waffle place up near Millennium Park, but that place had about 50 people sitting outside waiting – so I decided to try Eggy’ again.  They had a 25 minute wait, so defeated, I went back to the Hyatt and opted for breakfast in the atrium.

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I went against the buffet, and ordered a meat lovers skillet which proved to be an unwise choice.  I returned to the room and lay on the bed for a bit, followed by some bathroom theatrics.  I’d really over done it.  I decided to spend the next hour just resting, and did so with no further issues.  I needed to be nomadic, because by midday I’d be without an abode.  I decided to check out at 11:30am and beat the checkout rush.

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Checkout was smooth, and I was able to leave my two bags at the bag drop, freeing me up for further exploration.  At this point I had some options – stay in downtown some more or figure out the transit system.  I went for the latter, since I figured I’d seen enough of the Loop the previous day.  I walked down to Lake St and found the Red line (not to be confused with Lake/State, above ground).  I bought a day pass and boarded the next noth bound red line train.

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I left the train at the Belmont stop.  It was fascinating riding the above ground train (“L” for Elevated) and watching the suburbs of Chicago whistle on by.  There’s a lot more low rise buildings as you get further out of downtown, many of which have external fire escapes, sometimes made of wood.  For the most part these looked like condominiums or townhouses, with businesses and churches thrown in for good measure.  There was plenty of foliage around as well, to keep the region green.

At Belmont, I crossed over and into the local Reckless Records store which was far bigger than the downtown equivalent.  I wish I’d spent more time (and money) at this location!  I spent at least an hour or so sifting through the thousands of quality used records before settling on three LPs.  One is a very rare Jazz album from 1958 which I’d especially made the trip for.

Once finished, I had a decision to make.  Did I dare to miss the opportunity to see the Chicago Cubs play at home at the fabled Wrigley Field?  As it turns out, no – I did not!

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For US $50 I scored a reasonable seat using StubHub, and armed with my QR code ticket, I took the wrong L line north – to the exact same named stop that I needed to travel to.

So I ended up about a kilometre away from Wrigley Field by virtue of taking the Brown line instead f the Red line north from Belmont.  More walking.

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The neighbourhood on the approach is very nice, mostly townhouse style residences which neat lawns and clean and tidy sidewalks.  A lot of Cubs signage, which was hardly out of place.  It did mask the stadium until I was right upon it.  It really is just nestled in amongst the suburb.  Getting into the stadium required a bit of finesse, the lines snaked out to the road, and marshals were telling off anyone who dared to queue on the road.

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I snuck onto the tail end of a queue and passed through security and into the stadium.  I’d narrowly missed the first pitch owing to going to the wrong station, but the first innings had only just started.  The stadium is the second oldest in the major league (next to Fenway in Boston) and opened way back in 1914.  Fenway beat Wrigley by two years (est. 1912).

As a result, it’s a venue that focuses on getting fans into the game – there’s few corporate boxes, the seats are maximised for the fans, and it accommodates over 41,000 fans.  It’s an amazing venue.  I used the men’s room on the way in as I did not anticipate needing to leave my seat.  I was dead tired.

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It was a very close game.  Washington had taken the first two games of the series (the following two days), so the Cubs were out to prevent a three game sweep.  The fans turned out in their thousands to cheer on the team.  I didn’t leave my seat once I sat down, I took in the atmosphere and engrossed myself in the game at hand.  There was an amazing diving catch made by the Cubs left fielder that was replayed to much applause on the big screen.

The rustic manual scoreboard is a nice touch, complimented by the higher tech boards nearby.  There’s even seats positioned on buildings near the stadium (Wrigley Rooftop) since the stadium is surrounded by suburbia.  Neat!

It wasn’t until the 7th inning that I left me seat – to leave.  Sadly, I couldn’t risk missing my next flight, so I was forced to be somewhat conservative and hedge my bets on transit time.  I left as the game continued, the score tied. 

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So I found the correct L station nearby, and began the trip back to the Lake station.

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It was an uneventful trip, and I walked the now familiar route back up to the hotel.  I collected my bags and made my way to reception to jump a cab to O’Hare airport.  It was an event-free trip to the airport, and I checked my bag and headed to the (tiny) American Airlines lounge.  I suspect I was in the smaller of the two locations, I found the first class lounge the next day. 

To my surprise, the Cubs game was still going!

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They had just entered the 11th innings, and Washington had scored 2 runs in what would seal the game.  I sat back, charged my phone and grabbed food and drink and watched from afar.  I would not miss my flight this time.

I caught my planned flight to Fort Wayne, Indiana.  The gate attendant tagged my carry on as “premium” hand luggage and I was forced to part with it on the jetway.  When we reached Fort Wayne, I waited for it to be delivered to the gate, but it did not appear.  I followed everyone else to baggage claim, and out popped my checked luggage.  Worried, I traced my way through the empty terminal until I found someone.  It took a while, but they eventually routed my green carry on bag to me.

I exited the terminal to find a single taxi, and he already had a fare.  Luckily he took us both – it didn’t look like there’d be too many other options, either!  The other passenger was a dance choreographer from L.A. who worked on the Emmys and many other events.  He was dropped off first, and then I was taken to the Park Hyatt.

With zero dinner options, I opted for wings from the hotel bar and they were great.  I chatted with the staff and some of the other guests before calling it a night.

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I talked to Australia – Damian was sick.  He’d been up all night throwing up.  I wished I could do more, but here I am stuck on the other side of the world.  I read the remained of my book and had a bath to relax, and finally.. finally went off to sleep – bags packed and work clothes at the ready for the next day.

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Prequel – Dallas

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Why hello.

It’s me again.

For the fourth time in 11 months, I’m back in the Lone Star state.  My previous trips were for training, but this time it’s all business.

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I spent the week in Richardson, Texas for work, mainly in workshops and giving presentations as an architect does.  It went well, and we were also treated to some very fine local cuisine.  I met up with Russell (Kathey was an apology this time) around mid-week, and – as is the tradition – visited Josey Records (twice) for my regular vinyl fix.

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The story would normally end there.  The trip was actually originally planned to just be an “in and out” affair, flying out of Australia on the Sunday and returning a week later.  However, word got out about my being in the United States, and I was asked whether I could extend the trip for other business purposes.  I was advised to spend some time other than in Indiana, and the flights worked out well enough that I have just spent the weekend in Chicago, Illinois.

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Renaissance Richardson

So, where does that leave off?

Well, we wrapped somewhat early on the Friday, with a final staff lunch of BBQ (I had brisket in a jacket potato).  I took a ride with two US colleagues who were heading to DFW, and persuaded them to detour past Josey.  We ended up at DFW and eventually they flew out while I remained for the 6:45pm to Chicago.

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What happens next?

I missed a flight.  It’s the first time in over a decade, and what’s worse is that I was at the airport an easy four hours before the scheduled boarding time. 

How did this occur?  Well..

After over thirty years of flying, I encountered a very strange “first”.  I had a delayed flight “undelayed”, coupled with the flight closing 5 minutes earlier than it should have (i.e. 15 minutes early).  The flight to Chicago was delayed by 7 minutes from 6:45pm to depart at 6:52pm.  I left the Admiral’s club at 6:30pm to get to the gate at 6:35pm which was cutting it close, but should have been fine, if a bit too close to the original departure time.

However, I arrived to find that the gate agent had closed the flight at 6:30pm (5 minutes earlier than the scheduled close, based on the original departure time) and a bunch of irate passengers were demanding to board.  A woman had been routed to the flight by customer service, being told they’d make the flight.  The gate attendant yelled at the customer service rep over the lady’s cell phone.  Outrageous.

I realised we were getting nowhere with the gate, so I curtly asked where customer service was and stalked there post-haste.  It took over half an hour waiting in line to rebook onto a later flight, including a seating downgrade (couldn’t really argue on that front).  We were delayed out, and didn’t land until 11:30pm.  It was well past midnight once I dragged my tired ass into the Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago – the taxi run spoiled by late night roadworks on the freeway.

At least I made it in one piece?

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First impressions of downtown

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Chicago – Day 1

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After the calamity of the previous night’s missed flight, and the very late arrival into the Hyatt, it was refreshing to wake up reasonably early and ready to face the day.  I had very little agenda, so I decided to keep it pretty simple.  At first.

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First – I chose to stay in downtown Chicago.  The area is referred to as “the Loop”, and I didn’t quite know why until I attempted to use public transport.  The Loop is an above ground train system that does a loop of downtown.

I don’t much like eating at hotels as the guests can sometimes be considered a captive audience, so I usually try to find something local that’s rated well.  I located a diner not far away which was rated below 100 out of thousands (on TripAdvisor) and navigated to where I thought it was.

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The north-east area of the Loop is a bit weird, it’s actually elevated at least 3-4 storeys above the actual ground level.  The diner was down at ground level, and so it took a while to figure out how to get down there.  It was worth the effort, and proved to be a great find with excellent and reasonably priced food.  They even had an espresso machine for some proper coffee.  I sat at the counter, but I could have had a table for one.

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After breakfast, I went north back up towards the river.  On the way back to the hotel, I wandered into a TV crew who were setting up to film a helicopter landing on the street.  I lingered long enough to watch the spectacle.

There’s a river that makes its way though the city proper, and it also neatly carves off downtown.  As a consequence, the city has constructed many iron bridges to connect downtown to the rest of Chicago.  Some of these are quite famous, and they are mostly best viewed from the water’s edge.  Luckily, the city build a riverwalk which is accessible from the north side of the Loop.

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As I rounded the river I noticed two very distinctive buildings that reminded me of a record cover.  Sure enough, the cover of Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” is adorned with these two unique buildings, called Marina City.

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I continued along, walking the length of the path, which ended on the north west side.  I’d seen some highlights of the Chicago skyline on the midnight taxi ride into the hotel, but now I had a much better view of the amazing and innovative skyscrapers that frame downtown Chicago.

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Surfacing on Lake street, where the riverwalk ends, I stalked south along Wacker St killing time as the record store didn’t open until 10am.  It was 9:45am when I located the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower).  This is the tallest building in Chicago, and is hard to appreciate up close and personal.  It is the 21st tallest building in the world and second tallest in the USA.

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Although the lobby is being refurbished, the skydeck was still open.  It’s not inexpensive to visit, but the views make the trip worth it.  On a busy day, youd snake around many twists and turns (much alike New York’s Empire State building), but on this day there was close to zero crowd. 

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The main attraction is “The Ledge” which juts out over the edge of the 103st floor.  There’s nothing between you and a sheer drop besides some seriously thick glass.  After I circled the floor and picked up a souvenir for Toni (a mosaic of the tower), I joined the brief line for the ledge.  I watched two girls doing handstands and flips inside the ledge!

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After taking in the views, I made my way back down to the ground.  I made my way up to Reckless Records to spy some new LP acquisitions. 

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After picking up some new vinyl, I returned to the hotel.  I stashed the score and then decided to walk to Millennium Park.  There was a free music concert on, so I had to walk to the entrance (the park was fenced off) and once inside, made a move towards “the bean” which is actually called “Cloud Gate”.  It’s a very tall bean shaped silver sculpture, and very popular.  It was thronged by people both around and underneath.

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After taking a few selfies and taking in the city skyline, from here I had a look at a nearby concert/stage, and then I started walking south to Buckingham Fountain.

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This is the fountain at the start of the credits for 80s sitcom “Married with Children”, and it is very large and impressive.  It wasn’t as impressive a crowd around the fountain and as I started to walk even further south the numbers thinned even further.

My next stop was the Field Museum, which was a recommendation from a former Chicago native who I’d sat next to on the inbound flight from Dallas the night before.

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The big drawcard is the huge collection of dinosaur bones, including a ferocious T-Rex called SUE (named for Sue Hendrickson, who discovered the dinosaur in 1990 during a commercial excavation trip north of Faith, South Dakota).  The building is massive and covers two above ground floors and one below ground level.  It’s a tad pricey once the exchange rate is taken into account, but it’s very similar to the natural history museum in New York, so worth it.

I spent about three hours or so inside the museum, I took in one of the special exhibits (where you discover what it is like underneath the soil) and also went through a lot of the natural history exhibits – specifically Egypt and Africa.  There was a room dedicated to Chinese jade, and another to gemstones.  There was also a very interesting collection of meteorites.

At one point I found a temporary exhibition in an out of the way part of the upper level, and sank into a leather backed chair and almost slept for a bit.  Very few people came in as it was somewhat nondescript.

I bought Toni a polished amethyst stalagmite from the museum store on the way out.  Perfect luggage item – a heavy rock!

Opposite the museum, to the south, is the legendary Soldier Field stadium – home to the Chicago Bears (NFL) football team, the number #1 rival to my adopted Green Bay Packers.  They are kicking off the NFL season this Friday in Chicago.  I could not see much of the stadium, it was closed & fenced off.

I then walked back into the city, but this time by way of west of the Millennium Park (tracking east of the buildings), before diverting across to Target, not far from Reckless Records.  The notable thing about Target, is that it had a dedicated elevator for shopping carts, which would allow the cart to follow you up or down from the two levels of the store.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.

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I bought some toys for the boys and some Ghiradelli chocolate for Toni, plus a card game (Exploding Kittens).  I bought Jake a pair of fighting robots in the HexBug brand, and some Minecraft figures and a “diamond sword” for Damian. 

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Needless to say, I had to take it all back to the hotel rather than try an extended journey around downtown.

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After talking to Australia and showering and freshening up, it was time for dinner.  I’d had Giordano’s recommended for Chicago deep dish pizza, and there was one within two blocks of the hotel.  I walked down (Lake St) but it was super busy – packed.  I didn’t want to wait and I realised there was another Giordano’s up north within the Magnificent Mile.

So I headed north and crossed the river.  This is a serious shipping precinct, and the road was decorated with the big name brands towering over the footpath.  It was a good route, and before long I was there.  Similar problem – it is very popular – but this time I went to the bar.  I met a guy from Baltimore (Dan) and we chatted and had a few beers while the pizza baked.

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The deep dish looks more like a pie; with ingredients baked into and on top of the pizza.  It’s not deep pan (thick crust), but really two layers of topping.  Very filling, I was only able to eat a bit over two slices.  Afterwards, I started the journey back to the hotel.  There were heaps of people out and about, and the city was genuinely pleasant and light filled.

By the time I returned, I spent some more time talking to Australia.. It was about 9:30pm and I was about ready to simply hit the sack.  I looked at my Health stats from the iPhone, and realised I was a few hundred steps shy of 30,000 steps.  I couldn’t help it – and it was my only full day in Chicago – so out of sheer madness, I left the hotel and ventured out to check out Millennium Park by night.

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It was busy by day, but quieter by night.  I was able to walk under the bean and take in the great Chicago skyline as a backdrop.  The two large rectangular water features nearby were providing some welcome H2O on the reasonably hot night.  A few people were playing in the water, including one audacious kid who ran through the spray.

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Returning to the hotel, I’d blown to having travelled 25.4 kms in 32,315 steps and climbing 18 floors for the day.  I packed my bags and organised my things ready for checkout in the morning.

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