Chicago the Windy City

Trip Start Nov 06, 2009
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Flag of United States  , Illinois
Saturday, November 14, 2009

Breakfast was exceptional this morning, a huge selection and top of the line quality – really yummy. Guess that's what you pay for staying at The Hilton. The waitress was very helpful and gave us a map of the MTA (trains/buses), plus directions to hotel/Sears tower/Navy Pier where we wanted to go.

Caught the free hotel shuttle to the MTA station, and then looked like absolute tourists (which I guess we are!) as we tried to figure how to get a MTA card and to get through the turnstiles, but we got it sussed in the end! The ride into the city took about 45 minutes and passed by some very 'Chicago-ish' suburbs, complete with the houses backing right up to the tracks of the train.

Our first glimpse of the city as we came up out of the subway was just skyscraper after skyscraper. Our first stop was the Sears Tower, which was not fun having to wait in line to catch a lift to go down to the basement first, to then queue up to go through security, to then queue up to pay our US$55 to go up the tower, then wait 20 minutes to catch a lift to the 103rd floor. Mind you, it was worth it. The views are fantastic in every direction. Loads of other tourists up there, especially being a Saturday and the weather was uncharacteristically warm and sunny. We had heard that Chicago would be cold and windy, but we were pretty warm all day until 4pm.
Anyway on the viewing deck of the Sears Tower they have installed some glass sticky-outy bits that you can (queue up to) stand on and take photos. Quite mind-blowing to look down 103 stories! We then queued to catch a lift down, then queued again to catch the lift we need to go from the basement to the ground level.

We managed to find our way on an 'El” - elevated train – to a bus stop to go to the famous Navy Pier. Navy Pier was packed – it's a popular local attraction as well...think of it as Victoria Park Market in Auckland but much bigger and loads more people and built over the water. They had free kids' shows there but we headed straight to the also-famous Navy Pier Ferris Wheel. After unloading ourselves of US$24 we got a total of one revolution of the wheel! Still the views were great and at least we can say we did the Ferris Wheel on Navy Pier. We then grabbed lunch – everywhere packed again – kids had McDs while Tracey and I wanted to try one of the famous Chicago Hot Dogs. They were ok but nothing to write home about we thought, but then we were at a tourist attraction which may have had some bearing on it. Tracey got a Chicago dog –
Sausage, huge pickle, hot/spicy green thingys, chopped onion & something else unidentifiable. I got a Green Bay hot dog which is just a basic hot dog but covered in melted cheese. I also ordered Cheddar Fries which is fries covered in...yes you guessed it, cheddar cheese. No wonder we saw loads of heart defibrillators about the place!

We then walked to the end of the pier, and all the way around and caught the free shuttle that took us into town. Our destination was the 'bean' sculpture, but the walk along Michigan Avenue, Chicago's main street, was great in itself, huge skyscrapers everywhere, and we saw two different lots of wedding couples in the middle of the road getting photos taken. Seems like
it's a Chicago tradition? Lots of limos driving around too, and the sidewalks were so packed it reminded us of New York city. People were friendly and helpful on the couple of times we got lost and had to ask for directions.

We got to the Bean sculpture, which is a massive stainless steel sculpture about 6 metres high, loads of people again but really cool to go and touch it, or take photos of your reflection. From there we walked down (after being told off by security for sitting somewhere we shouldn't...sigh) to the ice skating rink only in time to see them finish scraping it (or whatever
they do) with a massive machine, but no one ice skating unfortunately. Had to laugh at the sign in front of the ice that said, "Absolutely no shoes on the ice!!!! Positively no shoes on the ice!!!" Just in case you didn't understand not to have shoes on the ice the first time, they had to repeat it to make sure...!?

We were all exhausted by now, with sore legs and feet, a VERY common complaint from Kate and Josh. So we walked up to catch another El and went to a McDs for much-needed coffee and sodas. After a spot of souvenir shopping it was to another El station to catch the train ride home. We tried ringing the hotel from the train station to order a pick-up but oh the phone system in the US is a dog. You never know if you have to dial '1' before the number, what
is a local number and what is not – it's just so hard to call anyone. From the hotel to dial someone you either dial 9 then 1 then the number or just 9 then the number or 8 then the number or 8 then 1 then the number – and some times none of those combos work either!
Arghhh! Luckily at the train station some lovely ladies lent me their cellphone and I managed to get through to the hotel somehow. But while I was calling, our hotel shuttle turned up and even though Tracey was over there, he just went again! So I called the hotel who told me he would be back in 15 minutes....40 minutes later he turned up to pick up some cold and grumpy guests with extremely sore feet.It was so good to get to our room and needless to say that was one
tip we didn't pay.
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