The Windy City

Trip Start Dec 28, 2007
Trip End Aug 28, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Illinois
Thursday, July 24, 2008

After an overnight stop in Las Vegas we were at the airport as the sun rose and checked in and proceeded to the gate only to find more gambling machines. We guess they are there just in case you didn't get enough of them on The Strip?! Anyway, we landed at Midway and got a shuttle to our hotel in South Michigan Avenue, just across from the park where we had a corner room with two windows - one side where you can catch a glimpse of Lake Michagan and then the other where the city skyline and famous 'loop' raised train tracks dominate.

Despite weather reports of rain we found the sun out making for a pleasant Sunday afternoon so we took a walk towards 'downtown' and found ourselves on the top deck of an open tour bus around the city like ones we have done elsewhere. As it was quite late in the afternoon we stayed on for a whole two hour round trip to get an idea of the layout and the sights to see. After a quick pint of Honker's Ale in the Irish pub across from the hotel we found some dinner and headed for bed.

We woke the following day to the sound of rain on the windows before a thunder storm arrived. We knew this because we saw a huge lightening bolt struck the top of the Sear's tower! As the rain passed we ventured out and got back on the bus to the Field Museum where we said hello to Sue, the largest most complete skeleton of a T-rex. We then continued on towards Navy Pier, supposidly the most visited tourist attraction in the state of Illinois, for a look around and a view of the yaught clubs on Lake Michigan. Next stop was 'Magnificent Mile'where we took a look at the shops and two of the oldest survivng buildings from the fire damage of the past. We then contunued on towards the Hancock Observtory but by this point the clouds had engulfed the tops of the city's tall buildings making for an interesting collection of pictures. We finished our sightseeing with stops at some of the places where we could get a few freebies using our bus ticket. First of all we had a walk around Millenium Park enjoying some local Jazz bands before picking up two tacky T-shirts for our collection. Next was Hershey's Chocolate where we got some samples and a couple of free milk chocolate bars - let's put it this way, it's not Cadbury's! Last stop was Garrett's, a popcorn shop, where we were 'treated' to two bags of 'The Mix' popcorn which consisted of both caramel and cheese flavours - mmm, lovely (no, it wasn't)! Some time in the pool and sauna followed before finding another Irish pub (there are loads here!) where we enjoyed the welcome change of traditional food like shepherd's pie and chicken pie! Oh, and a good pint.

On Tuesday we used our bus passes to have a trip on an 'ethnic tour' which took us through areas just outside the centre of Chicago. We visited Chinatown, Little Italy and Greek Town via a quick stop at Oprah's studios and new shop. Nothing to really 'see' and write home about but it was good to get out of the city and learn about the history of some of the areas. The only other event of the day was at dinner. We decided to grab a bite at the bar/grill next to the hotel where we were bombarded with question after question about our food. After ordering an item the following questions came - Would you like soup or salad? What kind of dressing would you like? (The list followed for a minute or so.) Would you like chips, french fries, jacket potato, mashed potatoes or rice? Would you like vegetables? you can guess this carried on for a little while to the point where we almost were exhausted! This we saw as a little fun, and the food was actually surprisingly good and value for money, until.... The bill came and the pleasant waitress immediately became either insulting or just rude. The menu said that for parties over five a gratuity of 18% would be added - fine. But when a bill for two comes with a total crossed out and 18% added on automatically Chris saw red. We understand the need to tip but putting it on expectingly - not getting away with that one! So after a little chat with the man at the till reminding them what gratuity and discretion meant we left her about $2 and left. Maybe we were wrong, maybe that's usual, maybe they just thought 'English - need to make sure they leave a tip'. Either way we are so glad that adding on tax and expecting 10-20% tips over and above the displayed price doesn't exist in the UK.

Our final day in a town named after smelly onions (or something like that - we were told the name dates back to a translation describing the swamp-land the city is built on) took us for a view of the skyline from the Skydeck of the Sears Tower. Being the tallest in North America we definitely got a great view over the city in all directions. From the 103rd floor you can see for miles and miles but you still can't see the other side of Lake Michigan. You could be forgiven for thinking that Chicago is on the coast! We then headed south on the subway to 35th Street where we watched the Chicago White Sox baseball team playing Texas Rangers. After managing to blag some senior citizen tickets (no idea - the man in the booth liked us as we were from the UK and got us in on the cheap) we found our seats with a great view of the pitch behind third base and got a run down on the rules from a woman sitting next to us. We had a great time soaking up the atmosphere as being an afternoon game in the summer holidays lots of people were there, more than we expected in fact. It was also incredibly hot as well. Being high up and in the sun would have been ok but the stadium blocked out any breeze so both of us, along with most of the spectators, were dripping wet and making use of the guys bringing beer! We also did the American thing and had hotdogs and nachos with our beer whilst blending in with flattering caps and sunglasses. The battle out of the stadium was actually very calm and we got back on the subway through the city and up towards the beach area on the lake where we took a relaxing walk and watched walkers, cyclists and fitness enthusiasts doing their thing.

Chicago is definitely an American city that sits apart from the rest and has many assets that make it a pleasant, greener, more enjoyble place to visit.
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