Monday, February 28, 2011

Exploring Chicago

Right now I am sitting in the lobby of the Marriott located on the Magnificent Mile. For a large hotel, in a big city,they sure have slow Internet access. We arrived Sunday afternoon via the subway transit system. It was my first time on that type of public transit, can you believe that? I have been on the MAX in Portland and the Seattle Light-Rail system, but never on an actual subway. We traveled without mishap or any delays changing from subway to bus and finally landing on the Magnificent Mile.

I’ll step back a bit. Heather, Chloe, and I are on a bit of an adventure to the ACUI National Conference. This conference is the big one for Union professionals and is the second one I have ever attended. It’s Heather’s first big professional Union conference, and Chloe is a student who won a scholarship to this event. The fact that she had the scholarship helped us to justify the travel.

We flew out of Spokane, to Seattle and then on to Chicago. The flights were uneventful and during the long flight I was able to watch the movie “Inception“.

We landed at O’Hare and proceeded to the Blue Line, the L as they call it. It cost each of us $4.00 to take the subway, a taxi would have been about $40.00. We had one transfer from the L to a bus that took us directly to the heart of the Magnificent Mile.

We checked into our hotel and then met up with Heather’s Aunt, Uncle and Cousin who took us out to dinner at Gino’s East. We ordered Chicago deep dish sausage pizza. Very disappointing in my view, if this is the best of Chicago man we are in trouble.

We had some time before we had to check into the conference so we put on our walking shoes and headed South to see if we could find the Bean, a famous sculpture in Millennium Park.

As the story goes, the Cloud Gate sculpture was privately-funded piece that cost $23 million and was placed in the center of the park unfinished to meet the celebration of the parks opening. At first everyone hated it. It was nothing but a huge chrome blob and no one could believe that it was purchased with their money. Then they started to visit it. The reflection of the city in the Bean draws you closer and then you see yourself, the people around you and all the smiles it brings. The city began to fall in love with it and now it is one of the ”don’t miss” points of interest in Chicago. We played in the reflection and took pictures.

Continuing on we headed north to find the Lake. We knew it was about five blocks away and could catch a glimpse here and there, but we could not get to it. The freeway blocked our path so we turned east and followed some signs to the Navy Pier. Within about four blocks we were once again blocked, so we backtracked a bit and ended up grabbing a taxi which transported us to the front gate of the Navy Pier.

At the pier we walked out to the end and took pictures of the lake and surrounding panoramas of the city. We explored the interior of the pier facilities and looked through a stained glass museum as we walked. Once through the building and back on the street we were able to make our way back to the hotel. Our first big exploration a huge success.

Conference wise this is a very big one with about 1000 professionals and students in attendance. The first day was programmed with numerous breaks and down times where folks could explore. While most of the folks attending the conference were walking around looking for food, Heather and I grabbed a taxi and went to the Sears Tower to take the elevators up to the 110th floor. The Sears Tower is now known as The Willis Tower, but people in Chicago won't ever use the new name.

If you have never been up in a skyscraper, let alone the skyscraper that lead the tallest building war for so many years, you have to take the time and spend the $17 to get to the observatory and see Chicago like it should be taken in.

We had a blue sky day with a little haze covering the distant landscape. At the observatory level they have added four glass window boxes that allow you to walk outside the original building and look straight down to the street below. It is a real hart stopper to step out onto that see through glass floor. With the four boxes you can step out and take pictures of each other, so of course I had to coax Heather out onto the glass for some shots. We spent about an hour up in the tower and headed back.

To get back to the hotel we chose to take the subway, again for the adventure. We walked down to the Blue Line of the L and road the train to the Loop area, and then changed over to the Green Line and road to the exchange for the Red Line. That sounds easy, but it actually was not. We spent about 45 minutes on the train and platforms and only made it 3 blocks! We could have walked faster! Finally after several trains, some walking and a few very nice folks helping us out, we made it back to the motel.

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