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The Windy City

Chicago, USA
Monday, October 1, 2013

The saying that time flies when you are having fun really applied to our time with Team Brown and to be honest we could have really done with staying for a few more days. We got up early so that we could see everyone before they went to work/school/pre-school and we managed to get some photos of the kids before they ran out the door. This should have been an easy task but Liam was more than a little bit sleepy and it took some convincing for him to participate. We were feeling really sad to be leaving and giving up our honorary membership of Team Brown, but are glad that we got to say one last goodbye and hope to return soon.

We loved staying in the trailer and we found it to be a lot more spacious than we had imagined it to be. The bed was really comfortable and the shower was better than some of the hostels/hotels we have stayed in. So we reluctantly got on the road and drove the three hour journey to Omaha so that we could catch the bus to Chicago. After dropping off the car all we had to do was walk a couple of blocks to the bus station. We departed at 12.45 and after a long and tedious journey we eventually arrived at 10.30pm tired and ready for bed.

Day 1 - Down Town Chicago

Since we hadn't written a single word for our blog whilst we were with Team Brown we decided to spend the first morning frantically trying to catch up. In the afternoon we bought tickets for the Willis Tower from the hostel reception and managed to save 12% in the process so we were feeling pretty lucky.... until we arrived at the tower and found out that the wait time was TWO hours long.... errr thanks but no thanks : Luckily for us our tickets had a long date on them so we could easily flip our plans around and come back at a much quieter time.

Once we left the towers we decided to go for a walk around the CBD to see more of the city and we practically stumbled straight onto a film set. Sonya's first thought was they were filming a scene for Chicago Fire and her heart started doing little flip flops because she finds a couple of the actors pretty yummy to look at.... unfortunately for her we found out that they were filming scenes from the upcoming film Transformers 4, which is still cool but in Sonya's opinion is not as good as bumping into two of America's hotties. However we did get to see some of the set and the outlines of the sexy cars that will be featuring in the movie, it was just a shame they were covered up.

Hard Rock Café

In order to help Sonya get over the fact that she wasn't going to meet any good looking actors any time soon, we set off in search of HRC so that we could have a nice cold beer and buy yet another shot glass to add to our growing collection. Chicago was the second HRC that Ross visited many moons ago and the shot glass he bought sits pride of place in our bulging collection, however it was way before they standardised the glasses to make them more collectable so it stands out like a sore thumb and is the 'black sheep of the family' so we needed to drop by to get a new glass.

When we arrived we were greeted at the door as normal and proceeded to the bar where one of the bar maids seemed to be rushing around here, there and everywhere. When she came over to serve us she was very brusque and when we asked for some tasters she practically gave us a death stare. Once Sonya had chosen which beer she would like she told the waitress and when she got no response, Ross repeated this to her and her response was 'yes I heard you the first time' Ross had to hush Sonya before she responded with something like 'Errr if you heard me the first time, where is my beer?' We finally got our chosen beers and we only had to look at each other to know that we wouldn't be leaving a tip.


So we left in search of one of our other favourite American bars called Hooters. Although we both like Hooters for the cold beer and curly fries Ross loves it for other reasons too. For those of you who don't know what Hooters is all about, its slogan goes someway to explaining things 'delightfully tacky yet unrefined'. The barmaids wear bright orange hot pants and have curvaceous figures, there is a clue in the name and it doesn't mean big noses! Hooters is a massive chain throughout America and although there is plenty to see it is completely family friendly and we enjoyed our beer surrounded by families and groups of women dining together.

We received much better service at Hooters than we did at HRC and we are beginning to feel that HRC has become way too commercial. With the tip crazy culture where people seem to tip regardless of service it is just becoming a numbers game and about how many people they can 'serve' and get tips from rather than the service they actually provide. We've said it before and we'll say it again, come on HRC pull your socks up!

Day 2 - Willis Tower & Walking Tour

Willis Tower

After yesterday's failed attempt to go up Willis Tower we put it on the top of today's agenda. Ross went up the tower many moons ago when it was still called the Sears Tower and when it was still the world's tallest building. Even though it has since being superseded by both Taipei 101 and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai standing at an incredible 1,450 ft (442.1m) high it is still stupendously tall and gives amazing views over Chicago and Lake Michigan.

As with most of the tall buildings we have visited on our trip they have recently added The Sky Ledge for the adrenaline junkies, where you can walk out of the building into one of 4 glass boxes and look down the side of the building with nothing between you and the ground way, way below your feet! We have seen similar things at other tall buildings but there has always been an additional charge for the 'privilege' of scaring yourself to death so we normally pass the offer by, but as it is included with the general admission at the Willis Tower we had to give it a go.

Strangely even though we were both a little nervous about walking out onto the glass, both of us felt safer than when we stood on the glass floor back in the Sky Tower in Auckland which was significantly lower. At the Sky Tower we both tentatively walked out onto metal beams between the glass, before peering down, it then took a great deal of courage to walk onto the glass almost as if our feet had become glued to the metal. But we didn't have the same problem at Willis Tower as there are no metal beams for comfort, so we had to walk straight out into the box. Although we both hesitated slightly at the edge of the glass we confidently walked in, posed for photos and even managed to sit down. Even when we looked down it didn't make us feel too uneasy, maybe it was because we were so much higher and things looked so small it didn't feel real? Who knows, but we did it and even though the photos look superimposed they are real.... you need to believe us because we are not offering to do it again!

Walking Tour

After the tower we took a long self-guided walking tour through Millennium Park and Grant Park taking in the funky artwork that is scattered around and the impressive Buckingham water fountain. The fountain is one of the world's largest gushing water up to 150 feet in the air and has a capacity of 1.5m gallons. We walked south to the planetarium and although we didn't go inside the views back over Chicago's skyline were well worth the walk. After visiting the nearby 12th Street beach we then headed back north to the Navy Pier. Although the pier has a historic connection to the Navy hence its name it has nothing to do with the military anymore and is now a leisure destination with a small theme park and numerous bars and restaurants. Although we avoided much of the tourist tack we couldn't resist having a go on the Ferris wheel, which again gave impressive views back over the city's skyline.

Day 3 - Lakefront Trail

In need of some exercise we decided to rent a bike and ride the extremely popular lakefront trail. The trail is 18 miles in length and as the name suggests follows the lake front although at times it is routed slightly inland so the lake isn't always visible. We hired our bikes from Bobby's Bike Hire just a short walk from the Navy Pier which is pretty close to most of the other hire companies, the problem with all the companies being located around the Navy Pier is it is almost in the middle of the trail so if you want to cycle the entire length you have to cycle around 36 miles! We started by heading north with the intention of visiting the free zoo as we thought it was on the trail, however after riding past it twice we found out it was in western part of Lincoln park which is cut off from the trail by a highway. It is only a short division from the trail but easily missed if you are not actively looking for it.

The northern part of the trail took us past many manicured beaches and through some lovely parkland but to be honest there wasn't much to see when heading north out of the city. When returning, the views of the city skyline were impressive but nothing we didn't see on our self-guided walking tour. After returning to the Navy Pier we cycled south onto the museum complex with the full intention of doing a large part of the southern part of the trail, but our poor backsides couldn't take any more so we retired mid-afternoon.

We really enjoyed the exercise and it was nice to get out and about by peddle power but the trail isn't really a tourist trail and is simply for locals to get from A to B or to exercise.

Day 3 - Back on the Rails

Next stop Washington. So it's back on the rails for the last overnight train in our American adventure and as a treat we upgraded to a roomette. A roomette is a small (or cosy if you are an estate agent) two person cabin, with two facing seats which convert at night to form a lower bunk and then a bunk folds down over the top to form a second bed. We upgraded as we managed to grab a fantastic bargain of just $160 for the room for both of us. We wanted to get a room as with limited time remaining in the States we wanted to make the most of each day, therefore we wanted to arrive in Washington refreshed so we could get out and start sightseeing straight away. Well that was the plan but we didn't anticipate the Government shutdown and a whole host of the museum and monuments we were planning on visiting being shut! D'oh! On the plus side we then discovered the roomette includes all meals! So that could only mean one thing, we had to try and eat our way through $160 of food before arriving in the Capital.

We didn't manage to munch our way through $160 worth of food but we did give it a good try and we managed a healthy $107 worth! :-)

Ta Ta for now.

Team Chip

Hostel Review

We stayed at the Chicago Getaway Hostel in a double private with shared bathroom. The hostel is about 5 miles north of downtown but easily accessible by the red and brown metro lines and bus number 8. The hostel looked like it had been recently renovated and the common areas such as the kitchen, TV lounge and breakfast area were some of the best we have seen in any hostel we have stayed at. The room and bathroom facilities were both clean and again looked like they had both recently undergone a refurb. As hostels go the Getaway wasn't the cheapest but considering the free breakfast, facilities and location it was good value for money.


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