Chicago: Museum of Science and Industry

There are some sights that will take just an hour and there are some that takes a few hours to cover properly. It is the big museums that is more time consuming. So I normally would put in one such long visits for each day. For the second day, I decided to take the long journey from downtown Chicago to the outskirts of Chicago.

I remember taking a train ride heading south and then I had to stop at a station to hop onto a bus eastward to the Museum of Science and Industry. Along the train ride, I came across Chinatown. I wanted to get off and check it out but decided otherwise as I did not have much time. A lot of people got off the train at the Chinatown stop. And then the train was empty.

I was outside the safe confines of Chicago downtown. Sorry to say this but I was really worried about my safety on the bus. I recall reading a hotel review around this area that the guests were mugged outside the hotel and that the hotel advises their guests to take a cab. And so when I got on the packed bus and as it traveled to its destination, I can see the not-so-pretty side of Chicago. I double checked to see if I got on the right bus, lest I end up in a place I don’t want to be in. [Chicagoans, please don’t hate me for saying these things but I really felt I was sticking out like a sore thumb on the bus].

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And then an oasis of calm. The Museum of Science and Industry is located in a much nicer neighborhood. It is an impressive facility. I always wished that Vancouver has a museum like this. You know, Vancouver cannot claim to be a world class city without a museum like this.

The building is actually a legacy from the 1893 World’s Columbian Expo.

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There was quite a crowd already. After all, it was a Sunday and people are bringing their families out for a day in the museum.

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The one thing I wanted to visit is the German Submarine exhibition. The exhibit is centered around a real German submarine captured by the Americans during the World War II.

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The exhibit chronicles the hunt and capture of the U-505 submarine.

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And then lo and behold. Walking into the pit made especially for the submarine, it came across to me as one of the most menacing sights I have ever seen. It felt like walking into a James Bond movie.

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The long ramp runs downwards to the floor level with a lot of information about submarine. The high point is to get into the submarine. However … (more…)

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Chicago: Giordano’s World Famous Stuffed Pizza

After the visit to the John Hancock Center, it was time to get a bite. A real bite. Enough of popcorns no matter how good they are.

So I walked a few short blocks south to Giordano’s Pizzeria.

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Giordano’s Pizzeria is famous for their Stuffed Pizza. For a while I was confused over Deep Dish Pizza and Stuffed Pizza — just the same thing with a different name. My friends insisted they are different and I gotta try both.

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Ordering was an intimidating affair. I was not familiar with the menu and the folks who took the order were taking orders very fast. They did not seem like the type who will spend time explaining the menu to me. This is Chicago, this is not Vancouver.

Whether you are eating in or having it to go, you order from the same counter. There were just a lot of people milling around the area either waiting for their to go order or for a table.

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So the timid Ben stood back in a safe distance and take his own sweet time to try to decide what he wanted.

The first item on the menu is usually their best selling item but it’s only cheese. It was cheese, cheese, cheese, and cheese options on top.

Then it was the “Special”. Hmmm … OK maybe the special. I was thinking the Spinach would be nice because it does take away the sourness in the tomato sauce. Shrimp would be great too as it will be sweeter. Tropic Delight … oh, it was hard to decide. Vegi — out of the question for a sworn meatatarian like me.

I finally decided to go with the “Special” simply because it is the priciest … and hence fully loaded.

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It was a nice casual dining area. The pizza took a while to come to the table. It was OK as I … (more…)

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Chicago: John Hancock Center and The Magnificent Mile

I had planned to spend the rest of the morning walking the Magnificent Mile.

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It turned out to be not a a great idea because it was quite deserted on a weekend morning. All the shops were closed. At least it gave me the chance to casually stroll the street and taking the rare pictures of a deserted street.

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The Magnificent Mile is the name given to the section of the Michigan Avenue. This is Chicago’s elite shopping street, very much like our very own Robson Street except much bigger. You can get almost any luxury brands here.

In the later part of the day when the shops opened, I went to the Apple store. He he he … let me tell you a trick. If you want to make a long distance call for free, go to the Apple Store and use one of the demo iPhones. I was surprised that it worked when I called home to Vancouver.

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At the south end of the Magnificent Mile is the Wrigley Building. This is the HQ of the Wrigley Company who not only makes chewing gums but also carries brands like Altoids, Lifesavers, and Skittles. They own a lot of chewing gum brands, not just Wrigley. Next time you buy a pack a gum, read it carefully and you will probably find that it’s made by the Wrigley Company.

The Wrigley is an iconic building in Chicago having one of the best site for a corporate building. Fronting the busy intersection of the Chicago River and Michigan Avenue, this building is built in the likeness of the Giralda Tower in Seville’s Cathedral. Suanne and I was in Seville just last summer (see the post of the Seville cathedral here, the tomb of Christopher Columbus).

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The Water Tower is dwarfed amidst all the tall buildings around. However, this tower is the only building that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Today, it symbolizes the old Chicago while the rest of the city around it is newly built. If not for the Great Chicago Fire which sparked a massive rebuilding of the city, perhaps Chicago would not be as well known for its skyscrapers and architecture that we know of today.

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See that white building with the words Water Tower Place? Behind it is a skyscraper. Oprah Winfrey stays there. This ugly boxy looking building shouts luxury — luxury hotel, luxury apartments, luxury shops, luxury everything.

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The highlight of the morning is to visit the John Hancock Center. I wanted to visit one skyscraper and had been debating with myself between the Sears Tower (one of world’s tallest) or the John Hancock Center (better views). Almost everyone I asked tells me that while Sears Tower is cooler to visit, it is the John Hancock Center that will be more interesting.

From the outside the building does not seem like it is that tall. Not especially when compared to the imposing Sears Tower. But the John Hancock Center is 100 stories high.

From the design aspect, you might think this is a corporate office building. It is, but half of the building is actually … (more…)

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Chicago: Day 2 on the Chicago Riverwalk

OK, Vancouver.

It’s alright.

It’s OK.

You gotta let it go at some point and move on.

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Credit: The Province on May 28th, 2010

I know it’s hard being soundly thrashed by the same Chicago Blackhawks for the second time in as many years.

But who are you gonna support in the Stanley Cup finals? I tell you you should just throw all your support behind the Blackhawks. With 5 players on the team from BC and 20 Canadians in all, the Blackhawks is as much a home team as the Canucks is.

So with that, it is alright to click play on this soundtrack and actually enjoy the “music”:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCvvwoFsMzw]

LOL! I got to pacify the disappointed Canucks fans before I re-embark on writing about my Chicago city series.

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This was the second day in Chicago. I had not gotten online for more than 24 hours. It is because I did not want to pay the $17 (a day!) for the internet in the hotel room.

So, I woke up early and went to the corner cafe where I knew there is free wifi. Oh joy, it was great to be online again. I planned to spend a lot of time here. Well, I wanted to spend as much time until the battery on my notebook ran out. This notebook was at the last leg of its life and I am having keys coming off. The battery … well … it lasted only 45 minutes.

It wasn’t fun having to look at the battery indicator like every minute and have it turning more red by the minute and starting blinking at me. So, I just ordered a coffee for now and not want to waste time ordering breakfast and eating it.

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The Corner Bakery Cafe was where I had my breakfast. This is apparently a franchise but they are not anywhere near this side of the world. I like the setting.

The place was slow early in the morning and that gave me the peace to work. It soon filled up very fast shortly after.

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I can’t remember what it is that I ordered but I remember thinking this is one of the most delicious breakfast I had in a chain bakery. It actually felt healthy eating this. I just love the big slices of avacado and raw red onions.

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After the breakfast, I went back to the hotel room to leave the notebook. I don’t want to carry the notebook around, do you?

I took the “L” and headed a few blocks north. I wanted to start the day doing the Chicago Riverwalk.

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The Chicago Riverwalk is over a 1 km stretch along the south bank of the Chicago River. This is meant to be a “second shoreline” of Chicago where there are walkways which is lined with places for recreation and reflection, a place where office workers and families can relax, and a great place to get a bite to eat.

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It is really hard not to love the Chicago River.

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Yeah it is all concrete, nothing natural about it but still. I earlier did mention that the current flow of the river is reversed, remember that? It used to be a huge sewage dump flowing into the Michigan Lake but now … it flows from the lake inland.

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There are some memorials around the Chicago Riverwalk. This is the … (more…)

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Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago

So that was a very busy first day in Chicago. There is one place I absolutely want to go was the art museum. It has to be that very day … that very evening. And so I rushed from the Navy Pier to the Art Institute of Chicago.

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The reason I rushed because it was a Friday … and there are no entrance for Thursday and Friday evenings. Kek keh keh …

No really. If you are into art, you don’t want to miss the Art Institute of Chicago. They have some of the world’s most famous pieces of 19th century art.

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You can see that there are a lot of people who came because its free.

I did not want to carry my camera backpack with me after having lugged it around town the whole day. Good thing is this museum allows photography. Some museums I had been to do not allow it at all. Most will allow photography with the condition you don’t use flash or tripod. I am cool with that … I think I have a steady hand and don’t need them.

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There is that ONE painting I wanted to see and so I looked for it first. It is the Georges Seurat’s most famous works called A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

I used to make a 3000-piece jigsaw puzzle of this painting. I walked right up to the painting and took close up shots of the painting … like just a few inches away from the painting. He he he … the people there was wondering what I was doing hogging the painting when they are waiting to take pictures too. I did it so that you can have a closer up look.

Here … I photosynth it so you can look at the various parts and zoom in up real close. This painting is a form of painting call pointilism. It was painted using miniature dots which brings out the brilliant colors better than conventional painting forms. This French painting took two years to complete.

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With that out of the way, I systematically went to the other halls. Given the short time remaining, I do not have the chance to cover this museum as much as I like. So I just focused on their more notable pieces.

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The American Gothic is perhaps the most parodied painting in the US.  Painted in 1930 by Grant Wood, the artist wanted to pain the white house along with the the people who he believes would live in them.

The house in the background is actually a real house in Iowa. Here … see this Google Streetview map. The house is at the background.

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The man who posed for this picture is actually the artist’s dentist while the woman is the artist’s sister. The house, the man and the woman are painted separately at different times.

This iconic image of a grim faced man with his wife (or daughter) came into prominence during the Great Depression when it came to symbolize the hard working American couple.

Many people came to assume that the woman is the wife of the man with the pitchfork. Well, the artists sister was totally embarrassed by it because … (more…)

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Chicago: Navy Pier

After the deep dish pizza meal at Pizzeria Uno, I headed next to the Navy Pier. It was just a short 20 minutes walk to the pier.

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The Navy Pier is the top tourist attraction in Chicago. It has an air of festivities the closer I got to the pier. It is like the feeling that you’re going to a fair.

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The Navy Pier is almost a hundred years old now. When it was build, it was the longest pier in the world. It was designed to be a shipping and warehouse facility.

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The pier fell into disuse until it was revive as an entertainment complex in the 1990s.

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Actually, I was quite … (more…)

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Chicago: Pizzeria Uno

After a whole day subsisting on only popcorns and iced latte, I was famished. It was time to eat. It was time to eat something that is very Chicago’ish.

So … what are the food that is very Chicago’ish? Well, Chicago is the home of:

  • Chicago Style Hot Dog
  • McDonalds
  • Deep Dish Pizza
  • Italian Beef sandwich
  • The Jibarito

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I had this first official meal in Chicago all planned out. I would be going to have the Chicago-style Deep Dish Pizza. And I was not going to just any restaurant that has this. I had to go the very restaurant who claim to have invented it.

The above is Pizzeria Uno and it is located on Ohio and Wabash. It was not too far from where I got off from the River Cruise. Finding it is easy … finding any address is easy in Chicago because the streets are all laid out in perfect N-S E-W grid.

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The Pizzeria Uno was not very big but it sure was popular. I had to wait almost 30 minutes for a table even though it was after 2PM by the time I got there. It seems like waiting for a table is so common that they have a waiting room.

Because pizzas takes time to prepare, they take your orders at the same time they take your name. After that it is just waiting till they call your name.

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The deep dish pizza was invented while the world was waging war against one another in World War II. Since then it had grown to be a chain restaurant with over 170 restaurants all over the world.

However this original Pizzeria Uno remained true to its roots. With tiled floors and wood panel walls, it looked every bit an old time pizzeria.

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There were no fancy tables or big logos emblazoned all over the place. Things do look the way it is meant to look … even the dented shakers and the rusted tray it sits on. I simply love the place.

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I ordered Iced Tea which is mango flavoured. It had been a hot cloudless day. So this was just the right kind of refreshing drink I needed.

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It did not take me long to decide what I wanted. I did not even bother with their fancier food.

My number one choice was the Numero Uno.

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The pizza … (more…)

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Chicago: The Architecture River Cruise

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Chicago is the Architecture River Cruise. This is largely because the architecture in Chicago has the biggest influence to the modern American cities and the world in general.

Chicago is home of the first skyscraper in the world. In the 1880’s, the world’s first steel frame construction building was erected.

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Before I went on the Architecture River Cruise I visited the Chicago Architecture Foundation on South Michigan Avenue. This is the best place to start getting some background on the history of Chicago to gain some context. It is also here that one could book a river cruise.

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I thought earlier this is just a small place and I would just need 10 minutes here. It turned out that I spent 45 minutes here … totally engrossed with so many aspects of the history of Chicago that I was not aware of. What really fascinated me was that part where I learned that the city of Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago River! What an engineering feat. The Chicago River used to empty (sewage and stuff) to Lake Michigan and they reversed the river flow so that all the waste does not flow into the lake.

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There is an interesting model of the city of Chicago in the center of the exhibition area in the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF). This place is all about Chicago.

However, there is only one other model that is not of Chicago. While we all know of the technological marvel of the construction of the Bird Nest stadium in Beijing, this model does stick out. There were no signs about this model. So I thought it was kind of strange.

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I think there are several river cruises in Chicago. The only one that really matters is the one from the CAF. The cruise was $28.

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It was quite a number of blocks from the CAF to the boarding area. Because I took so much time at the exhibits, I had to rush to the  place with barely enough time to spare. And I had a backpack with lens (and I brought along the tripod too which I did not use even once on this trip!).

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If only I knew earlier. I could have bought the tickets here too. That way I would have not need to rush all the way to keep to the time of my ticket.

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Don’t you find the Chicago River beautiful? It is also very clean.

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The cruise started off from the very point where Fort Dearborn is. This is about the center where Chicago grew to what it is today.

Across the river is a stately building located in one of the primest of prime spots in the city. Believe it or not, this is the headquarters of a chewing gum company.

This is the HQ of … (more…)

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Chicago: Getting Around on The “L”

Believe it or not. I am quite impressed with the transit system in Chicago.

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Yeah, it has to qualify as the worse looking transit system in the world. It really does look dilapidated and rusted through and rickety … and appears to be close to falling apart any day now. However, it gets me from A to B without requiring much of brain work.

There are 8 lines on the system, each of them identified by colors. It took me a while before I realized that lines for the platform entrances are painted on the steps. That is a first I had seen signs on steps … not intuitive initially.

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The transit system in Chicago is known as the “L”. There is also a standard way to write it. It is not L, or l … it is “L” … with the close inverted commas and the capital L.

The nickname “L” came from the name Elevated Rapid Transit. The reason the system looked so old is because, well, it IS old. The “L” was first built about 120 years ago.

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There is no glitz in the system but it is functional. At least I don’t have to navigate a maze of tunnels getting from one line to another on the “L”.

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Perhaps the only visible high-tech thing is the ticket machines. You can only get standard tickets here. You can’t get multi-day passes on these machines.

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I got a 3-day Visitor Pass which allows me unlimited travel on the system. To get this I had to go to a store near the station to buy them.

It was awkward buying the multi-day passes because it is the same store people lines up to cash their welfare checks.

Oh … one thing to add too. My 3-Day Visitor Pass works 50% of the time. Not sure why. So it was a hassle having to get the attendant of the station to let me through the turnstile half the time.

One thing I can’t complain is that using the system is so cheap. I think it is like just $2 for a 2-hr trip on the system. It is certainly cheaper than Vancouver’s Skytrain.

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Does the above view look familiar to you?  How about this video … (more…)

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Chicago: Garrett Popcorns

One thing that you will not fail to notice when in Chicago, particularly when you are along the touristy areas like The Loop and The Magnificent Mile is that you will occasionally find people walking around in a brown paper bag.

Like this one …

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I was in Atlanta for a meeting prior coming to Chicago. I was asking one of my colleagues for restaurant and food recommendations. Camille instantly exclaimed “Garrett! Garrett! Oh my God! Oh my God! You have to try it”. For a moment I thought Garrett was a restaurant. It seems like Garrett is a very popular popcorn in Chicago. I was kind of deflated when she said Garrett is a popcorn brand. I am not a fan of popcorns and for the life of me, I can’t imagine how good popcorn could get.

But when I was in Chicago I saw quite a number of people walking around with the brown paper bag from Garrett. So, I decided to just go and get it for … breakfast since I did not gave much of a breakfast anyway.

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There are about ten Garrett Popcorn stores in Chicago with some of them in the airport. When I went to the one in The Loop, I was taken aback that there are actually some people lining up outside the store to buy popcorns. Whoa!

It wasn’t a long line and you get served very fast. The moment I walked into the store, the smell was very nice.

Garrett Popcorns had been in business for about 50 years already but always in Chicago. Even today, they only have one store outside of Chicago.

They became famous nationwide when Oprah Winfrey choose Garrett Popcorns as one of her “Favourite Things”. For those of you who watches Oprah on TV, her “Favourite Things” episode is aired once a year close to Christmas time. When Oprah included Garrett’s in her first “Favourite Things” episode in 2002, Garretts Popcorn’s website was overwhelmed and they became an overnight sensation. Just that one mention, Garrett was making popcorns 24 hrs a day instead of the usual 8 hrs. Oprah selected Garrett’s Popcorn again in 2005.

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If you think that Garrett’s Popcorns has lots of flavours, don’t. All the flavours that matters are just two … and only two. The hero flavours are … (more…)

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