Chicago: Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park

In the previous post, I wrote about the new Millennium Park. Actually, the Millennium Park is part of the larger park called the Grant Park.

Grant Park is a whole swath of land the size of twelve city blocks. This park is to Chicago what Central Park is to New York City and Stanley Park to Vancouver.

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Right in the middle of the park is the Buckingham Fountain. When it was constructed in 1927, it was the largest in the world. Today, it is still one of the largest in the world.

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Bandwidth warning … you may click on the stitched panoramic picture of the Buckingham Fountain above to view it in full size.

There is really nothing much to do here but still it is a place where every tourist should visit.

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It is because it is from here you can get the best photo of the Sears Tower, now known as the Willis Tower. The Sears Tower was the tallest building in the world when it was constructed in the 1970s.

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Today, the Willis Tower is still the tallest building in the USA. Worldwide, this building had long been surpassed by many other buildings in Asia.

The Sears Tower was surpassed by the Petronas Twin Towers (my visit described here), there was a controversy around that. From the diagram above you would see that the Sears (Willis) Tower is taller than the Petronas Twin. But actually, the Petronas Twin claimed the title of the world’s tallest when it was completed. Although the Petronas Tower seems to be the shorter building, however … (more…)

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Chicago: The Millenium Park

I got a question for you … would you travel alone? I mean, go on a vacation absolutely by yourself and yet enjoy yourself immensely?

If you had been following chowtimes since the beginning, you know that I had been on several trips on my own. It had always been a side trip that I tag on to a business trip.

I never thought much about it until one day in Brussels. I took a cab from the train station and I was literally grilled by the taxi driver about my travelling alone. I should have told him I am on business when he asked me why I was in Brussels. He asked me “doesn’t it get lonely? with no one to talk to?”. I remember that conversation although it was some years ago because that question struck me.

Frankly, I enjoy these solitude times once in a while. I feel relaxed and takes my own sweet time to discover the world.

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I woke up very early the first day in Chicago. I wasn’t hungry at all and so I had coffee from the hotel room along with a dried up bun I had from the airport the previous day. Hotel coffee is awful isn’t it? It always is. I had never had good ones no matter if they are branded or not. I wished I had one of those Asian 3-in-1 coffee with me but I forgot to pack it for this trip. Those 3-in-1 came in handy.

Chicago is beautiful. I was marvelling at how clean the city is. Well, for the most part anyway. But my first impression was really good.

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The hotel is just 2 minutes from Michigan Avenue and the world famous Chicago Art Institute. This was just perfect because Michigan Ave is perhaps like staying on Robson while in Vancouver or Times Square in New York. Michigan Avenue is the center of the tourist belt where one of the section is known as the Magnificent Mile.

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It was just past 7 AM in the morning when I started my day. It goes without saying that not many places are opened. So the best place to start is at the Millennium Park.

Having opened in just 2006 and constructed with great cost, the Millennium Park is one of the biggest project undertaken by the city of Chicago. It is a marvelous park and the best time to visit is very early in the morning when there are nobody insight … just perfect for photography.

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The Cloud Gate. This is simply the most stunning public sculpture in the Millennium Park.

Because of the shape, it is also known as The Bean before it was given its official name.

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It is a giant elliptical structure inspired by … (more…)

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Chicago: The Palmer House Hilton Hotel

It was just about getting dark by the time I got to Chicago downtown. I had earlier booked myself into a hotel within The Loop which is about the most convenient (not to mention safest) place you could stay in Chicago. The Loop is the historical downtown of Chicago which is bounded by the transit railway.

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I actually did not know anything about the Palmer House Hilton Hotel. I guess that if its’s a Hilton, it would be OK.

Moreover, I got a deal for a room night rate of only $95. For that rate and with a location within the downtown core, I did not expect much.

But when I stood outside the hotel, I thought I was in a wrong hotel.

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It was much better than I thought. It was later that I learned this hotel is where past US presidents and world dignitaries stayed when they visit Chicago. Moreover, this is also the longest continuously operating hotel in North America.

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The hotel was very old and quite stately. I am quite impressed with the elevator lobby. Each floor are ornate and are different. The doors for the floor above is bronze. There are some in silver, some gold. You don’t get such a big elevator lobby in modern buildings these days so this was quite a novelty.

The lay out of the rooms is a confusing maze with lots of turns. Fate has it that my room is on the far end of the floor that I got lost a few times circling the floor.

The room wasn’t too big and there was not much of a view. At least it was clean, comfortable and free of smoke. God, I hate stale cigarette smell in hotel rooms.

I took many many shots of the room and created a photosynth. Use your mouse to navigate into various view and the scroll wheel to zoom in and out. You can even zoom into the writing pad on the table and such. Try it and see if you can figure out what room number I stayed in.

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This is the reason why the room smell so fresh when I walked in. All hotels should do it like this hotel. Fine the hell out of the smokers.

You know, the irony is I used to … (more…)

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Chicago: Flying from Atlanta to Chicago

Oh yeah!

It had been a while since I wrote anything about travelling. So I am gonna dig this up and share with you my trip to Chicago. I thought it would be great since the Vancouver Canucks is now in the Stanley Cup Playoff with the Chicago Blackhawks.

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This series carries forward from where I left off in the latest Atlanta series … a long time ago! I was in Atlanta for a two hour meeting — just for the two hour meeting. Can you imagine that? Well, the boss wanted me to just be there for a face meeting. That sounded great by me as long as someone gives me a project code to charge the trip to.

My company’s Travel Services booked me on United Airlines between Vancouver and Atlanta with a stopover at Chicago. I took the opportunity to change itinerary to stop for a few days in Chicago on the return leg. I love my job.

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I took off from the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. I had been to this airport so many times that I know this airport better than YVR (Vancouver International). This is also the busiest airport in the world … all thanks to Delta who made this airport its hub. Airports in the US are big mainly because they are a hub for some big airlines. I think if Delta does pull out of Atlanta, this airport will cease to be the busiest.

There are almost 200 gates in all at ATL spread over six concourse buildings. They are so big that they have an internal train system which is one of the busiest in the world … moving 5 million people per month.

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Look at the sheer size of the parking lots for the ATL airport. It’s amazing isn’t it? This is just the western side of the airport. There is still more on the eastern side too. This has to be one of the most efficient airport if you ask me.

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I had never been to Chicago before. Well, I had transited at the Chicago O’Hare International but that doesn’t count if I had never stepped out of the airport, right? I bought a travel book and read it on the flight … frantically deciding what to do when I got there.

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It was just a short hop from ATL to ORD. ORD is the airport code for the Chicago O’Hare International. The ORD code was assigned when this airport was then known as Orchard Place Airport. The airport code never change like in many well established airports.

For instance, Beijing is still using … (more…)

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Seattle Spring 2009: The Food from Seattle Bites Food Tours

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The meeting point of the Seattle Bites Food Tours was at the Seattle Art Museum. We initially thought it was kind of odd meeting one block away from the Pike Place Market. It was later then we realized what a perfect place to start off the food tours.

Yesterday, I blogged about the historical aspect of the Pike Place market. Today it is about the many type of food we sampled on the tour. There were altogether seven major stops we made.

This is what Suanne and I had always enjoyed … not just tasting the food but also learning about the stories behind the food, the people and the place.

TASTE Restaurant

TASTE Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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We met at the informal public seating area just outside the TASTE Restaurant at about 10AM. We were specifically told by Jan Marie to come hungry and to even try to hold off our coffee fix at TASTE — we love this kind of instructions! So, we did not have a bite at all and even not have a sip of the free coffee in the hotel room.

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It was a good start … we had a nice hot cup of latte and capp. Some of you remembered that the north west had a freak snowy day on April 1st this year. That morning was cold and wet and so it was a real welcome to have a hot cup of freshly brewed drink in hand.

From the looks of it, TASTE looks just like any contemporary west coast style restaurants. We learned a lot of this restaurant in the tour here as this is no ordinary restaurant.

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We were treated to the Smoked Salmon Flatbread. This simple but absolutely delicious item is created by the chef of TASTE with local ingredients. I first started off with just one piece but it was so good that Suanne and I ended up finishing the entire plate.

The amazing thing behind TASTE is that the people behind the food actually personally go to the farms and learn about how the food was grown. They had to work the combines in harvesting the wheat so that they have a better understanding of how their ingredients are produced. They even had to experience the catching of salmon. They work closely with the source of their farmers and fishermen. I was very impressed with the seriousness they take to provide the best.

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On every table in TASTE, you will not see ordinary condiments. They are heavily into making sure everything is organic. But what they had on the table is their very own Signature Salt. It was good … not too salty but infused with lots of flavours. We can catch some cinnamon but am not sure what else is there. You got to try this one.

Next time we are in Seattle, we will definitely come here for dinner.


Crepe de France

Crepe de France on Urbanspoon

Crepe de France was our next stop. Crepe de France started off as a small stall at the entrance of Pike Place Market way back in 1991.

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It was only three years ago, they moved into this much bigger lot.

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Crepe de France is very much a family restaurant. They went to Paris to learn the art of making crepes from the city that is famous for crepes. I remembered the excellent crepes I had when I was in Paris (see here).

All the people we met on the food tour are such friendly and genuine people. We got to chat with Michael who was telling us about his first vacation to Vegas — he is a funny young man.

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We had Nutella Chocolate Crepes. It was awesome and yummy — especially when we had followed Jan Marie’s advice to come hungry. We sat by the counter overlooking the kitchen area and listening to Michael’s tales. We enjoyed ourselves a lot.

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They make all kinds of crepes. One day we will return and try their specials, like goat cheese crepes! When you are there in Crepe de France and feel adventurous, ask Michael (or Nani, his mum) for these specials.

One thing I fail to mention earlier (and I did not have photos of this) … in every place we stopped at we were given drinks that goes well with the choice of food. Most of them are Dry Soda with lots of uncommon flavours like celery, kumquat, lavender, lemon grass, rhubarb, etc. We were served Dr Brown Cel-Ray here — a popular pop in New York.


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Seattle Spring 2009: Seattle Bites Food Tours at Pike Place Market

ChowtimesNoWord32x32This is a complementary tour from Seattle Bites Food Tours.

We had been to the Pike Place Market for so many times we have actually lost count. After a first two visits we thought we had seen everything. When I told a friend that we’re going to the Pike Place Market (again!), I remember him telling me that the place is so boring, nothing to see and do.

This time it is different. This time we were there for a purpose … to learn, to experience and to chow!

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I can’t think of anyone who had been to Seattle and had not visited the Pike Place Market. After all, this place is the oldest farmer’s market in the US and is considered the mother of all public markets.

I am going to do this story in two parts. Today, I am going to share with you a little about what we learned at the Pike Place Market. I am going to also describe the Seattle Bites Food Tour. Tomorrow, it will be all about the food at the Pike Place Market … awesome food, and lots of it too.

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We had an invite from the Seattle Bites Food Tours to experience the Pike Place Market in a way that is not possible if you are there on your own. When we got the invite we jumped on it. It so happened too that I had to clear my vacation days (which had ballooned to over six weeks).

We went with the primary expectation of tasting the food. What we encountered was beyond our expectations. Not only is this a walking food tour but it is also a historical journey of the Pike Place Market.

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The meeting point was at the Seattle Art Museum which is located one block from Pike Place Market. We met Jan Marie Johnson who was our guide for the tour. She is very familiar with the market and knows the merchants very well.

We had a little tour of the Seattle Art Museum where Jan Marie pointed out to us many interesting facts and historical buildings around the Art Museum.

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Suanne and I were given personal listening devices. It was particularly useful when walking through the din in the market. What I like is that this allows me to roam away to have a closer look at other stores while at the same time keeping in touch with what is being said.

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We were also issued shopping bags in the event we wanted to buy anything from the market or from the places we went to.

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The history of the Pike Place Market started way back in the early 1900’s. You know where the exact place where it all began? It was at where the UPS truck you see above. Jan went on to describe (illustrated with old photos) of the early days — I felt that I was there!

Throughout the entire 2.5 to 3 hour tour, Jan Marie brought us through starting with the events leading to the founding of the public market, to the depression era, the expansion years, World War II, the near demolition of the place and to the modern day. It is today a flourishing public market like no other.

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We had always wonder about the bronze pig at the entrance of the Pike Place Market. This is Rachel and it’s a real piggy bank. This piggy bank has in it just about every kind of currency in the world.

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Seattle Spring 2009: Pam’s Kitchen

Updated: 17th Dec 2014; This restaurant is closed according to Urbanspoon.com.

As much as we had always wanted to make a visit to Pam’s Kitchen, for various reasons we had not. Pam’s Kitchen had always been on our list of to-visit places in Seattle. This time we made it a point to make Pam’s Kitchen our priority.

Pam’s Kitchen is known for their Rotis from Trinidad and Tobago.

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Pam’s Kitchen is located in the intersection of University Way and NE 50 Street in Seattle. Along this row are actually a lot of hole-in-the-wall type of eateries of almost every major cuisine. We counted among others Filipino, Chinese, Greek, Hawaiian, Japanese, East Indian, Pizzas. All of them looked very good from the outside.

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Walking into Pams’ Kitchen, there were an unmistaken (and somewhat overpowering) aroma of spices and curry. Service was very quick and friendly. They gave us two tall glass of water the moment we got settled. The place was not very big and we can see around us that their customers looked like students mainly. Definitely no families here that night.

Strangely, we noticed a rather prominent sign hung from the ceiling that says “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”. We wondered what that sign was all about and if they have rather rowdy customers here before.

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They have rather unique drinks. Suanne had the Peanut Punch (Milk Base) which costs $3.75. This is not like anything we ever drank before. It tastes like watered down peanut drink with milk. It actually tastes like peanut butter. Am thinking that perhaps one could make this by blending a few spoonful of peanut better with milk. We like this.

For me, I had the Sorrel which is described as Caribbean Hibiscus Petals, spiced boiled and sugar sweetened. It has an obvious floral taste and smell to it. It is also kind of like chai tea with herbs and spices. We find the taste quite unique and yet familiar. Although it is described as sweetened, it is also a bit sourish. $3.50.

The drinks were a great start to the main meal.

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When in Pam’s Kitchen, one just have to have Roti. There are two main selections you need to make when ordering Rotis:

  • Decide on the meat: Chicken ($10.50), Beef ($11.50), Lamb ($13.50) or Goat ($13.50)
  • Decide on either Paratha or Dahlpuri.

Suanne chosed the combination of lamb and paratha. The lamb was spicy but not very hot. Meat was tender to the bite. It was very well made and flushed with flavour. The drawback was that it was rather dry’ish and that we wished they had more curry sauce to dunk the roti with. We also liked the mash potato and chick pea server on the side … it looked deceptively mild but was spicy hot. Nice.

I read from the menu saying that they hand wash all the meats thoroughly with lemon juice.

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Seattle Spring 2009: The Kingfish cafe

Here is a short series of our overnight trip to Seattle. I had a week off work and since we had an invite to do a review at the Seattle’s Pike Market, we thought we might as well make the most of it and go on a mini culinary journey of sorts there.

We did our selection of restaurants solely through Urbanspoon for Best Restaurants in Seattle. We figured we could not go wrong there.

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#1 was Paseo which we had visited before and blogged about it too. Suanne and I don’t fancy Mexican which rules #2 La Carta de Oaxaca out as a choice. #3 is The Kingfish Cafe and it is Southern and Soul food … which is exactly what I wanted Suanne to try. I had quite a bit of Southern and Soul food in my travels to Atlanta and New York but not Suanne.

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The Kingfish Cafe is located at the Capitol Hill area. Their address is 602 19th Ave E. We were there about 15 minutes before their opening time and found there were two ladies who were also there waiting for them to open. The two ladies who looked like they are also from out of town told us that they had been waiting for the past hour!

This place must be that good, we told ourselves.

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The Kingfish cafe is very much a neighborhood cafe. Plastered all over the front windows are decals from almost every restaurant review organizations that we could find.

Their kitchen is open. We decided to get a seat by the window and could not see the action from where we were seated. We also noted that most of their customers were black which tells us that this is the right place for soul & southern food.

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Suanne choose a dish called Mary Mac’s Fried Chicken Salad. This one is $12. The reason I suggested this was the word Mary Mac. I had dined at the Mary Mac’s Tea Room in Atlanta once and it was one of the most memorable meal I had. Mary Mac’s is world famous for being one of the best in Southern cooking.

This dish has a whole marinated chicken breast fried up crispy with fresh wild greens and a buttermilk jerk dressing. Served in a very large plate, it really made our eyes open wide when it came. It is perhaps one of the most good looking and appetizing salad we had ever seen.

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