Friday, July 13, 2012

Its FAR to GO from Minneapolis to Chicago.

My drive back to Fargo started early...again. I really can’t see the point in lying in bed wasting time when I can be out on the road and doing stuff. So when I woke up at 5am, I chucked my stuff into old blue and got on my way. I took the Interstate (Motorway) for about an hour before heading through the countryside and past a whole load of small ‘cities ‘as I crossed the South Dakota plains. It was a lovely day’s drive, with the cruise control on, I mellowed out and just steered every now and then as I passed the odd duck or pheasant and in 200 miles I took just 3 turns. One good thing about driving across America is that the roads are flat, mainly straight and easy to navigate – just head North East and you will get there!

After a 7 hour drive that seemed to be more like 20 minutes, I arrived in back in Fargo, checked into my hotel (The Econolodge is like a Travelodge, only cheaper but nicer!) and went for a quick look around town. I saw one of the jets that was scrambled for 9/11 and also another minuteman missile, outside the local air museum, before in the evening I went to the cinema to see The Amazing Spiderman on the biggest screen I have ever seen.

The next morning I drove old blue home and dropped him off before getting the Jefferson Lines bus down to Minneapolis for a quick one night stay on my way to Chicago. There was one really strange bloke on the bus who not only taped up his window using a black bin bag but sat on his seat with it covered by a sheet and also had a weird curly hair style that made me thing of the 1970’s again. The bus was quiet though, so I enjoyed a nice restful day.

A quick jump in Fargo

and another missile!

The Mississippi at Anthony Falls in Minneapolis

Is that a rocket in that building!?
Strange curly haired bin bag man

Old Blue on his last day

The f16 from 9/11

Minneapolis was.....ok. The city centre was pretty much like any city centre I have visited. The hostel, while big and comfortable, also needed a bit of tidying. Little things like curtains hanging on nails instead of being on the rail just let it down.

I took a walk around the city in the evening, visiting the historic old mill area that overlooks the Mississippi river and the St Anthony falls, which are waterfalls that have actually been rebuilt to repair them! There is a cool area down there where people enjoy an open space in the middle of the city. I also passed by the Metrodome and a cool building in eth city centre that looks like a rocket had been parked upside down in the roof!!

It’s not a bad town or anything, but just didn’t have much that I have heard of to keep me interested, so I am glad I just used it as a stopover.

The next day was a 7 hour bus trip on Greyhound, down to Chicago, via a quick stopover in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Again, there didn’t seem much to do there, so I was glad when we finally arrived in Chicago just after 7pm. This is one of the places I have always wanted to visit. I think apart from New York, it’s the one place I had heard of in America when I was just a little kid. Maybe it was mentioned in some movie when I was young, but it’s always been on my dream list – plus I spent a year watching the Chicago Bears when they won the Superbowl in the 80’s too.

Chicago – The city and not the musical. What is it like and what is there to do?
Well, downtown is also known as the loop – Because of the awesome elevated subway train that ‘loops’, around the area. It’s what you see in so many TV shows and movies – someone will be driving down a four lane street with rusty metal girder legs smack in the middle of the lanes. No bright green or orange paint – they are just there waiting for an unsuspecting driver to smash into them – only they don’t – It’s such a cool thing to see and to hear. The trains make a roar as they pass overhead and the whole thing seems to shake. I wonder how Chicagoans act in different cities when there is no elevated subway – It must be weird to them to just see a road and not hear the roar. I bet it’s the first thing that reminds them of home.

A quick stop in Milwaukee.. not much to see.

The 'L' or ELevated train...

awesome noise!

There is also Lake Michigan – Not the biggest of the great lakes, but still huge. It sits on the eastern edge of the city centre – literally just a 5 minute walk away and has beaches, a harbour and lots of stuff to do – I have been there to see the night-time skyline and some fireworks and was joined by thousands of locals enjoying the balmy warm evening.  

Dissecting the city centre from the Lake in a Grant Park – It is the home to many many different things and is one of the best urban parks I have ever been to. As well as plenty of green open space for people to enjoy, it also has a hugely diverse amount of things to do and see. There are two big concert arenas – they are used for festivals and concerts during the summer and I spent one evening there watching a really weird concert. It was a percussion concert (drums and banging!). The live stuff was good as a group of four played some cool noise. But in between their pieces they played recorded stuff which was just – well weird. One of the pieces was actually introduced as ‘The artist wanted to know what sounds his children could discover if they were allowed to play in the kitchen’...HUH!? Another piece was described as ‘He took four badly tuned radios and allowed the noise to overlap between them’. In my opinion all you needed to say was ‘Noise’. The concert arena is really cool though – A huge 11000 person area with 400 seats and the rest of the people lounging on grass beneath a spiders web type metal structure which holds speakers way above the crowd. It was a good night, mellowing out, eating food and sitting there for free – While all around people and families sat, lay down or spread out enjoying their wine, beer, picnics and the night itself.

during the day at the arena

and lit up at night

Chicago skyline

Fireworks and


The arena is also part of ‘Millennium Park’, an area to the north of Grant Park which was rebuilt in time for the millennium in 2000 – but only completed 4 years late – in 2004. It is however such a cool place. It is home to ‘Cloud Gate’, the huge metallic reflective bean shaped object that has become a symbol of Chicago very quickly. I ventured there to find thousands of people stood gawping at the thing, with the reflection of the amazing skyline reflecting from it. You can also walk underneath it and get a close up view of yourself and everyone around you. A short walk from there is Crown Fountain – It’s actually two 50 foot high grey brick like structures that have water flowing from on top. During the day when I had a look there were hundreds of kids messing about in the cool water and enjoying themselves – Its really nice for a fountain to actually be built for the people to play in – instead of so many places where they tease you with cool water but don’t allow you to use it.  I walked up and put my head under the flow to cool down and managed to do so without even getting my feet wet – Such a good design and it also has a rainbow that shows when the sunlight hits it – A rainbow 6 feet long and 3 feet above the ground – really unusual. The fountain gets even better at night when the dull grey brickwork, lights up in bright blue and faces appear on the facing walls – faces of local people who appear to spit water out of their mouths. Haahaa. 

Cloud gate....

...AKA The Bean


Fun during the hot day

Cool at night

Just a little bit north of here is ‘The Magnificent Mile’ – This is where all the big posh shops are located – a bit like 5th Avenue in New York, but it is also where you find Trump International, The old Water Tower and The Tribune Building. Three really spectacular, cool buildings but all so completely different from the modernity of Trump Tower – it would look at home in a futuristic movie- to the Gothic features of The Tribune building – almost looking like a castle. The water tower is one of the only buildings to survive the great fire of Chicago and stands tiny in comparison to the skyscraper just up the road – The John Hancock Building.  This tower is not the tallest in Chicago – that is the Sears or Willis Tower – but this also has an observation deck at the 94th floor and the best views of the city and coast line of the lake. I spent a good hour up here listening to an audio tour narrated by ‘Ross’ from friends, David Schwimmer, who is from Chicago. The views on one side are of the beaches, lake and all the way across to the state of Michigan, whilst on the other side you see the city river flowing through the skyscrapers and all the way in away from the lake – The river actually flows backwards – It was reversed in flow in the late 1800’s to stop disease from dead animals and all sorts of other stuff reaching Lake Michigan and the drinking water supply for the city – so they dug it up and reversed the flow – What an idea!

Water tower and The Hancock Tower - Nearly the same size - honest!

Original busker- read the sign!

Chicago reversed river

Lake Michigan and the city from The Hancock tower

Maybe the Playboy mansion!

It’s not a huge stadium, but has the famous red sign hanging over the entrance next to a busy road. It’s surrounded by sports bars and ticket agents and looks just like it does on TV. I didn’t want to pay $25 for a tour so just had a peek though a gate at the pitch as I wandered around the outside. I also noticed a really strange thing.....On the roofs of the apartments blocks next to the stadium, people have built extensions to the stands inside the stadium. There are rows of seats that on match days have people paying to sit on the roof and look over the road into the baseball game. I’m not sure if they are part of the actual stadium or not, but what a good idea and a great way to get more people to see a game. 

The free view of Wrigley Field

Extra seating all around.


Yeah, I know....

Later in the evening I discovered yet another strange thing here. I found a set of black doors, in between two normal modern buildings. These doors give access to an alleyway that not holds just a few bins. But this alleyway cannot be changed in any way as an old bye law prevents it. It is actually access for a long gone farmer to take his cattle from their shed to a long time disappeared paddock to graze. Supposedly when the loop was built, there was still a farm or two here and the farmers wanted to make sure that they would be able to get their cattle to graze so this track was built and protected by law – The law still stands and so does the track – albeit with no cows to walk along it anymore.

The entrance to....

...the cow path!!

So that was my first 36 hours in Chicago – My feet hurt and I am tired, but this is a brilliant city. It is like a mish mash of the best bits of some other cities thrown together in one big fantastic pot. Its mellow, exciting, loud and quiet all in one go.  I like it a lot.

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