Cheryll's Writing Journal

Musings, rants and ravings, plus gems of insight nobody wants to hear now that I've finally got them. Also neat stuff I found on the 'Net when I should have been updating this blog....

Sunday, November 14, 2010

NZ Trip: Ann Arbor to Chicago

We left on the noon train, so as to keep the general stress level manageable...Jen rode down with us to take the car home so it wouldn't be sitting in the long term parking for three weeks.  She will bring it to the station and park close so we can stumble off the midnight train and drive right home when our wonderful vacation is over.
Ann Arbor Train Station
Two suitcases, two backpacks, two computer bags...and a sack of snacks (more about its fate later).

The train left on time and we enjoyed the 4+ hour ride to Chicago.  Saw lots of Autumn fields...
...and a couple old train stations still in their glory.  This one is now a restaurant:

Also squinted through the dirty windows to make out a dozen sandhill cranes in fields or dried swamps by the train tracks.  Did not get a picture of them, as the train is not so conducive to photography as I had hoped.  Did get a rather artsy one of Chicago skyline as we neared town.

It was rush hour when we arrived at Union Station.  Talk about trying to swim upstream against a torrent of people rushing to get trains home!  By the time we had fought our way to the street with all our bags, I was pooped, so we opted for a cab instead of trying to walk the half mile to our hotel.

The Best Western at Grant Park was in its day pretty grand, but at only 7 stories it is dwarfed by the high rise buildings that line the rest of the waterfront area.  It is across a park and the Metra tracks from the Museums, Shedd Aquarium and the marina that becomes Navy Pier.  Perfect location for us to enjoy the hours before flying out to LAX the next evening.

The only hitch was that in leaving the taxi, I also left our snack bag.  Yikes!  I've never tried to travel without food before.  And dinner was a bit of a problem.  Most of the nearby eateries cater to breakfast and lunch only, and we thought the hotel restaurant might be pricey, so opted to walked a couple blocks down the street to The Firehouse.  Very Loooooooong blocks when you are tired from lugging baggage.  (We got really buff before the trip was done, LOL)

The evening was warm and mild and without wind, rare for Chicago waterfront in my experience, so the walk would have been very good except we were hungry and tired and the restaurant turned out to be VERY upscale.  It's a genuine 19th or early 20th century firehouse, remodeled into dimly lighted steakhouse that has nothing on the menu under $40.  Definitely not the sort of place for weary travelers in tennis shoes!

So we walked back to the hotel and found their restaurant empty, as it was Friday night and way past dinner hour.  There were a cook, the owner and one overworked waitress who was supposed to act as hostess and bus tables in addition.  But, the food when it came was outstanding!  Basmati rice, thin perfectly cooked steak and lightly sauteed veggies still sweet and crunchy.  Yum!  Wade got the seafood fried rice -- a huge mound full of pastel bits of shrimp, fish and veggies.  Delish.

Breakfast next morning was literally next door at YOLK!  This trendy eatery is labeled the best breakfast in Chicago, and we concur!  The menu is extensive and sumptious and your order comes on serving platters instead of plates.  More than enough to share a single entree.

We went early on a Saturday morning and therefore didn't have a wait, but we noticed a long line forming as we left. Very popular place, and the prices were not as high as one would expect in the tourist section of town. Worth the money!

Then it was back to the hotel, pack up and check the big bags behind the front desk before heading out for the Shedd Aquarium.  We could literally see this from our hotel room, along with the lake and parks.  (See Wade's Flickr! stream for way more pix)  On the way over, which was about 3 blocks, over the railroad tracks, through the park, under Lakeshore Drive, through another park -- discovered why adding weights to one's walking attire is recommended by the fitness gurus: makes the walk MUCH longer.  We were wearing backpacks and carrying computers.  Those things are heavy!

Shedd is wonderful, but huge.  It is something to watch sharks the size of Volkswagons swim over your head (the tanks curve above us)...makes a big impression!  Watched sea otters being fed and penguins being loved.  Yes, really; three humans sitting in their enclosure and the birds lining up for hugs and scritches (Wade has pix) and literally elbowing one another out of the line if they could.  Cool.  Definitely a place to visit, but buy your tickets online before going; saves a Looooooong line waiting at the entrance to buy onsite.

After all that walking, and bit of lunch at the Aquarium cafe, we opt out of going next door to the museum, and mosey on back to get our bags and work out the route via Metra to get to O'Hare airport.  That is a long hike, between trains, but starts only a couple blocks from hotel.  Red train first, then change to blueline out, which saves not only time and traffic, but lots of money: $2.25 each instead of $29 for limo or $40 for taxi.  Phew!

Next stop: LAX, long after my bedtime...