A Travellerspoint blog

Chicago

rain 2 °C

Ok - I'm going to cheat and do a big blog entry for the past week and not lots of tiny little ones - I haven't done enough to warrant a lot of chit chat.......

After the glorious sunny days of the South, the weather in Chicago well and truly reminded me that we are heading into winter over here. Tuesday headed into downtown Chicago with Ana leaving at 7.30am to catch a 45 minute express train. The weather was everthing Chicago is famous for - wet, windy and cold - actually it was about 8 degrees max but felt like zero. It rained all day and my walk around Chicago was limited to a 4 block radius where I could duck in and out of department stores and large stores - managed to find the last vestiges of summer clothing in the mega sale racks. After lunch with Ana, I headed over to Armitage about 7 stops on the metro to visit a store that has an eclectic variety of gifts and clothing that I regularly receive via email. As I was waiting for the train on the loop (in case you don't know, the loop is an above ground railway and circles the city and then goes out to the inner suburbs in about 5 directions). Was spectacularly misterable curled up in a corner trying to stay out of the wind. An old woman strolls by looks at me, shakes her and then presses the heat lamp which radiates a sun-like heat over 2 metre radius - aaaah, heaven!!!!

The shop was everythihg I had hoped and I had a good rummage around before stopping for a hot chocolate in a cute tea place. Then back home on the train - aaah, Brisbane's overcrowding is nothing like a suburban Chicago train at peak time - it's about 15 huge double storey carriages filled till every seat is taken - not a lot of people stand as it's 40 minutes trip to the first stop but the streams of human traffic of the platform is a sight to be seen and Union Station is not a place to stand still and think where you going - you're swept up in the movement and carry you off in the completely the wrong direction. That night we ate at home and I caught up on some TV that I'd missed.

Wednesday was a nice winter's day - at least no rain and a bit of sunshine - I'm trying to think what we did and I'm drawing a blank!!! (Five minutes later.....) Aaah yes, the day before Thanksgiving - usually work finishes at 2pm so everyone can get a head start on their Thanksgiving destination. So we had a quick grocery stop before the hoardes decended. Then we headed over to a more posh suburb (Glen Ellyn) to check out the shops - it was quite quaint and pretty and we managed to find a few unique christmas decorations (if you've seen my house at Christmas you'll probably know that this is the last thing I need - more decorations!!!!).

Thursday was Thanksgiving - so it was a pretty relaxed day since a lot of people now order all the food in advance including the humungus turkey. So in the morning after Mickey Mouse pancakes, we made chocolate chip cookies for Ryan, sangria for us and then a bread and butter pudding for dessert. Then we pick up said humungus turkey and vegetables and waited for Ana's mother and "aunt" to arrive. Then it was turkey, sangria, red wine and good thanksgiving cheer. It was a prety lazy day after that just sitting around and chatting.............

The Friday after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday in the States - it's a crazy shopping day where stores open between midnight and 5am and people line up for the 2 $60 massive TV sets on offer and various other items that are heavily discounted. This is not for the faint hearted and shopping stampedes are a regular occurrence - every shop has at least 30% off and usually up to 70%. So that's the place to avoid - any shopping mall in a heavily populated area. Instead we headed over to Naperville (which is where my friend lives - it's like a small town outside Chicago about the size of Ipswich) to see the Christmas parade. It's a reasonably large city centre over about 4 or 5 large blocks but like anything in the States if you don't get there early you don't get a park - so we headed out about 1pm - stopped for lunch, wasted time at the local bookstore where I mulled over getting a nook e-reader (I didn't get it) and then headed over the parade - it was a bit of dinky parade with lots of local business vans decked out in coloured lights but there was lots of festive cheer and santa was at the back ready to turn on the lights which signalled the start of the Christmas period. October through to December is a really nice time to visit the States - there's a rolling set of major holidays starting off with Halloween so everything is decorated and lots of fun.

Saturday the weather was really awful so we did absolutely nothing except watch TV, put up the Christmas tree and loll around in a blob-like state.

Sunday the weather improved markedly but Ryan was quite bored so I gritted my teeth as we headed over to Chuck e Cheeses - if you don't know what this establishment entails and you hate the sight of 50 kids running around in hysteria - avoid the place like the plague - it's an indoor amusement restaurant (though restaurant probably overstates the matter) with video games and fast food - between the din of the games, the wild laughter bordering on hysteria, the pretty ordinary food it's a match made in hell for me..............after all that, Ana felt like she owed me (though she didn't) we headed over to a French chocolatier for hot chocolates in a refined atmosphere - it was lovely - soft soothing music, ornate french chairs and proper china. Though the waitress did have a heart attack at one point - Ryan was playing with his play doh and blobbing it all under the glass table - the waitress thought it was one giant wad of chewing gum and exclaimed - what the hell is that - it was kinda off in such a refined establishment............then we wandered the streets decorated in lights doing some window shopping in the biting cold.............

So here I am on my second last day - this will be probably be my last blog unless I get stuck at the airport..........see you soon!!!

Posted by natty176 28.11.2011 11:35 Archived in USA Tagged chicago naperville Comments (0)

Savannah to Chicago

sunny 28 °C

On the recommendation of the hotel manager we decided to head out to Fort Pulaski - yep, you're probably going - where the hell is that - it was the site of minor battle during the Civil War but it's more famous for its allegedly picturesque location.

So after checking out of the hotel we loaded up the car and headed due east towards Tybee Island. Around this area, you really do get why they call Savannah and Charleston the low country. It's all swamp land and tall grasses rising from a deadly flat landscape - and I mean flat - almost flatter than Holland.

And then suddenly rising from this flat landscape is this enormously fort complete with moat and battle mounds. It was just the most stunning landscaped parkland complete with compact palm trees, a view to the Atlantic Ocean and the most glorious fall day. After watching the movie about the history of the Fort - it was designed by Robert E Lee (commander of the South) and during the Civil War it was proved that these types of fortifications were no match for modern weapons. When it was a prison camp, it was also where one of the first photographs of the early iterations of baseball was taken.......

After wandering around we thought we'd better get on the road before our flight back to Chicago since we still held hopes of visiting a plantation. The highway from Savannah to Charleston is a boring highway and full of tacky fast food outlets - we had just finished lunch at one of these esteemed establishments (yes, it was McDonalds) when we spotted a police car up ahead. He seemed to have pulled over one of the cars to the side of the road. But we passed him as he walking back to the car and he gave me the most filthy look - it was like uh oh - what have I done now. Sure enough 5 minutes later there were flashing lights in the my rear view mirror and I was directed to pull over. As he strolled up to the window he started yelling at me "you saw me on the side of the road, so what's your excuse for not pulling over to the far left lane". My response was "er, well we don't do that in Australia". I think that was the last excuse he was expected so then he proceed to lecture me on the laws of South Carolina. After checking out my credentials he said He was letting me off with a warning - yay, second time I've managed to avoid a ticket.

So after all this rigmarole, we were too late for a plantation and just headed to the airport with millions of pounds of luggage. The flight was pretty uneventful and Ian and Ryan (Ana's son) met us at the airport to take us home.........................

Posted by natty176 27.11.2011 19:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Savannah - Ye Olde Town

sunny 26 °C

Yes, I've been slack, slack, slack - don't know where all the time has gone - its now only two days till I go home...................and on this blog I'm still stuck in Savannah. Oh dear..........

And I can't say that I've been partying on in Chicago either - in fact, after all the walking, I've been quite a blob.......

Anyway back to Savannah - on this particular day we decided to do a tour of all 22 squares in Savannah - no, we didn't walk it - we did it the good old fashioned tourist way - on a tour bus - we were promised a 90 minutes tour on a trolley but it got off to a bad start - firstly this annoying couple got on the bus fully decked out like they were going to church - he wearing a blazer and trousers and she wearing to most god awful leggings with bright red coat. Then the pick up bus woudn't start - the annoying couple kept offering all sorts of tips to get the bus started - they were so annoying that we were all ordered off the bus till the bus driver could get it started.............

The we finally made it to the really trolley car and sat around for 20 minutes while everyone arrived. - eventually we were under way touring the historical part of Savannah but it ended up being on 60 minutes tour and were dumped at one of the squares when it was finished.

So we ended stolling around, going to the pub for lunch and then heading to the Owen Thomas house - every first owner of an historic house in the South seems to leave after a couple of years of building it - either through bankruptcy, death or just bad luck. But this house has been one of the best houses I've ever seen - full of interesting innovations like fully running water and toilets from the moment it was built in 1820's. It was also the place where Lafayette gave one of his famous speeches from the balcony of the house.

Next we headed to the Mercer House which was the home of Jim Williams who was the central character in the Midnight Garden of Good and Evil. The house is still furnished with his aniques and looks fairly similar to the movie - it was interesting to see everything in original form especially as when we got back to Chicago we watched the movie again just to see what it was all like. It's still a pretty ordinary film compared to the book but it was good in the sense that we kept saying "we've been there". Funnily I couldn't remember any details of the film so it was like seeing it new.

Since it was 26 degrees during the day we headed back to the hotel for an afternoon cat nap before hearing back to the river for dinner - I don't know what it is about Savannah on a Sunday night but it was completely dead. Maybe all the tourists headed home on Sunday afternoon. We found the Shrimp Factory and had a decidedly ordinary seafood meal. But we did make up for it with a string of martinis and were chatted up by the waiter who was almost half our age......

Posted by natty176 27.11.2011 18:35 Archived in USA Tagged savannah Comments (0)

Savannah - River Walk

sunny 24 °C

Unusally I woke up first and Ana was dead to the world so I headed down to the breakfast by myself. It's in an inner courtyard with a glass roof all down in colonial outdoor furniture - really makes you feel like your part of a plantation or something.

Finally Ana wakes up and we headed down to the River - unsurprisingly Savannah is located on the Savannah River and was established by the English to ward off the Spanish from raiding Charleston - no wonder they're snobby up there!!! It's a meticulously arranged city on a grid pattern around 24 squares - unfortunately only 22 squares are still in existance - in the 1960's and 70's old buildings were torn down to build carparks - I kid you not - Savannah has the most number and equally ugly looking carparks I've ever seen - to give you an example how many there are - it was $3 to park your car overnight and for 3 nights it was a total $13 - oh, if only Brisbane had such cheap parking.....

The only haphazard part of the city was down by the river where its a steep walk down to the river level through narrow lanes and extremely crazy steep stairs - it's all cobblestones and its a tough walk on your feet. Now it's all converted warehouses turned into crazy named restaurants, tacky shops, nice gallery shops and tour operators. But the day was bright and sunny and at 24 degrees almost too hot for jeans. We wandered around, had hot dogs on the river terrace, boarded a restored old worlde sailing ship and did some shopping. In fact, I think I am banned from going on holidays with Ana by her husband Ian since we both bought way too much jewellery together.

Savannah is dominated by the local private college affectionately known as SCAD - its the Savannah College of Art and Design and one of the premier places to study creative arts. The institution now owns 60 buildings and has restored quite a few of them. As a result there's lots of offbeat designs shops and its way more avant garde than Charleston. As a result after buying zero jewellery on my trip so far, I've now ended up with quite a few earrings.

The premier shopping street for design is Bull Street - a long street that cuts through at least four squares each designed slightly differently but all with spanish moss everywhere - by day it's wonderfully cool under the large evergreen oaks and at night the spanish moss takes a creepy glow from all the old fashioned street lamps in the street.

That night we headed over to the Pirate House for dinner - we were worried that this was going to be a kitch place with an ordinary menu - its in a old house that genuninely was the home of pirates in 1700's and has secret tunnels where people stupid enough to get drunk ended up stone cold sober on a pirate ship having to work their way towards freedom. It's a ramshackle place complete with 13 old rooms and a pirate shop for the kids. But its not at all tacky - it's filled with antique looking furniture, wobbly floorboards and a great menu - Ana and I both ordered a rather potent drink - some sort of rum punch and I had the shrimp creole style. We followed this up with a key lime pie.

After being suitably fortified we headed towards the Ghost Tour we had booked into - Savannah has been voted the most haunted place in USA - and it has some tough competition but while the volume is down the cases here are pretty tragic - they have had the Revolutionary War, typhoid fevers, the Civil War, pirates and all sorts of crazies reside in Savannah - after all this is the place with 3 cemeteries in the old quarter alone. I wouldn't say it's creepy tour but we did learn lots about the place and its history and the guide was a chatty woman that clearly loved her job - she kept telling us to wait before looking at photos because, you never know, a ghost may develop in the photos - well its now 4 days later and there's definitely no ghost in any of my photos. The creepiest thing was this 400 year oak that was the most beautiful old oak you've ever seen with the widest overhaning branches - unfortunately the union soldiers thought they looked pretty good too and hung over 60 people on the oak - so many its now called the hanging oak.

As you can imagine we were pretty beat after our log day..................

Posted by natty176 23.11.2011 18:49 Archived in USA Tagged savannah Comments (0)

Charleston / Savannah

sunny 21 °C

Hi there!!!

Sorry I've been a bit slack - once Ana arrived, we flopped into bed after 10pm each night and I was too buggered to upload my photos!!!

So back to Friday. Checked out reasonably early after packing my million suitcases - feel really disorganised this trip having two large bags to lug around.

After that, I had 3 hours to kill before driving out the airport to meet Ana so decided I'd see the last house on my list. Rocked on down to the Thomas Elfe house which was Charlston's premier cabinet maker in early 19th century - it was supposed to be a house reminiscent of the merchant class rather than the plantation owners. It has odd opening times so finally found the place in the side streets and rang the bell. After an eternity a snobby older man open the doors and wants to know if I want the tour. Yep, I'm here for the tour - so I step inside and get out my $8 - oops I've forgotten to go the bank and only have $3 on me - as you can imagine this did not go down well - instead of saying no worries, there's a bank round the corner and come back to see us - he looked at me rather blankly like I'm trying to scam him - then he virtually tosses me out of the place saying I should really plan my life a lot better. So head off to the bank and then decide do I really want to subject myself to this person - I've already seen most of the lower floor standing in the living room so decide to give the house a flick. So still have 2 odd hours to kill so after wandering around aimlessly I head for a coffee shop..............

Finally I'm ready to head out to the airport - it's rather a dinky airport by USA standards - the arrivals and departures are on the same level - but I must have parked the further point from the entrance since it takes me ages to get there - I thought I was early but the plane has arrived early so now I'm walking around trying to find the gate when Ana and I practically bump into each other - all I hear is "hey there".............

Since Ana has missed the Charleston bit completely we head back into Charleston and after a seafood lunch at Hymans (yes, I went there the other day) we do a quick tour around Charleston - it was such a pleasant day walking around.

Then its a two hour drive down to Savannah on a rather boring highway (no dramas on the way - to find out the drama on the way back you'll have keep reading the blog). Find the hotel - it's a lovely colonial hotel called Marshall House - when I check in a lady says - Who's your travel agent? I'm like OMG - what's happened now - I booked this myself. But it turned out that all the information about the agency hadn't come through the system (something else I'm going to have to follow up on) and she wanted to make sure we got our travel commission. And that set the tone for our stay at Savannah - the Charlestonians are reasonably friendly but there's a bit of snobby air about them but the Savannians are really down the earth and very talkative. It's an extremely relaxed place.

That night we couldn't be bothered finding a place to eat so we ate at the restaurant but in the bar area since we weren't quite dressed up enough for the restaurant. After a bit of faltering start with the bar tender we shared a rather decadent crab omelette - and boy was it decadent but extremely tasty - you really can't go past the seafood in this part of the world. This was finished off with creme brulee...........

Posted by natty176 23.11.2011 18:20 Archived in USA Tagged savannah charleston Comments (0)

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