Intercontinental Hotel and Area – Miami

The Intercontinental is a fantastic 35-story hotel located in its own little corner, on its own dead-end street, overlooking the water.  The exterior is non-descript but classy.  Pulling into front area in your rental car you ask the valet how much parking is.  A calmly delivered $35 takes you back for a moment.  You consider parking at the public meters just feet from where you are since it is a weekend but this clever valet reads your thoughts and puts the axe to them.  The meters are per hour sir and run on the weekends.  Well, so much for that.  You give a sigh and hand him your keys.  Leaving your luggage for another valet you walk up some steps, through a glass door in a glass wall, and into a large foyer.

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The Miami skyline. Next time will be the ocean view.

The foyer is a beautiful place.  Open-air restaurants, statues, nice seating areas, and of course neon lights everywhere(This is Miami after all).  You have a little trouble finding the front desk but you hit upon following the valet with your luggage and head to the left.  The front desk staff impress you as you follow their directions for the short walk to the elevators.  Now these things are wonderful.  They have touch screens for the floor buttons.  Perhaps these are in other buildings but I have yet to see their equal.

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Who could disagree with a torch of friendship?

Your room, though not quite as nice as the foyer, is perfect.  A couch by the window lets you enjoy the skyline view while the bed is unequaled in comfort.  Satisfied with your accomodation you head out to explore.  Briefly looking at the restaurant menus before heading out you make your mind up to find a restaurant outside as your pocket already has a hole burned through it from the room and parking.  But of course there is always enough in the piggy bank for a quick stop at the Starbucks in the lobby.  Carrying your drink out the front door of your base you begin your exploration of Miami.

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Walking the main street with a Starbucks from the hotel

It turns out that you are located in an office district.  Off to your left are office buildings with normal associated shops and restaurants.  To your right is the ocean.  In front of you is a large park complete with amphitheater.  You walk through this park and emerge at an old and ugly mall.  Quickly going through here, avoiding all the tourist trap salespeople and some wild chickens you proceed to the other side and into Port Miami.  Passing this you arrive at the Miami Heat arena and its blaring advertisements.  Deciding that you have walked far enough you head back and plan for going on the bus tour on the next day since it leaves just a short walk from the hotel.

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Beware rabid feral chickens
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A little walk to the port
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Enjoy the perfect weather watching the massive cruise ships sail for the Caribbean

 

Chicago – Exploration

The Second City has given us Second City, an improvisational theater that has left its mark on the world by being the launching pad of many a famous comedians.  Those familiar with “Whose Line is it Anyway” will understand what Second City is about, especially since most of those people came up through Second City.  I had two goals on my visit to Chicago.  Watch a Second City show and try a deep dish pizza.  One was good and one was terrible, but which would let me down? 

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Ready for a Day Out in The Second City

 

I do not find pizza to be a breakfast food and all shows are in the evening so that left a full day for exploring the city.  Only taking three hours to make myself beautiful, the misses and I headed out in search of a Starbucks.  Our hometown doesn’t have a Starbucks if you can believe that.  We are a bunch of savages, so a sugary coffee on vacation is a special treat.   It was not a very involved search.  Stepping out of the hotel we found one, and one more on the next block, and the next, and two more after that.  I can assuredly say no one will suffer from caffeine withdrawls in this city.

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Roaming the Streets

After our sugar rush we roamed the streets towards Magnificent Mile.  Braving the cold for all of ten minutes we decided to try some local cuisine for lunch.  A cozy little restaurant called Chipotle sounded interesting so we favored them with our business.  All was well and good.  People must be familiar with this Chicago eatery as we are always asked if we got ill from eating there.  It is an odd question and no, we did not get ill.

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Not Quite Manhatten, but Close Enough

With heavy bellies we continued to roam the city, admiring the shops and skyskrapers, until we cam upon the Chicago River.  We were impressed with this waterway, and not just for the looks.  It has interesting traits, such as it flows backwards, which is extremely impressive. The view along the waterway is also impressive.  A path along the South side allows a view of the triple decker Wacker Drive and of the waterway.  A must visit area of the city.

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A Beautiful Fire Hydrant

Finishing our walk we head for one of the famous Chicago pizza restaurants.  We were both excited as we love New York pizza and couldn’t wait to compare.   The Battle of the Pizzas.  The restaurant itself had a fabulous atmosphere.  Dark with graffiti everywhere and photos of famous people who visited, though I didn’t recognize more than half of them.  Sitting down the first thing we noticed was the price.  It seemed outrageously expensive.  We discussed leaving but couldn’t do it.  We had to give Chicago pizza a fair shake.  Ordering our deep dish pizza and a pitcher of local beer we settled in.   The beer arrived quickly enough but the hour and a half wait for the pizza seemed a bit ridiculous.  Then things got bad.  Chicago style pizza is disgusting, plain and simple.  It is nothing but tomato soup with a block of melted cheese.  It is a gut bomb with no taste.  Chicago, you lose this competition badly.  Please stop making this pizza(that isn’t even really a pizza) and concentrate on the many things you do well.  Let New Yorkers make pizza from now on and have it shipped in.

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The Chicago River. Will Have to go Back to See it Green(I Mean More Green Than it is Here)

Only able to eat half of our soup bowl we got the rest for take away and tried to give it away to a begger on Magnificent Mile. Here the misses learned a valuable life lesson.  The beggers refused this expensive pizza when we offered, saying they only wanted money.   So sad that these people ruin it for those that really need help.  Shaking our heads we leave the bread bowl of nastiness on top of a garbage can where it belongs and head back to the hotel to get ready for our night of laughs.

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A Beautiful River Walk

Finishing my toilet in two hours this time and looking and feeling fantastic we head for the Second City theatre.  It is not in the city center so we hop on a bus North that takes us along the lake and into a nice area.  After a short but freezing walk we arrive at the theatre.  Chilled to the bones and quite early, we get our will-call tickets and settle in at the attached Starbucks.  Warmed a bit we hop into the theatre, which is much smaller and simpler than I expected.  It surely wont be mistaken for a Vegas showroom.  Shown our simple chairs we mentally prepare ourselves for a night of laughs.  The drink lady stops by but we pass on drinks.  She is to become a thorn in our side all night.  Annoying and mistaking us for other customers, first giving us someone elses drinks, then someone elses food, and then their bill.  Maybe she cannot see well in the dark.  I advise the company to purchase her a headlamp.

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The Most Dangerous Parking Garage Ever

For a few hours we enjoy the show.  They are not as good as Ryan Stiles or others I have seen, but perhaps it takes years of practice.  It is more set routines than improv which disappointed me, but my expectations were sky high, so I blame myself.  At the end of the show they announce that they will now try new routines and those that wish can stay to see them.  This is worth skipping unless you wish to help them and provide feedback.  We stayed and missed the last bus because of it.  This wasn’t too bad as we got a taxi with an Indian immigrant who was nice and funny, telling us how he had gotten used to the cold.  He was a little perturbed at us though as he was heading to Wrigley Field, which offered much better fares, but instead we took him away from the stadium.

Second City, while not perfect, makes for an enjoyable night.  You will laugh, cringe, and leave with a smile on your face.  If for some reason you really hate the show and get depressed, go get a Chicago pizza and drown yourself in it.

Navy Pier – Chicago

Bored with the shopping on Magnificent Mile, your eyes struggle to focus on something that isn’t a shop.  Finally they land on a small and simple signpost reading ‘Navy Pier’, with an arrow pointing the way.  Well, anything to escape this current situation.  Looking at Navy ships sounds as good as anything.  Your feet lead you East towards the lake.

Emerging from the city skyline you realize that you have been fooled by the sign, or more truthfully fooled yourself, as signs are rarely at fault.  Opening in front of you is a large park and pedestrian walkway, with modern buildings and a ferris wheel watching over all.  No large grey ships are to be found.  Instead of a Navy Pier it is more of a city center, or tourist attraction if you please.

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Spanish Steps and Ferris Wheel

You begin your walk around this 3,300 foot(1,010 meter) long pier.  Starting on the right side like all sane people, you start your loop.  Have no fear of the pier collapsing.  It has been standing strong for one hundred and one years.  You think back to those days, imagining the people who came before you.  The Roaring Twenties with the women dressed to kill in Art Nouveau sequined dresses, the men in suits, walking arm in arm along the pier.  Enjoying the live bands, fireworks, concerts, and even airplane and motorboat races.  Out on the water are freighters lined up to dock and leisure ships departing full of tourists.  It is a bustling sight.

Enjoying the cold lake breeze you walk past the wave wall, which is touted as the Spanish Steps of Chicago(They are really in Rome), and the Ferris Wheel.  You would love to ride the wheel but those are a lot of steps and there is no elevator(A glaring omission of the planning council).  You continue your walk around the pier, passing restaurants and a gift shop, all the time admiring the cleanliness and beauty of this pier.  You wonder if it looked this good during the Great War.

This poor little pier is barely a year old and yet it has been taken over by several regiments of soldiers and Red Cross workers, who now live here.  In one area is a barracks for new recruits and a jail for draft dodgers.  It certainly is no where near as clean.

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Way out to sea

Coming to the end of the pier and its empty beer garden you quickly make the loop around without stopping, as the cold wind is too intense.  With head tucked in and bones frozen, you breath a sigh of relief as you finally get your back to the wind.  Looking onto this building that stands 3000 feet out in the lake you are amazed to see how little it has changed in a hundred years.

Sailors and Marines are training everywhere, becoming metalsmiths, mechanics, and diesel operators.  The noise and amount of people is incredible.  This Navy pier has become the largest training facility of its kind in the world, playing an important part in this second world war.  When the war is over there are rumors that it will become a University.

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 Quite a skyline

Walking this North side of the pier is quite different from the South side.  You feel like you are in the back of everything.  There are high walls and loading docks.  You spend most of your time enjoying the fine skyline in front of you as you pass Uber and Lyft pick-up points.  As you come back onto land and into the pier’s bus terminal you praise the city and the nameless people involved for the redevelopment in 1990 of this amazing area.

Navy Pier has stood through fortune and disuse for a hundred years.  May it prosper and always return from downturns for a hundred more.

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Wheel, wood, water, and wuildings

Photos – Mada’in Saleh, Saudi Arabia

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On the Threshold
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The Three Mushroom Tombs(My nickname)
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One High Doorway.  Ready for a flood of biblical proportions.
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Three More Rooms
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Such a Good Use of a Hill
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I Could Have Done Better
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Too Bad There Is No Scale Here, as This One Is Massive
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King of the Tombs.  Just Two Thousand Years Too Late
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The Beautiful Surrounding Countryside. 
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Alone with 131 Tombs
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I Once Caught a Tomb This Big

Chicago – Museum of Science and Industry

IMG_1524.JPGChicago has no shortage of things to do but you decide on the Museum of Science and Industry since it is extremely highly rated on Tripadvisor.  It is located on the lake but far south of downtown.  You consider renting a bicycle and riding the eight miles from your hotel but quickly dismiss the idea as it is so freezing cold that you would most likely have to snap a dog off the bike before being able to use it.  You could take the “L” which gets you a block from the museum but you decide on a bus so you can see more of the city from street level.IMG_1527.JPG

Riding the bus takes you through multiple forms of the city.  You begin from the incredible triple-decker Wacker drive and cruise the city streets stocked with office workers and the mandatory Starbucks and Chipotle’s, enter a motorway where you can catch a glimpse of what might kindly be called ghetto housing, then quickly get off the motorway, pass through a Hispanic neighborhood and turn onto a long residential street that dead ends into the museum.  It is quite a diverse bus trip.  IMG_1530.JPG

Your first view of the museum is impressive.  It looks like it belongs on the Mall in Washington D.C.  A large grass field, which hides the underground parking garage, opens up in front of the building.  All in all a beautiful site and very welcoming.  IMG_1534.JPG

You cross this grass field and enter into a pillbox well in front of the building itself.  This leads to a stairwell which then leads you deep underground to the ticket counter, coat check, and gift shop.  After looking over the bewildering amount of ticket options you finally decide on the basic ticket and proceed up an escalator that brings you into a foyer.  Here is seating for the restaurant.  From here the museum spreads into multiple wings and three levels.  Keep your map at the ready so you can see what you wish to see.  Or if you are up for an adventure and have all day just start roaming around.  IMG_1541.JPG

You come across rooms for children, rooms where you can touch and play with stuff, rooms full of planes and trains, a large model of Chicago, an old United 727, a mirror maze, avalanche simulator, famous cars, models of important ships, and dozens of other things.  You are glad you decided to spend a whole day here as you need it to see(and touch) everything.  Your one regret is not paying for the add-ons.  You are missing out on the Lego exhibit, as well as Robot Revolution, the U-505 submarine tour, Coal Mine, Future Energy Chicago and others.  There is so much to do!IMG_1542.JPG

Extremely happy and with a smile on your face you get your coat from the coat check and walk up the stairs, out the pillbox, and back to the bus stop.  Time to go see the Bean now.

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Franklin Park- Chicago

Be extremely careful using GPS if you have a job interview in Franklin Park, Illinois.

The misses and I visited the Chicago area to see about a job opportunity for her.  We wished to see this Franklin Park area before the interview to get the vibe and feel if it felt like home.  Setting off from our hotel I type Franklin Park into the GPS and away we go.  Never having been to Chicago we put all our faith in the GPS.  We have all heard the stories of people blindly following GPS and had a laugh, but yet it is difficult not to trust it.

The view getting progressively worse as we move along.  Things aren’t on the up and up as we pass through an Hispanic neighborhood.  It isn’t too bad as it is busy and a few people are walking the streets, but it isn’t where we would choose to live.  The GPS says we are a mile from Franklin Park and we have already made our minds up not to live or work here.

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Not a Starbucks to be seen

The neighborhoods continue their decline as we continue on.  Our windows go up and doors get locked.  The misses wishes to escape but I’ve come this far and want to see this Franklin Park.  Only two minutes until our destination we make a right turn and good lord we are in the ghetto.  This isn’t a joke anymore.  The streets are empty.  The buildings along the road also look empty and derelict.  Keeping my eyes focused straight ahead I go as fast as possible(damn speed bumps) to get out of here.  Off to my right I catch a glimpse of a park.  So this is Franklin PARK in Chicago, not Franklin Park the town in Illinois.  Maybe the park is beautiful, and maybe the people are amazing and some of the nicest in the world, but like all of us I judge but what I see, and I could see that we did not belong there.

Getting off that empty road that belongs more in a third world war zone and not in Americas second city we breath a sigh of relief.  If it is this bad on the West side I cannot imagine how bad it is in the South side that we always hear about in the news.  I feel sorry for those that have to live and survive in such circumstances.  Trying again with the GPS we proceed to the Franklin Park we truly wanted, which is located near O’Hare airport on the West side of the city.  Here is more our style we thought as we got out of our car and walked around.  Happy in our safe and easy life.

 

Venetian Hotel Casino – Las Vegas

At the North end of the Strip lie the Venetian and its sister property, the Palazzo.  As is the norm for Vegas both are gigantic and beautiful, actually making the combined property the largest hotel and casino in the world.  This is doubly impressive considering that the rooms are all suites and double the size of the average Vegas hotel room.

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Bar on the shops level

As you pass the front of the property you see a mock Italian main square complete with clock tower and pool full of gondolas.  These gondolas are more than decoration.  You are able to ride in them complete with a beautifully singing driver, rower, guide, or however you wish to call them.

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Front of the Venetian

As you pull into valet you are greeted with more beauty, class, and excellent service.  Leaving your car and luggage you are whisked inside where a lovely foyer opens in front of you.  A sunlight garden with statue commands the center of this area.  You proceed past this to the reception.  Here a bank of employees are busy checking guests in.  After being well taken care of you proceed towards the elevators.  This is a short walk by Vegas standards through a massive hallway that opens up on the casino.  Dazed by the bright flashing lights from the slot machines you continue straight through to another hallway and the elevators.  Showing a security guard dressed in Italian style your room key you proceed to your elevator and up to your room.

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Lobby of the Venetian

All has been classy and beautiful so far and this continues as you roam the hallways on your floor looking for your room.  Finding your room you open the door and are greeted with a huge space ending in a massive window overlooking the Strip.  Inspecting everything you begin by staring out the window and enjoying your commanding view of this desert city.  The Mirage casino hotel looks back at you from across the road.  At night you are able to watch their free show from your room.  You take in your work desk with printer, couch for about 100 people, big screen television and huge and comfortable bed.  You carefully eyeball the mini-bar while holding your breath as the prices are outrageous and charged by touching them as they sit on sensors.  God save you if you move one of the items.  Extremely satisfied you move to the bathroom where a large bathtub, beautiful shower with unbelievable pressure, and even a make-up table greet you.  The toilet is in a separate room.  Some items show age but all is well.

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View of the Strip

Well, you didn’t come to Vegas to sit in your roam so lets roam around this city of a property.  Your first stop should be the casino.  Here you have a wide array of slot machines and table games.  Take a seat at a machine, order a drink from the beautiful cocktail waitresses(who are employed as models and not employees so they can be fired if they get pregnant, old, or ugly), and enjoy some lights and sounds.  When this bores you move over to a table game.  Here the dealers are not as friendly as in Reno but Vegas is quite an impersonal place, so no worries.  When you get tired of throwing your money away you have a decision to make.  Try one of the pricey restaurants, the cheaper food court, get drunk, go dancing, see a show, hang out by the pool, or browse the shops.  You will get to all of these so only the order matters.

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Foyer between Venetian and Palazzo

The restaurants are spread all over the property so you should consult a map for which cuisine you feel like or ask any of the helpful staff.  Many of them are located in the connecting hallway to the Palazzo.  Here there is also located a large foyer which is decorated to current events. Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July, an more.  After enjoying their decorations you ride the escalator up one floor to the shops and gondola.  Here is a shopping mall with an Italian town facade flanking a canal where the gondolas roam and sweet songs echo.  Enjoy a ride and the window shopping.  Get an ice cream in the center and sit under a painted sky.

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Gondolas on the shop level

After a full day of walking you head out to the pool to relax.  Or more correctly to the ten pools that are available.  Roaming through them all and finding one to your satisfaction you camp out for a few hours and relax.  Enjoy the drink service, quality chairs and towels, and clean water.  If you feel like partying don’t worry, there is a pool for that.

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The party pool having a Maxim event

Come night you make your way to one of the bars for a few drinks and quality conversation.  Perhaps you will watch one of the shows on offer in the many theaters or just maybe you feel like going clubbing.  Do as you wish as both the TAO club and the shows are some of the best in Vegas.  Have no fears of enjoying yourself and staying up to sunrise, as you have that incredible room to pass out in when you need to recuperate.

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Painted sky in the main square of the shops level

All in all the Venetian and Palazzo are probably the best places to stay in Las Vegas if you can swing it, and judging by the riff-raff roaming the floors, you can.

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Just a giant mask in the front of the Venetian