Where most cities decide to use their islands for special purposes, say an historic prison or superb park, Chicago decided to go a different route and make an island of industry. This is no natural island though. It came into being by the city dredging a canal in the beautiful Chicago river to break off the east side.
On the south side sits a college that once housed the headquarters of Sara Lee. Across the muddy river from it runs a large concrete plant where gravel is still brought in by barge.
Covering the east of the island are a Greyhound bus maintenance terminal, large mini-storage building, and solid waste transfer station.
The west side has a very sad boat dock and a Lexus car maintenance building(with the dealer being just the other side of the river), and a hazardous waste recycling building.
The center of the island houses an assortmant of industry and many small startup companies. Automotive mechanic shops abound as well as grocery store distributors, a huge CTA materials warehouse, and a Fedex distribution center. To top it off there is a dog hotel on the island.
The north side is the only section pleasing to the eye as the Mars(Wrigley) company has a few modern and attractive buildings with well mainicured, and well fenced, landscaping.
There is no reason for a tourist or even a local that is not employed on the island to visit it, unless you are one of the poor souls that must commute across Division Street. That lone street being the only way to cross the island, where walking is usually faster than driving.
It is a shame this island has not been turned into a city park. It is made for it. A short walk from the beautiful neighborhoods of Wicker Park(Noble Square) to the west, Lincoln Park(Old Town or Cabrini-Green) to the east, River west to the south, and just across a bridge to the north for Lincoln Park(Ranch Triangle).
Come on Chicago and turn this dump of brick buildings and concrete into a fantastic park worthy of this great city where geese actually roam and grass and trees grow.
The Chicago Skyline
A Mars Building
A Few Startups plus Dog Hotel
A Grocery Chain watches over Division Street
East Side with a Modern High-Rise
Another Fancy Mars Building
The FedEx Building with Chicago in the Background
A Concrete Plant with Empty Gravel Barge(Not on the island)
It was early in the morning when I got on the plane in Budapest. Excited, but already tired, knowing that I have a twelve hour of journey ahead of me. I was traveling alone(like usual), which generally does not make me feel worried or anxious. However this time it was a completly different story.
I am an Eastern-European blonde and blue eyed women looking forward to be reunited with her American husband in the Kindom of Saudi Arabia, where he worked instructing new Saudi firefighters.
I had to change planes at Frankfurt airport, where the culture difference became crystal clear. It was amazing how different the crowd getting on the plane was from my last flight. This was my first time seeing a man in a thobe, the traditional Saudi attire, and women wearing the abaja, covering their whole body and head in black fabric, though not all were dressed like this.
During boarding I found my assigned seat occupied by a Saudi man. No problem I thought, it is alright and happens fairly often. I will just ask him to move.
… Oh if I had only known…
The man immediately called a hard-working Philippino stewardess to his rescue, explaining to her that he wanted that seat and refuses to sit next to me so they will have to find me another seat. I felt a bit embarrassed, but was ready to find myself a new seat and avoid this rude man. Here I came across some more difficulties and learned a bit about their culture, as more and more Saudis refused to sit next to me, regardless of their gender or age. At the end, as the outcast of the plane, i found peace next to an old Indian man who was more than delighted to have me as his traveling companion for the hours to come.
After listening to the “Prayer of the Travelers” from the Holy Koran, which played on the monitors, the plane took off and I was finally on my way to the amazing Kingdom of sand, camels and terrible coffee…which all deserve their own story.
Owing to a keen and unfortunate ability of mine, known as bad luck, I purchased a flight from Budapest to San Francisco on Air Berlin days before they declared bankruptcy. Unable to change or refund my flight I settled in for what might turn out to be an unfortunate trip, though assurances from the German government and Lufthansa that operations would continue lifted my hopes.
The day of my flights arrived and all looked well. Both flights were listed as on-time. Check-in in Budapest was uneventful and my flight left on time. The only issue was a girl that must have partied too hard or been drugged passing out shortly after take off. Sad for her but did not have an effect on the flight.
Tegal airport was a different story. This terrible airport is an awful place on the best of days, but this day it exceeded itself. The terminal was a mess of stranded travelers. Feeling sorry for these poor souls I saw my flight to San Francisco was good I got a pretzel and beer and waited to escape Tegal. Come boarding time we were informed that our flight was delayed twenty minutes without a reason given. No need to worry. Delays are understandable given the circumstances the airline is under. Twenty minutes later we are told the flight is canceled and to get on a bus to take us to baggage claim. Again no reason or apology is forthcoming. Rumor on the bus was that crews were taking sick days so the airline could not fly the planes. Understanable reaction by people about to lose their jobs but quite annoying to people trying to get home or go on vacation.
Figuring that I would be transfered to a Lufthansa flight quickly I was not worried too much, but oh how I should have worried. Being one of the last to get my luggage I was greeted by all 300 passengers in the rebooking queue in front of me. I would stand here, with many bathroom breaks, for six hours. Air Berlin dumped all of us on three airport staff to rebook over 300 people. Happy and positive when it came my turn I rebooked on Lufthansa through Frankfurt the next day. When I asked for a hotel she almost laughed at me and said Air Berlin will not pay for anything but I could write to them complaining. I thought this was against international law as this cancellation was not an “act of god” but was the airlines fault. I guess they didn’t care since they didn’t really exist anymore. So I paid out of pocket for hotel and food and went to sleep. The next day I flew on beautiful Lufthansa without a hitch, recognizing many people from the day before.
I wrote to Air Berlin asking them to pay for my hotel and food and also to change my return flight to Lufthansa since they were unreliable. Two months later and I have yet to hear a peep from them. Though I was nervous waiting at the gate for my return flights both went off without so much as a delay. I guess some of the crews still enjoyed flying.
I will miss Air Berlin a little. I had enjoyed their planes and crews up until they declared bankrupcy. They had severe headwinds in the forms of a terrible airport hub and Lufthansa as competition, but they did well. Now that they are gone I hope Berlin will tear Tegal down and replace it. Then perhaps Air Berlin can rise from the grave and try again.
Farewell Air Berlin. You join Malev in airlines that I have liked and lost during my time.
Vrsic mountain pass is the most amazing road I have ever been on. Full stop.
Between Kobarid and Kranjska Gora is a massive mountain range. To travel between the two our GPS wanted us to go through Italy and avoid the mountains, but halfway along we came to a road sign that had a different opinion of which road to take. Trusting physical items over modern technology I, to the disapproval of my misses, turned off our GPS blue line.
Towards the mountains and away from Italy we go. A light rain accompanies us on our journey. All is well and good as we drive through a narrow river valley between two mountain ranges and driving towards a third. Just as it looks like we will end up driving into the mountain we come to a hairpin turn. Then another, and another, and another. All the while climbing nearly vertical.
Apparently there are 49 of these hairpins. After about thirty of them we came to some construction workers. At this level the rain was turning into slush. No worries. It is only September and I’m used to driving in snow, so a little slush is childs play. Past these workers we climb and climb at about 20kph. Slush turns to light snow and then quickly to heavy snow. Within two minutes our view has turned completely white. Gone is the green from the trees and black of the road. I can see the summit in the very near distance but make the difficult decision that we cannot make it in our little car with summer tires. It hurts but better same than sorry.
Looking for a place to turn around we are waved down by a man coming down the mountain. Stopping and getting out to talk to him he informs us that around the corner about eight cars are stuck in the snow. He recommends turning around. Not one to argue we slowly make an about face and retrace our path at a crawling pace. Testing the brakes to see if ice is forming I am taking by surprise as we start sliding. It appears there may be a teeny bit of ice. Slowing our pace to that of a snail we decend and in about ten minutes time are back in the slush and rain. It was a close call but made for a fantastic memory and a beautiful view and experience. Plus because of the snow we got to take the long way and see a small bit of Italy.
Vrsic Mountain Pass is a fantastic piece of tarmac, built by Russian prisoners of war during the first world war. There is a Russian church at the summit built by the prisoners in memory of those killed while making it. Credit is due to them for being able to build a road straight up the side of a mountain. The views are also supposed to be spetacular. There are pull-in and picnic areas, as well as many hiking paths(From what I read as we never made it). Do bring a four wheel drive or winter tires for late Autumn and early Spring(and of course Winter)!.
Toast and coffee in hand(and mouth), I stare out the window of the cafe pondering if Slovenia is the most beautiful country I have been to. Not this exact location per se, as this area of Maribor, the second largest city of a whopping 90,000 population, is drab communist concrete and grey. The overcast skys and rain don’t help raise the atmosphere. My current view aside, the country on a whole is in league with New Zealand and other top players.
This tiny country of two million sits comfortably between Italy, Austria, Croatia, and Hungary. The Eastern portion is made up of rolling hills that flatten out as you enter Hungary. The West is full of majestic mountains, there is a beautiful lake near the center, and for beachlovers there is a tiny coastline in the Southwest. The Soca river is a beautiful glacier color. As far as nature goes the country is perfect. Tunnels and bridges are commonplace and offer fantastic views of the countryside. The roads are perfect, like pretty much everything else. Slovenia is using EU money extremely well, unlike some other recipients(I’m looking at you Hungary and all your missing EU cash).
The people are fantastic as well. Most speak English as well as a few other languages. Croatian, Serbian, Italian, German being quite popular. They are nice and service was top notch. The service industry doesn’t ignore you as Eastern European countries do and they aren’t begging for tips or sales as Americans do. My number one compliment to the people is to acknowldge their cleanliness. There was no rubbish to be seen. Not in city centers, roadsides, or on mountain trails. I take that back, I did see rubbish in dumpsters and trash cans. I was amazed. I have never seen such a well taken care of country.
Slovenia is not just for nature lovers, though it is a paradise for hiking, biking, camping, skiing, motorbiking, paragliding, kayaking, climbing, and all other outdoor pursuits. It is also rich in World War I history. The mountains were the setting for massive battles between the Austo-Hungarians and Italians. You can still walk through the trenches and see the defensive lines. Russian prisioners of war built the most impressive road I have ever been on. It climbs straight up a mountain with dozens of switchbacks. Many were killed building it and so the survivors built a pretty memorial church at the top of the pass to honor them. My apologies to owls and partiers, I have no idea about Slovenian nightlife.
Food is a mix of neighboring countries. Slovenia does not have its won food culture. Sorry foodies. The pizza is delicious and the local beer, Lasko, tastes like an IPA to me. I wasn’t a fan.
Even the small things are awesome. One example is that speed cameras are everywhere but there are multiple warning signs well before all of them. It appears to be impossible to get a speeding ticket even if you drive with blinders on.
It does rain a lot, but that is to be expected in any green country. I love the rain and having coffee on foggy mornings so this isn’t a negative to me. Bring a jacket and remember that water dries and doesn’t hurt.
Visit Slovenia as soon as possible. See Lake Bled, camp in the mountains, kayak the Soca, and take a city break in Ljubljana(just hope you never need to spell it). Hell, if you pay my way I’ll join you and be your personal guide. You will get a small amount of information wrapped in layers of sarcasm and wit.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.