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.

IMG_1511.JPG
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.

IMG_1512
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.

IMG_1513.JPG
 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.

IMG_1514.JPG
Wheel, wood, water, and wuildings

Photos – Mada’in Saleh, Saudi Arabia

_MG_2423-Working.jpg
On the Threshold
_MG_2426-Working.jpg
The Three Mushroom Tombs(My nickname)
_MG_2427-High Hole.jpg
One High Doorway.  Ready for a flood of biblical proportions.
_MG_2428-Working.jpg
Three More Rooms
_MG_2434-Working.jpg
Such a Good Use of a Hill
_MG_2439-Working.jpg
I Could Have Done Better
_MG_2442-Working.jpg
Too Bad There Is No Scale Here, as This One Is Massive
_MG_2446-Working.jpg
King of the Tombs.  Just Two Thousand Years Too Late
_MG_2453-Working.jpg
The Beautiful Surrounding Countryside. 
_MG_2454-Working.jpg
Alone with 131 Tombs
_MG_2467-Working.jpg
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.

IMG_1545.JPG

A Facebook discussion/argument about the current state of Poland and Hungary

Me: Why are all my favorite countries going backwards? USA, Poland, Hungary. Damn you democracy letting the uninformed and idiots vote. Carry the torch and save us from ourselves France and Germany. And New Zealand just keep minding your own business and being awesome down in your corner.

Them: Is there something wrong with democracy in Poland? Oh wait, you mean those fake news? I wish the democracy was over, unfortunately it is sound and safe in my country.

Me: I am not in Poland at the moment so I cannot speak first hand about it but my other friends there disagree with you. And I’m sorry to hear that “fake news” has spread beyond the USA. So since the Economist, news channels, and my friends are all lying what is the real story?  I can speak first hand about Hungary becoming a shitty place. Everything the news and Economist report about my new home are true, so I find it difficult to believe they are lying about Poland having a shitty government. It is difficult to believe that the EU is making stuff up about Poland as well. A simple rule of thumb is that if the whole world is telling you that you are wrong then you probably are.

Them: well, many friends of mine both in Poland and in Hungary disagree with you too but we are probably “bigots”, “fascists” and you tell me what else, as the one enlightened by the Economist and CNN. Oh, you probably still believe in so called “independent” media.  “Eat shit, millions of flies can’t be wrong”

Me:  That escalated quickly. I was actually asking your opinion of what the lies are in Poland. Your response doesn’t help your point much. Plus a comparison of flies liking shit to humans judging humans is well played and effective. Excellent job of having an enlightened conversation. I have always considered you a friend and don’t mind if you have different beliefs. But you must be able to defend them instead of being aggressive and stupid.

Them:  Please, think independently. Don’t follow fake news just because the source makes itself look “cool”. You can do better than that. Read your comment on “thumb rule” again and then read mine so you’ll understand my point. Hopefully. I’m not saying that Polish government is great, I personally didn’t vote for them as they’re socialists and I am clearly not. But the whole furious attack from media, obviously independent, (the fact that they represent Germany’s political interest is a total coincidence and don’t even dare to think differently) is just outraging. The same with the UE institutions. They’re so ultra democratic, right? So why they can’t stand a democratically elected government, still, even now, supported by vast majority of Polish people? How does it work? Democracy is when all goes smoothly like Germany wants but when the majority of citizens in another country wants something else, it’s a threat to democracy? Erdogan in Turkey, if needed by the UE, is ok, he’s a very nice guy, respecting democratic rules and so on, but in Poland, where everybody is free to express his/her opinion and protest against whatever he/she pleases, democracy is in danger? Our government is finally trying to kick some mafias’ butts the opposition is throwing a tantrum simply because they’re loosing their privileges, that’s all. People, get a life! The UE should focus on solving its real problems. The West is unable to protect their own citizens from stupid attacks, but focuses on “national egoisms” in Eastern Europe instead.

Them:  Nobody respects or likes Erdogan, but right now he fills a need of the EU so they put up with him. It isn’t exactly a bombshell that countries and people do what is in their best interest at the moment, even if it makes them hypocritical. But Turkey is not part of the EU. Poland is, and Poland is not following EU rules, which are quite an important part of being a member. And that is why the EU is not “minding its own business”. If Poles do not want to follow the rules they should give back all the EU money they received, exit the union, and take their chances with Russia. That is an extreme example and I believe not what most Poles would want, but hopefully it gets my meaning across. Poland is EU business. But this is all vague chit-chat. I am still interested in the fake news part of your belief. Please pick any Economist story from the past year and tell me exactly what was false in it. Facts only please, no “some people said”, or “some people believe”. Remember that just because you don’t agree with something doesn’t make it “fake news”.

Them:  Sorry but I’ll pass here. I simply cannot argue with someone copy-pasting already digested media coverages, ready to use, without need to question them. It’d be an easy job for you as you’re constantly being provided with what to think and say. That’s why I’m so much agains the democracy as it’s just too easy to manipulate the public opinion. My tip: take extra care whenever in an article you see words like “nationalism”, “fascism”, “far-right” and other such commonly misused terms (often by your beloved the Economist to which “far-right” is virtually everything by now), especially if they come from sources defending “the only right opinions an intelligent, elite part of the society is expected to have”. If something is making you feel angry or outraged, it because it’s meant to do it. And regarding not following EU rules, don’t bother yourself with Poland, where Poles themselves want changes and support their government, which doesn’t have any implications on the other EU countries at all. Look what Germany is doing, accepting (inviting!) thousands of people from outside of the UE, without checking who they are and consulting other UE members. By not accepting them we (Poles, Hungarians etc) are the ones respecting the EU rules. Regarding leaving the EU and giving the money back, if we do so, will Germany give back the money they actually made in Poland? If the Economist and the other “enlightened” ones kindly shed the light on this topic and how many local businesses went bankrupt, instead of insisting that the EU cares so much about the democracy and wellbeing of Poles in general, let me know.  and regarding fake news: first thing coming to my mind, could you show me the Economist’s explanation on why they’re calling PiS (Law and Justice, the ruling party) as “far-right” and “winning the election because of spreading conspiracy theories” (the Economist, just after the elections and at least 3 times later), which theories PiS is spreading, what makes the Economist think they’re conspiracy ones? Being professionals they must have given some examples and clarifications, right? It must be me who missed that part. Obviously, the current situation is also explained in details, with all the historical background on how Polish juridical system has been formed after the communist era, with all the corruption scandals and other reasons which led to the current situation. Or they skipped that part as it would be just too long to read? Or maybe they just don’t want to touch it as the opposition, backing the corrupt judges, is pro German? Just a few things to keep in mind while watching news next time.

Me:  It is amazing how the whole world has split into two sides and cannot discuss or have moderate opinions. Please stop with the vague rhetoric and let us pick one topic to discuss. How about PiS and the Economist calling them far-right. They say this because the government is passing laws to exert control over the media, civil service, prosecutor’s office, police, and other offices, which in a democracy should be independent. Is this true or not? A simple yes or no please. Is the government trying to control and influence these institutions. And I do not remember reading that the Economist calls them far-right. I believe they say that the government is leaning to the far-right or heading that direction. I haven’t looked it up yet but will go through my old issues to check. And I’m sorry if you think so but Poland is no longer an independent country. It is part of the EU. It wasn’t forced upon you and you get the benefits of it so suck it up and accept the drawbacks as well. EU law says you must accept refugees to ease the burden on Italy and others so accept the damn refugees or fight to keep them out in EU court, but you cannot just refuse not to take them in. No picking and choosing what rules you like and which you don’t. It is all or none. An exact parallel is with the Muslim ban that Trump pushed through. It is ridiculous, sad, and illegal but it is currently law and being enforced while it goes through the court system. Sadly instead of going through the courts Poland and Hungary just refuse to take immigrants. So the system is still working in the USA(thankfully), but not in Hungary or Poland.  If you could explain to me exactly where the news is lying about Poland I will change my opinion and accept the Poland is doing great, but vague statements about Germany, the EU, and fake news are not convincing me.

No response from them……

 

 

 

Battle Creek, Michigan

Leaving freezing Chicago heading for Detroit you turn your car heater on full blast to melt the icicles that have formed in your hair.  Thankful that you have a car and not a Tauntaun you watch the city skyline fade as you head to the East side of Michigan.

Darn near the exact midpoint of your journey you come to a town called Battle Creek.  Wanting a break you get off the motorway and head downtown.  It must be a weekend as there is no traffic and nobody on the streets as you easily find a parking space smack dab in the center.  Getting out of the car you are first struck with the temperature.  It is like an oven compared with Chicago.  Leaving your heavy coat you start your exploration and quickly find a map.  Here you are hit with the motto of the town, “Cereal Capitol of the World”.  Intrigued you proceed towards a sign that reads “Tourist Information”.  Here is a little room full of cereal souvenirs and other knick-knacks.  You peruse for a bit, read the history of the town, and then leave without buying anything.

It turns out this is the home of Kelloggs and Post.  They appear to own the town.  Everything is named for them and about them.  The airport, the buildings, everything.  It is exactly the same relationship as GM in Detroit, and with the exact same result.  It is a dying place. Cereal is the only job opportunity.  That being said they are doing a fantastic job trying to survive.

As you roam the town you come across a quaint main street with the usual restaurants and shops and a single Starbucks.  As you pass behind the main street you are greeted with a fine river dwarfed by a fantastic high school rising behind it.  How has this building come to be in this place?  It belongs in a rich neighborhood of Washington D.C.  Extremely impressed you continue your walk, finding nice bike and walking paths and little parks. IMG_1560.JPG

What a surprising few hours you have spent.  It isn’t a beautiful place or very interesting but for some reason you like it.  Having seen everything this town has to offer you head back to your car.  Driving out of the town you come across other beautiful buildings of learning.  Their education budget must be very high.  You also notice for sale signs on houses and stop to look at a few, almost buckling your knees as you look at the prices.  Housing is ridiculously cheap.  Again amazed at this town you continue on and come across the lifeblood of this place.  The cereal factories.  There is little beautiful or impressive about a factory, and cereal isn’t exactly worth stealing, so you leave well enough alone continue on.  IMG_1562.JPG

Outside of town and before getting on the motorway you come to a lake.  Investigating more closely you find a quiet, pretty, clear, and peaceful lake.  Perhaps in the summer it gets busy and noisy but for now it is tranquil.  As you stand there you wonder if you would be happy living here, enjoying a cup of coffee or glass of wine on your balcony overlooking this lake. It is possible.  IMG_1566.JPG

Farewell Cereal Capitol of the World, we wish you the best.

Hearst Castle

Midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles along the Pacific Coast Highway lies a European castle.  In the middle of nowhere along the coast you arrive at sign for Hearst Castle.  Tired from driving you pull off the highway to see what it is about.  Passing row upon row of parking you arrive at an unimpressive building.  Saddened by what is the worst castle you have ever seen your gaze slowly drifts above this building and onto a large structure towering on a hill far in the distance.  Now that looks promising.  Further investigation reveals that your current location is only the visitors center.IMG_1187.JPG

Entering the front doors you are reminded of a bus terminal.  Walking past a small cafe to your left and a gift shop and restaurant on your right you arrive at the ticket counter.  Here you are presented with an array of tours.  The ticket agents(employees, park rangers, team members?), I’m not sure of their title, are more than happy to take the time to explain the differences to you and steer you to what you want.  Not only do you have to pick which tour you wish to join you also need to pick a time.  Do not be fooled into just picking the soonest slot as there are quite a few activities in the visitors center.  There are the aforementioned shops, a cinema showing the history of the castle and owner, a nice outdoor sitting area(though the birds are extremely aggressive), and I believe some other things.  When your scheduled time gets near you must line up at the proper gate near the ticket desk as buses take you up to the castle and different tours depart on different buses.  I guess the building gives the impression of a bus terminal for a good reason.IMG_1192.JPG

After queuing inside you take a short walk to a concrete shelter outside where you wait until called by the bus driver.  After this you queue again..just kidding.  Once you get a seat on the bus you can relax and enjoy the curving and elevating ride up to the castle.  The views and stunning and the buses audio fills your ears with information about the trip.  Explaining why there are animals on the hills near the road that have no natural business in California.  Such as that Zebra staring right at you.  IMG_1196.JPG

Most people would believe that a castle on the ocean would be right on the sea, but you would be mistaken.  This castle is far back from the sea high up on a hill.  Actually on the top of a hill with a commanding panoramic view and the ocean a tiny blue streak in the background.  You are taking all this in as your bus twists back and forth up this steep, meandering hill.IMG_1198.JPG

Once you reach the top you are ushered off the bus and assigned a tour guide and your journey begins.  Quite a bit of walking is involved as this is a large structure, as the name castle should have hinted to you.  Also there are quite a few stairs, again as the being on a hill should have been a giveaway.  The tour follows along the lines of most other tours.  If you have been to any other castles the format will be familiar to you.  Some interesting architecture, interesting rooms with interesting stories, a garden, a pool, so on and so on.  All very expensive and extravagant of course.  There is quite a bit of truly interesting information about the owner and castle so pay attention to your guide(or get the tour book at the gift shop, $19.95).  IMG_1199.JPG

Hearst Castle is a rest stop for those driving the Pacific Coast Highway.  Out in the middle of nowhere it is not worth a trip in itself, but it is absolutely worth a few hours of your time as a break from driving.  Enjoy this little piece of European aristocracy transplanted to the center of California.  IMG_1202.JPG

Morro Bay, California

The jewel of Morro Bay does not exist.  Like many, my first and only knowledge of Morro Bay came from the wonderful film Finding Dory.  The aquarium and area looked fantastic in the movie so we decided to spend a night here on our Pacific Coast journey.  Pulling into town we were somewhat disappointed.  It looked like any other small coastal town.  Little did we know then how severely disappointed we would be when walking along the coast looking for the aquarium. IMG_1167

We drove through the town to get to our hotel.  One of the drawbacks to traveling in the off season is that tourist towns look depressing, especially coastal tourist towns, and Morro Bay is no exception.  Our hearts sank driving the bland main street with its plain concrete strips of shops.  Not ones to give up we started bouncing funny and cute Dory quotes off each other to raise our spirits.  When we pulled up to our hotel we were quite a bit happier.  It had some nice flowers in the front and out towards the sea we had a view of Morro rock, which was looming large, quite beautiful and impressive. IMG_1171

Leaving the hotel we avoided the main street and instead directed our steps straight towards the ocean.  Walking down quite a steep hill we passed an RV park and a few hotels and hit a bay.  To our right was Morro Hill and a giant power station and to our left a road lined with shops.  To the left we went, passing shops that may have been open but without a customer to be seen.  The road was much the same.  A ghost town.  IMG_1184

From the start we were not satisfied.  The shops blocked any view of bay.  To see anything one had to use special sightseeing openings that took you behind the buildings to a dock.  It was quite annoying.  After looking out upon the bay for a while and taking some pictures with the rock in the background we headed for the aquarium, quite surprised that such a nice place as seen in the film would be located in this small town.  To our surprise(though we shouldn’t really have been surprised), the aquarium was nothing like in the movie.  It was a tiny little shack on the water.  We were bemused.  We shook our heads and passed on by, using what we think was the only Mexican restaurant in town to lift our spirits.  Unsurprisingly we were the only guests.  Here was the best part of our stay.  The food and drinks were good and our table overlooked the bay where we got to watch otters play in the water.  It was a much needed pick me up.  After dinner we went to our room and slept until leaving the next morning.IMG_1182

As always, Hollywood has exaggerated.  This time outdoing themselves.  There is nothing even remotely resembling the Morro Bay of Finding Dory fame.  Especially not a jewel.  The closest you will find is the excellent though bloody expensive Monterey Bay Aquarium about three hours North.  Plus that city is fantastic.  Do not waste a night in Morro Bay.  Stopping by for a few hours is more than enough.  Move along, nothing to see here.