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.

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.

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.

 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.

Wheel, wood, water, and wuildings

Las Vegas High Roller

Las Vegas is a city of extremes and its Ferris wheel is no exception.  At 550 feet(167.6m) it is the tallest in the world.  It opened in 2014 as the anchor of a new tourist area called The LINQ, which like everything else is located on the Strip.  There are twenty-eight large cabins, each capable of holding 40 persons except for when they change to a bar layout.

Walking into The Link from the Strip is like stepping into a towns main pedestrian street.  There are pubs and restaurants lining both sides of an immaculately clean and crowded pedestrian walkway.  Towering over the background is the High Roller.  During the day it is a massive white bicycle wheel spoke and at night it transforms into a stunning neon alien hula-hoop.  After sitting down for a meal and refreshing beverage you carry on towards the Ferris wheel, stopping to laugh and pose at the cupcake ATM.  IMG_1110.JPG

Like all tourist attractions you want to avoid the High Roller at peak time unless you enjoy standing in a queue for hours.  Time it correctly though and you can walk through the maze of twists and turns and escalators without so much as slowing down.  Shortly before getting to the boarding area there is a lobby with toilets and a bar, which are nice if you do get stuck in a queue.  At the boarding area you will be split into two groups depending of your ticket.  One for those with, and one for those without, the drinks package.  Thirty-eight of the cabins do not have a bar so there is usually a very short wait.  Being only two drinks cabins you have to wait fifteen minutes for one of the cabins to arrive, as it takes thirty minutes for a full rotation of the wheel.  While waiting you can get to know your fellow riders or, more likely, just stare as the massive wheel slowly spinning next to you.  When it is your turn to hop on you simply walk onto the cabin as it slowly glides by.  The High Roller does not stop or change speeds.  Do not be afraid of falling to your doom as there is a net below the loading area for those that have had one too many and have difficulty either seeing the cabin or controlling their legs.  IMG_1116.JPG

Once on board you can sit down if space allows or more likely stand so you can get a better view and view all sides. There are television screens above your head spouting out information about the journey.  Things are a bit different in the drinks cabin as the bar takes up a decent amount of space.  There is no order to the drinks ordering so it will depend on how pushy you are and how friendly your traveling companions are.  The one bartender will be overwhelmed at first but the drinks are well made and you will get yours faster than you think.  During the full rotation you could possibly pound quite a few if that is your thing but most people will just get through two drinks.  As the drink cabin is crowded, sticky, and noisy, and expensive, I would recommended drinking before and after the journey and just enjoy the rotation in the normal cabin.  Unless of course you are there to drink as much as you can then the drinks cabin may be worth it to you. IMG_1120.JPG

The view during the rotation is fabulous.  You will have excellent 360 degree views of the city and will tower above most of the giant hotels.  The television screens will announce when you reach the top, and then it is fifteen minutes back down to the bottom.  The whole ride is perfectly stable and uneventful.  The cabins are largely windowed so those with a fear of heights may be quite uncomfortable.  Once at the bottom of the rotation you simply step off your cabin and walk down a long ramp back to The Linq.  Again the safety net covers all open areas where you may feel a desire to walk off an edge.

The High Roller is a fantastic addition to the hundreds of other tourist attractions of this city.  Save some money from the gambling and prostitutes and instead go for a ride on this Ferris wheel.  Perhaps even purchase  a cupcake from a machine on your walk there.