Blogs > Millennial Traveler

New and traditional ways of exploring the globe, and your own backyard.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Sears (Willis) Tower is 283 Barack Obamas Tall

I'm getting hungry just looking at this again...

A view of Chicago's streets with the Sears (Willis) Tower

July 2

We met up with Kathy, Jess' cousin, who used to live with Jess growing up in Central New York. She put in a reservation for our group and we went across the street to Bloomingdale's to wait for our party to be called in - it was a busy Friday night at Pizzeria Due.

Pizzeria Due, I've been told, was started by the same people who own the rights to Pizzeria Uno. Located at 619 N. Wabash Ave (phone#: 312-943-2400), they are actually right down the street from the original Pizzeria Uno. The second pizzeria was started as a place for the local residents to go, while Uno's was more of a tourist attraction.

I've also been told that you'll find some food items at that nearby Uno's that you won't actually find at the chain locations since the franchise owners mainly buy the name and not the recipes. I can't speak for Uno's, but Due's was very good!

The deep dish - of course we got a deep dish - was impressive. Huge would be the word I would use, actually. There were huge chunks of sausage and peppers and the tomato sauce was great (this coming from someone who grew up in an Italian/Sicilian household).

Just one slice and salad filled me up.

Adam then convinced me to go up the Sears Tower, now called the Willis Tower since the majority of the building is used by the company now.

I was hesitant because I was still tired from driving and the long day the day before, but I realized it was a good day to go up 1,451 feet - there was not a cloud in the sky and the view would be great.

So, Jess' cousins were nice enough to drop us off in front of the building and we went inside. Surprisingly, for a clear Friday evening, there was not a very large line. We maybe waited a total of 20 minutes when they are obviously prepared - with interactive exhibits - for an hours-long wait.
Did you know that the tower is 262 Micheal Jordans tall, or 283 Barack Obamas?

Completed in 1974, it was the tallest building in the world for about 25 years.

I really enjoyed looking at Chicago's architecture - both on street level and from 108-stories up. It's old yet modern. There was glass, steal, wood, and stone - sometimes all used for the same building. And they have a lot of detail.

There was a large stone building in front of the Art Institute with just countless windows, and a honeycomb-shaped parking garage - though the cars looked like they would fall into the Chicago River.

With such a flat area surrounding the city, these buildings are some of the tallest things - manmade or natural - in the region. There are no foothills of the Adirondacks here, or Catskill Mountains, or Berkshires or Green Mountains. Nothing of the sort for the buildings to compete with.

It made me wonder what makes men want to build the tallest things and why do we want to climb them? Why do we want to see the biggest, the tallest, fattest, oldest first things?

Americana meets modern....I guess it's these curiosities that drive the desire for road trips like mine.

Quote of the day: "New Yooork" - a guy who let us merge in with him outside Chicago

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A vagina-shaped building in Chicago, eh?

Smurfit-Stone Building in Chicago
Millennium Park

July 2

Following the Art Institute of Chicago, we then met up with Kevin (Jess's cousin-in-law). He took us to Grant Park, where A Taste of Chicago is going on. I saw a lot of different types of food, ie collard green egg rolls. And there were a lot of people.

We walked to the lake shore and it was vast, with a lot of boats and people enjoying the beautiful day. The city is on Lake Michigan.

There was a nearby park with troughs in the ground where sweaty residents and tourists alike were bathing their feet.

Beyond that, we went to the Millennium Park - a 24.5 acre park with various interestingly-shaped sculptures including what one museum employee called the Jellybean. This was a tall, wide, metal, silver sculpture which reflects the skyscrapers and people nearby. It's actually called Cloud Gate and was designed by Anish Kapoor. This is near a pavillion with a metal, criss-crossing, open air roof which offered fun opportunities of city photos.

On our last trip, I was disappointed we weren't able to go, so I was happy we went this time around.

This part of the park has origins from 1998 when the city wanted to add to Grant Park to cover some old railroad tracks.

We had a good vista of the city from here and Kevin, an architecture fan, explained how one feminist architect had designed one of the city's buildings to look like a vagina, since most buildings are phallic-looking. Upon further research, I found this urban myth had unfortunately been debunked but it still makes for an interesting looking structure.

While there, we also started to hear A Taste of Chicago's finale with Rob Thomas.

From here, we took a taxi to Pizzeria Due. This was the first time I had seen a credit card machine in a taxi. I don't take taxis often, so they may have been around for a while but I'd just never used one. I thought it was very inventive and high-tech.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Louvre of Chicago

I am realizing when we finally ease Adam into driving, we could play a heck of a game of Barns Shacks and Silos (a drinking game I was introduced to in college where you drink every time you see a barn, shack, or silo).

Ohio is about what I remembered from the train trip last year - it's flat.

Woke up today around 6:30 a.m. and got a free breakfast with our hotel stay at the adjacent TrueNorth gas station. We were on the road by 7:45 a.m.

It's a beautiful day - good temperature and blue, clear sky.

We passed fake buffalo near Buffalo (yesterday), Kent State, and a Rutherford B. Hayes site near Fremont/Port Clinton exit off I-90.

We ended up stopping in Indiana to see the University of Notre Dame's football field and tour the campus and surrounding community. This is where I saw the random painted leprechaun-looking fire hydrant.

I'm looking forward to seeing Lake Michigan in Chicago.

We arrived in Chi-town, as some of my friends tend to call it, and were greeted by bumper-to-bumper traffic. Which was nice in a way because it was slow and gave us opportunity to take photos of the skyscrapers and a weird Halloween/Michael bobblehead in the car behind us.

After about 40 minutes or so of that, we found our way to Jess' cousins' place near the Artists District and Oak Park area of Chicago's west suburbs.

The residential neighborhood was very cute; nice single-family homes. Her cousins purchased a condo and were married last year. Jess brought their wedding gift, a Jess original painting.

I was especially excited I wouldn't have to pay for parking.

We took the train in and I somehow remembered how to get to the Art Institute, which we went to last year as well during our train layover.

Adam and I went to the basement first and an old museum employee told us about the miniature exhibit where a woman who married into the Montgomery-Ward family visited homes around the world and made replicas of rooms using all the same materials like marble, jade, crystal,etc. It was impressive.

The whole museum is immense. I found it more intimidating than the Louvre in size. It has works like American Gothic by Grant Wood, Un Dimanche d’été à l’Île de la Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, and The Guitar by Pablo Picasso. They had an Impressionism collection that could match the Musee D'orsay in Paris.

They had, it seemed, a dozen Monets, Cezannes, Renoirs, Vuillards, Gaugins and a new one to me, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who reminded me of Degas with some dancer paintings and quasi-action portraits of ballerinas. There were some interesting Rodins as well and it's fun seeing the Frederic Remington Western sculptures and paintings since his family lived in Ogdensburg, near where I went to college.

I enjoyed the Homer Winslow fisherman painting and Childe Hassam's work as well. And I saw a familiar Mary Cassatt of a Spanish man.

I spent nearly three hours at the museum - the same amount of time I was in the Louvre.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Love Affair with the Road

(left: Adam and I putting our fingers on the Finger Lakes sign)

(right: driving by the accident on I-90...not sure why I look so happy about it, hm)

July 1

Woke up around 5 a.m., though Jonathan let me sleep a little longer. I thought I would be able to go back to sleep a bit before work, but instead I re-packed since not all of my clothes would fit in my big backpack. So, I decided to use the bag I used to suitcase-around-Europe in 2004.

Considering the hectic workday, I got out relatively early - though still an hour-ish later than I had wanted. But, I average being about an hour late to most things anyway.

Packed up the car easily enough at my parents after meeting Jess E. at work.

We - myself, my 18-year-old brother, and 27-year-old Jess - got on the road around 3 p.m. but stopped in Troy for food and then in Menands for gas.

I may have been planning this for several months, but I never actually looked at the driving route apparently because I did not realize I-90 would take us to Chicago.

I've never driven this west before; just taken the train....for a total of 79 hours last summer (from Albany to Colorado and back....yeaaaah....).

While on the road, we unexpectedly hit traffic near Exit 28 at around 5 p.m. We were stuck for at least 30 minutes. It wasn't rush hour traffic though, it was an accident.

We finally got near the accident and saw emergency vehicles and then a charred pick-up truck with a horse trailer. It was a dismal scene. And smelled gross.

Jess said it smelled like dead bodies. I realized it also kinda smelled like glue. I'm assuming the horse did not make it.

We stopped in the Finger Lakes to get gas and switch drivers. I'm hoping to get gas around half-a-tank so we won't be stuck anywhere out in the middle of nowhere.

I almost left my purse at the Dunkin Donuts at the rest stop.

I settled into the backseat and looked at old photos on my phone --I already missed my friends, family and boyfriend a lot, and it had only been a few hours. They are all very important to me.

Until I'm reunited with everyone, I guess I'll be having a love affair with the road.

We stopped at a rest area in Ohio and found a book of hotel discounts. We used one at the Red Roof Inn near Cleveland where we stayed the night after driving until about 11:30 p.m.

It was very cool seeing the sun still out at around 10 p.m.

Quote of the Day: "Kill them." ~ Weird Al (yeah, you'd have to listen to the horoscope song)

Monday, July 19, 2010

The good, the bad, and the unusual

I've been a bad travel blogger these past few weeks that I have been on my cross-country road trip. Part of the problem was that I did not bring a computer but the other problem was that I was being a bit lazy when I was not driving. Can you blame me?

I did keep a written journal and realized how much easier it is to type than use a pen and pad - especially when writing in a bouncing moving vehicle in 100-degree heat.

I plan to put daily selections of my trip on here later this week, but I thought I would start with a teaser: a list of the best, worst, and weirdest parts of my trip.



Favorite Visited City: Aspen, Colorado (There is a perfect blend of civilization and natural beauty in this mountain oasis. It'd probably be even cooler to visit in the winter when you can ski right into the city and sometimes even into the hotels).

Least Favorite City: Beebe, Arkansas (Mainly because we were stuck there in an end-of-the-world thunderstorm which had lightning going off every five seconds in every direction in the sky. Also, this was the first town we came to which we went to check into a hotel and there were no vacancies).

City With the Worst Reputation But I Found It Cool Anyway: Atlanta, Georgia. (My cousin lives in downtown Atlanta and her first advise to me was to put anything at all, valuable or not, out of sight in my car if I was parking it on the street. There's obviously a crime problem, but the city has so much to offer. In the two days we were there, we went to a professional baseball game, went to the new World of Coca-Cola, went through an African Art Festival in the Olympic Park and ate at a restaurant owned by Ted Turner. To top it all off, I was parked in a two-hour spot for about 20 hours and did not even get a ticket. Still, I could see how some spots could be sketchy, especially the Atlanta Underground Mall after dark).

Favorite National Park: Yellowstone (It may be one of THE most touristy places I have been in my life, but it is this for good reasons. There are amazing and diverese attractions here from geysers to mountains).

Favorite National Park Attraction: the Tuolumne Sequoia Grove at Yosemite (It is not as large or famous as the park's other sequoia groves but that was part of the appeal since there weren't people everywhere and you could enjoy the amazing larger-than-life scenery).

Least Favorite Aspect of a National Park: the heat at the Arches National Park in Utah (I was all set to do the hike to the famous Delicate Arch....until I found out it was six miles round trip and in 90-degree heat. No, thank you. I took the 1 mile round trip route instead).

Biggest Food Craving: a Bison Burger (yes, they're cool animals but you get a little annoyed at them when they cause a 40-minute traffic jam. I finally ate a bison burger at Ted's Montana Grill in Atlanta. Mmm. It was worth the wait).

Favorite New Food: a Sapopilla with honey. (I had a feeling I would like Southwest food, and I was right. This is fried bread with honey. Delicious).

Weirdest Food That I Saw: Collard Greens Egg roll (We went to the Taste of Chicago festival and I saw that. I did not have the courage to try it).

Weirdest Food That I Tried: a Whole Fried Shrimp (I went to a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown where they eat the whole shrimp - shell and all. Um, it wasn't bad).

Most Bizarre Roadside Attraction: the Largest Skillet in the World (that about says it all).

Runner up bizarre attractions: the 50-foot Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, Minnesota and the largest cross in the hemisphere in Texas.

Coolest Americana: a motorcycle owned by Elvis and the General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard (both were featured at an auto museum in South Dakota).

Most Interesting Museum: The Battle of Little Big Horn museum in Montana (It depicted both sides of the tragic battle in an easy-to-comprehend way).

Weirdest Museum: the Museum of Spam in Minnesota (We got there just as it was closing but definitely one of the reasons I want to go back to Minnesota. How random yet awesome).

Friendliest Tour Guides: the International Guides at the Headquarters of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (my guides were from Ghana and the Philippines and even though they were obviously trying to convert me, they were extremely nice in the process and showed me around the immense property and huge 21,000-seat convention center).

Biggest Disappointment: that Mount Rushmore wasn't bigger (don't get me wrong, it was cool and all, but it was kinda like seeing the Mona Lisa: you expect this huge, grand thing but it's just not quite what you expected).

Attraction that I don't think will ever be finished: the Crazy Horse Monument in South Dakota (it's very impressive and much larger than Mount Rushmore but it is not even close to finished yet and they've been working on it since the 40s).

Most Random Fire Hydrant: a Painted Fire Hydrant outside of the University of Notre Dame (it looked like a little person, possibly a leprechaun).

Most Beautiful Drive: Route 1 Pacific Coast Highway in California (I had been looking forward to this part of the trip for months. It was everything I imagined - blue skies, sharp turns, tropical plants and picturesque large rocks jutting out of the coast).

Most Surprisingly-Beautiful Drive: The route off of I-90 to the Devil's Tower (We passed mountains, red soil, red rocks, rivers, plains, forests. I guess I had always imagined Wyoming to be boring, but it was anything but).

Favorite What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas Moment: I can't tell you. That's against the rules.

Best Hotel: Rodeway Inn and Suites near Deadwood, South Dakota (THE most comfortable beds, EVER. Not to mention, the pool, jacuzzi and breakfast).

Best Gas Station: Love's (with a name like that, it has to be awesome).

Favorite Part of Trip: Visiting Family (some of which I had never met before - in Aspen, Atlanta, and Delaware).

Second Favorite Part of Trip: Knowing I made it home without any major incidents (aside from the chipped windshield and almost lost purse).

What I Learned About Advertising: If you put dozens signs for something miles ahead of time, people will stop (it worked with the Wall Drug signs and the Corn Palace signs in South Dakota).

My End of Trip (Music) Epiphany: There are way too many people who listen to country music, and I should probably invest in satellite radio before the next trip.

My End of Trip (Actual) Epiphany: The United States of America may be united under one name but the areas are so different and unique in their own ways. I'm amazed that settlers made it out west before roads considering all of the obstacles - the great Mississippi River, canyons, the Sierra Nevadas, the Rockies. It was hard enough for my Nissan to traverse these. But, I also realized I want to see more and another road trip is definitely in order.