Travel Review-Chicago

For our wedding anniversary Robin and I decided to take a 3 day vacation to Chicago.  We also made the decision to leave the car at home and let Amtrak do the driving.  Neither of us had ever traveled by train so we were looking forward to the new experience.

Booking Amtrak is easy.  Their website is intuitive and works just like the airlines booking engines.  We selected Galesburg as our point of departure, although we could have chosen Kewanee or Princeton also.  Total round-trip train fare: $76 for two passengers.

We arrived at Galesburg, Illinois at 7:10 AM on Friday for our 7:43 departure.  Parking was convenient right in front of the train station.  Scanning the barcode I received in my email from Amtrak was easy.   You just walk up to the kiosk, hold the barcode up to the machine and your tickets print out.  So simple!  A ticket agent is on duty to help if you have trouble.

Waiting at train station

Waiting at train station

Illinois Zephyr arrives

Illinois Zephyr arrives

Being a seasoned air traveler I expected to have to squeeze our carry-on bags into a small overhead and then sit with my knees firmly implanted into the seat in front of me.  This was not the case.  The overhead cargo area was huge and seating was amazingly comfortable and spacious.  The ride was smooth and fast and it was fun watching the scenery pass by through the oversized windows.  Why did we ever give up train travel as a primary means of transportation?

Below is a review of the things we enjoyed while in Chicago.

Lodging: The Palmer House Hilton, 17 East Monroe Street in the Loop.  The Palmer House is an iconic Chicago landmark.  Location is convenient and the stately lobby is breathtaking.  The rooms are lovely and every staff person we dealt with was highly trained in the art of hospitality.  In-room internet access did come with a daily price tag which varied with your choice of access speed.  Our room was booked using our website,  www.myblacktieconcierge.com,  and we got an excellent rate.  By the way, they usually have very interesting and unique music playing in their public areas.  The theme even carries through to their website.  It’s a very clever marketing strategy that I like.

Palmer House Grand Lobby Ceiling

Palmer House Grand Lobby Ceiling

Dining:

Gibsons Bar and Steakhouse.  Located on Chicago’s Gold Coast at 1028 North Rush Street, Gibson’s has a reputation as a place to see and be seen.  The walls are covered with photos of celebrities who have eaten there.  We arrived for Sunday lunch after church and were seated promptly.  Their menu is legendary and features items in all price ranges.  We both enjoyed a bowl of their famous Bookbinders soup, which was delicious.  Our entre’s were top notch, large quantities and reasonably priced.

Italian Village 71 W Monroe in the loop.  Three separate and distinct dining areas are located here. We ate upstairs in “The Village”.  Our food was phenomenal (lasagna and cannelloni) and we also enjoyed watching an Andrea Bocelli concert on the TV screen while we dined.

Beef and Brandy. 127 S State Street.  We actually ate here twice, once for breakfast and once for late afternoon dinner.  It was conveniently located next to the State Street Palmer House entrance.  Beef and Brandy is very ‘80s decor featuring decent food at very reasonable prices.  Nothing fancy.  Of particular note, they offer sweet potato fries and liver and onions.

Big food portions at Beef 'n Brandy

Big food portions at Beef 'n Brandy

Entertainment:

Jersey Boys.  This Broadway Production has been playing an extended run at the Bank of America Theatre since October of 2007.  It is the story of Franki Valli and the Four Seasons rise to fame in the mid 60’s.  Those of you who have seen the show earlier may want to go again, as several of the main cast members have been replaced by new talent this spring.  Highly, highly recommended!  We purchased our tickets at the box office roughly 3 hours before the show started.

Jersey Boys-Bank of America Theatre on Monroe

Jersey Boys-Bank of America Theatre on Monroe

Misc:

On Friday and Sunday our feet were our primary means of transportation but we used Chicago Trolley on Saturday.  They feature double-decker open top buses that you can hop on and hop off at your convenience.  This was a great way to get around and see everything.  Tour guides were on each trolley and they were all very courteous and entertaining.

Other places we visited:

Navy Pier-a great place to see and do a lot!  Of course, the Ferris Wheel is very popular!

Navy Pier Ferris Wheel-Chicago is the birthplace of the Ferris Wheel

Navy Pier Ferris Wheel-Chicago is the birthplace of the Ferris Wheel

Gardens and Fountains at Navy Pier

Gardens and Fountains at Navy Pier

John Hancock Observatory

Adler Planetarium

Moody Bible Institute-we took the 2:00 PM tour on Friday afternoon and learned a lot from our student tour guide from Jamaica.  The Moody Bible Campus is one of Chicago’s best kept secrets.

Moody Church-The historic Church on North Lasalle Blvd was our place of worship Sunday morning.  Excellent music and inspiring worship!

Millennium Park-recently completed park next to Grant Park features a giant mirrored kidney bean shaped sculpture(technically it is called the Cloud Gate) and L.E.D. fountains that spray water from the mouths of facial images.  Very entertaining and unique!  There is also a state-of-the-art music venue and a lovely garden.  This facility was under construction the last time we visited Chicago.

Millennium Park Fun

Millennium Park Fun

Moody Church

Moody Church

Lake Shore Drive from Hancock Observatory

Lake Shore Drive from Hancock Observatory

There’s always something going on in Chicago and we are fortunate to live so close.  We are looking forward to the day when the Quad Cities has Amtrak service to Chicago!

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Day Trip to Fulton’s Dutch Days Festival

Fulton's signature attraction-authentic working windmill

Fulton's signature attraction-authentic working windmill

On the first weekend in May the city of Fulton Illinois stages its annual Dutch Days Festival in honor of the city’s Dutch Heritage.  This year, 2009, was the 35th anniversary of the festival.  Since Fulton is my hometown and my ancestors are from the Netherlands I enjoy attending the festival whenever my schedule permits.

My wife and I were pleased to be able to drive up Route 84 along the Mississippi River to Fulton this year on a sunny  Saturday in May.  The drive is only one hour from the Quad Cities.  We arrived in time to enjoy the Dutch Street Dancing, the craft fair, the street scrubbing and the parade.

Here are some photos from the event:

Authentic Dutch Street Dancing

Authentic Dutch Street Dancing

Large crowds browse crafts from all over the Midwest

Large crowds browse crafts from all over the Midwest

Parade can't take place until streets have been properly scrubbed.

Parade can't take place until streets have been properly scrubbed.

Restored dairy truck featured in parade

Restored dairy truck featured in parade

Complete information about the city of Fulton, its attractions and lodging can be found at the city’s website.
Fulton's newest attraction, the Windmill Cultural Center is nearing completion.

Fulton's newest attraction, the Windmill Cultural Center is nearing completion.

Restored 1950 Sheriff's Squad Car was a big hit.

Restored 1950 Sheriff's Squad Car was a big hit.

Great Day Trips – The Milwaukee Art Museum

Once the weather warms up here’s a great idea for a day trip that is only a few hours from the Quad Cities.  We visited the Milwaukee Art Museum a couple years ago and really enjoyed it.

The museum is located on Lincoln Memorial Drive at Michigan Street on the shores of Lake Michigan in Downtown Milwaukee.  The museum has a very striking appearance, both inside and out.

Milwaukee Art Museum-Exterior View-Photo By Tim Schaver

Milwaukee Art Museum-Exterior View-Photo By Tim Schaver

The exterior features a sail or wing-like sunscreen that can open and close.  Unprecedented in American architecture, the Burke Brise Soleil, is a moveable, wing-like sunscreen that rests on top of the Museum’s vaulted, glass-enclosed Windhover Hall. The “wings” open Tuesday-Sunday at 10 a.m. with the Museum, close/reopen at noon, and close again with the Museum at 5 p.m.; except on Thursdays when the Museum closes at 8 p.m. This schedule is, however, subject to change without advance notice due to weather, special events, or maintenance.

Photo By Tim Schaver

Photo By Tim Schaver

While the Burke Brise Soleil has a wingspan comparable to that of a Boeing 747-400, its two ultrasonic wind sensors automatically close the wings if the wind speed reaches 23 mph or greater.

The reception hall of the museum is just as interesting as the exterior. Awash in white with exquisite marble flooring, this magnificent light-filled grand reception hall boasts a 90-foot-high glass ceiling located directly below the Burke Brise Soleil and serves as the gateway to the Museum. The site of exhibition openings, brunches, weddings, and art fairs, among other special events, Windhover Hall-whose lake side is often compared to the prow of a ship-is open to the public without charge during regular Museum hours.

Windhover Hall Interior - Photo By Tim Schaver

Windhover Hall Interior - Photo By Tim Schaver

If the building itself wasn’t enough, of course, there’s the art!  For information on exhibits and a calendar of events please visit the museum’s web site.  And if you wish to make your adventure more than a day trip we are always happy to help you with the travel and lodging arrangements.   Book online or call me and I can do all the work for you.

Enjoy life!  Travel more!

Thinking About Summer

After another morning of shoveling snow I decided to warm up by looking at some old photographs of warmer times.  I ran across some photos of our bicycle trip to the Sugar River Trail in Wisconsin back in the summer of 2003.  It was one of the hottest days of the year.  Plenty of humidity and no refreshing breeze.  Quite different from today’s cold north winds and blowing snow.

A Scene On The Sugar River Trail

A Scene On The Sugar River Trail

Covered Bridge On The Trail

Covered Bridge On The Trail

The Sugar River Trail features a covered bridge near Brodhead Wisconsin.  The trail is carved out of an out railroad bed and is composed of crushed limestone.  It is one of the most scenic and enjoyable trails within a couple hours drive of the Quad Cities.  It runs from New Glarus to Brodhead for a total of about 23 miles one way.

Inside the Sugar River Trail Covered Bridge

Inside the Sugar River Trail Covered Bridge

There, now I feel warmer.  Time to go shovel some more snow.  I’ll write more about some of our favorite Wisconsin destinations in the coming weeks.

Our Winter Vacation

Robin and I were able to take a break from the brutal Midwest winter in December. The busy wedding season was due to end and the opportunity to take a weekend off presented itself. Our Aunt Mary and Uncle Clyde, who winter in the Sarasota area, had always wanted us to come and visit, and this looked like the year to make it happen.

With no Black Tie events scheduled for the weekend before Christmas we decided to leave town on Monday, the 15th of December after my graduation from Blackhawk College Travel and Tourism program. Robin witnessed me receiving my certification, along with my 8 other classmates, and we literally headed straight for the airport after that. There was a new fresh coat of ice and snow on the ground from the night before, so it wasn’t difficult to board a plane for Florida.

We flew Air Tran airlines from the Quad City Airport to Atlanta, and then from Atlanta to Fort Myers Florida. All flights were on time and we arrived in Fort Myers at 8PM. We were greeted at the airport by Mary and Clyde and we stepped outside into glorious 70 degree temperatures. It was time to shed the coat and sweater.

Mary and Clyde drove us to where they live in a quiet, gated retirement community in Nokomis. They had graciously arranged lodging for us only a short walk from their home. It was just wonderful to be able to sleep with the windows open slightly and enjoy some tropical air.

Our home away from home

Our home away from home

For those of you who considering a winter retreat, there are many things in the Sarasota area we can recommend. We discovered that there were many excellent bike trails and other scenic areas for biking in the Venice/Nokomis area. We rented bicycles from a place called Bicycles International, 1744 S. Tamiami Trail in Venice Florida. In exchange for a very reasonable fee we enjoyed a couple of almost new Raleigh touring bikes for an entire week. These bikes were extremely comfortable as we rode up and down Casey Key and viewed some extraordinarily beautiful Gulf Coast homes.

Riding in Captain Bob's Boat

Riding in Captain Bob's Boat

We also biked along the southern area of Venice and discovered a delightful place along the Gulf called Sharky’s on the Pier. They serve a spectacular Jambalaya and I can attest to the fact that the homemade key lime pie is to die for. Go there if you can.

In Sarasota we visited the Ringling Museum. Although time did not permit viewing all the attractions there we made a mental note to return sometime to see everything this marvelous place had to offer.

We also spent some time in St. Armand’s Circle of Sarasota. St. Armand’s is a circle of fine shops and gourmet restaurants on St. Armand’s key in Sarasota. While there we enjoyed dining at Columbia Restaurant. I enjoyed the “Filet Salteado” which is a Cuban dish featuring tenderloin tips, chorizo, onions, peppers and mushrooms sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Very tasty indeed!

Kilwin’s Chocolate and Ice Cream in St. Armand’s Circle is not to be missed either! It’s the perfect way to top off a day of walking and sightseeing. The Christmas lights in the center of St. Armand’s Circle were also delightful, and I could never completely wrap my mind around the sight of all the Christmas lights while enjoying balmy temperatures.

The Grounds at Ringling

The Grounds at Ringling

One day, Mary and Clyde’s friend Bob took us on a day long boat ride. Bob is an excellent boat captain and under his guidance we enjoyed viewing the sights and sounds of the inland waterways of the Venice area. Of particular interest were the dolphins that seemed to appear at regular intervals; one even swam right next to our boat! Bob briefly took us out of the inland waterway into the Gulf of Mexico, and for that moment our 16 foot boat suddenly seemed very small indeed. One interesting feature of the area is the complex maze of inland waterways, which made it possible to pilot the boat everywhere, and then return to a very handy dock contained within the retirement community. It kind of reminded me of the real Venice (Italy). I’m not a real big fan of boating, but I actually enjoyed that day out on the water.

On the beach at Sarasota

On the beach at Sarasota

Wildlife seemed to be everywhere. We especially enjoyed seeing many different varieties of birds that we are not used to seeing here in the Midwest. One thing we are not accustomed to seeing are alligators sunning themselves near golfers on the putting green! (See photo)

Golf Course Gator

Golf Course Gator

The week went by all too quickly and soon it was time to head back to the frozen tundra of the Quad Cities. Those of you who plan to fly to the area will definitely enjoy the Fort Myers airport, which is bright, airy and spacious. If you need a hotel near the airport we can recommend the Comfort Inn on Intercom Drive near the airport. They have a prompt airport shuttle and a great breakfast. The property is only about one year old and is beautiful and reasonably priced.


St. Armand's Christmas Lights

St. Armand's Christmas Lights

We will miss the fresh squeezed orange juice that our Aunt Mary made which we enjoyed every single day. We will miss the beautiful warm weather and the palm trees and the new friends we made while in the area. The Sarasota area is beautiful and we can certainly see why people choose to winter or retire there. And for sure, Robin and I know that one day we will pay a return visit!