Category: Chicago


Used: 2002, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

Virgin Airlines in its many forms. I have flown with three of their services. The first was with VirginAtlantic back in 2002, during my first trip to London. A friend of mine suggested them and told me they were awesome, so when it came to book my flight and they were on par with being as cheap as any airline, I picked them. Yeah, kind of a disappointment. The seats were super tiny and on my flight from LAX to LHR, none of the entertainment consoles worked. Granted it was the overnight flight and you were supposed to sleep anyway, but a total dissapointment! Luckily, they worked on the way back. Good things: I liked the little bag of goodies you got when you got to your seat. I loved the pen that came in the bag and used it for years. I just liked the way it wrote. Also, I did like the funkyness of it all, but would have gladly changed to blah to get the entertainment working. That was the biggest disappointment. Otherwise, don’t really remember much else about them. Haven’t flown with them since.

Funny enough, I totally forgot about flying on Pacific Blue until this week when I was reading about the change in name to Virgin Australia (from Virgin Blue, see below) to include Virgin’s services in the pacific, outside of Australia. This service started within New Zealand in 2007, when I was living in Auckland, and to promote the new services, the fares were dirt cheap, so I bought some for my family when they came and we had to fly from AKL to CHC. 4 one-way tickets for US$114! But you pay for what you get. They only flew back and forth from AKL, WLG and CHC on various routes a few times a day. It seemed they only had a two or three planes that flew back and forth, granted distances aren’t very far and you can get from AKL to CHC and back in less then 4 hours. But if one flight was delayed, the whole schedule for the day was thrown off. I booked the last flight of the day from AKL to CHC, just in case of any delay and by the time we left AKL, we were about 4 hours delayed and finally left AKL about an hour after we were supposed to land in CHC. It sucked, but it was supposed to be a rest day anyway. So we ended up “resting” in the airport instead of the hotel. Oh well. I was just looking at the PacBlue website and it appears that they do not fly within NZ anymore, just from NZ over to Australia. So I guess those routes didn’t last long the way they were booking them. Oy.

When I was in Australia, they have a low cost airline called VirginBlue. I flew with them from Brisbane up to Cairns. The airline was pleasent enough. At the time I flew with them (October 2008) they allowed one checked bag, so I sent my bag through and there was no problem. You had to pay for all entertainment (though ads screened non-stop on your personal screen for all those that didn’t pay, thankgod, no sound) and the worst part for me was no free drinks, not even water! I almost shat my pants when I heard that. The only water they had was bottled and you had to buy it. I was so mad. I depend on water when I fly and I stupidly forgot my bottle (hell, you can even bring FULL bottles through security when you fly domestically in Australia) but still. We might charge you for every little thing on American airlines, but I would hate to see the day when they won’t even give you water for free with no warning. That is the day, I’ll start to fight.

While I was away, Virgin America started up. One of there big routes that I have taken many times since being home in the LAX-SFO route. They are usually on par with Soutwest when it comes to everyday price, so for the most part, why fly SWA when you can fly Virgin? They are located in Terminal 3 at LAX and Terminal 2 at SFO (having moved recently from the International Terminal). My only recc for the LAX terminal is not to take the last flight of the day, as that is when ALL their flights leave, including some jumbo jets to Australia on VAustralia. The security line is forever (compared to other parts of the day) and it sucks. I have never really had a bad experience on VA. Some flights have been delayed for mechanical and weather issues, but I have always been kept up to date on delays. Since they know that everyone carrys on their luggage now, sometimes you’ll get a message on the overcome, asking people to check their luggage at the gate for free and I almost always do that. Unfortunatly, you have already come through security at that point, but still, it’s one less thing to carry about the terminal. And last time I did that, they let everyone with no luggage, no matter what row you were in to board early and get a jump on watching the tv that they provide on individual screens for everyone for free! That is the best part of Virgin is the entertainment and I always have a hard time choosing what to watch or listen to when I fly them. Their planes are clean and attendents are very nice. I always look forward to flying with them.

Moral: Virgin as an airline brand seems to be hit or miss. All the low cost carriers in Australia have different issues, so VirginBlue having issues is of no surprise. I just got a crap flight on VirginAtlantic. I don’t hold it against them, just everytime I have gone back, they haven’t been the cheapest, so I’ll pass. But I highly reccomend VirginAmerica for all those in the US, if they happen to be going your way.

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Chicago: Baconfest

Used: 2011

Ahh, Baconfest. What is there to say about that. I found the link on someones blog a while back and saved it for when I would go to Chicago. When I figured out what weekend I was going to visit, I went back to my links and found out that the 2011 Baconfest was going to be held on the weekend I would be in town! How perfect was that! I seriously did not match the two up, I sware! Anyway, I added my name to the mailing list and as soon as tickets went on sale, I immediately bought two.

The day was insane. We arrived about 45 minutes after the doors open and while a booth or two were already out of stuff, most booths were still stuffed so there was no shortage of anything. We walked right in and immediately began stuffing our faces. We stayed away from the booths where the bacon was coupled with anything bread related, as we knew the bread would just fill us up, keeping us from all the rest of the bacon goodness.

Some sort of bacon ball with a flair of bacon cotton candy - YUM!

The over 21’s got an envelope with 6 drinks tickets included in the price and there was everything from bacon infused wine to PBR (yay water!) to what seemed to be the most popular drink of fest, the Bacon Bloody Mary’s. It was the Bloody Mary’s that sort of turned me off to the whole day, after taking a sip of the bacon covered rim and then the drink itself. I could barely eat anything after I tried this drink.

Bacon Bloody Mary - The most popular drink of the fest

This place was my heaven in the way that it seemed like a lot of booths got very creative in that they show can see who can make the craziest sample to include bacon. I love bacon, but there are some places it should not be in, such as drinks and ice cream. I tried both, but it was the weirder stuff that turned me off. Give me hot dogs and other various meats wrapped in bacon to just bacon in place of other meats any day.

My friend and I had to go out in the hall to take a breather after about an hour and we could barely get up to finish our walk around. We managed, but only wondered around for another 30 minutes or so as the day was starting to wind down anyway. We didn’t even eat that much, but all the bacon totally took it out of us. And filled us up for the rest of the day as we only had a snack for dinner.

Me and Rach, taking a breather in the hall from Baconfest

Moral: All in all, I am very glad I went, but I don’t think I would go again. It was all just a bit too much for me. It was so midwest in that everyone there looooooooved bacon. The shirts people were wearing were hilarious, everyone was super hardcore. I like bacon enough, but not like that. It was a bit expensive too, in the $60-65 range per ticket, I can’t remember exactly, which is a lot for just and hour and a half of something. I don’t love bacon that much. But then, it did fill us up for the day. No regrets, but I would never go again.

Bacon!Bacon!Bacon!

Chicago: Music

Used: 2011

When I travel alone, I am usually a total homebody at night, unless I am with a group of people. Probably the best thing about visiting a city where I already had a friend was a built in activity buddy for night. Since my friend was in grad school, she rarely went out and wanted to listen to some music, which of course I was game for so for the two of the nights I was in town, we went and saw live music.

The Friday I was in town, we went and saw jazz music at the Green Mill, which apparently is one of the best places in town to see it. We arrived early, before the cover charge started, only to discover that they clear out the place and then impose the charge ($12), so it was pointless to get there early. The place does not serve food, so we left for a bit and grabbed a slice of horrible pizza next door. But hey, it was cheap. We immediatly went back in, paid the cover charge and waited for the music to start. Even though the place was empty and filled in slowly once the music began, about halfway through the first set, a couple came over and shared our booth near the front. When the first set ended, I looked back and the place was packed!

The music was pretty awesome. My friend went to undergrad in New Orleans and loves jazz music and was prepared for the music and setting, but I hadn’t listened to jazz since high school and was slightly unprepared for the strictness of it all. But I got used to and quite enjoyed myself. During the break in between the first and second set, we chatted with the couple who was sharing our booth and they were awesome! They apparently flew up a jazz band that my friend had seen and loved in New Orleans, from New Orleans to Chicago for the women’s birthday. It was interesting chatting with a totally hip 40 year old couple who went to school in Ohio and loved Chicago and the midwest. They were the first people to tell us that “Chicago is awesome in the summer”. Just all around awesome. The waitress service was great, cash only (well, some cards just not MC/Visa), decently priced beer and an okay selection. We left after the second set as the bus stopped running around 12:30am and we had to get back.

The next night, my friend suggested a blues club that she had been wanting to go to, so we hit up B.L.U.E.S and it was definatly more my speed. There was a cover charge ($10) We found seats at the bar and there was a lot going on there. The band was singing, asking for audience participation, there was a tv on at the bar, with the sound off of course but closed captioned on and I didn’t feel bad chatting with my friend every so often as the band played as I did the night before. The service at this place was great too, didn’t hurt that we sat at the bar. They took cards, but I think they had a service charge on them, so we paid cash all night. I am all about drinking the local beer when available. I knew Goose Island is local and the waitress suggested the 312 and it was awesome!! I really need to find some in LA. This place was great for awesome, classic blues music. Get there early for a seat as it filled up very quickly! I had a great time. The sets were longer at this place and we only stayed for one, as we had to get back to the bus before the last service.

Moral: I loved how I spent my nights doing super touristy, classic Chicago things. You can’t get more classic then small, packed in clubs! We tried to go Second City but it was expensive and sold out anyway and I am way glad we saw music instead. If you are looking to get out the city center (which by the way is State and Madison and all the numbers go out from there) and get the real Chicago music scene, I highly recomend both of these places. And don’t forget to drink local!

Used: 2011

My blog, my rules. I am going to write about various airlines I have flown, whether or not they exist anymore. I am probably not going to talk about rewards and how to make the most out of your experience, as there are “experts” out there for that, I am just going to write about my experiences.

When I made my decision to come to Chicago, I also wrote out how much I anticipated to approximately spend on certain items, and since I had my accommodation sorted, the big ticket item of this trip was going to be the flight. I asked my friend how much she normally spent on tickets home and then also did my own research. I put away approximately $250 for the flight, taking into the fact I might spend a bit more since I needed very specific days and times. I kept an eye on flights for my dates starting in the new year, knowing I didn’t have to freak out until about a month or so before, but it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on things.

Flights hovered around the $250 mark, as predicted but when I saw a flight for $160 R/T, I pounced on it. It was was the faux popular Spirit Airlines. They are best known for their nickle-and-diming of every little thing. They are the first airline to charge for carry-on luggage. But for a short-ish flight (LAX-JFK every few months was normal for me about 10 years ago, so anything less is cake), I decided to risk it. I thought about what I wanted to pack and decided to see if I could possible jam everything I needed into a school backpack, one that I could fit under my seat and therefore wasn’t considered “carry-on”. I didn’t reserve a window seat for any leg, therefore saving $10 each way. Instead I bought a blow up neck pillow, something I wanted to buy at some point anyway. When I planned my weekend, my friend said she could provide a towel and shampoo and soap and sleeping materials, so that weeded a lot out. As usual, I packed so well, I had room to spare! In fact, I didn’t even wear the sweatshirt I brought. Gah!!

Signage for Spirit at both LAX and ORD was horrible. T5 at LAX is currently undergoing lots of construction and I wondered around for about 20 minutes until I found the Spirit counter. Thankgod I arrived super early! I took note of where I disembarked at O’Hare and when I arrived back at the airport to return, the lady who checked my ticket and ID made a passing mention that Spirit was at the L gates, which is the exact same place I arrived at, so it was easier to find in Chicago. I checked in online before I arrived at the airport, so I don’t know how check in is once you arrive, but it was fairly straight forward online. You have a last minute chance to reserve your seat and luggage, if you still want to when you check in online.

I was a little nervous that they were going to try to tell me that my packed backpack was not going to fit beneath my seat, even though I knew it would. Luckily, unlike some other airlines have flown with, they weren’t super anal about carryon and I got it on both ways with no problems, with a bit of room to spare, I could fit my legs under my seat as well! Couldn’t say the same with the dudes I was squished between each way, all 4 felt it was there right to fit their legs under my seat, just because they had no room and I did. I would NOT recommend this airline or at least the coach seats for most dudes. There is also is no sort of entertainment what so ever. Pretty much assume this airline is like Southwest, minus the free drinks and peanuts and Sky Mall catalog.

Moral: Hey, for $160 and the huge price difference between other airlines, how much can I really complain. Plus, everything was on time and I arrived in one piece. All the bare bones worked like clockwork, which is all I paid for and the service was delivered. If I had paid anymore, it probably would have sucked and I wouldn’t make a habit of flying with them, but it was really the price difference that sold me and makes me, maybe consider them in the future. Or at least I wouldn’t turn my nose up at them. Especially if I can jam my whole trip into a backpack and save on baggage fees. If you know what to expect when you book with Spirit, then you’ll be right as rain. Just be prepared.

Chicago

Used: 2011

After my trip to Seattle and Vancouver last year, Chicago was the next city on my list to return to as a place I had been to as a kid with my parents and remember enjoying and wanted to return to as an adult. A friend of my sisters (who is also my friend to now, you know how it is as you get older) is doing a grad program at the University of Chicago this year and when jotting down all my travel plans for 2011 at the start of this year, I added Chicago to the list at the last moment. I knew I could do it in a long weekend and only planned to take 2 days off of work during a slow week at work. I booked a ticket, I had a place to stay and now I just had to figure out what to do! This is probably the least planning I have ever done for any trip. I bookmarked and saved all postings on Chicago that blogs I read post, but that is pretty much it. I managed to fill 3 full days!

Day One:

After arriving after my red eye flight and crashing out on my friends floor for a morning nap, I woke up at noon ready to start the day! The city was nice and cold (which doesn’t bug me) but it was totally foggy (which did bug me) so I couldn’t see the tops of all the tall buildings, which in a city full of beautiful architecture, kind of defeats the purpose. I headed into town, making my first stop Chicago Cultural Center which ended up being one of my focal points of the weekend. I ended up here a lot, with its beautiful open building, loads of places to sit and reorganize myself and use the bathroom. There is also a tourist information center here.

Ceiling in one of the rotunda's in the Chicago Cultural Center, 2011

Another ceiling in one of the rotunda's in the Chicago Cultural Center, 2011

I then headed across the street to Millennium Park to nerd it up at Cloud Gate aka “The Bean”. That thing is awesome! It was wayyyy bigger then I thought it was going to be. I don’t know why I thought it was be smaller! Anyway, I spent a good 10 minutes taking pictures of myself in and around it before heading off and exploring other parts of the park. I wondered around The Great Lawn, which is kind of amazing for being so close to the highway, that you can’t hear the noise from it while on the lawn. The BP Bridge on the otherside of the Lawn is pretty awesome too. The Crown Fountain was a little creepy as real faces used for art always creeps me out. And in the summer, I think water comes out of their mouths? A little creepy for me. But still kind of interesting.

My reflection in The Bean, Chicago, 2011

City reflected in The Bean, Chicago, 2011

The Lawn on a foggy day, Chicago, 2011

BP Bridge, Chicago, 2011

Crown Fountain, Chicago, 2011. Creepy, right?!

Bridge, Lawn, City on a foggy day, Chicago, 2011

After having some lunch at one of my old New York favorites Cosi, I headed across the river to Navy Pier. Even though I heard the place was kind of a bust for adults with no kids (and it really was, especially with the crappy weather) I heard there was a pretty awesome stain glass exhibit for free. And it really was cool! There was also a mosaic gallery next to it, which I love, so that was really awesome. Plus, even though I unfortunatly read it backwards, intertwined as well was the history of Chicago and it was really interesting. I love stuff like that. The place has tons of gift shops too and it was here that I was reminded that President Obama was like sort of from Chicago. I always forget that, since Hawaii is in our face all the time and he went to Occidental, a school near where I grew up, which of course, is now sort of a huge deal. But since I was overseas for the whole election, I always forget that Chicago plays a major part in his campaign. But it was like a mini Washington DC in the way for tourist crap in gift shops. I was getting pretty tired at this point and just waited for my friend to finish with class, so I sat and hung out in the Crystal Gardens on the Pier for a while. The place is awesome, especially on a cold day. A huge glassed in garden, I love places like that. My friend called me and I headed back to Hyde Park for dinner. We ate at The Nile and it was really good. We did BYO and ran into a couple of people from my friends school as well as her advisor, so if that is a sign that the place is good, I don’t know what is.

Day Two:

After another late start, once again due to fog, I finally headed into town around noon. I made my first stop at the Museum of Contemporary Photography which is part of Colombia College Chicago. I love photography and this was a great place to kill a little time. I always forget how blah on modern art I am and while I love photography, I am meh on the modern part. That is all I am going to say about that. It was free, so how bad is it really.

For lunch I stopped at Potbelly Sandwich Shop and had a meatball sub. When I placed my order, they asked if I wanted a milkshake. It was freezing outside!!! But I guess they are known for them, I just didn’t get one, but just FYI for the future. I did get an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie and ohmigod, where those good!!! Highly reccomend those. They had a guy playing guiter as well, familer songs too and it was nice and different background music then what normally plays in shops during a normal, weekday lunchtime.

After lunch, I headed back to the Cultural Center for one of the Chicago Greeter tour. It seemed pretty slow and even though I got there at 15 past the hour, the women locked up shop, asked me where I wanted to go (Millenium Park, North Michagan Avenue or Architecture in the Loop) and I said architecture in the Loop. I wanted to do a architecture cruise at some point, but with the foggy weather, it didn’t look like it was going to happen while I was in town and I wanted to go on some sort of tour of the architecture. It was awesome! Definitely one of the highlights of my weekend. My private guide was awesome and I saw some parts of the city that I never would have discovered from old architecture that’s been around since after the fire in the 1800’s to Thompson Center, which is a state building that was built in the 1980’s and totally shows. Very interesting to see all the differences. The whole city is a goldmine for architecture enthusists! Everything is so beautiful. Another thing I noticed is that the city is really really clean, especially for a city the size. And the reason for this is that there are a lot of ally’s, which are so small and narrow that you barely notice them. How nuts is that?!

After the tour, which went on for close to an hour an a half, I met up with my friend and I finally made it north of the river to have a drink at Signature Lounge at the top of the Hancock building. It was still pretty foggy and the top of the Sears Tower (or whatever they are calling it this week) went straight into the clouds, which was kind of cool to see. We got there around 5:30pm on a Friday and grabbed an awesome table right by the window on the city side. Seriously, this is the best deal for an observation deck in town. Drinks are expensive and kind of weak (of course) but I am sucker for an observation deck and drink in hand is just a total bonus. Unlike the observation deck, there are no descriptions of what you are looking at, but on a foggy day where the view is probably not worth the price of admission, this is an awesome alternative. Servers are totally on top of it too and the service is great. And yes, the view from the ladies room is pretty fucking awesome. This has to be one of the best bathrooms I have ever seen.

Drinks at top of the world! Chicago, 2011

Me drinking on top of the world. Sorry that it's so dark, but I hate flash. Chicago, 2011

The fog has lifted slightly, Chicago, 2011

The lake, the pier, the beach! You can find everything in Chicago! 2011

We drank alllllllll the way up there. Chicago, 2011

Transportation all over the place is so wicked easy. The trains go right to the airport where you pick up the Blue line to get into town (O’Hare is end of the line, so it’s impossible to get lost). The trains and buses all take the same transit card, which you can buy at the airport and put some money on it. I am not exactly sure how the transfers work or the details of the trasit card, but everytime you enter the train or bus, you just scan it and it’ll tell you how much is left. I spent about $26 for my entire 4 days, taking about 4-5 rides/transfers a day. My favorite part was that the trains and buses was that you pay per ride and not distance. As far as I could tell, you could only refill these cards at train stations, which I did twice and it was so easy. And both the trains and buses were so clean! I never felt unsafe on either. It was a little weird for me that the buses seem to stop at like every single block. Even in New York, they don’t stop that often. But I guess winters get so misrable in Chicago, that you don’t want to walk longer then a block to get anywhere. Luckily, the bus that I took most went express from town to Hyde Park. The annoucements are clean and clear and on the bus, they visually tell you the next stop. The train maps are clearly posted a lot in every station and on every train, with all transfers labeled. It was just so nice to be in a city with nice, clean, clear transportation! The city is also super walkable and everything in town is really close together, so if you stay in town and only keep to the Loop or slightly north of the river, you won’t need to take the buses at all. But don’t take anything I say as gospal, as I didn’t do too much research on this and didn’t keep to close an eye on how much things cost or transfers.

Day 3:

Baconfest!!!! Coming in a later post

Moral: I loved Chicago!!! Between how clean it was, how beautiful lots of the buildings are and how easy the transportation is, this is my new favorite American city. I didn’t even come close to discovering most of the city and would love to return someday. All day, everyday all anyone would tell me is “the city is awesome in the summer”. I felt like the city sort of shuts down in the winter and it felt like it was in transition when I was there at the start of April. Millenium Park seemed to have a lot of work going on. Navy Pier was dead. Hardly any river cruises. Everything indoors was hopping and so was Michigan Ave (aka shopping), but everything outside was dead. The weather was super spastic too. I arrived and it was quite cold, like 30’s, and rained a bit, but not too bad, I never had to hide from it and the day I left, it was in the 80’s and everyone was in shorts and t-shirts. I don’t know how long term I could handle weather that seasaws like that. But in terms of everything else, I loved it all and have no complaints about anything.