Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A weekend in the windy city- Chicago

Plan: To make the most of the weekend. Starting with food(deep dish pizza, Italian sandwich), roaming around in the city: Boat ride, river walk, get a photo clicked in front of Ansh Kapoor`s design Cloud gate, skyscrapers in Chicago, see the night view of Chicago
What actually happened?
Well, here it goes...

Day 1:
We took a cheap flight from Trenton airport to OHaire airport, Chicago. Fortunately we have a friend(a colleague) who stays in Claredon, Chicago with whom we were planning to stay. Claredon is 40 minutes Metra journey away from downtown Chicago. We reached his place by 9AM. The colleagues(5 of us) got an Uber and went to downtown Chicago by  by 1. The plan was to have lunch by 2 at Giordanis. We were at millenium park and the Giordanis closeby was full with waiting times of nearly an hour. So, we got into another Giordani`s restaurant for a beverage first, chicken wings, deep dish pizza and Italian sandwich. The deep dish pizza is definitely a must try. Then there was the time for cloud gate in Millenium park. Millenium park is present in Grant park. Grant park is a pretty big lung space of Chicago downtown where one can have a leisurely stroll in the city, see the crown fountain where water comes from LED lit wall, also has a famous millenium park inside. The Grant park is also known for the Art institue of Chicago in the campus
This is one of the LED lit walls where a ladys face is being displayed in the wall

Cloud gate in millennium park shown above is one of the must visits of the city.

After all these adventures, we went to the Michigan late front sipping a evening coffee, juice and it was time to walk. We walked along Michigan lake front and take a deviation towards Chicago River to downtown exploring the happening places of Saturday nights.
We initially planned to see fireworks by Navy pier at 10:30 on Saturday but it looks like the fireworks on Saturday night stopped the earlier week. So, plan changed!
We were informed of some happening bars and restaurants of downtown Chicago but most of them were so damn crowded. We decided to finally do bar hopping. Hopping from bar to bar we did and finally settled at Theory bar where we managed to see American football college championship between Iowa hawkeyes and Iowa state university. Theory was filled with so many college-going crowd or maybe alumni of Iowa hawkeyes universities who were passionate. A different sport viewing in a different sort of environment and it was nice. We had to come back to the house and we walked for about 2 miles at about midnight to the union square station. We finally took the 12:40 AM train to Claredon by the Aurora bound train from Union square

Day 2:
Since we all were tired of walking and not sleeping since Friday, we slept very well the previous night and woke up by 9. Since the booking to Architecture tour was by 1:15PM and close to downtown Chicago, we did not want to waste time in Claredon. So,  we had a proper brunch by 11AM at Louis Mitchell diner and almost missed the architecture tour as we went just on time for the tour.  This 45 minute tour along the Chicago river was a very good one indeed and it is highly recommended. The tour tells the history of Chicago on how the city overcame the Great Chicago fire in 1890s to being one of the biggest US cities and a successful story on how the people developed the city after having most of their city wiped out. The planners of this city had envisioned how to make most use of the resources(Michigan lake, Chicago river) to their best use. River which flows at the centre of the city does not get polluted. Underground sewage water pipes are laid out 60 metres below ground level to push the sewage water to a harmless location.

Chicago is truly one the architectural marvels with its underground roads, over-bridge L train, restaurants by the river side, buildings connected at top floors. The guide told about how the Chicago which was initially called City of Onions transformed to the windy city/ skyscraper city. The city has Sears tower which is 110 floors high which was constructed as early as1973 which was the highest building in the world till 2000s. It is still the second tallest tower in Americas.
A view from the architectural boat tour

City looks world class but the city was designed for middle class people to stop the migration of middle class from city to the suburban areas. They have achieved it somewhat to an extent.
Surely the city knows how to build and portray their architectural might. One thing which can be observed and seen are most of the architects are immigrants who wanted to shape the city in their own unique way.
After the architecture tour, I had to meet a friend from college whom I was meeting after years. He was working in Chicago since the past two years. It was nice to catch-up with our guy and also learn a bit about the city.

We later went for another must visit in Chicago city which is the Skydeck which is on the 108th floor of Willis tower(Sears tower). The bird`s eye view of the City s scape, its design is a very good experience. We planned to go there by 7 o clock so that we can get sunset view as well as the nights view of the city
Michigan lake, Downtown Chicago and Chicago river picture

A view of the city in night

Being a guy scared of heights, I somehow mustered some courage to stand and sit at the glass balcony in Skydeck. My legs were initially shivering and wanted to take support of some holding structure in the glass balcony. I came out of it in a jiffy after getting a few pictures taken of me.

Finally, to round it off we hit a Polynesian style bar called 3 Dots and a dash for a round of cocktails and polynesian style chicken wings and went to Claredon from Union square station again. Next day morning was our return flight back to Trenton, NJ

The city offers different experiences related to art, architecture, relaxing, food. Somehow we were able to experience most of them in the city. We could not make it to the aquarium, planetarium and art museum among the must visits.

Best time to visit Chicago- July to September
City closes by 12AM usually. So, late plans/parties are not a good option.

Things to do while in Chicago:

  • Skydeck at Willis tower right about sunset
  • For the art enthusiasts - Cloud gate, Chicago jazz live performance, architecture tour of Chicago on Chicago river, museums and art galleries
  • For high end shopping enthusiasts - Magnificient mile(starts from the Wrigley building from the north of Chicago river)
  • For the food lovers- Chicago style hotdog(no ketchup), deep dish pizza of Giordanis, Italian beef sandwich
  • Saturday night pub visit to one of the downtown bars
  • Saturday night fireworks - Start on July 4th till labour day weekend
  • Estimated cost per head(Average) -$300 to $500 USD if on a weekend with to and fro cheap flight tickets from NYC

Darjeeling, Sept 2009

So, the not so tiring Kolkata trip had ended kind of abruptly one day in advance! We had overplanned the city trip. So, in house consultant Tonmoy Saha, alias Tony gave us the idea to go to Darjeeling :)
This was the new adventure/trip we had embarked on the midway. Darjeeling was one of the favourite hillstation getaways during the Britishers stay in pre-Independent India when Calcutta was the capital of East India Company. Railways and some such infrastucture has been developed by the East India company and can be seen easily.
Fortunately, we had booked a train back from Kolkata to Chennai before booking a bus to Bangalore. The Chennai bound train was starting from New Jalpoygudi and we just had to get a return ticket from Jalpoygudi to Kolkata and we were all good
Since we had our return train back from New Jalpoygudi and this town is on the foothills of Darjeeling, we were in good stead.
The only problem was ticket wasn't booked from Kolkata to New Jalpoygudi and that too in the peak Durga Pooja time!!
We tried to book a bus but it was too late. So, we went to the Kolkata railway station only to see that the general ticket queue had atleast 200 people ahead of us in the queue.
In some places of the queue, people had just reserved their place in the queue by keeping their luggage bag since they couldn't stand for that long in the queue.

The STRUGGLE of train travel:
We got the ticket 20-30 mins before the train departure. We were aware that the seat would be very difficult to get. We had a chance of not getting a seat as well. With some smart movement, all 4 of us got seat in same coach of the train. Generally in a side row, the number of people who can sit comfortably was 3 in the lower row and 2 in the upper row. And what we had to endure was 5 a row on both lower and upper and we had  a  560km distance to be travelled, a gruesome12 hour train journey to endure that too overnight.
We had a looong day in Kolkata and naturally we were all tired. And as soon as the train journey started, we were feeling sleepy and considering that the train was jam packed, sleep was a increasingly difficult proposition for us. I properly remember one of us went below the seat too in getting a good night`s sleep. That's when I thought one should be properly planned for a journey if not we have to face this kind of unpleasant experience.
Somehow we endured that journey assisted by the constant chatting by co-passengers, the cold night weather and probably cause we were young too.

Jalpaiguri and travel to Darjeeling:
We reached in the afternoon to Jalpaiguri. The end of October is supposedly pretty hot in West Bengal. But I had never ever seen heat and humid weather at the same time till then. It was difficult for us to endure it. We need a few hours to freshen up and have lunch. We then took a cab to Darjeeling. The road to Darjeeling is narrow where two cars going side by side can easily cover the entire road. So, cabs and small vehicles were the way to go to Darjeeling. The feeling of scorching heat came to rest once we were on our way to the top of Darjeeling from Siliguri. The cool air helped us forget the grueling and seething hot weather in the trip upto that moment. As soon as we landed in Darjeeling in the evening, me and Chopusey went for a walk. We ended up in a not so hip restaurant sipping lime tea. That's when I was introduced to the Darjeeling variety of black tea, the taste of which I may never forget.
Then we got a room in the nearby lodge, very much opposite to the restaurant where we had lemon tea. After getting ready, we took rest for a while in the room. Me went out in the evening, which was a nice stroll all along the radius of the darjeeling. Great experience indeed to see the sun-set alone. Roamed and finally had a fine dinner almost at 9 pm. We were the last ones to enter the restaurant. Then we realised that there s absolutely no night life in Darjeeling. Even the police are vigilant there and fortunately for us, tourists are given some leeway.
Then we enquired a few cab drivers on our way to the room when they told vehicles ll be moving towards the top of the mountain called Tiger hills to a spot to view the sunrise and a chance to see Mt. Kanchenjunga. And, so somehow we woke up at 4:30, took a shared cab to the viewpoint. We thought we would have been one the top of Tiger hills, but we were wrong. There were close to 200 people already there. Sunrise was as early as 5AM. The slightly pinkish colour glooming over the Himalyan landscape were not be forgotten. The scape`s pinkish to golden transition and then the actual sunrise was the best part of the experience. We were elated to see Mt Kanchenjunga during sunrise but when we also realized that we could also see the tip of Mt. Everest, we were absolutely thrilled. We visited few monasteries that afternoon and also got a taste of culture of Darjeeling at a park that evening. We enjoyed that evening`s cultural event.
We had heard of the legendary toy train while we were on our way to Kolkata. So, the next day we took the train in the morning. The track goes from Darjeeling to Ghoom railway station and back. That same evening we left for New Jalpoigudi. From there, we had to take a train to Chennai.

Personally, I  had never seen the Himalayas till then and having seen sunrise so beautiful near Mt Kanchenjunga , the tip of Mt EVEREST was a memorable experience. Getting to know a little bit about the lives of people in Darjeeling, their culture, their people s achievements in military and war, the land`s aspiration to be a separate state was also interesting. East India, whatever little we saw of till then is truly unique and definitely worthy of another visit with bigger plans and more places to see. Hopefully I get a chance to visit this place again.

Things to do while at Darjeeling:
  • Savour the famoussssss darjeeling black tea(Please try to have it with less sugar if possible and no milk) and local eats from North east India and around the town
  • Toy Train ride, few monasteries in the town
  • Must visit Tiger hills for sunrise(Sunrise point)