Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Travel - Chicago

First, since this blog WAS created to discuss my horse purchase, I do owe an update to anyone who doesn't already know, that Trigger finally sold a couple of months ago to a couple who would use him for trail riding, but also have granddaughters to dote on the pretty palomino and braid his mane and similar tortures.  ;-)  So I'm sure he's happy in his new home.

And this post is way overdue, but I do want to keep better track of my trips and photos and such, so I'm forcing myself to finish this post before I do the one on my trip to Washington over 4th of July, sooooo...

Here's my latest business trip, by the numbers:

12 Focus Groups
11 New Geocaches
10 Days in the Midwest
9 Rides on the El in Chicago
8 Co-workers to coordinate attending the focus groups
7 Days of work-work and work travel
6 Bus Rides
5 Flights
4 Hotels
3 Taxi Rides
2 Groups of Two Friends Met
1 Long Trip

I left on Monday, May 6th for Portland then San Francisco, traveling with a co-worker on the same flights.  We gathered in Burlingame for dinner with more co-workers, then settled into our hotel room at 9-ish.

Tuesday morning, we woke up bright and early and drove into downtown San Francisco for some focus groups.

I love watching focus groups--it's great to hear what candy consumers have to say about the candy we make, both positive and negative, straight from their mouths rather than in data in a spreadsheet.

Wednesday, we flew cross-country (most of the way) to Chicago.  This was the view from my room at the O'Hare Hilton:

The three of us who were there from Bend went and got deep dish pizza at Giordano's.  After a mishap with Uber (my first time trying to use them), we gave up and went to a nearby hotel and caught the shuttle bus back to the "airport" (i.e. our hotel).

Thursday morning, we got on the El (blue line) toward downtown.  I had scoped the route and downloaded a couple apps to navigate the El, but when it came right down to it, and under pressure from all my co-workers, I wasn't quite sure what to do after we got off the blue line.  It turns out, I needed to click one step further in the app to actually see the whole route.  Oops.  I used that app (and just plain Google Maps) quite a few more times the rest of the trip, and it worked just fine once I understood it.  My bad again.  So we ended up walking about a mile through downtown Chicago to get to the facility for the focus groups.  Not so bad for those of us wearing comfortable shoes, but one co-worker was wearing heels.  She was a trooper, though, and we made it just fine.  Some of the sights along the way:

We had dinner together that night after the focus groups ended, in the downtown area.  Then we had to get back to the hotel near the airport, but they didn't trust me to navigate via the El anymore, plus that would have meant walking at least a few blocks, if not more, and it was raining, and we figured that buying four tickets for the El vs. one cab fare wouldn't make that much difference, so we got a cab.  It was a tight squeeze to fit four of us in a SMALL SUV (plus we all had laptop bags and other materials with us), but we did it.

On the way, my boss got to chatting with the cabbie, who was from somewhere in the middle east--I forget exactly where now.  Anyway, my boss was chatting him up, what brought him to the US and whatnot, and asked what it would cost him to live in the driver's native country for a year, and he said something about needing a wife, and before we knew it, our boss (who is divorced) had a marriage arranged with the driver's sister-in-law, who he described as a bitch, but assured my boss would work out just fine.  He even texted a photo to her!  Crazy!  The three of us women in the back seat were dying of laughter listening to this whole exchange.

Friday morning, my co-workers went home, but I had a training session in Chicago the following week, so I'd decided just to stay in the midwest for the weekend.  So I got to sleep in a little bit--yay!  All that travel is exhausting!  I've been to Chicago a couple times in the past, and had the following week to explore a bit, too, and I have some online friends who live in Milwaukee who convinced me to go there for my weekend rather than staying in Chicago.  So I took the El into downtown again, this time easily figuring out how/where to transfer.  I schlepped my larger suitcase quite a ways on foot to get to the hotel I would be staying at the following week, and asked them to store it for me.  I realized when I got there that it was literally ONE block from the focus group facility--I could have saved myself a bit of schlepping if I'd realized that before and convinced my co-workers to take a cab and brought my suitcase THEN.  Oh well.  I was off with just my backpack to make my way to Amtrak at Union Station.

On the way, I passed what will always be the Sears Tower to me, but is apparently now the Willis Tower (or something).

The Amtrak ride was interesting for someone more used to plane travel (no security checks, they don't even check that you have a ticket till after the second stop or so, no seat belts...), but was uneventful.  It only took an hour, and was a nice ride.  I arrived in Milwaukee, where an online friend I hadn't seen in eight years picked me up, gave me a driving tour of the greater Milwaukee area, took me by my hotel to check in and drop my bag off, and then finally to dinner, where another online friend from the area (who I'd also met eight years earlier) joined us.

Kopp's Frozen Custard in a suburb
Dinner was superb--it was a place that prides itself on local cuisine, not just produce but meats, cheeses, wines, etc.  It's a small plate kind of place, so we ordered a bunch of dishes and shared them all.  So good.  Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of the place.  :-(

I figured these strangers/friends would have had enough of me by then, but we all decided to also have brunch together the next morning.  I went back to my hotel, the Pfister, which is a REALLY nice place I splurged on due to not having to spend any money on airfare for the trip.

In the morning, my friends took me to an AWESOME place for brunch, Cafe Benelux.  Huge menu of food, but their pride is the beer menu, which was like forty pages.  Crazy!

After stuffing ourselves, we wandered around town a bit, visiting a chocolate shop, clothing boutique, and then driving to a coffee shop and spending a while knitting.  Well, they knitted.  Apparently I've lost my ability to multitask, and messed up more than I accomplished.  Oh well, it was a nice time with good company.

After another tour of more of the Milwaukee area, my friend dropped me off at the Milwaukee Art Museum, at my request.

The outside is mirror-like, and angled for selfies

A cool installation--reflective objects inside a tiny "room" made of one-way mirrors.  Reminiscent of the focus groups I'd been attending!

What do you think these stalagmites are made of?

Lots and lots (and lots!) of tiny buttons!

Panorama I took inside the museum

The museum, from the bridge outside it.  The angled sides (known locally as sails) are raised during hours they're open, but it was too windy that day.

Apparently this artwork is very controversial--some think it's ugly, some think it's awesome.  I think I'm in the latter camp.

Loved this big sister watching over her little sister, plus the purple offset the orange nicely, but unfortunately they were too active to get a very good picture..
After I'd had enough fun at the waterfront, I walked the few blocks back to the hotel.

Back at the hotel, I decided to check out the view from the bar on the top floor (or nearly top floor?  not sure) before dark.  I got lucky and there happened to be a rainbow right then.  The building in the picture below is the Wisconsin Gas Building, and the flame on top "burns" in different colors depending on the weather:

When the flame is red, it's warm weather ahead!
When the flame is gold, watch out for cold!
When the flame is blue, there's no change in view!
When there's a flickering flame, expect snow or rain!

[I'm not sure if all the exclamation marks are original to the poem, but they're there in Wikipedia.]

As if I hadn't had a busy enough day already, I decided to explore more "inland" (west, away from Lake Michigan), and simultaneously do some geocaching.  The first cache was a fun one that involved reading a story about a duck who protected her ducklings during bridge construction  (the whole town rallied around her) and counting statues of ducklings.  Along the way, I saw this real "duck" (yes, I know it's a goose, but that doesn't go with the duck story).

I saw some pretty flowers along the way...

Found a cache along the river...

Saw some giant ladybugs....

And went to this import/export company.

Okay, so there's a whole story here.  If you live in or plan to visit Milwaukee, and especially if you're a geocacher, and don't like spoilers, skip the next section.  Okay, for those of you who will never go there, here's the deal.  There's a cache called Covert Cache, and the description is all about how you need to be super secretive, operatives, etc., and gives a link for those who are from out of town or have limited time and want a sneak preview.  The link goes to a site for a restaurant that operates under "cover" of being an import/export business.  When you go to the address, it's practically in an alley, and there's only a door with the above sign, no other sign of what's really there.

You go in the door, and there's a small vestibule where they ask for a password.  The unlucky patrons who don't have a password have to perform some trivial but moderately embarrassing task (I had to do four muscle poses) that you later realize were visible to those in the restaurant/bar via CCTV.  Ha.

Inside, it's a noisy boisterous restaurant/bar with a VERY heavy spy theme.  The food and drinks all have spy-related names, the waitresses treat you as if you're a covert operative, and even give you a list of "missions" that help you explore the place and all the fun features, which include a one-way mirror and a secret exit, among other things.

In all the hubbub, I nearly forgot my geocaching mission, but after trying to surreptitiously look around a while, I suspected I found the cache, and asked the bartender about it.  Turns out what I saw were just decoys--he had the actual cache behind the bar, but he handed it over for me to sign the log and check out the contents.  Too cool.  I left some geocaching trackables, signed the log, and returned the cache.  I really wished Nathan had been along for that, and looked to see if there were any similar establishments in the northwest, but it doesn't appear so.  Bummer.

The actual cache box

My list of missions.  Like it says, it's top secret.  You'll have to visit the place to see them.  :-)
From there, I tried to find another cache, but wasn't successful.  At least it was a scenic walk home.

The lights shining on this building change colors gradually

The same color-changing building, from a different angle (and at a different time, of course).  Also check out the moon on the right.

A bridal shop had some cool "dresses" in the windows

After that day, I crashed and slept quite well that night.

Sunday was Mother's Day, so I called Nathan, who was waiting on calling me even though I was in a later time zone than him.  Heh.  :-)  And I called my mom, too, before heading out and looking for a non-brunchy place to get breakfast for one.  Then, I decided to get a little further than walking distance, and set off for The Domes.  I used Google Maps to plot a route that involved two buses, but when I got off at the transfer point and realized I was less than a mile, I just hoofed it rather than waiting for the next bus.  My app showed a geocache on the way, but I soon realized that I was "hiking" on a viaduct well above the actual land, and the geocache was quite a ways below me, and even driving to it would have been a hassle, but walking there was next to impossible.  Oh well.

I got to the domes, and right at the entrance, there's this sundial.  There was a cloud overhead as I was reading the plaque, but it cleared right as I gave up to go into the building, so I went back to the sundial and gave it a try.

The plaque explaining it

The sundial, no shadow

Hmm...I was supposed to be reading the inner ring, but it was closer to 1:00 than to 2:00.  Oh well.  Good thing I didn't need the sundial to tell me accurate time.

There are three domes--a rainforest one, a desert one, and a seasonal one in which they rotate the displays.  The rainforest one reminded me a lot of Thailand--so hot and humid you can't stand it, but the views make it worth it!

Even spotted some wildlife!  ;-)

The desert one was, of course, hot and dry, and while you'd expect it to be not as spectacular as the rainforest one, they had lots of cool specimens there.  Including more "wildlife."

The seasonal one was apparently themed "blue," and had lots of blue flowers.  They smelled good, but weren't all that picturesque.  There was also currently a school choir (dressed in blue) singing, and lots of proud parents trying to take pictures, so I went, I saw, I smelled, and I left.

Outside, I took this picture of one of the domes.  They're not geodesic, technically, sine they're actually ovoid instead of spherical.

Then I roamed the area a bit and found a geocache near this pond.

Finally, I was ready to head back to the downtown area, so I pulled up my trusty Google Maps, which again routed me on two different buses.  I walked to the first stop, didn't have to wait long at all for the bus, and was dropped off in a sketchy area of town.  Unfortunately, the wait for the next bus was longer than I would have liked, especially considering the company.  I was actually propositioned by a guy, and was starting to get a bit worried about his persistence when another guy came along who was having quite a conversation with the voices in his head.  The first guy left, the second guy seemed harmless, then finally the bus came.  I rode the bus back to town uneventfully, but decided not to take random bus trips to random areas of town anymore.

The bus brought me back to the waterfront area, so I did some caching in that vicinity, and took more photos of the art museum, which still didn't have the sails up, unfortunately.

Click this to view it bigger, but I took a whole series of photos from out on a spit of land, and stitched them together into a panorama.

More photos of the asterisk statue, too...  Love the contrast of the orange paint against the blue sky.

Great building on the way back to my hotel

The next day was Monday, and I had to head back to work, even if it wasn't back home.  I took a cab to the Amtrak station, had another uneventful train trip back to Chicago, and made my way to my fourth hotel of the trip.  I did actually have some work to do, so didn't do any exploring with what was left of my day, except to go to The Purple Pig for dinner.  They specialize in meat (and I'm a vegetarian), but after eating out for a week already, I really needed something a little more creative than pizza or Mexican or Italian or whatever.  I had a delicious meal consisting of a cheese plate and a cauliflower dish with pickles in it.  Weird, but it worked.

I looked for one cache, but once again had no luck (it's all the times you don't find them that make the times you DO so worth it), and walked back to the hotel, taking some photos along the way:

I loved the look of these flowers under the "mood" lighting at night

I took this photo to text to a friend of mine who likes wine

Tuesday was the first day of the training, which was excellent, and I was scheduled to meet up with more people afterwards--this time people I'd never met before, who I "met" online through a blog about management (and no, I don't manage anyone, but it's got lots of useful workplace advice, regardless, and a GREAT community of commenters).  They live/work outside the city a bit, so our meetup time was a while after I was done, and the restaurant was walking distance, so I did a little exploring "on my way" there.  (Well, a little out of the way, but not much.)  The whole city was in bloom, mostly with tulips, which are one of my favorite flowers.  The streets are lined with flower beds, which had various color combinations.

Old and new

In addition to a few more traditional geocaches, I did a virtual cache at the water tower.  A virtual cache means there's no physical cache, but you e-mail either answer(s) to question(s) to verify you were at a certain site, or take a photo of yourself.  I'll skip posting the selfie, and apparently I didn't get any shots of the actual water tower building except that one.  Oops.  I did, however, meet and pet a couple of horses who were waiting for people to take carriage rides.  Of course--I gravitate toward horses and cats.  :-)

Then the time came to meet up with my online friends.  We went to Gino's East, and had some really good deep dish pizza and some great conversation.  Odd how you can just jump right into conversation with virtual strangers, when you have a few things in common.  Funnily enough, one of the people I was meeting doesn't know the city very well (she lives in the suburbs), and doesn't have a great sense of direction, so when she said she'd noted the cross streets of the garage where she parked but didn't know how to find her way back there, I actually recognized the streets' names and knew they were on the way back to my hotel, so I navigated the native back to her car.  :-)

Inside Gino's East

The next night, I met up with a co-worker who used to work in the same office as me in Bend, but has since moved to Chicago and now works out of her house.  She recommended a restaurant near her house, which involved taking the El (and transferring trains), but I'm always up for the tiny adventure of public transit, and her directions matched up with Google's, so off I went.  It was totally uneventful, even at rush hour.  Her neighborhood is cute, and the restaurant (Frasca) was AMAZING.  The temperature was perfect, so we sat outside (though we did get a couple of drops of rain on us), and the food was delicious--we got some bruschetta, and we each got basically the same pizza, but I got no bacon and she got no onions.  It had potatoes and blue cheese and yummy herbs, and I don't remember what all else, but it was delicious!  No photos from that night, though.

Thursday was the last day of the training, and therefore my last night in Chicago before I headed back to the west coast (ish) again.  I was determined to get more caches, and more interesting ones than the magnetic key holder stuck against the top of the inside of a newspaper dispenser.  It was clever the first time, but apparently that's all they do in downtown Chicago.  So I headed toward the waterfront, and found a VERY clever cache on the way, then a multi-stage one I easily solved the puzzle for but then couldn't find the actual cache.  Frustrating.  

People soaking up the sun after a cold rainy week in Chicago

The sand was drifted so high in this park that they had actually PLOWED it (like snow)

This panorama has some obvious stitching, but oh well.  It's still pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

There was a cache out ON Navy Pier, which actually took me to a cool spot in what is otherwise a very touristy location--a stained glass museum.  Who knew?

I was getting hungry, and wasn't very interested in the food available at Navy Pier, and had seen some cool caches in a different area of Chicago than my hotel was, so I pulled out my trusty Google Maps again, and took the bus to that area of town.  One of the caches was a multi-stage that involved finding this theater, but once again, the actual cache was elusive.  In this case, I'm 99.9% sure I knew exactly where to look, based on the clues, hints, and other logs of previous finders, but it wasn't there.  Such a bummer.  But still, a nice area to wander around, and I got dinner at an English pub kind of place--a delicious veggie burger!

The next morning, I decided not to schlep myself, my suitcase, my backpack, and my purse back to the airport via walking and the El, so I forked over the money for a cab (well, the company paid, but still...), had a relatively easy ride (though not so entertaining as the previous one to O'Hare), and made it home pretty uneventfully.  It was a LONG trip, and my cats were very happy to see me (and I to see them).  The end.

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