16 . 07 . 2013

Between Days 5 and 12: Flights within USA.

I’d like to take this time to write about my experience flying within the US. Between days 5 and 12, I flew three times, four planes overall, and two airlines. I chose flights that are as cheapest and most direct as possible.

Day 5: SFO-MSY (San Francisco to New Orleans).
I flew Southwest via Las Vegas, because only United Airlines has a direct flight for this route, but the ticket is three times more expensive than Southwest! I think Southwest is great, to be honest. It is cheaper than most other airlines AND the price includes TWO CHECKED LUGGAGE, which I think is a major highlight. What’s different about their system is that there is no assigned seating. The way it works is that when you check-in (from 24 hours before the flight), you are assigned a boarding group and a number. This governs the order in which you can enter the plane and take your seat (sit anywhere that’s empty). A and smaller numbers are first. So what it means is that you pretty much gotta check-in as soon as it opens. However, Southwest offers what’s called “earlybird check-in” which automatically checks you in 24 hours before the flight. It costs $13, I believe. I did this and was so glad I did, since my flight to NoLa was at 7am, so I didn’t want to wake up early the day before, just to check in. As you can see from my boarding pass, I am boarding group A, position 24, which means I was the 24th person to board the plane. It was great! Both times (SF-Las Vegas and Vegas-NoLa), I got a window or aisle seat in the first two rows.

Day 8: MSY-MDW (New Orleans to Chicago [Midway Airport]).
Southwest had a direct flight from NoLa to Chicago, so I went with them again. I think they only fly to Midway airport, which I heard is the better (less crowded) airport than O’Hare anyway. Again, I opted for earlybird check-in, so managed to get an aisle seat on the front row, which means I was pretty much the first person out of the plane when we landed.

Anyway, I would recommend Southwest Airlines if they have a direct (or almost direct) route that you want. Their price is great (especially if you remember that other airlines tend to charge extra to check luggage) and their flying times are reasonable. You don’t get complimentary food or drink, but you get free pretzels and nuts, I think. Their flight attendants, in my experience, are cheerful and friendly, which is always good.

Day 12: ORD-DCA (Chicago [O’Hare Airport] to Washington DC [Reagan National Airport]).
After researching Washington-area airports (Dulles, Reagan, and Baltimore BWI) and taking note of where I was staying, I was adamant of flying into Reagan. Unfortunately, Southwest has no direct flight to Reagan from Chicago. I believe only United, American Airlines, and Delta do. Based on the price, I went with American Airlines. Now here’s the weird thing. AA charges for checked luggage. However, if you have two pieces of baggage, an economy tix + 2 x luggage fees is only $10 less expensive than a first class tix, which comes with 3 CHECKED LUGGAGE! Well, the choice was easy for me. I went with a first class ticket and it was WONDERFUL! I already mentioned my hectic morning in Chicago trying to get to O’Hare. But when I got to the airport, I didn’t have to queue because I could go to the first class desk. And then I got security checked at the first class-only line, so again, there was no line. To board the aircraft, of course I was also first. The seat was spacious and comfortable. And though it was only a 1.5-hour flight, I got a drink before take-off, an actual lunch that was delicious (beef salad pictured), coffee, and a warm cookie before landing. Upon arrival, my luggage came out first and there were people who actually took them off the carousel for me! Yeah, I could get used to first class, haha…

Anyway, based on that, my experience with American Airlines was great. I guess in the future, when flying with an airline that charges extra for luggage, I’d check whether it’s worth buying a first class ticket instead.

12 . 07 . 2013

Day 8-11: CHICAGO.

I love Chicago! It’s so far my favorite American city after New York (I am currently blogging this from NYC). I guess that’s the thing though. It’s a bit of an unfair bias on my part, because I love the urban environment. I feel most at home in it. I like exploring cities with beautiful tall buildings, largely organized streets, and reasonable public transport infrastructure. Chicago has all that and more. I’ve said it over and over: The architecture is exceptional. You can tell it’s laid out by people who love buildings and I appreciate that.

I must confess that I mainly spent my time in downtown Chicago and the Wicker Park neighborhood where I was staying, so most of these observations came from those two areas. Wicker Park is a nice enclave for hip and artistic people. Again, it’s a bit of an unfair bias, because it has the same feel as Melbourne. It was the first time in the trip where I could see so clearly where my friends and I would’ve hung out.

Other highlight: Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field. With apologies to the White Sox, I’m afraid I gotta hand it to the Cubs for giving Chicago visitors (and general out-of-town baseball fans) a fantastic baseball experience. Seriously, if you are NOT a baseball fan and just want to experience a game, here are the teams/ballparks you should check out:
- Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
- Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
- San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park.
- New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

(Disclaimer: At this stage, I have only been to nine ballparks and these four are ones that impressed me the most).

While practically all of my Chicago experience had been a positive one, the morning I left was a mighty hectic one. It was absolutely POURING RAIN and I had to catch a flight out of O’Hare. And the taxi I booked of course didn’t show, so I had to try and hail one from the street. A couple stopped but would not take me to O’Hare because there were construction and major traffic jams (ETA to the airport? 2 hours!). OMG, panic city. Luckily, Wicker Park is on the “blue line” train that runs to O’Hare, so I got the cab to drop me off at a major blue line station reasonably close to the airport that had wheelchair access (so I can transport my luggage more easily). Presto. 30 minutes and I was at the airport! So if you ever need to fly out of O’Hare in the morning, just be aware that this might happen and the train could be your best bet. (I flew into Midway by the way and some would say that it is the better airport?).

Public Transport is run by the CTA and Metra for some reason. It was confusing, because I didn’t expect the city to have two separate public transport systems that go to many similar places (US Cellular Field, for example, is a shorter walk for those that have a Metra card than CTA). As you can see, I bought a CTA card (I didn’t know about Metra until a few days in Chicago). I got a three-day pass for $20, I believe. It still took me everywhere, including that famous “Loop” in downtown Chicago. The CTA trains are also called the “L” because a large part of the system is on elevated tracks (as opposed to underground).

08 . 07 . 2013

Day 11: US Cellular Field, Part 3, Chicago White Sox vs. New York Mets.

It was a shame about the low attendance to this game, because guess what? It turned out to be a dramatic walk-off!

At top of the 9th, the White Sox had a 1-run lead, so they brought out Addison Reed. I was so excited, because he is one of the closing pitchers whom I really like. Well, Reed managed to get 2 outs with a runner on (I believe it was David Wright on third base). And he got the batter (Daniel Murphy?) to pop-up. Then the implausible actually happened. The fielder managed to fail to catch that routine infield pop-up! Wright scored, the Mets tied the game.

Thankfully, at bottom 9th, the White Sox were able to put some runners on and it was Alexei Ramirez who finally hit a line drive (I think) to right field. Walk-off! White Sox won! You can see the fireworks going off and the home team celebrating in the field there in the first picture. Amazing!

9 months ago

Day 11: US Cellular Field, Part 2, Chicago White Sox vs. New York Mets.

This was my fourth ballpark in this trip and it was the first time where I felt that the stadium was really empty. Granted, it was a Tuesday night game and it was drizzling a bit, but I still felt sorry for the White Sox. They won the World Series in 2005, damn it. Even I remember that.

Anyway, I had nachos for dinner and got myself an old-looking White Sox cap (think it was the Cooperstown series).

9 months ago

Day 11: US Cellular Field, Part 1, Chicago White Sox vs. New York Mets.

After the Cubs’ game two days prior, I made my way to South Chicago. The ballpark is as modern as Wrigley Field is old. It’s okay, I suppose. I was not a fan of the long walk from the station to the stadium. I mean, ballparks, in my opinion, should be RIGHT THERE on the station.

The view of Chicago sure was pretty though (last picture).

06 . 07 . 2013

Day 11: Post-Architecture Boat Tour of Chicago.

Here we have the bust of Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable, Founder of Chicago. It should be noted that he was of mixed origins, which I thought was cool. Then we have the Chicago Tribune building, again with the Blackhawks banner.

9 months ago

Day 11: Architecture Boat Tour of Chicago, Part 6.

We have Navy Pier, which I didn’t go to, and a view of Chicago from the Navy Pier area. It was an overcast day.

9 months ago

Day 11: Architecture Boat Tour of Chicago, Part 5.

Firstly, we have a building that was bought by Joseph Kennedy (father of JFK and RFK) and intended to be a center of interior design (today, a lot of homeware/interior decor shops are still situated there). The second is a building which, the guide said, may be torn down for something bigger and taller. But that day, there was that Blackhawks sign again.

9 months ago

Day 11: Architecture Boat Tour of Chicago, Part 4.

Here we have the Civic Opera House, which looks like something out of an Ayn Rand book. The second pic is just the underside of a bridge. The third is the abandoned US Post Office building — Can you spot the Blackhawks sign? Wonder who did that. The last is of the famous Sears Tower, called the Willis Tower with the Skydeck, where you can stand on glass floors and see 99 stories down. Ugh. The thought makes my head spin.

9 months ago

Day 11: Architecture Boat Tour of Chicago, Part 3.

The first pic is a bridge that is permanently in a raised position. The second is of a neat building that has an exoskeleton (the inverted ‘v’ structure in the middle). The third is of balconies that just look added on to the building (I don’t know if you can tell, but there are these cable-like things that connect them to the building, like they’re hung by the )