Riding a rickshaw

We took our first pedicab ride in Chicago, Illinois.

Obviously, we’d seen rickshaws in Asia, but being keen walkers, we had never been tempted to use what we considered to be mainly a novelty.

However, in Chicago, it was a matter of exhaustion.

We’d walked several miles from the Hilton Chicago on South Michigan Avenue through the city centre and on to Lincoln Park Zoo.

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A typical pedicab

Getting there was fine, but the return journey late in the afternoon proved a hard slog and by the time we reached The Loop – as Chicago calls its CBD – our feet were aching.

Near Chicago’s Millennium Park, several pedicabs passed by – and, on impulse, we hailed a rider and asked about prices.

After some quick haggling, we settled on about $US8 and climbed aboard the pedicab for the six or seven city blocks to the hotel.

Although the ride wasn’t fast, it was exhilarating and lots of fun.

Our pedicab was designed for two people and even included seatbelts. However, we didn’t feel in any danger as the rider stuck close to the edge of the busy road and cars gave us plenty of room.

The only time our pedicab had to sound its bell, was to alert cyclists and other rickshaws of our approach.

Rickshaws are used in many US cities, mainly for their novelty value as an entertaining form of transportation for tourists and locals.

According to our Chicago rider, the first known commercial use of pedicabs in North America occurred in 1962 at the Seattle World’s Fair.

Why not. They are heaps of fun.

Chicago travel US

Bay Bridge milestone

Mention San Francisco and many immediately think of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

But, for the time being at least, another lesser-known crossing of San Francisco Bay is taking the limelight from its famous neighbour.

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, known by locals as simply the ‘Bay Bridge’, is passing its 80th anniversary.

Opened in late 1936, about six months before the Golden Gate crossing, the Bay Bridge is said to have one of the longest spans in the US and carries more than 240,000 vehicles a day.

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Like many of the world’s long water crossings, the Bay Bridge is actually a combination of two halves with an island in the middle.

The older western section of 3,141 metres, links downtown San Francisco to Yerba Buena Island.

This part is a double suspension bridge with two decks, westbound traffic is carried on the upper deck and eastbound below on the lower deck. In days gone by, trains ran on the lower deck.

A 160 metre long tunnel carries traffic through Yerba Buena Island and joins with the bridge’s eastern section, which is a relatively new, sleek single deck with eastbound and westbound lanes of each side of the span – making it one of the widest bridges in the world.

The eastern side of the Bay Bridge connects with vibrant Oakland, which is the third biggest city in the San Francisco Bay Area; the eighth biggest in California; and the 45th biggest city in the U.S.

The Bay bridge has not escaped damage in San Francisco’s notorious earthquakes.

In the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, a section of the eastern span’s upper deck collapsed onto the lower deck and the bridge was closed for a month.

However, in a similar program to the Golden Gate, much of the Bay Bridge has been retrofitted to help it better resist earthquakes.

San Francisco

Daisy the cow and the night Chicago died

As you walk down North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, it’s impossible to miss the old water tower.

And, more than 140 years after the Great Chicago Fire, the tower is one of the few remaining links to this momentous event – along with the story of Daisy the cow.

The 47 metre limestone tower was one of only a few structures in the area to escape the inferno of October 1871. It’s now an eye-catching art gallery.

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Information board at the Chicago Water Tower

Mrs O’Leary’s cow wasn’t so lucky, but whether Daisy actually played any role in the fire that killed 300 people and destroyed three square miles of the city, is debated to this day.

City officials never discovered the exact cause, but a popular tale in Chicago blames Mrs O’Leary’s cow for kicking over a lantern in a barn off DeKoven Street.

Another theory is that men were gambling inside the barn and knocked over a lantern.

What is certain is that two-thirds of Chicago was made of wood and tar; that the area needed rain badly; and that southwestly winds carried embers into the heart of the city.

And whatever actually ignited the blaze, it spread rapidly through the timber buildings, wooden sidewalks and even some wooden roads.

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Photo courtesy Chicago Tribune archive

Once flames jumped the Chicago River and destroyed the waterworks, the mains apparently went dry and little could be done.

Within a couple of days, more than 100,000 people were homeless.

In the aftermath of the blaze, Chicago promptly began to rewrite its fire standards and soon created one of the country’s leading fire-fighting forces.

At the same time, business owners and land speculators quickly set about rebuilding the city, helped in no small part by generous assistance from across the US.

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Memorial at the spot where the fire started

The story of Mrs O’Leary and her cow continued to grow, despite denials by the family itself and a later newspaper confession that the tale had been fabricated.

In fact, it became so engrained in local lore that Chicago’s city council officially exonerated the O’Leary family —and the cow—in 1997.

Since then, it has also been suggested that the blaze – and others across the Midwest of the US – may have been sparked by a meteor shower – or that ‘Pegleg’ Sullivan, who first reported the Chicago fire, may have ignited hay in the barn while trying to steal milk.

Or perhaps Daisy acted alone.

Chicago Features

Chicago has lots to brag about

Who really knows why Chicago is called the ‘Windy City”?

Depending on who you ask, it’s either because of the famous summer breezes off Lake Michigan, or the equally famous ‘hot air’ from local politicians.

And then there are those who say the term was coined by arch-rival, Cincinnati, to suggest that the good folk of Chicago were prone to bragging.

If that’s the case, then the nickname is well deserved. Chicago has plenty to brag and, although even locals describe winter as “miserable”, the Mid-Western US city is a wonderful place to visit in the warmer months.

With more than 2.7 million residents,Chicago is the biggest city in the US state of Illinois – and the third most populous in the country.

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With its legendary skyscrapers, Chicago is an international hub for finance, commerce, industry, technology, telecommunications, and transportation.

But over recent decades, the city has really made a name for itself in the arts, culture and sporting fields.

And the creativity and community spirit of this metropolis by the lake is obvious everywhere you look.

For example, in the heart of the city is Millennium Park, an astonishing 25 acres of landscapes, architecture and public art, including Cloud Gate, the massive stainless steel lump, known world-wide as ‘The Bean’.

The 168 polished steel plates look like a giant drop of highly reflective liquid mercury and are a dream for photographers.

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Chicago is famous for its outdoor public art, with donors establishing funding for such art as far back as 1905. A number of Chicago’s public art works are by leading international figurative artists.

Not far away is Grant Park, set beneath the backdrop of Lake Michigan.

For the past 20 years, many Chicago residents have flocked to a weekly music and dance event known as SummerDance. Running from June to September, SummerDance is billed as the biggest event of its type in the US and features a 4,900 square foot open air dance floor.

We made it to one of the last summer performances.

Grant Park is located in the area known as the Chicago Loop, that also take in the central business district, ‘Magnificent Mile’ shopping area, Chicago River, the Art Institute, Willis (Sears) Tower and the city’s Cultural Center.

The Magnificent Mile is a shopping magnet and fine dining strip, while the river is known for its informative boat tours that take visitors on a meandering journey amid the skyscrapers.

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Other outstanding attractions include Lincoln Zoo and the 50-acre entertainment playground and museum hub known as Navy Pier.

Chicago US

Why the Upper West Side?

“Home to bankers, lawyers, media types, rumpled intellectuals, yuppies and out-of-work actors walking their dogs”.

Does this comment by The New York Times sum up Manhattan’s Upper West Side?

Yes.

And no.

There is certainly a lot more to this iconic residential area of New York City with its affluent, highly livable streets and its cultural and intellectual feel.

We love Manhattan’s Upper West Side as a gentrified oasis, a world away from the bustle of Midtown.

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Brownstone buildings of Manhattan’s Upper West Side

You can revel in its family atmosphere; the number of strollers on its pavements; its greenery; the remaining Mom and Dad shops; and chatter of children boarding yellow school buses.

Sure, a stay in the Upper West Side is not for those on a tight budget.

The neighbourhood is prosperous and expensive and we’ve found that hotel prices are often steep, even by New York City standards.

“If you’ve seen a leafy, residential Manhattan neighborhood depicted on TV or in the movies, there’s a decent chance it was the Upper West Side”. NYCgo.com

To be strictly correct, the Upper West Side lies between Central Park and the Riverside Park –  and between West 59th Street and West 110th Street.

In the distance, you can see the Hudson River and the Washington Bridge.

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New York City school bus

It has the reputation of being New York City’s cultural and intellectual hub, with Columbia University located at the north end of the neighbourhood and the Lincoln Centre  – featuring the New York Philharmonic,  the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet – at the south tip.

However, for us, the appeal is much less highbrow: morning walks, coffee in hand, to Central Park to take in the procession of life; the squirrels; ponds; tennis courts; joggers; people flying kites, taking photographs,throwing frisbees; practicing baseball and preparing for work.

And what a backdrop!

Some of Manhattan’s best known  buildings rise above the park, especially in the upper west.

These include the Eldorado, San Remo, Majestic and Century apartments and the brooding Dakota building, forever known as the spot where John Lennon was murdered in 1980.

The Dakota Building

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How to get there:

Take the 1, 2 or 3 trains to various stops along Broadway, or the A, B, C or D trains to various stops along Central Park West.

 

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Don’t miss this long-running Broadway show

One of the iconic stores in New York City is in its 83rd year of operating in Manhattan’s stately upper west side.

Zebars is a New York institution: a legendary appetizing and Jewish soul food shop at the corner of 80th Street and 2245 Broadway – and a feature of scores of television shows and movies.

The store is a favourite haunt of ours when in NYC, especially the mind-blowing tea and coffee section, which is the equal of anything we’ve seen at Harrods of London and other similar high profile shops.

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Copyright Memorable Destination 2013

In New York City, it all started in 1934, when Louis Zabar, an arrival from what is now Ukraine, left his market stall in Brooklyn to establish a smoked-fish department inside a supermarket on Broadway near 80th Street.

Largely on the strength of its smoked salmon and a housewares section added in the 1970’s, Zabars steadily became a culinary magnet.

In the 1960’s, Zabars became well known for its Brie cheese; in the ’70’s it brought New Yorkers sun-dried tomatoes and gnocchi, and the following decade it became involved in a price battle with the speciality section of department store, Macys, for caviar.

This has gone down in New York folklore as the ‘Great Caviar War’.

On our last visit, we asked whether there had been a winner of the caviar standoff – and were told in no uncertain fashion that Zabars had emerged victorious and the real housewives of New York City had benefitted.

Zebars was also at the forefront of the trend toward drip coffee makers and by the 1970’s it was one of the biggest supermarkets in Manhattan.

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Photo courtesy Zabars

Today, the gourmet store is one of the best known commercial landmarks of the Upper West Side and, as well as tea and coffee, it is known for its selection of bagels, smoked fish, olives, and cheeses.

Zebars appeared in the film, Banksy Does New York and was mentioned in the film You’ve Got Mail.

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It has also been mentioned in the TV series V and episodes of Northern Exposure; Will & Grace; Dream On; The Green Inferno; How I Met Your Mother; Mad About You; Friends; Sex and the City; Broad City; The Nanny; Seinfeld; The West Wing; Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip; 30 Rock; The Daily Show; Hart of Dixie; Castle; Pardon the Interruption; Law & Order; and Gossip Girl.

Manhattan’s Upper West Side is an affluent, mainly residential area that has the reputation of being New York City’s cultural and intellectual hub.

Upper West Side US

Don’t miss this New York City oasis

It was a sunny Autumn day in New York City when we came across Trinity Wall Street.

Striding briskly through the frenzy of the city’s Financial District, in lower Manhattan, we were unexpectedly faced with an extraordinary sight – an old burial ground of tilting headstones, manicured green lawns and shady trees.

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Alongside this green oasis – in the shadows of surrounding skyscrapers – stood a magnificent old stone church built in the classic Gothic Revival style.

We meandered along the stone pathways of the graveyard to discover that we’d stumbled upon a venerable American institution – Trinity Wall Street Episcopal church and its famous 300-year-old cemetery.

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Photo courtesy: Village Voice

Apparently, the church site dates to 1697 when it was earmarked by the English King William 111 as the Anglican seat in the capital city.

There have been three church buildings on the site – near the corner of Wall Street and Broadway.

The current structure was built in 1846 and has been designated as a national historic landmark because of its architectural significance and place in the history of New York City.

We were told that, at the time of its completion, the 281 foot Neo-Gothic spire, surmounted by a gilded cross, dominated the skyline of lower Manhattan and was the highest point in New York until being surpassed in 1890 by the New York World Building.

Trinity became a welcoming beacon for ships sailing into New York Harbor.

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Pausing in the shady cemetery, we also discovered that the two-and-a-half-acre yard contained the tombstones and memorials of notable 18th Century New Yorkers, including many leading participants of the American revolution and the early years of Republic.

We were also intrigued by the obviously more modern bronze sculpture of a tree alongside Trinity Church.

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Apparently, the base of the sculpture is made from the roots of a huge sycamore tree that had stood for almost a century before it was flattened by falling debris from the nearby World Trade Centre after the September 11 terror attacks in 2001.

During the attack, people took refuge in Trinity from choking clouds of dust.

The tree sculpture carries a credit to artist, Steve Tobin.

Heading back into the busy Manhattan Financial District, we marvelled at the enormous contrast of such an oasis of calm and tranquility amid the hustle and bustle.

From Central Park to the High Line and Turtle Pond, such contrasts are not uncommon in New York City, where a special kind of beauty can await around almost any corner.

Main photo courtesy  Gigi alt (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

New York City Upper West Side