Gadlinks for Monday 7.13.09

Well, it’s Monday, and it’s back to the grind for most of us. I, however, am down with the flu and am writing this from bed. I hope the rest of you are having a more healthy day. Here are the latest travel stories from the world wide web.

‘Til tomorrow, have a great evening.

More Gadlinks HERE.

One week in Chicago: Attractions

Chicago in the Summer is one of the most dynamic, energetic and entertaining places in the world. While I hate to over-plan any of my trips, I did have some must-sees that I had neglected on previous trips to the Windy City. I wanted to enjoy some of the museums and culture that the city has to offer, buy I also wanted to explore some of the outdoor views during the perfect Midwestern Spring weather. And, despite all of my previous trips to Chicago, I had somehow never been to Wrigley Field, one of the few remaining cathedrals of baseball.

So, fueled by a tremendous amount of local food, I set out to see some of the many treasures scattered around Chicago. By train, bus, foot and yes, Segway, I saw Chicago’s best spots and finally felt like I had taken advantage of a city that is not lacking in culture or activities.

Architecture Boat TourI don’t know much about architecture. I wish I did. But several of my friends told to me check out Chicago’s myriad skyscrapers and other architectural marvels, many of which are consider iconic. To maximize my time and learn a little something along the way, I opted to take a boat tour down the Chicago River that focuses solely on architecture. There are a few companies that offer these educational boat tours, but I opted by Shoreline Sightseeing’s offering. The 90 minute tour winds down the river and an incredibly knowledgeable guide explained the history and style of Chicago’s many influential designs. While I still am pretty clueless when it comes to architecture, I feel like I saw Chicago from a perspective that I have never experienced before.

Field Museum of Natural HistoryCall me a geek, but the Museum of Natural History in New York is one of the favorite places in the world. Well, the Field Museum in Chicago more than holds its own and is an impressive space with an outstanding collection. It’s home to Sue, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in the world. Standing next to Sue, I couldn’t help but feel like a little boy again as I was beyond amazed by the sheer size and ferocity of this long-exctinct beast. The Field Museum is also currently hosting Real Pirates, a phenomenal exhibit on the “Golden Age of Piracy” that is incredibly well done and is a must-see if you are in town between now and October 25, 2009. I lingered in the Field Museum for close to three hours as I marveled at the vastness of its collection.

Art Institute ChicagoRemember when I mentioned that I don’t know much about architecture? Well, art isn’t my forte either. Call me uncouth, but somewhere art history and appreciation escaped me. Still, I enjoy strolling through art museums, particularly on rainy days. So, on one dreary day in Chicago, I wandered downtown to check out The Art Institute’s famed exhibits. While it houses many impressive pieces and would take you some time to truly appreciate everything that it has to offer, you can have a pretty fulfilling experience in just a few hours. I stared at American Gothic for 10 minutes and it alone was worth the price of admission. This iconic painting is oft-parodied, but to see it in person is to feel as if you are experiencing something that transcends art. Well, maybe I just like that viewing such an influential painting made me feel cultured. And with the recent opening to the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, the museum now offers an even more complete view of the many periods and styles throughout history.

Wrigley Field
Built in 1914 and home to the Chicago Cubs since 1916, Wrigley Field is an icon not just in sports but in American culture. The ivy covered brick walls, the red sign welcoming you to the ballpark and the hand-operated scoreboard make you feel like you’ve been transported back in time to a period in history when steroids weren’t the top story and the game seemed pure. I experienced Wrigley twice while I was in Chicago. I took in one game from a rooftop overlooking the stadium and one with a ticket that I scalped right outside the park. If you want a unique view and enjoy all-you-can-eat (and drink) packages, watch a Cubs game from one of the many rooftops across the street from Wrigley. But for the true Chicago experience, get yourself inside. I took the train to Wrigley and arrived an 45 minutes before the game. I scaled not just a ticket but a front row seat! I watched my first Cubs game a mere 18 inches from the field on a gorgeous Spring day. You don’t have to be a Cubs fan, or even a baseball fan, to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of Wrigley Field.

Segway TourSegways are much maligned. They’re a folly that never really had a chance to catch on with mainstream American. Honestly, who was going to commute on a Segway? But for tourism, Segways are brilliant. And, since I am a massive geek, I have always wanted to experience riding one. And what better way to check that off the list than while exploring Chicago? Several companies offer Segway tours in town, but none can match the price of Bike Chicago. For $50, you get more than two hours of “gliding” around town, including an orientation on how to use your Segway. After five minutes it all felt like second nature and I was enjoying every minute of it. We toured Grant Park, the lakeside, Millennium Park and several other sights along the way and the tour guide was patient, helpful and knowledgeable. There may be no better way to see Chicago up close and, well, it’s just plain fun.

There are plenty of other sights to visit in Chicago, and I’ll be covering two very special places tomorrow when I share my experiences with some of Chicago’s furry and scaley friends. What are your favorite Chicago sights? Share below in the comments.

Check out my gallery of these attractions here.

Read about my Chicago food adventures here.

Cockpit Chronicles: St. Elmos Fire, Falcons and Segway-ing through Paris

Rich, the relief co-pilot, looked over my shoulder and pointed to the radar.

“Looks like you’re painting some weather there.” He said.

I looked down, noting the sea of green ahead.

“It doesn’t have much vertical to it.” I replied, which meant the clouds hadn’t developed into anything that would produce much in the way of bumps.

“I think it’s just heavy rain.” I said.

After flying around Hurricane Ike and Hanna, it was nice to get away from the Caribbean weather by escaping to France. Sure, there may be some specks of yellow among the green Rich had pointed out, but this was no real thunderstorm from what I could see.

Soon we entered the clouds from above. The sunrise we had been enjoying was gone now and the cockpit was a bit darker. As we descended towards 20,000 feet, St. Elmos fire began to sparkle on the front windshield. This phenomenon looks like lightning, but it’s actually static discharges occurring right on the glass just in front of our faces.

Rich grabbed my camera to film the scene. [Video after the jump]

As we approached Paris on the arrival, we broke out long enough to see the sun trying to peek above the cloud layer. Moments later we flew through a few small build-ups. This weather was hardly painting on the radar, yet these were some powerful little clouds. The airplane bumped and shook for the next ten minutes causing Rich to give up with the camera. He couldn’t film much longer anyway, since we were about to reach the 10,000 foot sterile period.

Checking in on the radio behind us was a U.S. Airways flight that was beginning to pick up the same ride conditions we had. Since I was working the radios, I gave a quick pilot report about the moderate turbulence we had just flown through, hoping the U.S. Airways flight might do a better job avoiding it than we did.

It turned out Rich made a good call. The green weather with specks of yellow turned out to be rougher than anything I’d ever experienced in Europe. Fortunately we were through it by the time we reached 10,000 feet.

Captain Frank finished off the approach with a nice landing at Charles de Gaulle.

We talked about our plans as we rode the bus into the city.

I’ve always wanted to do it. Maybe this was the layover to give it a try. The reflective vests and helmet makes you look so goofy. Could I get past that? I mean, it is a form of transportation, and I do like gadgets. But I wasn’t sure I’d be able to convince Rich to join me.

Of course I’m talking about taking a tour of Paris on a Segway. City Segway Tours offers as many as three of these tours a day during the summer with the rides tapering off as winter approaches. So I would have to do it on what would likely be my last Paris trip, number 17, of the year.

At 70 Euros, it doesn’t come cheap, but amazingly Rich really wanted to give it a try. He’s a bit of an adventurous type, who’s currently heavily involved in his new hobby of beekeeping. Since touring around Paris on a Segway wasn’t something he’d done yet, it didn’t take much to convince him.

Fat Tire had an opening on their 6:30 p.m. tour, so Rich and I had some time to roam around the city. I told Rich that Grant Martin, the editor of Gadling who normally resides in Michigan, was just a few miles from the hotel playing a competitive game of Frisbee at the Cité Universitaire.

We had some time to kill and we agreed that it’d be interesting to see what was involved in a competitive Frisbee game, so we walked over to the park where he and his girlfriend had met up with his sister and some others for a game.

It was apparently the nicest day of the summer according to the local media with warm 70+ degree temperatures, perfect for hanging out in a park and I suppose ideal weather for a Frisbee match.

Unfortunately, we wouldn’t see a real Frisbee match, since a local falconer was out flying two of his birds at the field. It gave Rich a good opportunity to take the pictures below while I shot some video.

Grant trying to determine if this bird would be using the field for the rest of the day…

The falcon unexpectedly took off after a kid ran towards it. (See video below)

We agreed to meet up with Grant and the ladies later that evening if we survived our Segway experience.

We met Lisa at Fat Tire Bike Tours and City Segway Tours at their office near the Eiffel Tower and she immediately made us sign away any rights and agree to pay for any damage we may do to the machines. That didn’t dissuade us, so we took the next step and picked out helmets before joining the five other riders.

Our guide, Dana, was an enthusiastic American who was rather adept at Segwaying through Paris. She gave us a good thirty minutes of instruction on how to operate the Segway.

Before we knew it, we were all getting comfortable with the motions needed to step on, move, turn and most importantly, stop Dean Kamen’s amazing little invention. The tour takes four hours and covers the major sites of Paris. Rich and I had seen these landmarks before, but we couldn’t stop grinning.

In just a few minutes we completely forgot just how dorky we looked on the Segway and we began enjoying the freedom it provided.

Our concerns with the €70 per person had been put to rest almost immediately. This was worth it.

It’s easy to underestimate just how fast 12 miles an hour is, until you’re on a Segway. We flew through the parks, mostly at a comfortable 1/2 speed, occasionally ‘opening it up’ a bit to feel the wind blow through our hair while demonstrating our prowess to the other riders.

I struck up a conversation with one of the riders who had his new camera damaged a few days earlier. He wondered if I might forward him some pictures and video, and I told him I was writing this up for a blog, and I could at least sen
d him a link.

Much to my surprise he was a fan of Gadling and he was pretty sure he’d read a Cockpit Chronicles. Or at least he thought.

So I vowed to send him this story–a post I’m sure he’ll remember, if only because he was actually there.

Dana gave everyone the option of stopping for a drink and an appetizer at a café, or simply taking a rest break at a Creperie/Bistro so we could spend more time running around the city.

Everyone decided to keep the rest break short and continue our tour as we were really enjoying the zippy little wheels. I was amazed that battery life wasn’t an issue even though we were almost constantly moving for the four hours. These machines never seemed to slow down.

For a novice, riding a Segway is almost more demanding than a bike tour, since your feet and calf muscles aren’t used to the corrections and weight-shifting required to speed up and slow down.

I was able to balance the device, even while shooting video along the way. I may regret this, but I’ll go ahead and share the video:

I know I’ve recommended the Fat Tire Bike tour of Paris and Versailles in the past, but you just might have to forgo those, and give the Segway a try. No one in our group regretted it.

We met up with Grant and his girlfriend over at the Latin Quarter at almost 11 p.m. Grant’s sister Chi twisted her ankle playing Frisbee and couldn’t join us for drinks and dessert. I would have enjoyed talking with her–to get her viewpoint on what it’s like as an expat living in Paris for the past few years. I guess I’ll just have to keep reading her blog. Here’s the day from her perspective along with some great pictures of the Falcon demonstration.

We’re no longer flying to Paris for the winter, so it’s time to bid farewell to this amazing city. It was more expensive this year than in years past, but far more memorable, too.

Now it’s back to the Caracas, Miami, and who knows what other trips we’ll see this winter. Stay tuned…

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston.

No Wrong Turns: Portland’s Powell’s, Ponies and Police

After a harrowing drive from Calgary to Vancouver due to ice, snow, and psychotic truck drivers, Tom and I managed to make it to Vancouver to visit with family and get one more vaccine for our trip.

Next up was Portland, Oregon. But we had to cross the US border and play nice with the officers. The conversation that took place in the car before went like this:

Me: “Ok, so I know they ask all sorts of personal questions but it is their country.”
Tom: “I know, I know, but I hate telling them stuff.”
Me: “I know, but you cannot refuse to answer questions or be difficult, they can send us home.”
Tom: “I KNOW!”
Me: “Kill ’em with kindness.”

Fortunately all went well at the border. They did make us pull over and go inside, but I think that was because Tom carries a New Zealand passport, not a Canadian. He had to fill out some random card that asks if you were a Nazi (even if you were, would you answer yes?), get fingerprinted, and have a photo taken that apparently will remain on file forever. Tom was pretty pissed about having things on file forever but that seems to be how the US rolls these days. Really, who can blame them? On the plus side the officer who helped us was really nice. I am not sure if that is any consolation for Tom.

We arrived in Portland late at night after managing not to be killed by the speedy highway drivers. Portland has a great vibe and our host was extremely pleased to have us stay there. In our wanderings we found out a few really neat things about Portland:

They have the largest independent bookstore in the world called Powell’s. It takes up a whole city block and carries both used and new books. We spent an entire afternoon perusing the aisles and barely made it past two sections.

Another interesting tidbit about Portland is its plastic ponies. You know, like the kid’s toy. They are found in older parts of Portland tied to metal rings that are embedded in the sidewalks. Back in the day these rings were used to tie one’s horse to in the city. It all started as an art project, called The Horse Project. In 2005, Scott Wayne Indiana decided that horses should be tied to these rings again. So he started tying these miniature horses to the rings, and eventually gained notoriety. The plastic ponies of Portland have stuck. Tom and I only managed to see one, though we spent lots of time looking. The website has a map of locations for those interested.

One more interesting fact about Portland: I saw police officers on Segways. Two burly guys in fluorescent-yellow jackets rolled right by us. Unfortunately I was not fast enough with my camera, because I was too busy trying not to stare and laugh. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Next up: the California Coast.

No Wrong Turns” chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.