Day: May 11, 2018

608. Wednesday 11th May 2018. Chicago, Buffalo and Niagara Falls…

Monday 7th May

I managed to sleep until 8.30am. We plugged in our phones and computer and logged onto WiFi to advise our Niagara Falls hotel we would be a day late and to reduce our booking to one night. It was midday before we checked out of the Swiss Hotel and taxied back to Union Station.

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Playing for coins. Taxi’s although regulated seem to have different rules of what constitutes a clean cab. One which took us to the station stank of urine. We did not know if the seats were the source or if it was the cranky driver. Of the two taxi trips we took in Chicago it seems drivers speak taxi English which is a variation of American English.

Chicago, known as the Windy City is built beside Lake Michigan and is criss crossed with bridges over canals.

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A number of buildings are glass, almost mirror like, reflecting each other.
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This was once an opening bridge to allow larger vessels to pass underneath. Now it is kept permamently open.
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This dumb barge is being pushed and manouvred along the canal to a construction site further up the canal. It seems easier to move the building site rubble and materials via a barge system as trucks usually cannot get to some sites.

It is the birthplace of modern skyscrapers and has The El. The El is an elevated commuter railway system. Trains seem to be running in every direction every few minutes.

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Here we can see the canal with bridge and the elevated railway above it and a work barge below.
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This clock in a prominent position above the roadway and on the elevated railway system. Another tunnel in the city had a limited height restriction. We saw one very long and very high truck was barely able to fit under the bridge. The driver must have realised his error could only drive slowly forward. At one stage his exhaust which was the highest part of the truck managed to scrape the roof of the tunnel.

We took the time exploring some of this high rise city by leaving Union Station and keeping one of the canals on our right.

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Chicago Union Station. An ants nest of activity especially at 5pm. Each entrance was populated by people trying to obtain money by asking for donations as they were homeless or by a musician playing for coins.
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Lots of tourist ferries cruise up and down the canals with a running commentary usually delivered by the skipper.
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This was a group of canoeists learning from the guy in front paddling backwards. A few minutes later when the Police boat zoomed past with siren screaming we were concerned perhaps the canoes had capsized or been hit by a tourist boat.

After 90 minutes we turned around and kept the canal on our left. We witnessed an incident and here is the brief news report.

“A boat capsized Monday afternoon in the Chicago River near downtown.
The incident occurred at about 3 p.m. No one was injured.  The small boat belonged to a contractor and a Wendella employee was on the boat and rescued by a larger Wendella tour boat.
At one point, the employee was standing atop the overturned boat.
The boat was towed away to Chicago police’s marine unit. Wendella said the employee was working on the boat when it took on more water than could be pumped out. It was not a Wendella boat.
It was immediately unclear what caused the boat to take on water.”

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Police on their way to the site of an incident. We were concerned it may have been the canoeists tipped over by a canal tourist boat.

What the report did not say was the number of Police cars, Police boats, Ambulance, helicopter, rescue truck, fire truck and scuba search and rescue teams which arrived on the scene.

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Police have taken a capsized dinghy under tow. The scuba team had already determined nobody was trapped underneath.
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The Chicago Fire Department Scuba Team truck.

After another bit of a wander around the canals we decided to head back to the station.

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The original timber bridges over this canal were much wider. Pylons on this side and opposite side show just how wide the bridge was.
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Along some of the canals were these floating gardens. Spring has just sprung so I am sure these gardens will be in full bloom i time for summer.

It was after 5pm and beginning to get quite cool with a cold breeze blowing along the canals and streets. Workers were on their way home. It seems they all catch the train. Standing back and watching from the relative safety of a bridge, the mass of people looked like a scurrying line of ants pouring out of an ants nest. We seemed to get pushed and shuffled by the mass of seething humanity. Finally we made the safety of the first class lounge. (a sleeper ticket gives you first class entitlements) Here they serve coffee – American coffee as well as Espresso, tea, milk, soft drink, juices, some wine and cheese tasting, vegetable sticks, spicy nibbles and hand-made chocolate. All this in a comfortable lounge atmosphere which included baggage storage, tables, chairs, benches, lounges, WiFi and power outlets and TV on every wall. We felt privileged. The staff were constantly cleaning and sweeping and ensuring food is available and walking around the lounge offering hand- made chocolates. We were impressed.

Amongst all this seeming wealth is a reminder all is not well. The streets are littered with homeless people either playing an instrument for coins or they sit with their belongings, often with a dog and a sign saying they are homeless and hungry and looking for money. Inside the station there were men walking around asking for money or offering to eat the unused part of our meal. Obviously they could not get into the first class lounge but could move about freely in the food court concourse area. Another reminder is the violence or potential violence lurking just around the corner. I saw one man drop a Crocodile Dundee size knife, still in its scabbard. He quickly picked it up and put it in his long The Matrix type of coat.

We used our meal voucher to dine upstairs in the main concourse.

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This hot dog outlet in the food court concourse caught our attention. Gold Coat Dogs. Donnis actually had a dog from here. They used a Kransky sausage, mayo, mustard, lettuce and onions on a crusty bun.

Yuk what rubbish food was dished up. We had far better options in the first class lounge.

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There are different sized water taxis, some as large as a bus while this one is more like what I consider a water taxi should look like.

Soon it was 9.30pm and time to Shuffle Off to Buffalo. The train, Lake Shore Limited is not as nice as the Empire Builder. It was cramped with nowhere to store luggage except in the room. We could cope with that but not the terrible noise and rock and roll motion of the train. The faster it went the noisier and rockier it became.

I did not sleep at all.

Tuesday 8th May.

Finally arrived in outskirts of Buffalo. What a dismal untidy area this is. On the approaches to the station the ground is heavily littered with rubbish. Old abandoned buidings attesting a once busy and wealthy area with lots of work. Old rusting cars and other rubbish is piled up beside the tracks. The windy day and dust adding to the loneliness  of Buffalo station. The town centre is quite a few Klms away and by comparison is quite attractive. The station attendant did her best USA hospitality for us allowing us to sleep on the waiting room benches. I slept for two hours solid but as there are no shops or anything of interest within a half hours walk I spent the time looking around the station…that took 1 minute…and chatting with the station attendant. After more than 6 hours our train to Niagara arrived.

It was late.

No sleeper berth required as it is only a 90 minute train ride to Niagara Falls Canada. Finally arrived on the Canadian side after travelling  the Friendship Bridge which spans the raging Niagara River. Friendship Bridge? Not sure with whom as the customs and immigration authorities here are not as nice as when entering the USA which is a surprise because I had expected the reverse to be true. The train stopped at the station and we were all told to remain in our seats until told otherwise. Then they locked all exit doors except one. Then we were told to collect all our luggage and personal possessions and assemble on the platform. People struggled to manoeuvre their luggage along the narrow corridor and down the steep steps. The train crew were not allowed to help. Slowly the line shuffled forward as we did all the passport stuff and asked our reasons for entry and where we were going and how long we will be in Canada  etc etc. Eventually they told us to get back on the train. But this is our stop! OK then exit here. All carried out in an unfriendly manner.

A bus took us near our hotel, the Wyndham Gardens    (a ten minute walk to the falls) which was a nice friendly surprise, with very helpful staff. The night manager found that as soon as we wanted to hire a car and drop it at the Toronto Airport there were no cars available.  She found a bus company which would take us to our next hotel, the Super 8 at Mississauga, for $25 for two of us. That was a done deal.

We left the hotel, went for dinner at Applebees     . I might comment here that food in both USA and Canada is supposedly cheap. Not so. In fact prices are much the same as what we experience in Australia but then comes the two surprises. Tax is added to the advertised price. So a $12 meal when you go to pay for it has a tax of $1.50 added. Then of course there is a TIP which in most instances is virtually compulsory. Tips are 15% 20% or 25% with an option to make a higher or lower or no tip at all. This is true of all goods and services across the US and Canada. That simple $12 meal if you choose the 15% tip option ends up costing $15.30. Even buying a simple loaf of bread advertised at $4 really costs $4.50 with tax.

Afterwards we walked to the falls. You can hear the roar of the water before you can see the falls. Signs along the road warned, “Freezing Mist”. We soon found out that was true but would really, really be true in Winter. It also explained why so many people wore quilted coats or were wrapped in warm clothes and scarves. By comparison we must have seemed underdressed.

Soon we could see the falls even in the late evening. Both the US and Canadian falls are lit at night. Even at night there were sizeable crowds taking photos and selfies. Both sets of falls are impressive but I have to agree with comments we have heard. The Canadian Falls are more impressive. We are looking forward to seeing the falls in daylight.