Archive for the ‘Public transportation’ Category

Cool, cold and colder in warm Chicago

January 31, 2012

Diane (saved by Amy's down coat) and Chicago Greeter Larry Ambrose in front of 'The Bean' in Millennium Park

Update: Globe story is here.

My friend Amy, whose downtown Chicago high-rise we were fortunate enough to stay in a couple weeks ago, keeps apologizing for the frigid weekend we encountered. I told her we wouldn’t have had it any other way. We needed bragging rights! It had been unseasonably warm there, until we arrived, when it snowed and the days dipped into the 20s and the nights, oh, who wants to think about it. Two things saved us. Amy and her partner, Deanna, keep their heat higher than we keep ours (yay!) and Amy loaned me her shin-length North Face down coat. Yes, yes, oh yes.

The `Crown Fountain,' a video sculpture and fountain by conceptual artist Jaume Plensa in Millennium Park

So, yes, we had a blast –of arctic air, but of fun too. Amy had given us with a travel-writer-worthy list of things to do, plus I had a few story assignments. Saturday we met our “greeter,” for my Boston Globe story about the very cool Chicago Greeters program. Greeters are locals who give free tours of their city. We picked “public art” from a smorgasbord of options. Our guy Larry took us to the beyond-thrilling Millennium Park, and then through a greatest-hits list of sculptures by Picasso, Dubuffet, Chagall, Miro, and Calder.

Farm manager Dave Snyder grows vegetables on the organic roof-top of Uncommon Ground

That afternoon Lina and I hopped on the Red Line to Edgewater, where we visited Uncommon Ground, “the greenest restaurant in the country” (according to the Green Restaurant Association) for a little Ode piece I was writing. I’m very skeptical of green claims and usually that proves founded, but not so in this case. From the organic roof-top farm to the tables made from local fallen trees, and many things in between, this was the real deal.

We took Amy’s suggestion (and discount) and headed across the street that night to the venerable Gene Siskel Film Center to see “Newlyweds” starring and directed by Edward Burns. Oh, yeah, and it was followed by a Q&A with Ed himself. Total thrill!

Sunday we got lost in the Art Institute of Chicago for hours and hours. In one room we soaked up more masterpieces than many people see in a lifetime. The new (2009) Modern Wing, designed by Renzo Piano, is a soaring three-story beauty chocked with modern, contemporary, and cutting edge show-stoppers.

Sunset over Chicago as seen from the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center

What could top that? Literally, sunset from the 94th floor of the Hancock Tower Observatory. (We went to the Willis Tower/Sears Tower the next day. Much longer lines, but it was worth it to stand on the transparent Skydeck Ledge 103 floors above ground.) On the way to meet Dutch friends of Lina’s living nearby, we stopped at American Girl Place for an overdose of pink before returning to adult fun — outstanding brew and food at Revolution Brewing in Logan Square.

Diane ventures out on the Sky Ledge at 1,353 feet in the air

On our final day, our hosts returned from Florida (oh, did I not mention we had the run of their splashy condo for the weekend?) and Amy and I caught up on some 15 years! Since college, she’s become a city mouse, while I’ve turned into a small-town girl who appreciates the big city from time to time. Thanks for the Midwestern hospitality, Amy and Deanna! We shall return!

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Can strawberries earn dividend miles?

January 13, 2009
Moveable Feasts paperback cover art

"Moveable Feasts" paperback cover art

I’ve been meaning to write about “Moveable Feasts,” for, um, more than a year. This wonderful book recently came out in paperback, so there’s my hook. It’s a travel book, food book, history book, and transportation book all stirred into one sophisticated stew. Subtitle: “From Ancient Rome to the 21st Century, the Incredible Journeys of the Food We Eat.” The author, Sarah Murray, a regular Financial Times contributor, has a longtime fascination with shipping containers and the transport of goods. While that may sound odd, think of it this way: look around you and consider how probably everything within your sight was shipped in from somewhere. Now can you understand her fascination? She said she wrote about the shipment of food because it’s a tangible thing everyone can related to.

Moveable Feasts by Sarah Morgan

Murray’s book coincidentally came out when the notion of “food miles” — that is the distance that food is shipped — was starting to be talked up. Two beliefs that have come out of that movement are that having food shipped in instead of locally grown is a modern concept, and that the miles food travels is of the utmost factor in regards to environmental issues. While Murray wasn’t out to counter those arguments, two points she makes in her book in effect do. Food has been transported for centuries, including the ancient Romans shipping in olive oil from other Mediterranean areas. And individuals driving their cars to farmers markets, for instance, potentially produce more carbon than one large food-filled shipping container crossing the ocean. I’m not asking you to buy that one without more information, but it’s an interesting point to ponder.

Sarah Murray; photo Paul Morgan

Sarah Murray; photo Paul Morgan

But what I love most about “Moveable Feasts” are the stories Murray shares from around the world, from the crazy and efficient lunchbox distribution system in India to the harvesting of strawberries in space and the travels of Norwegian salmon to China for deboning before being shipped back to Norway for eating. I also enjoyed the chapters on grain elevators and modern design, old Soviet planes being used to deliver  UN aid food to southern Sudan, and airplane food in general. An aside in the airline chapter really resonated with me — an observation by flight attendants that passengers, whose palates are dulled by flying, break out of their normal drinking habits, often by drinking Bloody Mary mix or tomato juice. Indeed, on every flight, Wessel orders tomato juice. I’ve not seen him drink it anywhere else, and we’ve never had it at home. I’ve always thought that was so weird. Now I discover that his quirk is hardly unique. Too funny.

I attended a reading by Murray in Durham at the Regulator and was riveted by her show-and-tell presentation. She started with a “tiffin tin,” the Indian lunchbox, and I was hooked from there. She told us her next project is a book on funerary customs around the world, which includes not only funerals but the set of beliefs and practices a culture uses to honor and remember the dead.

I emailed her about her progress not long ago and got this reply: “I’ve been doing a lot of travelling for the new book — Mexico for Day of the Dead, Bali for the most spectacular royal cremation; Palermo, Sicily, to a macabre catacomb of fully dressed 19th-century Italian mummies! And next, to Iran for the Ashura mourning festival and the ancient Zoroastrian Towers of Silence.” OK, Sarah, get that book finished so we can read it!

Circulating in DC

January 11, 2008

I drove to DC for a weekend last month, my first visit to our nation’s capital in a couple years. I had many stops to make on Monday before heading home to North Carolina. From my digs in Chevy Chase, DC (thanks, Markoes!), I was to start at the “soon-to-open” Newseum near the Mall for a sneak preview at 10 a.m., then go to the Washington Post at 15th between L and M for lunch with my former Boston Globe travel editor and the current Post food editor Joe Yonan (I also finally met my Post travel editor John Deiner), and next head over to Georgetown to see a relative. I hoped to accomplish all this before afternoon rush hour.

I asked my DC pals which transportation to use and everyone had the same advice: “Park in Georgetown and take the Circulator.”The DC Circulator bus service The what? The DC Circulator is a tourist-friendly two-year-old bus service in DC with three lines that bridge popular stops: Convention Center-Waterfront, Georgetown-Union Station, and Smithsonian-National Gallery of Art. It runs every 10 minutes, stops frequently, and costs $1 a ride. Day and mutli-day passes are available, too. (All-day parking in Georgetown was a reasonable $12. Or was it $15? Ooops, I forgot!) While I had to change lines once, the bus strategy worked well, thanks especially to the helpful passenger on my first ride. And the Circulators are right purty too. They’re bright red, with oversized windows and doors.

Amazingly, I was on the road by 3 p.m., though I didn’t really leave DC until 3:30 because I somehow managed to get onto 395 North instead of South and ended up back in the city. That’s the kind of circulating I don’t advise.

Bathroom blunder

October 27, 2007

One of the reasons I was excited about traveling to England last month was because it was the first time in years I’d be in a foreign country where I could actually speak the language. How relaxing! On Day One, I was reminded how being fluent didn’t mean being attentive. I could blame jet lag, but my friends would know better.The trip went like this: By plane from Durham, NC, to Atlanta to Munich to Manchester, England. By train: Manchester to Newcastle, a three-hour ride. About halfway through the trip I got up to use the loo.automated tubular contraption It was an automated tubular contraption, much like the one pictured here, but in this case tucked inside the hallway area between the conductor and the first car. I pushed the “open” button and the door slid open on its track, much like an elevator. Inside, I pushed the “close” and it closed.

As I was doing my business, I was shocked to hear the whir of the door as it slowly slid opened. While quickly but only partly pulling up my pants, I instinctively stood and reached to close the door, which was as ineffective as reaching for an automated car window on its way down.

I looked up to find an elderly woman watching me, while the male ticket taker had been polite enough to turn away.

“I’m so sorry, love, I guess you didn’t lock it, did you?” she said.

I guess I didn’t, did I?

I mumbled something while I found and stabbed at the “close” button, which, it turned out, was right next to the “lock” button.

“Leave it to the Yank,” I said with a red-faced smile as I exited.