2008 Jul 20 | Niagara Falls, Chicago

I hate salesmen. When I got to Niagara Falls, all I wanted to pay for was the Maid of the Mist (the boat that goes near the falls) and walk to see the rest. When I was buying a ticket at the main tourist center, the guy selling tickets said they only offered packages and that you couldn't buy individual tickets. I specifically told him all I wanted to buy a ticket for was the Maid of the Mist, and he said that wasn't possible. I had checked on the internet a couple of days before, and I thought you could, but perhaps I was remembering it wrong. So I bought a $70 guided tour, and later on, when we got to the boat, I saw that you could buy tickets for only $12.50. Grrr.

The Maid of the Mist was pretty fun. I wasn't planning on paying for anything, but Holly said this was worth it. You get really close to the falls and can get pretty wet, so they give everyone rain jackets.

The view of the falls from the US side. On the left are the American Falls; on the right are the horseshoe falls.

Farther down stream from the falls is the whirlpool. After some rapids, the water circles around before continuing. There is a little tram that goes across, but both points are on the Canadian side.

The power plant.

A model of the entire system. The falls are at the bottom and the power plant is at the top. There are also tubes that run across the town they use to control how much water goes over the falls to reduce erosion.

I was expecting a big, normal museum, but the Daredevil Museum was just a little area in the back of a convenience store. It still had some neat things.

Like the jetski someone used to jump over the falls.

The Cave of the Winds allowed you to get right under the American falls, so they also gave people rain jackets here. The amount of water coming over would increase and decrease. Everyone would be standing there getting pictures, see a giant wall of water start to come, turn around, and curl up to protect their cameras.

They also gave you these sandals to wear.

One of the bridges across to Canada that you can walk across.

The center of the bridge, where the American-Canadian border is.

The same area in the opposite direction with a plaque and the falls.

The view of the falls is much better from the Canadian side because you can look across the river at them; on the American side you're on the same side as the falls.

The only problem is that you have to leave the US and therefore come back in. I think you're actually supposed to have proof of American citizenship, like a passport or birth certificate, but they let you across with only a driver's license, although they seemed kind of annoyed by it. They did ask me where I was going and who the first president was, and thankfully my mind didn't go blank; that would have been embarassing. I wanted to say, "Hey. I just walked by you 15 minutes ago when I was leaving the US. Stop being a pain." But better to not provoke them.

Especially because the border patrol weren't particularly nice. You would think we'd want the happiest, friendliest people we could find to welcome people into our country, but apparently we went for trying to scare away the two or so terrorists who come into the US from Canada every ten years while being jerks to everyone else.

That evening I stayed in the Hostelling International in Buffalo, which had by far the biggest rooms of any hostel I've ever stayed in.

A couple of us worked on a jigsaw puzzle, which I haven't done in years. And I remember why; I got a headache from staring for all the tiny details.

There was a big outdoor concert downtown.

I drove to Cleveland next. One attraction there is the USS Cole, a submarine you can walk through.

The torpedo room.

Bunks. After staying in hostels, though, this really doesn't seem too crowded.

The conning tower.

The Rock and Roll hall of Fame Museum was out in the same area.

There was also a Mountain Dew tour, with dirtbike competitions and things. It was way too hot and humid to sit in a line in the sun for hours, though, so I skipped that.

The arcade, one of the first indoor malls.

The Cuyahoga County Soldiers' and Sailors' monument.

On the way to Chicago there were these animal detectors that supposedly flashed when animals were around. I'm not sure if they are worth the cost.

Chicago has a pretty big subway/train/bus system. I never even used the subway, though. I used the train to get into downtown and then walked around. There was a ticket for the train that was good for the entire weekend for only $5, which was a great deal. To see anything that was a little farther out, I just drove, which I could actually do in Chicago pretty easily.

The trains were pretty clean inside.

Although some of the stations weren't. The one I used seemed more like an old, unused shack than a train station.

I was getting pretty bored with museums by now; after all, most of them have the same exhibits (stuffed animals, gems, etc) with only a few things at each that stood out. The Field Museum was much more interestingthan any of the others I had seen, though.

Me in front of Sue, the t-rex skeleton.

Although it's real head was upstairs because it was too heavy.

Some huge totem poles.

All different types of masks.

There was a big room downstairs with lots of tables, which was really nice for people who brough lunches. If you didn't bring lunch, though, you probably didn't want to pay the vending machine prices.

I think one of the reasons I liked the Field Museum so much is I've always loved evolution, and it had a huge section on it which ran from the earliest life forms to modern times.

Including when the fish started to walk on land.

Mastadons and mammoths.

A big wall with pictures of all different kinds of animals.

A section on meteors included pieces from a house which a meteor hit.

I was lucky I got there fairly early in the day because there was no waiting at all. By around noon, the lines were huge.

In fact, the line for the aquarium was insane. It stretched out of the aquarium, around into the grass, and then continued across another walking area.

The Adler Planetarium, which gives a nice view of the Chicago skyline from the steps across the water.

Although it was kind of drizzling.

There were a few baby ducks swimming around.

The Buckingham Fountain.

I don't know if these boots were supposed to be functional, but it wasn't raining that much, and if they're supposed to be fashionable, they're horrible.

Memorial Park had a ton of really neat artwork. This is the Crown Fountain. Images show up in the two giant pillars on each end, and kids run around in the water between them.

The Cloud Gate, a huge reflective piece of metal.

There was some little concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, but since it was drizzling, not many people were watching.

I went to Bella Bacino's for the Chicago deep dish pizza, which was good.

Michigan Avenue has tons of shops. There were also lots of musicians on the corners and pieces of art.

The moving statue guys had a huge crowd.

Oak Street Beach. There weren't too many people there, but maybe that was because of the weather.

The view to the south from the Hancock Center observatory.

And to the north.

The Old Water Tower, which survived the 1871 fire, and Center Hancock.

The Billy Goat Tavern was made famous by an old SNL skit.

Although you had to go down to the darker lower level of roads to get to it.

I ended up staying in a motel because the Chicago hostel was booked solid. I saved some money by staying out from the center of the city (in fact, it was actually in Hazel Crest, not Chicago), and while the room was pretty good, I'm guessing the neighborhood wasn't, considering this sign.

The Chinatown summer fair was on that Sunday. There were only a few food booths, though; mostly it was selling other items. And of course all the silly white people bought and wore the stereotypical Chinese hat.

The Lion Dance procession.

A lot of Chicago roads have bike paths on the side, which is nice. However, the path goes away at intersections, so there's still a problem there with bikes having to jam up against traffic.

I'm constantly losing and breaking sunglasses, so I only buy $5-$10 pairs at gas stations and other cheap stores.

I wanted some Post-It notes. I like the plain yellow ones, but not the sickly-pale-yellow generic ones. Well, none of the stores had them, although they had tons of other colors and shapes.

I like how stores are starting to put unit prices on things so you can more easily compare prices, but I think using units of 50 on pens is a little wacky.

The Blue Man Group was playing. The tickets were a little expensive, so I waited until two hours before the show, because then they start to sell discount tickets to fill up seats. I got lucky because I was alone and only needed one seat, which meant a single seat in the very front row was still available. The first five rows had free rainjackets with them, though, which was a little disconcerting.

Before they began, they had lots of fun with the little scrolling LED signs by the stage, such as pointing out people in the audience. Even during the show they pulled people out of the audience to participate in various acts.

My favorite part of the performance was when they played drums with paint on them. The act as a whole was really more modern art than just music, though, which was pretty interesting. There were lots of comments on popular art and music, too.

At the end they pulled huge rolls of toilet paper from the back of the room through and over the audience while alternating black lights and strobe lights, with all of us throwing it forwards. By the time the bunches got to the front rows, people were completely buried under them. Overall, it was a very fun and interesting show.

The last thing I went to see in Chicago were the Frank Lloyd Wright houses. This was his home and studio.

Most of the homes are right near each other on the same few blocks.

He really liked open spaces.

A couple of others.

These weren't his homes, but I still think it was neat how they're side by side and two different solid colors.

I was craving Dairy Queen's chicken strips that night. I drove to the only one that was even remotely close, but it only served ice cream.