Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Things to do in Chicago - Untouchable Gangster Tours

Al Capone, John Dillinger, Johnny Torrio, What do all these names have in common?



They are all mega famous Chicago legends featured on the Untouchable Gangster Tour - the most thrilling tour in Chicago!

The Untouchable Tour is a 1 hour 45-minute live action gangster tour and an absolute must for any lover of gangster movies, mob stories and prohibition era fans!



You are taken all over the city on a thrill ride of all the hottest spots and gangster hang outs. For me it really brought to life all the places you imagine from the tales of Al Capone and the gangsters of the time. It's so easy to think of these places as scenes from a movie but they are real and you can visit them all!





Our guide was Slippery Sloop and he was fantastic. So entertaining and knowledgeable and made the tour come to life for us. It was hard to think of him as anything other than a legit 1920's guide!





















If you are going to be in Chicago over the summer, this is the perfect way to cool off on the all new tour bus whilst getting to see all over the city and hearing the legendary tales. It's honestly worth it just to take in the city as a whole, and you'll be on the edge of your seat with the hair raising tales of real life gangsters that prowled the streets!

You can purchase tickets here :
Untouchable Tours

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Things to do in Chicago - Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise

A Chicago city tour with a difference!


Ok I'll admit I know absolutely nothing about architecture and usually wouldn't be the first in line for an architecture city tour on my travels. But when researching what I should do in the Windy City, my Marco Polo Guide book had this pegged as the top tour in the whole of Chicago and "not to be missed" - so I was very intrigued!

When I arrived in Chicago I fell in love with the skyline immediately. I could look at it all day, it's really something special. It's one of the prettiest skylines in the whole world and I think it's so cool how it's ever changing and growing. One thing's for sure water plays a big part of the Chicago landscape; from Lake Michigan reaching out as far as the eye can see to the vast river running right through the city centre, the combination of water and architecture really does make this one of Chicago's truly unmissable tours.




When visiting the River Walk in Chicago you will notice that there is a lot of competition for river cruises, but the Chicago Architecture Foundation is who you want to go to. They are a nonprofit organisation, their mission is to inspire people as to why design matters - and for me, a complete design novice - they certainly succeeded. The CAF don't just do architecture cruises, they provide tours, exhibitions and youth and adult education classes to pursue this mission and their commitment shows.



This will be the 24th season of  of the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises, so they are no newbies. The tour is led by experienced CAF-certified volunteers who after hundreds of hours of training carry out a staggering 2000 cruises per season - these guys know their stuff and it shows. We had volunteer Barbara Dixon leading our tour, who not only fascinated us with the city history, she was also really entertaining and brought the subject to life for us.



The CAF River Cruise is the perfect way to take in the city skyscape and each and every cruise describes the history of over 50 buildings. You'll see and hear about the famous 108-story Willis Tower, (formerly known as the Sears Tower), Marina City, Merchandise Mart, Civic Opera Building, Aqua Tower, and beautiful historic buildings such as the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower, (shown below).
 


It's a spectacular experience, to escape the hustle and bustle of the city streets and to serenely cruise down the beautiful river, taking in the sights, sounds and smells, (yes smells, in this case that's a good thing - the cruise takes you past a chocolate factory which is mouth wateringly good!) in the birthplace of the American skyscraper.





 




It's not only Marco Polo and the other guidebooks who have this down as the best tour in Chicago, TripAdvisor named the CAF River Cruise one of the “Top 10 Tours in the United States”  in 2015, and it boasts the much coveted 5 stars in their customer ratings. Everyone I have spoken to during my time in Chicago have said, "Have you done the river tour yet? You must!" and after spending a beautiful 90 minutes cruising in the sunshine I can see why.





The vessels are fantastic, there is comfortable open air seating on the main deck which even in the heat of the afternoon lets you feel the soft breeze from the river, with a choice of seating in the bow of the boat and even a temperature controlled bar in the inside cabin. The bar is well stocked with a good choice of snacks, soft drinks, beers, wine, cocktails so you can truly experience the cruise in style, and they take both cash and card payments, (which I always find good to know!). I opted for a Wisconsin Summer Shandy - a perfect accompaniment to the sunshine.


The First Lady cruise line is fourth generation family owned, a very special thing indeed. Together with their parent company Mercury, Chicago's Skyline Cruiseline they are celebrating their 81st season on the banks of the Chicago river, meaning they have seen some drastic changes to the landscape of the city. I love that they recognise the importance of thinking green, and make sure all the vessels are carbon neutral and energy and environmentally friendly.



I would highly reccomend the river cruise for the whole family, you get to see the city at it's best in comfort, at a gentle pace, no exertion required, (which is always a bonus in my book!), and you can come away with a whole bunch of stories to make you feel like you really know Chicago from the inside. I have family visiting Chicago next summer and I've already told them that this should be first on their list of things to do in the city.


For more on the CAF or First Lady Cruises you can visit them online or in person just check out the the info below. I'd love to hear if you've been on the river cruise, or if you are planning on visiting Chicago soon, comment below or get in touch on my social links!

CAF is located at 224 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60604. For further information, visit
www.architecture.org or call 1-312- 922-3432

 Chicago’s First Lady dockside ticket office is located on the Riverwalk at Michigan Ave. & Wacker Dr., look for the blue awnings!)
. For more information, visit www.cruisechicago.com





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Monday, 6 June 2016

One night in New Orleans..

As part of my American Road Trip series, I bring you a quick overview of how you can spend one very fun night in The Big Easy!

We only had one night of our road trip in New Orleans, but if you do it right - one night in NOLA is all you need!

Start the clock ...

6pm - Louis Armstrong Park 

It was gorgeous in the park at this time, the sun was still up but there was no one around, leaving us free to stroll, relax and take pictures. I can imagine in summer, in the heat of the day it's a great escape from the bustle of the city and perfect to find a shady spot to cool down. It's really a special place and the statues and memorials are a fantastic way to take some time to sit, read the plaques and appreciate in some small way the movement and revolution that came about due to some incredibily brave people.

Louis Armstrong Park was originally known as Beauregard Square, and is an impressive 32 acres of parkland. It's just over the road from the famous French Quarter, so easy to include in any itinery of the city. The park today honours Jazz legend, (and I feel legend is an understatement), Louis Armstrong, but is also a historical site encompassing Congo Square a place where slaves would meet in the 1800s making music and dancing and is the origin of many genres of music have their roots. There's a whole lotta of history contained within the gates of this park and I would urge anyone visiting to take some time to learn some of it before visiting.

 










7.00pm Walking through the town down to the Mississippi 


We walked through the streets, down to the river as the sun was turning the sky blood red. There's just something about this place, it's difficult to describe but it bewitches you. It's magical. We took some time to explore the French Quarter, walking through the tangle of streets taking it all in. From the architecture to the horse drawn carriages it's like walking through another world. Drink it in and enjoy all the sights and sounds.






8.30pm Food time!

There's a whole host of excellent restaurants, cafes and bars offering local cuisine and if there's one way to get a real New Orleans experience it's through the food. Walk through the streets and pick a place you feel suits you, there are a lot to choose from.

We lucked out and stumbled upon a fantastic place which as well as boasting a crazy good assortment of micro brewery beers gave us the opportunity to sample some of the food NOLA is famous for, and at its best. 

Between us we sampled gumbo, crwfish etouffee, and aligator po boys, my mouth is watering just thinking about it now! 




9.30 pm Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street is one of the most famous in places in America, steeped in history, packed with iconic buildings and known for it's wild ways, it's one big party from start to finish. You don't even need to enter a bar to be in the middle of the action and there are plenty of street vendors selling the world famous Hurricane cocktail, (note - if you like rum and tropical flavours this ones for you!).  Take a walk, catch some beads, (even if it's not mardi gras), and soak up the atmosphere.










10.30 pm Maison Bourbon

Live jazz and Sazerac. Thats all I'm going to say. No really though this place is like something straight out of a movie and an incredible experience. Maison Bourbon is one of Bourbon Street's oldest live jazz clubs and one of only two jazz clubs remaining on the famous street. Luckily for us the club is dedicated to keeping the genre alive in New Orleans and they do a fine job.

For the full experience I would reccomend going after sundown, sit back, order a Sazerac and sip it slowly while your mind is blown by the finest quality, authentic jazz performances. When I think of all my favourite moments from my road trip this is right there at the top, there's nothing like it.




If you want to take the party on after that just follow the crowds down Bourban Street  and there are tons of hot spots to spend the night until the early hours.

So there it is my one night in New Orleans. If I can fit all that into one night in NOLA then just think what you can do if you have longer.

If you are planning a trip let me know what you intend to get up to, and I'd love to hear any reccomendations for the next time I visit. Leave your comments below or get in touch via my social links,  I'd love to hear from you!



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