What Is Chicago Famous For?

Move over Disneyland because Chicagoland is about to take you on! Unlike the former which is an adventure park, the latter has a lot to offer than just rides, candies or prizes; it has something even more meaningful. For one, it’s real and it has a lot of things in store for those who are willing to make the journey. These things include entertainment, transportation and education.

In the entertainment industry, Chicago is perhaps best known for its theatre. This is especially true since it is known to have started the modern improvisational theatre which makes use of improvisational techniques in acting for spontaneous performance. Two of the city’s famous comedy groups for this kind of performance are The Second City and Improv Olympic (I.O.) who perform for well-known theatre companies within the area such as the Goodman Theatre and the Victory Gardens Theatre to name a few examples. Also, the city offers Broadway-style entertainment with performances in Ford Center for the Performing Arts Theatre, Bank of America Theatre, Cadillac Palace Theatre, and several others. It’s a definitely the place to go for theatre entertainment.

Regarding the transportation sector, the “city of shoulders” has come to be recognized as a major transportation hub in the US. In fact, all six of its railroads meet in the city with mostly freight trains which have caused congestion in earlier years. However, with initiative from Chicago Region Environment and Transportation Efficiency’s (CREATE) private railroads have been built and has reduced rail congestion by about one third. There are also nine interstate highways coordinated by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra and Pace which through Chicago and its suburban areas that include the Kennedy Expressway and the Dan Ryan Expressway. All of these create an extensive network of transportation making the city the most accessible for people.

With its education sector, the city is well-recognized for its contributions to higher education and research espoused by Catholic and Lutheran thinking separately. Some Catholic schools within the city are the De La Salle Institute, Gordon Technical High School, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Brother Rice High School and many more. Other Lutheran schools include the Ida Crown Jewish Academy, the Latin School of Chicago, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, Francis W. Parker School and several others. Other than their school of thought, these schools also differ in their field of specialization like arts, science, engineering, etc. It’s the place to go for a great education.

So if you want to be in a place that has a lot of meaningful things to offer you, Chicago is the place to go. It’s the place to get the best of theatre entertainment, land transportation and higher education and research. Chicago is indeed Chicagoland- a wonderland like no other.

Reason to Get a Motorbike Sat Nav

Reasons to get a Sat Nav Touch Screen: As opposed to many of the Sat Nav devices in the past, the majority now have touch screens that is incredibly beneficial. Why? For one, you won’t need to worry about mechanical failure on the part of the buttons, and with that being the situation you won’t have to discover workarounds when programming a route.

Lane Assistance: One of the greatest difficulties on the road is the inability to decide on a lane. Certainly when you know an area you would possibly have the ability to navigate just fine, but what exactly is the point of having a bike if you are not planning to explore? Lane assistance will make certain that you select the correct lane every single time.

Road Identification: This might appear like a rather trivial feature, but when you come upon a road with no street sign, you’re going to have a problem. Using a decent motorcycle sat nav GPS system this problem is efficiently eliminated which means you may drive effortlessly, listening to the step by step instructions provided to you by the GPS.

Glove Friendly: One of the most significant problems with touch screen equipment today is the fact that they tend to depend on the electrical current in the human body. This functions in a standard vehicle GPS navigational device but it becomes a severe hindrance on a motorcycle on which you are wearing gloves 90% of the time. Most motorbike sat nav devices will be glove friendly which takes a number of problems off your shoulders in one fell swoop.

Maps: Any first rate sat nav system will include a number of maps that may be upgraded for road construction or other alterations that may take place. In quite a few cases map updates are free, but you will find others that require a monthly subscription. Either way it can be well worth the expense!

On the Market: There are many GPS products available, specifically in the motorbike sat nav area. The Garmin Zumo 660 is an upgrade to the 550 model which offers each of the aforementioned features. In addition to that we also have the TomTom Rider V2 which features a simplified menu for riders along with advanced lane assistance. With these options available, riding has become considerably easier and getting from Point A to Point B will no longer be considered a serious concern! If you are a biker then you certainly will discover that a motorbike sat nav system is certainly critical if you wish to have an enjoyable experience on a long road trip. Purchase one right now and make your everyday life ten times easier!

The HTC XDA Mantle – A Phone Built to Last

HTC XDA Mantle – We recently received a parcel from our network partner O2 containing a new device for us to evaluate and review – that device is the XDA Mantle. The background of the XDA Mantle is what you would normally expect in that everything under the hood is manufactured by HTC. The relationship HTC and O2 have goes back some 6 or 7 years now, so there are certainly no concerns over HTC’s ability to meet an O2 brief on a new device.

Out of the box this is a far from insignificant device and is quite possibly one of the largest Windows Mobile devices Adam Phones have ever seen. It also tips the scales at 220g, although it’s lighter than it looks and when in the hand you notice the weight is distributed relatively evenly across the device.

The Mantle is certainly the heavyweight here, but there is a very good reason for this – the Mantle is not your average executive smartphone. Smartphones are always designed with the user in mind, and while your average executive would not want to walk around with something this big, the Mantle is designed with hard hats and steel toe cap boots in mind. It is without a doubt one of the most ruggedised devices we’ve come across for some time.

“The Xda Mantle combines great features with a robust, semi-ruggedised device. From logistics to warehousing and transportation, this full featured PDA fits perfectly into any industry.” – O2 UK

So, diving in to the box we have exactly what you expect in terms of extras – spare stylus, wall charger, sync cable, screen protector (probably vital given the target market) and finally a very comprehensive case with space for cards, notes and spare memory cards and is secured with a sturdy Velcro clasp.

Moving on to the capabilities of the hardware this is, of course, a Windows Mobile device running variant ‘6 Professional’. The Mantle is a quad band device running on 3G and has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for short range wireless connectivity. HTC have gone for a 400MHz Qualcomm chipset in the Mantle (excellent choice of manufacturer for the 3G component) and combined with the 1500 mAh battery (one of the physically largest we’ve seen) provides over 7 hours of talktime when running on GSM and just under 5 hours when running on WCDMA (very impressive by any Windows Mobile standards).

The only element which confused us was that O2’s technical breakdown of the Mantle showed a longer talktime on GSM than the standby time on GSM (by an hour) – we can’t see how this is possible and assume it is a minor typo in the documentation.

Moving on to some of the other hardware we continued to be impressed. There is an interesting array of hardware buttons on the Mantle (again, probably incorporated for the target audience).One of these is a clickable trackwheel, very similar to that on earlier BlackBerry models which allows you to navigate the OS without having to dig out the stylus. Underneath the trackwheel you have an ‘OK’ button which closes whatever window you are in, so the combination of the button and the clickable trackwheel let you go in and out of whatever you want easily.

On the body of the device there are 8 hardware buttons – two at the top for email and web access, two under the screen for calendar and contacts, send and end call keys, a Windows menu key and another OK button. You also get a 4-way clickable pad and, saving the best to last, a fingerprint scanner to lock up sensitive files. There are also two heavy duty rubberized bungs (one on the side and one on the top) which, when opened, expose memory expansion slots for full sized SD cards allowing for expansion up to 32GB. The whole package is rounded off nicely with a GPS receiver and a 3.0 megapixel camera.

So what we have here is one of the most multifunctional, expandable, easiest to navigate and toughest Windows Mobile devices that Airtime Manager have come across. Are O2 about to sell out of them in their high street stores – no, but they won’t expect to. What the Mantle is, is a workhorse destined for a harsh life in the hands of construction workers and motorcycle couriers, but it’ll serve them well and it will survive longer than anything else would in such physically demanding environments.

Independent Travelers – Driving a Vintage Alfa to a Great Hotel/Restaurant in Tuscany, Italy

The Hotel La Chiusa in Montefollonico Becomes a Magnet

The ristorante and hotel, La Chiusa located in Montefollonico, Tuscany is situated in the hills southeast of Siena. It is an old farmhouse converted into fifteen unique rooms with the fantastic bonus of operating one of the best restaurants in Italy. The owners, Dania Masotti and Umberto Lucherini are two of the most gracious as well as delightful personalities that you would come across and Dania is an excellent chef too. She also offers cooking classes and has written a cookbook based on her culinary skills and knowledge.

On our first visit to Italy over twenty years ago we stayed at this hotel which was and still is recommended by “Karen Brown Travel Adventures”. Our room and the view was perfect and it had a large soaking tub which is an unusual feature. The people, the atmosphere, the room, the views, and especially the dining experience have made an indelible impression on us after all these years.

The second visit to La Chiusa was not a planned return and only happened because when we arrived at our hotel, Residenza d’Arte in Torrita di Siena during riposo (nap time) we found that everything was closed for the afternoon. We were famished after a long drive so we set out in search of the suggested alternatives and somehow our “Travel Angels” led us this way and that until we literally stumbled upon the familiar La Chiusa farmhouse.

We approached the gentlemen sitting at a table doing paperwork and told him “we stayed here eight years ago. Is it possible to get some bread, cheese and maybe a glass of wine at this time of the day? “

Umberto looked up, smiled and said “I remember you!” We were skeptical, to say the least, but it turned out he has an uncanny memory and was not kidding. “Please sit at the table under the chestnut tree and we will bring you something to eat”.

The view from under the chestnut tree led out into an olive orchard and rolling hills crowned by a medieval castle in the distance. Umberto’s spontaneous lunch began with an excellent Friulian wine and continued with warm baked bread, and handmade regional delicacies that represented some of the specialties of Tuscany.

We finally raised up our hands and said “basta” (enough) we cannot eat anymore…

The experience was magical, the food was “simple” and spectacular. The way we were treated was the epitome of Italian warmth. They endeared us to them. We vowed to return again one day and added it to our bucket list.

Returning to Tuscany with Two Bucket List Items in Our Sights

Establishing a Base Camp in Spoleto

Two of the leading benefits of using a vacation rental versus a hotel are the cost savings and the more spacious accommodations. With the per night unit cost being more reasonable you can take an overnight trip to another village by simply packing a small bag, leaving the bulk of your luggage in a locked up apartment and off you go! We opted to go back to La Chiusa.

Bucket List Item #1 – Renting a Vintage Car for Touring Tuscany, Italy

We perused the internet and determined that “zephyrus-classic-car-rental.com” had the best selections, reasonable prices and were the most responsive to our numerous questions. We selected their Duetto Osso di Seppia which is a 1966 Alfa Romeo (no… not the one from “The Graduate” fame as it was already booked). The company also offers travel tours and other organized events but being the independent types we opted for a solo rental plan.

Booking the car was a bit of a challenge and a leap-of-faith too. We had to prepay the rental fee with a credit card (which added some level of security) and kept an open line of communications with the Zephyrus Team. They were very responsive but you never know until you actually get there and see the car. “Meet us in the town of ‘Chiusi Chianciano Terme’ at the railroad station and look for a red Alfa”… another leap-off-faith. Will they be there?

We got off the Autostrada in Chiusi and began checking our GPS and road signage for the railroad markers but no need as Matteo anticipated our possible confusion and met us on the off ramp. We followed him to the parking lot where we would drop our Hertz rental. We signed some paperwork and he gave us a few mechanical instructions and “Oh, yes, your GPS will work… the cigarette lighter is right there”. And off he went with a cheery “CIAO”.

And there we sat, in this old car whose exterior was certainly cherry, but whose interior left much to be desired… we are talking original 1966. OK, so we familiarized ourselves with the clutch, brakes, mirrors, and we are ready to head into the Tuscan countryside… plugged in the GPS, but, sorry, the cigarette lighter doesn’t work. Oh well, we have a map and we kind of know where we are going.

Driving a classic Italian automobile has its moments to say the least. The gears were “grinding”, the clutch is hydraulic and very stiff, fumes from the stinky exhaust waft through the car and you start to think… what on earth are we doing?

The Why – Driving a Classic Automobile in Tuscany

Rumbling down century’s old country roads and viewing the Tuscan hillside in a red 1966 Alfa is simply so much fun that any car enthusiast has to experience it for themselves. This Alfa had a 1570 cc variation of the Alfa Romeo twin cam four cylinder engine, coupled with dual Weber two-barrel side-draft carburetors which, all said and done, produced 109 horse power @ 6,000 rpm, packaged in a 2,183 pound body. When you added the five speed manual transmission, disc brakes and an independent front suspension you had a classic design and a pretty nice ride. It attracted people so much so that they waved and greeted us, and other cars gave us the right of way… apparently Italians still love this car.

Getting lost in a foreign country, with only a map and a smile adds a little excitement to your day. As a possible solution we fired up the iPhone and Google Maps to find our way to La Chiusa and found out the stark reality that cell coverage is spotty… no joy and no lasting signal. Back to asking the locals for directions using the car as a conversation magnet.

The “driver” specifically asked the “navigator” not to go into a large city and to avoid traffic at all costs. So naturally we wound up in Montepulciano at their busiest traffic junction and at the most hectic time of the day! Driving a vintage automobile in the countryside is a heck of a lot more fun than sitting in traffic with an uphill slop and the reflection of the front end of a tour bus poised right on your bumper in the rear view mirror added an interesting twist to the day… va bene (so be it)!

Bucket List Item #2 – Returning to La Chiusa in Style

We have all heard the expression “the third time’s the charm” and so it was at La Chiusa.

We made it to La Chiusa in the late afternoon, parked the Alfa and found a glass of wine to celebrate the survival of this part of the adventure. We enjoyed a spacious room, with a fabulous view and a soaking tub! We then proceeded to have a gourmet Tuscan meal prepared by Dania and hosted by Umberto.

Our gracious hosts helped us celebrate our wedding anniversary by making a “special” cake for dessert. Along with fine after diner drinks and singing Italian songs late into the evening… we really had a unique celebration.

The owners, Dania Masotti and Umberto Lucherini represent the essence of Italian warmth and hospitality.

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

© Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar