Red Line…Blue Line…What? Chicago’s Public Transportation System

Red Line… Blue line…what? Ask a Chicagoan for directions and your bound to get a number of cryptic responses. Get on the “L” and take the Blue line to the Red line and get off at the “Loop” and just walk over to the “Bean”.



Warm weather, beaches and fun festivals; Summer is the best time to visit Chicago!  Must see for visitors are Millennium Park, Navy Pier, the Jazz Fest and of course the Taste of Chicago. Currently hotels in Chicago are offering a number of discounts and specials to draw visitors to this great city. When deciding on where to stay in Chicago, transportation options and what you want to do while on vacation are important factors to consider. For example, staying out by O’Hare Airport might save some money, but be prepared to take a 30-40 minute train ride into  downtown. But don’t worry with some careful planning and a basic understanding of the transportation system visitors will be able to pick the right location for their visit and check out all of Chicago’s main sights-no stress involved.

The Chicago Transit Authority Bus and “L” System for Tourists

Ask a Chicagoan for directions and you can get a number of cryptic responses. Get on the “L” and take the Blue line to the Red line and get off at the “Loop” or walk over to the “Bean”.  Once you learn the lingo-the system is actually quite easy to follow. The “L” is Chicago slang for the Elevated trains that run North and South to various points in the city. The colors correspond to the lines and its destinations. There are actually 8 different “L” lines, but most tourists will probably only use the Blue Line, the Red Line and the Brown Line trains. The Blue Line starts out on the far North side at O’Hare airport, heads South through the downtown area and ends at Forest Park. The Red Line, which runs from North Chicago starting at Howard through the downtown area and ends in South Chicago at 95th. This line hits both major ball parks: Wrigley Field (Addison exit) and US Cellular Field (Sox-35th exit). The other frequently used line is the Brown Line which runs between Kimball on the North end to the Loop Downtown.

The "L"

The “L”

How to Get to Chicago from Midway or O’Hare Airports

The “L” train is also the cheapest and often fastest option for travel to and from both airports into Chicago. Taking a cab is the most expensive option. Expect to pay $30.00 to $50.00 for a taxi depending on which airport and your final destination. The “L” is the best deal at $2.25 a fare!

From O’Hare, visitors can easily take the Blue line into the city. If you arrive at terminals 1, 2 or 3, look for the signs that say “CTA Trains” or “Trains to City.” These will take you straight to the “L” station. From airport terminal 5 you will have to take the Airport Transit System (ATS) to Terminal 2, and then simply follow the signs to “CTA Trains” or “Trains to City.” Travel from O’Hare to Downtown takes about 45 minutes.

For tourists flying into Midway, the Orange Line offers a direct route from Midway into the downtown area of Chicago. Once off the plane or out of baggage claim area, look for the signs labeled to “CTA Trains” or “Trains to City.” There is also an orange line painted on the ground that will take you directly to the train station by enclosed walkway. The train travels Northbound around the Loop (downtown area) and then heads back South to Midway, passengers will need to transfer depending on their final destination. The trip into the Loop takes about 20-25 minutes. The Orange Line does operate daily and holidays but does not offer overnight service so it is important to check the schedules.

Chicago Bus and ‘L” Passes and Rates

Cost per ride either Bus or “L” is reasonable at $2.25 per single use, if you pay in cash each ride is 2.25.   Transit Card Vending Machines are located in all “L” stations and at the airports and accept both cash and credit. You cannot purchase Fare cards on the actual bus; cash is only accepted.

There are a number of day passes ranging from 1-3o days, that might be a better value if you are using public transit during your whole stay. CTA Pass Machines are located at both Midway and O’Hare airports, the Chicago Cultural Center, and CTA’s Lake, Roosevelt and Adams/Wabash rail stations downtown, they accept cash or credit cards and dispense a variety of passes including 3-Day, 7-Day, and 7-Day CTA pass. These types of passes allow unlimited rides for one person starting at the first usage. Most stations also have an attendant to offer assistance.

Train service on the Blue and the Red lines runs around the clock; including holidays. The Brown Line has limited hours and stops running around Midnight or 1:00am. Visitors should check the hours on the CTA website.

Chicago Bus Tracker for Tourists

To supplement the “L” trains, the Chicago Transit Authority has an extensive network of bus lines available too. Buses are easy to use in Chicago as they typically follow a straight path along one designated street as opposed to some other countries where the bus follows a route. This makes the buses in Chicago easy to use and bus stops are located on almost every main corner in the city. Keep in mind the suburbs have totally different system called “Pace.”

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has a great program accessible to any traveler called the CTA Bus Tracker by logging on to this site online or via mobile phone passengers can view exactly where their bus is and when it is coming. A great tool for those who have to endure waiting for the bus during the grueling Chicago winters.

Another great tool is the CTA Bus Tracker by Text. Users can receive texts with the estimated arrival times for their specific bus. Instructions are now appearing on all posted CTA bus stops. Basically locate the site ID located on the bottom of the CTA sign you are at, then text ctabus [stopID] to 41411 to receive the bus arrival time. Some buses do have limited hours so check the schedules posted on the CTA website. Both bus and “L” line maps can be printed or accessed online making sightseeing in Chicago easy and fun. Check out the CTA website for how to guides and schedule/route information.

Chicago is a world-class city filled with an endless variety of options for fun and entertainment. So whether you are heading over to Navy Pier, Millennium Park, Lincoln Park Zoo or Oak Street Beach, don’t stress-hop on an “L” or a bus for a fun day in a great city.

Halloween in Salem-It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Salem is the ultimate destination for Halloween enthusiasts and party-goers. The city comes alive with a month long celebration culminating in a massive party in the streets on the 31st!

Happy Halloween Salem

Happy Halloween Salem

The best way to start your visit to Salem is with a glimpse into its tragic past with a visit to the Salem Witch Museum. Dramatic life-size displays re-enact the tragic and haunting events of the witch hysteria of 1692.

“In January of 1692, the daughter and niece of Reverend Samuel Parris of Salem Village became ill. When they failed to improve, the village doctor, William Griggs, was called in. His diagnosis of bewitchment put into motion the forces that would ultimately result in the death by hanging of nineteen men and women. In addition, one man was crushed to death; seven others died in prison, and the lives of many were irrevocably changed.” Although it sounds morbid the museum presents an interesting and educational view of Salem’s disturbing past.

Salem Witch Memorial

Salem Witch Memorial

Afterwards pay your respects to the poor souls honored at the Salem Witch Trial Memorial located near the Old Burying Point cemetery; dedicated to the women and men accused, tried and executed for being witches in Salem in 1692. The Memorial consists of 20 granite benches lined along a stone wall on the other side of the old cemetery. The benches are inscribed with the name of the accused and the means and date of their execution. With the exception of Giles Corey, who was pressed to death by rocks, the following were hanged: Bridget Bishop, George Burroughs, Martha Carrier, Martha Corey, Mary Easty, Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, George Jacobs, Sr., Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse, Alice Parker, Mary Parker, John Proctor, Ann Pudeator, Wilmott Redd, Margaret Scott, Samuel Wardwell, Sarah Wildes and John Willard. A good reminder of why religious tolerance is important in not only Salem but everywhere.  The cemetery next to the memorial is worth a quick look  as it is one of the oldest in Salem.

Salem Witch Museum

Salem Witch Museum

Now that you have been fully educated on Salem’s witchcraft history-it’s time for some fun! I love shopping for Halloween goodies at the Salem Open Market located in Derby Square and Essex Street. The open market is lined with vendors selling witchcraft memorabilia, sweatshirts, t-shirts, jewelry and much more. The market is a good place to pick up a fun costume or a mask to wear at night. There are also many shops lining the streets and market as well. Need a voodoo doll or a candle for a love spell? Head over to Hex; an old world witchcraft shop located on Essex street, filled with items that will appeal to the average shopper and to the serious magical practitioner.

Witch Goodies!

Witch Goodies!

A  ghost or haunted history tour  is highlight of any visit regardless of the season. This is a fun way to learn about the history of Salem while visiting its supposed haunted hot spots. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts the tour offers many  entertaining tales about local history and lore. One of the more tragic tales is the account of poor Giles Corey, accused of witchcraft and pressed to death by boulders. According to the legend; where his ghost walks tragedy follows close behind.

At night the city comes alive with costumed party-goers and trick-or-treaters spilling out into the streets of Salem to enjoy the festivities. Its quite a site to see so many elaborate costumes, everything from creepy babies to ghost busters to vampires.  After a long day of shopping and tours, you might need a drink! Don’t miss the Shock Top Beer Garden, where you can enjoy seasonal beers and live music. Once that’s over around 10:30 the entire city stops to watch the highlight of the night-the Halloween fireworks over the North River. Unfortunately this signifies that the end of the Halloween fun and festivities is drawing to an end in Salem; but don’t worry there’s always next year!

Salem at Night

Salem at Night

Salem definitely does Halloween right! For a full schedule of events visit Salem’s Haunted Happenings website.

Creepy Baby in Love!

Fun Halloween Costume

Fun Halloween Costume

Chicago’s Haunted History


Haunted holidays and ghost tours are fast becoming a popular tourist pastime in many cities around the world, and Chicago is no exception. Even though Chicago is the third largest city in the United States, it certainly has its fair share of ghostly lore. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, these tours and tales are a fun way to learn about a city’s hidden history. There are a number of formal ghost tours to join in Chicago offering a glimpse into many of the most popular Chicago haunts including the site of the Fort Dearborn Massacre, the Iroquois Theater, the Hull House or Harpo Studios. Another option, not for the faint of heart, is to purchase a book on Chicago haunts and check out the following ghostly attractions such as Robinson Woods, Bachelor’s Grove and the Dunning Asylum Cemetery, on your own. These locations are a little bit less touristy but none-the-less reported to be among the most haunted locations in Chicago.

Robinson Woods; Indian Burial Ground

Chicago’s Indian Boundary woods are packed on the weekends during the summer; a popular recreation spot for hiking, fishing, biking and running. What many people don’t know is that these woods have a section dedicated as an Indian burial ground. In addition these woods harbor many dark secrets. The woods were once inhabited by Alexander Robinson, Chief Chee Chee Pin Quay and his family. Robinson was the Chief of the Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Ottawa Indian tribes. Robinson was an influential leader who lived in Chicago until his death in 1872. He was awarded this large wooded plot, located on Chicago’s Northwest side, for his heroic efforts in the Fort Dearborn massacre.

Now called Indian Boundary Division; the area is composed of Catherine Chevalier woods, Shiller woods, Che Che Pin Quay Woods and Robinson woods. Robinson used this area as his family home and as he and his family’s final resting place; aka the Indian Burial ground. After his death, the Robinson family continued to live in the woods off of Lawrence Avenue and E River Road. The family was well known in the community and supposedly threw wild parties that lasted well into the night. For reasons unknown the house burned to the ground in 1955. Robinson and his family are buried on these grounds, the graves marked by a single large boulder.

In the same year that the fire occurred, on October 18th, 1955, a more horrific discovery was made. The bodies of three boys; John and Anton Schuessler and Robert Peterson were found tied up, beaten, and murdered in a ditch near the picnic area in Robinson Woods. Despite many leads, the crime went unsolved for over 40 years. A witness finally came forward offering new evidence linking one of early suspects in the case. Kenneth Hansen, a local stable owner at the time of the Peterson-Schuessler murders, was found guilty of these horrific crimes in 1994 and was sentenced to up to 300 years in jail. To read more about this terrible tragedy check out the book by James A. Jack: “Three Boys Missing, The Tragedy That Exposed the Pedophilia Underworld .”

With such a dark past, it’s not surprising that Robinson Woods is listed as one of Chicago’s most haunted sights. Ghostly images of Native Americans and strange glowing orbs have been reported by many a passerby. Others report hearing a loud chopping noise similar to wood being cut with an axe. Spooky Indian drums, eerie voices and random floral scents are among the other reported phenomena. A large population of deer lives in the woods too. Most of the time large groups of them can be seen wandering around oblivious to the crowds of people. A strange but common reported occurrence is that the deer will follow and watch you at close range for an uncomfortably long period of time. Don’t believe it? There are miles of trails that branch out through the woods along both the site of the murders and right up to the burial grounds. Go for a walk on one of the secluded wooded trails at dusk and decide for yourself.

Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery

Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery located in Midlothian, a South Suburb of Chicago, has a dark reputation for being the most haunted graveyard in the entire country. This private cemetery dates back to 1864, and since its opening, over two hundred bodies have been laid to rest on its grounds. The last burial was as recent as 1965. Some claim the pond located on the grounds became a watery grave for many who crossed famous Chicago mobster Al Capone during the 1920s; a convenient but dark spot to throw bodies, never to be found again.

Over the years, the property has become a run-down and completely desecrated graveyard, with tombstones overturned, moved or many of them dumped into the nearby pond. Currently, there are as little as 20 gravestones left, most of which are not in their original spots. Evidence of satanic worship and grave robbing became a disturbing trend in the 60s and 70s. Many claim to have seen full apparitions of the dead and there is photographic evidence of the “Lady in White,” who haunts the grounds. Over the years many report similar occurrences, such as a strange floating blue light, a mysterious ghostly house that appears and vanishes, phantom cars, full-blown ghostly apparitions and other paranormal activities

Sadly, not much is known about the poor souls who are buried in the grounds. One well-marked tomb just states INFANT, a sad memorial to a once beloved family member. Visitors will frequently leave little toys and offerings on the grave. The property has been taken over by the Cook County Forest Preserve and is technically closed to the public. Despite being located off a main thoroughfare, the cemetery is actually quite hard to find. Many make the mistake of searching for the old cemetery in the section of the woods labeled as Bachelor’s Grove, but the actual cemetery location is southwest of Rubio Woods on 143rd Street, just east of Ridgeland Avenue.

robinson woodsThe entrance to the cemetery is across the street from the parking lot; look for a small hidden path leading to the cemetery. The gates are usually unlocked during the day and easy to get into. Visiting the graveyard at night is not advised; it is trespassing to visit after the park closes, and the police patrol the area frequently. It is also quite dangerous due to the fact that it has become a well-known haunted attraction that many people are drawn to.

Dunning, Dunning open your gates…

If you grew up on Chicago’s Northwest side you may have teased your little brother with this eerie children’s rhyme: “Dunning, Dunning, open your gates here come Johnny on roller skates.” The Cook County Insane Asylum or Dunning was the name of the city’s main mental institution and poor home that dated back to 1851; it not only housed the insane but also the poor, the sick and orphaned children. The original institution was a massive brick structure located at the intersection of Irving Park Road and Oak Park Avenue. The original Dunning officially closed on June 30, 1912, and reopened as the Chicago State Hospital, then once again switched to the smaller Chicago-Read Mental Health Center. However the institution is not what is reported to be haunted but the Institution’s cemetery grounds.

This disturbing tale picks up decades later when in 1989 construction crews were breaking ground for the new shopping complex “Dunning Square” and its nearby condominium complex. Somehow the developers and the city did not know they were building over the grounds of the long forgotten Dunning Insane Asylum cemetery which also included bodies from the Dunning Cemetery, the Ridgemoor Cemetery, the County Burying Ground, the Poor House Cemetery, and Chicago State Hospital Cemetery . In an incident reminiscent of the movie “Poltergeist,” the construction crew unearthed a startling number of human skeletons and bones; long forgotten patients and residents from the original asylum. Although the city was disturbed by these events the construction forged on by simply moving the bones to a small dedicated area now called Reed-Dunning Memorial Park. It is estimated that over 40,000 bodies were buried in unmarked graves in this area to the east of the original asylum, as many as possible have been moved and are now buried in the park.

Currently this small cemetery surrounded by the condominium complex just looks like a small grassy park. Upon closer inspection however, visitors will notice that the large circular concrete path markers are actually memorial markers for the mass graves. Each category of resident from the asylum is represented: orphaned children, the victims of the 1871 Chicago fire, the sick and infirm, the insane etc. To bring some closure to this mass desecration, a local Reverend William Brauer; a retired Presbyterian minister, led a memorial service in an effort to try to bring some rest to these forgotten souls.

Chicago Ghost Tours

One of the most popular ghost tours in Chicago is through “Chicago Hauntings.” These fun and informative tours are based on author and ghost hunter Ursula Bielski’s 20 years of experience as an expert in Chicago’s lure as well as her famous series of books “Chicago Haunts.” The tours operate daily and meet at an easy to find location right in the downtown area near the Rain Forest café and Rock and Roll McDonalds. Participants can easily find the big black bus marked ghost tours. There are a variety of tours available such as the popular 2.5 hour “Signature Ghost Tour,” which may visit such sites as the Fort Dearborn Massacre, the Iroquois Theater, and the Eastland river disaster site. For a more in depth experience check out one of the specialty tours such as the “7-Hour Ghost Hunt,” where participants will learn about ghost hunting while visiting a number of haunted sites.

Whether you reside in Chicago or are planning a visit, joining a ghost tour or reading about its haunted history offers a fun but informative look into the city’s past. Learning about such events as the Eastland Tragedy, the Fort Dearborn Massacre or the Sausage Vat Murders offers a vastly different perspective than that of the typical tourist experience.

Chicago’s Christkindl Market is Back for the Holiday Season

Can’t make it to Europe this holiday season? Visit an authentic German Christmas market right here in Chicago’s Loop at the annual Christkindlmarket. Inspired by an authentic German market in Nuremberg, this open-aired outdoor market houses many little shops selling beautiful handcrafted ornaments, warm hats and mittens, wooden Cuckoo clocks, nutcrackers and more. A great place to shop for holiday gift items and souvenirs.

Located in the heart of Chicago in the Loop is the Christkindlmarket. This open-aired market is inspired by an authentic German holiday Market in Nuremberg. Visitors can stroll around the little wooden shops that line the plaza under the giant Christmas tree and snack on delicious German foods and beverages.

The market is a great place to shop for holiday gifts and items. Most of the artisans are from Germany, Poland, Ukraine and the US and offer a variety of handcrafted specialty items. Purchase hand-painted ornaments, nativity scenes, intricately designed Cuckoo clocks, warm hats, scarves and mittens. I love how the brightly-lit paper star ornaments give the market a real European feel.

A key focus for this festival is on food. A wide variety of traditional German foods and beverages are offered for visitors to enjoy. Feast on delicious German favorites such as Schnitzel, German burgers, smoked pork loin and goulash soup. My favorite is the hot plate of potato pancakes and Sauerkraut.  Of course you’ll find a variety of traditional sausages including: Nürnberger, Frankfurter, Weißwürste, Thüringer and Currywurst.  Then to wash it all down, grab a hearty German beer featuring Spaten Lager and Spaten Bockbeer.  Winters in Chicago can be cold so warm up with another European holiday favorite; warm spiced wine. The market features the original Sternthaler Glühwein from Nuremberg Germany, make sure to order it in a souvenir boot!

Save room for some snacks and dessert. Visit the jumbo pretzel vendor, or take home a traditional German holiday cake; Stollen.  I can’t resist getting a fresh-made Nutella and banana crepe with a cup of hot coffee.

Christkindlmarket Hours and Schedule

The market kicks off on Tuesday November 20th for the city of Chicago‘s annual tree lighting ceremony. This year’s tree is a massive 64-foot Colorado Spruce, weighing in at 12,000 pounds, which was donated by the Theiszman family of Prospect Heights. Shops are open from 2-8pm with the tree lighting ceremony starting at 4:30pm. Kids can visit Santa Claus at the UL Santa House which opens for the season at 6pm. On November 22nd don’t miss the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade which occurs along State Street from 8am-11am.  Afterwards head over to the nearby market for lunch from 11:00am-4:00pm.

Another Christkindl tradition is the Children’s Lantern parade on December 5th. This custom was resurrected from the old German tradition of St. Martin that celebrates Samaritan deeds. During the parade the children will light up the market with their colorful lanterns while singing German and American Christmas carols. Participants will meet on December 5, 2012 at 4:00pm at the Christkindlmarket but should pre-register by emailing

On December 7th at 4pm enjoy a free theater performance of the Christmas Schooner. A classic Chicago tale set to music about the crew of the Rouse Simmons or the Christmas Tree Ship who risked terrible weather to transport fir trees from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Chicago’s German immigrants during the late 19th century.

The market is located at 50 W Washington Street in Daley Plaza between Washington, Clark and Dearborn Street.  It is easily accessible by CTA Blue Line to Washington/Dearborn or the Red Line State/Lake stop.  The Christkindlmarket is open daily from November 20, 2012 – December 24, 2012. Sunday through Thursday: 11:00 am – 8:00 pm Friday & Saturday: 11:00 am – 9:00 pm.  Special hours; November 20, 2012: 2 pm – 8 pm, Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2012: 11:00 am – 4:00 pm, Christmas Eve, December 24, 2012: 11:00 am – 4:00 pm.

Drinking hot spiced wine and shopping for holiday ornaments under the sparkling Christmas tree it is easy to forget you are in Chicago. Whether you are a local or a tourist a visit to Chicago’s most charming open air market is not to be missed this holiday season.   The market is located at the Daley Plaza in Chicago’s Loop and is open from Nov. 23rd to Dec. 24th, Sun through Thu 11am to 8pm, Fri – Sat 11am to 9pm with holiday hours on Thanksgiving Day 11am to 4pm and Christmas Eve 11am to 4pm. Closed on Christmas day.

Chicago offers visitors and locals a fun and festive holiday season with many new and traditional events scheduled during the months of November and December.