The title of this post was going to be something like: Chicago on the cheap: how to get from the airport to your hotel for $5. However, as you can tell from the actual title, things did not go exactly as planned on my journey; while I arrived at my destination eventually, the road was a long and sketchy one.
Hopefully I can save you a similar fate.
Here’s the story:
I’m in Chicago this weekend with my awesome friend Ginger, who is resourceful, adventurous, determined, and up for almost anything. Aside from Josh, she is my absolute favorite person to travel with; we are similarly wired. So when she informed me that based on her research, our best transportation option from the airport to our hotel was the CTA Blue Line train, it sounded good to me.
Ginger called our hotel (the Radisson Blu Aqua) ahead of time to ask which CTA stop was closest, and the person she spoke to recommended the Clark and Lake station. This ended up not being entirely true. The stop was closest if we didn’t want to transfer…but in reality it’s a good three-quarters of a mile away. The closest stop – for real – is the East Randolph Street station, which is one-quarter of a mile away.
Because I am happy to walk most anywhere, and because I didn’t second-guess Ginger’s info, I simply jotted down the station name and was done with it. I got off my flight and found the O’Hare station at the airport, which is located in the lower level concourse.
It was really easy to locate. Signs and arrows point the way from baggage claim.
The station is located at the end of a walkway.
You can buy a Ventra Card with fare or a 1-day, 3-day or 7-day unlimited ride pass using cash (machines do not give change) or credit/debit cards at the station. If you want to skip the line, you can also order a Ventra card online ahead of time and have it sent to your house in advance of your trip.
The normal travel time on the Blue Line from O’Hare to downtown is 40-45 minutes. The Blue Line trains run 24 hours a day, seven days a week; and all trains leaving the O’Hare station go through downtown.
Getting on the train was uneventful, and the ride was fine. However, as soon as I got off at the Clark and Lake station, my troubles began.
For one thing, I had actually checked a bag. Yes, I was wheeling around a full-sized suitcase.
Why? Why? Well, I was trying to be prepared. I had learned from my previous trip to Seattle that if I am going to pop into any boutiques, thrift shops, or other establishments where I might walk out with an article of clothing, I should bring a bigger bag. So, I was lugging a suitcase in addition to a stupid hot pink two-wheel mini carryon thing from Bennetton.
I kid you not.
Oh, and I had a bag. My regular bag.
So I was carrying the pink carryon, not rolling it, because if I rolled it, it would start to get speed wobbles, and then I would have to stop and get it squared away again before I continued on. It was just easier to carry it, even though it weighed a ton. I was also carrying my bag. And I was rolling the suitcase.
It’s cold. And it’s windy. And it’s kind of a long walk from the Clark and Lake station to the Radisson Blu.
I was somehow underneath the street. And somehow by the time I realized I had made a mistake, it would have taken me longer to retrace my steps and fix it.
This is an aerial view (taken later) of the scene.
I’m scared of heights, so looking at these stairs from the bottom up was not a good view. But I really, really didn’t want to walk all the way back to where I had first taken the wrong turn, a quarter mile back, so I took a deep breath and started climbing….but I got half of the way up and I froze. I had made the mistake of looking down. The stairs were the kind that you could see through, which did not help at all. So I just stood there.
Luckily, a very kind man came along and offered to carry my suitcases the rest of the way up. I gratefully took him up on it.
I haven’t been so glad to see a hotel in a long time.
So clearly, I made it. But it wasn’t pretty.
However, it is technically possible to take the CTA train from the airport to downtown for $5, and for some people it is easy.
Have you ever tried it? And am I alone here in getting lost underneath Chicago?