This year’s Ebertfest (2013) was an eye-opener on just what could go wrong: airports under increased security, an airline’s computer system glitch causing nationwide delays, weather causing flight cancellations and flooding in the area.

Getting to Ebertfest by air: First stop Chicago.

Ebertfest is in Urbana, or Champaign-Urbana, Champaign or Urbana-Champaign. Take your pick. I’m sure there are local implications depending upon what phrase you decide to use, but let’s not worry about that. You’re going to Ebertfest to celebrate Roger Ebert and movies.

The closest airport is Willard University with the three-letter code of CMI. The only airline that currently services that airport is American Airlines. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign owns and operates that airport. Currently there is only one daily flight to Dallas/Fort Worth and six daily (down to five on weekends) flights to Chicago O’Hare (ORD). Each American Eagle flight has only 50 seats.  So you can fly direct from Dallas/Fort Worth or Chicago, but otherwise, you’ll have to take a connecting flight.

From Texas, you only have one chance per day. That’s enough reason to fly into O’Hare.

Flying into O’Hare gives you more options and better pricing. We flew in United this time. In 2012, we flew American to O’Hare (ORD) and then changed planes to continue on to Willard (CMI). This time the absolute cheapest fair was Spirit Airlines, however, read the fine print. Spirit charges for carry-on luggage and you won’t even get water free. Remember that LAX doesn’t have drinking fountains for you to fill up your water bottles after you pass security (at least we couldn’t find them and paid $3 for water). O’Hare does have convenient water fountains where you can fill your bottles up and the fountains are specially designed for that purpose.

From O’Hare, if you’re packing light, you can take your carry on and walk down to the CTA blue line. For about $5 (you can use a charge card), you can go to Clinton. At Clinton, there are no elevators or escalators–only a narrow stairway. Once you get up that, its a fairly easy talk to the Amtrak Union Station.

The Amtrak station has more options and prices begin at $14 one-way. You can get a discount of you’re a member of AAA and buy it three days ahead of time. Seats are easier to reserve at Chicago Union Station (CHI) going to Champaign (CHM) than from Champaign to Union Station (Saluki, Illini and City of New Orleans lines). Other discounts include seniors, military students (with a Student Advantage or International Student Identity cards) and group/convention travel.

If you’re a VIP or celebrity and concerned about privacy, you can also reserve private rooms (Hint, hint Jack Black with whom I was determined to get an autograph and a few steps of tango but travel difficulties dashed those hopes).

The station is a short 5-minute walk to the Virginia Theatre. It is also the main transit station for buses.

You could rent a car, but this year there was a lot of flooding due to rain and even residents found it challenging to get where they wanted to go. I spoke to the man at the Champaign Amtrak station who sold us return tickets to Chicago and he had to take a 30-minute detour to get to work because of the flooding. I’m listening to news reports saying this year is “the worst flood in recorded history.”

Also, I found my cellphone only got spotty service. I’m not sure if I’d want to be caught in a flood on my vacation.

Where to stay

Amtrak can also give you reservations for Value Place Champaign. There are also two Super 8s in the area. Both in walking distance (an hour to the Urbana location at 612 W Killarney St, Urbana, IL 61801 and a half an hour to the Champaign location at 202 W Marketview Dr  Champaign, IL 61820) The Urbana location is closer to the Illini Union where the panel discussions are. The Champaign location is closer to the Virginia Theatre.

You can also stay at the Illini Union hotel which offers packages and special pricing. The Ilini is a 30-minute walk to the Virginia Theatre.

Other options (that Ian and I haven’t tried) include Hilton ($126 for Hampton Inn), La Quinta ($69)  and Country Inns ($99).  The rates are subject to change.

We’ve stayed at the Illini Union hotel and it’s excellent and so convenient. We love that we can have a Jamba Juice although someone recently introduced us to Smoothie King.

Because we have dogs and often travel with dogs, we’re familiar with Super 8. The Champaign location is older than most we’e stayed in, but cozy and efficient. They have a microwave and breakfast includes waffles and bananas. We missed not having yogurt, but we packed dried figs and our own tea (rooms come with a coffee maker). The bus stop is unmarked. The bus (red line) runs about every 20 minutes. Walking is an option. This location is very close to a large shopping center. If we go next year, we might try the Urbana location. We’ll have to see what happens at RogerEbert.com.

What to wear

You can pack light–even lighter than I did because you’re probably not bringing dance dresses to change into for the evening shows.

On the plane I wore:

  1. Long-sleeved t-shirt
  2. Silk underwear tank top
  3. Down vest
  4. Thick wool sweater
  5. Long rain coat
  6. Yoga pants
  7. Leg warmers
  8. Socks
  9. Slip on rain boots

Have slip on shoes really helps. If you’re wearing comfy pants, you can exercise while waiting for your plane. We also packed an empty water bottle, mineral mixes for soothing bathes, and tea. Often places will give you coffee, but not tea. We brought two bags of dried figs and one bag of dried blueberries. We also have travel pillows.

Dress is casual. At this point there are no fashion police ambushes like at Sundance. Roger Ebert usually wore suits. Chaz Ebert wears flowing dresses and pants suits. Tilda Swinton wore a man-style suit. Richard Linklater was very casual. What’s your style? No one was wearing anything that could be considered Cosplay and there were no starlets attempting to get attention by wearing the bare minimum.

You might consider getting an earnest stretch between movies. You can run up and down the stairs to the restroom for some step-aerobics. We like dancing in the aisles when possible.

What I packed:

  1. Three dresses (black velvet, red velvet and lavender velvet). Each dress had spandex and a polyester skirt. The skirts dry quickly and the dresses don’t wrinkle.
  2. Two long-sleeved turtlenecks (lavender and purple).
  3. Long-sleeved t-shirt (red).
  4. Wide-brimmed hat (for rain or sun). This hat is only water-resistant and comes with straps so I can tie a bow under my chin in case of wind.
  5. Dressy blue jeans.
  6. Dressy cords. It rained too much to wear either of these.
  7. Three pieces of silk underwear shirts (two long-sleeved and one tank top).
  8. Two wool content knit caps.
  9. Gloves.
  10. Scarf.
  11. Shoes to dance on concrete.
  12. Real dance shoes.
  13. Water-resistant jogging pants (I can tuck the skirts into the pants if the downpour is extreme). I have two of these, but the other ones have a zippers on the legs and I got stopped coming back from Hawaii because of that. You know…it could have been a knife in my boots.
  14. Three long stockings with wool content.
  15. Three knee socks with wool content.
  16. Appropriate underwear.
  17. Folding umbrella.

My boots had thick soles and were waterproof so I could walk through puddles. My carry on is soft, but still fits overhead or under the seat in front of me. I also carry a medium-sized backpack. I carry both on a luggage rack.

While you’re at Ebertfest, you’ll want to check your return reservations. Our reserved seats became unreserved and we didn’t get seat assignments until late Friday night for our Saturday departure due to software problems at American. The flight was overbooked and they were asking people to volunteer to take a later flight.

Returning to Chicago

The buses didn’t run early enough for us to catch the 6 a.m. train to Chicago so we called a taxi. We might have gotten there earlier if we had walked. The first taxi didn’t show up after 30 minutes (Yellow Cab). See the Yelp reviews to confirm our experience. The hotel clerk called a second service.

Chicago

You’ll need $1 for a bus ride in Champaign-Urbana, so you might want to prepare by getting some change. Also Clinton CTA station requires exact change.

At Union Station if you visit the CVS (local drugstore), you can buy a day pass for $10. You can’t buy one at Clinton Station.

From Clinton Station, you can travel two stops over for Jackson Street, get off and head toward Michigan Street to visit the Institute of Art of Chicago. The museum opens at 10:30 a.m. and the line forms for non-members to the left-most door. Members line up at the door to the right, but you can also line up around the other side of the building. We wanted to see “American Gothic” because of that matter with H.S. Janson versus Regionalism.

After you buy your tickets, you can immediately get in line on the other side to check your carry-on bags. It was $1 for each of us. We spent 90-minutes there and even danced a short tango before we got back on the blue line and headed to O’Hare.

Other places to see if you’re staying overnight in Chicago:

  1. Gene Siskel Film Center: I keep hoping I’ll have time to visit this institute, but we’ve never stayed long enough to enjoy any of the programs. 
  2. Lorraine Hansberry House. Hansberry wrote the play “A Raisin in the Sun” which is a fictional account of racial segregation based on her family’s experience to obtain and live in this very house. This is another place I’d like to see because I admire what her family fought for and that Hansberry was able to share it with us with such eloquence.
  3. The Field Museum. What dinosaur lover wouldn’t want to visit Sue? There’s also that incredible display of gems and minerals. We got there using the Red Line and taking bus #146 last year.
  4. Baha’i House of Worship for North America. Even if you’re not a Baha’i, this is a beautiful structure with lovely gardens. The gardens open up at 6 a.m. You take the purple line North to Linden (final stop) and walk up Linden Ave. for about four blocks.

Staying in Chicago

Last year, we spent a night at Hotel Lincoln, on the advice of Roger Ebert who wrote that David Mamet stayed there and wrote about hearing the lions roar from Lincoln Park.  It is in a lovely neighborhood and a taxi ride away from Clinton Station (late night) or a walk in the morning. This isn’t a luxury hotel, but it’s funky and fun.

Another person tried a Youth Hostel.  We might try that next time, but we’ll have to see what happens to RogerEbert.com and the Far Flung Correspondents.

Interested in attending Ebertfest? Send me an email and let me know. I love Chicago because it’s so much easier to get around than Los Angeles and less expensive than London or Tokyo. However, I would love to go to Tokyo again.

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