Monday, June 24, 2013

Chicago Pt 1: What We Did

Sometimes when we are sitting around with my family, stories start being told about the lengths to which my sister, mother and I will go to get free stuff.  Now, none of the stories involve stealing, lying or being rude to customer service, likely because we all have husbands who make sure we don't cheat the system.  But, most of the stories do involve persistence, kindness and maybe acting a little bit crazy.  For example, when a sales person says the defective jeans are no longer available at the sale price and he really wishes there was another discount he could give you, you can kindly remind him, "What about your employee discount?"  Or, if your car is making funny noises, you explain how you are afraid for your life so it really is something that needs to be fixed right away.

After one of our plane debacles in Africa that ended in us paying a hefty bill due to an airline error, I wrote to the airline, explained the situation and in what I hope was a polite way, asked for our expenses to be reimbursed.  When I finally got a response back, the bad news was that they wouldn't reimburse our expenses with cash, but the good news was that they gave us airline vouchers for a good bit more than our expenses actually were.

So, with tickets to anywhere and a three day weekend looming, we figured we should use them while we had the chance.  We talked ourselves in circles trying to decide on where to go, but since we had a short amount of time, and a dollar limit for the vouchers, we decided on Chicago.  Both of us had been there before, but only for a less than a day, and it seemed just close enough and manageable enough for a long weekend.

We found the L, the name for Chicago's public metro rail, to be pretty easy and convenient.  Most of what we did was in the downtown area and we were pleasantly surprised to find that it is an extremely walkable city.  Most everything but the baseball stadium, Oak Park and a few of the theaters were within a mile of where we stayed, in the middle of downtown, aka "the loop."  Another thing we liked about this city, is that a lot of the places we went had good discounts (ex: military, student, federal government), so count that as a friendly reminder to ask!

Here is what we did:

Day 1:
-Walked around Millennium Park: I'm a big Frank Gehry fan, and there are some beautiful gardens on the south side of the park.

Millennium Stage

-Andy's Jazz Club (with discounted coupons from the hotel concierge): It felt somewhat old-school, totally laid back and nice way to spend some time.  I think the waitress also jokingly called us the "slow-couple" since we took so long to decide on drinks.

Day 2:
-Architecture River Tour: I saw a lot of recommendations for this, and it was definitely fun, but I don't think I'd label it "must-do." I'm not a huge architecture buff, but it was definitely interesting to learn about the different styles and history of the city, especially since the architecture in the city is really amazing.  I can't remember which company it was, but they all kind of seemed similar, so we just went with the one our hotel could book for us.

-Field Museum: I really don't know why, but one of my all time favorite movies is "The Ghost and the Darkness" about the man-eating lions in Tsavo.  The stuffed lions are in the Field Museum and as he says in the end of the movie, "Even now, if you dare lock eyes with them, you will be afraid."  We didn't give ourselves much time.. maybe an hour so we jut kid of dashed in, saw the lions, saw what I think might be the biggest T-rex skeleton in the world, and dashed out. (After deciding on what kind of dinosaur we would be if we had to pick.  I know, I am blessed to have a husband who humors me so.)

-Magnificent mile: this was another common recommendation that we found a bit overrated.  It's the main shopping street and not a lot else.  Although if you don't live near any of the big chain stores or tend to shop at the designer stores, this would be a good place to blow a lot of time and money

-John Hancock Observatory: We went at dusk and the views were pretty awesome.  There is also a bar on the floor below the observatory if you'd rather spend money on a drink instead of an admission ticket.  When we went, the line for the bar was pretty long whereas we could get in right away for the observatory.  Plus, I think we are prepared for the future since we both already have the mentality of old people in that we would rather just avoid the crowds jostling for drinks or a view.  We are "the slow couple" who doesn't like crowds, so yeah.. we'll join AARP soon enough.

Day 3:

-Took obligatory pictures by "the bean": somehow we missed it while taking our initial tour of Millennium park.

-"Smoky Joe's Cafe" at the Royal George Theater: this was a musical play, that had a little bit of a story line, and lots of talented singer.  It's a bit of a medley of Lieber and Stroller's hits from the 50's.  Musicals aren't quite up our alley, but it was pretty fun and I think we got discounted tickets at the Hot Tix store by our hotel.  The theater was also right next to where we had dinner the next night, Balena, so too bad I didn't plan that one better. 

Day 4:

-Oak Park and Frank Lloyd Wright's Studio: This neighborhood took a bit of a time to get out to, but was a perfect way to enjoy the nice weather.  We didn't take any guided tours (mostly because we didn't reserve tickets ahead of time or plan on waiting, so would have had to wait 2 hours to take the tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's studio.  They did offer walking tours of the neighborhood (many of the houses designed by FLW), but I think we were too hungry/cheap/rushed to want to bother with that.  If we had to do it again, a tour might have been nice, or maybe if we had taken more time to explore Ernest Hemingway's house, which was also in the 'hood.

One of the FLW-designed homes in Oak Park

Wright's home and studio (or is it Lloyd Wright?)
-White Sox Game: Another fun way to spend time outside since the Cubs weren't playing.  The polish sausages with caramelized onions were so good we got seconds.  (And they were a shockingly low price for ball park food.)

-If I hadn't already been, the Art Institute of Chicago has one of the best art collections in the country, so I'd rank that pretty high on the "things to do list."

Our itinerary wasn't all that packed, since part of "vacation" to us means just hanging out and reading or napping.  Another reason our itinerary looks a little sparse is that a big part of our travelling is eating, which I'll have to save for another post.  All in all, it was a really fun trip.  Definitely worth the time it took to call and write in about my airline experience.  And yeah, I'd be a triceratops.... you know, since it has my name in it (tri-sarah-tops).

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