Tuesday, May 12, 2015

CHICAGO!!

On Friday morning we flew home from Chicago and boy did we jam pack some fun in 2 days!! It wasn't nearly enough time, but we did our best at experiencing the city! Have you guys been?

Although I had been there before, it was so long ago that this was like my first time visiting. I did not remember ANYthing about it. Im not sure what I was expecting, but I was almost surprised at how awesome the city is. Did you know it is the third largest city in the US (population wise) behind NY and LA?

We had a couple beautiful days. Spring had sprung and everything was blooming. Are you ready for picture overload?

After buying the Lila Downs concert tickets (the whole motivation for this surprise trip) I booked the Sheraton Hotel & Towers right on the Chicago River using my Starwood Hotel points. What a perfect location!
And you can't beat free! (I highly recommend getting a credit card that gives you free hotel nights or airline points-it gives you reason to plan a trip!) We slept in a $350 room on the 30th floor for nothing!
We flew into Midway Airport (vs O'hare) which is a lot smaller and less hectic. It is also closer to the city center. (just 12 miles) The "El" train (orange line) runs in a loop from the airport through downtown. We were in our hotel in 30 minutes. So easy! That included a 10 minute walk along the Chicago River.
Smart phones make getting around so easy. Just like I said in my 43 things I love about Ernesto tribute. He was the navigator... even on his surprise trip.
After we checked in at our hotel we stopped at Giordano's to eat Chicago's famous deep dish pizza and this meatball sub. I did not care for the pizza (lunch special probably made hours before) but the sub was killer.
It was chilly when we arrived and Ernesto only brought short sleeve shirts. We looked up my favorite store, and what do you know, there was one really close!
I ended up buying a cute outfit and Ernesto walked out of with a cool Summer weight jacket (actually from H&M across the street). We were ready to hit the city baby! Dead on! Since we only had a couple hours until our dinner reservation and the Lila Downs concert, we strolled around Millennium Park.

There is a ton to see in this 450 acre park. The Cloud Gate sculpture (also known as "the bean") is three stories high. It's made of 168 steel plates welded together, but has no visible seams. Tons of people were there taking funny pictures with distorted reflections.

Crown Fountain seemed to be very popular with kids and adults alike. There are 50 foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers project video images of diverse Chicago citizens spitting water.
The Jay Pritzker pavilion is the centerpiece of the park and a site to see. It is an outdoor amphitheatre where weekly concerts are held in the Summer.
How cool would it be to see a performance sitting here?
For years, one of the reasons we talked about visiting Chicago was to eat at one of Rick Bayless' restaurants. (there are four in Chicago) Bayless is an American chef who specializes in Mexican cuisine with "modern interpretations." I think I first heard of him from his PBS series Mexico, One Plate at a Time. He has countless cookbooks (and we have followed quite a few recipes) and his own line of "Frontera" salsas, sauces and chips.

I made a reservation at 6pm at Frontera Grill. Although EVERYTHING on the menu sounded delicious, we just picked several sampling plates. One of which was a ceviche trio. OMG. Que Rico! Another favorite was the platanos maduros con queso mmmmmm

During dinner, Ernesto was trying to guess the "event" I had planned for him.

As we approached the venue he spotted a huge sign saying the ballet was there through June. "We are not going to a ballet!?" he asked/stated. I said "Have you ever been to one?" Just to throw him off. He was so relieved when we rounded the corner and he saw this sign instead.

Auditorium Theatre (a part of Roosevelt University) was gorgeous and reminded me of the Fox in Atlanta - old and ornate. Although our seats could've been better, (we were in the balcony) it was a great venue for a show.

That night we went to our "heavenly" bed (signature at the hotel) with 2 pints of ice cream.

In the morning we relaxed in bed for a while. What a luxury! I knew it would be great to run along the river in the morning so we packed running shoes, etc. and head out about 930a.

My tour guide lead my along the river, onto Lakeshore Drive and in front of Buckingham Fountain, which unfortunately was not on yet!? Still pretty.

Of course we had to go up in a tall building for a view of the city. Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) has an observation deck on the 103rd floor. We made sure to get there early to avoid any lines (I had read it is busiest around lunch time). That was a good move, because we breezed through to the top. Cost was $18 per person, but worth it if for nothing else to stand out on the SkyDeck, a piece of glass 1.5 INCHES thick jutting out from the building 103 floors up.

When I say scared, I mean, my stomach was queazy. It took a few minutes for me to get out there.

Ernesto walked right out there like it was nothing.

I don't know too much about architecture, but I know a cool looking builing when I see one. The Chicago skyline is filled with them.


I had read that the architecture boat tours are the best way to see (and learn about) the buildings.

This immediately made me think of that movie The Breakup (with Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Anniston). Hilarious. Watch it. It takes place in Chicago, and Vince Vaughn's character is a tour guide on a riverboat.

Anyhoo, there are many companies you can go with and Im sure they are all really similar. The boats are anyway-we passed all of them while walking along the river the day before. I found a BOGO on the Wendella Boats Facebook page and was able to get both our tickets for $35 total. (half price) This was a great deal for the 75 minute ride.

We were supposed to fly home that night on a 6pm flight, however, it didn't look great [for standby] so we called my parents to see if it would be ok to come home the next morning. They said no problem and so we pressed on in enjoying the city!
We passed Howells & Hood earlier in the day and it looked like a great place to sit outside and eat. It was packed and had a nice view of downtown. The outdoor bar had 114 beers on tap, which was nice, but I assumed it would be the 'same ol, same ol' bar food on the menu. I was pleasantly surprised with the creative dishes. The Kale and marinated beets salad was superb!

We could see the Navy Pier from our hotel room, mainly this ferris wheel that reaches 150 feet into the sky.

We figured this would be the perfect spot for picking up a little souvenir for the boys. We have to do that now. Mateo actually requested one. Ha! We didn't board the ferris wheel but right below it was an 18 hole putt putt golf course, something we had never done together before. We felt like it was a high school date.
I agreed to play because golf is Ernesto's thing, but I didn't expect to have so much fun! I think Ernesto was a little scared after I hit a hole-in-one on the first hole, but that quickly dissipated and he proceeded to kick my butt.
Although we were enjoying a spontaneous trip reminiscent of our "before babies" days with no responsibilities, these little guys were not out of our minds.
We found ourselves missing them and talking about them...a lot. This inspired quite a few Facetime calls. "when are you coming home?" Mateo would ask. "this is taking a long time!" (his famous line when anything is taking more than 5 minutes)
Are you still with me here guys? Well, Im finished. We left Chicago knowing that we will return and maybe even bring our kids next time. There is so much to do and we barely scratched the surface.

We hopped on a 7am flight in the morning and were back in the ATL by 10am. It's crazy how a two day trip can feel like a real vacation when you don't have anyone to worry about but yourself. Just the right amount of time to recharge.

This needs to happen again soon...and Im already planning the destination. Palm Springs here we come!!! I mean, we have to give Ernesto's parents the same time with their grandkids don't we??

Next week I will be flying to Ohio with the kids (annual town yard sales!!) while Ernesto heads to Vegas for golf! Then we will meet in San Diego to stay with Ernesto family for a few weeks! Can't wait!

Do you guys have any Summer vacations planned?

 

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