Saturday, April 19, 2014

Spring Break in Chicago

Last year, our flight coming back from Edmonton was overbooked and our family of 4 gave up our seats.  In exchange, when we boarded the next plane, we got to sit in first class and were given 4 plane vouchers.  Jason and I decided to use it for a getaway for the two of us.  We were originally thinking of going to Boston, but every time we checked, the tickets were super expensive, as were the hotels.  We considered other cities and most people we talked to suggested Chicago.  We decided to go for it.  The Saturday after school got out for Spring Break, we boarded a plane for Chicago.

Goodbyes are always hard and tearful for me... We're so lucky and grateful that Jason's mom is always willing to watch our kids whenever we go away.  They were as excited to spend the week with Grandma as we were to explore a new city.
By the time we arrived in Chicago, it was pretty late.  We decided to save some money and take the L Train from O'Hare to our hotel downtown.  We didn't know that along the way, there was construction being done and we'd have to get off the train, board a bus that would take us to another station, and then reboard in order to continue on our way.  Normally, it'd take an hour, but that night, it took over an hour and a half.  And then, the station was aways from the hotel, so it was not fun pulling our luggage through downtown Chicago in the late evening to get to our hotel.  We ended up crashing as soon as we checked in.

First up, Jason had booked a Pizza Tour.  We met at the meeting point, Pizano's, and joined our tour guide and a group of about 15 people.  The guide was awesome and full of knowledge about pizza and the city of Chicago.  At Pizano's we tried a deep dish pizza and a thin crust sausage pizza. We then boarded their company bus and went to Coalfire.  Here, we tried some pizzas made by a coal burning oven.  Their specialty was to add whipped ricotta on the top.  We had 2 types and they were both delicious.  In fact, I would have to say that was my favorite stop.  Next, we headed to Pequod's, for another version of deep dish pizza.  Wow!  It was topped with lots of cheese and meat- quite tasty and filling.  Our last stop was called Flo and Santo's where we had another version of thin crust pizza.  We were told this place was like a fusion between  Italian and Polish cuisine.  On one, the toppings were unique to Chicago, since they were topped with giardiniera (pickled veggies).  Overall, we had an awesome time on the tour.  Our guide didn't just tell us about pizza- he also shared Chicago trivia/facts and pointed out places as we rode on the bus from one pizzeria to the next.  We also loved chatting with the other people in our group.  It was fun to get to know others and share about our traveling experiences.  We would absolutely do another food tour!  
After the tour, we got to wander around downtown.

Later that night, Jason got tickets for us to see a comedy show at The Second City venue.  This place has seen the rise of many comedians- Tina Fey, Martin Short, John Candy, Stephen Colbert, and Mike Myers to name a few!  We got dessert and some drinks, chatted with the people next to us, and got to see a fun show.  It wasn't the best comedy we've seen, but overall, it was a very fun night. 

We treated ourselves to breakfast before heading off to the Chicago Art Institute.
It was pretty magnificent and we could've spent many more hours there. We couldn't though because we had to get to our next tour, which was an architecture boat tour, sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation.  As we walked there, we stopped off at "The Bean," a huge reflecting sculpture in Millenium Park.  It's pretty neat in that there are no seams and it wonderfully reflects the city's buildings in the background. 

I'd just like to take note here that when we arrived on Saturday, the weather was 78 degrees.  By Sunday, the weather had dropped by at least 20 degrees! Luckily, we were somewhat prepared and brought the right clothes, but we definitely hadn't expected to be spending our Spring Break in such chilly weather! Having said that, we both wish we had worn warmer clothes for our boat tour.  It was an awesome tour except we froze while we sat on top of the boat for 90 minutes!
We would highly recommend the boat tour and would've loved it even more if we weren't so cold.  It actually started snowing right after we got off the boat.  Before heading out to dinner, I joked with our concierge that there needed to be a heated pedway.  To our delight, we discovered that there was!  We felt like we had uncovered a city mystery as we walked through the underground pedway like the locals!
That night, we had dinner at the Slurping Turtle, owned by well known Chef Takashi.  We both had ramen soups to warm up! Delish!
From there, our night wasn't over!  We went to a blues club called Kingston Mines.  We arrived at 10pm and were told we were early, especially since the place is open until 4am.  The place has two stages and the bands alternate playing from hour to hour.  We only lasted until a little after midnight! Even without kids, we were pretty exhausted!

Walking along the pedway to go catch the next L Train, I convinced Jason to make a quick stop at the Chicago Cultural Center. We found some unexpected treasures- look at this beautiful Tiffany glass dome!
On the top floor, there was a beautiful exhibit hall with a current exhibit about a historic building called Mecca Flats in Chicago that had been torn down in the 1960s. The exhibit wonderfully told about the families that lived there during its history.  
Next, we continued on our way to The Field House, Chicago's natural history museum. We loved it and know that our kids would've loved it as well.  The largest and best preserved skeleton of a t-rex greets visitors in the lobby.  It is enormous and over 90% of it is from the original dinosaur. 
I was completely fascinated by the Egyptian exhibit- there were mummies on display, and all sorts of artifacts that have been discovered over the years.
There were many other exhibits on display, but the Egyptian and Sue the T-Rex seemed to take up most of our time.  Walking distance away from Field House was the Shedd Aquarium, and we decided to at least visit for a few hours. I love aquariums and this one was pretty fantastic.

It seems like we had packed in a lot for the day, but no, we continued on!  We headed to the Sears Tower, nowadays known as the Willis Tower.  It's 103 stories and the tallest building in the US.  The views are pretty amazing, and we waited in line for our turn to step out onto "The Ledge."  These are glass boxes that extend from the top floor.  Since they're made of glass, you can look down and all around for a magnificent view.  I'm scared of tons of things, but I do ok with heights.  I thought this was a very cool experience.
 Here's me looking at you looking at me! :)
We ended the day by ending up at Rick Bayless' amazing restaurant called, Xoco.  We had unbelievably delicious food here and the service was fantastic.  We loved it (I'm drooling, just thinking of it...)!

I call this our All-American day.  Jason is not a Chicago Cubs fan, but as a baseball fan, he couldn't pass up the chance to tour the historic Wrigley Field.  Even though I am not a baseball fan, I really enjoyed the tour!  The guide was passionate about his Cubs and it was neat to see the stadium through his eyes.
 In the Visitors changing room
 In the pressbox
On the field

From there, we headed over to Hot Doug's, a very well known hot dog place.  It was worth the wait in line!
With only a few hours left in the afternoon, we decided we might as well visit the other tower that Chicago's known for: the Hancock Building.  Compared to the Willis Tower, this one barely had anyone in it.  Chicago has such a pretty skyline so the views were wonderful, but for the excitement of standing on the Ledge, we're glad we did the Willis Tower first.  The Hancock Building is preparing to "up its game" and will be introducing a new tourist attraction called "The Tilt" in the next few months.  It's where you stand in a glass box and the whole thing tilts so you can get an even better view of the city.  Yikes- now that, I'm not sure if I'd have the guts to do! (here's a pic of Navy Pier, a huge tourist attraction here.  From what we've read, it's got an amusement park- not my idea of fun, so we didn't venture out there).
We walked along the Magnificent Mile, a stretch of shopping all around the Hancock Building (which is actually not even called that anymore- it's called the 360 Chicago).  I'm not that type of shopper, but it was still fun to people watch along there.
 Our final dinner in Chicago was at Urbanbelly, an Asian fusion restaurant.  YUM!  It was soooo good!

We had to head back home in the morning.  Before going back to our hotel to pack up, Jason and I stopped at Haymarket Brewery for drinks and to unwind- what a busy trip it was.  We packed in a lot, had so much fun being together, and loved exploring the city of Chicago.  There are so many places around the world we still want to visit, so who knows when we'll ever be back in Chicago, but one thing's for sure- there's so much to do... We'd love it!
Here are a few more random pictures...

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