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Trip Report Fabulous Chicago (a long-ish trip report but, hey, it's a great city!)

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Well, we had a wonderful mini-break in Chicago! The weather was a huge surprise -- I'd checked the weather report and was expecting warmer than usual temps (70 to 75) but what I didn't expect was summer -- it was 80 to 85 every day under cloudless blue skies! I only wore about a third of the clothes I packed but thank heavens I thought to toss some summer-weight blouses and t-shirts into my bag.

I very cleverly made good notes of all the fodorite and friend recommendations and then very stupidly forgot to print them off and take them with. That's OK, though. I remembered enough of what y'all told me and had other material and there were many brochures, mags and other resource materials in our hotel. And the concierges were excellent and very helpful.

We flew on Porter Airlines (www.flyporter.com) which is always lovely partly because you get to fly out of the downtown Billy Bishop airport avoid the huge crowds at Pearson. Another benefit is that everyone gets to enjoy the lounge amenities (coffee, snacks, newspapers, etc.) and pleasant, friendly service. It's nice not to feel like a second-class citizen just because I'm not flying first class. We took a very early flight (7 a.m.) which meant we were up at 5 and at the airport by 6 but I did manage to catch a few zees on the plane.

We stayed at the Rennaisance Blackstone Chicago Hotel which is a historic hotel, newly-renovated and it was excellent. We got prompt and friendly service from everyone throughout our stay. The hotel has a good fitness centre which is important to my SO who used it every day, a Starbucks (yay), a couple of restaurants (which we didn't use) a business centre which came in very handy a couple of times and a little newstand/shop. The only thing it lacked was a decent hotel bar. You could have drinks in the restaurant if there was a table but we didn't feel like waiting so we just popped across the road to the Hilton instead. One very nice thing was that they had our room ready for us even though we were arriving very early (I think we were there before 10 a.m.) so we could unpack and get cleaned up before we set off for the day. We got a great rate (government rate) of about half of the usual rate.

Our room was beautifully decorated and well-kept but it did have a bad view (the central air shaft). We could have upgraded to a lakeview room for an extra $30 a night but since this whole trip was a gift to me from my SO, I didn't particularly feel like spending more of his money so we just drew the shades whenever we were in the room. As it turned out, it was an incredibly quiet room since we were at the end of the hall with no late-night revellers coming by. The bathroom was very big and the soaps/shampoos etc were Aveda.

The Blackstone is on the corner of Michigan and Balbo, across the street from Grant Park at approximately the location of the Buckingham fountain and that was a wonderful location for us since one of our plans was to go to Buddy Guy's Legends one night. We'd been to the old place but new that he'd moved the club, guess where -- one short block from the door of our hotel, at Balbo and Wabash!

After we checked in and got settled, we decided to get some lunch and take a walk. I remembered the f'odorites suggesting Lou Malnati's for Chicago-style pizza and the concierge guided us to one just a couple of blocks south of Balbo on State. It was pretty good -- not my favourite kind of crust but nice and gooey, cheese-wise, and at least we got to try it.

After lunch we set out on a very long walk up State Street stopping into a few shops (my SO was looking for something specific) including the absolutely beautiful Macy's store. It reminded me of those two big beautiful department stores in Paris. We stopped to have a drink in a very nice hotel at State and Wacker and then continued walking up to the gallery district at Chicago Avenue. By that time we were pooped, so we hopped in a cab and went back to the hotel and flaked out for a while.

That evening, through a series of mild misadventures, we ended up having dinner in the Wicker Park area at a nice little Italian restaurant called Via Carducci on W. Division Street. There's a nice strip of restaurants there and we just arbitrarily picked one. Many of them had live music and an sidewalk patio. After dinner we had a walk on W. Division and stopped for gelato and a bit of sidewalk guitar music. By that time, we were completely exhausted so home to bed.

We started the day off with a giant breakfast/brunch at Yolks on Michigan at 11th Street. It was recommended by our concierge who gave us a card and said if we presented it to the hostess, we'd probably jump to the front of the line. The place was packed and there was a line-up of about 10 parties waiting for tables. We gave the hostess our little card and sure enough, we were seated immediately. I felt mildly guilty about this but not guilty enough to give up my table. I told myself that it came with the price of the hotel room. The place was nice and lively and had a huge menu and decent food. Thus fortified, we set off on our Friday walk.

We wanted to walk at the lake side of Grant Park so we walked down to Roosevelt and over to the lake. When we got back up to Balbo, we set in again to see the beautiful Buckingham Fountain and then stayed park-side up to Millenium Park. We went into the Art Institute to see two specific displays. A friend had recommended the miniature rooms in the Thorne gallery and they were beautiful and certainly worth seeing, and we wanted to see the Bertrand Goldberg Architecture of Invention exhibition which I found less than fascinating. We stopped into the large contemporary art gallery in that same wing where we had our regular disagreement about comtemporary art (me for, him against). Back outside we took a look at the Pritzker Pavillion which I think is gorgeous and got a good close up look and some fabulous photos of the Cloud Gate (the Bean). I just love that piece of sculpture -- it's never the same any two moments that you look at it! We took one photo up from the middle that looks like something out of Edvard Munch's The Scream.

After we left the park, we walked up Michigan Avenue as far as the Water Tower, and passed the Apple Store where the window was covered in post-it love notes to Steve Jobs and the sidewalk at the front of the store was covered with candles, flowers and apples. Nice.

Back to the hotel to relax and get ready for what I think was the best night of three really good nights. We took a cab to Old Town and had a wonderful dinner at a Mexican restaurant called Adobo (on North Avenue right next to Second City). We'd been to Adobo before and liked it very much and we were told it was only a short walk, maybe 10 or 15 minutes, (ha!) from the Apollo Theatre where we were going to see Million Dollar Quartet. After dinner, we had a bit of a walk on North Avenue which was a lot livelier than I remembered it and then started to walk up Lincoln Avenue to the theatre. Well, it's lucky we left a lot of time because it was a much longer walk than we expected. Still, I was glad we did it because it took us through a beautiful neighbourhood (that's where I want to live if I ever move to Chicago) and a busy, fun main corridor.

The play itself was fabulous! We had a stand-in Elvis and although his voice was great, he didn't have the charisma he needed to play the King, but everyone else was wonderful, especially the actor who played Jerry Lee Lewis. He was fabulous! The audience clearly loved it and the whole feeling was so much energy and fun! Here's the website:
If you're anywhere (or going to be anywhere) where it's playing, I can't recommend it highly enough!

When we got back to our hotel, we decided that we weren't tired yet and that's when we went across the road to the Hilton for a nightcap. It was a little quiet and boring in the regular hotel bar so we opted for Kitty O'Shea's where there was a livelier crowd and live music.

And then off to bed.

SO wanted to go to a specific store in Water Tower Place (the one where you buy university sweatshirts et al) so we browsed our way back up Michigan Avenue. Our first stop, though, was the Architectural Foundation gift shop where I could have spent my every last cent! The place was full of beautifully designed things (if I had it to do over again, I'd become an industrial designer) and just fun things. I only bought a luggage tag but, boy oh boy, I wanted everything. If you're travelling to Chicago, I'd suggest you bypass all the kitschy souvenir stores and just head for the Architectural Foundation shop.

It's also the place where you can buy boat and bus tour tickets and I thought we might do a boat tour but they were all sold out for the day. That's OK, though, because we did one of those tours last time we were there.

Our visit to Water Tower Place was successful and my SO bought a sweatshirt and a tee shirt and then we had lunch in the food court there. After that, we walked down to Navy Pier and boy, was it ever packed with people! Of course, the day was just gorgeous and everyone was out with their kids. We walked the pier, saw the stained glass window exhibit and a very interesting mosaic exhibit, ate ice cream, watched the boats, and generally schmoozed around till we were too hot and tired to schmooze anymore so we caught a bus which went up State Street to Balbo and went home for a bit of a laze around before going out that evening.

Later that night we stepped out our door and walked a block to Buddy Guy's Legends to have dinner and hear some blues and it was so much fun! All the acts we saw were good (Harmonica Hinds, The Cashbox Kings, Chick Willis) but best of all was the fact that Buddy Guy was there and got up and did a few numbers too. The joint was jumpin' and the music got a little raunchier late at night and some people (us included) even got up to dance. I don't know what time we left but it was pretty late and we were pretty tired so it was nice that we just had a short walk back to the hotel where we fell into bed exhausted!

This was our last day in Chicago and I think we planned it perfectly. We wanted to avoid the marathon so we saved Sunday to go to the Museum of Science and Industry. We checked out of our hotel and took a cab to the museum with our suitcases so we could have as much time as possible there before we had to go to the airport. The drive took us through the University of Chicago campus which was very beautiful (OK, I can live there too) especially at this time of year with all the leaves turning. The museum was lots of fun and it made me wonder why we don't go to our own science museum more often. Our favourite gallery was the future inventions gallery which was fascinating and SO loved the submarine. I think we pretty much pushed every button and pulled every lever in the place. We were like big kids in a science playground!

We left for the airport around 3, cabbed to Midway and had a pretty uneventful trip home but it was nice to get there and find everything still in its place.

Places that we wanted to go to but there's only so much time and so many meals you can have:

Prosecco (walked past it though)
Volare (drove past it on the bus)
Webers BBQ (walked past it)
Second City (but went last time)
Zanies Comedy Club (had a ball there last time)
Blue Chicago
Architectural Tour of The Devil In The White City (wasn't running when we were there)
Museum of Contemporary Art
and probably lots of other things I'm forgetting to mention.

Thanks for all your help and suggestions!

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