Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chicago Part 2: Day 4: People, Places, Food

Day  four started out similar to day two. Danny went to a different Crossfit gym and I slept in, after all we were on vacation. We decided to cash in on our upgrades and order room service for breakfast. I have never ordered room service before. Who wants to eat inside their hotel, when there is caramel apple pecan French toast to be had? Yet, it was free. I felt very fancy when the man brought up our food and opened up all the shiny silver lids to make sure I was satisfied with our order. I was satisfied. I gave the man a larger tip than normal. The hotel was paying for it, so it was my attempt at sticking it to the man.

Staying true to my Jewish heritage, I ordered a bagel and lox. Danny ordered a Spanish omelet. No, he is not Spanish.  I enjoyed my bagel and lox quite a bit. Bagels are one of my favorite foods, but thanks (or no thanks) to the Paleo diet, I hadn’t had one in probably a year’s time. Danny enjoyed his omelet, but felt like there could be a little more kick to it. He likes things to taste like fire. We also split a fruit tray, which was scrumptious.

After a few cups of coffee, we headed out east to Navy Pier. The walk was fairly long and it was hot, but it was nice to see a different part of Chicago. Navy Pier was built in 1916. It was originally used for cargo ships and warehouse storage. At the very end of the pier is the ballroom. The ballroom was used for public gatherings. The ballroom's wall that faces the lake is made up primarily of windows, which makes the events that are held there, that much more grand.

Navy Pier has now been turned into a tourist attraction. The Navy Pier’s website claims it is the most visited attraction in the Mid West. I think this has something to do with people wanting an ocean experience in the Mid West. The building further away from the lake has touristy shops and a children’s museum in it. There are also an IMAX theater, various restaurants, a theater for plays, various boat excursions, some carnival rides, and a stained glass museum.

We hopped on board the ferris wheel, because who doesn’t like a ferris wheel? The ferris wheel is 15 stories high and gives you a great view of the cityscape and the lake. I was a little disappointed that a six dollar ticket only got us one trip around the wheel. The other rides didn’t seem too exciting so we did not test any out. We walked to the end of the pier and looked at the big lake. Danny complained that I wouldn’t let us go on the Sea Dog, which is a touring speed boat that goes out on the lake. I would have rather wasted my money on the pirate ship excursion. I did not know that the pirates pillaged and plundered the Great Lakes, but now I know.

Danny and I agreed that we weren’t all too thrilled with Navy Pier. It seems ultra touristy and if you live anywhere near an ocean or have been on a pier, you have basically experienced Navy Pier. However, if you are traveling with children, this may be worth your while because of the many child friendly activities. I would like to travel back in time and be invited to a party in the grand ballroom. I imagine it would be sort of like the formal dancing scene from Titanic. I also would have enjoyed going to the pier at night. During the summer months on certain days, there is a firework show. I wonder if they let you go on the ferris wheel during the fireworks display?! That would my ultimate Navy Pier experience.

We headed back to the hotel so I could throw my hair up. 85 degrees in Chicago feels like 100 degrees here. On the way there, a band was playing in a little courtyard area singing Barbie Girl. Remember the song Barbie Girl? It’s horrible. Of course Danny sang along.

Next stop was what else but food. We went to Portillo's to try the Italian Beef and cheese fries. I seriously don’t know how every Chicagoan isn’t at least 50 lbs overweight. Portillo's is a big restaurant, but it used to be just a little shack. The restaurant was packed, but the line moved quickly because of the proficient staff. Reviewers on Yelp recommended the Italian beef and cheese fries so of course we obliged. The Italian beef is pretty much just what it sounds like. It is a bunch of beef on French bread and giardiniera on top. This time I played it cool Chicagoan style and skipped the mayo. It was simple, but delicious. No wonder this little shack turned into a must have for Chicagoans and visitors alike. The fries were good, like most fries are. The cheese was just a mild nacho cheese sauce on the side. I think cheese should always be served with fries. Hopefully the French fry gods will read my blog and start making cheese a mandatory condiment. For an ultra piggy move, Danny and I dipped our sandwiches into the cheese sauce. Yummmmm.

By the time we left we definitely needed to walk off our lunch. Good thing the Sears Tower (now known as Willis Tower) was a long walk away. So up to the top of the Willis Tower we went. Willis Tower is the tallest building in the US. It is the second tallest building in the world. I don’t find it to be the prettiest building, but there is something special about its ultra sturdy structure in contrast to the soft billowing Chicago clouds.

If you are going to Sears Tower I suggest you get there early. Everyone wants to be on top of the world. Also if you are claustrophobic, the ride up might not be for you. They pack people in the elevators like sardines. Seriously, I don’t know how the fire marshal hasn’t been notified yet. As you go up to the top, you smell some interesting odors. I just tried to look at the television, because it shows pictures of other famous buildings when you reach their height. Once you reach the top there are multiple views for miles, after all the Willis Tower is the tallest point in Illinois. Which is why Danny and I could never live there. We could see our hotel, many of the places we had visited, and we even saw a living roof below us.

The newest addition to the Sears Tower is the Skydeck. The Skydecks are three clear glass cubes that pop out of the windows. So literally the only thing that separates you and the ground is glass and 1,450 feet. Now I am not a big thrill seeker. I don’t enjoy crazy roller coasters, but being that high above the world with such little between you really makes you realize your insignificance. This is actually a nice feeling. Plus every time the wind would blow, the box would shake a little. After a few photo ops with Danny, we got in line to head down.

I forgot to mention that on the way up, we saw a bride all decked out in her beautiful wedding gown. She got to go on a different elevator. I overheard that the wedding ceremony was going to be at the very very top of the building. I thought that was pretty romantic, being on top of the world figuratively and the tip top of Illinois literally.

After Sears Tower, we attempted to take the bus back the Art Institute to pick up some gifts, but we small town folk failed miserably at finding the right bus. So we walked and my inflamed toe soon became super inflamed. I’m always having issues.

We did a little shopping, stopped by my favorite fancy store Anthropologie, and of course took a nap.

Next on the to do list was Wrigley Field for a Cubs vs. A’s baseball game. We took a stab at public transportation again and rode the Metra. The Metra is basically like BART, but has more routes, runs more often, and is way more crowded. Again, if you are claustrophobic do not take the Metra to a Cub’s game.

We had originally planned to go to Chicago the week before, but when Danny found out the Cubs were playing the A’s he kindly asked if we could push it back. Of course I said okay…I mean we went to an A’s game the day after our wedding. Wrigley Field was built in 1914. It is famous for being old, small, and having an ivy wall. The scoreboard is not your typical electric light up scoreboard, it is still hand turned. If you look closely you can see a guy peeking his head out of the spaces to catch a view of the game. The buildings around Wrigley Field are famous for having parties on top of their roofs during the games. There are now bleachers on many of them and most rooftops charge for a seat even though it is not technically in Wrigley field.

We both ordered some hot dogs and some Old Style brewskies: the perfect baseball game meal. Unfortunately the A’s ended up losing. We still had a wonderful time. Looking around, eating my amazing hot dog, it felt very nostalgic. Our Americana experience was just that: totally red, white, and blue.

We took the Metra back to the hotel without incident and fell asleep.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Silly Stuff

This is an art piece, in our collection, that we like to call:
 Tayler, the Dragon Slayer.
Tayler, our little dog, is a model in his spare time.

(This painting is actually titled George and the Dragon, by John Meyers)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Chicago Part 2: Day 3: People, Places, Food

We woke up the next morning and my right big toe was aching. I considered the following as reasons for the pain: I have developed a mean case of gout or my pain was from walking approximately 6 miles around the treacherous terrain of Chicago while wearing flip flops. I decided on the latter and opted for more walking friendly shoes.

It was my turn to decide where to eat so I used Yelp. I found the Bongo Room which  is about half a mile away from our hotel, towards the South Loop area, which we hadn’t seen much of. The Bongo Room is situated under the historic Roosevelt Hotel. The interior of the Bongo Room has a nice modern contrast to the building's old brick exterior. The food was amazing. We both had make your own omelets. We decided protein was needed to muster up the energy for our touristy packed day. The omelets were great. The hash browns (more like country potatoes) were perfect. Danny said they were the best he ever had. Thinking back on the menu, I should have had something more creative like the red velvet pancakes. I saw a lady eating some incredibly sinful waffles that looked pretty good as well. Oh well, we planned to have deep dish pizza later in the day, so I needed to save room. Score one for Yelp, I totally recommend the Bongo Room.

We then walked back to the Congress Hotel and checked out. Then we dropped our bags off at the InterContinental in anticipation of some upgraded hotel goodness.

Matt and Janey had recommended the Architectural River Boat Tour, so we decided to hop on board the First Lady of Chicago. Chicago is known for its architecture. It is known more for its innovation than for the age of the buildings. After the fire of 1871, pretty much every building in Chicago was leveled. Chicago was a young hustling and bustling city prior to the fire and remained so after the fire. The fire, although tragic, provided the perfect opportunity to rebuild the city with innovation and energy.

The river cruise has a docent from the Chicago Architecture Foundation on board to tell you about all the wonderful buildings. I won’t go into detail about all the buildings, (although you know me, I could) but I will highlight a few of my favorites.

The Chicago Tribune Tower was right next to our hotel and conveniently next to the river. After the fire, the Chicago Tribune held a competition for its new building. The winner would be the architect who came up with the, “most beautiful and eye catching building in the world.” It may not be the most beautiful in the world, but it’s one of my favorites in Chicago. The docent said it was built in a French gothic sort of style. The American flag is soaring proudly above the building. On the bottom levels there are stones from other nationally and internationally famous buildings.

The next set of buildings that I enjoyed are the ‘60s mod corn cob buildings, called Marina City. They are called corn cob buildings because many people complained that they looked like corn cobs when they were first built. This is strange because Illinois and corn go hand in hand just like Ripon and almonds do. Anyway the architect, Bertrand Goldberg, created Marina City to get the dear residents of Chicago to live downtown. At the time living downtown by the river was something most people did not want to do because the river was dirty. The architect guessed that living downtown would become trendy and the river would soon become the heart of Chicago as they had plans to clean it up. He designed Marina City’s apartments to be triangular in shape so that all of them had balconies. He included parking in the lower levels and shops and grocery stores by the river. He even included a bowling alley. He developed some condos further to the south that also have interesting curved shapes and for the residents there are boat docks underneath. People may have thought his ideas were crazy at first, but now they pay a pretty penny to live in one of his buildings.

We also passed one of Montgomery Ward’s old buildings, which has now been made into a residential building. The building is done in an art deco style. An interesting fact about Ward is that his newer tower (not pictured)  had no corner windows, because he didn’t want to have to deal with the decision of which employees to give a coveted corner office. Montgomery Ward’s has since gone bankrupt, besides their new internet based business, but for a while the company sure knew what it was doing and was a big help in making downtown Chicago what it is today.

After the river boat tour, despite the little old lady’s advice, we headed to Millennium Park. Millennium Park is fairly new. It opened in 2004 and is situated next to all the other parks along Lake Michigan’s shore. The park has a huge outdoor amphitheater, where it holds concerts and plays during the summer months. There are various art pieces throughout the park; the most infamous one is called Cloud Gate, by Anish Kooper. Danny kept calling it the coffee bean, so that name sort of stuck with us Lehrs. Although it is just a reflective coffee bean shaped sculpture, many people were visiting it. We even got in on the action by taking some pictures of our reflection with the Chicago skyline in the background. Danny really wanted to do a handstand underneath it, but I was afraid he would hit someone as there was a crowd. I should have encouraged him rather than discouraged him. You don’t get a chance to do a handstand under a reflective coffee bean very often.

Lunch time called for Giordano’s pizza. It is not the original Chicago style pizza, but everyone said that we must try it. So we did. It was amazing. The crust is like that of a chicken pot pie, but probably has many more sticks of butter in it. I love butter. The inside is stuffed with cheese, sauce, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and sausage. Unlike regular pizza, the sauce is placed on top. I did miss the crispy cheesiness that regular pizza offers. One piece will fill you up, so of course I had two. The air conditioner was on full blast in the restaurant which was quite nice as us Californians are not used to the mugginess of Chicago.

Somewhere in between all of this walking around and stuffing ourselves, we became very sleepy and took a nap.

We then decided to check out the stores on the Magnificent Mile. The Magnificent Mile is a mile stretch of mostly high end shops along North Michigan Ave. Although I can afford to possibly buy one item in one of these stores, I have come to the point in my life where I don’t need a bag that is covered in a bunch of Cs to make me happy. However, if someone wishes to give me a C covered bag, I will take it.

The one store that I was excited to step into was the American Girl store. American Girl started out with four books about girls growing up during various decades in America. Dolls were soon made that looked like the main characters. I read the books when I was a child and enjoyed learning some American history this way. Now there are more books, more decades, and more dolls.

I had hoped to run into Oprah Winfrey in this store. I have seen the American Girl store featured on her show before. Danny would not allow us to visit her studio. Sometimes I enjoy a little guilty pleasure Oprah time, but I mostly wanted to go to win a new car or a makeover. Danny does not call her Oprah. He calls her, “Man Hater.” It turns out Oprah wasn’t filming that day anyway, so American Girl was my only hope. Unfortunately I did not see Oprah, nor did American Girl's employees offer to give me a free doll for being a fan.

We walked around a lot more, probably took another nap, and then headed to Howl at the Moon. We decided to skip dinner, because of our gluttonous move at Giordano’s. Howl at the Moon is a dueling piano bar. The pianists take requests from the crowd and sing fun rock and roll songs. The pianists are usually pretty funny and make some witty comments or get the crowd involved in a clever way. There are 11 Howl at the Moons nationwide. We visited one last year on our trip to San Antonio, Texas. We had a great time, so decided to go again.

As the band played a Tom Petty song, I looked around and noticed a few things. Game number six of the NBA finals was on and the Celtics were losing terribly. Have I ever mentioned that I hate the Lakers? I also noticed there were a lot of middle aged women there from Wells Fargo. They were letting their hair down so to speak. There were some middle aged men is suits, that did not have hair to let down. There was also a bachelorette party.

The young bachelorette wore a sash across her short dress, claiming that she was in fact the bachelorette. She and her entourage were dancing and drinking a lot. She definitely wanted the attention to be on her, as she got on the stage a few times when there is a no “getting on the stage” policy, unless you are invited. She then eyed the middle aged men in suits. She went and started flirting heavily with the men who were probably twice her age and started dancing with one. Her friends soon followed suit. I looked over at Danny told him, that I predicted a divorce in 2 years.

We drank our beers, enjoyed the music, and people watching some more then headed home. I anticipated a much better sleep because our new InterContinental bed was much more comfortable than the Congress Hotel bed. Sleep would be needed because the next day we were going to conquer the Navy Pier, Sears Tower, and a baseball game all in one day.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chicago Part 2: Day 2: People, Places, Food

Day 2 of Chicago was probably the best day. I knew it was going to be great, because I was having a great hair day. My bangs had been cut too short by my hairdresser, but magically overnight they grew to the perfect length. To celebrate I wore my funky dress that has roses and airplanes all over it. Danny knew it was going to be a great day too. He visited Crossfit Atlas and surpassed his goal of deadlifting 450 lbs by 5 pounds. My husband is crazy strong. We were in such good moods we decided to take the long walk down Michigan Ave instead of taking a cab.

Remember our friends Matt and Janey? The ones we randomly met in line for breakfast in San Francisco? Well they happened to randomly be visiting Chicago during part of our visit. We had planned to meet for breakfast that day. We walked to their hotel, and then we all walked together to Eggsperience. Matt and Janey had brought along their sweet little girl Faith. We discussed our current life happenings and what we were all doing in Chicago. Then we got down to the business of food.

Prior to our Chicago visit I had been eating extremely strict Paleo which excludes things like sugar and anything sinful. So of course I had to have the caramel apple pecan French toast. Janey has good taste, so she ordered the same thing. Danny got a skillet of some sort. Matt ordered a chorizo omelet the size of a small child. No need to worry, it was made of egg whites. Janey, Danny and I had coffees. Matt had lemonade. I am using my poetic license when I say that the lemonade tasted like summer. Faith had Minnie Mouse pancakes. Good call Faith, good call. We all enjoyed our food and just like at Dottie’s we all shared our food. Janey and I agreed that the French toast was good, but nothing could compare to the French toast at Dottie’s.

Faith was being a little shy at first but she later warmed up to us and we compared injuries. I showed her my knee from my fall while hiking, and she showed me her head that she had bonked. It was so nice to see our friends again. Before we left we discussed our next city destination, which is possibly Philadelphia. They said they wanted to go there too. I think we are destined to be great friends, even if we only see them in far off cities.

After breakfast, we headed to the Art Institute of Chicago. I was told by multiple people that it was amazing. The art institute has over 300,000 works of art and in over 1 million square feet. I was not let down. On either side of the Art Institute are two bronze lions. They are the guardians of the museum. Apparently the lions are also Blackhawks fans. They were both wearing the champion’s helmets.

Entering the building, you immediately know it’s going to be something special. The building itself is a work of art. We started our art quest by visiting the restrooms that happened to be on the bottom floor by the children’s section. My mom taught me that you can learn a lot from children’s art as well as illustrations in children’s books. The use of color and imagination are unlimited by the adult world, which makes for truly unique art. The children’s art was great. I wish I would have mastered my camera at that point as there is a no flash policy, and I seem to always mess up without it. There were some interactive art exhibits for children and the kiddos seemed to be enjoying them immensely. I would have got in on the action, but I didn’t want any weird looks from the parents.

Next were the miniature rooms. I love miniature things. Take something really big make it tiny, and I will stare at it all day long. The Thorne Miniature rooms represent European rooms from the 13th century to the 1930s and American rooms from the 17th century to the 1930s. These interiors were designed by Mrs. Thorne and crafted by a nameless person from 1932 to 1940. The nameless person certainly needs some credit as the attention to detail was incredible. These little rooms were the dollhouses of my childhood dreams.

Upstairs we passed through the Asian and Indian areas. Some of the art pieces were thousands of years old. The craziest art piece, in my opinion, was the Chinese pillows. They were decorated stones. If the Chinese knew that their uncomfortable pillows would someday be considered art, they probably would have laughed. I certainly don’t want my pillow in a museum.

We then followed the big crowd to the Matisse exhibit. The Matisse exhibit concentrates on his work from 1913-1917. I am no artist, nor am I a Matisse expert, so take what I say with a grain of salt. Apparently Matisse’s art from 1913-1917 are amongst his most experimental years. Many of the paintings, sculptures, and prints were reworked numerous times. If you look closely you can see the multiple scrapings in the paintings. Matisse said that these years were called, “The method of modern construction.” He was influenced by the cubist movement and World War 1. Certainly by looking at his work you can see that the process of making his art was art itself. I would show you examples, but cameras were off limits in this area.

On our way to the impressionism and post impressionism section we passed some pretty famous painting like American Gothic and Nighthawks, that even my non arty husband recognized. That was fun. We also passed a group of children who all said bonjour to Danny and I. We decided they are either enrolled in French class or are French. Either way, I liked the little Frenchies.

Impressionism is my favorite style of art. I am probably swayed by my artistic mother, as this is one of her favorite styles too. Personally I think her art could be next to some of the greats. I am slightly biased though. Anyway, the art pieces in this section did not disappoint. From Van Gogh to Monet and Renoir to Degas, all my favorites were included. It is always easier to appreciate art pieces in person, especially impressionism. If you look closely you can see the individual brush strokes, but take a step back and these simple strokes create not an exact image but an idea of what the artist saw. That’s what I like the most, it’s like a small glimpse into the mind of a genius.

Linda Gross (Mom)
Of course there was plenty of more art to see, and we saw most of it, but my fingers will become just as tired as my tootsies were that day if I cover it all, so you will just have to go see it yourself. Besides this blog is already on the lengthy side.

After walking around the museum all day we built up an appetite. So we used our trusty iphones and yelped it up. We found a little sandwich shop called Fontano’s. We both ordered the “Big Al” which is an Italian sub with Italian meats, provolone, and Giardiniera on it. In Chicago Giardiniera is a big deal. It’s an Italian hot pepper relish that is delicious. After I took a bite into my sandwich which also had mayonnaise on it, I read the article on the wall that said true Chicagoans always hold the mayo. You can take the girl outta Ripon, but you can't take the mayo out of her sandwich. Across the street was DePaul University for law students. Fontano’s had a student discount. I thought to myself, if this is the way law students eat every day I might have to change careers.

We then went to the Field Museum. On our way we noticed a camera crew and lots of people standing around trying to get a peek of something. Naturally we joined in. We didn't know what we were trying to get a peak at until I decided to ask some teenage girls. They said Vince Vaughn was filming the movie Cheaters. As the girls were discussing how the hunky Channing Tatum was also in the movie and that if they saw him they would run across the street and declare their undying love, Vince came out of a camera shop, looked up, and waved. My thoughts about Vince Vaughn are as follows: He is tall. He likes the Bears. I know this because he was wearing a Bears hat. He is nice. Nice enough to wave that is. Although my brush with Hollywood was brief, I was grateful that I was having a good hair day. You never know when a talent scout is in the audience looking for the next great Hollywood starlet.

On the way to the Field Museum we wandered through the multiple lovely parks running along Lake Michigan’s shore. The Field Museum is another grand White House like building. It is situated near the Shedd Aquarium and the Planetarium in an area called Museum Campus. Unfortunately we did not have time to see the other two “iums.” The main attraction in the Field Museum is Sue. Sue is a Tyrannosaurus Rex. She is the most complete T Rex that has been discovered to date. This is her 10th anniversary, so the museum was definitely tooting that horn. Besides looking at a bunch of bones, we also looked at a bunch of dead stuffed animals. I enjoyed the bird part, because I enjoy birds, but the rest was rather repetitive. I think we would have been more excited if we hadn’t of recently gone to the California Academy of Science and saw a multitude of dead stuffed animals there.

Danny asked if I wanted to go to the gem display, which to his dismay I did. The gems were huge, but they were difficult to see, because of the crowd. We realized it was because Monday happens to be free admission day at the museum, which was why the line to the restroom was ridiculous. The restroom did not have any seat covers whatsoever. I was disappointed. I think to more fully enjoy a museum you shouldn’t go on free admission day. The crowds were crazy, and it was difficult to get a good look at any one display.

After the museum we walked back to the hotel and crossed picket lines. We rested, freshened up, and then decided where to eat. Danny really wanted to try this Brazilian steak place called Texas de Brazil. I had my doubts, but agreed because I won the gem war.

The walk to Texas de Brazil was fairly long, which was good because I didn't even have an appetite. According to our overly zealous waiter, Brazilian BBQ involves meat on large skewers that is roasted over an open flame. I believe somehow salt brine is used. Texas de Brazil works like this: There is a big salad bar with various "international items" such as, sushi, goat cheese, marinated artichokes, exotic looking grains, and ranch dressing. I will admit that the lobster bisque was delicious. While you are filling up on salad, various meat men come around with skewers of meat offerings. If you would like some they slide or slice, you off some meat. You are given a little card with a green side and a red side. If you need a meat break you turn your little card over to the red side. Red means stop. Green means go, just like I learned in first grade. As soon as that card is flipped to green watch out! You will soon be overwhelmed with meat. The overzealous waiter also brought us fried bananas that were rolled in sugar as a “palate cleanser." I'm not sure if it cleansed my palate, but they tasted good.

So what can be wrong about endless amounts of meat you may ask? Especially coming from me, a meatasaurus? Well for starters it was way too salty (although they did offer to cook some less salty meat), for seconds I don't think the meat was that good of quality. Endless amounts of meat may have once been my nirvana, but now I will take a quality steak over the meatarazzi any day.

I haven't figured out where the Texas in Texas de Brazil fits in. Maybe it's the buffet part. The meat on a sword part is supposed to be Brazilian. Or maybe it’s the garlic mashed potatoes. The waiter did tell me that in the bread basket were Brazilian cheese rolls. They were good, just like the ones you get at Red Lobster. Perhaps Red Lobster is owned by a Brazilian fisherman. All I know is Texas de Brazil is a mesh of American and possibly Brazilian foods, and the combination is not pretty. Of course, Danny loved it. Did I mention there was a wine lady who hung from a suspension line and did acrobatics to reach the wine bottles? They called her the wine artist. I'm serious.

After dinner we took a stroll by the river and visited the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial park. We always seem to come across a memorial park on our trips. For whatever reason we always end up sitting in the park staring at a list of names for a while in silence. Even in the silence I know Danny and I are thinking about the same thing.

When we were done paying homage to our veterans, we walked around the Loop area and planned our next day. My eyes were so tired from staring at things. We stared at paintings, dinosaurs, dead birds, celebrities, meats, and lists of names. It was time for bed, I don't think my eyes could take in any more information, and my brain was certainly filled to the brim.

By the way, so that your eyes won't tire out, I promise Day 3 of my Chicago trip blog won't be so long!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Chicago Part 2: Day 1: People, Places, Food

Danny and I have a traveling strategy. Our method is to visit one big, interesting, city in the U.S. every year, with smaller travels in between. When we run out of interesting US cities, we will expand beyond the good old U.S. of A. This year was Chicago. Why Chicago? We’ve never been to it, it has some interesting history, and there is plenty to do there. So off to Chicago we went.

Our flight to Chicago had a layover in Dallas/Fort Worth, which seems a little backwards to me. However, if we hadn’t of had the layover in Dallas, we wouldn’t have met the little old lady from Chicago. The old woman sitting next to us in the airport needed help zipping up her suitcase. Her daughter had packed it for her. She started up a conversation with us about how she was just visiting Dallas for one of her grandchildren’s graduations, but was now flying back home to Chicago.

She is 84 years old and lives on her own. Naturally, her children worry about her and are all trying to convince her to come live with them. One of her daughters lives in Porterville, CA and is trying to get her to move there. We told her that although we had never been to Porterville, we have been to Fresno and Bakersfield which are near there, and we would not wish those cities upon anyone. Her daughter said that the seniors play double pinochle there, but the little old lady told us she only plays single pinochle. I have never played pinochle, but the name itself has sparked my interest. She has lived in Chicago her whole life. She told us that she is just fine health wise and still very active. After her husband died some 20 years ago she got an apartment. She line dances, is a hospital volunteer (she said the hospital in Porterville didn’t have volunteers), and she drives on the expressway. She gave us some tips on what to do in Chicago, and told us not to waste our time at Millennium Park, “There’s nothing there, nothing there for someone like me.”

Our flight was delayed so she grabbed a bite to eat at the BBQ place while we watched her bags. She said she just needed a snack and got corn on the cob. I noticed she used a lot of margarine. She also used a ridiculous amount of salt. She must not have any issues with her blood pressure, but perhaps she does with her taste buds. As we were waiting she commented on how the flight was taking longer than, “A slow boat to China.” If this little old lady was any hint of Chicago, then I knew we would have a great time.

We arrived at the O’Hare airport late in the evening. Although the airport has a sort of ‘70s vibe, it did have some awesome automatic seat covers in the women’s restroom. I thought that was a nice touch. After sorting out our hotel issue, we unpacked our things at the Congress Hotel and asked the lady at the desk if there was anywhere nearby that is good for food. Every place was closed as it was late Sunday night besides bars, so off to the South Loop Club we went.

We practically ran to the South Loop Club, because the sky had opened up. I decided to brave the storm rather than run back up to our room to get my umbrella. The South Loop Club is a local hangout. Danny asked if they had any local beers on tap there and they did. He had the Goose Island 312. The waitress told us that 312 is Chicago’s area code. Goose Island is the only island on the Chicago River. It is an artificial island. My water tasted just the way I like it, like water.

Danny ordered a hot dog. It had sautéed onions, sour kraut, and hot peppers on it. I had a Swiss burger with Swiss cheese and mushrooms. My burger was delicious , but I think that had something to do with my starvation. Danny claimed later in the trip, that that was the best hot dog he had ever had. The fries were scrumptious, plus they were curly so that was fun.

On our way back to our hotel we passed Buddy Guy’s new blues bar in Chicago. Danny had a small hissy fit that we ate at the South Loop instead of Buddy Guy’s. He said his dad would be so disappointed. I was pretty sure his dad would understand.

We went to sleep exhausted but without hunger, and that is all that we could ask for at that moment. We set our alarms for different times. Danny was going to go workout at a Crossfit gym in Chicago. I had other plans. My plans involved sleeping in and getting ready for our next fun filled day in Chicago.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Chicago Part 1: From 3-4 Stars

There are two sides to every story and in the case of our trip to Chicago there are two parts. Part one consists not of all the fun and exciting things we did, but of the wild goose chase we were sent on in search of a place to lay our weary heads.

Danny always picks the hotel we stay in when traveling. He picks someplace near downtown so we can walk to most of our destinations. The particular hotel that Danny picked for our trip to Chicago was the
rather fancy InterContinental. With a 4 star rating, a prime location on North Michigan, and a building full of interesting character and history, he made an excellent choice.

We arrived at the InterContinental rather late. Our flight had been delayed due to a storm passing through Chicago. I was not prepared for the storm. I must have looked fairly silly in my flip flops and tank top as the rain was pouring down on us. I knew that something really good or something really bad was going to happen, when we went to check in and the lady at the front desk said, “Oh Lehr? There is a note for me to get my manager.” The little blonde manager broke the news that, “A contracted party had to stay two extra nights at the hotel.” This left us little Lehrs out of luck. Kind of. The InterContinental has another property on South Michigan called The Congress Hotel. We would be sent there. The two nights we had paid for to stay at the InterContinental would be reimbursed. We were offered a free breakfast, money for a cab, and an upgraded room when we returned to the InterContinental. Danny explained to the lady that we had planned on walking everywhere and this would be rather inconvenient. She offered an extra cab fare.

Danny was to put it kindly, a little upset. I felt a little sorry for the little blonde lady. I was upset, but more tired and hungry than anything and just wanted to dig into some Chicago pizza. There really was nothing we could do about it besides bargain for more cab fares, but I feel like we got an okay deal. The lady did tell us, “Well to be honest, the Congress Hotel is not a four star hotel. It’s a three star.” I could care less about star ratings at that point, just give me a pillow and blanket and I would go sleep on the park bench.

So off we went to the Congress Hotel. The outside was nice enough, but the inside was a different story. Anyone that knows me knows that I love old buildings with character. I have been known to get pretty excited over crown molding. The inside of the Congress Hotel is old in all the wrong ways. Sure there is crown molding, chair rails, and chandeliers. But as most old buildings are, it had been renovated. But this renovation was best described as a hasty one….with a 1980s flair.

Our room had two full beds. And although it was rather tempting for each of us to have our own bed, we decided to share one little bed. As I was falling asleep, which is testament to my pure exhaustion, because the mattress was ridiculously uncomfortable, I thought about deep dish pizza…and how maybe I should only have one slice, seeing as we both had to fit in the tiny bed. The bathroom wasn’t much to look at either. The sink was leaking and there was moldy caulking around the bath tub edges. Danny described the shower pressure as if someone were peeing on him. I just hope he doesn’t really know what that is like.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Check lists

Lately, I’ve been lacking inspiration (blogspiration as I like to call it) for my blog. I usually write about random happenings in my silly life, but lately nothing blog worthy has occurred. I was discussing my writer’s block with my friend, Casie, and she suggested a series. With a series I would always have something to write about. I have considered a “series” blog before, as my coworker/friend/blogging buddy, Sharon, has become a blogging master in a short time, thanks to her interesting series. I’m sure that more random happenings will occur shortly, and I will write about them, but a series will give me something to keep my writer’s block at bay.

To write a series I must consider my likes and dislikes. It must be something I do fairly often and won’t get tired of. I’ve considered a cooking blog, but I’m no Julie Powell cooking my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. There’s too much sugar in her recipes for Danny’s health psyche anyways. I could write about bike riding, but there are no words to describe its amazingness. I could write about travels, but I already do, and I can’t afford a vacation every week. I could make a workout blog, but that would bore me and everyone who reads this blog besides Danny, to death.

Something that never bores me to death is list making. I’ve always loved lists. Short lists, medium lists, and life lists. I enjoy grocery lists, honey do lists, workout lists, calorie intake lists, and Christmas lists. I often make check lists for just an average day. I probably don’t even need reminding of the tasks at hand, but it feels good to write them down on some polka dotted paper and cross them off one by one. An example of a very boring daily list that I would need no reminding of looks something like this:


Sleep in






Bike ride


Cook dinner



There is no need to worry, I will not be blogging about my daily lists. I will be blogging about my list of life goals. I have decided to make a bucket list. Not a morbid, I’m going to die soon list, but a happy goal making list!

There are so many things in life I want to achieve, and so far I’m doing pretty well with those things. I think a little encouragement from cyber space will give me the extra push I need to accomplish my goals. Plus it will be exciting to write about all that is involved in checking off the items on my list.

So here goes.

Jessica’s Bucket List

Run a 5k

Hike Half Dome

Go fly fishing and wear those goofy pants

Knit a hat

Get a master’s degree in some sector of nursing

Travel to Paris

Learn to make Sushi

Deadlift 200 lbs

Travel to New York

Kayak in the ocean

Backpack the Ohlone Trail

Start a blog

Own a chinchilla

Sew my own dress

Eat a lobster roll in Maine

Ride bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge

Obviously there are other things in life that I would like to accomplish like have children, own a cranberry bog, and live on a small ranch with some farm animals, but I don’t want to set myself up for failure. I also have professional goals and more personal goals in life.  However exciting those parts of my life are to me, writing about work is not what I intended this blog to be about, and no one wants to hear about how much I want my 401k to be worth when I retire.

Bucket list rules are as follows:

As I am continually inspired by life, I can always make additions to my list.

If something disastrous happens like I contract a horrible debilitating disease ... or it turns out I am allergic to chinchillas, then I can take away from my list.

I will put forth great effort into accomplishing these goals and any additions I make before life passes by…

If anyone has any exciting suggestions that are bucket list worthy, leave a comment and perhaps I will add it to my list.

Wish me luck!