Windy City

5:11 PM

“I give you Chicago. It is not London and Harvard. It is not Paris and buttermilk. It is American in every chitling and sparerib. It is alive from snout to tail.” -  Henry Louis Mencken

Last week, I left you guys with a little teaser about where I'd be going for Valentine's Day weekend. Some of you figured it out by reading the clues I posted on Facebook and Twitter, but if you missed the guess-fest, fear not. I'm back with a nice little recount of my awesome trip to Chicago.

Before this past weekend, Brad and I had each been to Chicago one other time in our lives, which happened to be during the same high school band trip. We knew each other back then, but didn't hang out nearly as much as we (obviously) do now. And I definitely didn't know then that the next time I visited Chicago, the two of us would be married. Funny how things turn out.

Anyway, Chicago was supposed to be my surprise Valentine's Day gift. Unfortunately, Brad doesn't always succeed in pulling off huge surprises, so when my parents told me they were coming to visit around the same time, Brad kind of blurted out his plans instead of slyly working the two visits around each other. Either way, it all worked out . . . we scheduled everything and set off to the windy city early Saturday morning.


Now, I know this has been the case for several other regions, but we really haven't gotten much of the winter weather that is typical of Michigan this time of year. We have had a couple snowy exceptions, however, one of which came (of course) during our trip last weekend. The drive was supposed to take about four hours, but I'm pretty sure the slow driving and countless wrecks along the interstate tacked on an extra hour and a half to two hours. Fortunately, I wasn't driving--if I had been, it might have taken us another day to get there.

Finally, we made it through the storm, past Indiana, and into the Land of Lincoln. The all-too-familiar skyline greeted us from the freeway, and after getting re-routed two or three times by our GPS and receiving $18.50 back in coins from a toll machine (never put a $20 bill in one of those things), we made it to our first destination--the Chicago Auto Show.


I never realized how many auto shows actually exist--I went 24 years without really knowing about them, and suddenly, I'm now visiting every one in sight (I guess that comes with the territory of being married to an engineer). I won't prolong this post with all the details, but the Chicago Auto Show was made up of pretty much the same exact exhibits we saw during Detroit's auto show back in January (you can read more about the motor city's big event here). Surprisingly, however, this show seemed to be much more crowded than the one hosted at the Cobo Center. I suppose that can be attributed to Chicago's population, but I personally appreciate the fact that I was able to see so many new concepts in the Motor City itself.

Next, it was time to poke through loads of obscene traffic (sorry, Chicago, but you are home to some of the rudest drivers I've ever encountered), driving in circles for a little while on the trek to find our hotel. Words cannot describe how happy we were to finally reach our destination.

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The view from our hotel room window--I'm so glad we requested a higher floor!
That evening, we wandered around the (freezing cold!) city, snapping pictures of everything we saw. I always forget how amazing big cities look from the inside, and with its beautiful architectural details, Chicago was certainly no exception.

Hello, lights.
For dinner, we knew we wanted real Chicago pizza. So, following the advice of a friend and taking our chances in a world filled with famous Uno and Lou Malnati's pizzerias, we decided on Giordano's. And you know what? Best pizza I've ever eaten. It was even worth the 40+ minute wait in a lobby filled with crying kids and no standing room.

Real pizza in a real Chicago pizzeria!
Nom. Look at those pies.
We got the "Special," a stuffed pizza filled with green peppers, onions, sausage, and mushrooms. Oh, yum. The small supposedly served one to two people, but with our side of fries, we barely finished half a pie.
Afterward, we scurried a few blocks away to Luminous Field at  Millennium Park, where we were greeted by an amazing light and music exhibit. Basically, different-colored light patterns covered the ground and reflected off a large mirror ball, which also reflected the night skyline (so cool). It was a magical ending to a great evening.

He's a colorful guy.
The next morning, we bundled up and headed back into the cold. After stopping for bagels and coffee, we took a trip along Madison Avenue. I didn't remember "The Magnificent Mile" from my first trip to Chicago (likely because my first visit was completely mapped out for me and centered around the Sears Tower and trolley tours), but was happy to find that this stretch closely resembled Fifth Avenue in New York City. Well, happy that there was a plethora of shopping--but a little dismayed that most things were out of my price range. Still, it was fun to channel Audrey for a day.


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Left: I finally went inside a Tiffany & Co. (I chickened out when I visited NYC a few years ago)
Right: Brad, navigating the crosswalks on Michigan Ave.

The Old Water Tower
Chicago pedestrians, both tourists and residents, blend together more seamlessly than NYC pedestrians, I've found. Plus, there aren't nearly as many people covering the sidewalks.
For lunch, we met up with an old friend (Courtney, my band buddy) and new acquaintance (Rachel, a Chicago native), who took us out for Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian beef (thanks, you two!). It was great catching up and learning more about the area . . . plus, we got a free ride to the Navy Pier. ;-)

Ah, Navy Pier . . . we meet again. How I missed you.
The Navy Pier was my favorite part of Chicago when I first visited during high school, and I'd been wanting to go back for a long time. The weather was much colder this time around, but that just allowed us more room to stroll beside the lake and stop for pictures here and there. It looked exactly like I remembered it.

The Spirit of Chicago
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Left: A late afternoon view of the Chicago skyline.
Right: Me, channeling my inner Harry Caray. I'm the one in the green coat.

Beautiful Tiffany windows at the Navy Pier's Smith Museum
Six o'clock on Sunday evening came way too quickly, but we said our goodbyes to the city and made the trek back home. It was bittersweet, but I'm not too sad about the weekend being over . . . I know I'll be back.

Goodnight, Chicago. See you soon.

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