A few days ago Sam and I came back from a mini vacation in Chicago. We had a wedding to go to last Friday in Michigan and figured we would take the opportunity to go somewhere new while we were at it. Well, it was new for Sam, given that I had been there before but I was young and didn’t really remember much of it besides it being cold and having pizza. Other than that, my only other recollection of Chicago was trying to impersonate Catherine Zeta-Jones doing the Cellblock Tango in my parents’ basement but I suppose that’s an entirely different story.
We stayed in a great little hostel/hotel called the Freehand. They are brand new so we were able to take advantage of “preview rates” and got a pretty good deal considering it was Memorial Day weekend in the States. I would recommend this hotel to anyone – they had a full cafe, bar, and lounge in the lobby area which had a very seventies vibe to it. The rooms were slightly small but very clean and well decorated. They also give you a full-sized hairdryer, the delight of which Sam still doesn’t understand but my travelling ladies will feel me on this one, I’m sure.
We were there for most of Saturday and all of Sunday. We did this trip on a budget, a tight one, and I did some research beforehand for cheap and cheerful places to visit and eat at. The only thing we knew for sure we would be spending money on was the Art Institute of Chicago and food.
Let me tell you about the Art Institute. Let me just tell you that it was fantastic. We have been really lucky in the last year and a half to travel to places with incredibly famous pieces of art. Between New York City, Paris, and Amsterdam, our checklist of “famous art we need to see” was getting pretty close to finished. The Art Institute brought us one step closer. If you’re an art lover, you should go. Monet, Degas, Lichtenstein, Pollock, Picasso, you name it, they probably have it. I fell in love with a series of pastel Monet paintings, they nearly brought me to tears they were so beautiful.
After leaving the Art Institute we wandered around Millennium Park for awhile. One of the main differences I noticed between Chicago and Toronto was the huge amount of green space in Chicago. We have trees and gardens and parks, it’s true, but we certainly don’t have ones like this. Being outside and having natural surroundings seemed important to the city and I liked that. Saturday was also a gorgeous day so the park wandering was at an optimal pleasing level.
We also went to Navy Pier which was underwhelming, to be honest. It could possibly be due to the fact that it was under renovations and that I am absolutely terrified of ferris wheels, but nevertheless not on my list of recommended things to do in Chicago if you have a short amount of time.
After wandering around the city for awhile afterwards, exploring and Sam discovering the wonderful world of Whole Foods, we set out to find dinner. Now, you see, the problem with looking up on the internet, “cheap good places to eat in Chicago” is that everyone else and their mother finds the same places. And therefore the lineups are one thousand people long. While we walked around we found Firecakes Donuts where we stopped for a snack to tide of over. Sam had the jelly-filled donut and I had the chocolate peanut butter donut. It was great but anything filled with peanut butter has to be. After a bit more walking we stumbled upon a great barbecue bar called Jake Melnick’s and listened to the Blackhawks fans enjoy the hockey game while we had classic barbecue bar food. It wasn’t what we had planned but it was fantastic and I would go back.
Sunday we spent most of the day at Lincoln Park, specifically at the zoo. If you love animals, or if you have children, go here. It’s free and it has tons of animals. There is also a farm where you can feed cows so basically there’s no reason not to go. On our walk up there we wandered through the Gold Coast neighbourhood, where people are rich and their houses show it, and it was beautiful. So many beautifully manicured gardens and stunning facades. We also made a stop at Glazed and Infused Doughnuts where I had the greatest sprinkle doughnut of my life. Of. My. Life. And I am a sprinkle connoisseur. On the way back we walked through Old Town and I snagged myself a latte from Intelligentsia, as a coffee lover must do.
Honestly, Sunday was a great day. And it cost us very little until we stopped at Lou Malnati’s for deep dish pizza. Sam thought the pizza tasted frozen and I have to admit that the crust seemed a little odd, but it was still enjoyable. Their garlic bread was amazing, so order that too.
Besides the greenery I would say that what struck me most about Chicago was the desire they have to preserve their architecture and history. Toronto doesn’t seem to care much about its beautiful old architecture as they often favour the new high-rise to anything of historical value. This is unfortunate but it does make visiting other cities so much more interesting. I must have said, “Wow, look at that building” one thousand times while we were in Chicago.
Seriously, go for the buildings. I kid you not.
We had a great weekend. I would recommend Chicago to basically everyone. It’s one of those cities that has a great mix of culture, architecture, history, and fun. It has something for everyone and if we are any indication, it can be done on a budget if you research and plan well enough.
Okay, now go book your trip!