Question: In the dead of winter, how do you spend 48 hours in Chicago three days after one of the biggest blizzards in a half century?
Answer: See. Everything. Well…as much as humanly possible anyway.
Since we can no longer control when we get a few days to ourselves, we knew that we needed to take advantage of every waking minute. It would take more than a little wind and weather to stop us from enjoying the second city to the fullest. Even the little things, like hotel location, were planned out accordingly. The Embassy Suites hotel we used as our home base was only two blocks from North Michigan Avenue, with access to the El Train and the CTA Buses just a minutes’ walk away. Arriving in Chicago late Thursday night gave us two full days in the city to see the sites, shop, and eat to our hearts content. Although we already really missed our babies, we settled in and got exctited for what awaited us in the city (the view from our 15th story hotel room didn’t hurt either).
Our adventure started early Friday morning. After our amazing breakfast, we made our way to Michigan Avenue. Our first destination was the Art Institute (which, oh by the way, offered free admission on all weekdays in January & early February), just a short bus ride down the street. Or so we thought. As we patiently waited for the #3, we began to see a steady stream of Chicago-ians with Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cups emerge from behind the Wrigley building next to us. With our craving too severe to resist any longer, we followed our “noses” to find the source…taking some great pictures along the way.
With warm Dunkin’ in our bellies, we figured that the walk from the river to the Art Institute wasn’t really that far, so we decided to hoof it. It’s a good thing we did too; if we would have taken the bus, we would have missed the first major “site” of our trip: The Bean! And the best thing about being there in early February? No crowds!
After snapping some more pics, we made our way through Millennium Park down towards the AIC to view priceless works of art. Did I mention that it was free?!
We spent the rest of the morning browsing the exhibits, but by 12:30 we started to get hungry, so we made our way back up Michigan Avenue to Gino’s East (via bus this time). As Missy reported, deep dish, beer, graffiti deciphering, and small talk was a perfect way to spend our afternoon. Yet as the hours went by, the shops of Michigan Avenue began calling our name.
Shopping, the hotel manager’s reception, and a trip to Ed Debevic’s consumed the rest of day one; all-in-all, a pretty solid start to our vacation.
Day two wasn’t quite as structured as day one, but we still wanted to make the most of our time in the city. So after breakfast (and another stop to Dunkin’), we walked over to Navy Pier, which was only two blocks the opposite direction from Michigan Ave…again, our hotel location was incredible. While neither of us would argue that the pier in February pales in comparison to the pier in, say…June, we were still able to enjoy the family friendly atmosphere, Garrett’s Popcorn, and tacky gift shopping. Plus, they had these great snow sculptures left outside from the previous weekend…you can’t see that in June!
After a pit stop back at Embassy, we were soon headed Northbound on the El for lunch, destination: Kuma’s Corner, home of (according to Urbanspoon and Trip Advisor) Chicago’s best burgers. However, lunch turned into an all afternoon affair, starting with the bus ride from the El Train stop to the restaurant itself, highlighted by a 20-something mouthy, drunk guy getting read his rights by an elderly woman half his height, saying what I’m sure the whole rest of the bus wanted to but didn’t.
Arriving at our destination, we were certainly unprepared for what awaited us inside the rather unassuming corner building: ear-crunching metal music, a packed bar, nine tables, and a 90-minute wait. Are. You. Serious. However, we didn’t come all this way just to be turned away at the door, so we put our names in, had a beer, and waited. Standing the whole time, we were almost at wits ends when we heard our names called. It did help to make friends with the hostess and some of the waitresses (and it didn’t hurt that they were super friendly as well).
Upon being seated, we quickly ordered our burgers (and more beer), and awaited our meal. Missy ordered the “Lair of the Minotaur”, a burger topped with brie and poached pear, and I had the “original” Kuma Burger with a fried egg, cheddar cheese, and bacon. Both were served on a warm, delicious pretzel-bread bun. It was soon delivered…
And before long we were devouring. I don’t know if these were Chicago’s best, or if it was just that we were so hungry, but nothing has ever tasted so good.
While I polished mine off, Missy showed some self-control and saved half of hers for later back at the hotel. We soon paid and said goodbye to Kuma’s…the greasy kitchen smoke and high-decibel metal had started to take its toll.
The bus ride back to the train station was less dramatic, and a lot quicker. We hoped back on the El, only to get off at the next stop….destination: Sweet Mandy B’s for dessert! There, we met up with our good friend Rachel (who Missy mentored in high school and is now a student at nearby DePaul) and chowed down on some tasty treats while we caught up with all things new in her life. Afterwards we said our goodbye’s, we rode the El back downtown to “The Loop” and saw the city at dusk before making our way back to Embassy. With some final shopping still left to do, we relaxed for 30 minutes before heading back out to Michigan Avenue one last time.
Sunday we awoke to snow! Before breakfast, I made one last run to Dunkin’ for our morning coffee (we really Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, and we really need one in DeMo) in the snow…such a pretty walk!
We ate, packed, and hailed a taxi back to Union Station, where we soon found ourselves heading home.
Oh, there was that minor snafu in which our homebound Megabus tickets were actually for March 6th, not February 6th (both a Sunday), so we were kicked off the bus and forced to wait out the snow until all the other passengers boarded and then we almost rented a car to get home but luckily there were two extra seats on the Megabus so we didn’t have to rent a car and we made it home right on time anyway…there was that.
After taking Chicago by storm and making the most of our time in the city, we sure were glad to be back with our little ladies!