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July 24, 2007

Chicago: A Virtual Tour

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Selfmademom has already provided our readers with many excellent suggestions about what to do in Chicago while visitng our wonderful city during BlogHer.  I am now prepared to supplement that information with a virtual tour of a weekend downtown!

My husband and I stayed in the Loop this weekend as a treat for ourselves because we haven't had a night  out of the house together since our almost-3-year-old was born as a public service to you all who are coming to Chicago for BlogHer this week!  My husband magically turned some air miles into a reservation for a suite at the lovely Renaissance Chicago Hotel [I knew there just had to be a silver lining to all that business travel he does] and my in-laws wanted to take the kids for the weekend, so we hopped onto Lake Shore Drive and in a mere 20 minutes became eager tourists in our own new city. 

And let me tell you, visitors to Chicago are in for a huge treat - my only problem with this city is that there is far too much to do.  How do we choose?  Here's what we came up with:

Day One

1. As soon as we checked into our hotel mid-day on Saturday, we talked to the concierge about getting tickets for a riverboat tour - there is no better way to be wowed by this city!  There are a couple of choices, but we were able to get last-minute tickets on Chicago Line Cruises Architecture and Historical Cruises.  We spent an hour and a half out on the water, and the views of the skyscrapers were heart-stopping.  I've always paid more attention to Lake Michigan, but now I get it: we are really lucky to have the Chicago River running through our city. Despite the fact that our particular docent appeared to have taken diction lessons from Marge Simpson, we enjoyed our tour immensely.  A tip: arrive early to get seats up on the deck!

2.  On the way over to the river cruise, we made a stop at HotTix for some half-priced tickets to a show that evening.  We were hoping to get in to see Wicked, but alas, it was sold out.  However, we were able to get tickets to a very good show at the Steppenwolf Theater, a venue I've been dying to get to since moving here.  There were tickets to many shows still available in the early afternoon, including some other excellent theaters.

And, for the record, it just so happens that HotTix is located directly across the street from Ann Taylor Loft - which is having an excellent sale so that we can buy new clothes before BlogHer they can clear out summer clothes - and Intelligentsia, the best coffee shop in Chicago! [And if you can get a good-looking guy to hold your coffee for you while you shop, all the better!]

3. After the riverboat cruise and a stroll along the River Walk, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our night out. It's a quick cab ride ($8) over to Steppenwolf, which is in Lincoln Park.  We recommend dinner at Vinci, an excellent Italian restaurant, which is just down the block from Steppenwolf on Halstead.  The Vegetarian Plate was delicious!  We needed reservations, but made them that afternoon without a problem.  I would suggest taking advantage of the outdoor seating on a summer night.

4.  We took another cab back to the hotel, enduring the most harrowing ride of our lives.  We were both nauseated when we got out.  Not only did we not tip this driver, but we told the group that was eager to jump in upon our arrival to wait for another one.  Then we ran.

Day Two

1. We lounged around the hotel room for hours.  Sleeping in, room service, blogging reading the paper...total relaxation.  As my husband pointed out, just having 5 quiet minutes is relaxing when you have young children - so having a day and a half all to ourselves was divine.

2. Back to Intelligentsia by way of Border's for reading material.  I made that stop at Ann Taylor Loft that I'd been dying for since yesterday, and found some great bargains! 

3.  We walked over to Millennium Park, bought a picnic lunch in the Cafe there, and strolled over to the magnificent Pritzker Pavillion to eat on the lawn.  Live music, lots of families...there's always something great going on here, and don't forget to check out the Crown Fountain!  Here's the schedule of events.

4.  From Millennium Park, it's a short walk over to the Art Institute of Chicago - and wow, is it worth seeing.  This is a world-class museum, and we loved both the classic Impressionist art and the incredible modern art, especially the photography.  There's an especially impressive exhibit by Jeff Wall going on right now.  The outdoor cafe at the museum is excellent and I've heard that the indoor cafe is also a treat.

In the late afternoon, we got back in the car and headed home to relieve my wonderful in-laws.  It's remarkable how, in these child-raising years, a day and a half away can be all that's needed to feel refreshed and like a sane adult again.  (Equally amazing is that it's possible to do so much in such a short time when you're in Chicago without your kids!)

I feel so lucky to live in this magnificent city, and truly hope that all you visitors enjoy it!

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