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I have an awesome husband.  No, really.  He’s awesome.  For Christmas last year, he surprised me with both a fabulous and desperately needed wallet AND tickets for us to fly to Chicago over President’s Day weekend.  For those of you who know Chicago, you might be thinking “why in the hell would anyone want to go to Chicago in the winter?”  Well I happen to love both winter and Chicago and, masochistically, I love Chicago winters.  They are brutal and insanely cold but the few days that are cold and clear make it totally worth it.  And while the timing of this trip totally stressed me out before I knew I was testing early, I decided to make the best of it either way and use the weekend to either bemoan my failure or to celebrate my victory.  And celebrate we did.

We flew in Friday evening and were met at the airport by one of my favorite people in the whole world who had both graciously offered to pick us up but who also let us crash on her couch bed for 2 nights.  AMAZING.  We decided pretty early on that we didn’t want to build too much rigidity into our schedules for the weekend and we mostly just wanted to chill.

Saturday after a delicious breakfast of homemade blueberry pancakes we bundled up and headed into Bucktown/Wicker Park to window shop and to wander for a few hours.  I had been searching for a vintage-looking large chain for an antique pendant I bought back at Christmastime and after going into pretty much every boutique on Damen between Webster and Willow (which is A LOT of boutiques), I found the perfect chain!  The owner of the boutique was working and I got to practice my Spanish a little as she is from Venezuela.  Hooray!

Later that afternoon we met up with another of my favorite people at a tea shop in the neighborhood for high tea.  Yep.  High tea.  It was kind of expensive, but so ridiculously fun that it was totally worth it.  The food was tasty, the tea was phenomenal, and the company was perfection.  Want to see some pictures?  OF COURSE YOU DO!

Scones!

These babies were absolutely dreamy

Tiny sandwiches and pastries

Who doesn't love tiny food?

Rotating tiny-food stand

I've already bought one to take to Juarez...

The proper tea-drinking position

Also: look how cute my friend's dress is...she's so fabulous

After utterly gorging ourselves on pastries, tiny sandwiches, and tea (SO. MUCH. TEA.) we headed out to the lake to walk around a bit.  It was freezing and super windy but the lake was so pretty and I totally could have stayed out there for hours just watching the water.  Have I mentioned that Chicago is my favorite city in all of the U.S.?  Obviously I haven’t been to every city, but I’ve been to many of them, including most of the large cities on both the East and West coasts and Chicago is hands down the one I love the most.  I love the architecture, I love the history, I love the river and the lake, I love the giant buildings interspersed with tiny parks, I love the L, I love the museums, I love the food, and I really love the people.  People in Chicago are generally just nice.  They’re fast walkers and they walk with purpose, like New Yorkers, but they’re more polite and friendly, like Los Angelites (I totally made that name up).

Anyway, after visiting the lake we went to a coffee shop in Lincoln Park to warm up for a bit.  Then we wandered around the neighborhood a bit, got a fairly graphic view of a woman’s lady business*, and got a drink.  Later, a bunch of our grad school friends met us at Cafe Ba Ba Re Ba for tapas and sangria.  I didn’t take a single picture but I wish I had…so much good food and so much good fun.  We have such smart, interesting friends.  Seriously.  In the group we had:

  • A successful journalist turned International Relations specialist turned blogger (check out her blog, Wanderplex, in my sidebar!)
  • A corporate big wig for a major accessories store in the U.S.
  • A Safety Engineer who travels the world giving conferences on the importance of workplace safety
  • A Japanese enthusiast/scholar working on her PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations (she speaks Mandarin AND Japanese!)
  • A former JET program member, who has worked for a bunch of super cool consulting firms and who wrote one of the best theses from my graduating class.

I seriously love my friends.  They are awesome.

Sunday we got up and went to brunch at another of my favorite spots in Chicago, Mindy’s Hot Chocolate.  After gorging ourselves on Mexican hot cocoa and homemade donuts with raspberry coulis, we headed to Millennium Park to visit the Bean and to check out the new pedestrian bridge between the park and the Art Institute.  After a lovely, if cold, walk around the park, we hopped back into the car and headed down to Pilsen to check out the National Museum of Mexican Art.  Before this trip, I didn’t even know this place existed but it was truly fantastic.  It’s not a huge museum, just 4 exhibits right now, but all of them were really well curated and incredibly interesting.  Plus, they were entirely bilingual so I got to use my Spanish as I read all the placards!  That definitely made me feel good about my skills because I read the Spanish text almost as fast as my husband read the English text.  Maybe I really do know Spanish?

Post museum, my friend dropped us off at the Hotel Palomar in the Streeterville/River North neighborhood.  I have always wanted to stay there and this was the perfect excuse.  Plus, the restaurant there is INCREDIBLE.  Seriously.  Everything about it is awesome.  The ambiance, the bar, the bartenders, the wine list…and as awesome as all of those things are, they don’t even come close to the awesomeness of the food.  The menu is designed so that you can either order full portions of things and eat them like a traditional meal or you can order half orders and share them, tapas style.  Obviously, we chose to share so that we could try as many things as possible.  We had pumpkin gnocchi that was to die for.  Chicken and waffles straight from my dreams.  Fried cheese curds that were both interesting and delicious.  Shrimp and grits with hot sauce and crispy sage.  Pork belly flat bread.  Gingerbread cake with a mini gingerbeer float.  Salted caramel ice cream with chocolate souffle cake.  I could have spent the entire night there and I am already counting down until our next visit so I can go there again.

Monday we checked out of the hotel and then headed down to Hyde Park, our old stomping grounds.  After a quick stop to pick up coffee and ham and swiss croissants, we met up with my old boss at one of the museums on campus and caught up with her for a few hours.  It was super fun to be back in the museum and it really made me miss working there.  After a few hours of catching up, we jointly gave a sort of impromptu talk to a group of graduate students about our post-grad school career trajectories and our current work.  It was pretty weird to be on the speaking end of that conversation and to have students asking us for advice.  I can’t believe how far we’ve come in the year and a half since we finished grad school.

After our Q & A session, we headed to the airport to head home.  Whew.  It was a whirlwind trip but we had SUCH a good time and it was exactly what I needed to decompress from what has been a super stressful few months.

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*Note to Lincoln Park citizens: If you live in one of those modern houses with the full glass windows running 2 stories, it’s probably not a good idea to leave the curtains open and to sit, wrapped only in a bath towel at the top of the staircase with your knees bent and your ladybits facing the street…just a friendly recommendation.  🙂

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