The Chicago Layover – Day 1

As I sit here, in bed at 10:45 on our first day, I’m amazed at how much we accomplished today (it feels like several!). We are cozied up in the room of our AirBnB house, and I’m watching Rob cycle through the 100 plus pictures he took. Let’s rewind though and catch up before I fall asleep 🙂

We departed Huntsville at 11:15am. Many many many thanks to our amazing friend Margaret for coming up and living in our house while we’re gone, taking care of our critters and house sitting. She also taxied us to the airport and saw us off. 🙂

We landed ahead of schedule in Chicago, and we were greeted by a city that lives up to its namesake; windy. It was overcast and blustery but the temperature was really comfortable. We made good use of the Uber app for the first time, and took in the backseat view of the city en route to our AirBnB house, which was located in the Belmont Cragin area of the city (west of downtown). This area is interesting, and without knowing a lot about its history and the origin of the people here, its evident just by observing the street corners and people walking around that there are some deeply rooted cultures here. Amongst the food marts and corner quick-stops, there are blocks and blocks of cute row houses that are spaced about a foot apart from each other. It’s definitely a commuter city, with multiple options for public transit (more on that later). We found ourselves pulled up in front of a charming house on Mango Street.

After a quick meet and greet with our tenants (super friendly couple about our age), we made ourselves at home in the private basement of a room and came up with a game plan. The first piece of advice I would give anyone visiting Chicago is to find a place that issues Ventura cards- this is a prepaid card that allows you onto any form of public transit. They can be found at most drug stores and after paying 5 bucks for the card itself, you can get a 10 dollar day pass loaded on it which is an awesome deal if you plan to cover a lot of ground in multiple phases. We walked a few blocks from the house, got our cards at a Walgreens, and then figured out what bus stop we needed to walk toward in order to make it to our first planned stop; Jimmy’s Red Hots!

It takes a stop or two to get familiar with navigating around on a city bus. Call me super naive, but I have zero experience with this. Living in Huntsville will spoil you (or make you totally inept) at simple things that are so common in large metropolitan areas! But, once you get the hang of it, you’ll be a pro at knowing which bus line you need and how to seem totally cool riding around. I was surprised how quickly I grew to internally scoff at others who got on and off who seemed lost or unfamiliar with the concept. (When in reality, less than an hour prior I had never stepped foot on a public bus or even knew how to signal a stop). Ah, how quickly we grow wings and leave the nest!

Anyway, the Chicago Dog debate is a really touchy subject around these parts. But, we went to one of the most famous dog landmarks around on Grand and Pulaski. It didn’t disappoint! We ordered everything on the menu (three items). Red Hot, Polish and tamales. Sure hit the spot! Felt cool to visit a place we’ve seen on so many travel/foodie shows.

After fueling up, we continued heading into downtown because Rob had scheduled a 5:15 Architectural boat tour for us! We made it to the Navy Pier right on time to board our tour boat. If there is a better way to see the city, then I’m not sure what it could be, because this experience was great. Great big sprawling buildings and cityscapes each you way you look. At the time our tour started, the cloud cover had lifted and we had a spectacular sunset to coast through.  img_0784

Lots of great history and stories provided on this tour, which lasted just over an hour. When we arrived back at the dock, it was dark, and we hopped back on the train to head toward Wrigley field. As luck would have it, the Cubs were playing in their first game of the NLCS playoffs and had home field advantage. Rob had been praying this would be the case because he wanted so badly to go and experience Wrigleyville during a game. He got his wish, and the whole city was bursting with excitement and spirit for Cubs baseball. We were dropped off in Wrigleyville just after the second inning, and the entire place was buzzing with people. When in Chicago, you have to get an Italian Beef, so we made a beeline for Al’s Beef for dinner. It was hard to get a good picture of this because we were sitting outside (every place inside was wall to wall people glued to the TVs) but this was a traditional Italian Beef sandwich, loaded with peppers and provolone and dipped in drippings.

Since we didn’t have tickets to the game, we walked around the stadium taking in the sights. Loads and loads of people everywhere, and the Cubs were playing great so it was awesome to hear the roar of the crowd so close.img_6588In all of the bars and restaurants, people were lined up waiting to try and get in or leaning over looking through the open windows to watch the game. There are actually a lot of residential “houses” just off the corner of the stadium and there were parties galore. We located a place that didn’t have TOO long of a line and just decided to be patient and wait to see if we could get in. After about half an hour, the bouncer let us in to the upstairs bar so we could order a beer and watch the game. This crows nest of a bar was wall to wall people, mostly drunk and smelling of pot but all in very good moods because the cubs were continuing to play well.

We stayed long enough for the 7th inning stretch to sing ‘Take me Out to the Ball Game” with about 150,000 other people and then walked ourselves back to the subway, took the Redline to our bus stop, and then called an uber to get us back the rest of the way. Our late night uber driver was REALLY into house music. Like really into it.

Everyone has been super friendly here! Probably a mix of the weather being really really nice for this time of year, and good ol’ baseball luck, but we really enjoyed exploring on our first day.

Up for today is the Art Institute of Chicago, Pizza, and then catching our plane to Iceland tonight!

More to come!

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