Tag Archives: travel tips

Our Whirlwind Trip to the Windy City


Alternative title to this post: How to Spend 1 ½ days in Chicago

I suppose I should begin with our main reason for going to the Windy City in September 2017: Hamilton. Yes, my friends, the best future husband ever gifted me with the golden ticket last Christmas. While I found it hard to wait nearly a year for the show, it must’ve been much harder on Keith who had to endure me constantly counting down or saying, “I don’t care about (insert whatever we were discussing here). I only care about making it to Hamilton, after which, I can die happy”. Keep in mind, we’re getting married in 2018.

A lot of my focus had been on the musical and rightly so but we were also going to one of the more popular destinations in North America. As amazing as Hamilton was (my review will be up in a separate post), I was blown away by Chicago. Pun very much intended.


Accommodation

I must give a shout-out to our amazing hosts, my uncle, Eric, his wife, Noel, and their effervescent daughter, Sophia. I highly recommend having relatives in Chicago, it makes travelling there so much more convenient and fun. We stayed over at their lovely home on North Lake Shore Drive, just a 10 minute walk to Wrigley and a 10 minute bus ride from Magnificent Mile. It was such a nice neighbourhood, we had a hard time leaving it to explore the rest of the city, or just in general, when it was time to go home.

For those of you who do not have relatives in Chicago, check out Airbnb. The hotel prices for the dates we were there were way too expensive.

​Getting Around

Now Torontonians or Chicagoans might gripe about their respective public transit systems, but let me tell you, after having had to endure the horrific traffic and abysmal state of public transportation in Manila, Philippines, twice this year, you guys have no idea how good you’ve got it. Sure there are delays, but the mere fact that you can get to your destination via bus or subway in less than an hour is a blessing, trust me.

We flew in to Midway Airport from Billy Bishop using Porter Airlines. As soon as we landed, we took full advantage of Chicago’s “L” trains and buses by purchasing a day pass using the machines at Midland station. With that, you can go pretty much anywhere you need to. I loved when the trains passed next to the buildings downtown. I’ve never seen anything like it.


Attractions

Since we were only in Chicago for such a short time, we had to maximize our sightseeing. After clearing customs, we took the Orange line straight to the Loop so we can go on an Architecture Boat Tour of the city. I highly recommend Chicago’s First Lady because it’s the only cruise partnered with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Our docent was so funny and knowledgeable, it was the perfect introduction to this beautiful city and its rich history. I’ve heard great things about the other cruises as well, but we really loved the tour that focuses on the architecture, the why, where and how things were built. We also were able to walk the Riverfront, which I would advice people to do either before or after your tour.

We did the Magnificent Mile a couple of times by bus since the route going to my uncle’s took us through there. It’s worth seeing and you’d really enjoy it if you loved to shop, but we were saving all our money for Hamilton swag.

The second day, we woke up and walked to Wrigley Field. Despite being a Cardinals fan, even Keith had to agree how awesome it was that the park is very much just part of the neighbourhood. Plus the Starbucks across it had to be the coolest one we’ve ever been to.


The afternoon was devoted to Millenium Park and the Art Institute. We definitely did not have time to explore the park enough but I think we covered all the major works in the museum. Highlights include Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte, Chagall’s American Windows, and the Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room. Do not miss the Thorne Miniature Rooms.


Then it was time for the main event: Hamilton at the Privatebank Theatre. Well worth the trip!

Obviously there are a lot more sights to see but those are what I would recommend for a short trip.

Food Recommendations

The best restaurant in Chicago was definitely my uncle’s kitchen. Him and his wife made us amazing food during our stay. But again, if you don’t have relatives that can serve you delicious free food, then here are some places you can try: For deep dish pizza, we had Lou Malnati’s which my aunt says locals prefer. Although our friend, Julissa, who is a local says she likes Giordano’s. Julissa also took us to Latinicity, an awesome food hall serving everything from $2 tacos on Tuesday to Peruvian Lomo Saltado. Worth a visit. If you’re ever near Wrigley, there’s a Mexican restaurant that we ate at after seeing Hamilton with incredible tacos al pastor, El Burrito Mexicano.


Souvenirs

Three words: Chicago Mix Popcorn


Final Thoughts

We loved our time in Chicago so much, even though it was barely two days, that we started looking at properties there. It was very much the US counterpart to Toronto in my opinion. I had never thought about moving to the States until Chicago. I can’t wait to visit again!

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“Do you guys wanna see my itinerary?”

img_7443I am resurrecting the blog with a five-part post on our recent European vacation. Apparently one of the best ways to combat post-vacation blues is to share your experience. Plus it would be nice to have our memories written down somewhere so why not here? This first post is an introductory one followed by four posts that will cover the four destinations of our trip: Amsterdam with a bit of Limburg sprinkled in, Brussels, Bruges, and finally Paris.

Before diving into our first stop, let me give you the context of our trip. We were attending a wedding in the Netherlands in the middle of August so we decided to make the most of this joyous occasion by visiting a few cities nearby. It would be Keith’s first trip to Europe, his first time setting foot anywhere outside of North America. As I have been to Europe before, specifically Paris, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg and Munich, I was in charge of the itinerary and did most of the planning. No pressure.

After weeks of researching (i.e. obsessively reading blog posts on all our dream destinations), we had decided that our trip would last 10 days mostly because we had a dog that I didn’t want to leave with the sitter for very long but partly because Europe is expensive and I also had a full-time job I had to get back to. Once we set our day-count limit, it was easy to pick and choose which cities to visit. We were initially going to do the Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) plus Cologne and Dusseldorf but cut it down to just Belgium, the Netherlands and added Paris. We’ll save Germany for a separate trip in the future and there’s nothing to see in Luxembourg anyways (just kidding, I’m sure it’s a small but beautiful country worth visiting!).

Then I spent the months leading up to our trip booking our accommodations, buying train and museum tickets in advance and seeking out advice and recommendations from friends. The great thing about being Canadian and living in Toronto is that there’s almost a 100% chance of knowing someone that is a) European, b) has family in Europe, or c) is currently living, has lived or recently visited Europe.

A couple lessons I learned during the planning phase:

  1. Airbnb is your friend but unless you are completely sold on a place, you should maybe abstain from booking it especially when the cancellation policy is strict. I booked a place in Paris that was cheap for a reason then found a much better option so I cancelled the first one but could only get 50 % of my money back.
  2. For my own peace of mind, I needed to combine all the travel information I needed (from our flight numbers to our hotel and Airbnb confirmations and addresses to our train times) in one place. Enter Excel. I found the templates that worked for me thanks to the following link: http://protravelblog.com/free-travel-itinerary-templates/. I used number 9 to have all the references I needed and number 4 for a day by day breakdown.
  3. Even though most everything nowadays has an app and can be accessed electronically through your phone, it is always a good idea to have printouts of your confirmations and tickets.
  4. Scan and bring a printout of the first page of your passport just in case. Luckily we did not need them but one of the guests at the wedding got her passport, credit cards, driver’s licence and health card stolen in Brussels.
  5. No matter how much you plan everything down to the minute, welcome the unexpected.

Our final itinerary looked like this: Two and a half days in Amsterdam, three and half days in Brussels with a day trip to Bruges, back to the Netherlands in Limburg for the wedding for a day, then off to Paris for three and a half days.

The next four posts will pretty much have the same format: First Impressions, Accommodation, Getting Around, Attractions, Food Recommendations, Souvenirs & Final Thoughts.

Next post will be on Amsterdam and Limburg. Hup Holland Hup!

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