Sometimes you just gotta go. I know, I know. You’d like to travel more but feel like you never have the time. But trust me, you can pack a lot into a long weekend. Sure, the garage might need cleaning. But let’s be honest. It can wait. Would you rather look back on life and remember that great weekend spent organizing your closet or the one you spent hiking a trail in Rocky Mountain National Park? Just go.
It was with this idea in mind that Ann and I headed off to Chicago for a long weekend in February. We hadn’t originally planned to go to to Chicago when I had a rare day off of work after parent-teacher conferences. We’d planned on driving the 80 miles up the road to Omaha after a weekend trip there in January was cut short by an ice storm. But when we went to book a hotel, we found that the price of rooms had skyrocketed due to the state wrestling tournament being in town, so we nixed that idea.
But as middle school principal, long weekends are hard to come by, and I hate to let them go that easily, so we kept looking. Lo and behold, I discovered we could fly from Lincoln (just 22 miles from our home) to Chicago and stay in a nice hotel for a lot less than the weekend in Omaha that particular week.
The Palmer House Hilton, the historic Chicago landmark hotel, was the perfect spot for us to stay. The hotel has hosted many Presidents and boasts the Empire Room, which has been played by some of the biggest names in entertainment history like Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, Sonny and Cher. It’s pretty neat to think of all the people who have come before us who have walked across the hotel’s grand lobby.
The hotel had a room available early, so we quickly unpacked, freshened up, and were in a corner cafe eating a light late breakfast by 10 a.m. See how quickly you can get somewhere fun if you just go? It really isn’t as difficult as you might think.
Although we’ve been there many times, Chicago has so many things to see and do that we can’t get bored. On this particular morning, we first headed to the Art Institute. We have always enjoyed art museums and Chicago’s doesn’t disappoint.
We enjoyed looking at some works by Mary Cassatt, including The Child’s Bath, as well as hundreds of pieces by other artists.
One of the most impressive pieces of work at the museum is Chagall’s American Windows. These stained glass windows have recently been restored and are as beautiful as they are impressive.
We also had a great time looking at the Thorne Miniature Rooms. We couldn’t get over the detail packed into these tiny rooms! Parquet flooring, tiny newspapers left folded on the table and even fruit trees outside the windows of these rooms were just some of the amazing details that made these miniatures look just like an actual room.
From there we walked a block to Millennium Park. This stop might not normally be on our itinerary in the middle of February in Chicago, but spring came to town that weekend and temps were pushing 70. In the park, we joined the throng of people and checked out our reflection in the Cloud Gate sculpture — more commonly knows as The Bean.
It was great to be deep in a city, far from home, and able to enjoy the outdoors for a bit after a long winter. By late afternoon, we were back in the hotel changing for dinner having enjoyed a beautiful day together. That evening, we walked a few blocks to dinner at a restaurant that was a previous favorite of ours. While the restaurant wasn’t quite what we remembered, we just enjoyed being together outside in downtown Chicago. What we enjoyed most about walking was that we had the opportunity to stop and admire the Chicago River as we crossed it.
The next morning we set out from the The Palmer House. Our first stop was the theater where Hamilton was playing. We’d heard that if you get there early enough, you can get tickets at a reasonable price instead of the $800/seat price we’d found online. It turns out, there was some truth to that, as very few seats were available. Sadly, the price was still more than a couple hundred dollars a ticket and we were not there early enough.
But we were in Chicago! So many other possibilities — and one of them is pizza! We headed downtown in search of the world-famous Giordano’s. They serve the incredible deep dish style that made pizza in Chicago famous. All the pies are made fresh, so we expected to wait a bit after ordering. However, the wait was worth it as it was some of the best pizza we’d ever had. It was lot of food — Ann and I shared a small, and it was too much for us to eat. When it came, of course Ann wanted to get some video of me lifting a slice to show off all the gooey cheese. That didn’t go quite as planned, as you can see in this video.
After lunch, we waddled down the street and boarded the metro headed for the Garfield Park Conservatory, a place another travel blogger had recommended we see. The train stops a block from the conservatory, and it’s an easy walk to get there. Admission is free, though they do appreciate donations. Inside you’ll find plants from all over the world with water features highlighting the beauty all around you.
Though it was Saturday, it wasn’t too busy, and Ann and I took our time to stroll the many paths inside, enjoying this hidden botanical treasure in the heart of urban Chicago. Inside its glass walls and curving roof, you’ll find everything from tiny cacti to large palm trees.
We left the conservatory, walked back to the train, and headed back downtown remarking to each other how much we’d enjoyed the conservatory, and how we couldn’t believe it wasn’t busier.
Arriving back downtown, we went to another place we’d read about, the Chicago Athletic Club game room. Located one floor up behind a hotel lobby, the game room was full of table-top shuffle board games and even a bocci ball court. It was pretty busy which affirmed that it was a place people enjoy going. We loved the old wooden tables and floor. If you’re near the Art Institute and would like a refreshing libation in a hopping, fun environment, this might be for you.
We settled in to our hotel for the night, and, after dinner, thought we’d head to the lobby for a nightcap.
There we met some locals doing the same thing and struck up a conversation. In it, we said that we’d gone to the Garfield Park Conservatory and told them how much we’d loved it and how proud Chicago should be to have such a gem. One gentleman shared fond memories from his youth, memories of days spent wandering the trails of the conservatory with his mother. Later, we said that we’ve heard a lot on the news recently about how unsafe parts of Chicago are, and asked them what area was most dangerous. “Garfield Park,” they replied. It seems we were so excited telling about our experience that they just didn’t have the heart to tell us until we asked.
Frankly, I’m glad I didn’t know it was an area considered to be more dangerous. Had we known, we probably would not have gone to the conservatory, and our lives would have been a little less enriched. I’d go back again and would recommend it to others, as I never felt unsafe in the broad daylight of a Saturday afternoon.
Overall, we had a great time on our weekend getaway to Chicago. As we’ve traveled more and more, we’ve learned that plans don’t always work out the way we expect them to. We just accept our circumstances, improvise, and usually have a good time, anyway.
As our friend Ben once said, travel is real. Every plan doesn’t always work out. Every neighborhood isn’t always the safest. Every ticket you want isn’t always available. But sometimes you just gotta go.