Windy City Weekend

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Cloud Gate

When was the last time I traveled somewhere for fun on my days off? It was back in January when I was still on reserve. I haven’t been anywhere since because it’s so hard to get enough days off on reserve. And then spring break happened in March and April and the flight loads looked terrible for standbys. So each month went by and I never went anywhere.

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Well as April ended, I had plans to visit my friend in Wisconsin but things fell through, so instead I decided to go to Chicago for a few days. Chicago is a city I’ve always wanted to visit and it’s the perfect flight distance (1.5 hours) for a quick weekend away. Additionally, there are lots of direct flights out of Dulles airport into O’Hare because they’re both United hubs. It’s great for traveling but also not great for standbys because United packs these flights full. Luckily, I snagged the second to last seat on a flight on Sunday morning.

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Millennium Park

When I think Chicago, I think deep dish pizza, loaded hot dogs, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and the shiny bean. These were all things I wanted to experience on my trip there. But lately what also comes to mind is Hamilton the musical, which opened in Chicago last October. I’ve been a fan of Hamilton for a while now, just like everyone else on this planet, and as a Broadway enthusiast I’ve been dying to see it. Obviously, for mere mortals, this is no easy task. When I visited New York in January I entered the lottery but had no such luck. This time around in Chicago, I was not getting my hopes high.

IMG_1013But I decided to go down to the theater right before the matinee to see if they were selling any last-minute cancellations or same-day tickets. To my astonishment, there was one last single ticket left for the matinee for under $200. I couldn’t believe my ears. Not only that, it was orchestra seating. Just a half hour before the doors opened, I purchased the ticket that would change my life.

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The PrivateBank Theater

And change my life it did. When you listen to the soundtrack of a musical on repeat for two years, you get very familiar with the inner workings of a show: the story, the characters, the music, the lyrics. But to see it play before your very eyes with real actors in costume, lights and sound design, sets and props. There’s nothing like it. I love live theater because of the rush it gives me, how it forces me to be in the moment and relish what is happening because I will never be able to see the exact moment again.

Hamilton did not disappoint. What an amazing story, an amazing creative idea, and an amazing statement of what is our current America. I feel so fortunate and blessed that I was able to slip in at the last minute into the room where it happens to witness the phenomenon that it is. It was an emotional whirlwind of two and a half hours. When I left the theater I thought if the rest of my time in Chicago was terrible, it wouldn’t matter because I go to see Hamilton and it was all worth it.

The sun hadn’t set yet so I wandered over to Millennium Park to see the famous shiny bean. It’s officially called Cloud Gate, but everyone knows it looks like a bean. The bean was really cool because of the way it reflected the high rises of Chicago on one side and the park on the other, as well as the multitude of people that crowed around it to take pictures. You can even go under the bean for a kaleidoscope view of yourself.

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The Bean
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For dinner I had to try a Chicago hot dog so I visited Portillo’s, an old Chicago restaurant chain. The location I visited was really cool. The inside seating was two floors decorated with vintage Chicago memorabilia. Portillo’s serves hot dogs, shakes, pasta, and salads in a cafeteria-style setting. I tried the fries which weren’t anything special, but my hot dog and shake were delicious. A Chicago-style dog is a must, topped with dill pickle, tomato, sport pepper, onion, relish, and mustard, crammed in a poppy seed bun.

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Portillo’s hot dogs

For my two nights in the city, I stayed in the Wicker Park neighborhood, one of Chicago’s popular neighborhoods. Wicker Park has a slight hipstery vibe, with lots of cafes, yoga studios, and juice bars. I tried out Urban Holiday Lofts hostel, which turned out to be an excellent hostel. I was surprised by how spacious the 8-bed female dorm was (complete with a kitchenette and full bathroom inside). The hostel was clean, the staff were friendly, and there were lots of amenities. I got a great deal because I stayed during the off-weekend. If you’re ever looking for a hostel in Chicago, I highly recommend this one. (Urban Holiday Lofts did not sponsor this post. I am not popular enough of a blogger for that to happen. But that’s how you know this review is legit.)

Monday was my first and only full day in the city. I wandered Wicker Park for a bit and enjoyed breakfast at a cute little shop. I ventured downtown to the Willis Tower (previously Sears Tower) to go up to the Skydeck. The Skydeck had some amazing views of the city, and the coolest part were the glass ledges that stuck out four feet out of the building. There was also lots of fun information about Chicago and the Willis Tower. I learned that it ranks as high as #4 in buildings that had the title of tallest building in the world. I’ve been on top of the Taipei 101, which is #2, so I should visit #3 and #1 now.

I spent my afternoon at the Art Institute of Chicago channeling my inner Ferris Bueller (but actually, we’re all Cameron, aren’t we?). It was pretty amazing to see famous pieces of art that I learned about as a little kid, like Van Gogh’s The Bedroom and Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jette. The museum is enormous and you can most certainly spend at least three hours there. There is a huge variety of art, including postmodern, impressionism, and contemporary.

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The Art Institute of Chicago
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A Sunday on La Grande Jette

Since I was nearby, I went to Millennium Park again, this time to explore the grounds. Spring is an excellent time to visit Chicago. The weather is past bitter cold but there’s still a nice breezy wind in the air. The flowers are in bloom all over the city, and Millennium Park is full of tulips and blossoms.

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Gino’s personal deep dish – not nearly as good as Lou Malnati’s but I had a nicer picture of it.

For dinner I had to try deep dish pizza. I actually had some for lunch at Gino’s, a place recommended to me by a friend. But I did not enjoy their pizza at all. It was probably because I got a personal pizza from their lunch special (it’s almost impossible to finish a deep dish by yourself) and the crust was hard and difficult to cut and eat. This time I decided to try Lou Malnati’s. There was a carry-out location in Wicker Park by my hostel and the hostel recommended it. The pizza was much better than Gino’s. Good deep dish pizza takes at least half an hour to bake, and requires excellent red sauce and mozzarella cheese. I still want to try a full size deep-dish next time I visit Chicago, hopefully with some friends to split.

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Chicago Culture Center – a quick stop to see the domed hall

I’m so happy I decided to go to Chicago this weekend. I was initially on the fence, particularly since it was such a last minute decision. But I decided life is short, and this is part of the reason I became a flight attendant: to have the opportunity to travel places on a whim because I can. This trip was beyond what I could have imagined, particularly because of my chance to see Hamilton.



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