Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chicagoland Fun

We had a great time in Chicago last weekend - when we finally got there. My plan was to leave early on Friday morning so that even if the drive took a little longer, we'd get there with a little time to shop before having dinner with my Aunt Rose & Uncle Kurt. We did manage to hit the road by about 6:15 on Friday morning, but Plan A quickly turned into Plan B, as we started seeing signs saying that I-80 was closed at Iowa City (yes, I did check the roads the night before, but I didn't see anything about this). Around Altoona we decided to be smart and turn around to take the 35 up and over to the 20. Definitely a better move, but a 6-6.5 hour drive ended up taking 11 hours. Oh yeah, take 4 people, add 11 hours of travel and do it all in the Jetta. That's a recipe to either bring you closer together or make you want to kill each other. Thankfully, we made it there in one piece, and were impressed that traffic wasn't that bad for a Friday afternoon. I also made the mistake of not having a complete Illinois map with us, so we didn't know we could take the 20 directly into Chicago, and ended up taking the 61 down to Davenport & across the 88. At that point, what was a few extra hours, right? Helpful hint: if you're going to the Chicagoland area, make sure you bring your quarters and dimes. I didn't realize we were going to hit 5 toll booths on the way to our hotel, and I was glad I had a few dollar bills that the toll takers could break for me (instead of the cash -free wallet which is my SOP).

First stop: Trader Joe's! Have you ever been to Trader Joe's? Oh, I love it! I know, it seems weird to make our first Chicago stop at a grocery store, but Trader Joe's is not just any ol' store. First, it's very reasonable. Second, they have some sort of fancy gourmet items, but nothing too outlandish. And Finally, they carry my very favorite soap, lotion, scrub, and shave cream. And again, it's VERY reasonable. I happily stocked up on all my fave bodycare stuff, as well as snacks and water for our trip (including the most awesome dark chocolate covered pretzels - delicious, but they don't exactly agree with Justin. Maybe I shouldn't have eaten half the bag in one day. But I digress). I also picked up a bouquet of flowers for Aunt Rose - again, beautiful & reasonable (and I always try not to arrive empty handed to a dinner invite). We jumped back on the freeway, and after paying a few more tolls, we made it to the hotel - the Courtyard in Schaumburg. I was disappointed that they didn't have a mini fridge in the room, but otherwise it worked out well. Malaina got the sofa bed, they had an indoor pool, and everyone was happy.
We headed to Elgin to meet up with my Aunt & Uncle, and had a great time catching up with them. My cousin Stephanie was there, too, and her two girls. All three girls had a great time running around, riding bikes in the basement, making cards on the computer, and just being young girls. After a delicious dinner, we headed back to the hotel, and fell into bed.

We got up on Saturday morning to a bright, sunshine-y, humidity free day! We drove down to the Aurora outlet mall to do the shopping I missed out on Friday night. I found a few good deals, and then it was back into the car and over to Lincoln Park Zoo. Parking was crazy, as half of Chicago decided to head out to Lincoln Park and the North Shore of Lake Michigan. We finally unloaded the troops and cruised the zoo for 3 hours. It was free! And it's a great zoo. We saw polar bears, tigers, lions (Malaina was wide-eyed at the lion gnawing on a giant bone right in front of her), giraffe, ostrich, rhino, monkeys, birds, and my favorite: the river otter. We loaded our weary travellers back into the car, and went exploring to find the cupcake shop I had been obsessing about: Sweet Mandy B's. Located in the Lincoln Park/ DePaul neighborhood, it had a sweet little store front, and zero parking. Matt dropped me off and circled the block while I ordered my 'cakes. I found the staff to be a little lacking. The girl was a little irritated when I wasn't ready to place my order within .03 seconds of walking through the door. She gave me the stink eye while I looked over the goodie case (cookies, cupcakes, cakes, pie), and seemed irritated when I asked a question or two. I completed the transaction, and was glad that I was the only one who made the trip inside - the interior was tiny, and claustrophobic to me. As I walked past the cafe on the corner to wait for Matt to pull up, I chuckled to myself when I overheard a lady at an outside table exclaim to her young daughter "Ooooo...look! She went to Sweet Mandy B's and got cupcakes!". Unfortunately, my cupcake bliss had to wait, as we were both starving by the time we got back to the hotel (Saturday evening traffic - not so good, especially when we were going OUT of the city). Saturday must have been my lucky day for the month, as we ended up trying the Weber Grill Restaurant. I've wanted to try this place for years, and I was not disappointed. It was a bittersweet experience, as the food was fantastic (we shared prime rib, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, a chopped chicken salad, and onion soup), but the kids were both super cranky by the time the food hit the table, and Matt ended up walking Justin back to our room while I finished eating. We finished the night with Matt & Malaina at the pool - one of their favorite things to do together. I didn't even have the energy (or the stomach space) to truly enjoy a cupcake, so I saved them for another day.

Almost as tall as a polar bear (OK, not really, but don't tell her that)

"Uh Mom, what exactly do you think you're doing to me here?"

Mmmm... Weber Grill Restaurant. I give it 3.5 out of 4 stars.

On Sunday we were poky about getting up and out of the hotel, and didn't make it downtown until about noon. Of course first priority was to shower Daddy with presents (a customized Starbucks card with his favorite drink on it - a Grande Hot Chocolate - & the promise of NCAA '09 Football for the Wii). We parked at Soldier Field, and walked over to the Shedd Aquarium. This was a great idea in theory, but not quite as awesome in reality. You see, Sunday being Father's Day, the main floor of the Aquarium was free to everyone. Needless to say, it was a tiny bit crowded. We decided to pay for tickets to see the entire Aquarium, and even sprang for the SpongeBob movie in 4-D (quite an experience, and probably more fun if you are under the age of 8). We managed to find good seats to the dolphin show, and really enjoyed seeing all the fish, turtles, frogs, and other marine animals. The Caribbean Reef exhibit in the rotunda was very cool - a huge sea turtle, manta rays, sting rays, tarpon, and more.

This is the Field Museum, which is located adjacent to the Aquarium (and the Planetarium). We did not have a chance to visit on this trip, but will another time.

When we were done at the Aquarium, we headed back out to the suburbs to find some dinner. We were going to take the 20 out of Illinois, so it made sense to head towards Schaumburg to eat before we made the killer drive home. (Seriously, if you're going to Chicago, I advise staying in this area. Woodfield Mall is right there, along with a ton of restaurants, hotels, IKEA, and several major freeways. Plus we saved at least $150 a day by not staying downtown).
Daddy requested Chicago-style pizza for his Father's Day dinner, so here's where we ate:
I panicked a little when we were driving to the restaurant. There were 2 Lou's in the area, and the first one we stopped at was take-out and delivery only. I was so glad when we pulled up & discovered this was a sit-down restaurant. And that they could seat us right away. Justin was cranky again, so I didn't get a shot of the pizza before we dug into it. I can say that it was DELICIOUS. We took the rest to-go and after a last, hopeful check of the Iowa roads (I-80 STILL closed), we started the drive. I finally had the chance to sample my cupcakes, and here they are:

The upper left corner is Banana Chocolate Chip. Below that is Creamsicle. The yellow are Lemon, and the far right 'cakes are Red Velvet (they didn't have a huge selection of flavors). First, I'll say that I did not eat them all in one sitting. I may be a cupcake fan, but I am not a glutton. Very often. I even shared! What I liked about them: The Lemon were the very best. The cake was light & moist, and tasted like lemon, but not in an overwhelming or chemical way. The Red Velvet were good, but the batter didn't seem smoothly mixed, and they weren't quite as tasty. What I didn't like about them: The Creamsicle were not good. The cake was bland & flavorless, and the frosting was sickly-sweet. The Banana Chocolate Chip was just not cupcake material. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't really good either. I also thought that the frosting application was sloppy. I really like it when the frosting is piped on the top of a cupcake. Net/net: These were not nearly as good as Valley Junction's own Carefree Patisserie.

The drive home was both faster and uneventful. We stopped outside of Dubuque and grabbed some soda to help us stay awake, but otherwise there were no delays or problems. Malaina watched Annie on the DVD player, Justin slept, and Matt and I talked. That's the one advantage to road trips: I feel like Matt and I get to catch up on so much stuff that we don't chat about on a daily basis. We stopped outside Ames so I could feed Justin, and finally made it to our front door at about 2:45am on Monday morning. The drive home took about 7 hours - much better!

The only downside to the trip is that I have not gotten to bed before 2am any day this week. Part of that is due to this monster project I've been trying to complete, but I'm not happy about reverting to my night owl ways. Justin is usually wide-eyed & awake at 7 am, and I don't operate well on 5 hours of sleep (at least not unless there's a nap during the day.....and there never is). Now I'm hungry & craving cupcakes. I may have to rustle one up when I finish this project tonight (they added more stuff to it and gave me a 24 hour extension. Thanks). I definitely deserve it!


Jacob, Kelly, Austin and Chase said...

Wow, it sounds like you had a crazy and fun little trip. I want to go to Chicago so bad. I am hoping we can make a trip there next summer or maybe even this fall. Good luck with your project.

Sara said...

I really need to get to Chicago! I'm so glad you guys had a good time (even though the travel time was longer than expected). It was great to see you today! Thanks so much for the visit :)

Ted and Hilery said...

I'm glad Chicago did not disappoint you! I think it rarely does. We love Chicago and its food, shopping and fun things to do.

Ashley said...

oh man do I need some of those cupcakes!
I was telling Sara today we're headed out to Chicago on Friday and I have no idea what to do...she immediatley told me to read your Chicago here I am, and oh my informative. Who knew the zoo was free? So glad y'all had fun!!