Posted by: jyunbugspeaks | September 18, 2012

Chicago: Who knew I would love this city so much?!

What can I say about Chicago, my favourite US city so far on my travels to our southern neighbours. I love the place! The city offers so much in culture, modern architecture and of course food! So many quirky things to eat around that place and I found a doozy in a dark and auspicious place called the Billy Goat’s Tavern and Grill. Located on N. Michigan Ave and tucked under the city, yes I said under the city as one of Chicago’s unique layouts of its streets is that some of the places are located under it. Easy to locate as there are signs directing you to this unique hideaway, I found it at first to be kinda intimidating at first glance as its not a colourful place. Quite the opposite, more like a dive bar but once you get past the neon signs and grimy exterior you find yourself in a cozy bar that has a friendly staff and good local people who aren’t too tired of telling stories about this famous tavern. If you are not familiar with the folklore behind this tavern, it all started by some famous Saturday Night Live alumni, you may have heard of them. Bill Murray, John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd just to name a few, who after one night of doing comedy at the Second City Comedy club came by and ordered some burgers and the rest is SNL history. Sorry not just burgers but “cheezeborgers”. I recommend getting a double as the patties are pretty thin, there are no fries just “cheeps” and remember to ask for a Coke as they do not have Pepsi?!  Not sure why but good news, the burgers taste great and that’s all that matters to me!

After several hours of wandering the Michigan Mile (a stretch of road that has a mile of brand name and department stores) we were craving something sweet and luckily for us we bumped into a cupcake shop called Sprinkles. Right off the bat there was a huge line up and knew this place would be a good one and it did not disappoint. This place can get so busy that it created an ATM for cupcakes! You can’t wait 20 mins to try their versions of carrot cake or red velvet or double chocolate? No problem just swipe your credit or debit card and watch as the cupcake robotic arm with camera grabs your cupcake and dispenses it at your convenience. Genius. We chose to wait it out and past the time away by watching the proprietor on TV promote her stuff on talk shows. After a 10 min wait, it was a weekday, the cupcakes we chose were the super moist carrot cake and the decadent chocolate peanut butter, both were delicious and super sweet! If cupcakes aren’t your thing I would suggest trying another of Chicago’s famous sweet finds: Garrett’s Popcorn. Beware this place can also be extremely busy. Avoid the place near The Mile and try the location near The Navy Pier.

Next morning we bypassed the complimentary continental (aka cold and cheap) breakfast at our hotel and ventured out to try a popular breakfast joint called Eggsperience. The place was jumping as the morning weekend crowds descended on this place in droves. After a 10 min wait we were seated at the bar, it was that packed. My gf chose the mushroom and cheese omelette and for myself the sausage and eggs plate. The portions were quite big and they did a fairly decent job on both orders. My sausages were plump and tasty while my gf’s omelette was cooked fluffy and loaded with cheese and mushrooms. Yum!

Now with our bellies full we proceeded to hike to our next destination, Millennium Park. This unique and wonderful place is what Chicago is all about. A place that protects its natural landscape but adds wondrous man-made sculptures like Cloud Gate, the Crown Fountain and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. The Cloud Gate or the Bean as everyone calls it around there was utterly breath-taking. As you approach this silver bean you can’t help but wonder at it its shear size and shape. It is even more spectacular when you walk up and gaze under its belly and see all the trippy shapes that forms of you and the other tourists. A definite crowd pleaser and a must see if you are in Chicago as there is nothing on earth like it.  Another amusing sculpture is the Crown Fountains, two huge glass pillars that rise from a large shallow body of water and stand opposite of each other. These unique pillars project random faces of Chicagoans and spout water from their projected mouths. Very cool and on hot days and nights, very refreshing! Next we ventured towards the waterfront and checked out the tourist trap called the Navy Pier. It was wonderful and predictable with your usual clatter of stores and tourist knick knacks that frequent areas like that. I’m sure you have one like it in your city but the best and most unusual thing I found was that the harbourfront and surrounding areas had no ugly condos or corporate monstrosities obstructing the awesome views of the waterfront and Lake Michigan. Apparently the good old city of Chicago and its waterfront community joined forces and banned such waterfront development. Clearly the city and its government have the right people doing their jobs in keeping this city looking so spectacular! Chicago is known for their architecture and forgive me as I could not do justice

in capturing the beauty and splendor of  their buildings and structures that tower over the city in my  photos. One thing I will recommend and is a must do when visiting this city is the boat tour that snakes its way along the city many rivers and canals. We chose the Wendella Boat Tour but there are others with varying rates, so find the one that suits you. You will not be disappointed!

Other interesting destinations we visited was the Shed Aquarium located along the waterfront and well as the famous Buckingham Fountain (the same fountain that was shown in the opening credits on the hit TV show Married With Children). The Shed Aquarium is a great place to see some unique water mammals, exotic fish and marine life. We managed to catch the marine show, which was nice to see but a bit tacky. It always has a great message about saving the environment but unfortunately it somewhat caters to the little ones, but that’s a good thing. The famous fountain located in Grant Park is quite nice to see but difficult to get to as there is tons of traffic around the area and numerous weddings and sweet sixteen  photo shoots going on simultaneously. It was chaotic but with some patience worth the visit. On our last day we managed to jump on the Chicago transit and head out to Chinatown to grab some bubble tea and pho. Luckily Chicago’s Chinatown was not too far from our hotel, just four stops and we were at Cermak/Chinatown in 10 minutes. Unfortunately the subway we rode on was kinda grimy, I guess we got spoiled when riding the subways of Tokyo, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Those you could eat off the floor if you wanted to as it was that clean. None the less we got to our destination in one piece and proceeded to have the best red bean and coconut freeze and pho outside of Toronto at Joy Yee Noodles and Pan Asian Cuisine. The pho was especially good with a fragrant and flavourful broth and nice chewy noodles. Be warned: come prepared with a big appetite as the portions were huge. Some came in mega bowls that could feed a party of 4 – 6 .

After a long day of exploring we managed find a hidden gem called the Argo Tea shop. This place took over Starbucks as our favourite place to sit and observe the daily on goings of Chicagoans. It has these awesome loose leaf flavoured teas that are brewed naturally (no powders), no artificial flavours, colour or additives. Bonus there are calorie counts on each and every drink displayed (if you’re into that) plus you can get it hot or cold.  These teas were so good we had one or two every day and our favourites included Ice Earl Grey Vanilla Creme, White Tea Acai Squeeze, Ice Pom Tea and Teappucino. Our favourite location was the one on 819 N Rush street near the Chicago Tribune building where you could get your photo taken at an interactive photo booth.

We only stay in Chicago for 3 days at a time but you can cram a lot of activities, tours and food in that amount of time. We still haven’t done everything you can do in Chicago like visit a jazz bar or the Frank Lloyd Wright museum or the Chicago Art Institute so we’re probably going to visit again. I hope you enjoyed a small glimpse of this interesting city with this blog and I’ll see you on our next adventure!

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