[travel] Chicago

I absolutely love vacations. They’re a time to get away from your everyday routine, to rest, and to allow yourself to be inspired by different people and culture. But when you think of the word “vacation,” most will think of palm trees and beaches, where the quiet in the air allows for healing and relaxation.

So when I told people I was going to Chicago for a much-needed holiday, I got my fair share of strange looks. But peace and quiet is not my idea of a vacation. I’ve always loved the hustle and bustle of a city, and there’s nothing more healing than an urban metropolis for me. I love people-watching, the different architecture of the skyscrapers, and most importantly… the ever-growing list of must-eat restaurants and cafes that call my name. To be quite honest, most of my adventures in Chicago consisted of me eating at one of the previously mentioned must-eat places, or looking up where/what to eat next. And with the then-boyfriend (now, husband) who grew up in Chicago as my personal 24/7 tour guide – I was ready for my week of rest.

With some of the best restaurants in the world, Chicago is one place that you are sure to never go hungry. Though I grew up in the States, I’d forgotten how extensive portion sizes are in the US, and when I ordered a serving of pancakes for my first breakfast at Walker Brothers Pancake House, I didn’t expect a plate the size of my head, or the six pancakes with the huge slab of butter that were on it.

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Note to self: forget eating healthy during vacation.

Chicago is also home to the #1 burger in America (according to this Food Network article), so I proceeded to visit Au Cheval in downtown Chicago.

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The burger didn’t disappoint, and lived up to its great reviews. But then we had Roasted bone marrow with beef marmalade on toast.

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One of the wonderful things about traveling is that you can find the foods that you’re used to eating, but presented in a different form. I grew up eating bone marrow soup (뼈국물), but who knew that my childhood soup would become a trendy, gourmet dish served in the middle of the US of A?

Chicago hot dogs were one last thing I wanted to try when I visited, so I proceeded to Portillo’s  after the Man said it would be inexcusable for us to leave Chicago without going.

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Portillo's hot dog with pickle and tomato on a poppy seed bun

Chi-Town TIP: Don’t ask for ketchup lest you offend a Chicagoan. Chicago style hotdog: perfectly cooked sausage with mustard, sweet relish, chopped onions, a long spear of pickle, tomato slices, pickled peppers and a dash of celery salt all on a poppy seed bun.

The hotdog was delicious, and I automatically regretted only getting one. But at this point I had probably eaten enough food to last me the rest of the year. So now, it was time to see the sights. One of the first places I visited was Navy Pier. Located on Lake Michigan, the pier is the center point of shops, restaurants, parks, and other attractions.

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Credit: Pixabay

Chicago has four seasons, and thankfully I visited right in between Spring and Summer so the weather was perfect for walking around. However, I couldn’t resist taking a boat ride on Lake Michigan to see the skyline from the lake. With an endless number of attractions to visit, the best of Chicago was visible from the lake.

map of lake michigan side

Chi-Town TIP: Every major city has gorgeous museums and Chicago is not an exception. From Shedd Aquarium to Adler Planetarium to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago has beautiful museums and attractions to visit. Unfortunately, it can be pricey. Thankfully, most have days that are free for Illinois state residents (thanks husband). Find a friend and save!

Other museums are free all year around like the Museum of Contemporary Photography and Museum of Science and Industry. If museums aren’t your thing, try the Lincoln Park Zoo which is also free any day of the year.

As I didn’t have too much time, I went to go see the iconic Cloud Gate, also known as “the Bean” which has made its appearance in many films to date (seen Source Code?). Cloud Gate is located in Millennium Park, a popular hangout for both locals and tourists alike.

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Your reflection changes as you walk around the different reflective surfaces, and the effects are mesmerizing. I spent a good half an hour just staring at myself and others around me as they did the same thing. The Man waited patiently as I took pictures of everything.

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Lastly, we went further South towards the Planetarium and viewed the city from across the lake. The view was worth the hot walk all the way from the parking lot.

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But, if you really want the real view of Chicago, visit this same location at dark, as it’s a completely different experience.

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As all trips do, our trip came to an end and we made the 14-hour (sigh) trip back to Seoul. The one thing that I can say about trips is that they don’t always have to be somewhere famously known for its vacations. My city vacation was perfect for me, and I came back refreshed and renewed.

But if anyone would send me another Chicago hot dog – that would be nice…

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