Our Chicago Story
Not only did we get to fly out of Toronto's smaller, alternative airport but we got to land in Chicago at tiny Midway (compared to flying out later that week from HUGE O'Hare) airport. My brother John who moved to Chicago three years ago, grabbed a Zip car and met us at the airport. We headed off to our hotel, Hotel Raffello. Here's a quick review that I posted on Trip Adviser:
We were visiting my brother in Chicago and he lives within about 10 miles of the Raffaelo. He did a lot of scouting for us and one day went to have a drink at the Drumbar on the top floor. He asked some folks there if they liked their rooms and they said they did. So he recommended the hotel to us. We were glad he did.
We stayed four days (Tues-Sat) and had booked a queen room and were upgraded to a suite upon arrival. That was a very nice surprise and we truly loved having the extra room. It meant that I could get up before my bride in the morning and work on my photos or leave for a walk without waking her.
Bed was very comfortable, bathroom nicely appointed. We were on the fifth floor which made for shorter elevator rides. We had read some critiques complaining about the small elevators but having stayed extensively in European hotels, these were good size by comparison. Just be patient as you may have to wait for a few to come and go to get your luggage up or down.
Housekeeping was excellent. Room was clean. We do wish they would clean a little earlier as we went out for an entire day and came back around 3:30 and the room still had not been cleaned. I hate sitting in a room (thankfully it was a suite) while the room is clean.
We would stay at the Rafaello again. It is exceptionally well located next to the Hancock Building and only a block from the Water Tower Center which has super shopping and a great food court for breakfast.
One small criticism is that they need to get to free WiFi but I get that they don't. It would have been nice if the hotel directory had mentioned that there is free WiFi in the lobby. Didn't realize it until the last day.
After John returned the Zip car, he came back and met us at the hotel and we were off to walk down Michigan Ave (AKA, the Magnificent Mile). We hadn't really planned on anything that day since we didn't get to the hotel until about 4:00 pm. The shops on the stretch between our hotel (near the Hancock Building) and downtown are amazing. One of the bigger Apple stores I have seen, the biggest Crate and Barrel I have seen and a really good size Eddie Bauer.
After walking to the river, we decided we were feeling peckish and John suggested one of Chicago's hot, new restaurants, The Purple Pig. He told us that the week before you could have eaten there on their patio but it was way too cold when we went. Luckily, they had covered part of their patio with a big, purple tent. They also have an inside section but it was LOUD so we were thrilled to be seated at a communal table outside. The food turned out the be the best we had the entire time we were in Chicago. Small plates so we shared. Octopus, an amazing turkey leg, beet salad and the best eggplant caponata smear ever. So good I've been trying to replicate it here. We were very lucky we started early because by the time we left, there was quite the line to get in. We highly recommend it. You'll find it just up Michigan Ave. from the Wrigley Building on the same side of the street. It sits back from the street so look for the sign. See the pic above to check out the sign.
That was enough for one day that had started with a long walk in Toronto and finished with a long walk in Chicago. It was back to the hotel for some sleep. We were up in the morning and we thought our first order of business should be Millennium Park so after a quick Starbucks visit, we headed down Michigan Ave. in that general direction.
It was slow walk in a cold wind. We learned quickly that you never know where the wind will come from or be going. For instance, we walked out of our hotel and there was little or no wind. About a block away, at the base of the Hancock Building, there was a HUGE wind, coming down the building and blowing all ways. A cold wind. That stayed with us all day.
We got down to Millennium Park and found a lot to look at. The Gehry-designed outdoor theater, Wrigley Square, the Cloud Gate and then we headed off across the Nichols Bridgeway to the Chicago Institute of Art.
We have been to many of the world's great art museums; the Met in NYC, The Getty in LA, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Louvre in Paris and all the art museums in Rome, Venice and Florence. I thought that the Chicago Institute of Art held its own with all of them. Maybe they don't have as an extensive collection as the others, but they do have some great individual pieces and everything is beautifully displayed. We were slightly disappointed that Hopper's Night Owls was out on loan and due back later in the week but we did get to see American Gothic and some wonderful impressionist pieces.
We had a really nice lunch in the new restaurant in the basement of the museum, a very high-end cafeteria. If you are there we would highly recommend it as a great place for lunch without leaving the museum.
After the Institute we headed back up Michigan Avenue and stopped back in the park to visit the Crown Fountain and a few other places we had missed earlier before meeting my brother John for our floating architectural tour of Chicago. We loved the tour and our very knowledgeable and animated guide except for the fact that wind was blowing and the temps were in the high 40s. We would highly recommend this tour as well.
After the tour we took a leisurely walk across town to meet a friend of mine for dinner at celebrity chef Rick Bayless' Toblombompo. I had heard so much about it that I really wanted to try it so I asked my friend and my brother to go along with us. Here's my review of the sadly disappointing meal we had that I used on the Open Table website:
Rick Bayless' Topolobampo was always mentioned when we told others we were going to Chicago. We decided to take friends and were HUGELY disappointed. Drinks were fine, the amuse bouche was only OK, just some water that tasted like corn and held together on a spoon. Had a trio of ceviches appetizer that was the best things we had all night. Our entrees (2 of us at the table) was Lamb 3 Ways. Could have fooled me. There was barely anything on the plate. I will be damned if I could find more than two types of lamb. There was lamb sausage, sautéed and there may have been some braised lamb but neither of us could find it. One of the people we were dining with ordered a rib eye (which she was told was the most substantial entree on the menu and it came with four small pieces of rib eye and a plate-covering mole that vastly overpowered everything else. We had some desserts that were also just OK and the Mexican wine we had was fine. Big problem, we all left hungry. Really hungry. For $400+. That's unacceptable.
After dinner we took a quick cab ride back to the hotel. I can tell you that Chicago has a plethora of cabs and that they are not that expensive if you are just hopping around the inner city.
The next morning we did breakfast, a little shopping and met John at the El(evated train) for a quick trip to Oak Park where he was treating us to lunch and a tour of the home of Frank Lloyd Wright. We are both big art and architecture fans so this was a real treat. Lots of pics on the Chicago photos page. Had a nice lunch as well. Then took a walk to see a Mennonite Temple that Wright had designed a few blocks away.
Then it was back to the train and back to downtown, a short cab ride back to the hotel, a short nap and off to meet John at Orso's just north of the city. We were going there as part of dinner/show package we had because we were seeing Chicago's famed comedy troupe, Second City. Orso's is a very Frank Sinatraish Italian place. Calamari appetizer, eggplant parmesan, cannoli for dessert. All good, solid dishes. Much better than the night before. Our Second City show was right up the street so we were there in no time. As a huge coincidence that's worth mentioning, we ended up seated at the same table as two people who were on the same small tour we were on at the Frank Lloyd Wright House in far away Oak Park. Two very nice people from Connecticut.
The show was good (not great). Mostly sketch and improv comedy that we enjoyed. If you go, buy your tickets online before you go and same some substantial $$$. You really go to Second City to see people who are performing so when they make it big on Saturday Night Live (like so many other Second City alumni have) you can say you saw the before they were famous. A short cab ride back to the hotel and sleep after a long day.
The next morning was Friday and our last full day in Chicago. As we had slept in, we decided to walk back down Michigan Ave to have a big breakfast at Wildberry. This place is right across the street from Millennium Park on Randolph. We were shocked because even though we had read good things about Wildberry on Trip Adviser we didn't expect the big crowd we found when we got there. There was a 35 minute wait on a Friday morning at 9:00 am. But we can also tell you it was really worth it. The food was fantastic and the meal we had easily lasted us until we went over to John's apartment for appetizers at 6:30. Not even hungry once.
We then had a nice surprise when we decided to see what was in the big building across the street from the park. The building says Chicago Public Library on the side but when you go across the street and go in, it tells you it's the Chicago Cultural Center and it is. We found a very cool photo exhibit, art galore, the largest Tiffany glass dome in the world and a bunch more very cool things to see. We originally thought we would be inside for less than an hour but we ended up exploring for more than two hours. We highly recommend a visit when you are in Chicago.
After that tour we headed up back to the hotel at a slow pace and arrived late in the afternoon. Kathleen was wiped out so while she rested I walked the three blocks from our hotel to the Museum of Contemporary Art which had some excellent exhibits including a traveling photo exhibit that I really liked. See my pics to see what I am talking about. Really liked the place.
After my museum tour we jumped into a cab and headed off to my brother's apartment (a perfectly decorated place, perfectly sized place in a beautiful neighborhood) for a before dinner glass of wine and some delicious appetizers. Then it was off to his local (about a block away) Greek place where we had an outstanding meal. Very traditional and family place. I wish we had one like that near us. We said our goodbyes to John and hopped a cab back to the hotel for our last night in Chicago.
The next morning I took one last walk around downtown to take a few last photos, then back to the hotel to pack, a $35 cab ride to O'Hare and an Alaska Air flight home. We loved Chicago and loved seeing my brother John. We look forward to going back one day.
You can go to our Chicago pics by clicking here.