Road Trip Days 1-3: Setting Off to Chi-Town

We set off in our little SUV with two suitcases, a cooler full of snacks, a tent, lots of miscellaneous gear, and most importantly, an atlas. We relied on this atlas very heavily, turning to the almighty Google Maps app just two or three times over the course of the trip. Our first destination was the great city of Chicago, Illinois, but we couldn’t make it in one shot. We stopped for the night somewhere in Ohio and ended up cruising into Chi-Town early afternoon the next day.

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I had visited with my family as a kid and was excited to go back. The original plan for this trip was to focus mostly on outdoorsy stuff and national parks, but since my husband had never been to Chicago we really wanted to make the most of our short time there. Where to begin? That would be at REI.  After a truly gorgeous drive into the city (seriously though, who knew Chicago had such pretty beaches?) we headed to a branch of our favorite outdoor store to grab a few more camping supplies- including a brand new sleeping bag we had been meaning to buy with gift cards that we got at our wedding.

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And then it was lunchtime. And lunchtime in Chicago pretty much means one thing- deep dish pizza! My dad travels to Chicago for work pretty often and suggested we hit Gino’s East, a touristy but fun establishment that serves up fantastic deep dish delights (among other things). Even on a weekday between meals, there was a 45 minute wait for a table! Luckily we love sitting at the bar, so we were able to skip the line and waited about 20 seconds to be seated. And then the bartender immediately informed us that the deep dish pizzas take about 45 minutes to prepare once they are ordered!

A couple of drinks, a delicious bowl of vegetable soup, and tons of cool graffiti on the wall to read kept us busy while our lunch was being prepped. And when it came out it was worth the wait. We ordered the supreme deep dish pizza to share (the smallest size was plenty for two of us!). My husband was happy to take the meat off of my portion and I filled up on the amazing crust. Is Gino’s full of tourists? Probably. Is it still delicious? Definitely.

Next we checked into our hotel, the beautiful Hilton Palmer House. The lobby is so opulent and grand, and the elevator even had a bench in it! We settled in and relaxed in the lounge before it was time to get on the L and head to Wrigley Field!

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My birthday had just passed, so my husband surprised me with tickets to the Marlins-Cubs game at historic Wrigley as a gift. Wrigley Field opened in 1914 and took its current name in 1927. It is second only to Boston’s Fenway Park in age, making it the second oldest major league ballpark still in use. One bit of trivia I always remember about it is that it was the last major league park to have lights installed… and that didn’t happen until the year before I was born! Up until then Cubs home games were always day games. The last time I visited Wrigley (when I came to Chicago with my family in the early 2000s) it didn’t even have a JumboTron. According to Wikipedia, that was added in 2014. It is also one of just 10 major league stadiums not named after a corporation, taking its name from former owner William Wrigley, Jr. and not the Wrigley company.

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Our seats were fantastic, behind the plate but just a little toward third base. We enjoyed a ballpark snacks while I kept score in my program. I hadn’t done it in so long, and though some other ballparks provide a little cheat sheet, Wrigley did not! So my card wasn’t perfect but keeping score is still one of my favorite parts of baseball. Though the game was close, we left between the eighth and ninth, realizing we had an early day tomorrow. Once on the (nearly empty) L, we checked the MLB app to see what was going on. The Cubs made it interesting but ultimately lost, and we managed to avoid the postgame bottleneck at the train.

When we arrived back to the hotel, the Vapiano restaurant across the street was still open. This is one of our favorite chain restaurants which we first visited in Boston (though that location has since closed! Boo!). Since discovering this casual Italian-your-way chain we have partaken in six different cities on three different continents! The takeout we grabbed after the game was much appreciated.

We were up bright and early the next day to peek at one last Chicago sight before heading west. Millennium Park is truly beautiful in the cool morning sun, especially because we nearly had the place to ourselves! In case you couldn’t guess based on its name, it was built to replace parking lots and rail yards in celebration of Y2K. There are tons of neat things to see here, sculptures and water features and other pretty spots, but the highlight for many a tourist is Cloud Gate, AKA “The Bean”.

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This super cool piece of art actually took a really long time to build. It was done by a man named Anish Kapoor and wasn’t officially completed until 2006. We took some totally touristy selfies with it (almost completely devoid of other people thanks to our early start) before bidding adieu to Chicago.

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