You may have seen us writing lately about the trip Bonnie and I planned to Chicago to celebrate her birthday and St. Patrick’s Day. It was a milestone for Bonnie for a few reasons. It was her first trip away from her family ever (first time away from the kids in seven years) and although she won’t like me to say it, she also turned 30. We had a blast on our sisters’ weekend heading home to Chicago and the suburbs we hail from. So of course, as we have with past trips, we thought we’d share our adventure with you.
We flew in late Thursday around midnight into Midway and just stayed at nearest decent hotel that wasn’t rented by the hour (wish I was kidding). We tried to get to sleep early, but we knew that was impossible due our body clocks being in a different time zone and our excitement just brimming. So, we finally fell asleep at 3 am and dragged ourselves out of bed at 8 am (6 am to us) to get Dunkin Donuts!
We dreamed about Dunkin Donuts, because the don’t exist in the western half of the United States and also because they are also the only type of donut I can stomach. Donuts are my most hated food, but somehow cake donuts from Dunkin Donuts are amazing. So, we got our donuts and breakfast sandwiches, but were dismayed to discover how horrible the food was. We could only conclude that either Dunkin Donuts had gone way downhill or this hotel had a deal going with them for stale donuts. We hoped it was the latter and moved on to get our rental car.
After forging through a seedy area, we fought with employees are Enterprise to get a car without buying insurance (that costed more than the rental itself) an hour after we were meant to pick up our reserved car. Our start in Chicago had been rocky, so we wanted to get out this area and head into downtown where it could hopefully recovered. First, we had to stop at Trader Joe’s for some familiarity and then we were off! Because our morning problems had taken all of our morning, we had to rush to make a tour Bonnie signed us up for at 1 pm. I’m a history nerd and Bonnie was actually interested, so we decided to take a tour of Chicago to learn its history. Honestly, we just wanted to go in the freight tunnels below the city. So, we rushed to Congress Plaza Hotel where we were staying and parked our car for $40 per night (ouch) and got on our way to our tour. We were running late, so we actually ran half a mile to the tour. Do our dismay, we were the youngest people there by 30 years, and this tour was more of a high school history class than a fun thing to do…..and pay for. We knew we couldn’t have our afternoon ruined as well as our morning, so we ditched class (honestly, that’s what it felt like) and made our way to Greektown.
We stopped by St. Patrick’s Cathedral (Chicago’s first church) and admired the architecture and the Irish flags that adorned it. Then, we came to Greek Islands and got some amazing dolmades, kolokythakia tiganita with skordalia, greek salad and gyros. It was a feast that brought me back to Greece. Although somewhat different than I’ve had on most of the islands, it was still delicious and authentic. No trip is completed without dessert though, so as full as we were, we headed to Artopolis to desserts and frappes. We were uncomfortably full though, we had to save the desserts for later.
We walked back east toward the hotel and stopped at Union Station.
We remember it somewhat from our childhood (and shootout scene in The Untouchables). It’s also just a gorgeous building nostalgic of a time where buildings were ornate art. Bonnie also loves trains, something I didn’t know.
After awhile, I forced Bonnie to come to Sears Tower (I can’t call it Willis Tower) with me. She tried everything she could to deter me, but nothing worked. The wait was supposed to be an hour and a half, so she tried to lie promising we could come back another day. She also hoped that they wouldn’t allow food into the building, knowing I wouldn’t throw out desserts from Greektown, along with complaining about the costs and more. She just hates heights and didn’t want anything to do with a glass ledge on the 103rd story of a building. It didn’t help matters that a guy standing in line with us confirmed Bonnie’s observation that the building does in fact sway and added that winds can exceed 100 mph on the top floor. I made her go, though. It’s a cool launch from the main floor to the 103rd in one minute with ears popping with the altitude.
We looked around the city from every aspect. Soon, it was our turn (more like my turn) to stand the on the glass ledge, and Bonnie wasn’t having it.
Luckily, there was too big of a line for her to try to slip away and a few nice girls forced her out onto the ledge with me.
After recovering from the shock, we made our home just stopping and admiring building as we went.
We loved the bridges and old brick buildings along with the art on the sides and antique lettering from decades ago. But we got caught in a thunderstorm (that I haven’t experienced in years) and Bonnie wanted to get her leather purse and suede boots out of the rain.
We made our way back to the hotel where we searched for the phantom Gold Room, but alas couldn’t find it. So, we headed to our room in the elevator which smelled like what can only be described as an old grandmother’s house who smokes. Bonnie was nauseous in it every time and really thought that someone would throw up in there on St. Patrick’s Day. In the room, we dove into the dessert and quickly became sick again. We just had had way too much rich food for one day.
We had a groupon deal for a Japanese restaurant in Chinatown, though, and decided the simple food might help our stomaches. We were wrong, though. I don’t want to mention the name of the restaurant, so I don’t their business, but I also feel somewhat obligated to warn people. Just to be nice though, I won’t say the name. We did have some great seaweed salad and spicy truffle fries, but the rest of the food won’t bring them anything good. The decor and ambiance was also weird to say the least including very odd videos which showed people eating a lot of cupcakes. We just had to get out of there and get back to the hotel.
We tried to go to sleep early, but as you can probably guess, that didn’t happen. So, we were woken up by the maids at 9 am and got ready for St. Patrick’s Day. We stopped by Dunkin Donuts to see if the donuts actually were bad or if we just had stale ones. They were awesome as we expected and made our way through the sea of green to the parade.
It was great, full of marching bands, bagpipes and everything Irish. The only downsides were too many floats and politicians using the parade to campaign for the impending election three days away. Afterwards, Bonnie decided she needed some authentic Irish green, so we walked around looking for green suspenders (because that was the best idea to her) and also some pubs.
As you can imagine, downtown Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day is crazy and crowded. We had fun, though.
We had to stop and admire the river of course. We then tried to find a few pubs, but of course there were either cover charges or crazy wait lines.
So, I got to choose a pub, and we went to the Emerald Loop. We had some corned beef and cabbage along with Magner’s Cider. We also met quite a few friendly people and just hung out and had fun with people. I saw some Irish dancing and heard some bagpipes as well, so we had found the right pub. We headed to another street full of bars, but only stayed for awhile, because Bonnie wanted to get dressed up to go out at night. So, we stopped off and got some deep dish pizza and head home.
We headed out again for a classier place to hang out on St. Patrick’s night as Bonnie wished. Not really sure where to go, we wandered until we chose a place. We hung out for awhile because Bonnie just wanted to go out like she is never able to back home. We then went home and went to bed late again as usual.
The next day was Bonnie’s birthday. We checked out of the hotel and finally used our car to drive to Graylake to attend service at Living Waters, the church we grew up in. It was great to come back, like coming back home. We saw some old friends that watched us grow up and our pastor who didn’t recognize us at first.
We then headed back to our old town of Round Lake for some Scotty’s dogs and shakes. We ate here all the time as kids and it brought us right back to our five year-old selves.
We then visited the beach we spent most of our summer days at and were shocked to discover how small everything was. It was an even bigger shock driving down our street. I couldn’t believe how short the road was. It seemed so long when I was six. I honestly also thought someone cut my front yard in half, because there was no way on God’s green earth that it was as tiny then as it is now.
I was truly in shock throughout the entire car ride around our neighborhood. The hill we raced our bikes down, which we dubbed Dead Man’s Hill was barely a bump to us now. The creeks where we watched storks from were barely there and generally everything was smaller and seemed rundown.
We checked out a few other spots including Hart’s Hill, Village Elementary School and a few stores, but only a few things looked the same or resembled what they used to be. It was a crazy step back in time and soon it was too much for us to take and we had to leave.
After apparently outrunning the tolls on the interstate southbound, we arrived at our uncle’s house on the Irish south side of Chicago. We hung out for a little while and then went out to dinner with all of our dad’s brothers, Ray, Brad and Joe, our aunts, Kathy and Janice and our cousins Jackie and Colette. We had a great time and heard tons of stories about our dad growing up. We then went back to our uncle Brad and aunt Kathy’s house and heard even more stories now with family photos. Bonnie was also surprised with a cake and a few gifts. We were just happy to see family that we hadn’t seen in years and in Chicago no less. It was like coming home even if our entire family wasn’t there. After the birthday celebration, we headed back to uncle Ray’s house and had to look around the place. It was where we spent Christmases and Thanksgivings while we lived in Chicago and it also hadn’t changed. We even got to hear our uncle Ray sing the superbowl shuffle while we watched espn. We had a blast but I was falling asleep by 1 am though, and we all went to bed.
Bonnie and I spent the next day with Colette before leaving for our flight. She took us to do a few things that we hadn’t done yet, aka eating Italian beefs and frozen custard. After much eating and cruising the streets of the south side of Chicago, we were off to the airport to bid one final goodbye to Chicago. After lots of sleep in the airport, we boarded the flight and caught up on even more lost sleep.
Overall, our trip was a blast and Bonnie had a 30th birthday that she will always remember. We got to visit our home and family and join in one of the greatest, if not the greatest, celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day in the country. I just hope Bonnie doesn’t expect something like every year on her birthday for now on.