Wednesday, June 14, 2017


The second weekend in June, I traveled to Chicago with my sister and mom for a girls/Denise birthday weekend! It was so much fun and I am really happy that mom and Denise let me invite myself along. It should be noted at the top of this trip report that it would have been impossible for me to take the weekend off from being a mom if it weren't from the hard work that Scott put in pulling double duty back home. He had a super busy weekend complete with a parade, a field trip, and teaching Sunday School! Needless to say, he was napping when I arrived back home Sunday afternoon and hopefully he now understands why I need to nap on most days. It is busy! 


We left Des Moines after nine a.m. on Friday morning and got into the city just before four. In hindsight, we probably should have left a bit earlier but we had plenty of time and a good cushion before dinner and our show even with the busy traffic getting into the city. I forget how easy of a drive it is from Des Moines and it was fairly easy for us to drive into the city, traffic aside. We only had to cruise around the block once when we missed the valet stand of our hotel but luckily we made it back to the front without incident. 

We had plenty of time to get ready (so fun to do without kids!) and play with my selfie stick before our dinner reservation at 5:15. 


I made a reservation at the Grill Room Chophouse and Wine Bar right across the street from our hotel (which was in the same building as the theater). I was surprised how many nice dining locations were right there in the theater district even though I panicked when the best reviewed one was booked up for the whole weekend. This was a good choice and they seated us right away even we arrived earlier than our reservation. It was nice to not feel rushed or worried about being late for the show as we enjoyed an awesome meal.


"Raise a glass to freedom, something they can never take away."


We all enjoyed a pre dinner cocktail from the awesome Hamilton themed drink menu. I flipped out about it when I realized the connection! So funny! Denise and I enjoyed a Hamilton's Hurricane and mom had a Monticello Mule (mostly because I think Thomas Jefferson is her favorite character). 


Here is a shot of our hotel from across the street. You can see the doorway to the left of the Hamilton marquee. We stayed at the Hampton Inn in the Majestic Building. It was a great location (obviously) but an unexpected positive was that it was a fairly small hotel and very easy to navigate which is something that can be overlooked. It was always quick to get an elevator and our room was right by the elevator. They also had a complimentary breakfast in the morning which I think is unusual for Chicago hotels. I am also sure that 100% of the guests in our hotel were there to see Hamilton given the Aaron Burr talk at breakfast in the morning. 


A big feature of the building was lions heads in the decoration at the top as featured on their sign. It was a very ornate and historical building. 

One bonus to having our hotel so close to the theater was that we could run up to our room quick and use the restroom and freshen up before the show started. We also had plenty of time to take lots of photos under the sign which is basically what everyone else was doing too (there was a line). 


"look around, look around, how lucky we are to be a live right now"


"Alexander Hamilton...America sings for you. Will they know what you overcame? Will they know you rewrote the game? The world will never be the same oh...just you wait!"


"the room where it happened, the room where it happened"


Our seats were on the mezzanine level and they were really good. It was a fun theater! Also we had to take a million photos with our playbills which is what everyone else was doing too. 


As for Hamilton: it was awesome! I was a little worried that after listening to the soundtrack so much that I wouldn't be surprised by any of it but that wasn't true at all. There were actually several moments in listening where I was a little confused and it was cleared up in the show. It was fun seeing the costumes and the choreography and see the actors take on the different roles. I also had not listened to the second half of the show as much (maybe just once?) so that was definitely very fresh to me. I was surprised at how much I expected to love the character of Hamilton but in actuality, he was my least favorite because I LOVED all the other characters. When they Schulyer sisters were on stage and singing, it was goosebumps. George Washington had a very powerful presence and voice (he was also a very tall and large actor) and Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson (played by the same actor) were both lots of fun. Aaron Burr was outstanding and even looked like Leslie Odom. The second act really hit me hard when Hamilton loses his son but the beauty of theater and live music is it stirs the emotions within you. Overall, I felt the show was a great tour of all the human emotions: a full human experience. The show obviously ends on a very somber note and so you didn't leave the theater thinking, "yay! wow!" but I circled around to those feelings later. Plus I had the music running through my dreams and head the rest of the weekend. It definitely an impactful show- wow, wow, wow. 

After the show we walked back across the street to share a chocolate cake dessert and have one more drink (I got a pinot noir and mom got the Brandy Alexander- it was super strong and I think she slept well that night!).  It was fun to watch the crowd gather across the street to wait for the actors at the stage door. 

I was proud of us for staying up so late as we didn't turn in until after midnight! 


The next morning we slept in fairly late (I think 8!) and then walked over to the Cloud Gate (bean) sculpture. Mom had never been there and it is such a fun tourist destination. It looked a little far to walk on the map but in reality it was absolutely fine. We had a little trouble deciding whether to turn right or left out of our hotel but we figured it out. :o) 


My selfie stick gave me one of my favorite photos from the weekend! 



"Death doesn't discriminate between the sinners and the saints. it takes and it takes and it takes and we keep living anyway. We rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes. And if there's a reason I'm still alive when everyone who loves me has died, I'm willing to wait for it." 


"Talk less, smile more"


Another one of my favorites that a nice photographer took for us. She took both horizontal and vertical so I know she was legit. It was nice to visit so early in the morning as it was not very busy yet.

Afterwards we made our way down Michigan Ave. to the Starbucks where I had my second experience using a restroom that required a security code to get into (the first was at Walgreens stop in a detour my gps took us on getting into the city).  Who knew it was so hard to use a bathroom in the city?


I love the "I was here" series of mugs from Starbucks but usually I just opt to take a photo stead of purchasing. 


We bought our tickets for and hopped on the 11:00 River and Lake tour from Wendella boat tours. It was right on the river and very easy to book. It was exactly the touristy and relaxing type of thing I wanted to do. It was already getting hot in the city and our plan was to not do much walking so this was perfect. We also made a stop at Ghirardelli for a free sample (so good but we were afraid it would melt on the boat if we bought some take along) and also Walgreens so Denise could buy a pair of sunglasses. 


The tour took us up the river a bit while the tour guide talked about some of the buildings. I did not realize Trump tower was the second tallest building on the Chicago skyline although it is soon to be 3rd as a new construction skyscraper plans to beat it. We went down the river towards to the Willis tower and the tour guide talked about how along the river used to be not the best place to be and now it is a hot area in real estate with lots of new projects going on. It was a great chance to view the river walk area which was beautiful and a recent addition to the area. 

The tour took us through a lock and out onto Lake Michigan to view the skyline which was awesome. The tour guide talked about how the city of Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago river and a land moving project that moved more land than the Panama Canal. Very interesting. It was very breezy but pleasant on the lake and it was fun to see the city from a distance. 



In the above photo you can see the three tallest buildings on the Chicago skyline from left the right: Willis Tower (even though I called it the Sears Tower the whole trip), Trump tower, and the Hancock building. The boat also turned around so we could see the museum campus and Soldier field. 

Our tour got us back in town right at 12:30 and we successfully navigated ourselves back to the theater district. I was worried about finding the theater but it ended up not being a big deal at all and we had a nice lunch at a Corner Bakery right down the street from the Cadillac Palace theater. 


We also passed the Oriental theater and the Chicago theater on our walk. We also learned they were shooting the movie "Rampage" with Dwayne Johnson over the weekend so we'll have to go see if it when it comes out to say we were in the city at the time. 


The Cadillac Palace is a beautiful theater inside with a large ornate lobby. I had previously seen the Color Purple and Lion King here. It seemed much larger than the PrivateBank theater where we seemed Hamilton. 


Our seats were in the dress circle, off to the side. You can see the area in the left corner of the above photo. They were the cheapest seats available when I purchased and while I thought they were fine, it was a bit of a obstructed view I think mostly because of people's heads in front of you. I remember having this problem even when sitting on the floor for the Color Purple and so I think it might just be the pitch of the floor in such an old theater. I was willing to put up with it for a ticket half the price of a better seat even though it was less than ideal. 

The show, however, was awesome! I wasn't sure what to expect but it was everything a musical should be: sparkles, sequins, tap dancing, jazz, a huge pit orchestra, and lots of fun. The genie was my favorite character but Aladdin was awesome also. It was also fun going to a matinee as there were lots of kids in the audience and I know Michael would have loved it too (although there were some scary parts). The show featured a ton of special effects that were impressive to pull off for a theater production and gave it a cinematic feel. 


"Arabian nights, like Arabian days more often than note are hotter than hot in a lot of good ways."


"Life is your restaurant and I'm your maitre d'. C'mon whisper what it is you want, you ain't never had a friend like me."


Our restaurant, the Italian Village, was just a few blocks away. It was pretty busy after we got seated and we enjoyed a really nice prix fixe theater menu. It was a good value and the portions were huge. I had the lasagna and it was loaded with meat sauce and the homemade pasta was so delicious. With a salad, bread and dessert, we could have easily split an entree (something to remember for next time). 


Of corse we stopped at Garrett's popcorn on the way back to our hotel, thanks to Denise's excellent Garrett's location scouting. I am not sure if they do price yielding or not (or it if it was this location) but at Christmas I remember thinking it was so expensive and this time I ordered a jumbo size and thinking it was not bad of a price at all. I got the caramel only to take only to Scott even though I really wanted the Chicago mix as it is so good! Luckily Denise shared her Chicago mix with us on the way home. 

We also stopped at the Disney store on the way back to our hotel where I bought some souvenirs for the kids.  We  rested a bit at our hotel and checked in on the troops at home in a facetime call that went something like this:


It seemed like Scott was doing a good job of holding down the fort!

Our tour guide told us about the fireworks on Saturday night at Navy Pier and so we got an Uber and headed over there to enjoy the beer garden and music while we waited for the fireworks to start. 



They were really fun and a good excuse to keep us up later! We got a cab back to the hotel afterwards which ended up being cheaper than the uber (just a heads up for the future). 


On a side note, I really enjoyed taking my traveling Toreador with me for photos the trip. It seemed a bit silly at first but it was kind of fun to get him out at the important stops. Below is the final collage I put together. 


Overall, it was an awesome trip and I am thankful that my sister finally convinced us to go somewhere on her birthday. I am impressed we did such a good job of navigating ourselves into and through the city and we had a nice balance of activities and down time. It left my heart feeling full and will always be something I will cherish. I am thankful for my mom who largely treated us to the trip as it was very generous of her! Until next time, Chicago! 


"Let me tell you what I wish I'd known when I was young and dreamed of glory. You have no control who lives who dies who tells your story"

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