Our train car into Chicago

There’s something special about big cities.  It’s not just the wide array of shops and restaurants along every block.  It’s not just the monumental skyscrapers, bridges and other architectural wonders.  It’s not just the melting pot of cultural backgrounds that pass by you with each step.  It’s all of those things… plus the fact that I’d rather WALK around the city than be stuck with a mean cabbie or driving through that horrendous traffic!  So, that’s exactly what we did.

Beauty in unexpected places.

The girlfriend and I drove up to her hometown to drop her car off to her dad since he bought it from her.  We decided to go down to sharing one car!  And since we didn’t have a car to drive back down, we decided to take the train and enjoy a day and a half in Chicago.  We didn’t want to drag luggage around the city with us, so we each packed a backpack and off we went!  It was so simple and enjoyable that we’ve decided it’s our new favorite way to travel.

Luckily, we brought umbrellas with us so even though it rained a lot of the time, we were prepared and we just kept walking!  On Saturday, we did at least eight miles and on Sunday we did around five or so.  We had lunch with one of my good friends from college, then started walking with just a map to guide us.  We happened to fall right into the path of the Memorial Day Parade and it was great!  The girlfriend took lots of cool pictures with my nifty phone and a little Vietnamese Lady in the parade even came over and gave me this beautiful fan.  It totally made my day.

Me and my beautiful Vietnamese Fan!

Then we found Michigan Avenue and walked all over since we still had a few hours to kill before hotel check-in.  We hung out around Buckingham Fountain and Lakeshore Drive and talked about life and the future and then we finally headed to the hotel.  Then we quickly showered and headed out for one more store and dinner at The Melting Pot.  LORDY LORD.  SOOOO GOOOOOOOOD!!!!  Needless to say, we didn’t count, but we DID choose the healthiest fondue for the main course and enjoyed every last bite.  It was the girlfriend’s idea and her treat and we had a LOT of fun.  It was almost 2 miles to get to the restaurant, so we had to walk almost 2 miles back.  We worked off at least SOME of that fondue!  And then we passed out the minute we got to the hotel.

Some of the Chicago Memorial Day Parade participants

The next morning we went SWIMMING (at 8am, no less)!  I haven’t been swimming in over a year.  We both discovered that our bathing suits are a little too big, so we’ll need to go shopping for new ones.  That’s a much more pleasant reason to go shopping for a new suit than I’ve had in the past 15 years!  It was nice, although it was the ONLY free amenity in the whole hotel.  FYI – if you ever visit Chicago, don’t stay at the Hilton Chicago on N. Michigan Ave.  It’s overpriced and they’ll make you pay $15 to use their workout equipment.  (Only the pool and walking track are free.  LAME.)  Once we got dressed and packed up, we headed out for some breakfast.

We stopped at Caffé Baci; it was superb!  The girlfriend got a belgian waffle with fruit and lite syrup and I got a yogurt/fruit parfait (amazing) and a bagel with cream cheese.  Then we headed out for a little more shopping and site seeing, but it started thunderstorming.  We ended up stopping at just a couple stores before we walked to Union Station.

RWWF in the Windy City!

Since we brought books and music and stuff, we figured hanging out there would be nice and relaxing.  Little did we know that some movie was filming in the huge foyer and it was a scene with a MARCHING BAND.  Apparently the directors and assistants suck at their job because they kept moving people (including us) from our seats on the wooden benches.  (Seriously, could they have TRIED looking through the camera lens to see what all would be in the shot before moving people further and further down?)  After they asked us to move for the FOURTH time, we said F*CK IT and walked over to a cafe table.  It was loud and annoying and I hope the movie TANKS!

The ballroom of the Hilton Chicago. Beautiful, but not worth the moolah!

The train ride home was half as long as the first, so we got back right on time to catch the bus.  Unfortunately, the bus stopped running at 7, so it’s last stop (where we got off) still left us with a mile walk back home.  But after 13 miles in Chicago, one more mile was no big deal :)   We walked back, I ordered some Thai food and we enjoyed relaxing for the rest of the evening.

It was such a wonderful weekend!  Walking gave us so much time to just talk and enjoy the sights and each others’ company instead of arguing about traffic and directions.  Our stress levels were super low.  It definitely convinced us that at some point in the future we’d like to spend at least a year living in a city.  I know I could certainly get used to being around so much great culture, shopping and food… as long as I have to walk there in order to enjoy it!  Now, I’m on a mission for the perfect traveling backpack.  The girlfriend and I are DEFINITELY doing this again.  We have our annual bus passes for our current town and a couple of other train trips have already been scheduled.  Life is good; a healthy/eco-friendlier life is even better :)