Chicago

by Danny Zawacki

Ellie and I decided to take a trip down to Chicago while she was back in August. She had three and a half weeks between moving out of her last apartment and moving into her new one so we figured a trip would be a great way to take advantage of our being near each other (I don’t know if I mentioned this ever, but she goes to school in Minneapolis and I live in the Milwaukee area). We had taken a day trip to Chicago before because she wanted to get Dunkin Donuts in Chicago. That’s a semi-long story that I’m not really sure I can explain well but it was an excuse to spend a day with her so I wasn’t going to say no. This time, we picked a weekend that coincided with my cousin’s wedding in Illinois. That way, we’d already be in the area.

Ellie on Navy Pier

This time around, we decided to stay the night so we could really enjoy ourselves. We could treat ourselves to a nice dinner and take time to sit and eat it. We could both have a few drinks. Hell, we could go dancing if we really wanted to because no one had to drive home or get up early the next morning. When we started looking for hotels to stay at, we realized two things. First, hotels downtown Chicago are expensive for a single night. Second, we didn’t know what neighborhoods would be good neighborhoods to stay in. On a whim, I decided to check HostelWorld.com to see if there were any hostels in Chicago. There were a few so I let Ellie know, and she liked the idea of staying in a hostel and we both liked the idea of the night being cheaper.

Me & Ellie on Navy Pier

Granted, when I booked the hostel, the IHSP, I still had no idea what neighborhood it would be in and if it was in a decent place. The night was more expensive than I expected but I’m guessing this had to do with the Air and Water show being that weekend. Anyway, we booked and hoped it would be nothing like my horror stories from Europe (no murder, just not well-kept places).

Navy Pier Ferris Wheel

As for our itinerary, we decided to hit up Navy Pier. After that, we planned to have a nice/fancy dinner together and then see where the night would take us. In the morning, we’d get brunch. Simple, but exactly what both of us wanted.

Ellie on the Ferris Wheel

Then disaster struck! Not really, but Ellie started coming down with a cold the morning we left. I’ll say it now before I get into any other details of the weekend, but she’s a real trooper when it comes to being sick and still having plans. I think she didn’t want to ruin the weekend for me.

Chicago Skyline

We got a late start getting to Chicago and ended up hitting a lot of construction traffic. We decided to head straight to Navy Pier and check into the hostel after so we didn’t end up missing anything at the Pier and so we didn’t have to do a lot of extra driving. This was a bit of a mistake since we had a lot of trouble finding a place to park and ended up parking in the lot for Nordstrom’s (remember it was busy because of the Air and Water show). Nordstrom’s was a huge mistake. For three to four hours of parking (the amount of time we were at Navy Pier wandering around) we ended up paying $43. Ridiculous.

Navy Pier Ferris Wheel

Navy Pier was fun though, if you don’t mind the crowds or the heat we had to deal with that day. I had never been there before and Ellie hadn’t been there during the summer so it was a new experience for us both. Navy Pier is a lot of shopping and other ways to spend money. I guess that’s what I had been told, and what I was hoping wouldn’t happen. We wandered for a while, had some food, and rode the ferris wheel. It was a good time, but neither Ellie nor I liked the crowds. There was too much being forced to hold hands and drag one another through the crowd. But the ferris wheel was better priced than either of us expected and we had a wonderful view of the Chicago skyline from the coast.

Hostel Room

After we paid our exorbitant parking fee, we headed towards the hostel. We managed to find free street parking a block from where we would be staying. Score. We went to the hostel to check in and were told we would have a surprise once we got to our room. The guys behind the counter didn’t want to spoil the surprise but all they told us was that it was more work to get to than the other rooms, but it was worth it. It was also in a different building. Ellie and I walked over to the new building and went up to the hostel. We searched the entire floor before figuring out that our room was up another flight of stairs, and then another. As it turns out, our rooms was in a small shack on the roof. There were two sets of bunk beds to accommodate larger parties (we had a private room). The best part was the view we had, from our private balcony. It was amazing. We lucked out because no other room in the hostel had this feature.

View from the hostel balcony

After spending a while ogling the view, we decided to find a place to eat. We picked out a few within walking distance but they all had long waits so we wandered around and found Lokal. The food was really good but the atmosphere left something to be desired. Ellie thought our waiter was drunk, which wasn’t helped by the fact that he was both bartending and waiting tables. I thought the music was too loud and the tables too long so she felt a mile away from me. Also, I’m pretty sure that the couple next to us was on a first date. Lokal was a fancy place to take a first date, if you ask me. Maybe that’s just my small town Wisconsin raising coming out.

Me & Ellie with the Chicago skyline in the background

After dinner, we grabbed a six-pack and sat on our balcony staring at the skyline as we polished it off.

Chicago Skyline at night

In the morning, we checked out and wandered over to a brunch place Ellie had found the week before, The Birchwood Kitchen. It was great food but since it was locally sourced or the menu changes weekly, I ordered something only to find out later that they had run out. Frustrating but my replacement dish was still good.

After lunch, we wandered around the shops to kill time before we had to leave for the wedding. I could tell that Ellie wasn’t feeling well at all and it made me sad that there was little I could do for her cold. She was on the worst of the cold and we were walking around Chicago in a high heat day. I certainly couldn’t have handled it.

Before leaving for the wedding, I had to stop at the Ukrainian store to stock up on my Ukrainian cravings. Ellie seems to enjoy my boyish joy while being in the shop. I always make sure to get her a chocolate bar for putting up with me. I also got a box of chocolates to take with to work. I think they were the best chocolates my office has seen because the box was gone in two days when usually something like that lasts a whole week. Go Roshen chocolate!

We ended up being late for the wedding due to traffic (it was in the Starved Rock state park), but the ceremony was short so our window was small. We made it in time for cocktail hour and Ellie got to meet some of my family. There was a photo booth which was a lot of fun, not only because it was free. I have pictures from it but I need to get my printer/scanner working if I want to share them. Also, I don’t think my dad wants those photos on the internet. Here’s one anyway:

My dad getting ready for the photobooth

It wasn’t this get-up, but at one point my dad knew exactly what he looked like and said, “Elton John, eat your heart out.”

That was our weekend. It was a good one despite Ellie coming down with a cold which was eventually passed on to me because my body welcomed it with open arms and turned it into two weeks of a sinus infection.