Our Most Excellent City Adventure

Last weekend, we took advantage of a more-than fair trade.  During our two summer drives across the country, between Illinois and Colorado, we stayed at a number of Best Westerns since they (and Comfort Inn) often allow pets.  After staying at Alton, Illinois and then Wakeeney, Kansas—neither places that we’re eager to return to any time soon—we found that we had two out of the three required stays at a Best Western to make us eligible for a promotional free night of stay at another Best Western. 

Though we were not at all sure that we would indeed be staying at another Best Western before January 31, 2015 (the end date of the promotion), we decided to reserve a third night at a Best Western on our return trip to Chicago in August.  That landed us in a Council Bluffs, Iowa, Best Western which was the worst of the three stays.  I’m sure upper floors might have been superior, but our first floor room, right next to the noisy ice machine and the busted open door to the outside—and the only place allowed for people with pets—had seen better days.  But, ah well, we stayed the night and duly received the free voucher in an email.

A few weeks ago, I remembered that we needed to use the voucher soon.  I didn’t think they’d allow it, but I wondered if the well-reviewed Chicago River North Best Western would allow us to use the voucher.  Will was excited enough about the idea that he called them up—despite hating to call businesses—and sure enough, we got a reservation.  So, in return for paid stays in Alton, Il, Wakeeney, KS, and Council Bluffs, IA, we got a free stay in River North area of Chicago!

We dropped off Katie with her dog-sitter, took the el down, and walked the 3 blocks to a much nicer (and, yes, much more expensive) Best Western than the ones we stayed at in order to earn the free voucher.  And we had a glorious 22 hours in the city.

We started with a late lunch snack at Xoco (really only two blocks away from our hotel), then we walked down to the Christkindl Market in the Daley Plaza (above).  It was so crowded that we were barely able to get in before we found ourselves desperately attempting to get back out somehow.

Then we walked to State Street to look at Macy’s windows, a holiday tradition with us.  I snagged a picture of the famous clock and the plaque (above) that marked the old Marshall Field flagship store (before it was bought by Macy’s), and generally enjoyed the festivities of being in the city.  We popped into Macy’s for a little bit of warming up and to look at gourmet goodies in the basement floor.

Deciding that we’d like a little more to walk and a hot chocolate at the end of that walk, we made our way over to the Art Institute of Chicago.  Because we have membership at the museum, it’s fairly convenient to stop over there for an hour or two at a time.  We caught a mini-exhibit on Japanese prints of ghosts and demons, but honestly we were really there for the Member Lounge’s free coffee and (for the holiday season) hot chocolate.  We spent a blissful 20 minutes just relaxing and soaking in that refined artsy atmosphere until we saw that large families with children were swarming around the hot chocolate pot.  We decided that we’d better give up our prime lounge chairs to the groups scouting for seating.

As planned, we stopped by the line forming at Frontera Grill on the walk back to the hotel.  After a short wait, they took our name and cellphone number, and told us to come back in 40 minutes for our table.  Perfect!  We went back to this unexpectedly convenient Best Western, changed our clothes, and got back to the restaurant in plenty of time.  Will particularly loved his striped bass dish (below) which had an almond-jalapeno mole sauce and which was also grilled to perfection.  We both thought that the broccoli florets were especially well-flavored with the charcoal grill aroma!

In the morning, we had a delicious breakfast of spicy chicken “tinga” and light and fluffy lemon pancakes with a side of brown sugar cured bacon.  We also loved that coffee from La Colombe which they poured generously at Beatrix, a place we will definitely return to on our next visit to Chicago.

After breakfast, we walked all around the city, along the river, past the Wrigley building, down upscale shopping districts, and back towards our hotel on Ohio St.  Just east of our hotel, we saw that we had been unwittingly just minutes away from Eataly.  We stopped in, savored food porn—bought nothing—and decided that we’ll at least visit the wine bar there on our next visit.

Did we mention that we enjoyed our brief sojourn so much that we’ve vowed to make a habit of overnight stays in the very city we call home but never actually visit?  


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