Chicago – girls get together

Chicago – girls get together

Chicago was on my itinerary because it was the place for a get together of my internet friends. We had been chatting for years and it all started because we were all expecting kids in the same month.
My second daughter was very much planned to the month. She needed to be born right in the break of my third and fourth year in University. So I ended up on a board where I learned all about charting and stayed there when I got pregnant.
Awhile after the kids were born, the forum became paid and a group of us left. Set up in another place. Then moved again, probably a year later, and have had our own little private place since then. After all the years and moving, now we have probably about 14-15 regulars and 10 casuals, mostly from the US, but a few from Canada and Australia.

The Big GetTogether had been in the planning stage for 2 years. That decision was taken, so people had time to save up if needed. I never actually thought I will make it, as it was always going to be somewhere in the middle of the US. Until this trip came up…

So, I was on my way to the windy city to meet up with my buddies. And since that was the reason for me being there, this will be slightly different than my other entries, as seeing the city was not my main priority.

Leaving New York was a bit sad, I must have enjoyed myself. The terminal I was flying out of was much newer than the one I arrived in. The strange thing that I noticed for the first time here is that they dont have belts that take the luggage from the check in counter to the main belt that takes them to the sorting areas. None of them. So, what happens is they weigh it on and then a person comes and moves it from the scales to the big belt?! If that is not a waste of money and effort, I dont know what is.

The plane was the smallest I had been in since my very first flight. It had two seats on one side and three on the other and was so low, you cant really stand up straight in it. There was one flight attendant, probably because they couldnt possibly fit more in. Quite surprising, since I was traveling from one of the biggest cities in the US, to another, not some obscure destination.

The flight was supposed to be short, but took awhile to go through the departure queue in JFK. Then I believe we were served a quick something by the lonely flight attendant.

I had already scoped up the public transport from the airport to the hotel, so after arriving, I got my luggage and headed to the train – $2, instead of the $27 for an airport shuttle. I will take that.

The ride took about 30-40 min or so. Then I was in the midst of Chicago.

It was a sunny and hot day. On the map the hotel didnt seem that far from the station, but it felt like I was trying to get to the end of the world when I was walking it – backpack, suitcase and poster tube under the hot sun with a huge belly…

Reached the hotel and it was packed. It was so strange to be in a big hotel with buzzing conference suited people, after all the tiny places I have stayed on my trip so far. Kind of annoying actually. I had to wait in a queue to check in. All went smoothly and then I had to carry my bags to the next building, where the room was. The space was ginormous! Two double beds for me to share with my Canadian buddy and extra room to spare. I was exhausted. I knew she is arriving a few hours after me, so I decided to sort out the Internet and advise the family that I have landed safely.

The thing about higher priced hotels is…that they rip you off on everything they can. You stay in a small cheap, clean establishment with friendly people and wireless internet is free. But, you stay in the Hyatt and Internet access is $13.50 PER DAY! Does anyone else see the irony?

After getting past the pocket rape, I wanted a coffee. Well, in the Hyatt you are allowed only two coffees, one per person a day. If you stay in a smaller cheaper place, there are piles of free coffee sachets at your disposal. Not impressed. Thank goodness we got a great rate for the place, or else I would have been fuming in my skin.

Later I got a call from reception and the girls that had already arrived and the introductions and welcoming parties were on their way. It is a strange feeling to meet people in person that you have shared as much as we all have, but have not seen each other up until now. There was a bit of an adjustment period, I guess, as it was about day 2 or later when it felt like we were more comfortable and relaxing in each other’s company.

Half the girls had brought the children with them and half came by themselves. Most outings took some time to organize, which is understandable – a bunch of people to coordinate and make sure people were not left out or their wishes ignored.

This is where we had breakfast twice – The Corner Bakery.

Nice, well priced breakfast for all. And it had free internet, just for the information of anyone that stays at the Hyatt and wants to avoid being ripped off.

As you can imagine, there was a lot of chatting, walks along the river, laughs and tiny tantrums from lovely kiddies here and there.

We had planned to visit The Taste of Chicago from the get go, when we found out it was on at the time of our meet up. So, on opening day, we were on our way, through Millennium Park.

The day was hot and muggy, but thankfully cloudy. We could tell the place would be packed the next few days as even from that early on, the crowds were smoldering.

There were a lot of stalls and all kinds of food to try. Taste plates were just a few coupons and allowed us to try things, but a lot of the time we just shared. I had done a quick research online about what is good and had a list of things I wanted to try.

Spinach and mozzarella pizza was one…

It was yummmo, as agreed by my now not only room, but pizza sharing Canadian buddy.

Pad Thai noodles..

Also, lovely and fresh and delicious.

Mozzarella filled bread…

The bread was crunchy and inside was gooey and scrumptious. Another hit!

Some were not impressed by all this taste extravaganza and decided to spend their time doing better things and ignoring us. Isnt she a little doll?

We rested on the grass and let the kids run around after awhile.

On the way out I grabbed some…what was it…I think it was a goat meat with something. No one wanted to share it with me, for some reason, anyway. But it was also good.

Walks around to shops and errands and seeing a bit of the city. Chicago is like a clean freak, after the grubby New York I saw. It is beautiful, clean and very interesting with its fascinating architecture and well appointed streets and parks.

Unfortunately, as you can see, they too have that strange case of amnesia or loss of ability to tell the country they are in, as the flags are everywhere here as well.

We had to try the famous Chicago deep dish pizza, didnt we?

I take that as an agreement ;)

I loved them! We got a veggie one, a spinach one and normal unstuffed one.
Loved them all! The part that really did it for me is that you get heaps of “toppings”. I hate to order pizza and have to search for the ingredients amongst the bread. If I want bread, I will order one.

Look at this:

This was the veggie one and you can see there is no shortage of the little buggers. Neither of mozzarella, as it spread like a huge elastic when you try and pick up a piece. Delicious with the crispy, tasty crust. Approved!

Not to give out trade secrets of our society, but when one of us is expecting a new baby we do a “shower” for her. This usually includes making some special present for her – like a quilt from pieces decorated by each of us; book with pictures and messages; scrapbook with pages from everyone. The best part is that it takes a lot of organizing, as you can imagine, and we are from all over the place. We also include a sizable gift card, to top the whole thing off.

Since we were getting together, we thought it will be a fantastic opportunity to finally have a real shower for the other pregnant girl in our group (since then, we have had two more). I suspected that something was planned for me too, because there were a bunch of weird comments here and there on the board, but didnt think they will throw us a double shower:

The atmosphere was so fun, especially with all the kids around:

There was even a cake!

I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I only had a shower for my first daughter and just assumed that was it for me. To be surrounded by friends and celebrate the upcoming arrival of my third child was a warming experience and quite surprising.

The presents were varied and some quite unique (pads!). My special gift was a photo album with greeting cards from all the home places of the girls and message and pictures on the back! How thoughtful and appropriate for this travel photography junkie! I started going through it on the spot, but had to stop cause the hormonal tears were starting to flow. And of course the gift card.

This is all from women I had never met before. Thank you, all! It was all perfect and very much appreciated. I still cant look through the album without tearing up ;)

We spent a lot of time in the “hot spot” – mine and lovely Canadian room mate’s room.

I have to say, I really enjoyed that. Felt like we were school aged or something and just lounging around, chatting, drinking the scarce coffee available and just lapping up each other’s company.

For the last night in Chicago we had planned a nice walk to Portillo’s and some typical local food.

Coming here, I wanted to try three things – deep dish pizza, hot dog and Italian beef sandwich. The first we had already done and since the last two were available at Protillo’s, guess what…I ordered them both. Not only that, but ate them too!

I present to you the Chicago hot dog:

Very nice and surprisingly light. The other girls didnt follow the rules and did the unthinkable – put ketchup on theirs, but I had it as the locals do – without.

Then on the stage comes the Italian beef sandwich:

I have to say this surprised me. What a delight in this juicy affair. The meat is tender and I think the bread is almost dipped in the beef broth or something, but the whole thing is very much wonderful to the taste buds. Thoroughly enjoyed by me and I think all that ordered it.

Others in the company preferred something less savory, but equally messy:

Then we were off for another walk and to Navy Pier to catch the fireworks. On the way we lost a few of the moms with kids, as some were getting tired.

Navy Pier is like a very touristy entertainment park. It was packed.

We walked around a bit and then sat down on the ground outside to watch the fireworks.

They were worth it. Nothing mind blowing, but nice enough and the night was warm, which made the walk back to the hotel quite pleasant.

This is the park where we went to enjoy some early breakfast and coffee and to take the very important group shots. As we were not arriving and going at the same time or days, there was a small opportunity in which everyone was there and available for this vital moment of the trip.

The park is called Memorial Park and was right on the river. What a lovely place.

And here are the lovely ladies:

As I said, the park itself was fantastic.

The weekend ended entirely too soon. Just as we reached that comfortable relaxed level and we had to say our good byes. But it was all so worth it. Our relationships has changed for the better and that will never fade away. It is really quite different to ‘know’ the people and have met them in person – their voice, their mannerisms and weird or endearing traits. I was hoping to hear more feedback about the  impressions we left from the others, but I guess they are more diplomatic than I. I tried to give them mine, cause I am not so nice ;)

And Chicago… I didnt get to see nearly as much of it as I did the other places I visited, but I loved what I saw – beautiful city, well appointed, well kept and impressive. If I get another chance, I would love to have a better look around, as I feel there is a lot more to it and discovering it will be a nice journey.

Cheers, Chicago!