Thursday, January 22, 2009

Off and Running

We leave on Saturday for 10 days in Costa Rica. Between The Husband's travelling, the holidays, and a wedding, we haven't had a weekend together in about 6 weeks so I'm excited for some time alone. Unfortunately we booked this trip for in the middle of my semester at school so I may have to do a bit of schoolwork, mostly watching my classes. Hopefully I can get all of it done on the plane though. We will have a decent amount of downtime though. After our whitewater rafting adventure we have one activity planned per day which should leave an afternoon or morning each day available for relaxing. And I think it's perfectly okay if I need to watch my class while drinking a nice alcoholic umbrella drink by the pool.

I also started a post about my top 5 cities and destinations. Then I asked myself why I'd do that right before another vacation where I might find something new that rearranges my top 5?

And in a final note, I'm a little nervous about the whitewater rafting trip. I hope I don't look like an idiot to everyone else on the trip and I also hope I don't capsize and knock my head on a rock.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Budgeting for Vacations

This post will probably be a bit rambling. I hate budgeting for vacations. Case in point: while budgeting for our upcoming trip to Costa Rica I started nickel and diming it. I had us taking the El to the airport instead of a taxi. However, our flight leaves at 6 am (ouch ouch ouch!) and comes back at 10:30 pm (and we have to work the next day). The $70 for taxis both ways will be well worth it at those hours as opposed to walking to the El at 4 am. Then I had us bringing snacks with us instead of getting an overpriced lunch in the airport. I also think I underbudgeted on gas and insurance for our rental car so we haven't even left on the trip and I'm pissed we're over budget.

I work much better with a vague idea of what we'd like to spend (or what we plan to spend after booking hotels and flights) in mind and if we go over by a couple hundred, that's okay. The extra $300 we might spend is worth it compared to feeling like I need to account for every penny for 10 days. I also hate to feel restricted if we come up on something really cool to do or to buy or to go out to eat. After all, when's the next time I'll be back?

One thing I need to work on in advance is budgeting for activities. I tend to underbudget in this category. We tend to do a lot of activities on our trips and they really add up quickly. For instance next week in Costa Rica we're doing whitewater rafting, canyoning, hot springs, a zipline, and ATVing that are all costly. Plus some inexpensive nature hikes. That's $1000 right there.

Another category that tends to sneak up on me is travel within a destination. One would think that the big flight to Rio would have been the real expense (well ours were covered by air miles). But then we had a flight Rio to Buenos Aires round-trip for $800. Then a flight Rio to Salvador round-trip for $600. Then round-trip car transportation to Buzios for $300. That's nearly as much as tickets from Chicago to Rio would be. We're running into the same thing with our potential trip to Thailand. Flights within Thailand are pretty cheap but if we want to go to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat, it's $800 for 2 tickets.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Restaurant Week

The best part about the cold, gray, and slushie month of February is Restaurant Week. I believe Restaurant Week started in New York City several years ago. Even Dayton, Ohio had a restaurant week several years ago that I dined at with my mom. Chicago just caught on last year though.

We have reservations at two restaurants right now and we might add a third.

One of our reservations is at David Burke's Primehouse. This is one of our favorite restaurants. We really set out to try some new places but their menu was too good of a deal. Here's the menu for you to salivate over:

I can already tell you what I'll be getting. I'll start with the pretzel crusted crabcake while stealing half of The Husband's lobster bisque. Then I'll have the petite filet. It's half the size of the regular filet on the menu but I really don't need 12 ounces of beef anyway. When I try and eat the whole filet is when I also have the desire to unbutton my pants under the table. Finally I'm going to try the Apple Cheddar Pie for dessert which sounds like quite the interesting combination of flavors.

The other restaurant we chose is onesixtyblue which is owned by Michael Jordan. I feel onesixtyblue flies under the radar. I never hear about it but it gets great reviews. Plus it's in our neighborhood so we could theoretically walk if I wasn't going to be all dolled up in my heels. I'm really excited to try this place since it's a slight departure from our normal restaurants. Generally when we have a more expensive dinner out we choose steakhouses, seafood, or Italian. They are our favorites and if we're spending the money we want to like them. So we're excited to try some food that's a little more fancy. Here's the menu:

Here's the listing of all the restaurants who are participating in Restaurant Week:

And if you have any recommendations for a third restaurant let me know.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Chicago is Colder than Antarctica

I learned this little tidbit today: Summer temperatures near the Antarctic Peninsula vary between lows of 5°F to 10°F (-15°C to -12°C) and highs of 35°F to 60°F (2°C-16°C).

Considering tomorrow in Chicago is supposed to be a high of -1 F and a low of -12 F I would actually be warmer if I were in Antarctica right now.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Round the World Trips

I've been reading a few blogs and websites that detail people's around the world trips. Each page I read I have more ideas and inspiration about where to travel. And each website leaves me wanting to do my own round the world trip. But there are a few reasons this would never work out.

1. I'm a princess. Well not really but I really really like things like warm showers, comfortable beds, and not having to go to the bathroom in a hole. I've been debating hiking the Inca Trail for about a year now. But that's as far as I'm willing to go. I much prefer a Hilton. Or even better, a Ritz Carlton (not that I could afford to stay there).

2. I fly nearly everywhere. I get car sick easily so I prefer to fly. Which could get pretty expensive if we're travelling the world. And if I get car sick in a comfortable late model lovely rental car, can you imagine how I'd be feeling on one of those crazy busses careening through the mountains? No thanks.

3. I'm too logical and too much of a control freak. Quitting my job to travel the world? Gasp! That is too crazy for me. Not being in control of things that happen when travelling? It could give me a stroke. I'm able to keep my control freak away for our 2 week trips (and trust me it's hard). But I wouldn't be able to keep it tucked away for an extended period of time.

4. The thought of wearing the same clothes for 6 months to a year makes me break out in hives. As does the thought of having to leave my pretty shoe collection behind. I've gotten good at packing. I took a carry-on for 2 weeks in Brazil. I'm taking a carry-on for 10 days in Costa Rica. But I know I will come home soon and have access to all my pretty clothes. Plus the thought of packing for so many different climates is just too overwhelming. Bikinis for the beach and parkas for the mountains? Arrggghhh!

5. I don't like my husband that much. It's okay. He doesn't like me that much either. Actually, we like each other a lot. But spending pretty much all day, every day, together for such a long time would really wear on us since we're such independent people. Especially as The Husband travels for work and we're often apart, all that togetherness would really be a shock to us. We need our alone time and I think that would be difficult to find when we're in a small hotel room and there's few other people around to speak English with. Plus, don't you run out of things to talk about?

Monday, January 12, 2009

1000 Places to See Before You Die

The Husband got this book as a Christmas gift and I was being nice and not opening it until he had a chance to look at it first. He's been busy since Christmas travelling to Michigan, Ohio, and then a whirlwind tour all through England for work this past week so he finally got to crack it open tonight.

I suspect this book could be very dangerous. It will give me too many ideas for travel which is always costly. It will also deter me from my studying when school starts next week. After reading each entry I like to look it up on the internet as well.

The Husband also wants to have a race about who can complete the list first. He's crazy if he thinks we can get anywhere near these 1000 places. Luckily we didn't like the first place listed in the book anyway so we're off to a start for crossing some places off our list. It's a hotel near where he stays in England but first of all it's $400/night. Secondly, it's so fancy and ornate it's just not our style at all. It looks like Buckingham Palace and we much prefer things with cleaner lines and that are more modern.

After a quick glance through the book I'm not sure how they came up with some of these things. Gorgeous places that I've been to in Europe weren't in there and neither was one of our favorite attractions in South America, Sugarloaf in Rio. Yet I saw a hotel that I basically read sucks on Trip Advisor and a restaurant in Chicago that I'd never even heard of!

One thing to keep in mind is the book was published in 2003 (and hasn't been updated). Which means the research was done even earlier. Prices for some things listed are probably double now and I'm sure there are things that might not even be open any longer.

I'm sure the book will provide many things to add to the must-see list. We're also going to hit up some local things on the list. For instance, can you believe The Husband has never been to the Art Institute here in Chicago?

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I wish I had pictures for my first official blog post about a restaurant. But unfortunately I forgot the camera at home in my excitement to feed my famished stomach.

It was girls night out last night for me and a friend. We chose Follia since it's located right down the street from me. Which was lucky since there was a snow storm. We teetered over there in our high-heeled boots which was a mistake but what shoes were we supposed to wear? Flats would have gotten snow in them, heels were a mistake since it was slippery. But we were not wearing snow boots to this trendy restaurant.

The restaurant was very modern and trendy inside with a small bar in the middle. We split a bottle of pinot grigio that was very good. We shared two appetizers - caprese di bufala and prosciutto e parmigiano. The mozzarella in the caprese was amazing. Some of the best in the city You get a huge chunk of it right in the middle of the plate surrounded by seasoned tomatoes. The tomatoes were excellent for this time of year. The prosciutto was also wonderful although the parmigiano was only so-so.

For dinner we split a pizza. We chose the pizza casereccia which was a white pizza with mozzarella, gorgonzola, fresh tomatoes, and mushrooms according to the menu. I loved the hint of gorgonzola in the pizza. Not overpowering at all. I don't think I found a single mushroom in the pizza though (which is good because I'd planned on picking them out anyway). However, the pizza was a little overpowering with the amount of herbs on top (which was not mentioned on the menu).

Other negatives were I found the trendy plastic chairs to be fairly uncomfortable. Also, the prices listed on the website were much lower than the prices listed on the menu when we got there. Looks like they have some updating to do.

It was a good meal although not my favorite Italian in the city or even the neighborhood. You can also get the pizzas next door at Fulton Lounge. After perusing Fulton Lounge's website it also looks like you can get the caprese there too.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Staycation in Chicago

I've always wanted to do a staycation in Chicago. I'm thinking this summer I may take some time off since I have way more vacation days to use than The Husband. If you can come in the summer I highly recommend it. Chicago has gorgeous weather in the summer and a lot of outdoor activities to do. I always say that if Chicago had weather this great all year round it would be the best city in the world. Skip the winter. It's miserable. Even people who live here don't want to be here. It's very windy, frequently rainy or snow, and the sun is never out. Even worse after a lot of snow it is a slushie mess that requires rain boots to walk around the city. Here's some of my recommendations for activities. I'll do another post on restaurants.


Cubs game at Wrigley Field - highly recommended. Make sure to hang around the Wrigleyville neighborhood afterwards for some drinks. It's a great party atmosphere.

The beach - highly recommended if you are a midwesterner without access to water. I still think it's the coolest thing that there's a beach right downtown. Easy to get to by public transportation. Great outing if you have a bigger group. There's beach volleyball as well. There's also a nice path that you can walk, jog, rollerblade, or bike next to the lake/beach. It gets a little crowded on nice days so watch out that you don't run a kiddo over if you're on a bike.

Architectural boat tour - highly recommended. Do the one offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. They're the experts. The CAF also offers tons of different tours everyday if you're an architecture buff like myself. Walking tours, bus tours, lunchtime tours, happy hour tours, boat tours.

Chicago Greeter - highly recommended. The best part of this tour is you have a private tour guide. For free! I've never actually used this service but I used a similar one in Buenos Aires that was fabulous. So knowledgeable and passionate. We tried to get one in NYC but they were booked up way in advance so they must be good. I think I may sign the in-laws up for this when they come to visit though. They also offer some tours in Millenium Park that you don't need to sign up for in advance.

Hancock Building - highly recommended. But not the Observatory. Instead of paying $10+ to take an elevator up to the observatory, go to the Signature Lounge and get a $10 cocktail. Skip it if it's cloudy though. You won't be able to see a thing. Please don't be the tourist in a crappy t-shirt though. This place is classy. Alternatively, you could eat dinner at the Signature Lounge but since I've never eaten there I can't vouch for how good the food is.

Art Institute - recommended. Currently the city is awaiting the opening of the new modern wing of the museum by Renzo Piano. Expect large crowds this spring or early when it does happen. Currently the museum is free (except for special exhibits) on Thursday evenings. In the summer I think sometimes Friday evenings are included as well. If you can't make it on a free night the cost is currently $12.

Museum of Contemporary Art - recommended. I really like the MCA. Probably because I don't get as overwhelmed here as I do in other museums since it's a more manageable size. Admission is free on Tuesdays. Other days is a $12 entry fee but the museum is closed on Mondays.

Millenium Park/Grant Park/Buckingham Fountain - recommended. If you're going specifically to see the fountain go at night on the hour to see the light show. The fountain doesn't run in the colder months either. The parks have a lot of events. From ice skating in the winter to everything under the sun in the summer. There's concerts, festivals, a restaurant, the famous Bean (formally known as Cloud Gate). You can rent Segways or bikes or you can mini-golf.

Frank Lloyd Wright Tour - recommended. This is actually located in the suburb of Oak Park but it's easily accessible by the el (green line) from the Loop. Probably a must for serious architecture buffs, but enjoyable for everyone else. There's a couple different tours available, most being $12. Probably best to book in advance.

Field Museum - recommended. This is a great museum for people with kids. Lots of hands on stuff to do. There's a pirate exhibit coming up that could be especially fun. The Field Museum is located on museum campus along with the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium. If it's nice you can walk from the loop (a mile or more). Or else you can take the bus, taxi, or there is parking available on site. Absolutely do not drive down there if there is a Bears game though. A bus is your best bet since a taxi will be expensive with all the traffic. Admission starts at $15 for adults. Free days follow some crazy schedule but are listed on the museum's website.

Lincoln Park Zoo - recommended. The Lincoln Park zoo isn't anything special in terms of zoos so I wouldn't go out of my way for it. But if you've got kids with you, are a huge animal love, or are just walking through the park it's a nice stop. The best part is the zoo is free!

Museum of Science and Industry - recommended. This is another great place for kids with lots to do (and adults as well!). It is kind of out of the way, about 6 miles south of downtown, so it's probably best to drive there. Tickets start at $13 for adults. Free days are random (and mostly in January and October), but check their website.

Shedd Aquarium - recommended. Right now the Oceanarium is closed and is due to reopen in June of 2009. To me this is one of the main reasons to come to the Shedd so check the aquarium's website for updates before arriving. The dolphin show is great and has an absolutely beautiful view of Lake Michigan. In the summer they have a great program called Jazz at the Shedd with jazz music and drinks after work on Thursdays. Entry for adults starts at $16. Free days don't include any of the cool exhibits like the Komodo Dragon or dolphins or penguins so I don't think it's worth going on those days.

Adler Planetarium - recommended. I've actually never been to the planetarium but I've heard it's pretty cool Ticket prices start at $10 for adults. They have a special thing called Far Out Fridays on Friday evenings. Free days are listed on the website but are generally on Tuesdays.

Chicago History Museum - recommended. I've actually never been here either but have been dying to go. Chicago history has always fascinated me even before I lived here so I can't wait to go. Admission is $14 but free on Mondays.

Hull House Museum - not recommended. I went here once last summer because I was able to walk there from my house, plus it's free. If you're a huge Jane Addams fan (and really who is?) then I'd attend. It's generally not convenient to where most tourists stay and there's so many other things to do in the city.

Navy Pier - not recommended. Skip skip skip. This place is full of tourists, extremely crowded, and very expensive for activities, food, and drinks.

Evening Attractions

Ravinia - recommended. Ravinia is an outdoor music venue north of the city in the suburbs. However if you take the Metra there is a stop right at the entrance. Ravinia offers concerts by all different kinds of artists. Bring a picnic and hop on the train. There's also restaurants available on-site.

Second City or other Improv - recommended. Chicago is known for it's improv comedy. Chris Farley, John Belushi, and Tiny Fey? All Second City Chicago Alumni. Second City tickets are $20 on weekdays and $25 on weekends. There are many other improv shows that are worth seeing as well in the city.

Theater District - recommended. Theatres are located down in the Loop area. Currently Wicked has been running for years and is the big "to-see" in Chicago but that will be shutting down in a month or so.

Blue Man Group - recommended. A unique theatre experience in the Lakeview neighborhood. Tickets start at $49.

Magnificent Mile - This is what everyone thinks of when they come to Chicago. There's a couple malls, a Nordstrom, Macys, and Bloomingdales. Most of the stores are ones you can find in any mall across America, just giant-sized.

State Street - located down in the Loop. This is where the original Marshall Fields, now turned to a Macys, is. There's also a lot of bargain stores such as TJ Maxx and Nordstrom Rack.

Oak Street - located on a side street off of Michigan Avenue, this is where you go if you're rolling in the dough. Here is where the big designers are located. Prada, Barneys, Hermes, and Yves Saint Laurent are located here along with some fancy bridal shops.

Southport corridor - right off the brown line el stop. This is one of the places to go in the city for boutique shopping. You won't find much of a tourist crowd here.

Armitage and Halsted streets - off the brown line Armitage stop. Also full of boutiques and some upscale stores. There's a Barneys, Lululemon, Benefit cosmetics, and a couple consignment stores full of some very nice clothes.

Bucktown - off the blue line Damen el stop. More boutiques. Bucktown has more of a hipster vibe than Southport or Armitage.


Chicago is home to the Cubs (baseball), White Sox (baseball), Bulls (basketball), Blackhawks (hockey), and Bears (football).

If you're able to get Cubs or Bears tickets don't miss those games. The rest aren't that exciting unless you're a huge fan plus they can get pretty pricey.

Useful Websites - The Chicago Transit Authority's website. This website is useful if you're going to be taking the bus or the el. It lists prices for tickets and also has a feature that will plan your route for you. Keep in mind bus drivers will not give you change, you must have the exact amount. - Especially helpful for restaurant reviews. However, stores, spas, hotels, and anything else you can think of are reviewed as well. - For anything I haven't included on here. - Hotel advice. Since I live here I can't really recommend many hotels. - I love this hotel. We stayed here on The Husband's company dime when we came to the city to look for apartments. My favorite part is the happy hour they host every day with tons of food - things like mozzarella, prosciutto, and delicious bread. They also have drinks, including their specialty, Amalfitinis.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Pura Vida!

We leave for Costa Rica in less than 3 weeks now. It's definitely a much needed vacation to escape the nastiness of Chicago's ugly, cold, and grey winters. We've been trying to get on a winter schedule for our yearly vacation for a couple years. The last 3 years we've taken a vacation in the fall which I think is the best time of year around here.

Costa Rica is a small country but there is so many different areas to visit that we had a hard time narrowing down the choices. We decided to rent a car for the week and drive so that we wouldn't be stranded at our hotels and could see a little more of the country.

We start with a rafting trip down the Pacuare River. That night we stay at the Pacuare Jungle Lodge. The only way to get there is by rafting in. They have no electricity and everything is brought in by the whitewater rafts. It's a luxury eco-lodge and we're very excited about it.

Then we head up to the volcano at Arenal for a few nights. We are staying at the Arenal Nayara. While staying there we plan to hike to the La Fortuna waterfall the first day, then go canyoning the second day, and finally the third day we're doing the Sky Tram/Skytrek tour. We're also going to try out the new hot springs at The Springs Resort. We're hoping it won't be incredibly packed since it's new.

Our last stop is down in Manuel Antonio. We stay for 2 nights at Hotel Parador. We are going ATVing since we absolutely loved it while in Mexico. We're also going to spend a day hiking and giong to the beaches in the national park. And of course we're hoping to spot some monkeys.