Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Chicago - Michigan Avenue

To me there's nothing more Chicago than Michigan Avenue. I absolutely love it and it brings back a lot of great memories from when I visited growing up. I don't actually get over there often even though I live and work not too far away. Too dangerous for the wallet and sometimes too crowded with tourists. But this spring and summer I hope anyone who is in Chicago visits. Michigan Avenue. Because I have a piece of art decorating the Mag Mile now. The sculpture was mainly designed by my friend Sarah but there were several of us who worked on the design team.

Several architectural firms have designed sculptures at the request of the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association. These sculptures can be found in the tulip beds along the street. Ours is located right in front of Tiffany's. The sculpture's were based on Daniel Burnham's plan for the city since this year is the centennial celebration.

We installed the sculpture last night at 10 pm. Mysteriously no one who passed by as we were digging in the dirt in the middle of the night gave us little more than a second glance. These pictures aren't the best since we didn't get all our lighting installed yet so hopefully I'll have some better ones soon. I included a picture from the shop so you can see it better.

At the welding shop

The awesome truck with flames we had to rent to deliver the sculpture

Monday, March 16, 2009

I forgot how expensive Europe is

The last two vacations we have taken have been to South America and our next big one that we're planning is to Thailand and Cambodia. Those destinations are relatively inexpensive, not including plane flights there and back. Now after looking into our budget for Germany I realized I forgot how expensive Europe is.

Last time I headed to Europe was in September to join The Husband on a business trip. I was able to stay in the room paid for by his company and the only real expenses we had were the tube passes and our anniversary dinner one night. One day while I was wandering around alone while The Husband was at work I even found my lunch for under $5 for a sandwich and a Sprite. This time we're extending The Husband's work trip by 3 days so we don't get the free hotel benefit this time. Luckily we found a great deal at one of the top ranked hotels on Trip Advisor, Fleming's Hotel Munchen City, for $120/night. But some things are beyond expensive. Like getting to and from the airport by train for the two of us is over $45. A cab would be $65. Here in Chicago it's under $10 to take the train to the airport.

Food is also expensive. After glancing through the restaurant recommendations on frommers.com, I saw that some restaurants that had only one $ sign, the lowest frommers gives, that have entrees in the range of $15-$30. I was hoping more for a sandwich for $8 for the one dollar sign category.

There are some great deals though. Like the train ticket for 28 Euros that gets us to Salzburg and Austria for the day. One train ticket is 28 Euros roundtrip and up to 5 people can travel on it. For the two of us that amounts to 7 Euros each way which is less than getting to the airport! The same ticket is valid to get to Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwagau Castles.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Time to Dust off the Passport Again

So I'm officially booked to join The Husband in Munich at the end of his business trip. I leave next Thursday and return home on Monday. Let's hope his trip holds because I'd really love go head to Germany. It pays to stalk the flights. There wasn't one available until today.

We're also hoping to take at least one day to go to Salzburg, Austria. 2 countries in 4 days. What a whirlwind.

I'd love to do the paragliding that I saw on The Amazing Race but since it wasn't planned I think we're going to try to keep this trip as budget friendly as possible.

And I realize I am incredibly spoiled. This is my fourth international trip in 6 months. 2 times to Europe and 2 times to South America.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A new destination?

The Husband is heading to Munich next week for work. He's due to come back on Friday.

Dare I hope that we can get a little weekend trip going in Munich next weekend?

Cross your fingers that I can get a flight using United points.

And any Munich recs are greatly appreciated. Even if I don't go I will grudingly pass them on to The Husband since he'll have two whole days to sight see since all he has to do next week is one day of meetings. Not fair not fair not fair.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Thailand/Cambodia is on!

We have FINALLY settled on dates that work with my exam schedule, our Holiday Inn points, the availability of United flights using rewards points, and our days off work around Christmas.

Here's our itinerary:

Sunday, December 27 - leave
Monday, December 28 - Bangkok
Tuesday, December 29 - Bangkok
Wednesday, December 30 - Bangkok
Thursday, December 31 - Bangkok
Friday, January 1 - Bangkok
Saturday, January 2 - Siem Reap
Sunday, January 3 - Siem Reap
Monday, January 4 - Siem Reap
Tuesday, January 5 - Phuket
Wednesday, January 6 - Phuket
Thursday, January 7 - Phuket
Friday, January 8 - Ko Phi Phi
Saturday, January 9 - Ko Phi Phi
Sunday, January 10 - Bangkok
Monday, January 11 - leave

We're using hotel points so we've already picked and booked some of our hotels. In Phuket we will be staying at the Holiday Inn Phuket and in Ko Phi Phi we will be staying at the Holiday Inn Ko Phi Phi.

Staycation in Chicago Part II

I've lived in Chicago for 3 years now and I still feel there are many areas around town that I don't visit often enough (or even never!) or know enough about.

Therefore we've decided this spring/summer/fall we're going to spend our weekends exploring the city we call home. And the beauty of this is all it will cost is the bus fare and the cost of lunch.

I got this list of neighborhoods off of the Chicago Greeter website (a free guided tour available of your favorite Chicago neighborhood if you book in advance). Check them out: www.chicagogreeter.com

These will be the neighborhoods we will be focusing on. I know we won't be able to do all of them and some we already know well.

Argyle Street
Beverly and Morgan Park
Bucktown/Wicker Park
Gold Coast
Greek Town
Hyde Park
Lincoln Park
Lakeview and Wrigleyville
Lincoln Square
Little Italy/University Village
Logan Square
Milwaukee Avenue
North Michigan Avenue/Streeterville
Old Town
Pullman Historic District
River North
Rogers Park and Devon Avenue
South Loop and Printer's Row
The Loop
Ukranian Village
West Loop and Randolph Street

I might read up on some books on Chicago history too because I'm a nerd like that.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Homemade Chipotle

The Husband found recipes for Chipotle's burritos and rice online and we decided to try to recreate it for dinner. While our burritos were very good we were missing a few key ingredients. We used salsa out of a jar instead of Chitpotle's delicious freshness. Our cheese was yellow cheddar instead of Chipotle's out of this world white cheddar. And we didn't have the specific rice type at home so we just used regular. Ahhh and we didn't have time to marinate the chicken for hours since we needed something now having just gotten home from work. So really we didn't follow the recipe at all I guess. Regardless, nothing measures up to Chipotle.

Restaurant Week Part II - onesixtyblue

This review is way overdue. We ate there almost 2 weeks ago for Restaurant Week but I was too lazy to get the pictures off the camera.

We ate there on a Tuesday. We had called nearly a month in advance for reservations and were told our two choices were 5pm or 8pm. Hmmm must be a popular place. When we got there it was pretty crowded but there were still tables available.

I loved the decor. Very warm and welcoming. The bar looked like a great place to have a drink. The Husband was embarassed when I brought out the camera so I don't really have any pictures of the restaurant. That's also why several of the pictures are really dark and basically suck because the flash was too much.

We had originally booked because their 3-course Restaurant Week menu looked fantastic. However by the time Restaurant Week had come they'd changed the menu a bit which was disappointing.

Then after looking at the regular menu I decided I wanted to get the blue crab ravioli and an appetizer instead of the Restaurant Week menu. Unfortunately they were out of the blue crab ravioli. I had been really excited about that too.

We decided to each get different appetizers, entrees, and desserts to try some different things. I got the short end of the stick with this arrangement as The Husband's appetizer and entree were vastly better than mine.

I had the chicken chorizo gumbo for an appetizer which had okra, molasses, and smoked rock shrimp. It wasn't really any better than other gumbo I've had. I wouldn't get it again.

The Husband had leek gnocchi with baby leek, leek emulsion, and black perigord truffle. This was delicious. I could have eaten a whole bowl of this.

For my entree I had the chicken and biscuits with a roast amish chicken, braised kale, and foie gras sauce. The chicken and the sauce was good. The biscuits tasted like any other biscuit I've ever had. And there were these little fried things on my plate which I thought would have chicken inside but they tasted like fish. I made The Husband try them without telling him what it was and he said it wasn't chicken either.

The Husband had the hanger steak. This was excellent and served medium rare. It came with fingerling potato, wild mushroom, and smoked italian sausage. Fingerling potato is just a fancy word for really good mashed potatoes.

I had the trio of sorbets for dessert that came with vanilla bean shortbreads. There was an apple, orange, and I think it was raspberry sorbet. Good, but nothing exceptionally exciting. The apple one had a great tangy flavor though.

The husband had the chocolate panna cotta which came with cocoa nib streusel, spanish peanut crisp, and coffee cocoa nib ice cream. He's not a fan of coffee flavor so the dessert was only so-so. You can see the foam in this picture. There was liberal use of foam throughout the meal. Definitely some in the leek gnocchi. Maybe in another dish as well.

I almost forgot. The best part of our meal was a fabulous sauvignon blanc. And because we are member's of the West Loop organization and have a special discount card, we got 50% off the bottle.
We really enjoyed our meal but I don't think we'd go back in the near future. There are too many other places to try and this one didn't make our favorites list.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I suck at life

We booked our trip to Thailand and Cambodia for next Christmas tonight. We originally wanted to leave the 20th to take advantage of DH having the 24th through the 29th off of work for shut down and come back 18 days later. Figured I'd be done with school then. However there weren't many flights available around using miles around Christmas and New Years so we had to switch things around.

We looked at about 80 billion different options in December and January so that we'd be able to use our miles and our hotel points since there were so many blackout dates.

We decided on Dec 11 - Dec 29.

And genius me forgot about a little something called grad school. Just checked the academic calendar for next year. Exams end on the 23rd.

Our trip dates won't work. Sigh. Hoping now that we can change it to leaving December 22nd and either hope my exam is before that or talk my professor into letting me take it early since I'm a distance learning student anyway (aka I am getting my degree online).

I hate myself so much right now.

Monday, March 2, 2009

So much to do, so little time

In an effort to get a handle on what our big Thailand/Cambodia trip is going to cost us next year, I've been doing some extensive research on flights and transportation, hotels, and activites.

My conclusion: we don't have enough time planned to do everything that we want. And it's stressing me out. We're already going to be gone for 18 days. Our vacation time bank can't take anymore of a hit. Realistically probably our wallet can't either. And I've also never vacationed for such a long time and in such a different culture so I'm worried I might get a little antsy being away from my usual food and my very comfortable bed.

I also struggle with balancing our time. We don't want to be those crazed tourists who have activities planned from 7 am until 10 pm and come home exhausted. But we also don't want to lounge in bed until noon every day and miss out on seeing and doing some fantastic things. If I wanted to be that lazy I could stay in my bed at home for free. So it's always a constant battle to get some rest and relaxation on vacation, pick only our favorite activities or experiences, and leave enough time for some spontaneity.