…and they have a great time!
We wanted to go to Chicago without spending an arm and a leg. Although we’d agreed that it would be “fine” to “spend money” on our vacation, in the end we didn’t spend too much, and we still enjoyed ourselves a lot.
Step 1 was finding a place to stay. After considering all modes of transportation, we decided to drive to Chicago. But – what to do with the car? Parking is expensive downtown, and even some of the nicest hotels charge for parking. We could have stayed outside of Chicago (way out) and taken public transportation in, but we wanted to be right in the city. We just didn’t want to pay city hotel prices. Therefore, we booked a “deluxe” private room in a hostel (meaning, it had a toilet/sink, but a shared bath for showering). Chicago Getaway Hostel was without a doubt the best hostel we have EVER stayed in. It is well organized and run, immaculate, roomy, friendly, and overflowing with amenities. For instance, in addition to computers in the common area, you could check out an iPad “if you want a little more privacy.” They have guitars you can play, games both electronic and board-variety, a huge flat-screened TV, a grill in case you want to grill out, and an enormous kitchen with large coolers and freezers for your food. (They also provide separate bins for each guest to store their food.) To top it all off, they offer breakfast – included! This was all vegetarian, and could be vegan with the addition of your own soymilk. They had hot oatmeal, cold cereal, bread and bagels, and fruit. I showed up with my Trader Joe’s gluten-free granola and a bottle of soymilk, rice cakes and my own peanut butter, but I did enjoy the raisins and fruit 🙂 And tea. Best of all, we were able to park in their lot for less than it would have cost at commercial lots in the neighborhood. No, I take that back. Best of all was when they gave me another towel when I asked. (A year ago, in a Chinese hostel, the night clerk, who spoke no English, had a different response to that same request. She picked up the phone and called (her manager? the custodial staff) and said, “The foreigner wants a towel.” Then she charged us for it.)
Step 2 was deciding what to do with our time. On our first day, we wanted to walk to the lake, and then down through Lincoln Park and the nature center, and then head over to Millennium Park. These were all places we’d never been, and it was all quite walkable. The only hitch was that we are in the middle of a heat wave, so we needed frequent hydration/shade stops. We’re not too big on zoos, but it was on the way, so we just walked through. I had scoped out as many restaurants as I could, beforehand, in as many neighborhoods that I thought we might visit, and between the parks there was a restaurant that claimed to offer both vegan and gluten-free food. This was Karyn’s Cooked. (She has a raw bar too!)I had never heard of it, but apparently there are three venues and we just got lucky to find this one! It turns out to be ALL vegan, with many gluten-free items. In fact, there were so many choices that I dithered over the menu forever. In the end, it was just too hot for anything really cooked anyway. I had to say no to the lentil “meatballs” on gluten-free pasta, and the stuffed eggplant, and the mac and cheese, and get a salad. It was a delicious salad, with grilled tempeh and hemp seeds! This is an amazing place, and I can’t wait to go back again.
Fortified with our salads and agave-sweetened lemonade, we continued south to Millennium Park. By then it was 94 in the shade, and we sure wished we could join the kids frolicking in the fountains! As it was, we were close enough to get the spray….
Despite having gone to the actual China, we have never been to Chinatown, and we wanted to go. That was another few miles south… with another few breaks for water and juice…. but we certainly knew when we’d arrived!
Again, I had searched the internet for vegan-friendly Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, and there were two that got great reviews on Yelp! However, in the same neighborhood, we found one that was very comfortable, very authentic (i.e. offering stuff like pigs-blood congee, and other stuff I would never eat), and very delicious. And inexpensive. This was Chi Cafe. We were still kind of full from lunch, but couldn’t resist ordering braised mushrooms and tofu, and garlic spinach. We had a lot of leftovers, which we ate for lunch today…. mmmmm…
After dinner it was time to head back to the ranch. After walking at least ten miles in the heat, we didn’t have anything to prove… so we took the CTA. As the sun set over Chinatown, we reflected on how well everything had gone.
This morning, we got up and ate the aforementioned breakfast, walked down to the lake, realized that it was already 95 at 10:00 a.m., and had to make a decision. Head somewhere air-conditioned for the day? Or just head home and get ready for tomorrow, and the next step of our vacation week? “Home” won, and we were pretty glad, because the temps rose over the 100 mark. Chicago was fun, and we’d like to go back when the highs and lows are slightly more reasonable. In the meantime, we have the memories!