Just like it's nickname, The Windy City, my recent trip to Chicago was a whirlwind of an adventure. I was only there overnight but I packed a hell of a lot into about 24 hours. The reason for the trip was to see Piccadilly roster artist The VonOrthal Puppets. The company was commissioned by Chicago's notorious Joffrey Ballet to create a life size puppet of Don Quixote's horse for their fall production. The company worked all summer on the horse and it debuted along with amazing ballet dancers and the Chicago Symphony last week to terrific reviews. VOP invited me out to see the performance and since I hadn't been to Chicago in nearly ten years, I jumped at the chance.
I have to first thank my colleague and friend Kristi who introduced me to AirBNB. Don't know of this gem? It's a great website to find hostels, room shares, room rents, etc. for pennies. A typical Chicago hotel room is well over $100/night. Even with Hotels.com, Hotwire, and TripAdvisor this fare stalker couldn't find anything to fit my budget, especially for one night. Enter AirBNB and I found a lovely room along the West Loop in the Fulton River District - minutes from everything - for $75.
I had lunch with a colleague from the Chicago Humanities Festival at a fabulous pub, appropriately titled English. From the outside, it almost looks like a whole in the wall that's been around since the 70s. Inside, it's a swanky pub with yummy food.
I had a little time to wander around but it was a cold and rainy day so I didn't get to really take in Grant Park or Michigan Ave. I also had lofty goals to see the Art Institute and slink around some vintage and antique stores on the west side but honestly, I was so damn cold that my mission was to find a sweater and then hole up in a coffee shop somewhere. I was definitely under prepared for 45 degree weather.
One place that stole my heart was the no kill animal shelter I passed walking to the pub. Right on the street with huge glass windows was a large shelter, Anti Cruelty, home to so many cats and dogs. I walked around the street perimeter and stared at all those precious doggies...so many who looked at me like, "Can I come home with you?" They all wore these sweet bandanas around their necks and many had personalized blankets and toys in their crates. I was really moved. So much so that I went to sleep that night worried about those animals - sleeping in there, cars and trucks and noises whizzing past them, lights that play tricks on them, scared and lonely when they should have a warm home and a bed to sleep in, with a loving family. Even from visiting this site now, it's clear this is one no kill shelter that does great work. Those precious dogs motivated me to find a local shelter and offer some service.
That evening I enjoyed delicious dinner with my colleague Cynthia VonOrthal and then my first ever ballet. I know - me. First ballet? Yes, it's true. I had a chance to see the Nutcracker at age 8 when I was still on Long Island but it was scheduled for mid-December -- after I would move back to the Philadelphia region. It's like it was never meant to be. I would never see the Nutcracker and it would be 25 more years before a saw any ballet. But as I learned from several colleagues, I didn't just see any ballet...I saw the Joffrey. It's easily one of the top 3 ballets in the nation. The company performed Don Quixote and for nearly 2 hours I was on the edge of my seat spellbound. It wasn't just the awesomeness of the principal dancers. It was the entire production, soup to nuts - the score, the story, the presentation/delivery, the life size horse puppet created by the VonOrthal Puppets, and the experience of having killer seats in a gorgeous old theater.
I hadn't been to Chicago in nearly 10 years. My trip back was incredible and followed by a mini tour of Lake Side Drive, fabulous views of the lake, more delicious food, and a tour of the VonOrthal Puppets' studio. I was treated like a queen and I'm forever grateful for this opportunity and the hospitality of my colleagues.