Saturday, February 28, 2009

Chicago Itinerary - Day 1 and Day 2

My Kind of Town

We're going to experiment with dividing up the travel days into two blogs to cut down on the large amount of information delivered in these installments. So, with no further ado, here's your first two days in the Windy City, my hometown.

DAY ONE - THURSDAY:

First Stop - Art Institute of Chicago
111 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 443-3600
http://www.artic.edu/


There’s probably two things you should never visit Chicago without doing, so let’s get those done right off the bat. No matter where you’re staying (more on that later), spend your first afternoon in Chicago taking in the city’s visual and culinary masterpieces: The Art Institute of Chicago and deep dish pizza. What order you indulge your senses in is entirely up to you, depending on your arrival time and your ability to digest high-density foods. Me? I’d do the museum first, because no way are you going to be able to finish your pizza and the take-home bag just won’t sit nicely in the baggage check at the museum. Be warned, they are rather severe about the size and scope of bags you can take into the museum, so be ready to fork over some time and money ($1 per item) to check your accessories. Sadly, one of the vital galleries to us fiber fanatics is currently closed. Admission is $12, and you can purchase your tickets on line by visiting the museum’s website at www.artic.edu. If you’re visiting in May, you’ll have access to the museum’s outstanding Textile gallery, when it reopens in an expanded space. Until then, we’ll have to cool our heels in the other world-class galleries and perhaps with a few inspirations from the museum bookstore. The point here is to saturate your imagination in color and pattern. Take notes (but not photos) of what appeals to you; colors, combinations, shades, textures. Chicago is a tapestry of neighborhoods, and your fiber finds from this trip should be no less diverse. Lucky for you, the museum is open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays, so you can get a full day’s visual gluttony in despite travel.

Next stop: Dinner at Pizzeria Uno
29 E Ohio St
Chicago, IL 60611
312-321-1000

Speaking of gluttony, no city on the planet does pizza like Chicago does pizza, and it’d be a crime to leave the city without tasting the real deal. While locals may debate endlessly on personal preferences, for sheer first-guy-to-invent-the-thing-superiority, Uno is the place to go. I’m a fan of the Spinnoccoli (a spinach, broccoli and cheese extravaganza), which according to the restaurant’s website Pizzanality preference test says my “outlook on life is all about happiness and fun.” Pretty accurate. But seriously, there’s no bad choice on the deep dish menu--they’re all great. The closest location is less than a mile away on Ohio Street. They’re open until 1 a.m., for crying out loud, but I can’t imagine what kind of nightmares you’d risk going to sleep with a gut-full of that stuff.

Waddle on back to your lodgings and complete the knitting you didn’t finish off in the car or on the plane, and rest up for tomorrow’s adventures.

DAY TWO - FRIDAY:

They don’t call it the Magnificent Mile for nothing. Today we’ll take Michigan Avenue from top to bottom, with a yarn-based finale because that’s why we’re here, right?

First Stop – Watertower Place
835 N Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 255-0693
http://www.shopwatertower.com/

From wherever you’ve decided to stay, get yourself to Chicago’s shopping epicenter, Watertower Place. Spend your morning wandering the seven floors of retail splendor. If you have any 9-12 year-old girls in your life, the American Girl Place is not to be missed. Lindt has a chocolate shop here on the top floor, and my personal favorite, WaoBao steamed dumplings in the lobby. You don’t need my help here—this place has everything.

Next Stop: Cheesecake Factory for lunch
875 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 337-1101
http://www.thecheesecakefactory.com/

Chicagoans take their cheesecake very seriously. Eli’s Cheesecake, the quintessential local brand, is available in a variety of retail stores but doesn’t have its own restaurant, so be Windy City-ish in spirit by lunching in this restaurant in the bottom of the Hancock Center just across the street. They have a gazillion varieties of the desert in addition to good food.

Next Stop:
Millennium Park and “The Bean”

http://www.millenniumpark.org/

Granted, it’s winter, but this spectacular 24-acre park could make anyone love cold weather. It’s even got an ice skating rink. The park really shines in the summer with its outdoor cafes, fountains designed for even grown-ups to play in, and outdoor free concerts; but it’s pleasant enough in any season. You owe it to yourself to stop and admire Anish Kapoor’s hugely popular Cloud Gate sculpture—what locals call “The Bean.” On paper, it sounds uninviting, but the interaction of people with their curvy reflections is just plain mesmerizing—you won’t be able to explain it, but you won’t care.

Next Stop: Garrett’s Popcorn
4 E Madison St
Chicago, IL 60602-4401
http://www.garrettpopcorn.com/

Another Chicago must-have snack is this terrific-smelling, terrific-selling popcorn. It’s a brief walk off Michigan Avenue—you might just be able to follow your nose. Locals all have their favorite combos of the three flavors, but I’m a CaramelCrisp purist. Be warned: sticky fingers are unavoidable, no matter which flavor you choose.

Next Stop: State Street
Like the song says, “That Great Street” is arguably, and geographically the center of Chicago. All the N, S, E, and W, directions start here at the intersection of State and Madison. Again, loads of retail options abound, so wander down State street until you hit Jackson, then cut over to Wabash.

Next Stop: Canady Le Chocolatier
824 S Wabash Ave
(between 8th St & 9th St)
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 212-1270
http://www.canadylechocolatierchicago.com/
Walk down Wabash, with Chicago’s trademark elevated trains overhead, to today’s sugar fix recommended by our yarn store, Loopy Yarns: Canady Le Chocolatier. Immerse yourself in a world that speaks the language of “ganache” and “fondant.” Whether you’re indulging in chocolates, gelato, or any of the other outstanding goodies available, this place is top-notch foodie-quality sweets. According to locals, the “Death by Chocolate” gelato lives up to its name, as do many of the other unique gelato flavors. You’re quite likely to run into the shop’s personable owner, Michael Canady, who will happily steer you to your own personal chocoholic bliss. The express train to non-nutrition never tasted so good.

Next Stop: Loopy Yarns
47 West Polk Street
Chicago, IL 60605
312-583-YARN (9276)
http://www.loopyyarns.com/

Now, while the sugar high is still kicking in, is the time to head on over to Loopy Yarns. Downtown yarn stores aren’t always around in big cities, but this one’s a dream. Tourist friendly, Loopy Yarns gets a lot of convention-spouse and visitor traffic, so they’ll happily welcome you. It has one of the largest book selections I’ve seen in a long time. With several art-oriented colleges within walking distances, you might even see teachers bringing students in for lessons on color, texture, and fiber. The owner Vicki Sayre is generous with her time and passionate about her craft, flitting from customer to customer to make suggestions, answer questions, or go digging for that last ball of chunky weight navy you just have to have. If you’re into sock knitting, this place is for you. They also have a huge selection of Cascade Superwash.

Friday night is Knit Night here, so pick your project and settle in to stitch with the locals. If you still need dinner (you might not), you can pop next door to Bar Louie and come back for more. I was delighted to find a great mix of folks—master knitters, beginners, young, old, men and women, even a charming dog--gathered for this weekly twilight fiber fest that goes strong until 9 p.m. It’s the perfect way to end a very full day.

Here are some project suggestions from Vicki at Loopy Yarns:

The Little Can of Pain kit from Chicago-based Lorna’s Laces.
For just over $20 you can make yourself the most darling pair of socks from this delectable hand-died yarn made right here in Chicago. The colorways are sumptuous and with the addition of a pair of size 0 sock needles (and, funny enough, a screwdriver/paintkey/quarter to get the thing open), you are good to go. If you’re a beginner just itching to dip your toes into the hand-knit sock pool, this is an excellent diving board.



Cascade Superwash Hat
Let the staff guide you to a hat pattern of your choice while you pick any of the dozens of colors of this stash-staple yarn. No matter if you prefer a pattern that uses straight needles or circulars, you’ll come away with a quick, comfy hat to ward off that Chicago wind.





Urban Beats Scarf
From a pattern by Malabrigo Yarn, but you'll have to wait to see my version for an image. But trust me, this is a showstopper of an accessory, guaranteed to make you look uber-cool and a master of your craft. It’ll be our knit-long project, so watch for more in later installments.

Stay tuned for the next two days of your Chi-town Fiber Fest.
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