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Chicago 2004
Since I enjoyed travel blogging in Japan so much, I’ve decided to revive it again for my recent trip to Chicago. Kathleen was attending a conference there, and she used some of her frequent flyer miles to wrangle me a cheap ticket to Chicago for my birthday weekend. While she was enjoying her conference, I was obligated to endure the drudgery of sight seeing, eating the local delicacies, and shopping for cool stuff.

We got to Chicago on Thursday with about half the day gone, so we weren’t too ambitious. We spent a little time scoping out the area around our hotel which included finding the location of Kathleen’s conference which was a few blocks away. At that point, we were starving since our flight was during the lunch hour and our snack on the flight was a little bag of Fisher’s Cheddar Snack Mix. We went to Corner Bakery, a chain sandwich shop around 3:30 PM for a quick snack and had an awesome Chicken Pomodori panini sandwich. After that, our plan was to look around a little bit more and then go to a restaurant recommended by Fodor’s. The local restaurants it recommended were either way too expensive or we just weren’t in the mood for them, so, we went back to Corner Bakery and had another delicious club panini. Yup, they were that good.

Thursday night I attended the only event of Kathleen’s conference. It was a German show at the Adler Planetarium called Sonne, Mond, Stern & Co. (Sun, Moon, Star & Co.) Run screaming.

Friday morning I slept in late while Kathleen went to her conference. I stopped in at a local comic book shop called Graham Crackers Comics. The store was well stocked. I’m not a comic coinsurer but it seemed like they had a lot of comics I usually don’t see in local stores. I saw a lot of recent stuff but not as many graphic novels as in local stores. One thing that I did finally see was a PVP collection.

While I was there I asked if they knew of any other places to go for geeky fun. They pointed me to one or two book stores on the Magnificent Mile and a variety of bookstores on Clark Street which is in the northern part of Chicago.

For lunch Kathleen and I met up with an old friend from college, Jen, for lunch. We walked up Michigan and went to a neat Thai food stand called Wow Bao. Their culinary claim to fame are their bao, or Asian dumplings which were very tasty. The dumplings are filled with a variety of meats. I had Kung Pao chicken and BBQ pork and both were quite delicious.

For dessert, we headed to the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop. Kathleen was in heaven but Jen and I were a little worried. We both remembered the time Kathleen had a chocolate OD and didn’t want it to happen again. Fortunately, the shakes, sodas, and sundaes that we had hit the spot. We only overate a little.

After lunch Kathleen headed back to her conference and spent the rest of the afternoon walking up the rest of the Magnificent Mile. I spent most of my day in bookstores with side visits to Comp USA and Niketown.

The book stores were hit or miss. The dedicated gamers shop, Gamers Paradise, was pretty well stocked. They had a ton of board games with a smaller selection of RPGs (no GURPS though). The Borders was great. I found a lot of graphic novels I hadn’t seen before and read through them. I found a nice seat on the second floor that let me look out over Michigan so I could watch the crowds.

The Virgin Megastore was a disappointment. Since I had last visited it, it had gotten rid of a big hunk of its books and replaced them with music and DVDs which didn’t do much for me.

Later I caught up with Kathleen and we went to Buddy Guy’s BBQ. I got a rack of ribs there and it was quite good. The BBQ was different from southern BBQ. It was vinegar based and not as sweet as I used to. However, I still managed to overeat there. Fortunately, I gotten lots of exercise by walking everywhere. I easily racked up 5 or so miles worth of walking everyday, so I didn’t feel too guilty about eating too much.

On Friday, I trooped up to North Chicago and walked down Clark Street, another shopping area. To get there, I took the elevated train or “El” train. Although I have taken a lot of different kinds of public transport, the El was a new experience for me. Since you’re a couple of stories above the ground, it is a great deal for a tourist since you can see much more of the city than you can on a bus. I recommend it.

As I mentioned before, Clark Street is a long strip of small stores with a smattering of department stores. I also think that there must be a college nearby since I saw lot of students with laptops and piles of papers. I didn’t find anything too special. There were a couple of comic book shops that were well stocked but I didn’t find any good gaming shopss

There was a wide selection of restaurants in this area including Mongolian BBQ, Spanish tapas, and African, Ethiopian, Moroccan cuisine. Fodor’s suggested a sushi restarant called Matsuya’s. It had a very traditional look to it and was the first real sushi I had had since I was in Japan. I ordered a combo sushi plate which surprisingly, cost about the same as a similar meal in Japan. The quality was not as good though. The sushi didn’t have a very good texture, it was kind of soft for my palate. I think Japan has ruined me on sushi. The waitstaff also had kind of an attitude as well. Not all was lost, I did get my green tea ice cream fix.

One last word of advice if you plan on visiting Clark Street, make sure you pee before you walk down Clark Street since public restrooms are few and far between. At one point, I had to buy a donut at Dunkin’ Donuts to get access to a bathroom.

Later that afternoon, I hopped a bus back to the hotel. This was not such a pleasant experience as riding the El since there was a parade going on downtown and the bus made horrible time. It took the bus about an hour to cover the same distance as the El did in only half the time.

I did make it back in time to meet Kathleen and one of her fellow conference attendees for dinner. We went to an American restaurant called the Grillroom. It was very good and not too pricy, about $20/person. As their name indicates they do grill steak but all of us opted for other fare. I had a great spinach fettuccini plate that I couldn’t finish.

After we ate dinner, we went to a play at the Storefront Theater called Shakespeare Kung Fu. The idea behind the play was to take lines for Shakespeare’s body of work, come up with a new play, and add a dash of Bruce Lee. Unfortunately, it was not so good. The title and the concept implied that the presentation would be light hearted and have a type of quirkiness about it. Instead, they played almost the entire play as a straight Shakespearean tragedy of a king betrayed by his power hungry queen and her lover. It just didn’t live up to the strangeness that it should have been. I wish we were going to be there next month when Monty Python Spamalot reopened down the street.

Sunday morning it was time to go back home. I had decided to take the subway back to O’Hare since the trip length was supposed to be the same as the airport shuttle and cost $20 less. I also wanted to see what the Chicago shuttle was like. I was a little worried about how safe taking the subway so early in the morning would be. Chicago is a pretty friendly place for a big town, so I didn’t worry too much about it. All went smoothly and I made it to my plane and back to XNA with no problems. All in all, it was a good trip. Chicago is a great place to visit and I recommend a trip.

One last bit of advice, bring a coat one step heavier than you think. They don’t call Chicago the “Windy City” for nothing.