Last updated: 03:50 PM ET, Sat August 22 2015

Dispatch: The Virgin's Trip to Chicago - Day 1

Features & Advice | Tom Bastek | August 21, 2015

Dispatch: The Virgin's Trip to Chicago - Day 1

Photos by Tom Bastek

“What do you mean you’ve never been to Chicago?” – This is the question that I have been asked for a long time.  It has always been tough for me to answer because, well, I really don’t have a good excuse for it.  I have been to almost every major city in the U.S. and Chicago has definitely been on my to-do list for a long time. Finally, the planets were aligned and a trip itinerary recently materialized.

We were flying American Airlines into O’Hare and to get into the airport by about 9:30 a.m. The wife and I are huge public transit fans, so there would be no rental car for us this trip. We bought our three-day all-you-can-ride pass and jumped on the Blue Line of the “L” and down into the city we went. 

We were staying at the Chicago Hilton downtown, right in the center of all of the places we wanted to see.  We needed to transfer from the Blue Line to the Red Line and there would be about a block walk between the two. Not entirely too bad with a large suitcase.

It is important to note that the “L” is an older transit system and that some of the stations are still not handicapped accessible. This would also mean that they are not large suitcase-friendly. The maps pretty clearly mark which stations are and are not accessible, and most of the stations are pretty good about signage warning about tight exits where you will not be able to get large suitcases through, but if you don’t know to look for them, you will be as surprised as we were.  Off the Red Line we go and in just a two block walk, we arrive at the Hilton Chicago.

The hotel sits right on Michigan Avenue, just south of The Loop and on the beautiful and spacious Grant Park. We checked bags with the desk and were about to leave when the bellhop stopped us and took us to the desk to check in.

I did not want to even try to checking in, knowing that it was 10:30 and no way was the room going to be ready yet. But the hop insisted and told us not to worry; they can send us a text when the room was ready. This is a service I not only appreciated, but was impressed by.

We had been up since 4 a.m., so an early lunch was in order and we had charted out a deep dish pizza place right around the corner. Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria is one of the oldest names in the business and there was no way we weren’t going old school for this meal.  The pies are made to order and you can expect about a 25-30 minute wait when you order it so we decided to start with the Calamari. 

The sauce that it was served with was a blend of petite diced tomatoes and spices with a decent dose of horseradish, and it was perfect. The pizza that we went with was the traditional Malnati Chicago Classic: lean sausage, some extra cheese and vine-ripened tomato sauce on a butter crust.  No matter what kind of pizza you order here, spend the $.75 and get the butter crust.  It is totally worth it.

Now that we had our energy back, it was time to get serious — we had a lot to see.  Our CityPass Chicago booklets were the best deal for us to see the top five attractions in the area at a discount and with supposed “line skipping” opportunities.  We’ll believe that when we see it.

The Field Museum was first on the list and a quick walk through the beautiful Grant Park. There were bike rentals available right there and the Museum Campus provides multiple miles of trails and paths to walk and bike on and through. Not to mention that it is lakefront and provides some of the best skyline views in the area.

Make sure you give yourself a full day or multiple part-days if you want to see everything in the Field Museum. We spent three hours and managed to run through Inside Ancient Egypt, The Vikings, China, and of course, two of our biggest reasons to come: to see the Tyrannosaurus Rex “Sue” and The Tsavo Lions

Incidentally, CityPass doesn’t allow you to cut the ticket line here, but it does get you an IMAX movie and free entry into all the special exhibits for free, which are normally charged for.

Next we went to the Shedd Aquarium, which also lies on the same campus and is more than just your typical aquarium. Upstairs is very similar to what you will find at most aquariums across the country, but the real gem is the downstairs area. In addition to a 3D SpongeBob movie (which we passed on), they have an aquatic show in their Abbott Oceanarium which is an amazing site to behold. 

The glass wall behind the aquatic pool looks right out on the lake and when the show begins, a retractable screen comes down in front of the windows.  They work with belugas, dolphins, and even dogs to show you just how the animals are cared for and trained. It was worth the price of admission all in itself. CityPass got us past the ticket lines and right up into the will call section, which made for a serious time saver.

After receiving a text that the room was ready, we were set to change into some fresh clothes and head on out to Wrigley Field for a Cubs Game. Our room was on the 20th, one of the recently renovated floors, with lake and south city views. The style is very reminiscent of the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, with a chic, muted color scheme which definitely says polished without pretense. 

Riding the Red Line on the “L” is pretty much how everyone gets to Wrigley, and today was no different. The weather was cool and sunny, the Cubbies were on a five-game winning streak, and there wasn’t going to be an empty seat in the house. This means that there was a sandwich fest in the train cars. 

After riding north and guessing as to where we were supposed to get off by just, “following the crowd” we made our way around the stadium for the traditional picture in front of the original sign.  We headed in, grabbed a true Chicago Dog and caught some batting practice before settling in and enjoying the rest of the game. 

We grabbed a bite that night at Kitty O’ Sheas back at the hotel and if you were wondering where the influx of Irish pubs came from in the late '80s and early '90s in Chicago, it all originated here in 1984.

The owners brought in authentic servers and bartenders direct from Ireland to provide the proper atmosphere of a true Irish Pub.  

The Fitbit says we did 18,061 steps today and we feel like it. 

Can’t wait for tomorrow.

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