Windy City

28 Feb

If you’ve been wondering what happened in the Windy City, here it is, recounted in full detail!

Our trip to Chicago this weekend was amazing. I’d never been there before – and admittedly February isn’t the best time to go. But, it wasn’t over-crowded like it would be in the height of summer tourist season, and the weather really was relatively mild compared to what they normally experience up there. Our hotel was probably the best I’ve ever stayed in, and we had great food every single meal.

We purposely packed light so we wouldn’t have to check any bags. That ended up being a really good idea, because we didn’t have a ton of stuff to lug around everywhere. Even though we did have to keep up with our bags the entire time, and make sure they got gate-checked and all that business, it was much less hassle than checking them, trusting the airline would get them on our plane, and then get the bags back at baggage claim. Not to mention that we were only up there for a weekend, so we really didn’t need that much. I wish I’d been able to bring my art therapy portfolios to look at on the plane, even if I didn’t end up bringing them to the interviews. But that just would have been one more thing to carry around and risk losing. And let me tell you, those things are pretty hefty, and I certainly don’t want to lose something irreplaceable like that. So not taking the portfolios ended up being a really good thing.

We left at noon on Friday and flew out of the tiny Tri-Cities airport and into Detroit. It was snowing up there, so we were a little worried that we wouldn’t be able to get our connecting flight out to Chicago. In fact, we ended up changing gates after a delay, and then sitting on the runway for quite a while. They even had to de-ice the plane – something I’ve never seen before! It’s just like being in a big car wash, except that you’re of course sitting in a plane. They come up on either side of you and spray this stuff all over it – I guess with chemicals that fight the ice on the outside – with these big trucks that look like something Mike Rowe would drive on Dirty Jobs. Anyway, we finally got into the air and had an uneventful flight. In fact, all our flights were pretty uneventful, which was good. Nothing like being stressed out about traveling when you’re already stressed about your interview!

So once we got into Chicago, we bought metro passes and hopped on the train. That’s the good thing about cities like that – you don’t really need a car when you’re traveling. It was a lot like when we went to Cleveland last year, how the train left from the airport and went straight into downtown. Except this time, it didn’t go right into the basement of our hotel. We had to get out and walk a few blocks, which wasn’t too bad. We were, of course, tired and hungry by this point, but weren’t absolutely freezing. We found our hotel OK, thanks to the handy map navigation on my phone. If you’re ever in Chicago, I highly recommend the Renaissance Blackstone. It’s probably the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in. It’s in this old building from like the 1920s or something, completely refurbished with a great mix of old and modern touches. The beds were nothing short of incredible…soft down comforters, feather pillows, down mattress toppers. I think I could have spent the rest of my life in that bed. I know my mom could have – that was definitely the thing she will miss most about our trip! She was a little reluctant to leave it behind. The hotel room was pretty fancy – it even had an iHome as the clock radio. Pretty impressive! The hotel was right on the lake; we had requested a lakefront view, so we got to look out over the park and see the pretty snow and the frigid waters of Lake Michigan. We could see the buildings of the city out to the left, and all the way up to the Navy Pier and the children’s museum. In the other direction we could see the aquarium out in the distance. It was such a pretty view, both at night and during the day.

By the time we got checked in and settled, it was like 8:30 Central time, meaning 9:30 our time. And we hadn’t eaten dinner yet! So we headed down to the hotel restaurant to have a small bite. Except that on Friday nights, it’s apparently a hotspot until late at night, and they only take reservations. But no worries – there was room down at the bar for us to sit, which actually ended up being much better than the crowded, noisy restaurant above. We got to sit on comfy couches and watch the Olympics that were on at the bar. When we booked the hotel, we had no idea that the restaurant inside, Mercat a la Planxa, was food from Barcelona! How lucky – my favorite place in the world! We each ordered a glass of wine – the first one I’ve had in quite a while – and wouldn’t you know it was an amazing albarino! The trip was already off to a great start, and it had barely started!

Everything we ordered was delicious. They had an amazing cheese selection, which we didn’t try but were very tempted to! I ordered scallop and shrimp meatballs, with marinated grapes and a delicious mushroom and cheese sauce on top. Oh. Man. It was divine! Scallops have got to be one of my favorite foods ever, and to have them in meatball form, with sour grapes and a delicious sauce on top. Yum. Yum. Yum. My mom ordered bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with almonds. Also incredible. Just the right amount of sweet, sour, and salty to satisfy our appetites. I don’t think I have enough words to describe how amazing this food was. I wish I could have more – my mouth is drooling just thinking about it! Definitely one of the best meals of my life!

The waitress forgot to put in one of our orders, so it arrived a little late. She felt bad and gave us each a free glass of wine. We weren’t complaining there! And it actually worked out better, because we got to spread out our eating a little bit and not just gorge ourselves all at once. We ate leisurely, and actually felt more full that way. And to top it off, they made an extra plate of the stuffed dates in the kitchen and thought it was ours! Of course, they couldn’t take it back, so that meant extra dates for us! Free flatbread with pancetta, an extra glass of wine, and an extra serving of yummy dates? I’ll take it! All in all, a way better experience than we were anticipating!

After our late European dinner, we were exhausted. We headed back upstairs (we took a quick detour to see their amazing gym on the way up), got everything ready for the next day, and went to bed. I can’t remember the last time I was in bed that early! The next morning we got up and got ready for Interview Day. I put on my professional suit and made sure I had the extra copy of my resume on hand, and we took a taxi up to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It wasn’t very far, and we could have walked, but I’m glad we didn’t. No sense being stressed out about getting to the School and being out of breath and cold when you get there! Our taxi driver was flying down the streets; it was so early on a Saturday that it wasn’t very busy yet, and more than once I thought I was going to die right there in that cab! But we made it to the School OK, and were kind of relieved to leave that driver behind. Everyone had to check in at the desk – the lady at reception would NOT let anyone get by her without knowing what they were doing in that building! We headed upstairs to the grand ballroom – yes, ballroom. And it really WAS grand! We got our name tags and our schedules, and they took a picture of everyone. Of course, unsurprisingly, everyone there to interview was a woman. There’s just a certain type that art therapists fit…

Anyway, the long day began. My mom stayed downstairs and left to walk around the city for a while. I was really surprised that there weren’t any other parents there! Not that I absolutely needed her – I mean, it was my interview, after all – but I can’t imagine going to a school neither of my parents has ever seen. I’m glad she was there just for the support. So she walked around downtown and explored the city a bit while I was in my long day of interviews. We started out as one big group, hearing about the program from the faculty. We all had to get up individually to discuss a piece of artwork we had submitted on a slide, as well as talk about our community involvement and volunteer work. I had a sneaking suspicion they would make us to this when they asked us to submit a slide for presentation, on top of our regular portfolios. This took forever, because everyone had to get up and do this, and some were definitely more long-winded than others. I have no idea what I said, but I know it was intelligent and concise. I figured out pretty quickly they were going in alphabetical order, so I was right in the middle, which suited me fine. I didn’t want to be the very first, nor did I want to wait and wait and wait and get really nervous for my turn.

After the formal presentations, we took a short break and were divided up into smaller groups. We were all sitting at tables with random found objects in front of us. I am no stranger to this – more often than not, we went to class to find something like this in front of us. Our only instructions for this activity were to make something using the materials. My group decided to do something together at first, but then chose to work on things individually and then put them all together later. So we all worked on our random, found-object masterpieces. When we were done, we had to write for about 20 minutes about our experience. This, also, was something I’m used to doing. And even though I know the drill for something like that, it’s still hard sometimes to think of anything to do. It’s usually best to just start putting things together, and see where you end up, rather than come up with any kind of plan. After this exercise we had some presentations about studio art practice and thesis research from some students, and then had a student panel with current grad students. It was nice to hear their perspective without the faculty around.

Next was a short break for lunch before our afternoon interviews began. I met my mom downstairs and we walked around the corner to Au Bon Pain for some lunch. We had some soup and salad, and I told her about what I’d been doing all morning. She, in turn, talked about what she’d discovered downtown. She had, of course, been inside a bookstore she found, as well as a couple of art shops and an exhibit about the revitalization of downtown Chicago. We had a little bit of time to kill until my interview, so we went in some of the little stores that she found on her morning of exploration. There was one great one called Art and Artisans where she had bought a pair of cute gloves that morning made from old sweaters. I found a beautiful scarf in the store that was handmade in India, and decided it was going to be my Chicago souvenir. It’s so pretty – handspun, hand-dyed, hand-woven silk from India, with pretty flowers on it. I love it. It’s not really practical for the cold weather here, but it will look great in the coming months back at home.

My individual interview appointment was coming up, so we walked back to the school for it. I went back to the ballroom where I met with one of the faculty for about 20 minutes. I felt really nervous – I’m not sure why, because I feel like I can talk about myself a lot better in front of just one person rather than an entire group. Maybe because this was the first interiew I’d done – I guess that’s why I was nervous. I feel like I talked a mile a minute, but I said everything I needed to say.

So that was the official end of the interview process. But the day was far from over – it felt like we were just getting started! After everyone’s interviews were over, there was an optional campus tour for everyone. Of course we wanted to take advantage of this. We met with a couple of students who do tours for admissions, and we set off. Our first stop was around the back side of the Art Institute. Of course I knew the school was connected to the museum, but I didn’t know that meant literally. You go through the front entrance of the museum, through some of the galleries, around a hallway, and to the back of the building where the school is. It’s literally a part of the museum. There are tons of studios back there, with incredible work spaces. I was so in awe the entire time – never in my life have I seen such studio space and equipment! Most of it I couldn’t hope to master, but was still cool to see, just the same. Being in a big city, the campus isn’t so much that as just a few buildings with studio space, classrooms, and offices spread out over a few blocks. In fact, I’m sure most people walk by those buildings every day and have no idea what’s being created inside them. The tour took maybe an hour, and we got to see almost all the studios they have at the school. After the tour we got on the train for a bit and went uptown to a local gallery where they were having an alumni show just for us. By this time I was exhausted and really just wanted to go back to the hotel and change, but we went anyway. I’m really glad we did, because we got to talk with some of the faculty and administration at the gallery, which was nice. The work there was incredible, too. It’s just amazing to see all the different types of creativity that exist in the world. I always get jealous, like, why didn’t I think of that? But still, it was fun.

After the gallery, my mom and I went back to our hotel to rest for a bit and to change. I wanted so badly to get out of my pantyhose by this point! After such a long day interviewing and walking all over the city, it was time for some authentic Chicago pizza. If you’ve never had deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza, I highly recommend it. It’s not something I could eat every day, but man, was it delicious! The crust was so crisp and flaky – very yeasty, too. Just what a crust should be. Deep dish is definitely not something you pick up and eat – you have to cut it with a knife and fork! But the toppings loaded on top are so good. They do it backwards, too; they put the cheese right on the crust, then the toppings, then the sauce on top. I’d never had that before, but I loved it. Oh, I could sing the praises all day of Lou Malnati’s deep dish Chicago pizza, but I won’t. We did discover that the ship it all over the country. If I ever have a craving for it again, I might just have to take advantage of that… We had gotten a coupon from the hotel concierge for a free dessert at the restaurant. This dessert was definitely a deep-dish chocolate chip cookie, complete with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and whipped cream. We took this back to the hotel to eat in our soft beds, and it was unbelievable. Being on this diet, I haven’t splurged like that in forever, so it was sooooo good! Again, no words for it. Amazing.

The day was long and I was glad to have it overwith, but it was still fun. We knew we had those amazing beds waiting for us when we got back! I enjoyed seeing the school and getting to meet some of the faculty. The current students all seemed really nice, too. I still have one interview to go, so I have no idea how they will compare yet.

This morning was no exception to the amazing food journey we were on. We got up, got our stuff packed up, checked out of the hotel, stored our bags, and took a taxi up to Millenium Park to see Cloud Gate and have brunch at the Park Grill. There was a big ice skating rink right outside the restaurant, so we sat at a window table and watched all the skaters. They were really funny! Some were actually really good skaters, and there were some hilarious little kids that weren’t having any of it! It was fun entertainment while we at a delicious breakfast.

Have you ever had fresh-sqeezed cranberry and orange juice? If not, you should, because it’s wonderful. We used to mix cranberry juice and orange juice all the time at school, but of course it wasn’t fresh. This just couldn’t compare – it was so good! I ordered an omelette with wild mushrooms, scallions and goat cheese. Hands down the best omelette ever. My mom ordered French toast with homemade syrup – light and fluffy bread but crispy on the outside – so perfect! We switched halfway through, so we would each have the chance to try something and get the full brunch experience. We had some pretty good bacon, too. It was the perfect ending to our incredible selection of restaurants.

After brunch, we walked around the park for a little bit to let our food settle. There were lots of great outdoor sculptures to see. We took this hilarious picture of ourselves reflected in the Cloud Gate sculpture:

We then walked up several blocks in search of the Sephora store, which is on the Magnificent Mile, as they call it. It’s basically several blocks of really good shopping along Michigan Avenue. We didn’t go into any of the high-end stores, of course. Our reason to find Sephora was to look for the OPI Alice in Wonderland nail polishes, which they ended up not having. We did, however, get some really great Sephora nail polishes instead. Can’t wait to try those out soon! We spent the rest of the afternoon before heading to the airport up there, looking in different shops. We went into the Lego store, and then into the American Girl store. That was really fun! It’s been forever since I’ve played with my American Girl dolls, but I still have them and I still love them. There are so many more things for them now. Being in the store was fun, because there were lots of little girls in there, dressed up, with their dolls. What was even better was seeing dads walking around with dolls in their hands, looking totally lost. And the occasional little brother who was obviously out of his element. It was really funny and cute. My mom is excited that she’ll be able to tell her boys that she went to the big Lego store and saw an R2D2 and Darth Vader made of Legos, and be able to tell the girls she saw all the American Girl dolls.

We got a taxi back to our hotel to pick up our bags. Our driver was from South Africa, and he was really talkative and nice! We had a fun time talking to him about Chicago and his kids, his family in London, and the World Cup coming up in South Africa. He was so friendly. That was something Mom and I both really liked about the city – even though it was really big and busy with tons of people around, everyone seemed nice and willing to help us. It was that Midwestern mindset, not like being in New York. By then we were back to the hotel to pick up our bags, cram our new nail polishes in our little carry-on bags of liquids, and get back on the train to the airport. It was about a 40 minute train ride, which was a good amount of time to rest a bit after our adventurous morning. We made it back to the airport OK, where of course we waited forever to get through security. The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful – a short flight, layover in Atlanta, and then back home. Such an action-packed weekend! We both really enjoyed ourselves.

The one thing I wish I’d done was go into the Art Institute. The entire month of February the Museum is free, and this being the last weekend, there were tons of people around. I don’t think if I’d gone in I would have been able to enjoy it. I wouldn’t have had as much time as I would like to really look at the art. No matter, though. Even if I don’t end up going to Chicago, I’m sure I will at least visit the city again, and will then have my chance to go into the art museum.

We got back a little bit ago, and I had to write all this down before I forgot it all! It seems like we’ve been gone much longer than a weekend – we packed so much into such a short time! And now I’m absolutely exhausted, and it’s back to work in the morning. So, I’m done for now. Good night!

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