Thursday, September 29, 2011

Road Trip, Part 4: Heading Home

Mac and I drove out of Chicago early on Saturday morning, Sept. 24th. We had two days of driving ahead of us before we made it back to Princeton, but we still had folks to see along the way. Our first stop was in Lansing, MI to see Mac's friends Joanna and Mark and their baby Edward. We stopped by their house in Lansing first and then we followed them over to East Lansing to get lunch at this great Thai place. Along the way we saw M.A.C Ave. and when we asked Mark and Joanna about it, they said that Michigan State used to be Michigan Agricultural College and that the name of the road never changed. We also realized once we got into East Lansing that there was a home football game for Michigan State, so we got to see a lot of tailgaters and Michigan State pride since they had already won the game. There were lots of people in town, but we still got a seat at the restaurant and enjoyed catching up. After lunch we took a little stroll around campus and got to see some of the sights. After spending a few hours there, Mac and I got back in the car and headed toward Cleveland to stay with his Aunt Chris and Uncle Nick who live just East of the city.

We got in after dinner time, but still enjoyed some amazing baklava that Mac's aunt had made. It was fun to get to know some more of Mac's family. After a long day of driving we went to bed fairly early and then the next morning we were treated to an amazing breakfast spread. Aunt Chris sure knows how to cook! Then we spent some time talking about gardens and getting a tour of their thriving backyard vegetable and herb garden before packing up and getting back on the road.

We drove a little south and picked up I-80 all the way across Pennsylvania. It was a trip neither Mac nor I had been on before, so it was a little bit of an adventure, and we got to see the start of some fall color in the mountains:

We also drove past an amusing exit in the middle of nowhere PA for a town called Jersey Shore:

The rest of the trip involved a detour through Jim Thorpe, PA and then a fairly direct path home. We were both pretty exhausted from over a week on the road, but it was all worth it for such a fun trip! Now the only question is where will we go on our next trip?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Road Trip, Part 3: Chicago, Part 2

On Friday, Mac and I took the Green Line to the Garfield Park Conservatory. It was a bit of a cloudy day, but it only sprinkled on us a little bit while we were walking to the train. The Garfield Park Conservatory is one of my favorite places in Chicago (there are so many favorites!) and I was sad to hear that earlier in the summer they had suffered considerable damage due to a hail storm. Parts of the glass houses were still open, but many areas were closed with ongoing repairs. It was a little sad that Mac couldn't see all that the conservatory has to offer, but I was glad to go and show my support while they're still recovering. And the parts that were open were still beautiful as always! I just love this little pineapple:

All of the outside parts of the Conservatory were open as well, including the labyrinth, which is one of my favorites to walk, and the beautiful lily pond:

We enjoyed walking around the meadow and chasing grasshoppers off of the path and following this beautiful butterfly:

You see some of the damaged windows in the background here. All of the darker spots are holes in the glass roofs of the nursery greenhouses:

Here is one part of the conservatory where all of the glass has been removed and it's now ready for replacement glass.

After the Conservatory we headed downtown for a quick trip to Millennium Park. And when you're there you have to take a few photos at the Bean (officially titled Cloudgate by Anish Kapoor):

Mac wanted to make sure his moustache was looking good:

That's one happy handlebar moustache!

Can you find us here?

We enjoyed a nice stroll through the rest of the park and then headed back up to Mike's apartment to pick up the car, and Mike, and head up to Andersonville for the rest of the day. We took Lake Shore Drive straight up and got off at the Foster exit. Instead of going left and heading into Andersonville, we stopped at the Foster St. Beach since Mac had yet to get a good look at Lake Michigan. It was a beautiful greenish-blue color and a just a lovely day to be by the lake:

Another moustache fix:

And a cute shot of Mac and I with the skyline behind us.

And these two good lookin' fellas:

And beautiful Chicago:

After finding a parking spot on Balmoral in front of my old apartment, we walked down to Huey's Hot Dogs. It just happen to be Hot Dog Happy Hour, so we all got a dog, fries and drinks for $5 each. And these are some real Chicago hot dogs: charred (not steamed), mustard, pickle spear, huge tomato slices, celery salt, onions and hot peppers on a poppy seed bun. True Chicago-style goodness:

I cheated a little bit and got mine as a veggie dog with no onions or hot peppers, but holy cow it was good. Even just looking at this photo again makes me want to go back and get one! I think Huey's should open a second store in Princeton!

After hot dog eating, we wandered around Andersonville poking around different shops, seeing what's new (a lot!) and what's still there from the good old days. Lots of my old favorites still exist: Kopi Cafe, Middle East Bakery, the Persian grocery, Andie's, Women and Children First, and CAS hardware, among others. I spent some time (and money) at Women and Children First while Mike and Mac got some caffeine at Kopi. I met up with them for an awesome Mango Jet Tea and was surprised when the server asked me if I wanted vodka in it! One new addition is that Kopi got a liquor license! I opted out of the vodka option, but we always said it would be so great if we could get beers at Kopi and now you can!

We also stopped at Middle East Bakery to pick up some snacks (I love those little savory pies!) for the drive on Saturday and some other treats, too. We then headed to Hopleaf and actually found a table on a Friday evening (miracle of miracles) and enjoyed a few pints before heading to the Neo-Futurarium to see Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, another old favorite. Here are Mac and I after the show:

It was such a wonderful way to top off our trip to Chicago. I was so happy to be able to show Mac my old neighborhood and revisit so many of the wonderful places that were a part of my everyday life from 2000-2006. Can't wait to go back!!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Road Trip, Part 2: Chicago, Part 1

On Monday evening we rolled into Chicago and before stopping at Mike's apartment I took Mac on a quick tour downtown and then came back up Lake Street to Mike's place on Canal. He greeted us with open arms and we unloaded our stuff into his apartment. What a view!! We got there just as the sun was setting and it was just awesome! Here are Mac and I on Mike's balcony after our long drive:

After putting our stuff down we all went to dinner at one of my favorite places in the city: Bite Cafe. The food was amazing, even better than I remembered it! Mike and Mac were also blown away and the most memorable part was that Mike ordered a lamb shank it came out like a caveman cut of meat, still on the bone with a ready-made handle. He didn't even use a knife and fork. Mmmm.... SO good!

When we got back to Mike's apartment this was the panoramic view from his balcony (click the image to make it larger). I just couldn't get enough of how awesome this view was. And totally different from living on the north side in Andersonville.

We didn't stay up too late since Mike and Mac had to leave fairly early for their conference on Tuesday morning. They woke up before I did, but I was out of bed by the time they were getting ready to go. Here's Mike on his balcony with his "Good Morning, Chicago" face:

And Mac was actually smiling in the early morning, which rarely happens, so I had to get a photo:

The went off to their conference at Argonne and I got to have a lazy morning enjoying the view:

My day started when I met my dear friend, Nisara and her husband Ryan for lunch. Nisara and I went to both high school and college together and then both lived in Chicago for a bit as well. It was great to see them, but especially fun to see Nisara since she's pregnant! We all went to lunch at one of Rick Bayless's restaurants called Xoco and it was amazing! Ryan had to head back to work, but Nisara and I enjoyed catching up over some wonderful churros after a delicious lunch.

Then we took the train north a few stops and got off near DePaul and walked down toward the Lincoln Park Zoo to hang out in the Lily Pond that's there. It was a beautiful afternoon and just a great chance to hang out with someone I rarely get to see. Here's a couple fun shots of a very pregnant Nisara:

After saying goodbye to Nisara, I went back to Mike's apartment and packed my overnight bag since I would be staying that night with Matthew on the North Side. I drove up to his apartment and got to hang out with him for a bit and then we met up with Mac for dinner at Fountainhead in Lincoln Square. It was a tasty meal and a good chance for Mac and Matthew to get to know each other better. Matthew gave me a key to his place and headed home to continue packing since he's moving shortly.

Mac and I headed over to the Grafton Pub next to the Old Town School to enjoy an evening of folk music and catching up with folks. Unfortunately, not as many folks as I was hoping were able to meet up there, but I did have a chance to catch up with Sarah, now an awesome 20-something who used to be in the Girl Scout troop that I helped with when I lived in the city. It's amazing how these kids grow up! It was great to see her and eventually Mike made it all the way up there to hang out for a bit and drive Mac home since I was heading back to Matthew's place for the night.

On Wednesday I headed up to Evanston for the day. In the morning I met up with a colleague who works at Northwestern and enjoyed a library tour and some good professional catching up. We also took a lovely walk along the shoreline and got one of my favorite views of Chicago from up there. It was a lovely morning.

For lunch I met up with a photographer friend, Katie, who I hadn't seen for years! (And we did't take any photos while we were hanging out!) It was great to get the scoop on some local photographers and see photos of her kids from the last 4 or 5 years. We did a little shopping and then ate lunch at Cozy Noodles, again one of my favorite places to eat! I got my favorite Rama Special, which I literally dream about sometimes, but no one does it like Cozy. Mmm...

(As an aside here: I tell people when I think about Chicago the first thing I think about is all of the awesome people I know there and the second thing is the food. There is so much good, affordable, delicious, unique, wonderful food in Chicago! I'm so happy I got to go back to some of my old favorites and try some new places, too.)

After having lunch with Katie, I met up with another old friend, Mariko and one of her friends in downtown Evanston. It happened to be Mariko's birthday, so we enjoyed a sweet treat and a lovely walk around town. It was a particularly nice day and great to be out and about. She had to get along to previously planned birthday events and I had to head back down to Chicago to meet up with Matthew.

Once we reconnected, Matthew and I headed down to Hyde Park to pick up our good friend Suz from work and head to dinner at Medici in Hyde Park. We got to sit outside on their patio (have I mentioned it was a beautiful day?) and thoroughly enjoyed our meal and catching up. Here's a quick photo of us after dinner:

After dinner, Matthew dropped me back off at Mike's apartment and I caught up with Mike and Mac who were just getting back from their conference for the day. They hadn't eaten dinner yet, so I joined them on a lovely walk through Mike's neighborhood, the West Loop and we found a great Indian restaurant that was nearly empty and had a wonderful music selection. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Mike and Mac had one more day of conferencing to attend to on Thursday, so we pretty much headed to bed fairly early.

Thursday was another early morning for the guys and also one for me. I met up with Amanda and her twin girls for brunch at the Bongo Room in the South Loop. They are regulars there and when I got there first and told the hostess that I was meeting up with my friend and her twin girls she knew exactly who I was talking about and set me up at their favorite table! The last time I had seen the girls, they were only teeny babies when Amanda and I both happen to be living in Cambridge, MA.

Well, now they're 3 years old and have wonderful little personalities of their own! We walked from brunch to the Shedd Aquarium and got in for free since Amanda had thought ahead and gotten the pass from the library. It was quite a fun visit! Here's one of the crazier images of the day: a cricket on a frog on a frog:

Here are the girls watching the big fish go by:

Here's a shot of me outside the Aquarium with the beautiful skyline behind me:

And here's a cute shot of Amanda and the girls after our Aquarium visit:

And those cute, smiley girls!

After the aquarium, we walked back to their apartment and had a fun time playing and reading stories and attempting to put them down for a nap, which worked for a little bit and gave Amanda and I a chance to catch up, but the girls were not in a napping mood and were soon up singing songs and showing us dances. It was so fun to get to see them. And they have a great view, too! Here's a shot of Grant Park and Navy Pier from their apartment! Wow!

After spending the morning and early afternoon with Amanda, I headed back up to Mike's apartment and met up with Mike and Mac. After Mike serenaded all of Chicago from his balcony, (again - the view!):

we headed out to another great place, The Handlebar, for dinner with my friend Nick. I introduced Mike and Nick because they were both recent PhDs, Mike from Princeton, Nick from MIT and both ended up moving to Chicago. They've hit it off nicely and seem to enjoy each other's quirky personalities. It was a really fun dinner and afterwards we took a nice stroll through Wicker Park and ended up stuffing ourselves into this British phone booth:

and then getting a sweet treat and some coffee at Wormhole. This coffeeshop is super 80s-themed and even has a Delorean in the front window (a la Back to the Future). It was quite fun. So after hanging out there for a bit we said Good Night to Nick and headed back to Mike's place for another early bedtime.

Even though Mac and Mike had to go to their conference Tuesday through Thursday, it was a great chance for me to catch up with tons of folks I hadn't seen in way too long! It was so fun to be in one of my favorite cities again, but what I was really looking forward to was getting to show Mac some of the city and my old neighborhood. That's was Friday was for!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Road Trip, Part 1: NJ, PA, OH, IN

Mac and I left for a week-long road trip adventure to Chicago after work on Friday, Sept. 16th. That first night we drove to my Grammy's house in Jeannette, PA and I got to show Mac a place full of many happy memories for me and my family. On Saturday morning I went to Enrico's Bakery, where my dad worked when he was in high school, and got some tasty treats for the road. We also stopped at the restaurant where the Eat'n'Park used to be and had a great Southern brunch complete with grits and even mac and cheese. It was a good quick visit to Jeannette and since it was the beginning of football season, Mac got to really understand what being in Steelers Country means! There was Black and Gold proudly displayed everywhere we went!

After leaving Jeannette we headed toward Mac's grandparents in Sardinia, OH. We took some back roads and ended up stopping at The Wilds. The original plan was to find a place that did ziplining, but it seemed that any options we had in that area were either booked for the day or closed at 4pm, so we missed our chance. Even though we didn't pay to get into anything at The Wilds, we did go to the snack bar and had a good afternoon snack and some local beer while sitting out on the open patio watching wild animals roam around and people zipline through the park. It was a perfect break for a long day of driving. The snack bar also randomly had these huge locally grown watermelons for sale, so we picked up two of those as well.

We finally made it to Sardinia and Mac's grandparents' place later that evening and even though we had told his Grandma that we were stopping to get dinner along the way she had a full meal prepared for us! We ate some more and had some dessert and had a nice evening sitting in the living room and chatting. I was exhausted and ended up going to be kind of early, but Mac enjoyed having the chance to catch up with his Grandma and Grandpa.

In the morning we had a big breakfast with eggs and toast and cantaloupe and then moved on to the activities of the day. First, Mac's Grandpa wanted Mac to look at an old rifle that he had and make sure it was working. So after cleaning up, the best way to make sure it's working is to actually use it. So Mac fired the first shells and then passed it over to me. I had never even been that close to a gun before, let alone actually fired one! But I have to say, it was kind of a thrill to hit a milk jug full of water and watch it explode! Here I am with Mac's Grandpa:

We were shooting milk jugs off of the old chicken coop in the yard:

And off of milk crates. It's amazing what you can do when you own acres of land in the middle of nowhere Ohio and don't have any neighbors close by!

After target practice, Mac and Grandpa and I got in the car and did a grand driving tour of the surrounding area. We drove past a bunch of land that Grandpa owns and he told stories the whole way about different things that happened in different places throughout the area.

The most exciting stop was at the Serpent Mound. It's a serpent effigy believed to be built over 1,000 years ago by Native Americans. It was really fascinating to see. They have an observation tower that's about 2 stories high that you can look at it from above:

The day we were there, there were some scientists doing some sort of research to learn more about what is contained in the mounds. While Mac and I stopped to talk to the researchers, Grandpa decided to chat with these cowboys:

Every curve in the serpent is aligned with a sunset or sunrise on an equinox or solstice:

We enjoyed walking around the park and talking with the folks in the gift shop, too. It's quite a fascinating place and apparently draws quite a crowd for solstice celebrations. That would be quite a sight to see!

We came back from our drive and did a little bit more target practice with paper targets that we picked up along the way and then enjoyed a nice dinner together. After dinner Mac and I walked around the property to look at some of the old buildings and just enjoy the evening. Here are some photos of the old barn:

The former garden, now weed patch, next to the old farm house:

After dinner we went to the local grocery store and picked up a few snacks for the road, including a huge local cantaloupe. We did a little more visiting and then headed to bed. We left after breakfast on Monday morning and drove through Indiana to get to Chicago. We stopped in Indianapolis for lunch at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. One of the main draws for me was an Art-o-Mat Machine!

They also had an interesting, if broad, collection and a great cafe where we enjoyed our lunch while watching it rain outside. From there, we drove through the rest of Indiana, including this HUGE windfarm that went on for miles and miles in both directions:

After a long day of driving we finally made it to Chicago on Monday evening! Man, I love Chicago...