OMG, I've been something a mid-west traveler for the past couple of weekends. It's been wonderful and tiring and LOOK I Have Something To Write About.
So, last weekend we went to Chicago for an overnight, me and Matt and Sarah. We got up in the morning and drove into town, passing through Toledo and such places. We got to about South Bend around lunch. The interstate rest stop fliers pointed to an orchard and winery in Niles, MI, which was only about 10 miles north of the South Bend exit, so we headed up that direction. Urbanspoon also mentioned some restaurants in Niles. In particular, we lighted on Olfactory Hue Bistro ("Smell Color Cafe? And what's the rating? Let's go!") So we went and discovered that Niles is a delightful tiny sleepy town, and in particular, that the Olfactory Hue Bistro is out-fucking-standing. I had a croque monsieur, Matt had a ribeye sandwich with a fried egg on it, and Sarah had a huge freaking salad that I can't remember much about except that the homemade balsamic vinegar dressing was amazing. We lingered over food such that we didn't have time to stop at the orchard if we wanted to make our ticket times at the Shedd Aquarium, but we saw that it would be open the next day, so back to Chicago we went.
The only other meaningful stop we made was in Gary, Indiana. This wouldn't be worth mentioning except that Sarah had to stop, so we unwittingly got off the interstate at the exit for downtown Gary. We found an open eyeglasses store in a former fast-food buildings (I'd have to think it was once a Wendy's) and Sarah went in and asked to use the restroom, and amazingly they let her. It was the Only Thing Downtown -- everything else was closed storefronts and dilapidated buildings and urban decay and city death. *shudder* Poor city.
From there, we escaped with everything but small pieces of our souls and drove straight on to the Shedd Aquarium. We had purchased our tickets ahead of time (always purchase your tickets ahead of time) and thus skipped most of the awful line and went straight inside. The aquatic show was fun, the sea otters were adorable, and much fun was had all around. The shark tank was really quite beautiful, and the ray display (set down below floor level with a glass floor above for part of it that you can walk on and see through) was very fun. We missed a lot of the central displays just due to time, since we had to get on to dinner and checking into the room, but we saw everything we really wanted to see.
We then went to check in quickly (Club Quarters, Central Loop -- trying to figure out how to get in on a membership to that place) and off to Uptown to our restaurant, Demera. They served Ethiopian food, which none of us had had before. Our waiter was cute and El Salvadoran and hadn't been working there too long, so he forgot our appetizer and kind of got the timing of getting our food out to us all off. That was all forgiven, though, because the food was absolutely amazing (as was the shai, as was the bura (coffee)), and we couldn't actually finish all of it as it was. We did a family-style sharing meal with one each beef, lamb, chicken, and fish dishes, and four vegetarian dishes as well, with a fresh salad in the middle. Honestly, the whole thing was absolutely amazing. I am a new disciple of Ethiopian/Eritrean food, and I'm trying my darndest to figure out how to get teff flour in Cleveland so we can make our own injera.
From there, we'd initially intended to go to the Green Mill jazz club and have drinks and hear music (which was right across the street), but then a friend had mentioned Gorilla Tango theater and they have geek burlesque -- Star Wars burlesque that night, to be frank. We then drove over to Bucktown and saw A Nude Hope, which was honestly so much better than it had any right at all to be. Fantastically fun.
At that point, we drove back and went to our room, which was down tiny little hallways but the room itself was clean, spacious, and comfy. If I could get membership (which drops the room price down to an absurdly low rate for something downtown), I'd stay there again in a heartbeat. The location simply can't be beat.
The next day we were going to go see where I used to live, but we slept in a bit and walked over to a brunch place (Wildberry) on the north end of Millenium Park. It was a wait to get in, but it was totally worth it. And then we went and walked around the park and saw the huge bean and saw the amphitheater (I totally wanted to go down to the stage area and sing something, but I restrained myself. Another day, perhaps). At that point it was time to go if we wanted to make the orchard before they closed, so Humboldt Park and Puerto Rican food will have to wait for our next visit.
On the way back, we did stop at the orchard. They had all manner of fruit wines and ciders, and we bought maybe more than we should have. The raspberry was awesome, the peach a bit less so (they couldn't do tastings, so we bought blind). They also do their own meads from honey collected onsite, which should be ready in December. We may be back.
This weekend, Matt had ASHA, which is the national conference for speech-language pathologists. He went down midweek, driving -- it was in Atlanta, which is where his brother and SIL and their kids live, so he got a chance to see family while getting his continuing education credits for the year. I went down on Friday (one-way ticket bought with miles, thank you American Airlines) and caught up with them. On Saturday morning, I got up with him and went to the convention center down by the Olympic park and graded while he did classes. On the way back, we went over to Stone Mountain and I saw where he used to live, and where White Wolf's offices used to be, and we ate at a German restaurant called the Village Corner that he used to love to go to. Our waiter was very nice, but the cultural differences ("I'm told I should have coffee, so I'll have some when you come by next, please." "Well, don't you mind well." *internal snarl*) struck home to me. I may pick up the accent, but I am not from there.
From there we went back and hung out with John and Morgan and the kids--we were planning to play Monsterhearts, but timing didn't pan out and as tired as I was, I couldn't feel as bad about that as I wanted to. The next morning we got up and had breakfast, and John made eggs benedict (I have an awesome brother-in-law) and we visited more about games and politics and sociology and stuff. After breakfast, we had to leave as Matt had to work today. We found another winery we wanted to stop at -- this one in Knoxville -- and so we made our way up I-75.
Knoxville, as it turns out, is utterly charming and its downtown is great fun. I'm really interested in going back and spending a night or two there at some point and exploring -- so much going on there. We ate at a nice Cuban place called Sangria's for lunch, and their food was very nice. We were sad we didn't have time to try their paella, as it is made from scratch and takes 45 minutes. Another time, though. We walked around and saw stuff and ended up down at the Blue Slip winery, which did have tastings and was really quite awesome. We bought quite a bit of wine again there, and ended up walking back and got ice cream at a little frozen custard place (where evidently I left my purse, which is being shipped back to me :( ) and then, happily fed and with new wine to drink, we got back on the road.
I'm really happy to be home again -- the dogs evidently missed us, despite having John to rely upon. I love traveling, but I can tell it was time to come home again for a while. It was wonderful to see Matt's family again, though. I am newly struck at what a shame it is we must all be so far apart. That's pretty much my life, though, and I am grateful we all see each other as often as we do.