Long and I have been having adventures and writing this blog for over a year now, and the experiences we have had have taught me many things. I have learned that one of the joys of being an adult is that you get to choose what you want to do, and possibly more importantly you get to choose what NOT to do. When the notices for the 2016 Chicago Baconfest popped up we were signed up and rarin’ to go. There were a couple of places we vowed to revisit but decided to live in the moment of the weekend. We planned certain events and let the Chicago winds blow us where they may for the rest of the time.
We flew in to Midway Airport, bought 3 day Chicago Transit Authority passes and took the subway to the delightful Old Town neighbourhood where I had found an AirBNB. I could write a volume about the rental alone – the owners were unbelievably kind and helpful, let us check in early and store our bags for a late departure. They went out of their way to poll friends to get us restaurant recommendations and suggested places we may want to see. Plus the place was beautiful, spacious, perfectly appointed and in a great neighbourhood. I walked in the place and felt immediately at home. https://www.airbnb.ca/rooms/10629003
We dropped our bags and headed up Armitage Street for a neighbourhood ramble and to find some food, which landed us at The Summer House where we split a fantastic roast beef dip and some appetizers. We broke away and took in the sites which included a mad dash into McShane’s Exchange, a fantastic consignment store I discovered last year, where I bought two jackets and a sweater in record time and to Vosges chocolate where times itself slowed to a crawl while we sampled their exquisite chocolate. Dinner took us to Trenchermen in Wicker Park. This was one of the places our AirBNB host had recommended and I cannot thank them enough. The food was reasonably priced and superb and the atmosphere was steeped in magic and history. There is no way we would have found this on our own and I thank them again.
Saturday was an open day, so we hopped on the subway and wound down to Eataly, a two story Mecca of Italian gastronomy. Long wandered about the store with a Limoncello and we settled in for some delicious pasta for lunch. Rumour has it they are bringing a branch to Toronto and I can’t wait.
We had a few hours to spend before out Baconfest dinner . Out of the corner of my eye I had seen an ad for an art installation at the Chicago Cultural Centre, which is housed in the old public library. The heavens had opened so we stopped by to get out of the rain and I am delighted we did.
The installation was on the work of Theo Jansen, a dutch artists who creates wondrous creatures he calls “Strandbeest“. They are made entirely of PVC piping, zip ties and plastic water bottles and after much experimentation he has created a way for the creatures to measure their surroundings and to move on their own. They were fascinating, as big as an elephant and looking like the bones of a crazy dinosaur. Finding the exhibit was a happy accident.
This year Baconfest had changed their line up slightly and introduced themes to the three separate dining opportunities – smoky, spicy and sweet. Long and I decided on a Saturday dinner ticket as we thought it would suit our schedule best. This turned out to be a misstep, as we had inadvertently booked the “sweet” day on the calendar. I will never turn my nose up at a bacon cupcake, but the overarching effect of an emphasis on the sweeter side of pork ended up being too much. I was fuller and sugared out pretty quickly despite vowing to take my time and to discard anything that wasn’t completely pleasing to me. There were some delicious samples, the quality of the restaurants was outstanding and this remains the best executed food festival I have attended.
Full to the brim we Uber-ed home. This was my second experience with Uber – the first had been on the way TO the festival and I must say I understand the appeal. The cars were immaculately clean, the drivers polite and knowledgeable and the service was prompt. I cannot recall a taxi experience in Toronto of which the same can be said.
The next day was (sadly) our last. We stored our bags in the garage and scooted off to the House of Blues for their Gospel Brunch. The place was packed and the energy was high. We were shown to an outstanding buffet brunch that included all the favourites like chicken & waffles and took in the remarkable show that feature a youth and young adult choir from the South Side. I am not a religious gal, but it was a very exciting and moving experience. Can I have a hallelujah?
We took a brief foray down to Navy Pier which was all but closed for business. Long did manage to score an excellent Wonder Woman backpack, ten we headed back to Armitage for some shopping in a local store I had espied earlier. We grabbed out bags and reluctantly made our way back to Midway then home.
I mentioned in the intro that we had vowed to “live in the moment”? Well, we certainly tried, but I had my “rigidity freak” flag flying the whole time. I am a producer both by profession and inclination, and as such I hate inefficiency of any kind. I am also pathologically averse to being late which in an of itself I do not object to as I find tardiness appallingly disrespectful, but I can ratchet up my own anxiety to fever pitch if I find myself running behind schedule. I demanded that we catch a cab on the way to the House of Blues even though we had assigned seats and a 15 minute window in which to arrive. I scoured the bus schedule on our way back to the apartment on the Sunday of our departure to the point where I think Long (who had already mapped out the route) was going to punch me. I have no intention of ever becoming the “late guy”, but I realized that I need to negotiate the fine balance between maintaining a realistic schedule, and not trampling on the experience I am having in the moment. I have some serious work to do.
This trip was a great place to start. In the previous year our Chicago experience was an excuse to go to Baconfest. This year it really felt like Baconfest was an excuse to go to Chicago. We explored new neighbourhoods and lived more like locals. We ate and shopped in places that only the natives would know about. I am pretty sure there will be a “Chicago 2017” blog next year, but next time I think the city has earned a longer look, and one that I will hopefully do with the calm gaze of a present and mindful Short.