abroad – CHICAGO!

By MD, Shelley Barnard

At the end of last year I travelled to Chicago and Vancouver for business.  Luckily for me it was way before the cold snap but even so it was pretty chilly for my southern self.

Here are two little reports of what I experienced…


I was in Chicago for a trade show.  These are generally held in a convention centre outside of the city but we always try to stay in the city so we can access what the city has to offer.  In Chicago, its all about “downtown”.

We stayed in an area known as “The loop” in the Palmer house hotel that is part of the Hilton group.  In terms of location, its really accessible to everything either on foot, by taxi or subway (with the closest station a block away).  Palmer house has an amazingly austere lobby with a high decorated ceiling and old school lighting.  The moment I walked into the hotel happened to be the same moment that they switched on the lights of their huge Christmas tree and so the festive spirit began.  The rooms are comfortable and priced well considering the location.  One of the best parts of the hotel is that they have a starbucks right underneath it so you can prepare yourself before hitting the streets of the windy city.


Outside the Palmer Hotel


Inside the Palmer Hotel



And speaking of windy city title – I can attest to  Chicago completely living up to the name.  When walking through the high rise buildings of downtown an icy wind comes racing through and chills you to the bone.   At its worst I couldn’t walk 20metres without feeling utterly miserable and resorting to nipping into a starbucks for some tea or hailing a cab to travel the few extra blocks to my destination.

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In one the less chilly moments I managed to go for a walk through the streets of downtown and enjoyed the views of the skyscrapers and Hudson river that you so often see on shows such as Chicago fire, The crazy ones, ER and The Good Wife.  I also happened to walk by while they will lifting one of the bridges over the River.  I was waiting, hopefully,  for a car to come speeding up at the last minute and fling itself over the top but no such Hollywood moments took hold.

On the shopping side of things I really enjoyed wandering through the Iconic Macys store down the road from my hotel.  It had about 8 floors of every brand and product you can imagine.  I spent extra-long in the food gifting section (of course!) and was amazed by the volume of festive gifting and the number of typical Christmas flavours that we don’t really associate with Xmas in South Africa.  Flavours like peppermint, Spicy pumpkin and Ginger apple.  This was topped off with lunch in their “Walnut Room” restaurant which seems like the must do during a visit to the store.


The huge Xmas tree in Macys


The sweet section at Macys


More and more of Macys

On the whole I found the food in Chicago to be great.  The inhabitants are really passionate about food and one of my best moments on the trip had to be our Mexican taxi driver giving us the recipe for Huevos Rancheros (Mexican eggs) in great detail while travelling down the I90.

Other foodie highlights:

We visited an artisanal gastropub (so many trendy words in one!) called “Farmhouse” with an American client.  The fare is Mid-Western and all ingredients used are sourced from their own farm or farms in the area – everything from within the Chicago tri-state area.  They even go so far as to make their own cheese and source local small-batch liquor.  In true Midwestern style you will, no doubt, be talked into trying one of their signature (and not very weight friendly) starters such as Beer Battered wisconson Cheese curds or Fresh baked pretzels.  So evil but soooo delicious.  For mains I ate the Roasted Amish Chicken (do you think that means it grew up without electricity and was delivered in a buggy?).  I don’t usually order chicken while eating out but this juicy and incredibly tasty.  Reports all-round the table were really positive and all in all we rated the service as really friendly, the setting comfortable and quirky and the food delicious.

On another night Debbie (my travelling buddy) and I ventured out to the bright lights of Rush street where a huge array of famous downtown restaurants are located.  Debbie and I managed to squeeze into a table in their bar area.  The atmosphere was buzzing.  We thought we would order 3 or 4 starters rather than mains but didn’t expect that the starters would each be the  same size as a main meal in SA.  We also couldn’t quite bring ourselves to pay R500 for a steak – no matter how good it promised to be. So instead we tried the Griddled crab cake (nothing like the crab stick rubbish we get in SA), Blackened Cajun shrimp(more like giant tiger prawns than shrimp), Pork potstickers and a small caesar salad.  The food was really good but far too much for us.  I loved it and would love to go back.

So that was Chicago – it bit of a whirlwind, jetlagged 4 days but a good overview and a place I’d love to visit again and explore properly.


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