Divvy Bikes

Divvy is a bike sharing program in the city of Chicago.  The concept of bike sharing is becoming popular in the suburbs too.  It is super easy and convenient.  Sign up (via the app), get a code for a bike, take it for a ride, then park it at another station.  You can also pay for and get a bike at the kiosk by any of the stations.  They are EVERYWHERE in the city.  The seats are adjustable and there is no athletic ability required.  You don’t need to wear spandex or a helmet!

We decided to pick up a few bikes at the Planetarium and started our trek through the museum campus and along the lakefront.  How could you not love these views?

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Our trip took us all the way down to Navy Pier where we dropped the bikes off.  Just park them in the bike stand and you are done.  No bike locks.  No need to worry about your bike being stolen.  It’s just that easy.

From there, we decided to make a day of it and explore the newly renovated Riverwalk.  There is so much to see and do here.  Besides the restaurants that are popping up, there is all the beautiful architecture and artwork.

landscape

 

We stopped off at City Winery and had a cocktail and watched the boats and kayakers pass by.

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Then we returned to Navy Pier and, after a snack and another cocktail, we picked up a set of bikes again and headed back to the Planetarium.

This is not the only path you can take.  If you visit their site, there are suggested routes to take and recommended sites to see.  Or you can create your own adventure!

A Girl’s Gotta Eat – Sidewalk Food Tours of Chicago

A food tour is a great way to get a taste of the flavors that a city has to offer.  A 3-hour walking food tour is an even better way to get to know about the city as well.  That is exactly what Sidewalk Food Tours of Chicago has to offer.  You get a sampling of iconic Chicago dishes as well as some treats you maybe would not have tried on your own.  Plus, you get a little commentary on the architecture and history of the city itself.

My SO and I were in the city overnight and, knowing that we had to check out by 11:00 am, figured we would have lunch before heading home.  Instead of going to a standard restaurant, we decided ahead of time to give a food tour a try.  I found out about Sidewalk Food Tours of Chicago through Groupon.  They have two options to choose from: River North and Wicker Park.  We went on the River North tour and met our guide, Jake, at 11:00 am just outside of the Merchandise Mart.

They like to keep it the groups small so there were only 12 of us total.  Yes, we were the only couple from Illinois, but that is not unusual.  Our first stop on the tour was an adorable little doughnut shop called The Doughnut Vault.  We each got a Buttermilk Old Fashion.  Not a sample.  A whole doughnut.  And maybe I should have saved some for later but it was soooooo good.

The Doughnut Vault

From there, we moved on to Lou Malnati’s pizza.  When you come to Chicago, you HAVE to try some deep dish pizza.  Now, I have had my fair share of deep dish pizza, including Lou Malnati’s, so this was nothing new to me.  But you can’t have a food tour in Chicago without a stop like this.  And I love deep dish so I was more than happy to get a slice of this iconic style pizza.

Lou Malnati's

The next stop took us to a small Mexican café called Xoco.  This is an Aztec word that means “little sister”.  It is a smaller companion piece next to Frontera Grill.  This was a necessary stop as chef Rick Bayless is a Chicago culinary treasure.  He has won just about every culinary award out there and I have a super foodie crush on him as well.  Here we were treated to some Mexican style street food.

Xoco

With a 3-hour tour there is plenty of walking so you can work off all of the food you are eating.  By the time we got over to Café Iberico, I was ready to eat again (almost).  This is a tapas bar/restaurant.  Tapas is a Spanish word that means “small dish”, like a snack/appetizer.  That was about all I had room for anyway.  We each got an individual portion of chicken with rice and sautéed onions.

Cafe Iberico

The final stop on the tour was, naturally, dessert.  We ended up at a bakery called Fabcakes.  This little gem has been serving European style meals and pastries since it opened up in 2012.  Each of us got a chocolate cookie sandwich with Nutella cream filling.

Fabcakes

All of the food we ate on the tour was delicious and a genuine representation of Chicago and its culture.  If you are thinking about taking one of their tours, and you should, I have two recommendations.  First, check out their FAQ page to see what is/is not allowed, especially when it comes to dietary restrictions.  Also, bring a bottled water with you.  Only two of the stops on the tour are dine-in.  The other three are truly sidewalk eating experiences.

Arranmore Farm and Polo Field

Did you know there were polo fields in Oswego, IL?  Me neither.  To be fair, they have only been hosting games open to the public since 2015.  I found out about Arranmore Farm & Polo Club by accident.  We were invited to attend a concert there (but can’t go).  Neither my husband nor I had heard of this venue so I Googled it and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a polo field.  I have always wanted to attend a match so I channeled my inner Pretty Woman and attended the Women’s Polo Invitational.  Whoo whoo whoo!

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There are a few options for watching the game (VIP tailgating, Lounge Seating, and General Tailgating).  Seeing as we were newcomers to the whole polo experience, we chose the general tailgating.  Arranmore allows you to bring in your own food and beverages but there were some food/drinks available for purchase as well.  Even better, the dress code was “be comfortable”.  There were some men in jackets, some women in dresses and derby-style hats, and others in just shorts and button-down shirts.

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If you get there before the match begins (gates open an hour or so before), they allow you to walk around the farm and through the stables.  I was never that girl who dreamed of having her own pony, but they are beautiful creatures close up.

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The polo match itself was extremely entertaining.  It’s probably a good idea to read up on the rules of play before you attend so that you know what is going on but it is not necessary.  The skill to ride and control a horse while trying to hit a ball, about half the size of a soccer ball, with a mallet is a talent that I have so much respect for now.  Plus, the field itself is huge (300 x 160 yds).  So when a player gets on a break-away all bets are off.  It was truly a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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Arranmore Farm & Polo Club hosts two weekend tournaments, weekly local polo matches on Wednesday nights, and some concerts during the summer months.  You should check it out!

Oh, and just like in Pretty Woman, they have the spectators come out on the field in between matches to help stomp the divots – just make sure you avoid the steaming divot!

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A Girl’s Gotta Eat – a recurring blog theme

As I have mentioned before, the main idea for this blog is to try to provide you with ideas for spending time together that are alternatives to the usual “dinner and a movie” theme.  That being said, this does not mean that dinner (or any meal) cannot be included in your plans.

I like to eat.  A lot.  My nickname in college was “little hunger pain”.  These days, if you look up the word “hangry” in the dictionary you might just find a picture of me.  Just ask my husband.  Or my college roommate (right, LeNora?).  Or my kids.  Or . . . the list goes on.  I watch a lot of Food Network and other cooking shows (Top Chef is an all-time favorite).  I also have a list of chefs whose restaurants I want to visit and I google “famous chef-owned restaurants” when we go out of town.  I don’t cook at this level at home of course, so I like to treat myself when we go out.  Because, while “dinner and movie” gets old after awhile, so does eating the same type of food or eating at the same restaurant.

Sometimes, eating can be a fun adventure into different flavors and eating concepts.  Sometimes, it can be the whole activity for the day.  Food Halls, Food Truck Festivals, and Food Tours are some examples of this type of culinary exploration.  Chicago’s annual Taste of Chicago and Chicago Gourmet have a wide variety of foods to sample.  You can also find flavor-specific festivals that highlight a culture (Italian, Greek, Mexican) or a food-specific one that showcases ribs, lobster, or burgers.

Whatever your dining preferences are, there is something for everyone.  And I am here to gobble my way through Chicago and its suburbs to help you find the right food activities for you.

Go Ape – A Tree Top Adventure

Tree top adventures (also known as high ropes courses) are starting to become more popular and are popping up in forest preserves around the country.  They are usually a combination of obstacle courses and zip lines anywhere from 30-40 feet in the air.  We visited Go Ape, which can be found in the Bemis Woods Forest Preserve in Western Springs, IL.

But don’t worry, your safety is one of the main concerns at Go Ape.  Full disclosure: I have a fear of heights.  But the combination of safety gear and instruction made me feel at ease.  Plus, I had done this once before (and quite a few years ago).  You step into a climbing harness that is connected to two safety lines, a pulley and a carabiner, that both clip onto the safety wire.  You are also walked through a very thorough instruction session before you enter the course.  You only unclip when you are moving from one station to the next and clipping back in is easy.

Safety first.jpg

There are 5 stations at this location, each one a little higher than the other (gulp).  There are also varying levels of difficulty.  The easy and moderate challenges require some balance and arm strength.  If you are not up for the difficult ones, they have an alternate route that will get you right back on track.  Here is an example of the easy vs. difficult routes:

Easy

 

Difficult

My SO was trying to do as many obstacles as possible hands-free.  I, on the other hand, felt much more comfortable with at least one hand on my safety line.  You can also move along the course at your own pace but, traffic jams can occur.  Like, when you are not sure how you are going to get across this one:

Crazy

If you are going to try this one, make sure you check out the restrictions and recommendations on their FAQ page.  My one recommendation is to wear clothing and shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty.  Because, if you are anything like me, there will be nothing graceful about your landing at the end of the zip line.

Zip line

P.S. – I found out about this place on Groupon.  It may not be available right now, but these kinds of things return eventually.  Also, a quick Google search of “Go Ape Chicago promo codes” provided a number of discount options as well.