Road Trip Romance, Surviving Chicago

by - November 27, 2017

I'm busy to a level of stupidity. It's self-inflicted. Don't feel sorry for me. But it does drag me down, leaves me no time to write my life story for you fine, dedicated blog readers, and has me falling asleep when my husband and I try to watch a show together at the end of the day. I drink coffee at 9 p.m. I don't know that I'm doing the best things for my body.


selfies in ChicagoI'm doing great things for that huge piece of myself that needs to be working away at the little dent I'm trying to leave on the world. That matters. And I'm hugely thankful to be surrounded by people that cheer me on...even if I can't make it through an episode of Sherlock. (Seriously BBC, hour-and-a-half episodes ARE NOT viewer friendly!)

In all the busyness, in the hustle and bustle and the delicate balance of deadlines and chasing dreams, there HAS to be room for adventure. Because without adventure life is just one long, strained workday...

As our nineteenth anniversary approached, my husband and I tried to remember when we'd last been away without the children, without an added obligation that meant it wasn't about us, it was about The Thing We Had To Do. We couldn't really remember.

There was this one time when Noa was pretty little that we went to Niagara Falls...

Noa was little a gazillion years ago.

Or there was that time we went to Vegas...but that was so he could play pool...

So it was time we went away. Just to be together. Just to take a break from being mom and dad; to remind ourselves that we like each other for the people we are, not the laundry we (I) fold.

It's not like we have a bunch of rainy day money squirreled away so we could hop a plane to Europe on a whim. (Go buy my book and I'll be 0.007% closer to that goal!😜 ) We had to choose somewhere we could drive to — but far enough to feel like we really got away.

For reasons that now escape me, it came down to a choice between Chicago and Montreal. And what a choice! Get murdered in Chicago, or see strippers in Montreal. I'd had my fill of nearly naked ladies in Vegas, so really, the choice was easy.

"Why Chicago?" It's what everyone asked. "Do you want to die?"

"Music. Architecture. Food."

the Chicago Theatre
I'm not interested in getting stabbed, but I am good at planning trips and educating myself on what neighborhoods to stay away from. #ChicagoWins

It took us nearly ten hours to get there. Ten hours one way in a little car is a good test on how much you like each other. I didn't really think about that until we got back and a co-worker asked how much we fought.

"Fought? Why would we fight?"

I guess we're abnormal...?

We filled the time by singing along with the radio, discussing the merits of Hell and Brimstone billboards standing right beside Biggest Adult Store In The Country billboards, lamenting the sad hunters back home (your empty scopes are a direct result of the deer massacre that is Highway 69!), and judging that lady in Indiana who ordered a seven-by-seven ahead of me — that's seven creams and seven sugars! When I ordered my coffee with milk the poor counter girl looked at me like I was an alien, then she gave me a complimentary carton of milk because "we don't do that."

I had a list of sights I wanted to see and I booked our hotel within walking distance of almost all of them. We had three nights and two days to do the city. It would have been wonderful to have had more time, but we made the best of it, hitting blues clubs, iconic landmarks, pizza (of course!), and a piano bar. We even took a little jaunt outside the city to see the impressive, and sadly abandoned, Joliet Prison (site of the first season of Prison Break and such films as Blues Brothers and Natural Born Killers).

old Joliet Prison

I don't know how to choose a favourite place or moment. It was all a blur of exploration and sore-footed excitement. I loved how many comments we got about our plaid coats. "Did you guys plan that?" and "You match! That's cute!"

Nineteen years of marriage and we're still adorable!

Our hotel was the cheapest one I could find. That's the kind of princess I am. And then I finagled us a $25 discount AND an upgrade to a suite. I had very low expectations for our room, but it was perfect! The hotel was old and charming, with original wooden trim and old paned windows that let in the cold air, and a king-sized bed I wish we could have fit inside our little Sonic to bring home with us. The doors were solid core panels and the pipes were exposed. It reminded me of sleeping over in my grandmother's farm house. It was made for me.

The Bean, Chicago
We ate a lot. Walked a lot. Laughed a lot. We drank bad coffee and tipped the piano player at The Zebra Lounge. We tried okra and catfish for the first time. We stood on the streets where Ernest Hemingway stood and we got scared under an overpass where homeless people slept. We went to Wrigley Field and The House of Blues. We explored all nine floors of the most amazing library I've ever been in. We tasted the pizza and agree that it's worth it. We paid $130US in parking and don't feel bad about it. We bought zero souvenirs and don't feel bad about that either.

enjoying lunch at Aurelio's Pizza in Chicago

It was a brilliant trip with the perfect companion. That old cliché is true: every day is an adventure when I spend it with you.

But once in a while, it's great to leave normal life at home, and hit the road for something brand new.

Surviving Chicago wasn't hard. Sure, it was a little unsettling that every building had a No Guns sign, and then there was that time we saw a body being pulled from the water...oh, and the loud BANGS outside our hotel that were probably just dumpster lids being slammed...

But still...we were safe, the city is beautiful, and the people were wonderfully friendly. Chicago gets a gold star and an A+ in my book.

[You can view my full Chicago album on Facebook]

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  1. Looks like a fun trip! Chicago is beautiful and tons of fun, but you're selling yourself way short on Montreal!! I've been four times and will go back again. A small, small part of me thinks (hopes / dreams) one day I will move there...

    1. Well, that's good to know! We really couldn't find anyone who would recommend Montreal. The consensus we got was that people were rude and the only things to do were casinos and strip clubs. I think it may have been more appealing had we been going during a warmer time of year too - there didn't seem to be anything happening in the city at all.

  2. Who are you friends with that they could only recommend strip clubs and casinos?! haha

    All I can say is I've had a vastly different experience (presumably much better) with the city. Off the top of my head, here is a small, small list of the things I love about Montreal:

    1. Street art as far as the eye can see. Even if you don't really "get" it, it's still beautiful. The talent is evident, the colours are saturated, and, if nothing else, it adds a ton of character to the city. (Note that I'm not just talking graffiti--although there is lots of that too).

    2. French is one of the most beautiful languages to fall upon the ears. I might be biased but I think French sounds incredible and looks beautiful. Might not know what I just ordered for dinner but dang if the waitress didn't sound sexy correcting my broken grade 9 French.

    3. European architecture and culture. But not to the same degree as the culture shock when travelling abroad. It's North American enough that the little things (like power outlets and good wifi) don't suck but the big things (row homes, city park squares, bicycles everywhere) are so, so charming.

    4. Fire escapes E V E R Y W H E R E .

    5. Food that is to die for. To date, the best Mexican food I have ever eaten came out of Montreal. Similarly with poutine (obviously) and decadent dessert waffles.

    6. The people are as friendly as your average Canadian. Being a bilingual city, they quickly switch to English when they hear you don't parlé Français and don't punish you for being a tourist. No better or worse than Toronto.

    7. The chalet / lookout at Mont Royal is absolutely breathtaking. Bonus points if you go on a humid summer night.

    8. The subway system is super easy to use and way more fun than trying to drive with psychotic Montreal traffic.

    9. Old Montreal / Old Port is like stepping back in time. Street musicians, artists selling paintings, small patios, the whole shebang.

    10. It's cheap. Stay in an Airbnb for maximum culture experience and it will be cheaper than a hotel typically (or more bang for your buck at the very least). Food prices are the same as most mid-sized cities in Ontario.

    As a bonus: Far less likely to be murdered than in cities like Chicago lol. Although if you're not an idiot, avoiding getting murdered in Chicago is not very difficult either.

    I could go on. Montreal has stolen my heart and I sincerely hope one day I will live there. Maybe retirement.


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© Alanna Rusnak