Sunday, April 17, 2011

The rest of the trip

"It's wonderful to be here in the great state of Chicago." — Dan Quayle 

PRETEND WE'RE BACK in ChicagoThursday, April 7, we went to the Wait Wait Don't Tell Me taping. We shopped the next day, hitting two Filene's Basements with no result, but I struck it lucky at a Nordstroms outlet. I got a $350 trench coat for $59.99 and a $60 hat for $19.99. Not bad. 

There are two Nordstrom Racks  downtown, one at 24 N. State Street and one at 101 East Chicago Avenue. They're well worth checking out.

Friday night we had a late dinner at Shaw's Crab House on E. Hubbard. It's one of our favorite restaurants. It reminds us of the Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington DC. There's also a Shaw's in Schaumburg, but don't go there. The food may be the same (we've eaten there as well), but it's nothing like the downtown location for ambience, warmth and color. Definitely make a reservation if you're going on a weekend. We reserved, but only that morning, and by that time the choices were 5:15 or 9:15.

I'm just a little bit of a crab snob. How that came to be is another funny story, but the upshot of it is that any restaurant that has "crab" on the menu, but doesn't specify what kind of crab, isn't worth bothering with. Snow crab is the bottom of the barrel. Next up from there is Alaskan King crab, but the best are blue, Dungenness and peekytoe crab. I once had the pleasure of having Dungeness crab in Dungeness, Washington.

We opted for the 9:15 slot at Shaw's, and afterwards went next door to Andy's Jazz ClubAndy's features various artists all year. We heard the Von Freeman Quintet. I wasn't that impressed with Von, but Paul said that the bass player and the drummer were great.

On Saturday we had lunch at a different Greek restaurant. This time we ate at the Greek Islands (if only we were in the actual Greek Islands — sigh) which is only about a block away from Pegasus, the restaurant where we lunched on Thursday. We shared a lovely lettuce and cucumber salad, Paul had pork gyros, and I had chicken roasted in tomato sauce and a lemon infused potato that was just like the potatoes served with our meal the day before. It must be a Greek specialty, and it's so good prepared that way! We're guessing here, but we thought it was partially boiled, then baked with lemon juice.

We split a dessert called ambrosia, and boy was it!! It's shredded filo crust and ice cream with a honey-caramel sauce covered in roasted pecan pieces. It's sort of like baklava with ice cream, except fancier and with a creamier sauce. Here you can split a salad, entree (there's a huge menu to choose from), and dessert and be more than full. 

Paul and me at the Greek Islands restaurant.
I'm wearing my new Nordstrom Rack hat and coat.

We took the MegaBus home, leaving at 5:00 PM. Our trip going back was definitely not as pleasant, owing to the driver. He announced at the outset that he . . . 

(The above is a little editorial comment from Shye, who as we all know, loves her some computer.)

My computer, mine, mine, mine.

. . . WOULD be playing music on the trip. He put in a CD which none of us would have minded so very much except that it was incredibly L-O-U-D. Each pair of seats on both sides of the aisle from front to back of the bus has a speaker overhead, but the driver's didn't work, so he cranked it. Imagine how loud 50 speakers blasting on a bus would be! First one person asked him to turn it down, but it was still so bombastic that with earbuds in and the volume way up on my iPhone, I still couldn't separate the podcast I was trying to listen to from the VERY LOUD MUSIC. Paul asked him to lower the volume, and he turned it off in a huff.

At the first rest stop break he showed us an ear piece/phone/music player on which, he proudly bragged, he could hear music (so why did he have to blast CDs?), make and receive phone calls and listen to his email translated from written text to spoken word and reply in the same way. He subsequently spent the entire rest of the trip doing just that. At one point near Grinnell, Paul and I both happened to look out of the window at the same time, and to our alarm discovered he was driving down the interstate straddling two lanes.

He kept joking that he hoped he could remember how to find Des Moines, and of course we thought he was kidding. Not really. He got off on highway 65 that will take you to Indianola quite nicely, but not to downtown Des Moines. Paul had to get him to turn around, and I had to keep saying, "No, no, not this exit!" I guess it was good we were sitting in the front of the bus. We were amazed because you don't even have to know how to get to Des Moines to get to Des Moines. Just follow the very large signs with arrows and DES MOINES printed in VERY LARGE letters. The WiFi never did work on either bus going or coming from Chicago.

Just a word about Chicago hotels. We've stayed in so many in the Windy City that I doubt we could name them all. They blur together, but the Drake, the Conrad Chicago and the Palmer House are memorable. The Drake is one of those conservative, quiet, almost British club hotels, where you feel like you can tuck yourself away and not be bothered. The Conrad Chicago is a Michelin-recommended, grand old hotel. We've probably stayed the most at the Palmer HouseI love it. It's a short walk from the Art Institute of Chicago and Symphony Hall, home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Everyone should stay there at least once. You won't forget the Rococo ceiling. But even if you're not a guest, you can make yourself comfortable in the oversize chairs and love seats in the lobby, have a cocktail or tea and scones, read the paper and watch people coming and going. Worth it for sure.

The fabulous Palmer House lobby.

This was our first stay at the Crown Plaza Metro. We chose it because it was close to Union Station and very reasonably priced. It was perfectly fine, and we'd stay there again. 
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