Friday, November 11, 2016

Welcome to the Windy City.

Funny story.

What started as a spur of the moment decision, turned into the most amazing trip ever. Let me explain.

About five months ago, I heard about a Saved by the Bell pop-up restaurant that was set to open in Chicago. As a huge Saved by the Bell fan, I thought that the Saved by the Max pop-up restaurant was the most brilliant concept ever. I mean who wouldn't want to eat at the "same" restaurant that Zack, Kelly, Slater, Jessie, Lisa, and Screech hung out at in the 90s?

PC: Getty Images/NBCUniversal

PC: NBCUniversal

Upon visiting the Saved by the Max website, I realized that they were all booked up for their entire three month run. Not hopeful of securing a waitlisted spot, I reluctantly signed up not thinking to much about it.

One month ago, I received an email one morning notifying me that they had extended their run and had some spots open. As I sat at my computer contemplating what to do, I thought to myself, "The restaurant is all the way in Chicago. There's just no way I could do this. This is crazy."

The more I thought about it, the more I weighed the pros to the cons. Pros: I've always wanted to visit Chicago. This thought has been sitting in the back of my mind for a really long time. This would be a good way to make myself to commit to go. Cons: I had about a month to book a flight, accommodations, transportation, and find friends who would be interested in such a spur of the moment adventure. 

As the turn of events would have it, I found a friend to accompany me on my travels. We finally made it to Chicago on Saturday, November 5th. Ironically, it would also land on the same week for which the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series Championship in 108 years! Totally a coincidence, but nonetheless, so worthwhile.

DAY 1: Travel Day

Excitement levels were pretty high on Saturday. The flight was mild and short, and the weather upon arrival was warm and sunny. There was absolutely no wind to be found. The weather was absolutely perfect in Chicago. Mid 70s in the daytime? Who could complain? The trip was already off to a good start!

As soon as we arrived at our apartment for the weekend, I couldn't help but notice how similar the suburbs of Chicago were to Brooklyn. They were so cute, quaint, and quiet. Our apartment was seriously the most adorable little building ever, with three bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, a living room, and two dining rooms. It was both comfortable and cozy, which made it easy for us to settle in.

Front of the Apartment

Interior of the Apartment

The first order of business was deep dish pizza, obviously. After visiting the local pizza eatery, Lou Malnati's Pizza, I was sadly catfished into thinking that they had the ever so famous, deep dish pizza. Silly me. Nonetheless, the pizza was still good...but still. Where's my deep dish? Sigh. Another time, I guess.

To make up for the bad experience, we decided to recover from the lack of deep dish pizza goodness with a nighttime adventure to check out the Chicago cityscape at the Adler Planetarium. Boy, was it well worth it. It was the most beautiful view that I had ever seen. We sat out by the lake front for about 10-15 minutes just taking in the sights and sounds of the city. I'll never forget it. It was the best welcome that the city could offer.

The night started to get chilly pretty quickly, so we found refuge at Blues Chicago for some good old, local blues entertainment before heading over to Bordel, a local speakeasy, near our apartment. It was a cozy and relaxing atmosphere, offering moody lighting and velvet booths. The location itself was quite mellow, offering a great space for good conversations and contemporary tunes. It was a great way to end the first night in Chicago.

DAY 2: The Not So Windy City

I woke up early on Sunday morning only to realize that it was Daylight Savings time. Hallelujah! One extra hour of sleep. The first order of business: COFFEE. My friend and I ended up at The Wormhole Coffee, which had a lot of fun drinks and lots of 80s memorabilia. Might I add, they had a DeLorean in the back of their shop?! I seriously nerded out at all the amazing posters and collectibles in their shop.

I ordered their Honey Bear Latte with almond milk. It was awesome. I liked how the flavor of the honey added a hint of sweetness to the drink without overpowering it. I, myself, am not a big fan of overly sweet coffee, so this was perfect. If you're wondering why there is no photo of the drink, it's because almond milk doesn't quite translate well for latte art because the consistency was too thin. Truth. If you're in the area, I would recommend checking this place out.

Next, we visited Wrigley Field to check out all of the World Series festivities. It was pure madness, but in a good way. The vibes amongst everyone was positive, and I loved seeing families, children, and even pets dressed up in their Cubs gear. In general, I noticed that Chicago has a great sense of team spirit and pride, which I truly appreciated and loved about the people of the city. People from the city thought we flew in specifically for the celebration, but as serendipity would have it, it was a pure coincidence.

People were taking pictures and signing the walls of Wrigley Field to show their love and appreciation for the Chicago Cubs which was amazing to see. I seriously loved every second of it. The energy was just phenomenal.

The volume and thoughtfulness of all of these messages from Cubs fans were extremely touching and fascinating to read. The Cubs definitely have an amazing and loving fanbase! 

Of course, no trip to Wrigley Field is complete without a photo op! I'll never forget that morning. 

The next order of business was the ever so famous, Buckingham Fountain, also commonly known as the fountain in the opening credits of the show, Married with Children. Unfortunately, the fountain was turned off because it was in the off-season. However, it was still cool to check out. Not a whole lot to see, but still cool.

Of course, no visit to Chicago would be complete without visiting the good old bean at Cloud Gate in Millennium Park. The deciduous trees made the view all the worthwhile.

The underside of the bean was really fun to see. The distortion of images underneath the sculpture were both mesmerizing and dizzying at the same time. I couldn't stare for very long, but it was nonetheless a really cool view!

Millennium Park itself was very beautiful. I felt like I was in a fall wonderland surrounded by red, orange, and yellow leaves. I could definitely see myself living in a colder climate location someday. It's pure magic in comparison to these lifeless winters in Southern California. Palm trees don't turn colors as nicely, nor do they shed their leaves quite as beautifully as Oak trees do, unfortunately.

Next, we visited the Chicago Science and Industry Museum. It was a huge museum filled with train, airplane, weather related, historical, and even lego exhibits.

While the museum offered a lot of cool exhibits to check out, I will say that I still prefer the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The lack of representation of natural sciences kind of bummed me out. Overall, I would rate this museum as moderate. If you're more into the history and science of transportation, I'd definitely recommend this museum.

As the sun began to set, we headed over to the Wendella Boat Rides for our Signature Lake & River Tour, with tickets courtesy of a local friend living in the area. Thank you so much for making this first visit so worthwhile! 

Having spent most of our time in Chicago on self-guided tours, it was really nice to have someone give us a tour for once. The views became even more spectacular as the sun went down. We travelled down the Chicago Lake Front to the mouth of Lake Michigan. I loved every second of it!

I will say that this ended up becoming one of the coldest nights in Chicago. I was seriously chilled to the bone after we disembarked the boat. 

Of course, I would be crazy to just us all just freeze to death. By some miracle, I found my favorite coffee shop, Intelligentsia Coffee, in the heart of the city. I mean, what are the chances that I would find a location in Chicago?! I had no idea. There, we warmed up to a hot cup of hot chocolate before heading to the ever so famous, Skydeck at the Willis Tower. 

I will say that the latte art here did not disappoint! Definitely photo worthy and sooo drink worthy! One of my ultimate favorite coffee shops and hot chocolate beverages of all time. 

After warming up, we headed to the Skydeck Chicago at the Willis Tower to finally check out the panoramic views of the city. We arrived approximately one hour before it closed, which ironically, an ideal time to go to beat the crowds. Not to mention, the views did not disappoint! When you're 103 floors up and standing on nothing but a glass sheet below your feet, how much more of a spectacular view could you get? 

I seriously wanted to sit up there forever. Despite being afraid of heights, the nighttime somehow put me at ease. The darkness must have been playing tricks on my eyes, because I wasn't scared of being out on the deck. I'm sure I would have had a different response had I gone in broad daylight.

We loved the views so much, we stayed at the Skydeck until it closed. What a way to spend an evening in Chicago, eh?

Well, the fun didn't end there!

My dream of going to Saved by the Max restaurant was about to come true. When we arrived, I went into full geek mode. I had my Bayside Tigers t-shirt all in order, and found myself in complete awe of the entire set design. I literally felt that I had walked into Bayside High on the show, Saved by the Bell. My ultimate 90s dream!

Overall, the food and service was terrific. I came in with manageable expectations of the food, but was pleasantly surprised to find how tasty it actually was. Because the restaurant system is reservation based, Saved by the Max provided a nice, intimate experience to hang out because there weren't tons of people crowding up the restaurant all at once. I really enjoyed the experience a lot. The servers were really fun, sociable, and personable.

I'll go ahead and include this note: This restaurant has very limited reservation availability. If you're thinking about coming out to this pop-up, be mindful of your party size. When I made my reservations on a whim, I only booked a table for two because I wasn't sure how many friends would actually be willing to participate. I thought it would be better to play it safe than sorry. My key advice is to try to be flexible, and check in with your friends to make sure they're cool with separate tables if you have a larger party size.

Overall, this was a cool experience. I thoroughly enjoyed the AC (Pulled Pork) Sliders, Mac 'n' Screech, Kelly Kapowski Monte Cristo with roasted Brussel Sprouts, and the Max's Magical Sweet Tooth dessert. It was actually a lot of food for what we paid for. Not to mention, the atmosphere was absolute perfection. It was a great way to end the evening.


What would a morning in Chicago be without a good cup of coffee? I had been eyeing Asado Coffee since my coworker came back from her travels raving about this place. Of course, the first order of the morning was to jump into an Uber and embrace the goodness that is coffee. 

Asado Coffee is a quaint little coffee shop tucked away in the back of an alley on Jackson Blvd. With so many exotic flavor combinations, it was hard to choose which flavor to pick. I for one am an absolute sucker for anything lavender flavored, so of course, I picked the French Lavender Latte. 

Boy, did I want to package that cup of coffee up and bring it home with me. It had the most divine aroma and flavor. Again, it was mildly sweet, which was perfect. 

Afterward, we grabbed a big and hearty breakfast at Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe before heading to The Art Institute of Chicago

Exteriror - Cub Pride at The Art Institute of Chicago

Interior - The Art Institute of Chicago

Ancient Sculptures Exhibit

"Self-Portrait" - Van Gogh

"Water Lillies" - Claude Monet

We spent about three hours at the museum, which was more than enough time to explore the entire museum. Here, we saw many notable works from Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, Seurat, Warhol, and more.

As our trip to Chicago was coming to an end, we decided to wrap up our travels by spending our last supper at Pequod's Pizza. Alas, my dream of grubbing on true Chicago deep dish pizza was about to come true! I ordered one of my favorite topping combos: ham and pineapple. It was a bittersweet ending to an amazing trip!

One thing that I learned about this trip is that spontaneity pays off. I honestly didn't think I would actually get to visit Chicago this year. It was one of the most incredible experiences that I've had this year. I can't believe how many activities we were able to squeeze in just two days! It just goes to show you that anything is possible. As 2016 draws to a close, my mind is starting to think about 2017. Adventure awaits, and I'm ready to embrace it!

I hope that you enjoyed following me on my adventures, and that you will be inspired to go out and explore your city, your country, or even the world. If you have any questions about any of the locations that I visited, or have any suggestions for my next adventure, please let me know in the comments below, or you can tweet me via @Tran_gerine. For my day-to-day shenanigans, you can also connect with me via Instagram at @Tran_gerine. I also want to thank you for taking the time to visit my blog today. I really appreciate it! Until next time, happy traveling!



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