New in Chi TownDate: 05/19/2023
Read along to learn all about my recent trip to Chicago, where I discovered just what makes the city so special—and why I can’t wait to go back!
Lately I’ve been lucky. Life has been handing out miracles in the form of better health and stamina, great experiences, and some opportunities that most people only get once in a lifetime. I’ve now been to Paris and Chicago in the same year—a travel itinerary I once only dreamed of doing. I’ve eaten the most scrumptious meals with fervor, enjoying every morsel for exactly what it is: a little taste of life still being lived. I’ve even been blessed with fewer days stuck in bed; fewer days exhausted with the fatigue that comes with Lyme disease.
In my gratitude for these small miracles, I have been wondering how I can give back to the universe just as much as I’m getting. If I’ve been given what feels like a ‘second chance’ at living (with Lyme), don’t I have a social responsibility to give back? I don’t know how many times I must have pleaded with the universe to give me just an ounce of the strength I have now—and since I’ve gotten my wish, it is time to do just that: to give back. To share my stories and draw attention to what I spent the last 20 years fighting: Lyme disease and the potential avenues for treatment within our reach!
So, what does that look like for me? Giving back? You may have seen some of what I mean on my Instagram, but after building awareness of stories like mine through a short podcast series last year, and opening up about my story through writing online, this past month I was finally ready to share what I’ve been through to help raise funds for the cause—right in the heart of Chicago! And while you can read a little bit about what I shared at that event https://lenasworld.com/shine-a-light-on-lyme/ I am also eager to share with you the highlights from my visit to The Windy City!
A First-Timer in the Windy City
If you don’t know, this would be my first time in Chicago, and I was deeply excited to arrive. A friend had invited me unexpectedly for the Lyme Fundraiser, and you can imagine I was going to take the opportunity to connect with other people in the field, all while visiting a few places on my wish list.
First off was booking the hotel—which is usually when my travel excitement starts to kick into overdrive. Knowing that Chicago has a multitude of renowned places to stay, I went into my booking adventure with a refreshing cup of tea and took my time perusing all the spots available along the river. That’s when the Langham popped out at me! I can now say from experience that their rooms are gorgeous—and especially so if you’re overlooking the water below (which I was). What really surprised me though was that we could also see all the way to Lake Michigan across the city! Waking up and going to sleep was such a pleasure with those views – especially the way Chicago’s downtown lights up at night.
As someone who’s health depends on quite heavily on what I eat, it’s also so important for me to stay where dietary restrictions are well-taken care of, which the Langham did in abundance. There were so many food options for room service and at their in-house restaurant, and they had such incredible service; I truly felt free to relax into each meal knowing I was being nourished by the best. I also managed to enjoy their amazing spa while I stayed, and it was HUGE! Amid an eclectic Asian-inspired design, complete with calming water-features, I had a wonderful massage, where I worked out all my nerves from the upcoming speech I was about to make!
Between connecting with a few friends I had met through Instagram over the years, and the fundraiser activities themselves, I did manage to do some sightseeing thanks to a wonderful local guide who happened to be very wheelchair friendly! Even if you’ve been somewhere before, I always recommend getting a guide to help get the inside scoop about the place you’re visiting. There’s so much deep history involved in a place, it was truly a treat to uncover it at street level, while hitting up some of the major attractions around Chicago.
…so of course I went to the Bean (really, it’s called the Cloud Gate) at Millennium Park and became absolutely obsessed with it. I swear something child-like was awoken within me as I moved around its reflective surface, watching my shape stretch and shrink on each side. My travel companions literally had to drag me away! I just couldn’t stop looking at the reflections of all the people around, and at the silly things others were doing ‘in the mirror’ to make each other laugh. I know I’ll be looking for any excuse to go back there again—this time early in the morning when there are fewer people. I think I could get some extremely interesting photo effects with that ‘old bean’ in the background.
Whenever we would walk into a new building, too, I was surprised by the sudden and contrasting changes in architecture. One moment you’re surrounded by glass-worked skyscrapers, and the next you’re in a lobby or store decorated in a 20s style with grand staircases and intricate stained-glass sky-lights whenever you look up. Some of the artwork even rivalled the pieces I saw in France in their ornateness…and don’t get me started on the bridges and their likeness to those spanning the river Seine! As we walked along toward the planetarium, too, the city’s Skyline took on the iconic shape I’ve seen in so many pictures. It was like walking in a world of déjà vu, seeing all the places and locations I’ve only seen in movies.
To wind down in the afternoons, the awesome people I connected with in the community sat inside with me, watching the rain pour across the parks hidden along the river. I can’t tell you how nice it is – as someone who does have to do most of her socializing in between doctor’s appointments and energy dips – to sit and speak with new friends about our mutual passions for health, and about life in general. I’m so grateful I took the time, and really think I came home with a new excitement to meet more of you out there whenever I next visit!
More Treats & Chicago Eats
Although I’ve always enjoyed eating, I’ve felt recently like I really understand why foodies are so obsessed with food. What with all the restaurants I’ve been enjoying lately, I may as well start calling myself one. Certainly, what draws my taste is similar to what draws me to different types of fashion: the presentation, and the creativity of each artist. There’s almost nothing like admiring (and then tasting!) the different culinary creations out there, knowing that no plate will be exactly the same as the last.
For my first Chicago visit, it was hard to choose from all of the restaurant options available, but in the end we decided to try NoMI at the Hyatt, Le Colonial, and finally Alinea (which was the absolute highlight!). NoMI was excellent for their beautiful view of the city, and how quiet it was amid the business of downtown Chicago. Next was Le Colonial, which had an equal and opposite energy to NoMI—though that might have been because we arrived right on time for the Sunday brunch rush. We had heard it was a pretty popular place, but nothing could have prepared us for how boisterous the atmosphere was through-and-through. We enjoyed giant portions that somehow managed to be both light and flavorful—something you really wouldn’t guess from the size.
Finally, we had an awe-inspiring dinner at Alinea! If you are in the Chicago area I can’t recommend enough that you go and take your time with each of the courses on offer the night you visit. When we went, none of the diners were given menus, which meant that each course was a complete surprise. Our party feasted on caviar, delicious prawns, and even an edible helium balloon served floating to our table! Thankfully they didn’t judge me when I asked how the heck I was supposed to eat the balloon…plus I swear we were like kids laughing at our helium voices from that course. The word from our host is that the restaurant even works with a local glassblower to make plates and bowls that ‘match’ or reflect the dish it is meant to hold—for example, our caviar dish looked like caviar. Just amazing!
In all honesty though, the dessert course of the evening had to be the best. This was when all our plates were removed and we got to enjoy first-hand the flourish of our host as they dripped and dropped a combination of sweet and savory powders and sauces across the mat on our table. It was truly an artistic experience to witness, and even more of one to savor each distinct flavor knowing the intention and gesture behind it. It made me wonder whether the way in which our host painted our table with food impacted the final flavor of the result.
Saying Goodbye to Chicago…for now
After tons of amazing food, awesome people, and wicked sight-seeing (plus all the action from the fundraiser), I still wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Chicago. It was almost like being homesick for a place that had never been my home! Certainly, as we returned to the airport to fly home, I thought about all the things I still wanted to do. Things like doing a boat-led architecture tour along the river when the weather is nicer, or visiting some of the incredible museums dotting the city. I thought about how Chicago has a similar vibe to places like NYC, and yet manages to be way less congested and crazy. There’s something calmer about Chicago too—like it’s more laid back. I’ll have to come back sooner rather than later to find out why that is!
Until then, I would love to hear about your recommendations for what I should do next time I travel to Chicago. What are some of the restaurants or stores that you really love? What attractions should I visit, and which ones should I avoid? What histories do you know that our tour-guide didn’t? I would be so excited to know, so don’t hesitate to send me a message online. After all, it’s you readers I have to thank for the great connections I made during my trip, and the connections I hope to maintain as I keep travelling to share my story, and raise money for Lyme research.
So, with that I’ll simply say: thank you!
As usual I send all my love,
Get the latest updates, sneak peeks and more.