Posts Tagged ‘Christkindlmarket’

There was no doubt that Chicago in 2010 was going to be an epic stop on the restoration tour.  This time, we were going to make sure that it was the most special of all the visits.

Under ordinary circumstances, that can be hard to do, and can even backfire.  Sometimes, the harder you try to set something up just right and make sure that everything is perfect, the more the pressure causes it to fall apart, or the fact that it doesn’t live up to the hype leaves a lingering disappointment.  In our case, we had found our love again, and that was the secret key that unlocked the magic of our restoration trip.

My wife loves traveling by train, and we found out that we could catch Amtrak in St. Louis and take the train on to Chicago.  Since we don’t drive in Chicago anyway, not having a car there not only isn’t a problem, it saves having to pay for parking.  The only drawback was that we had to catch the train in St. Louis at about 4AM.  I figured we could catch up on our sleep later, which we did, and we even caught a few winks on the train.

This time, we went up the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and we got a hotel right on the loop for three nights.  My wife knows how to find amazing deals online and we paid only slightly more for the three nights than we usually pay for one when we stay out in the outskirts.  We were right off Michigan Avenue and literally one block from where the parade starts.

Almost everything was within walking distance, so we hardly even needed the bus or the El Train.  That’s one of the benefits of being active and in shape.  We walked up Michigan Avenue, to Navy Pier and all over downtown.  It doesn’t cost anything to walk, you don’t have to wait on buses and trains, and you get to see things you would ordinarily miss.  For example, when we walked past the Tribune Tower, we discovered that there are bricks and stones inserted into the exterior wall that come from famous locations all over the world.  Passing by in a vehicle, we would never see any of that.

The first day we took a nap at the hotel and then walked to Navy Pier.  For supper, we stopped in Fox and Obel and bought ingredients to make our own deli sandwiches and a bottle of wine to take back to the room.  It was mostly a relax and rest first day, so that we would be ready to get up early and go to the parade the next morning.  This time, we wouldn’t have to get up insanely early and take a train downtown to get a good spot.  We could just get up and pretty much already be there.

The parade was amazing and the weather was absolutely perfect.  Afterward, we walked to the opening of the Christkindlmarket, where we ate German food for lunch and bought souvenirs.  My wife got a picture with the Christmas fairy from Nuremberg, and we had a wonderful time at the market.  After another nap at the hotel, we realized it was Thanksgiving Day, so not much was open.  We decided to revive an old Thanksgiving tradition of ours and go to a movie.  We walked to a downtown theater and watched “Tangled,” which had just come out.  After the movie, we grabbed a bite at a sports bar and called it a night.

We didn’t have any big plans for the rest of the trip except going to Pizzeria Uno, so friday was pretty much wide open.  It was black friday, and we had no desire to fight the crowds to shop for things we didn’t really want, so we slept in and had a leisurely breakfast.  Eventually we ventured out and walked around Millenium Park and visited a few of the stores on Michigan Ave.  We did do a little shopping, but at our own pace and just for the fun of it.

We went back to the market for more German food and just because we enjoy it so much.  We always buy a Stollen to bring home, and we also collect the souvenir mugs that they serve the gluhwein, a hot spiced wine in.  This year, we also wanted to bring back some ornaments from the Christmas shop to remember this trip by.  Then we got our Chicago pizza at Uno and the trip was complete.

There have been lots of little restorations and a few big ones during this past year.  Chicago was definitely one of the biggest.  It was, and remains, a place where we feel as though we can step outside the stress and busyness of real life and go to our romantic dream world once a year.  We are just as much in love now when we are at home as we are anywhere else, but Chicago holds a special place in our hearts, and of all our treasured memories from nearly 15 years of marriage, there may be more from Chicago than anywhere else.

My wife was an army brat, so she tells people she isn’t really from anywhere, but she considers Germany home.  She lived there for much of her childhood and teens and, almost from the time we started dating, she told me how much she wanted to take me there.  Of all the things she talked about, the thing she loved the very most was the Christkindlmarket, an open air market that was set up during the Christmas season.

About 10 years ago, she was surfing the internet and discovered that they actually bring a Christkindlmarket, with vendors from Nuremberg and other German towns, to downtown Chicago every year.  We still haven’t been to Germany, but our love affair with the city of Chicago began with our very first visit.  The Christkindlmarket runs from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas Eve. and they set it up in Daley Plaza, right in the heart of Chicago.  We drove up on Thanksgiving Day that first year.

I’ll never forget the look on my wife’s face or her reaction when we arrived.  She said the sights and smells were exactly as she remembered, and she was absolutely glowing with excitement.  It was a magical trip, with more memories than I can possibly list here.  I took a picture of her in her new coat standing in front of the 80 foot Christmas tree and we had it made into an 8×10. It’s a photo that I treasure to this day.  When she moved out, she didn’t take it with her.  There are not many possessions that mean a whole lot to me, but that’s one of the few that it would break my heart to lose.

Not only did we experience the Christkindlmarket for the first time, but we also discovered Navy Pier.  Jutting out into Lake Michigan, Navy Pier holds a shopping mall, ferris wheel, children’s museum, and more.  There is a stage where plays and family oriented performances are held, and there is so much there that you could literally spend an entire day.

Of course, we spent time on Michigan Avenue, also known as the magnificent mile.  It’s especially spectacular at night with all the Christmas lights up.  Even though we are not big shoppers, the beauty and fame of the street make it a “must see” part of any trip to the windy city.  Just to the east, Grant Park runs for miles between Michigan Avenue and Lakeshore Drive, which literally follows the western shore of Lake Michigan.

Since that first visit, we have been to Chicago many times, but always during the Christkindlmarket.  Much like The Hill in St. Louis, it has always been an extremely special place for us.  Through the years, we have discovered additional pleasures like Pizzeria Uno, where you usually have to wait over an hour for your table, and we always do.  The pizza is so thick that it is impossible to eat much more than two slices, and it is now an every time stop when we’re in town.  We also love Fox and Obel, a gourmet food store and much more.

When the kids were in high school, we told them we would take them on a senior trip and they could pick anywhere they wanted to go.  They all picked Chicago.  Only two of them have actually taken the trip (others are still pending), but I guess they’ve seen how much we’ve loved it and they wanted to experience it for themselves.

We got to experience another dream come true when we took our son on his trip and that was seeing the Thanksgiving Day parade in person.  It was so cold that we couldn’t feel our feet before it was over, and we headed straight for the nearest Starbucks to revive ourselves, but we were there, almost at the front of the crowd at the corner of State and Washington.

That was also the trip that marred our nearly perfect memories of holiday trips to Chicago.  It was a couple of years ago, while I was having doubts about our marriage and our future.  I wasn’t the same person then that I had been before, and while the trip still had its good moments, it had some tension and problems too.  At one point, we were in a downtown Old Navy store and I was in a really foul mood.  I’m not even sure why, but I turned on my wife in the store and said some really hurtful things to her.

They were the same types of things that I sometimes said at home when I would get selfish and irritable.  They always caused her pain and confusion, because she never knew what she had done wrong.  Truthfully, there was usually nothing that she had done; she just caught the blame for my own issues.  The fact that it happened in Chicago during the holidays made it nearly unbearable.  We had a whole year to live with it, but we knew last year’s trip during the restoration tour was going to be spectacular…