A Weekend in Chicago

The Windy City has plenty to offer, especially during the holidays with fun displays full of festive cheer.  From art and shopping to food and culture, there is so much to enjoy!  I recently got my city fix in for a weekend, and it was honestly the perfect little itinerary for a short and fun getaway.  While I am nowhere near an expect on the city, here is where I suggest you eat, shop and explore in Chi-town.

Shopping

The Magnificent Mile on Michigan Ave is the place to go for shopping in Chicago.  Being one of the most famous streets in America, the glamour doesn’t disappoint.  Glitzy designer flagships align the street among large global chains and huge department stores, meaning there is something for everyone.  The window shopping is first class too!  For the holidays, the street is all decked out with fun little displays outside, in addition to amazing window decor from the designer stores.  I was there on Black Friday, and although crazy, the hustle-like atmosphere from the crowds was exciting and exhilarating, almost like out of a Christmas movie.  All of the department stores are worth checking out and, while not as large as their NYC counterparts, stores like Bloomingdales, Saks 5th Ave and Nieman Marcus prove to be alive in the holiday spirit.

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The scene at night of Michigan Ave on Black Friday

Perpendicular to Mich Ave is Oak St. which houses more designer stores, among nicer brands such as Barbour, AllSaints, and Madewell.  The area serves as a bit of an escape from the crowds of Michigan since it’s a little less grand and a little more quaint.  I recommend walking in and out of the surrounding streets to explore more of what’s around off of the high street.

Art

It is easy to make a day out of the Chicago Institute of Art and Millennial Park since they are right next to each other and I would 10/10 recommend doing so!  I was surprised at how vast the collections were at the art museum.  They literally have every sort of art imaginable, all wonderfully curated and displayed with countless masterpieces from artists of every time period.  Besides the more famous American art and impressionists collections that everyone goes to see, the museum has a super cool gallery of European armor from as early as the 7th century.  I can be a bit of a history nerd, so I found the display extremely interesting and well done.  They also have an exhibit of miniature rooms, like doll houses, that show scenes from different time periods and locations.

Down the street from the museum is the classic instagram famous mirrored sculpture otherwise known as the Bean.  I really wanted to check out the bean for the soul reason of getting a picture, but I ended up being more fascinated in it than I thought I would be.  Yes, it is touristy and crowed, but that is all apart of the fun and allure.  The shape of the sculpture creates many different illusions with the bean-shaped mirror that changes at every angle and location.  You can move anywhere around and you’ll get a totally different shot.  It also reflects a beautiful and well-positioned image of Chicago’s sky line, making it a delight for both tourists and locals alike (and of course insta-worthy!).

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Food

Like any major metropolis, Chicago has a wide range of cuisine and food specialities.  I’m honestly not a big deep dish fan (prefer NY pizza for sure, sorry Chicago), so I opted for other indulgences such as donuts.  Stan’s Donuts is a serious must try.  They are located right on busy Michigan Avenue, but have 8 other locations throughout the city with their cute little cafe-like shops also serving coffee and gelato.  I tried the nutella banana filled donut and the blueberry cream cheese pocket donut which were both amazing.  Honestly though, all of Stan’s array of classic and unconventional donuts looked fabulous (I’m that person that would try everything); I doubt you can go wrong.

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I checked out Eataly Chicago which was the first time that I’d gone to an Eataly.  Eataly is a food concept department-like store that specializes in imported authentic Italian food with the idea that food is a celebration and an essential part of culture.  The first stores started in Italy and they are now in many major cities around the world with Chicago being one of four in the US.  The indoor market has different stations serving up Italian specialities such as gelato and made-to-order cannolis.  There are different casual restaurants and many bars that allow you to “bar-hop” throughout Italy.

For a fun Sunday brunch, Luxbar in the gold coast neighborhood is classic and fun with signature entrées and delicious almond croissants.  And for a nice dinner, Brindille proves to be a fantastic dining experience with decadent and modern french cuisine.  Honestly, the highlight of the meal are the amuse-bouch potato beignets which taste like ridiculously good tater-tots.  The desert menu is also spectacular with options such as a plate of freshly baked cookies that will make you feel like a little kid on Christmas.

Culture

Both the Willis tower and the Hancock tower offer impressive views of the city and a different perspective from above.  You have to take a picture at the sky deck on top of the Willis tower.  Little clear capsules perturb out of the building making it seem like you are suspended above.  It is a little frightening, but super cool to look down (people with a fear of heights: beware).

Walking around the city during the holidays is an experience in itself, but to really get your Christmas fix, head down to Lincoln Park and see the Zoo Lights.  Every year from Black Friday to Christmas, the zoo puts up an over the top display of lit up animals and trees, complete with light shows to music.  It’s totally free and fun for everyone.

December Picks- My Holiday Favorites

We are now deep into the Christmas season with all its usual bustle and crazy weather (it has been snowing for a week straight in NY!).  Among the hecticness, this is one of the most fun and festive times of the year where we can take a step back and admire the seasonal joys.  Listening to Christmas music and watching holiday classics are great ways to take advantage of the season and relax.  I am currently deep into college finals, and I know that random Christmas movies on my computer are the only things keeping me from losing my mind right now.  Here are some ideas to get into the holiday spirit:

Music- Classics are great, but so is contemporary.  Many artists have made Christmas albums before, you just probably do not about know them since the radio tends to always play the same versions of songs (and never change it up…).  Look around and you might be surprised at how much Christmas music is out there. (Affiliate Links included)

  • Josh Groban’s Noël
    • A classic radio station pick with well-known songs.  Josh Groban is simply known for Christmas given his great classically trained voice, and his ability to shed new light on traditional songs.

  • Lady Antebellum’s On This Winter’s Night
    • One of my favorite artists, Lady Antebellum puts the country twain into Christmas favorites.  They have a good mix of classic and contemporary songs that can please both country music fans and Christmas music enthusiasts alike.

  • Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas Symphony 2
    • The style of this album is very unconventional due to the instrumental melody and use of unique instruments.  For a classical Christmas album, Christmas Symphony 2 is super cool because it is not what you are used to hearing.  A perfect mix of holiday favorites put together through different sounds and techniques.

  • A great variety of Christmas music from literally every singer or band can be found at Spotify with their amazing array of playlists for the holidays.

Holiday Movies- As I continue to rely on Netflix to provide me entertainment, I have been fortunate to experience the groundbreaking phenomenon of cheesy Christmas movies that have taken over the online streaming service by storm.  We all know and love Hallmark Channel Movies (And if you do not know of them, you need to figure it out because they are life-changing), so Netflix realized that Hallmark-esque + Netflix was just the perfect combo for young bing watching students during the holidays.

  • A Christmas Prince
    • Probably the most predictable movie ever made (and I seriously think I have seen this 3 other times with different characters on Hallmark), A Christmas Prince is delightful.  There is no reason to think at all while being sucked into this marvelous story about an ordinary New Yorker who ‘accidentally” falls in love with a prince.  100% worth your time…

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  • Christmas Inheritance
    • Another crown jewel of Netflix’s collection of original movies, Christmas Inheritance is the classic tale of a rich city girl going to a small town for a special mission.  You can guess what happens next in this wonderful fairy tale.

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  • The Crown (Season 2)
    • I absolutely loved the first season of The Crown, a Netflix original based on the life of Queen Elizabeth.  The second season just arrived, guaranteeing plenty of drama, scandals, and intrigue.  If you enjoy period shows, British drama and/or are fascinated by royals, The Crown is perfect for you!

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Fashion- Check out my guide to Holiday style here for ideas and inspiration on what to wear to parties and events this month: https://livelifeontheclassyside.com/2017/12/10/winter-trends/

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November Picks

I realize that this is a little late in the month, but I have been busy with the holidays and school lately.  Anyways, with Christmas just around the corner, it is hands down the best time of year.  The hustle and bustle, the joy, and the overall craziness is something to be thankful for as we get closer to Christmas.  I have compiled a list of my usual monthly picks, along with tips for holiday shopping and deals.

What to listen to (affiliate links included):

Blake Shelton-Texoma Shore

  • The newly crowed sexiest man of the year (thank you People) has recently released an album called Texoma Shore.  With great countries songs, Blake Shelton’s keeps the album down to earth and real, something that pop/country artists seem to sometimes lack nowadays.  The hit single “I’ll Name the Dogs” is my personal favorite since it is such a great feel good love song.


Niall Horan- Flicker

  • One Direction member turned avid golf enthusiast turned solo pop artist and country collaborator, Niall Horan has done a lot recently to make a name for himself.  Back in my middle school days, I was head over heels for Niall (being a huge directioner), so I love to see how well he is doing.  It also does not surprise me how much I love her new and first solo album, Flicker.  Slow Hands is a great catchy fun tune, This Town is nice and reminiscent of a past time, and Seeing Blind is a great collaboration with Maren Morris, one of my favorite up and coming country stars.

What to watch (affiliate links included):

Made of Honor (2008)

  • This is a little known American rom com that I stumbled across on Netflix.  It is clever, very predictable (of course), hilarious, and happens to star Patrick Dempsey (Mr. McDreamy).  While the movie isn’t award worthy, it’s a great distraction to rest your mind for awhile.   Click on the photo to rent on Amazon.

A Royal Night Out (2015)

  • Another random Netflix find that happened to be fabulous.  A Royal Night Out tells the story of a young Queen Elizabeth on VE day at the end of WW2.  For anyone eagerly anticipating the return next month of The Crown (me!) and with talks of an upcoming royal wedding, this is sure to satisfy your need of British culture.  Again, a bunch of fluff, but fun!  Click on the photo to rent on Amazon.

Fashion- How to get good deals this Christmas shopping season

Alas, Black Friday has come and gone, for better or for worse.  If you are feeling like you missed out on savings for presents and a seasonal wardrobe makeover, do not fret and be glad that you avoided the unnecessary stress associated with overhyped “bargains”.  It is probably not a secret, but I rely on online shopping to find deals with an abundance of promo codes and online services that alert me on where to find something for the cheapest price. Throughout all of December, it is pretty much guaranteed that your favorite retailers will one, restock everything, and two, offer up similar (if not better) deals to those offered on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  Here are some tips on navigating this crazy shopping time.

  1.  Avoid all malls
  • Only go to an actually store if it is a must.  Malls and shopping areas are mobbed this time of year, causing extra stress and wasting time.  Online, you will find no actual people and much better discounts.

2.   Look into getting clothes and accessories through online department stores

  • Stores such as Nordstrom and Saks are super easy to navigate online and offer great return and shipping policies, especially this time of year.  Browse the gift guides and trend alerts for easy shopping, in addition to talking advantage of their fleeting and immense sales.

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3.    Download and use Honey

  • Honey.com is this amazing program that notifies you of promo codes and discounts while shopping at stores online.  The little widget will get downloaded on to your search bar and you can use it at pretty much any store.  What is even more amazing is that by using Honey, you get reward points that you can redeem for virtual gift cards.  It rewards you for saving!

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4.     Do not delete all of those sale notification emails

  • While they are super annoying and might seem meaningless, you never know when you might need to buy something from some random site.  When you do, it is nice to be able to go back and search for the store to see if any deals are currently going on.

5.   Sign up for ShopItToMe

  • This is another great resource that can save you a ton of money online.  Shop it to Me is an online program that sends you daily alerts of sales going on for any item of  your so-called “favorite brands”.  The best part of it is that you tell them all your sizes, so the clothes that are shown on sale are going to be in your size.  You like brands, put down your sizes, and voilà, you get notified when ever something that you might like is on sale anywhere online.  Screen Shot 2017-11-28 at 9.39.58 PM.png
  • I hope to have provided some good tips on shopping this month.  Stay tuned for a more comprehensive guide to saving money while shopping online in the future.

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Naples Florida-A Great Relaxing Vacation Destination

Naples combines the allure of Florida beaches, exceptional restaurants, and fabulous shopping in one town, making it a great destination for a tropical vacation.  It isn’t classic Florida, but, in my bias opinion, it offers the best of Florida with a more sophisticated twist.  Everything is, there’s not better way to say, relaxing and nice.  Wether it’s walking the miles of white sandy beaches and swimming is mildly calm waters, or spending the day out shopping at the many unique stores around town, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

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The main beach in old Naples.  It stretches across the whole town and includes an iconic pier.  The beach is public but is never super busy.  

Once you soak up enough of the sun, there are plenty of great places to walk around and shop.  5th Ave is the most popular street and offers a lot of fun restaurants and quant shops to walk into.  3rd Street is another hot spot, along with Waterside shops which is chock full and higher end flagships and department stores.

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3rd Street is a popular destination who’s shops include Lilly Pulitzer, the Island Company and 3 huge Tommy Bahama stores.  

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Waterside Shops which features many well know stores, along with lesser known boutiques.  Window shopping is just as fun here and the fountains surrounding the squares are beautiful.   

The restaurants in Naples are truly exceptional and there is a wide range of options.  My all time favorites include the modern Persian restaurant called Bha! Bha! and the quant provencal restaurant called Blue Provence.  However, there are plenty of options to soot anybodies taste.  It’s also great to be able to sit outside on the patio or street side.

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One of my favorite dishes ever, Persian Haleem, from Bha! Bha!.  It’s a roasted eggplant dip that’s eaten with pita bread.   

 

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Apricot orange peel Persian Ice Cream from Bha! Bha!.  Persian ice cream is unlike any ice cream you’ve ever had.  It’s a must try!

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The decor at Bha! Bha! is modern, pleasing, yet cultural at the same time.  And yes, there is outside sitting right on 5th Ave.   

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Bleu Provence offers traditionally prepared French cuisine in a classic setting.  Here, I have the country paté which is prepared with an apricot purée.    

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The classic chocolate profiteroles that embody the best of french pastry baking.  All the deserts are great, but the profiteroles are absolutely fabulous.  

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The patio at Bleu Provence is extremely welcoming and comfortable.  It aspires to be a traditional french garden with a homey feel.  

You really can’t go wrong with anything in Naples as it truly is a great vacation town.  I highly recommend checking it out if your planning on going to Florida, or if you are still looking for somewhere to go for spring break.

3rd street shops: http://thirdstreetsouth.com

5th Ave: http://www.fifthavenuesouth.com

Waterside shops: http://www.watersideshops.com

Bha! Bha!: http://bhabhabistro.com

Bleu Provence: http://www.bleuprovencenaples.com/dinner