Chicago Loop holiday shopping – part 3, Block 37

One thing uncomfortable about holiday shopping is when it’s real cold outside, once you’re in the store, you may find yourself rushing about in your coat and sweating by the time you go back out into the frigid temperatures. Alternately, you may take your cold weather gear off and put it back on again over and over each time you pop in and out of stores, which is a hassle plus time-consuming.

Also, when you strip off all your outerwear and drape it over one arm to lug that heavy clump around, that leaves you only one arm to shop with, which any serious shopper knows is truly not ideal. In fact, a shopper who really wants to take care of business probably wishes for several arms.

One suggestion to get around this is to stuff your gloves into your pockets, your hat in one sleeve and your scarf in another (securely, to make sure they don’t fall out) then securely drape your coat over your shoulders without actually putting it on. Or try a combination of utilizing your pockets, depending on how big they are and how much they can accommodate, purse or briefcase. If you’re in a hurry, you can do all this while you’re on the move.

Another way around doing too much of the coat-off, coat-on routine is to visit an indoor mall like Water Tower Place, The Shops at Northbridge or the 900 North Michigan Avenues stores. And right in the Loop, there’s the snazzy Block 37.

Picture1It’s centrally located on State and Randolph with an entryway on Dearborn too (right across from Christkindlemarket) and is convenient to blue and red line trains plus surrounding bus stops. Block 37 is even connected to the Loop’s underground pedway, which makes shopping during the winter less stressful. If you work downtown in a building connected to the pedway, you may not even have to don your winter outerwear to get there and do some lunch time shopping plus grab a bite to eat. Imagine the convenience, the joy of not being heavy-laden with winter wear!

Block 37 was thoughtfully designed with your convenience in mind. ATMs are located in the pedway and on Level 1. The pedway has several food vendors and small shops including a GNC health food store. There’s a newsstand in the pedway for your convenience (closed on weekends) as well as specialty kiosks, including a Boost Mobile, Dakota Watch and Fashion Accessories.

Picture1.5There’s a Guest Services office on Level 1, or you can call 312-261-4738. Free maps and travel guides are available, keeping you abreast of Chicago events. If you need a stroller or wheelchair, those are available for free. There’s also a Hot Tix and a Godiva Chocolatier.

During the holiday season, Block 37 shops are open from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. every day except Sunday when they’re open from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Be aware, however, that some of the food vendors have shorter hours and not all of them are open on weekends.

Here’s what you’ll find at Block 37 for your holiday shopping needs and more:

  • Apparel and accessories for men, women and children: AKIRA, Anthropologie, Banana Republic, Iridium Lab, Made of Chicago, North & Hudson, Zara
  • Beauty products: L’Occitane en Province, Sabon, Sephora
  • Jewelry and accessories: Eddie’s Treasures, Les Nereidies, Local Charm, Sunglass Hut
  • Especially for children: Disney Store

Don’t “shop till you drop;” there are plenty of places to refuel at Block 37: Fast food in the lower level; Latinicity, Pueblo restaurant; and for dessert, Magnolia Bakery. Or if you’d like to reward yourself with dinner and a movie after shopping, there’s a dine-in AMC theater in Block 37.

Happy shopping!

Advertisements

Chicago Loop holiday shopping – part 2, Christkindlemarket

IMG_1357

“Oh the weather outside is frightful…” but Christkindlmarket is oh-so delightful!

It seems to happen almost every year without fail: Come December, Chicago seems to get hit with sudden winter comprised of temperature dips plus snow. One thing we can depend on here in the Chicago area is that no matter how pleasant autumn may be, it’s a short season, and winter usually bears down in December, just in time to make holiday shopping all the more tricky.

But we’re Chicagoans; we expect it, we’re used to it and we’re tough enough to handle it! So pull on your heavy hooded coats and water-proof boots, big scarves and serious gloves and head over to Christkindlmarket at the Daley Plaza for some holiday cheer along with your holiday shopping! Also, to duck out of the cold and slush, you can take the pedway and come right up into it.

If you work nearby in the Loop, how ideal to pop over on your lunch break, when the sun is warm and high in the sky, for a hearty sausage sandwich with a side of potato pancakes, a hot chocolate to wash it down and one of the several wonderful old world bakery treats to end your meal on the perfect note.

For those who can take it, there are spots to stand around outdoors and eat, though your food will stay warmer if you head indoors for a more comfortable meal in a tent set up for indoor dining. Your co-workers will adore you for bringing back some of the baked goods or the interesting candy sold at Christkindlmarket. Stock up on baked goods while you can here, for holiday parties or your own pleasure. Traditional old world bakeries are scarce downtown.

IMG_1432 (1)

But let’s not forget why we stopped by: To shop for holiday gifts! Christkindlmarket abounds with everything from delightful trinkets to toys to fine jewelry. Here you can find unique tree ornaments, quaint holiday decorations, old-fashioned toys for the kids, one-of-a-kind jewelry for someone special and much more!

If you stop by in the afternoon or evening, you may experience the pleasure of live entertainment. And if pass through after work, there’s beer and a potent and tasty hot spiced wine (glug) very popular during the colder months in parts of Europe. Be sure to try it at least once (if you’re of age); you’ll find you start to forget about the cold, plus you can take the festive mug home as a souvenir. Drink up, though, because no alcoholic beverages are allowed outside the perimeter of the marketplace.

Cops stand guard watching, and of course security is extra vigilant – you have to get past cops in both directions, on your way in and on your way out and be subject to search — so don’t worry about safety issues.

If you come downtown with the family for some festive winter events and shopping, be sure to bring the children by Christkindlmarket to meet with Santa in the traditional manner.

This charming village, that seems to be transported straight from the scenic hills of Germany and plunked right down in the midst of the city, only comes once a year and only lasts about a month (from mid-November till Christmas Eve). Be sure to come and enjoy it and gather up some unusual gifts!

Happy shopping, and happy holidays to my readers near and far!

IMG_1358 (1)

Chicago Loop holiday shopping – part 1, hot tips

Seasonal shopping is easy if you work and/or live in Chicago’s Loop, especially if you’re nearby State Street! If you plan it right, you should be able to get almost anything you need by simply popping over and strolling down State Street on your lunch breaks or on your trip home from work.

One good reason to shop State Street on your lunch break is because even with holiday store hours, stores downtown simply do not stay open nearly as late as their suburban counterparts. Whereas in the suburbs, some stores will even stay open till midnight during the holiday rush, downtown, most stores close by 9:00 at the latest during the holiday season; and depending on how long your shopping list is, that may not give you enough time to get everything you want in one enthusiastic sweep of State Street.

Think of everyone you want to bless with a gift this year; make your list; check it at least twice to avoid last-minute panic shopping. A good idea is to always buy a few extra gifts and have them ready to avoid an awkward faux pas in case someone you didn’t expect suddenly presents you with a gift. Make them something universal and unisex that you yourself wouldn’t mind having, like a Starbucks gift certificate, in case you don’t end up giving them away.

Also have booze or pop handy for any holiday parties to which you may be invited. Now Loop pharmacies, like CVS and Walgreens, sell alcohol as do other stores, like City Target.

Holiday shopping can be daunting, but if you break it up into little bits here and there on your lunch breaks or trek home from the office, you’ll be done before you know it. Start now before a blizzard hits and walking becomes sloppy, even treacherous – already the temperature has plummeted and it’s snowed in the Windy City! Besides, as you know, stores are only going to become more crowded and chaotic with each passing day leading up to the Christmas.

One more thing to keep in mind, perhaps the most important: Remember to buy yourself something too! Whether out of a sense of reward for having gotten all of your requisite shopping done, or due to a feeling of self-love, or for no reason at all, splurge a bit and get yourself something special!

The Presence of Presents-2007

Chicago: Where the holiday action is, part 2

IMG_1333

Part 1 in this two-part series announced the kick-off of the holiday season in downtown Chicago. Here is more of what’s happening during this jolly month ahead across Chicago:

Through January 8 – Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier. Navy Pier boasts one-of-a-kind shops, famous food spots, carnival rides and entertainment of almost every type and truly is a wonder to behold and enjoy during every season. But at this time of year, the decorations are larger than life. Plus Navy Pier hosts its annual Winter Wonderfest, including ice skating, which is like a holiday paradise for all ages.

December 8 and 15 – Fairly recently, I discovered the famous Cloud Gate in Millennium Park talks and tells its story. Now there’s singing there too through mid-December. On Friday evenings at 7:00 p.m., there will be choral performances and gigantic sing-alongs around “the Bean.”

December 8, 15 and 22 – Andersonville Late Nights 2017. Late night shopping, especially at holiday-time, while common in the suburbs, is rare in the city. Get some late night shopping in at the fascinating neighborhood of Andersonville. Seasonal fun and specials go on all around you to brighten these very special nights. Andersonville is a very vibrant neighborhood that really shines at this time of year. Click here for a list of deals and events. A special event that takes place in Andersonville (originally an area where many Swedes settled) is the Swedish tradition the Festival of Lights on Wednesday, December 13.

December 8-23, 26-31 and January 1-7 – Lincoln Park Zoo Lights. In my article about Lincoln Park Zoo, I pointed out the fun never stops at this zoo. Driving along Lake Shore Drive at night, the zoo looks like a magical place with its colorful lights – and it is. Don’t just be content to gawk at it from afar; join the Zoo Lights winter revelry which includes food, drink, a holiday market and live music – and it’s free!

December 9-24 – If you’ve not yet experienced the way the Music Box Theatre celebrates the season, I highly recommend it! Think you’ve seen all the classic Christmas movies too many times already? I guarantee you’ve never experienced them quite like this. Many attendees really get in the spirit by dressing up, bringing props including noise makers, reciting famous lines and best of all, singing along to these old-time movies. The Music Box Christmas Double Feature & Sing-A-Long will put you in the Christmas spirit! You can catch a single feature too if you’d rather. Check the website to see the schedule and order your tickets – get them while you can, because this is a very popular event. Devotees to this event go faithfully year after year.

December 12 & 19 – The Do It Yourself Messiah at Millennium Park. George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” is one of the most glorious oratorios in history – and one of the most popular especially at Christmas time and Easter. The music is so elevating, it’s natural to want to sing along. Here’s your chance, under the guidance of conductor Stanley Sperber and along with famous singers and musicians. Not much into singing? Maybe you should be! Several studies have concluded that singing is good for you: for your heart, lungs, circulation, sinuses and brain, immunity…as well as being emotionally uplifting and, ultimately, relaxing.

Add to all the great shopping and entertainment and sights to take in downtown, there are also great places to dine and drink. Whether grabbing lunch or enjoying a meal before the trek homeward, these are fascinating places to dive into the mix of regular locals, local tourists and people from around the world.

If you live downtown, there’s no excuse to miss all Chicago has to offer at this time of year, whether to join in an event, or simply enjoy this beautiful, colorful and classy city.

I advise you get up and out; take a revitalizing walk (perhaps at least partially by pedway if it’s frightfully cold) enjoy all that Chicago has to offer, from it’s gigantic events to the green and red-lit buildings to the planters bursting with fragrant evergreens and all the touches of beauty that Maggie Daley added to this town that transformed it from an old grey city to one of the world’s most beautiful.

If you don’t live downtown, Chicago during the holiday season is definitely worth at least one if not several trips downtown to make a day or a weekend of it; bring the whole family!

Happy Holidays! Shop, eat, drink, be merry, stay safe (be vigilant) and have fun!

Chicago: Where the holiday action is, part 1

yes2‘Tis the season to stop lamenting those bygone hot summer days, leave Halloween behind, and start enjoying all the fun Chicago has to offer during the holiday season! Whether you live downtown or commute into the city, Chicago has good times for everyone now — so bundle up, come on out and let’s have some fun!

The Chicago Lights Festival is this weekend through Saturday, November 18. Festive lights lining the Mag Mile get turned on to brighten up the winter in conjunction with a parade. Get over to Pioneer Court to revel in all sorts of entertainment including live bands. Bring the kids, because Santa has arrived in town! Many shops and restaurants in the area offer special deals at this time. The only ones who may not be pleased about all this are residents of the area trying to commute in vehicles, as there are street closures necessitating detours.

Macy’s on State Street now has its Christmas windows on display through January 7. Their theme this year is “Reasons to Believe,” promoting their Believe campaign (in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Foundation that grants wishes to children with serious illnesses). How can you help? Write a letter to Santa – even if you’re an adult – and money will be donated to this wonderful cause. Instructions are here.

Crowds gather to view these, and it’s hard to get up front and see. If the kid in you wants to get close to the windows, the best times to do this are before schools let out for winter break and before or after shopping hours, which are extended during the holidays.

yes3No matter the weather, huddle with the crowds at Christkindlemarket at Daley Plaza in Chicago, open now through December 24. It will probably put your mind at ease to know the City of Chicago has beefed up security for this and holiday events in general throughout Chicago. So come gawk at the gorgeous tree and the charming shops. The food and drink will warm you and the shops will dazzle you with unique items, plus there is live entertainment.

Also during this exciting mid-November weekend, the ice skating rinks have just opened: You can now ice skate at the Millennium Park ice rink and the Maggie Daley Park ice skating ribbon. Skates are available for rent. Don’t miss your chance this year to do this! These skating rinks are like no place else anywhere; you’ll be surrounded by sparkling skyscrapers.

Thanksgiving weekend is coming right up. This includes the annual Thanksgiving Day parade. If you live right on State Street and plan to stay out partying the night before (“Black Wednesday”), be aware the parade preparations start in the wee hours of the morning on and around State Street. New residents in the area will no doubt be completely caught off guard by this.

Ear plugs could come in handy if you’re trying to get your sleep, because there’s always some guy with a bullhorn bellowing out instructions; this starts well before the parade and continues throughout. Bands line up and practice before the parade starts too. It gets very noisy. In the past, we simply gave in when the parade started, no matter how little sleep: Got up and sat in our pj’s by the window, coffee in hand, watched the parade, and then went back to bed for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner nap.

The annual Turkey Trot takes place the day after Thanksgiving in Lincoln Park. The cool thing about this is it’s  for walkers as well as runners and people of all ages. There’s a Turkey Day Run 5K/8K and a Plymouth Rock Ramble kids race. These are followed by yet more fun activities including Corn Hole, Football Toss and Turkey Bowling. Thanksgiving costumes are encouraged. Dress as a turkey — but don’t be one: Sign up now or sponsor a participant, because proceeds go to feed Chicago’s hungry via the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

yes, smallAdditionally, for those who don’t wish to cook and have no place to go for Thanksgiving or just want to do your own thing, there are loads of Chicago restaurants serving tasty Thanksgiving dinners. Click here for a list of just some of the excellent restaurants offering Thanksgiving feasts.

Check back soon for part 2 and learn about more Chicago seasonal events hosted with your delight and enjoyment in mind! If you subscribe to my blog (a free and easy process, right from this page), I will keep you informed so you can experience loads of holiday fun this year in downtown Chicago.

Stay warm and dry via Chicago pedways

About two weekends ago, yours truly was playing in autumn leaves on a sunny day so warm, no jacket was required. But since then, as usually happens in Chicago, we basically skipped temperatures in the 60’s or 50’s and dove straight down to the 40’s and 30’s — and at night, even dipping into the 20’s!

From bikeways to pedways, it’s good to know that the city of Chicago provides many ways for its citizens and visitors to get around comfortably. The pedway system is most popular in the winter, but also handy on those unbearably hot sweltering days of summer as well as during precipitation or high winds.

When it turns cold, the heated pedways become flooded with pedestrians. The pedway is a labyrinth of mostly underground hallways and tunnels plus some sky bridges. Using pedways and cutting through buildings to escape the harsh weather is the savvy way to get around.

There are several buildings downtown that are a block long, one right after the other in some areas (like in the south LaSalle Street business district). Explore a bit as you traverse the city on foot; find out which ones you can cut through to do part of your commute indoors to escape the elements. Be aware, however, that your chance of utilizing these routes is drastically reduced as 6:00 p.m. approaches when many buildings close their thoroughfares.

However, if you’re walking along State Street or one of the shopping districts, there are several department stores and malls one can cross through going any direction. You might even get some shopping done if something catches your eye as you pass through. Hotels are also good for ducking out of the elements and snaking through indoors, sometimes even shaving off two blocks’ walk in nasty weather.

But the pedways are really where it’s at, and there are several of them running like an intricate maze under the city as well as above the city.

In the 203 North LaSalle Street building, not only is there the CTA train system with underground walkways to connect with trains shooting out from the city in all directions, but on the second floor, there is an indoor pathway through several buildings all the way to State Street. Take the escalators to the second floor, walk east, and you’ll soon find yourself in a catwalk. You will go up and down stairways at times as you wind your way through the buildings lining Lake Street, finally crossing through the back hallway of the Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel with ATM’s, shops, and places to eat before emerging on the corner of either State and Lake, or if you enter the hotel and jut through the lobby, State and Wacker. Obviously the same route can be taken in reverse.

Pedway Swimming Pool-Health Club
Swimming pool off the pedway

But the really long and amazing pedway is one that goes all the way from some of the residential buildings on the south bank of the Chicago River east of Michigan Avenue all the way to City Hall — or if you prefer, you can turn south in the pedway, heading into the center of the Loop, emerging on an escalator in the Three First National Plaza building, across Madison Street from Chase Tower (bank), where you can also cut through.

There’s more than one train depot in this pedway where you can stop to shop, eat, grab a cocktail, even swim at an underground pool! This amazing pedway gives you access to the Michigan Plaza on North Michigan Avenue, with its awesome array of businesses, eateries, stores, services and salons. It also takes you to the Cultural Center, then on past LA Fitness to Macy’s, then to the eating spots and shops at Block 37 and on to various municipal and office buildings including the Illinois Center. Mentioned here are just a handful of the buildings you can get to via the pedway.

Insider tip: While you’re in the pedway, you are indoors. Take off your hat and gloves, unbutton your coat and loosen your scarf. If not, you’ll find yourself sweating, which is not a healthy way to exit the pedway back into the cold on the other end.

Exploring the pedway on your own can feel like an adventure, but it can also be a bit daunting if it’s new to you. Just like the street above, people are scurrying along — especially those catching trains — plus there are some less populated sections with almost a seedy feel where someone may ask you for money.

If you want to become a pedway pro, try a pedway tour. There are several, most costing about $20 or $25, and they’re easy to find on the Internet. Wear your walking shoes and outerwear that’s not too bulky to carry, because the tours last an hour or more — that’s because the Chicago pedways are so amazing! On tour, you’ll learn some Chicago history that will fascinate and amuse while you learn to navigate the underground matrix.

If statues could talk – Yo, they can!

When you are in Chicago and you come upon a monument, don’t you wish you could know more about the person being represented other than the brief explanation, if any, on the plaque? I’ve often wished I had the inside scoop on what their lives were all about. And there are also non-monument statues sprinkled all over Chicago, too, which I’ve often wondered about: Who was the artist and what was his or her life about? Whom were they depicting when they created the statue – is there some message inherent in the statue or was it simply commissioned for decoration?

Statue Stories Chicago now provides answers on many of our monuments and statues! And this is why I had a keen interest in attending the Chicago Ideas Week lab “Bring History to Life with Statue Stories.” Fortunately, this happened last week while the weather was still very pleasant, since part of this lab involved a walk to a nearby work of art (which happened to be the Cloud Gate a/k/a “the bean” in Millennium Park) for a listen.

Julia Bachrach introduced herself as a historian, preservationist and author who has written several books for the Chicago Park District for whom she is the historian and planning supervisor. She mentioned that for anyone who is interested, there is an archive of about 70,000 statues available at the Harold Washington Chicago Public Library.

Statue Stories took about four years to put into play and has been in place for three years, with more statue recordings coming; some of them are contests one can enter, even children – not just for statues, but for some of the dinosaurs and cows on display. Bachrach gave us a history of how Statue Stories came about and how it works. It’s very easy. You need a smart phone with the swipe (a/k/a scan) app on your phone. When you find a participating monument or statue (see Who’s Talking Where for an online index), you look for the tag code. Shortly after you swipe, your phone will ring. It will be the statue calling you to tell you about him/herself! There’s no charge for this, other than what you would normally be charged by your provider for a call.

Local writers, actors and celebrities wrote and recorded the statue monologues. One original requirement for a qualifying monument is that it have a face. But after it was discovered there’s a dearth of women’s monuments, some exceptions were made so there could be more female statues in the project. Some statues, like Bob Newhart at the tip of Navy Pier, are in popular locations and tell their stories often. Others are more far-flung.

Bachrach herself wrote the monologue for the Alexander von Humboldt monument in Humboldt Park to be recited not by von Humboldt himself, but by the lizard toward the base of the statue. She did this to represent his worldwide travels, and then it was recorded by Colombian-American actress Sandra Delgado; Bachrach felt the casting was perfect and that Delgado had done her monologue justice.

After Bachrach introduced Statue Stores, we watched a “Chicago at Play” video which started out, “One day, 30 statues came alive and started speaking.” Because of my love of Chicago and the monuments and statues I’ve happened upon over the years, I found this moving: Finally we could learn about these statues! As Chicago has one of the world’s most important collections of public art, this project gives even more of a sense of pride in Chicago, its history and the fascinating personalities who have been a part of that history.

After we all took a jaunt over to Cloud Gate and back, we got to create our own Cloud Gate compositions. Lead by MT Cozzola in coming up with our own monologues, Quraysh Ali Lansana in creating poems and social media guru Jessie Jury who taught us how to share effectively online,  it was another wonderful Chicago Ideas Week lab that was full of learning, first-hand experiences and creating,

As class wound down, we were asked if anyone wanted to read their piece aloud. One of the exercises was to write what the Cloud Gate might say if it recorded a voice mail message. Somehow I found my hand in the air volunteering to read mine: “Hi. This is Cloud Gate. I am always here, so come on by. I will welcome you in any season at any time of day or night. Let’s be friends.” Why did I add “Let’s be friends”? Because, Cloud Gate’s monologue sounds open and friendly — but you’ll just have to go and listen for yourself.

IMG_0875