Squeezing in the fun with two days in Chicago

At least once a year I try to make it my business to visit my favorite US city, Chicago, for a whirl of fun, friends, family and of course food. My most recent trip afforded me 2 days to get all the fun I could squeeze out of Chicago with my two favorite travelers, my kids, in tow.  With a weekend base camp of the Hard Rock Hotel on the Magnificent Mile I took off right away to get reacquainted with a city I adore.

It’s hard to tell if it’s my loved ones that make the city fun for me or if my friends and family there embody the spirit of the city, explaining my love for both. Chicago is brazen and busy and metropolitan but it still has woven in it the love of life that appreciates art and food and friends that keep me coming back for more.  Automatically at the top of my agenda is to connect with people, but there is no reason that cannot be combined with some other city highlights.  Of course food is supreme in Chicago so be it brunch at Yolk or a deep dish Pizza at Giordano’s there are some things that are undeniably often imitated and rarely duplicated on the Chicago food scene.

My top highlights from the trip, however, were not my usual food fest. Instead something old and something new took the cake.  On the something old side a walking tour of the Magnificent Mile area always does my heart good.  Coming from Houston where walking is rare I love how easy the city is to maneuver by foot and all the possibilities at hand.  In an afternoon of walking you can explore Millennium Park and its art installations, meet new friends for you kids, wander in and out of shops, and get some great live street entertainment.  All these things make Chicago the constant top pick for US city.  On the new side I was able to do something that has escaped me before, Afternoon Tea at the Peninsula.  From first stepping into the hotel I knew it was something magical and afternoon tea was a great mix of prim and proper with smiles and giggles from the opportunity to spend great time with great friends.  The champagne that comes with tea doesn’t hurt either.  All in all Chicago gives you a chance to do almost anything under the sun, even in a pop in pop out weekend.

Tropical family fun in Cancun Mexico

Yes Cancun is a party paradise, but this tourist mainstay is also a beautiful tropical paradise that works for family fun as well.   My trip to Cancun began because I wanted something a little more festive than Cozumel in my short weekend getaway to Mexico.  Admittantly the access is not as straight forward as I would like, with a 40 minute ferry and hour bus ride to get there from Cozumel, it is more than a trek to get there.  After such a long trip with kids though we found Cancun to be a great haven for water fun with a little something for everyone.

For the more adventurous crew the options abound while in Cancun. From trips to pyramids to ziplines to tours that include snorkeling marvels they have it all.  Planning is a bit of a factor as some of extended tours require an early departure time and previous day scheduling.  As we failed on both of these counts we had to do something that could be done immediately and had a shorter trip time.  In the end we wound up with the perfect mix as we took the Jungle Tour, a snorkeling/boating trip, which lasted only about four hours.  Driving the boat was the main draw for me as this definitely put a bit of the adventure in your hands.  As I hopped in the boat with my daughter and revved up the engine the excitement was real.  The tour takes you through the Cancun coastline to a snorkeling destination at the end of the Cancun strip.  Once you arrive you hop right off your boat and take a quick snorkeling tour full of both friendly fish and cool underwater statutes.  It was a great time to spend some one of one time with a loved one and get a real since of exploration.

For the more laid back or even the younger or older crowd there are still tons of options but in my opinion there are few better than the beach. A day at the beach, is filled with things that lend themselves to family time.  Be it crashing in the water, taking a sun soaked nap or even exploring the sand for treasures it gives you the perfect opportunity to do one of lives greatest treasures, one on one time with the ones you love.

Making the most of Milan

duomo-1After a week at sea, there is nothing like coming back to land again, and if that land is Milan you are especially lucky. After a wonderful seven day cruise, a train ride back from Genova, and dizzying direction to our hotel we wind up in Milan and quickly recover to hit the streets.  After all the work to research my cruise destinations I was on the short end side of knowledge when it came to what to do in Milan.  Luckily my hotel was extraordinary and I was able to quickly learn that Duomo was the place to visit when in Milan.  With that the hotel car whisked us away to the Duomo area, where I quickly could see I would be in trouble if I did not keep myself busy with all of the shopping options that surrounded me at every corner.

galleria-vittorio-emanuele-7galleria-vittorio-emanuele-1The Duomo pavilion is a huge concourse of shopping, churches, restaurants and museums that attract thousands of international tourist each year. The first stop for us was the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele.  While the beautiful open air pavilion was full of stores I had to swear off due to a week of too much fun on vacation, the plaza easily lured us to some great eats as the smell of genuine Italian cuisine whiffed passed our noses.  We grabbed a seat in the covered patio that allowed me to do two of my favorite things, eat and people watch.  With pizza, pasta, fresh bread and wine on deck I was in heaven as I watched the hustle and bustle of the stylish visitors on deck.

 

galleria-vittorio-emanuele-6 galleria-vittorio-emanuele-5 galleria-vittorio-emanuele-4 galleria-vittorio-emanuele-3 galleria-vittorio-emanuele-2

da-vinci-museum da-vinci-museum-2As I was still trying to get my footing on the city map after lunch I wandered in the opposite direction of Duomo and right into a surprise highlight for my trip… the Leonardo Da Vinci museum. While he may be renowned as an artist, Da Vinci was a true renaissance man, conquering everything from flying machines to the Last Supper.  The museum is a great fit for the family as many of his drawings have been mocked up so you can see what the machine designs would be.  From submarines to war machines this museum had it all.  On top of that given the painting the Last Supper is a hard ticket to get your hands on, you can check out a 3D replica of the painting at the museum and hear the interesting backstory behind the masterpiece.  This museum was so amazing I actually spent a little too long and had to hurry out to catch the real purpose of my outing…Duomo Cathedral.

duomo-front duomo-side duomo-square duomo-catacombs duomo-cathedralThe majestic exterior of the church wets your palette to the treasures that lie within, under and even on top of the church.  I wanted a taste of it all so I brought a full tour ticket with elevator access for the Duomo rooftop.  After a quick tour of the church that still has mass throughout the day and different access for church goers, we headed down to the catacombs.  This excavated part of the church guides you through the burial area for many thousands of years ago.  With a mix of eerily creepy and unarguably interesting information it is a great place for your horror and history buff alike.

duomo-rooftop

Next up was the Duomo rooftops. Upon approach with our lift tickets we were informed that the stroller was not allowed.  After some convincing I got a pass but please note if walking is an issue the rooftops are a hard place to navigate.  The walkway takes you around the Duomo rooftop and even allows you to walk on the granite of the rooftop in some places.  The scene is awe inspiring.  It is truly a 360 degree view of the city and I great opportunity to appreciate craftsmanship and architecture from hundreds of years before.  That being said climbing up and down all of that area with a heavy baby and a car seat is beyond a challenge.  In an attempt to ease the pain in my arms we bolted for the stairs before making it back to the elevator. Unfortunately that only ended my day with both my arms and legs in agony, but my heart and mind were all in on this amazing peak into Milan.

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