Best Chicago Eats

I was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. At 18 I went to Idaho for college and ended up moving to the pacific northwest after graduating. There’s a lot I love about Chicago, but food might be my number 1. I’ll admit I love food… some might even say I have an obsession, but the food in Chicago is just amazing. Here are my favorite places to grab a bite in Chicago:

Lou Malnati’s – I’ve done a post all about Chicago pizza here but I still needed to mention it in this post. Pizza is the first thing I think of when I think of Chicago food. The deep dish butter crust garlic and tomato pizza from Lou Malnati’s with a house salad to start and a giant Diet Coke to be exact. Do NOT I repeat do NOT miss out on trying Lou Malnati’s while in Chicago.
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Portillo’s – Portillo’s has start to spread outside of Chicago but is still primarily found there. Portillo’s is a unique restaurant where often there are two counters one for the original Portillo’s where you can order Italian beef, burgers, hot dogs, etc and another counter called Barnelli’s where you can order salads, pasta, etc. Everything here is so good and the amount of people in the restaurant will attest to that. While often very busy they are quick to get your order out and there’s always enough seating. My top recommendations of items to try: Italian beef, chopped salad, chocolate cake shake, burger and fries.
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Julie Ann’s – If you haven’t tried frozen custard yet this is a must. Think of ice cream but extra soft and creamy. Julie Anns knows what they’re doing. They have tons of differnt mix ins and toppings for you to add. You will not be disappointed.
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Garrett’s – Garrett’s is the place to get Chicago Mix popcorn. Chicago mix is cheese popcorn and carmel popcorn mixed. And while that may sound like an odd combination try it and you will love it. It is messy so make sure to grab an extra napkin or two.
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 Flat Top Grill – Flat top is my favorite place to get Mongolian style food. Once you get your table you will be brought a bowl which you take up to the counter and add the ingredients you want, mix the sauce you’d like, and hand it over to the chef. You can then watch as they grill up your food and plate it. This is a great place for people with allergies or food restrictions. They are very conscious of this and give plenty of alternatives.
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How To Get And Use Airline Miles

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You hear about miles all the time. I know before I used them I thought they were a waste. It seemed like it took forever to get enough miles to go anywhere decent and the process was confusing. Well now that I have used miles for a few years I understand a lot more about them and see the value in them.  Here is my guide on how to get and use airline miles.

  1. Research credit cards – Gaining miles is all about the credit card. Research each of the different cards and look for the one giving the best sign-up reward. Usually the best deals are sign up and get 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in three months. If you don’t see any cards giving away 50,000 miles sit back and wait because they will put that offer out again soon. My personal favorite miles card is the United MileagePlus card. It’s flexible, I haven’t found a place where it won’t get me, free baggage, and I got 50,000 miles when I signed up.
  2.  Use that credit card for everything – Once you have a credit card use it for everything. I use my credit card for every purchase I have. I also PAY IT OFF WEEKLY. Most cards require you to spend for example $3,000 in 3 months in order to receive the sign-up miles. This is easy when you use your credit card to buy everything. Rent or mortgage alone will take care of that. This also helps rack up those miles.
  3. Use all benefits of the credit card – Don’t forget to look in to the other benefits with your miles card. For instance most have a reward where if you book any travel with that card you get to check one bag free. Some cards give you access to their clubs once a year and who knows what else you might find.
  4. Research cost(in miles) of flights – Once you have the card look at how many miles it takes to get somewhere you’d like to go. This way you know how many miles you need to save up.
  5. Purchasing flights using miles – Once you have a place and an idea of where you want to go purchase(in miles) your flights ASAP. The miles rarely if ever drop on flights. Instead they disappear when that plane is full. Be flexible and look at a calendar view. Many times the price(in miles) drops a lot if you leave a day or to earlier or later and same with return.
  6. What to do if you don’t have enough miles for an upcoming trip – If you would like to purchase a trip but don’t have enough miles consider buying more. If you are just under it may be worth it to purchase that last little bit. If you are significantly under then consider using your miles for a one way flight and purchasing(with money) your flight back.

Hope this helps! If I am missing any tips you know of please share.

St. John, USVI

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I came to the realization the other day that I mention St. John often but I haven’t done a full post on the gorgeous island! I have been to 11 islands in the Caribbean and St. John still stands out to me as one of the best. Here are my top reasons as to why St. John rocks:

1. Easy Access – St. John has a feeling of being off the beaten path yet it isn’t too difficult to get there. The easiest way is to fly in to St. Thomas and take a short ferry ride over to St. John.
2. Less Developed – What I mean by this is the beaches aren’t lined with big fancy resorts. There aren’t any McDonalds and you can find beaches with no one else on them. When I go to a beach I don’t want to be elbow to elbow with other visitors I want to have my own beach or only be sharing it with a few other people. Many times on St. John my family was the only one on the beach. It was great!
3. Less Poverty – Many times when you visit a tropical place you run in to poverty. It always makes me feel bad that I am enjoying a vacation on their lovely island while they are working around the clock to survive. I found St. John to be different. The people there seemed to be enjoying their island as much as I was. We never came across the people begging you to buy their trinkets so they could afford food.
4. Great Snorkeling – St. John is full of great snorkeling locations. One of the coolest is Trunk Bay. Trunk Bay will be crowded during busy season but it’s worth it. The sand is soft and white and the water clear blue. The best part is it has a underwater snorkeling trail. We had a blast following the trail and even saw a barracuda!
5. Rugged – St. John is fun because it can feel rugged. This can be a pro and a con. For instance the roads can be steep and a little scary but it just added to the adventure! At times you feel like you are deep in a jungle or on your own private beach.

St. John in my eyes is the perfect island getaway.

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Planning a trip to Greece

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I didn’t realize how hard planning a trip to Greece would be, there are so many amazing places to see that I didn’t even realize. When I first thought of this spectacular country my mind went to the islands and Athens, but as I started planning I realized how many more great stops there were. I had about 10 full days in Greece to plan but quickly realized I could easily spend an extra 10 or event 20 days there. Ultimately I decided on four places. Athens, Meteora, Paros and Santorini.

The first problem I ran in to was airfare. It is not cheap to fly to Greece from the USA. I had saved up miles with my United Mileage card and had quite a few but not enough to get me to Greece. The first thing I did and you should always do is look in to all the airport options. Athens is obviously the first that comes to mind but there is also a major airport on the island of Crete and one in Thessaloniki. That didn’t drop the price to where I wanted it to be so I found another way around it. My miles were enough to get us to Paris and London but not to Greece. The great thing about Europe is once you’re there the plane tickets are cheap. We ended up flying in to London and spending a few days there then we bought a cheap ticket to Athens and then on our way home flew from Santorini to Paris and then used my miles to fly from Paris home. The airfare within Europe for one of us cost about a total of $500. Not only did we save a great deal of money by doing that we also got to spend time in the great cities of London and Paris.

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Deciding on where to go proved to be challenging. Athens is an obvious one, you can’t go to Greece without going to Athens. Santorini was another place I knew I had to visit. You always see photos of Santorini and for me I had to see it in person. After that I wasn’t sure where I wanted to spend my time. Of coarse all the islands seemed wonderful. I decided though that since I was going to Santorini I wanted to go to an island that wasn’t as touristy and busy. With a lot of research I decided on Paros. I ultimately chose Paros  because it seemed to be less developed but still very easy to get to by ferry. Finally, I kept going back and forth on Meteora. I couldn’t tell if it would be worth the several hour train ride from Athens. Should I go there or Olympia, Delphi or another island. In the end the photos of the monasteries pulled me in and I knew I needed to see Meteora.

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Looking back I am happy with my decisions. Meteora took my breath away and I longed to stay in Paros for a few more days. Athens did not disappoint and Santorini is as beautiful as they say. If I could change anything I would only stay one day on Santorini and spend more time on Paros. There are plenty more places I would love to go back and see, but for the time I had in Greece I think it worked out.

Have you been to Greece? What was your favorite location?

 

Looking forward to 2016

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A new year and new plans to travel. I love to be able to look forward to an upcoming trip and this year I have several. Here is my tentative plan so far for 2016. I need your opinions so please help!

First week of April: I am planning a trip that will include my husband and myself as well as a close friend and his wife. They have never really been out of the country and have given us the honor of taking them on their first get away. This has proven to be hard. I can’t decide where to go! We only have about 10 days so I don’t want to go too far and take up too much time on the airplane. I also want to take price in consideration and go somewhere I can get great airfare. Here’s where I have been looking in to. Please if you have suggestions I would love to hear them!

Barbados
Trinidad and Tobago
Aruba
Iceland

This summer we have a wedding to attend in Utah and while there I think we will make a side trip to  to visit a few of Utah’s well know National Parks.

This fall I plan to take a trip with the girls in my family to Prince Edward Island, Canada. We are Anne of Green Gables fans and of course anyone who has seen any pictures of PEI is dying to go.

This fall I want to take another 10 trip with just Ryan and I. I’m not sure where but here’s whats on my possibility list so far and again suggestions are welcome:

Morocco
Rio De Janeiro
Thailand
Peru
Galapagos

Then throughout the year I have a couple of work trips. On these I have limited time to explore but I still get to see the cities. I will be heading to Portland and Colorado Springs.

Finally I need to find time to go to Disneyland this year. We have free tickets that expire by the end of the year. I think we will go in October since crowds can be smaller then.

If you have been to any of these locations I want to hear your opinions or “must do” lists. Or if I am leaving anywhere important of my list of possibilities I want to know!

Visiting Kauai

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The last time I went to Hawaii was back in 1998 when I was that’s right… 8 years old. We visited Oahu where my family had lived while my dad was stationed there. It was a great trip and I felt I had checked Hawaii off my list. That is until I kept hearing about the island of Kauai. When we found some tickets to Kauai for a cheap price on a last minute deal we thought ok why not. We booked them and went.

Why I loved Kauai: Kauai is absolutely stunning. Everywhere you go there is something beautiful to take a picture of. The snorkeling was better than I thought and we found several Sea Turtles. I spotted whales almost every day off the shore. Having a Costco and Safeway made the trip really easy. The roads were well taken care of and safe.

What I didn’t love about Kauai: My favorite islands are those where you can go to a great beach and have it to yourself or maybe a few other families. I didn’t feel this was the case in Kauai and maybe that had to do with the time of the year we visited. I don’t love that depending on which season you are there your swimming options and beaches are limited because of the strong waves and currants. Finally, it seemed hard to find a good meal with good customer service. We often had troubles and almost every night had to wait 30-45 minutes for a table, again this could have something to do with the holiday season.

Where to Stay:
Kapaa at least for a first time visit was great. Kapaa while it doesn’t have a ton of swimming beaches around is on the East side and is right in between Princeville and Poipu. So if the weather was bad in the north we would head south or the opposite. We went to both the North and the South often so it worked out our home base was right in the middle. Kapaa is also near all the big stores, restaurants, and shops so it makes it easy to grab snacks in the morning or anything else you may need on your way to the beach.

Best Places to eat:
Street Burger – Awesome unique menu. Great ambiance and best customer service we experienced. This was my number one place we ate all week. I had the sweet potato burger Frenchie style with their homemade fries and homemade ketchup.
Kauai Beer Company – Great prices for great food. Enjoyed the sweet potato raviolis and their frenchfries were delicious.

Best Beaches:
Anini Beach – One of the only beaches on the North that was swimmable in the winter. We loved this beach because the water was so calm and we found several sea turtles!
Tunnels Beach – Gorgeous scenery. When we were there sadly we couldn’t swim because the waves we absolutely huge but it was still fun to walk on the beach and watch the waves roll in.
Salt Pond Beach – Great little protected beach with some good snorkeling.
Maha’ulepu Beach – This was my favorite. We didn’t swim here but instead enjoyed a stroll along the water and cliffs. It was stunning and I will forever remember that walk. This is an absolute must!

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Best Activities:
Helicopter Ride – Everyone kept telling me we had to do this. I was really hesitant because it was so pricey. After hearing from at least five different people that we must do it we forked over the money and took a trip with Blue Hawaiin. You get to see parts of the Island you would have no other way get to see. You fly in and out of canyons and past gorgeous waterfalls. You get to get close to the Napali coast and listen to fitting music while you do so. The captain tells you anything you want to know and more. It was an adventure I will always remember.

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Hanakapiai Falls – We decided to do this hike and we started a bit late. The sign at Ke’e Beach where you start said to give yourself 8 hours and so we were stressed about getting there and back before the sun went down. We booked it on this hike. There were a lot of people especially on the beginning of the trail and we would politely excuse ourselves past them. The first 2 miles is a pretty big incline and then an even bigger decline. The view points are astonishing. You get to see part of the gorgeous Napali Coast and we even spotted a whale. After the first two mile you reach a river and a beautioful beach. A lot of people stop here and head back. If you want to continue to the falls you follow a trail along the river up in to the valley. It’s not too hard until you get to the last .5 mile where instead of hiking a trail you start climbing on rocks. Finally when you reach the waterfall you know it was all worth it. The waterfall is massive with a big swimming hole. The water is freezing but it was a welcoming refresher after the long hot hike.

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Overall I would definitely recommend Kauai to someone looking for a tropical getaway. Have you been to Hawaii? What is your favorite Hawaiin Island?

 

Reflecting on 2015 Travels

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Looking back at this past year I realize how lucky I am to have traveled the places I traveled and had the adventures I had. My new locations this year were:
Curacao
Austin, TX
United Kingdom
Greece
France
I have to say I loved each location, a lot. There were definitely ups like the surprise of how clear the water in Curacao was and the downs like getting in to a serious ATV accident in Greece, and I would do it all again for the experiences I had. So less writing and more pictures. Here are my favorite pictures of my 2015 travels:

And I want to finish by saying THANK YOU for taking the time to read my blog. Happy New Year!