Friday, November 8, 2013

The Desert & The Windy City: a Tale of Two Cities

Recently, I was asked by Kendra Thornton, (mom of 3, travel aficionado and a Chicago girl) to collaborate together on a post featuring what is unique and wonderful about the cities we live in. 

As a flight attendant, and a native Texan living in Arizona, married to a man who was born abroad, you can probably guess that I love to travel. I love seeing new places, and I never fail to see amazing sights no matter what city I am in. But I don't always have to travel far to find new adventures. The Hubs and I - with the two kidlets in tow - like to pick a direction (east!), choose a time (90 minutes!) and then see where the drive takes us. Most of the time we wind up at some kid-friendly entertainment (Two kids 4 and under? Often we find ourselves at restaurants with plastic cutlery and talking animals.), but we have also seen that Phoenix has far more than golf courses and desert views to offer.

Phoenix.  Sports, Sports and more Sports
Before we moved to Phoenix, I told The Hubs that I would only move on one condition - that we get there before Spring Training that year.  Where else could I see 15 professional teams play America's sport for sometimes as little as $7 a ticket?!  As a lifelong lover of baseball,to me Phoenix is the sultan of swing, the best of the bat!  Baseball games are played in 10 different outdoor stadiums across The Valley and bring to mind the old-fashioned stadiums of the past, with metal bleachers and large grassy areas where you can spread a picnic blanket, waiting for a foul ball. Spring training isn't all that Phoenix offers, though. Hockey lives here in the desert, and The Phoenix Coyotes are so loved in my house that Bjorn sleeps with Coyotes blankets and named his Build-a-Bear Mike Smith, the Coyotes goalie. Round it out with the Phoenix Suns and the Arizona Cardinals, and Phoenix is the place to be for professional sports.


Easier to get him on Howler's lap than Santa's!
Buy me some Peanuts and Cracker Jacks....


















Perfect Parks for Play
When you think of Phoenix, you probably think of hot. You're right. It's H-O-T hot in the summer. But from October through May, Phoenix weather is nothing short of amazing. it is almost like a production company brought in their "perfect weather" machine for a movie shoot and left it on all winter. That's when you head to the many parks around town. Every weekend finds us at some park or another, playing football or soccer or Frisbee. We have Encanto Park in Phoenix, with the Enchanted Island amusement park, and numerous walking trails and hiking paths. Or the Surprise Community Park and its aptly named "Playground of Dreams', a play area for kids of every age to swing and jump and slide and climb to their hearts content.  Our absolute fave, though, has to be the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale, where you can ride a replica miniature train around a mile track. For $2 a person. Cheap entertainment at its absolute best. Afterwards, you can enjoy a carousel ride and a picnic lunch next to the playground, watching other families take their turn on the train. Relaxing, inexpensive and the kids adore it. Who could ask for more?

Who doesn't love a good ol-fashioned train ride?
The Children's Museum of Phoenix
Nestled in The Monroe School building downtown, The Children's Museum looks like most other buildings in downtown Phoenix. But take a closer look outside, and you can see little kids with squeegees and water bottles, engaging in creative water play. Inside the museum, there are rooms for kids of all ages. The art room has a huge rocket ship covered in dozens of layers of colors, as kids can paint it as much as they want, however they would like. Baskets and blankets scatter throughout the fort room, ready to be transformed into any magical place a little imagination can discover. There is a supermarket attached to a kitchen, allowing the kids to bring their (wooden) pepperoni, cheese and dough over to be cooked in the (play) pizza oven. All these rooms pale to the spectacular climber located smack dab in the middle of the museum. Almost as tall as the museum itself, the climber is made with a bunch of assorted building materials (a real bathtub!), leading to winding staircases or fenced dead ends. So many rooms and different atmospheres means there is always something there for everyone.

I never knew squeegees could be so much fun.

You know what I love about Phoenix now, but what does Kendra Thornton love most about Chicago?

Sports, Architecture, and Ferris Wheels: A Fun Weekend in Chicago
Chicago has it all.  There are professional sports teams. There is delicious cuisine; the hotels and shopping are all historically noteworthy.  The art and architecture are lauded.  There is a reason I call this place home, you know J. If you come for a week, or even for a weekend, though, figuring out what to do can be an intimidating process.  The following suggestions will help you get a start on your trip. 

Professional Sports in Every Season 
No matter the season, there is a professional sports team to follow in Chicago.  In the spring and summer months, watch the White Sox and Cubs.  The Cubs play at the historic Wrigley Park, which is famous for its ivy-covered walls.  In the fall, the city’s NFL team, the Chicago Bears, plays at Soldier Field. And, in the winter and spring, the Chicago Bulls play high-flying NBA basketball.  This year, the Bulls’ young star, Derrick Rose, is returning from a knee injury.  The great thing about all of these franchises is the legends and stories that accompany each team.  Michael Jordan, the best basketball player of all-time, suited up for the Bulls in the 1980s and 1990s, and is just one example of a Chicago sports legend. 

Ride the Ferris Wheel at Historic Navy Pier
Built in 1893 for Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition, Navy Pier Park has endured the test of time, and is now considered a national historic landmark.  While it is currently undergoing a ‘contemporary makeover,’ these renovations are largely occurring through the winter so they won’t disrupt visitors.  Navy Pier Park’s most famous ride is the 150-foot tall Navy Park Ferris Wheel, which has 40 gondolas!  Other attractions include the Light Tower Ride and Wave Swinger. If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, Navy Pier has an 18-hole miniature golf course. If water is your thing, try out the remote control miniature boats the Pier has to offer. 

 From Modern to Victorian: Chicago’s Amazing Architecture
Even though I have been living here for a “few” years now, one of my favorite things to do is just wander around the city, checking out Chicago’s amazing architecture.  The office buildings located downtown are modern, industrial, and downright awesome.  The historic neighborhoods, filled with decadent Victorians, have a more refined aura.  The key to Chicago is to stay in a hotel near a location that is filled with the architecture you prefer, or near the attractions you wish to visit.  I always recommend gogobot as a website that is knowledgeable about Chicago hotels and accommodations. It also helps that gogobot offers up-to-the-minute deals and rates on some of The Windy City’s most popular hotels. 




American Comfort Food Done Right 
With the fall well underway, the weather in Chicago is starting to cool off.  One of my favorite restaurants in the city for fall-themed foods is the RL.  Located right in the middle of downtown, next to the world’s largest Ralph Lauren Polo store, the RL has a menu filled with American comfort food classics.  My favorite thing to eat here, especially in October, is a tomato soup with grilled cheese.  Simple, yet tasty, and the soup always manages to warm me up!




Thanks, Kendra for stopping by to tell us what you love most about The Windy City. (Make sure you follow Kendra Thornton and gather more travel tips form her Twitter!)  I know Chicago has a special place in my heart, too. Some of my fondest memories are of hanging out at my Grandma's in south Chicago, visiting the Museum of Science and Industry, and, of course, watching The White Sox play. I can't wait to check out your favorite restaurant, too! Grilled cheese and tomato soups are some of may favorites! 

Now tell me - what makes YOUR city special?!

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