Back in The Windy City

Work took me back to Chicago last week for the BlogHer conference. Our client event was a great success (thank you bloggers who participated!) and we had a little bit of time to enjoy some great restaurants and… The Skydeck!

As i mentioned previously, i have always wanted to visit the Skydeck. I’ve heard the views are astonishing but my real reason for going is to make progress towards overcoming a deep-rooted fear of heights. I don’t want this fear to paralyze me from living life and taking risks (acceptable risks like going on a Skydeck, not stupid risks such as not wearing a seat belt).

Weather be damned, since the skies were grey and a bit rainy, i grabbed two co-workers and dragged them with me. It’s a complete tourist attraction but it was so much fun. I could feel my stomach drop and my head started playing tricks on me as i stepped out on the Skydeck for the first time.

This is me (and two co-workers) 1,353 over Chicago. We like this photo because the shoes represent our personalities.
This is me (and two co-workers) 1,353 feet above Chicago. We like this photo because the shoes represent our personalities.

If you go to the Skydeck, i strongly recommend putting down your own camera for a few minutes and walking around to observe other visitors. Yes, they are tourists but seeing how others experience this is interesting. Everyone has a different story based on family dynamics, age and their own fear of heights.

Part of the fun of the Skydeck is watching other people stand on the deck.
Part of the fun of the Skydeck is watching other people stand on the deck.

In the event the Skydeck and conquering a fear of heights is not your thing, i am happy to pass along On the Go Joe’s brunch recommendation.  I’ll let his video explain the rest.

Prior to attending the conference, Patrice Yursik (aka, the amazing @afrobella) shared fantastic recommendations for what do, see and eat in Chicago. I can’t recommend this post enough and hope you’ll check it out. In addition to offering her personal favorites, Patrice offered excellent alternatives for places to get great deep-dish pizza and hot dogs. Of all the “what to do” posts i saw, this was the biggest differentiator and what makes hers the best.

Not so juicy thoughts about going to BlogHer

Today, i am heading to Chicago for the blogging conference, BlogHer. This is not my first trip this rodeo. I know for sure its my second, possibly even my third but i lost track.

What’s different about going to BlogHer13 is that i finally stopped talking about blogging on my own and started doing it. HoRAY!! This will actually be my first time attending a social media conference where i am doing what i spent a lot of time talking about doing. (To think, i never would have called myself a procrastinator.)

As i fly the friendly skies i’m wrestling with what to do. I’m attending for work and have a full conference pass where i could participate in sessions outside of work/client commitments. Or, i could use my free time in other ways and continue exploring Chicago.

I’m conflicted about this decision and probably shouldn’t be. Why might you ask? For one thing, i am a terrible networker. I like people, i am just painfully shy and uncomfortable in new situations. It’s hard to network let alone strike up a conversations when you choke after ‘hi, nice to meet you.’ Then of course, i’m attending the conference on behalf of/with a client so if someone says something good/bad/indifferent am i obligated to report back? I think yes, even if i’m at a session on my own time.

And where does transparency fits into all of this? If i meet interesting, like-minded people shouldn’t i immediately volunteer that i’m in PR? That should be fun (not, but still necessary) and certainly won’t make being shy and socially awkward more obvious.

What i wrestle with the most is how conferences like this bring out the best in some people and worst in others. Having been to BlogHer and Blissdom (with clients, as an exhibitor) i’ve seen how conferences are a learning, networking and relationship building event for most. And i’ve seen how they are complete swag-fest for others. That same swag was (sometimes) thoughtfully selected by company’s is often trashed when people realized it wouldn’t fit in their suitcase on the way home. I’ve been yelled at by conference-goers, for not having the right food, samples, brochures and premium items. I take pride in my work so this is frustrating and upsetting. In the end, you can’t win them all. And by no means, am i saying this best of/worst of phenomenon is unique to blogging. It’s not. My own industry is equally bad when it comes to big events and celebrations. (Words that are true but will no doubt haunt me for years to come.)

Ultimately, i hate seeing people behave poorly or treat others badly. That’s why i was never much of a party-girl, what’s fun about watching people drink too much and then do stupid things? I would be crushed to forego an opportunity to explore only to end up spending my Saturday sitting next to the person who was unnecessarily mean to me or a co-worker.

If you are attending BlogHer and this means anything to you, i would love to hear from you. And, gulp, maybe even meet up?  I muse about miscellaneous things, love travel, shoes, my nieces and nephew. I’m also quite the talker once feel comfortable with someone, which surprisingly does not take long.

If you are attending BlogHer and this doesn’t resonate with you, that’s okay. I would ask one small favor. When Brand X is out of freebies, or Company Y’s representative is not as hip as you’d like, be kind. These people are doing the best they can to make you, the blogging community, happy. Yes, there are hits and misses but ultimately they just want to make you happy and do a good job. Offer them a smile, or a kind word, say thank you. I guarantee you will make their day.

Where to Rest Your Head in Millennium Park, Chicago

If you read my previous post, you already know i’ve spent a fair amount of time in Chicago. While that time is limited to the area surrounding Millennium Park, i’ve been there enough to have some strong opinions on where to stay as well as a couple of eating suggestions.

There are a lot of hotels in this area. I’ve stayed at the Hotel Monaco, the Hard Rock Hotel, the Fairmont and a few others that i can’t remember off the top of my head. The Fairmont, if you have access to a corporate rate, is hands down the best. The property is well maintained (read: clean, everything works), the beds are comfy and the linens are clean and crisp. The gym on-site is SPECTACULAR and the restaurant, Aria, is also rumored to be excellent and quite the spot for night life.

If you don’t have a corporate account, or prefer a boutique hotel, the Hotel Monaco is terrific. Again, the rooms are clean, the beds are extremely comfy and the linens are generally in good condition. The staff is always unbelievably helpful, like they have actually been trained in customer service. South Water Kitchen, the hotel’s restaurant is great. It’s low-key compared to Aria but you can never go wrong with this place if you need a solid location for a meeting. My only compliant is they don’t have a fitness center.

I’ve stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel on three occasions and have to say, i will never stay here again. I’m old enough to remember when HRC was synonymous with quality and fun. I get the brand is about bringing the ‘rock star persona’ to life but every time i’m here, it falls so incredibly short on just basic stuff. On this occasion, my bathroom smelled like bleach, the shower was in serious need of a sand blast, the walls had scratches and the furniture had clearly seen better days.

This shower has clearly seen better (and cleaner) days
This shower has clearly seen better (and cleaner) days

Generally, i’m not a complainer especially if i’m traveling at the request of a client. After three stays, i just cannot recommend this hotel to anyone visiting Chicago. IMO, i think this hotel is still in business because guests are staying as part of a conference package, getting a discount. There is just no other reason to stay here.

I did not mention the above complaints upon check in. I figured it was no big deal. However, after complaining about the state of the room for the third time to my S.O., i realized how upset i was. When i checked out, the staff was indifferent to the concerns i shared. Ultimately, this is why i can not recommend this hotel to anyone. If the best the staff can muster is, “oh”, i’ll take my business and my recommendations elsewhere.

This damaged furniture is another example why my stay at the HRH was a total bummer. Shoddy all around
This damaged furniture is another example why my stay at the HRH was a total bummer. Shoddy all around

On a more positive note, if you are in the Millennium Park area, i suggest heading to Pastoral Artisan for a salad or sandwich. The vibe at this place is great and the sandwiches are delicious.

Pastoral Artisan, a fave causal lunch place in Chicago
Pastoral Artisan, a fave causal lunch place in Chicago

If you get there before the lunch crowd, there are a few tables in the restaurant. Another place i always find myself at is The Gage. This is a popular destination for happy hour and can get loud. Don’t let that deter you, it’s great for dinner. I’ve taken clients, co-workers or eaten at the bar myself and never been disappointed. My most recent dinner was Mussels Vindaloo with a Pinot Nero. Delicious!

Out (and sort of about) in the Windy City

Throughout my professional career (and at this point, it’s longer than i want to admit), i’ve traveled to Chicago for work. Every visit has been fantastic. On various trips i have been fortunate enough to visit Navy Pier, shop the “Mag Mile” and West Loop areas, and attend cooking school.

But over the years, i found my trips were limited to the same 10 block radius and realized i had never actually done much outside of my formal meeting schedule. If you travel for work you know how backwards this is. You fly in, meet, work, meet, check email, and fly out. If it’s an overnight trip you fly in, meet, work, meet, check email, meet for dinner, entertain, crash from exhaustion, get up, exercise, rinse and repeat.

I was back in Chicago last week for a conference. Since a 2013 goal of mine was to get out and see more when i travel for work, i was determined to break the typical cycle.

With that in mind, there are two things I have always wanted to do in Chicago. 1: Walk through Millennium Park. It has bothered the hell out of me that i was here on a regular basis for four years, working right across the street from this park, and never once walked through it.

After my meetings ended on Tuesday, i took a leisurely stroll through the park. It’s quick, takes 10-15 minutes at a brisk pace (making it even more pathetic that i never did this before). What i loved most about my walk was finally getting to see “the bean.”

"The Bean" in Millennium Park Chicago
“The Bean” in Millennium Park Chicago

It’s just a bean in the park, but it’s cool. It’s also symbolic of Chicago (to me at least) because there are all kinds of sculpture art around the city. I know other cities (NYC, Minneapolis even Washington DC) do stuff like this. It just stands out more in Chicago.

The bean looks a littler funkier from underneath
The bean looks a littler funkier from underneath

The second thing i’ve always wanted to do is go to the Sears/Hancock/Willis tower sky deck and stand on the glass balcony overlooking Chicago. Yeah, this is total tourist stuff. But i have a deep rooted, irrational fear of falling. I love views but the fear of falling has bordered on near paralysis at times. I wanted to do this to push myself waaaaay out of my comfort zone and see if i can start overcoming this fear.

Mother Nature, could have cared less, and sent the biggest, baddest storm to Chicago. There was hail, thunder, lightening and rumor has it the Causeway was closed as well as some schools. Total bummer.

This image does not even begin to capture the rain and how fast it came down. But hopefully you get the idea
This image does not even begin to capture the rain and how fast it came down. But hopefully you get the idea

While i fell short on my wish list, i think i get an A for effort. When i’m back in Chicago what should be on my to-do list?