I took an extended break over the holidays; in all, I was off work from December 16 to January 3. With Christmas and the New Year in there, I had a few plans lined up, but generally the time was my own. I went to see a movie on a Tuesday afternoon. I finally washed the five loads of laundry I’d been putting off as long as possible.
As the days wore on, though, even I had had enough time on my couch. So I set about deciding how I’d like to use the remaining days off, knowing all too well that if I just hibernated the whole time, soon I’d be back at work wishing I’d made more of my break. My list included getting to the library, choosing a few meals to make…nothing glamorous. I also included having one Chicago Adventure before vacation ended, something to get me out of my apartment and into the city.
You may recall my penchant for local adventures. I made them a staple of my all-too-brief time in NYC, and I tried to keep the tradition going once I moved back to Chicago. But then life happened and I’ve been hard-pressed to get out and about as much as I’d like.
I decided to keep it simple and put my Art Institute of Chicago membership to good use, spending an afternoon wandering the Warhols and Monets. When a friend said she could join me, the afternoon turned into a welcome chance to catch up, too.
On my way downtown, I got an email alerting me that I’d won a ticket to that night’s performance of The Nutcracker. Between the amazing reviews of The Joffrey Ballet’s re-imagined production and my own depleted bank account, I knew the only way I’d be able to see this one would be by the luck of the draw. And sure enough, I’d won! I decided I’d find a place for dinner before the show, and just like that, I had one heck of an adventure ahead.
Coats checked (a perk of being a member), we meandered through the miniature rooms and talked about travel plans, stopped for coffee in the Members’ Lounge and dished on work and wandered the modern wing taking in the updates since we’d each last been there. When she had to leave a bit early, I stayed on to see what else I could see. With just about an hour until closing, the nice young man at the audio guide station gave me one on the house, so I made my way up to European Art and perused the work until my feet hurt.
Luckily, I found a seat for dinner shortly thereafter, landing at Gino’s East just a few blocks from the theater. On that cold night, a personal pizza and a beer sounded perfect, and with a little bit of time before the curtain, I even splurged on a second beer. Imagine my delight when the bill came and each was just $3, a happy surprise during happy hour!
Bundled up again, I walked the two blocks to the Auditorium Theater, which (to the best of my knowledge) I’ve never been to before. I’ve long known Chicago is home to some of the most beautiful theaters in the country; the Auditorium Theater is no exception. Absolutely stunning from footlights to balcony, my single seat was about halfway back on the orchestra level, an exceptional view of the stage in front of me. Over two acts, I watched this new interpretation of The Nutcracker unfold in breathtaking choreography while the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed Tchaikovsky’s world-renowned compositions. The audience stopped the show many times with our applause, and the curtain call seemed to go on for ages, all well-deserved as it also happened to be the show’s closing night.
I left the theater floating on a Chicago-centric high I haven’t felt in ages. I didn’t even mind the long train ride home, so pleased was I with how the day had unfolded. Had it only been a solo leisurely afternoon at the Art Institute, it would’ve been lovely. That it became a visit with a friend, a nice dinner on the cheap and one last wonderful live theater experience for the year made it not just a memorable day, but just the lift my spirit needed.
A week or so into the new year and now back at the office, I’m counting on creating these hometown adventures more regularly. Chicago has them to offer; I’d be a fool not to take advantage.