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Travel Swellness: The James Hotel in Chicago

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Chicago is one of my favourite cities. It probably holds a special place in my heart because one of the first (if not the very first!)  press trips I went on when I was at Flare was to Chicago, but of course, there’s more to it. I find the people friendly, there’s so many fantastic restaurants, they host a helluva good marathon, which I’ve run twice (last weekend in the Chicago Marathon 2017, and my marathon PB in 2014), and, of course, the beautiful architecture. And now that list of what I love in Chicago is growing, as I’ve just discovered the James Hotel.

(And if you’re booking a trip to Chicago or elsewhere, don’t forget about the $40 you can save if you use this little link of mine, right HERE).

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Through Booking.com, I stayed at the James just a little over a week ago for my marathon weekend, and it had a lot going for it as a place to stay for the race, however it’s a great boutique hotel to stay no matter what brings you to Chicago.

Major selling points: it’s pretty much a few minutes walk away from both Eataly and Shake Shack, plus Trader Joe’s is right across the street. I adore Shake Shack and even though it’s not from Chicago, I will make time to have a Shack Burger whenever I have access to one. Same goes for Eataly; it also hails from New York but the pizza, pasta, burrata and more is just too hard to resist that I’ll stop in for a bite whenever I can. And Trader Joe’s is great for snacks, and especially helpful when you’re fueling for a marathon and need access to the ingredients you’d normally have before a race. If you’re on a budget, you can also save loads of money if you opt to pick up something there for your breakfast, or even if you grab a bottle of wine to enjoy in your room rather than one out at dinner (both ways I cut back on spending when I”m watching my pennies when traveling).

James Hotel Chicago lobby level

The James Chicago is located in River North just steps from the Magnificent Mile. So shopaholics, this convenient location means you can drop off your shopping bags, or even pop in for a quick power nap before you shop some more. Although I don’t know if a quick nap is possible; the beds at the James were so comfortable and luxurious, I found myself spending more time lounging around in my suite than I typically do when I travel.

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Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago are about a 25-minute walk from the hotel; 360 Chicago is about 15 minutes away (call me a tourist, but I love seeing cities from up high!). So you’re very close to some of the top attractions. The closest subway is the Grand station on the red line, and I easily navigated my way on the transit system to neighbourhoods I wanted to explore such as Logan Square and Bucktown.

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(By the way, if you are visiting Chicago and planning to go to many of the top attractions, it’s worth considering getting the Citypass Chicago. I’ve used it on two trips to Chitown and besides being able to save some money on your entry fees if you were to pay at each sight separately, you also score quick entry; I’ve seen long lines snake out of Shedd Aquarium, for example, and I can tell you I was very grateful to not waste precious time in Chicago waiting in line.)

I didn’t have a chance to try out the restaurant in the hotel, but I did spend time in the hotel lobby, which is a beautiful space where there’s lots of seating if you’re waiting to meet someone or are waiting for your car (this is something I appreciate as I once waited during a snowstorm for about two hours in an NYC hotel lobby that had not a single chair). The lobby at the James is a sleek and modern space but not in a cold, modern way (there are warm touches and textures that make it comfortable). They host a wine hour here (which I refrained from since I was preparing for my race, le sigh).

James Hotel Chicago lobby level

The room I had was spacious and filled with light. The only downside to the room is the pocket door to the washroom, which is very heavy, making it a chore to slide open and closed. I’m a pretty fit person and I found it cumbersome but I can see it being a problem for some people. Word to the wise: I’m not sensitive to noise and city noises don’t bother me, but if you’re especially easy to wake up from slumber, you may want to request a room on a higher floor. In my room on the 7th floor, I was aware of the sirens and traffic noises from the street, however, it didn’t bother me as I’m used to din of the city.

James Chicago bathroom

Want to book the James Chicago? Well, if you use my exclusive Booking.com link to book your stay, you’ll get a refund of $40 once you complete your stay. That’s $40 you can use at Eataly, or at a Grant Achatz restaurant, or use towards your architectural cruise ticket. Man, I’m already missing this hotel and fantastic city…

Happy travels!

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Leave a Comment October 18, 2017

Travel Swellness: Road tripping in a Chevrolet Camaro convertible

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Last month my road tripping adventures continued, and I went on a quick getaway  in a Chevrolet Camaro  thanks to General Motors Canada.

Most of the cars I’ve driven this year have been SUVs (I’ve had the Equinox a few times, the Chevy Trax, and Cadillac Escalade, too) but the Camaro was a clear departure from all the vehicles I’ve driven. Getting into the driver’s seat of this sports car, I felt so low to the ground and as though I was leaning back. Since it’s not the posture I’m used to for driving, I easily adjusted the seat so that I was sitting more upright. Once I adjusted my seat and mirrors, I immediately noticed the rearview mirror was small when I first got in the car, but it was something I quickly got used to.

I was the sole driver of this road trip, by the way (I’ve been challenging myself to tackle more driving) so I didn’t get to take advantage of the car’s WIFI often, but it did come in handy a few times because we were out in the country and I had spotty phone reception. I’m a huge fan of cars that offer lifestyle features  like this.

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“WHO is that?” I asked myself, as I heard the low rumble of an engine as I drove on the expressway home. It took me a few seconds to realize, “Oh, that’d be me in this Camaro!”

All of the details of the car exude power and sport: The vents on the dashboard seem oversized and reminiscent of the exhaust pipes on the rear of the car. The contrast stitching on the steering wheel is bold and aggressive.

Camaro steering wheel

I’ve only ever been in a convertible once in my life before this. I didn’t end up driving with the top down as it was a bit chilly out and I had Billie Jean with me (didn’t know if she’d try to hop out!), but I did try out putting the top down and then back up a few times. After some initial confusion (I googled and learned the flap panel in the trunk had to be affixed upright in order for the top to operate), I was able to easily operate it, and having the top come down and tuck away is phenomenally smooth and highly entertaining. I felt like I was driving a Transformer. It was absolutely delightful!

Billie Jean was not so much of a fan of the top coming back up; I think the movement frightened her a little. The concept of a two-door car also confused her but she quickly learned to tuck herself into the back seats. I actually think she found the Camaro cozier than being in the SUVs. So, if you’re ever considering what kind of car your dog would like in terms of comfort…this is it!

Camaro and Billie Jean in backseat

The car to me felt very solid, safe and responsive. I had to drive through some intense rain and a 18-wheeler almost took us out (just thinking about this makes my heart race), but I was able to quickly and safely move out of the truck’s way thanks to the car’s handling and I suppose thanks to remaining relatively calm and in control.

The Camaro doesn’t boast a lot of trunk space but of course, I don’t think that’s the selling point of this vehicle. It was sufficient for my short road trip, which included Billie Jean, though, so it’s not as though you can’t pack a decent pile of gear in it.

This sporty little number was somewhat unexpectedly (I don’t consider myself as a sports car kinda girl!) fun vehicle to dash around in. My only wish is that the leaves had changed colours by the time of this trip; it’d be incredible to drive with the Camaro’s top down to take in that autumn beauty on country roads.

 

Leave a Comment October 17, 2017

Travel Swellness: Plan a fitness-filled vacation in SoCal

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Although I combine running and traveling regularly (whether it’s doing a destination race — I most recently ran the Chicago Marathon — or simply running in whichever city I find myself in as part of my training and sightseeing at the same time — I’ve shared my workout faves for my hometown of Toronto with Expedia this year), it’s only more in the last few years that I’ve been looking to incorporate more and more fitness fun during my travels.

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Typically, I try to choose activities or classes that are unique to that area. Hiking is something I try to do whenever I can (especially since I find opportunities to do it in Toronto scarce, even more so when you don’t have a vehicle). But there are also loads of classes you can try in other cities that may be unavailable in your city. I tried Soulcycle in New York City and LA before they opened up studios in Toronto. In Park City, I did a phenomenal SUP yoga class in a hot spring that’s located in a crater.

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And I love surfing and it isn’t an option here in TO so that’s always high on my list if there’s some decent waves for a beginner (I need so much practice!) and I’ve had the chance to take a lesson in places like Puerto Rico and Barbados.

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And also in Huntington Beach. My very first surf lesson was in HB two years ago, and I had another lesson there a few months ago. On that same trip that brought me to several areas in Southern California, I also did a superb outdoor Spin class with stunning views, had a blast in a dance class, to name just a few of the workouts I got to try out. No wonder Cali girls are so fit, they have such great fitness options and inspiring scenic views for their outdoor sweat sessions.

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I wrote about SoCal fit vacation options (including La Jolla, Huntington Beach, San Diego, and Santa Monica) for Travel & Style. It’s got me California dreaming again…sigh. You can check out my T&S article here.

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Photos: Maxim Potvin

Leave a Comment October 16, 2017

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