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A Fall Trip to Chicago: A fiery festival and historic inn combined with a little pasta

Published In the Battle Creek Enquirer

We love visiting Chicago any time of year. It is truly one of the great cities, always offering something new and exciting to experience. Next weekend, though, is a truly unique, first time ever event that is worth a visit.

In 1871, according to legend, a cow kicked over a lantern in a barn and started the Great Chicago Fire, which burned for two days in October of that year. The Great Chicago Fire destroyed thousands of buildings, killed an estimated 300 people and caused an estimated $200 million in damages. Following the huge blaze, the city rebuilt quickly, demonstrating a gritty Chicago can-do attitude.

Next Saturday, join locals along the Chicago River for the inaugural Great Chicago Fire Festival. This different kind of event is billed as a celebration Chicago’s epic resurgence and strength after the Great Fire of 1871. You might ask, “How does one celebrate such an enormous tragedy?” At 8 p.m., fiery cauldrons will be lowered from the bridges, hundreds of kayakers will pull flaming buoys, and three floating sculptures resembling pre-1871 homes will be set ablaze, each revealing a dramatic interior core. The final extravaganza will be a fireworks show set to music in celebration of Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Before the spectacle, starting at 3 p.m., you can stroll along the Riverwalk to sample different food vendors, crafts booths and music. And after the smoke clears, there’s another party aptly called the Afterburn at the Redmoon Theatre. Music, street food, and signature cocktails will entertain participants until the proverbial cows come home at 2 a.m.

If you get to Chicago a little earlier on Saturday, I recommend a stop at Eataly, a wonderful new addition to the already marvelous Chicago food scene. A project of celebrity chef Mario Batali and partners, Eataly offers 23 different eating choices, eat-in or take home. Visitors are invited to be active participants in their own eating and drinking experience. We bought bread and wonderful fresh buffalo mozzarella and the real deal Parmesan cheese at one part of the store, before wandering over to another station for a gelato. For our sit-down meal, we settled for the classic marguerite pizza and two different pasta dishes. My husband is a carnivore, so he went to another part of the store for a lunch of rotisserie meats. If you want to stock up on authentic Italian products to cook at home, Eataly also has aisles of imported pastas, oils, vinegars, and other treats from the home country.Where to stay? Although Chicago’s hotel scene is legendary, on a recent trip we opted for a quiet place in the Lincoln Park neighborhood—The Villa D’ Citta, billed as Chicago’s “Old World Style” Luxury Guest House. Conveniently located near dining, nightlife and local attractions, the Villa is a series of rooms in an expansively renovated gated row house, originally built as a family “cottage” in 1887, when wealthy tycoons selected the most desirable locations for their summer season mansions. Villa D’ Citta today has all of the luxurious amenities to make your stay relaxing and unforgettable. From the comfortably appointed guest rooms and suites—each unique with features such as panoramic views, fireplaces, whirlpool baths, saunas and private porches—to the fully tricked-out kitchen, The Villa won’t disappoint. Friendly Innkeeper Cathy took great care of us, steering us to the Sun Deck for a cup of Villa Blend Coffee, specially roasted for The Villa by Intelligentsia—just the sort of touch the Indulgent Traveler appreciates! All in all, it’s a great place to celebrate the resilient spirit of what Carl Sandburg called “The City of the Big Shoulders.”

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