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Twenty four hours at the Peninsula Hotel, Chicago

To surprise my husband for his birthday, I booked a night at the famed Peninsula Hotel in Chicago. Even with a winter package rate, all we could afford was one night at this five star destination.  But wow, what a night and what a great hotel! The Peninsula is part of a chain of hotels of the same name. Several years ago we had stayed at the flagship Peninsula in Hong Kong and fell in love with the hotel.

We took a speedy and uneventful train trip from Battle Creek to Chicago’s Union Station. The Peninsula is a short cab ride from the train station.  Parking your car overnight is a cool $48 a night, which was more than the train ticket.  On a snowy winter morning, the train was a wonderful respite from sliding down the highway, and we could both enjoy Bloody Marys and cinnamon rolls, leaving the driving to Amtrak.

Walking into the hotel is a bit anticlimactic, since you have to go to the second floor to actually check-in.  At the end of a hallway, the two-story tearoom and restaurant opens up on the right, check-in is on the left, and the concierge straight ahead. Dramatic flower arrangements punctuate the understated décor. Our room was ready early, and the hotel did not seem overly crowded.  I was surprised they didn’t upgrade us. Don’t get me wrong. It was a Superior Room, done in pale, yet warm, beiges and gold tones and meeting all of the indulgent traveler’s check-offs.  Great bed—check. Marble bathroom with separate shower and tub—check. Great Jacuzzi tub—check.

Let me pause for a moment on the tub. Seriously, this was a very nice tub with room for two. And you could watch the inset TV on the wall at the foot of the tub.  The height of indulgence—a bubble bath and Desperate Housewives. But I digress.

It was time for tea, which was included in the package. Not satisfied with the Peninsula’s regular high tea (which was one of the choices of the package), we ordered the Royal Tea, which came with a glass of champagne, caviar and extra savories and sweets. Since they didn’t have the champagne that was advertised, the waiter kindly gave us an entire bottle of a very nice French bubbly. Nice touch. The soaring two-story dining room was filled with tables of guests from two to eight people, drinking tea in a most civilized manner. Who would have guessed that all those little plates could fill a person up?

And what a selection of morsels…plain scones, cinnamon orange Scones, lemon cornmeal savarin, coconut passion fruit cookie, rose hip shortbread, orange curd tart, key lime and graham chiboust, chocolate caramel mousse cake, curried chicken salad, spice-scented crepe,

grilled vegetables, lemon caper hummus, black olive tapenade, smoked salmon, citrus dill cream cheese,  pan de mie, roasted cauliflower, gruyere cheese and more – I am not kidding!

The scene outside of the large window was swirling snow and the frozen courtyard. We were tucked in to our multiple courses of delectables, and a lovely bottomless cup of jasmine tea.

We waddled back to our room, and my husband changed to go for his massage in the Peninsula Spa by ESPA on the 7th floor.  I went to the small, but very nicely outfitted gym to use the treadmill.  I did, after all, say it was his birthday.  An indoor pool and hot tub share the floor with the gym. Inside the ladies locker room, I chose to use both the wet and dry saunas, pretending that I was recovering from a grueling day of spa treatments. Afterward, a sip from the fruited water dispenser made all seem right with the world.

We capped off our afternoon and evening with a drink and appetizer in the Bar. The only downside to a visit in January is that the hotel closes both of its restaurants, Avenues and the Shanghai Terrace during that window.  The Bar is a cozy wood paneled room with a nice fire place.  Drinks and appetizer sucked up only a bit less than the $100 food credit that went with the package.  Really, we only had one drink and one appetizer apiece. The prices are not for the faint hearted. Waiting for us when we returned to our room was a lovely birthday surprise from the hotel, a small basket made of chocolate and filed with fresh berries and a bottle of wine—a Spanish red.

The king-sized bed delivered as good a night’s rest as I had imagined. In the morning, we ordered coffee from room service and enjoyed the newspaper delivered to our room. One of life’s simple pleasures is reading the thick Sunday paper with an outstanding cup of coffee. Room service was prompt, and our coffee included a small pitcher of heated milk in the European style—lovely.

To gather our strength before the train journey back to reality, we ate lunch at the restaurant on the first floor of the hotel, Pierrott Gourmet.  It was billed as a European-style cafe and was clearly a popular place with guests and locals.  Selections ranged from very unique sandwiches, soups and pizzas to a few more complete entrees. It was one of those menus where you wanted to sample everything.  My husband was impressed by the wine list, which offered a selection of wines by the glass, flights, and tastings in the afternoon.  The continuing snow outside kept us lingering over lunch while the line of people waiting grew.

The hotel staff had thoughtfully given us a late check-out, and we returned to the room to pack up, a full 24 hours from our arrival time the day before. When we emerged from the hotel to catch a cab back to the train station, I realized how close we had been to the Water Tower shopping mall. Darn. In my Peninsula cocoon, I hadn’t realized I was in the heart of Chicago’s Miracle Mile and a raft of upscale shopping.  From a travel budget point of view, that was probably a good thing.

We had snagged a wonderful take-out from the restaurant: cheese, fruit and bread for the journey eastward. Three hours later we were brushing more snow off of our car, with that feeling that you get when you really relax and let go of your daily burdens. A little of the Peninsula glow still surrounded us.

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