BEA was in Chicago this year and for a very long time, I had no plans of going. I knew the added costs of travel (not to mention room and board) were going to be hard to manage. But as we got closer (still months away, mind) Nicole said that she wanted to go and after talking with my mom I decided I could make it work.
Fast forward through months of selling odds and ends on eBay to fund my flights and room, obsessively checking Chicago weather to figure out what to pack, and lots of other preparations for the trip that I did not expect having not traveled to BEA before (since it’s been in NYC every other year I went) and not traveled in general on this scale in at least ten years.
Nicole and I knew we wanted to get in some sightseeing in Chicago since we’d never been so we booked an early flight on Tuesday (the day before BEA).
Upon arriving in Chicago we took the world’s longest cab ride to our hotel which was a bit dated but still pleasant enough for our trip. It was also swank as hell from the outside.
After checking in at the hotel and stowing our luggage until a room would be ready, we headed to the best breakfast place in the entire world: Yolk. Yolk was conveniently in walking distance to the hotel and became a favorite spot during our short trip.
Because I was an art history minor in college and love museums, I lobbied heavily for a visit to the Art Institute Chicago next.
I made sure we saw the Thorne Miniature rooms.
Nicole discovered the Art Institute Chicago’s Paperweight collection.
Then we both started to lose steam and decided to head to the gift shop. (Got to get those souvenirs!) This stop proved extremely helpful because I realized it was important to check out some other iconic pieces of art before we left.
After that, it was time to head back to the hotel. We decided to walk along Michigan Avenue to check out some other souvenir shops and window shop back to the hotel.
After regrouping at the hotel Nicole and I headed out to get dinner (dollar burgers at Bar Louie) and explore. I think because we were in a touristy area and near Columbia College Chicago, there was a lot of green space near the hotel and lots of public art in the form of sculptures and murals. So, just walking along Michigan Avenue it was possible to see a lot of beautiful things.
And with that day one in Chicago came to a close.
It turns out when you travel one time zone over you body never really adjusts to being an hour ahead and you end up being awake really early for no good reason. So although BEA did not officially start until the afternoon, our day started early.
Happily, there were pancakes involved.
Then it was basically time to head to McCormick Place where we discovered that some things are the same in any city (AKA pre-BEA crowds).
BUT all of this line waiting did give me a chance to catch up with Cecelia and Sajda (and make dinner plans with Cecelia–more on that later) and also to meet Christina. Finally! So exciting. As is my way, I forgot to take pictures with almost everyone. So it goes.
Luckily Cecelia was a bit more on point so I at least have this:
The first day of BEA was pretty chill. There were some lines.
There were signings. And, most importantly, there was the new Little Elliot book Little Elliot, Big Fun.
Because so much of the show was scaled back this year, Nicole and I actually got to leave at a reasonable time. So we headed back to the hotel, emptied our suitcase, and got ready for dinner.
I had been asking about places to eat in Chicago for months by this point and one that stuck out was Portillo’s. As soon as Carli told me there were cake milkshakes, I was sold. So I dragged along Nicole, Cecelia and Cecelia’s friend Liza.
Words and even pictures cannot do justice to the sensory overload that is Portillo’s.
It was insane but I think it was also a sort of rite of passage as a Chicago visitor. The cake milkshake was exactly what you would expect of a piece of chocolate cake being put through a blender. I can still taste the icing.
This was the first full day at BEA and the busiest.
There were tickets to be had.
There were signs to be held.
(I didn’t get that book, incidentally, but holding the sign seemed important.)
There were friends to meet like Val and Shannon and Kristen. There were friends to see like Britt and Cecelia and Sajda. Nicole and I spent a good chunk of BEA hanging out with Sajda and Cecelia which turned out to be an excellent life choice.
There were lots of exciting books!
One of my goals going into BEA this year was to be more selective about books and also to hit up some of the “less big” publishers. Mission accomplished because Sourcebooks was on point this year!
I didn’t take a photo with Zoraida Cordova BUT she did like my nails and had some epic candy swag.
After a full day at the convention center, Nicole and I decided it was high time to see the Bean. I don’t think either of us expected it to be as amazing as it was. But we had a blast!
So many photos ensued.
Like this isn’t even all of the photos yet. I’m still working through sharing them all on Twitter or Instagram. Anyway, it was a blast.
After that it was an easy walk to Giordano’s for their infamous deep dish pizza. The only problem is making the actual pizza took forever so our night wound up being quite long for what, I’m just going to say it, was a fairly horrible pizza experience. It turns out deep dish pizza is only good when it is super hot. And even then the “goodness” is questionable. I will say that the bruschetta we ordered as a starter was delicious. Live and learn!
The final day of BEA started quite early. But we had a plan.
After realizing that Chicago BEA is a lot more chill that NYC BEA, Nicole and I decided to get tickets to Maggie Stiefvater’s signing for The Raven King. Because why not?
This involved getting to McCormick Place quite early, waiting in line, getting coffee, and then (finally) getting tickets before heading out to get breakfast. A mad dash back the convention center followed.
There were, unsurprisingly, a lot of lines on this final day of BEA.
My face, I think, sums up my feelings about said lines.
Things got really intense while Nicole and I were waiting for Kendare Blake’s signing. Every year there is one book at BEA that seems to be impossible to get. This year it was Three Dark Crowns. This signing involved waiting for over an hour, several book counts, and repeated warnings that we might not get books.
But, eventually it all worked out!
After finishing up at McCormick Place, Nicole and I had to figure out shipping our books. There was not going to be time to do anything in the morning and we discovered that the local post office hours did not work with our schedule.
But it turns out our hotel had numerous benefits (like a free shuttle to McCormick Place every day) including being across the street from a larger, swankier hotel with a Fedex Store in the lobby. There’s no way around it: shipping books is expensive and I don’t think either of us counted on the level of embarrassment in emptying an entire suitcase (plus two tote bags in my case) of books into a box. Not that we were alone–lots of people were queuing up to do the exact same thing as we left. But it all worked out and I felt a lot better about it than having to deal with BEA shipping.
The swankier hotel also had a gift shop where I found a necklace in a style I’d been searching for without success for the last year.
We closed out our last full day in Chicago with tacos from Flaco’s Tacos (delicious) and some quiet time in our room. And packing.
The final day in Chicago wasn’t really a day. It was just time for a nice breakfast (and a souvenir shirt from Yolk, of course), a long cab ride to the airport, and two hours waiting in the security line at the airport.
Once we were checked in for our flight, Nicole and I got some last minute edible souvenirs (popcorn and fancy chocolate) before waiting for the flight home. Then it was time for another long cab ride home.
And with that, BEA 2016 officially came to a close.
My books arrived the next week and at this point everything is squared away. Until next year.