Last week I was in Chicago for a conference with work. Work trips such as this are so useful for building relationships with our colleagues across the pond. It’s so nice to add a human element to all of those emails that shoot between us during the remainder of the year and to be able to meet the wider team in the Chicago offices. I love catching up with colleague over suppers and have the opportunity to have those interesting and innovative brainstorming sessions, which are infinitely more productive as a result of face-to-face interactions.
The Chicago trip also means pushing myself out of my comfort zone and presenting to a room of people, something which I often dread but which practice seems to be making increasingly easier.
While the days of my trip were dedicated to meetings, presentations and keeping on top of my emails from London, I was also able to squeeze in some sightseeing, eat deliciously healthy food and keep on top of my exercise schedule.
Chicago is one of my favourite cities and I know I’m incredibly lucky that I get to spend time there for work. In the winter Chicago comes alive with festive cheer; it is so beautiful with the lake reflecting the blue of the sky and the winter sun making all of the skyscrapers glisten.
One of the benefits of work trips to the States is that the jet lag usually means that I wake up between 5 and 5:30am, giving me plenty of time to run, enjoy the sunrise over breakfast, catch up on my work emails from the UK and get in a morning walk, all before heading to the office.
I also find myself crashing at about 9:30pm, which meant that I got some 8 hours of sleep a night – certainly more than I get at home (when I’m lucky to scrape 7 hours) and something which meant that I hardly touched a cup of coffee for the whole trip.
My workout routine took on a new shape during my time away too, and I let myself enjoy a focus on lower intensity exercise with walking taking centre stage as I averaged around 17km (or 10.5 miles) a day.
I enjoyed striding up Michigan Avenue from the lake to the Art Institute and the ‘Bean’.
I could spend forever walking around the Art Institute of Chicago, overwhelmed by the incredible collection there, which houses many of my favourite Impressionist and Modernist pieces, as well as an impressive collection from the Dutch Golden Age and of course, the iconic ‘American Gothic’.
On Friday evening I walked to the Bean for a carol concert, which made me feel very Christmassy. I tunelessly joined in with renditions of Jingle Bells and the Twelve Days of Christmas, not remembering the last time I’d belted out some carols.
I also spent time walking along the lake, making a trip to the Planetarium (I’d visited the aquarium and Field Museum, which are on the same site, on a previous visit) and walking from there to Navy Pier, some 6km away.
On Saturday night I walked along the lake to the zoo in Lincoln Park for ‘zoo lights’, a free event where the zoo is lit up with Christmas lights formed into animals, snow flakes, snow men and Santa Clauses, while Christmas music fills the air.
Before my trip I’d also researched a yoga studio, called the Yoga Loft, and I booked in for an ‘all levels’ Ashtanga class for one evening. I’m not sure how ‘all levels’ it really was, as the girls all around me were bending like pretzels and at one point the instructor told us to just ‘throw our leg over our shoulder like a rucksack’, which is definitely easier said than done! Still, I really enjoyed the class and felt totally relaxed afterwards and very glad I’d gone.
I mentioned the class to one of my colleagues at the conference and she told me that she had booked in for a hot yoga workshop for that Saturday afternoon at 105F Hot Yoga Centre in the South Loop, and asked if I’d like to join her. Although I’d never done hot yoga before but I was keen to give it a try, and nothing says ‘team bonding’ like some serious sweating on a yoga mat!
It was a Yin yoga class, where you are encouraged to hold poses for 4 to 5 minutes at a time, a total contrast to my usual flow classes. I was pretty nervous, but the heat was more bearable that I’d feared (although I did get pretty sweaty!) and it actually helped me to ease more deeply into the positions, more so as the minutes ticked by.
It was such a relaxing class and I felt almost like I’d been to a spa for a deep tissue massage by the time I came out!
As the weather was mild for the time of year I also managed to book in for an architectural boat tour along the river, which usually doesn’t run into the winter months. This had been recommended to me by a colleague at the conference as the architecture in Chicago is so stunning an so varied it really warrants a proper tour. It was really interesting a definitely worthwhile, not least to see the city from a whole new vantage point.
Finally, I was keen that my diet do didn’t go totally off-piste as a result of my travels. On arrival I kept myself awake with a trip to Whole Foods, where I stocked up on oats, vanilla soya milk (it was really tricky getting hold of just regular soya so I indulged for the week, and despite initially finding it too super-sweet at first, by the end of the week I’d become rather accustomed to its rich deliciousness!), apples and grapes, baby carrots, hummus, olives and (as a treat as you can no longer get them in the UK) a selection of Lara Bars.
We had a conference supper one evening where I had a delicious vegan dish with black beans, sweet potato and a yummy spicy salsa. I also discovered Lyfe Kitchen on North Clark Street where they had separate vegan and gluten free menus and I treated myself to a festive sprout, cranberry and sweet potato dish followed by a banana and chia seed pudding.
After my hot yoga session indulged in a quinoa, avocado and tofu salad from The Protein Bar on Michigan, which was really tasty and very filling – a perfect post-exercise treat!
I also enjoyed a long lazy breakfast with my friend Carrie at Eggsperience Cafe, a good American diner. Not ideally set up for vegans (eggs clearly dominated the menu and the oatmeal was pre-made with milk), however I was still able to get rye toast with avocado, lots of coffee and, most importantly, a chance to catch up with my wonderful friend, who was serendipitously in town from LA for a wedding in Chicago.
All in all, a wonderful week of work, working out and working off some delicious food!