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You don’t have to be royalty to be a spectator at the game of kings.  Anyone can see a polo match at the Oak Brook Polo Club.  And anyone can quickly catch on to the rules and traditions of the sport.

European-style polo match in the Chicago suburbs

I enjoyed the honor of attending the polo match on Argentina Day, one of two international days in Oak Brook Polo Club’s season.  The first game was between two local teams, Pinstripes and Double Tree Hotel, and the second was between the local Wells Fargo team and a team from Argentina.

Argentine dancers excited the crowd

Argentine dancers excited the crowd

All I knew about Polo before that day was that players ride polo ponies and hit a ball with mallets.  But the announcer and master of ceremonies, Paul Pisula, explained the game as he announced the play-by-play, and before I knew it, I could follow along with no problem.  I learned interesting facts, too, like players can be only right handed; the horses are called ponies because in the past they could be no taller than 54 inches; and the ponies’ manes are shaved and tails tied so the mallets don’t get caught in them and cause injury to pony or player.  A match consists of six chukkers (periods), each seven minutes long.

Spectator tents

Spectator tents

At half time, spectators were invited onto the field to stomp the divots, to help replace the sod that was torn up by the ponies’ hooves.  Between games, Argentine dancers Daniel Noce and Ramona Nita performed traditional Argentine dances.

Stomping the divots

Stomping the divots

The Oak Brook Polo Club was started in 1922, and by 1953 was the largest polo club in the country.  It was the host to polo’s U.S. Open for 25 years, until 1978. Following a several year hiatus, the U.S. Polo Club rode back onto the field in 2012, determined to bring back the club’s prestige.

The Oak Brook Polo Club season consists of six Sundays of matches, beginning mid-summer and going through early fall.  You can purchase VIP tickets for tented field-side seating or general admission tickets (bring lawn chairs).  Either way, you’re encouraged to dress elegantly casual, in the tradition of those royal polo matches.

-Connie Reed, Illinois Mile Marker

Thanks to the DuPage Convention and Visitors Bureau for making this travel experience possible.

Meet the Mile Marker:

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Connie Reed

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A lifelong Chicago area resident, Connie likes the rush of the city during the workday contrasted by the quiet of small town life at night. She enjoys variety in her travels, too, always eager to explore new places, mixing nature, historical, culinary, shopping, adventure or just plain fun attractions.

Connie shares her travel stories through Examiner.com, focusing on attractions and events in and near Illinois and on her own blog, Midwest Wanderer. When not traveling or writing, Connie likes to putter in the kitchen, trying new dishes with unique ingredients she finds at markets she has visited.

walsh day 2

I signed up to be a Mile Marker  for enjoyillinois.com. It was an opportunity to explore new places outside Chicago and share my experiences with other tourists. This is my first adventure in Rockford, Illinois. I’ve named it Rockford Retreat 2013.

DAY 2: I woke up refreshed in my room at Fairfield Inn and Suites. There is something about the darkness and quiet of a hotel outside Chicago’s always bustling noise. Following my breakfast, it was a short drive to Weis Morris Day Spa. I chose to indulge in some pampering as part of my Rockford Retreat 2013. I was signed up for a 30 minute massage and manicure/pedicure. The serenity really starts after you check in. Oh my, I had truly walked into a lovely haven.

I sunk myself into the quiet. Classical music played softly in the background with an occasional chirp from distant birds in this makeshift paradise. A woman came in offering complimentary scalp massages. While I waited my turn, Jessica, the masseuse, arrived to take me to the massage room. So with mixed emotions of reluctance and anticipation, I exited the quiet room.

After a brief chat of what I enjoy, she went to work. She paid special attention to my knotted shoulders and neck. I could feel my bones and muscles relax under her firm touch and elixir of peppermint and chamomile. The massage was brief for my taste. I prefer a 60-90 minute body kneading. Still, Jessica was thorough. I felt my body release tension and I about floated out of the room. I passed through the quiet room with longing since I only had ten minutes to shower and dress for my mani/pedi.

In the pedicure room, chairs were on a ledge with the foot tubs below. My pedicure was a luxurious foot soak with a strawberry scrub, cucumber masque and hot towels. The manicure was less extensive with a bowl for a quick hand dip. Both aspects resulted in me flaunting pretty nails.

For both sessions, it was a reasonable $105. This was the surprise: massage = $40 and mani/pedi = $65. I usually pay in Chicago $30-40 for a mani/pedi with more pampering, especially for the manicure. And massages are usually $100/hr. So, Jessica’s healing hands and access to the quiet room even for my brief stint was worth $50+. If I did it over, I’d skip the nails for a longer massage and more spa treatments.

All that relaxation made me work up an appetite, so I headed down State Street to DiTullio’s Italian Market and Café. It’s a charming authentic Italian store and restaurant. Ditullio’s has shelves of different olive oils, pasta, biscotti, coffee, and tomato sauce. It even has a bocce kit for Italian game players. Before I order my lunch, I collect a few items that I’d like to try… including organic wheat pasta. Over at the counter, this tray of cannoli has me transfixed. I know for certain I’m getting one. I pair it with an Italian beef panini. The cafe aspect is like a delicatessen. I order at a counter and the friendly staff shave the meat and fill the cannoli to order. They even make their own bread. The panini is almost 1 and 1/2 the size of a regular sandwich. So, despite the beef and cheese deliciousness, I can only eat 2/3 of it. Yummy! I postpone my cannoli for a late afternoon treat. The filling is still fresh and the pastry melts in my mouth. At DiTullio, I sit in the window and enjoy listening to the gregarious manager and/or owner greet customers, bus tables and check to ensure everyone is having a good time. How could you not with this cheerful storefront hospitality? Molto Buono!

I wander down the road to Anderson Japanese Gardens. Anderson was voted the nation’s best Japanese Garden! I easily experience why. It’s like a sheltered utopia in the middle of the city. I enter through the gift shop and walk out to the stoned paths. Trees and other vegetation cocoon most of the trails. It almost feels like a gentle labyrinth. The maze takes you around a large pond, over streams and into hidden coves. The grounds are extensive and the visitors explore at their own pace. Wooden chairs and stone benches blend into the tranquil environment. I find a secluded area to read from my meditation book. I contemplate undisturbed and undiscovered. Later, I spend an hour sitting by the pond with a good novel. This place is magical. Anyone, who comes to Rockford, should visit the Japanese Gardens.

After such tranquility, I drive around Rockford to get a sense of the city. I wander into the Edgewater neighborhood and down Harlem Boulevard. Large, beautiful homes line the tree lined streets. A bike path designates space to wheel through this higher end neighborhood. By contrast, I also drive through some oppressed areas. Abandoned buildings and less than pleasant sights.

Before I head out for dinner, I stop in the fitness center at Fairfield Inn and Suites. I’ve been spoiled with feasting throughout my journey. I hit the treadmill to burn some calories to make room for the overload coming.

I dine at Abreo. Abreo is owned by local chef Paul Sletten, who sources all products locally for a true farm-to-table experience. The chef lists all his partnering suppliers on the menu. It gives an immediate sense of community and foreshadows the unique experience to be enjoyed. ‘Enjoyment’ is a philosophical statement the chef also makes on the menu. He wants to bring together friends, family and food for enjoyment. The eclectic atmosphere reflects a fun vibe: zany oversized mirrors, copper bronzed counters and trim, and mobile-like chandeliers. The music is popular 80’s tunes. Last night, I was serenaded by “Flashdance.” Tonight it’s “Top Gun.” Rockford loves its 80’s music.

The menu is an impressive combination of flavors. The suggested meal is three small plates. I start with the cheese plate to go with my 2011 Alfredo Roca Malbec. My last meal on earth will hopefully be a delicious cheese plate paired with a robust red wine. Abreo’s is in the running. Four different distinct cheeses, apple slices, apple chutney, grapes, toast points, an arugula sprig, balsamic dripping and strawberry jam. This could be my full meal and I love on it hard. Yet, I know there is more to come so I reluctantly stop devouring it when the scallops arrive.

Two scallops are served with pork roasted knob onions, radish and lemon dill aioli. The succulent first bite layered for flavor impact is perfection. It’s a tangy, zesty mouthful. Wow! I want to have both scallops but I don’t even have room for that and I have sweet and sour boar coming. Again, with wistful hesitation, I put my fork down. I save myself for a boar. It arrives in a quirky shaped white container. It reminds me of a Chinese takeout box which is exactly what the taste suggests. The Chef mixed together boar, peppers, onions, fresh herb, raspberry soy glaze, cabbage, and cashews. The robust flavor hints at the freshest, sweet and sour pork Chinese takeout in my memory banks. I only manage a few bites but it has a lingering satisfaction.

Luckily, Abreo doesn’t enforce a ‘no dessert unless you finish your meal’ rule. At the bartender’s suggestion I order the molten chocolate cake. The cake arrives at the table with the moist chocolate mound surrounded by a pool of salted caramel and vanilla bean on either side. The final splurge is worth the uncomfortable fullness. I only have a few bites and yet it’s still sensational. I want to dip my entire hand in the salted caramel sauce. MMMMMMMM!

Following dinner, I walk to the Irish Rose. It’s just a couple doors down from the restaurant. Natalie, the bartender, is friendly and fills me in on the ‘west of the river’ tales. It has a no frills, hometown bar feel. The pub has a massive old fashioned bar. It’s not as ornate as an art deco bar but the under counter cupboards have cool silver hinges.

I call up Checker Cab to take me back to Fairfield. Everyone in Rockford has been very amicable. My out-of-Chicago getaway has been relaxing and rejuvenating.

– Katy, Illinois Mile Marker

Want to follow in Mile Marker Katy’s footsteps? Travel the below map!

Meet the Mile Marker:

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Katy Walsh

Girlfriend Getaways
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Katy has three major passions: travel, writing and theatre. She enjoys experiencing new places and people. By day, she is the Director of Development & Communication at the National Runaway Safeline. And at night and on the weekends, Katy is on to the next big adventure. She's looking forward to venturing out of her Chicago hometown to see what Illinois has to offer.

Be on the lookout for her perfect girlfriend getaway weekends and ideal hang-outs for group travel. Katy has been reviewing Chicago theatre for four years on her blog at The Fourth Walsh. She also has been chronicling hitting an age milestone on her other blog 500 Days to 50.

Katy Rockford

Chicago is my hometown. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. We have arts and culture, sports, cuisine, Lake Michigan, and diversity. Like many Chicagoans, I sometimes forget that we also live in the state of Illinois. In my city pride, I lose sight that there are other adventures just down the road. I signed up to be a Mile Marker  for enjoyillinois.com. It was an opportunity to explore new places outside Chicago and share my experiences with other tourists. First stop is Rockford, Illinois.

My Rockford trip was intended to be a girls getaway with my best gal pal Jen. On the eve of our departure, a family emergency forced Jen to cancel her participation. So, I decided to shift my mindset from ‘girls getaway’ to Rockford Retreat 2013. I’d use this escape from the big city for solace and reflection.

DAY 1: I departed downtown Chicago at 4pm on a Friday. Huge mistake! The estimated 1.5 hour trip extended into 2.75 hours. The rush hour traffic was intense and there was a long stretch of road that is under construction. During one particular tight sequence, a blinding rainstorm hit. It was pretty comical me trying to get to this out-of-town sanctuary despite all the man-made and natural obstacles in my road.

I finally made it to the Fairfield Inn and Suites. It’s conveniently located right off US 20. The Fairfield was an oasis at the end of a harrowing road trip. The front desk was friendly and checked me in quickly and cheerfully. Although my view is of the parking lot, the roomy suite is still pretty spectacular. Despite the tranquility of my room, I decided to venture out to see and eat a little of Rockford.

Nothing on my weekend itinerary is walkable. Rockford seems divided by highways. Because I’m going to have a couple drinks, I call up Checker Cab. My cab driver is a friendly bloke and says everything in Rockford should be accessible in 20 minutes. This seems about right during the evening.

First stop is Jezebel Bistro. The space is adorned with cozy booths and chandeliers with leopard-spotted shades. It’s one of the few spots open at 8 p.m. on this Friday night.

A delectable House NY Strip at Jezebel Bistro

A delectable House NY Strip at Jezebel Bistro

I decide to go surf and turf and order the House NY Strip and a glass of the Coppola Diamond Chardonnay. The main course presents as a substantial and mouth-watering visual. I didn’t even come close to finishing 1/3 of this entrée – it’s that big! Still, I decided to reward myself with the red velvet cheesecake anyway. It’s a good choice. The portion is again…huge. I can only manage four bites and should have stopped at three. I couldn’t help myself; the creamy, deliciousness entrapped me. Jezebel was a tasty find.

Red velvet cheesecake at Jezebel Bistro

Red velvet cheesecake at Jezebel Bistro

I decide to head to Pearl Bistro for a night cap. Pearl is a happening spot. It’s 9:30 p.m. on a Friday night, the place is packed and the vibe is festive. The place looks like an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. The bartenders and servers all seem to be perky, pretty ladies dressed in black pants, white shirts and black vests. The service and music is upbeat. I sit at the bar and order a glass of bubbly, Brut Laurent Perrier.

A little bubbly at Pearl Bistro

A little bubbly at Pearl Bistro

The bar menu boasts a decent beer and wine list and creative specialty cocktails including a wedding cake martini. After the meal I had at Jezebel’s, the bubbly is the ideal nightcap.

– Katy, Illinois Mile Marker

Want to follow in Mile Marker Katy’s footsteps? Travel the below map!

Meet the Mile Marker:

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Katy Walsh

Girlfriend Getaways
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info:
Katy has three major passions: travel, writing and theatre. She enjoys experiencing new places and people. By day, she is the Director of Development & Communication at the National Runaway Safeline. And at night and on the weekends, Katy is on to the next big adventure. She's looking forward to venturing out of her Chicago hometown to see what Illinois has to offer.

Be on the lookout for her perfect girlfriend getaway weekends and ideal hang-outs for group travel. Katy has been reviewing Chicago theatre for four years on her blog at The Fourth Walsh. She also has been chronicling hitting an age milestone on her other blog 500 Days to 50.

Hardy's Reindeer

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see a real reindeer? Well, now you can find out! A little piece of the North Pole is in the Land of Lincoln at Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch. Head out to the ranch to be greeted by Klondike, Flurry, Mistletoe and Dakota, four of the friendly reindeer that live at Hardy’s in Rantoul, Illinois.

With sixteen reindeer, five acres of Christmas trees, ten acres of corn mazes, a cozy barn gift shop and a western style banquet hall, Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch is a fun destination for the entire family. What once started as a small, family owned Christmas tree farm has grown to be a major tourist destination.

A group of reindeer hanging out on the ranch

A group of reindeer hanging out on the ranch

The story of reindeer in Illinois began in 1995 when Julie and Mark Hardy purchased their first two reindeer as a way to boost their family farm’s Christmas tree sales. The addition of the furry friends proved to be a hit with visitors, and Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch was born. Open from August through December, the Reindeer Ranch is a perfect spot to bring groups of all sizes.

One of the intricate annual corn mazes on the ranch

One of the intricate annual corn mazes on the ranch

If you want to get the complete Hardy’s experience, check out the Motor Coach Tours at the ranch. Your visit will start with the Reindeer Experience Tour, during which your group will get to hang out with Klondike and his friends. Mr. Hardy himself will then take your group on a tractor ride around the farm, explaining the history of the ranch and how he acquired so many reindeer. If you’re seeking even more adventure, make it your mission to wind your way through the labyrinth of Hardy’s annual corn maze and locate all eight check points along the way. Finish your day with a chuck wagon dinner in the ranch’s western-style banquet hall, complete with authentic Texas BBQ, entertaining comedy and musical performances!

See the ranch with a guided tractor tour

See the ranch with a guided tractor tour

If you’re awestruck by these magical creatures, vote for Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch as the 8th Wonder of the World by VirtualTourist.com. Click here to vote now through September 30.

— The Illinois Office of Tourism

Starved Rock

Voted the #1 Fan Favorite Attraction in the State of Illinois, Starved Rock State Park, in Utica, is home to some of the most beautiful trails, waterfalls and wildlife in the state. The best part? This natural wonderland is less than 100 miles from Chicago.

Situated along the south bank of the Illinois River in the state’s Chicago & Beyond region, this picturesque park was home to Native Americans as early as 8000 BC. In 1673, Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette canoed down the river, passing by what they called the great rock, now a popular scenic site at the park.

Take a relaxing hiking through the forest

Take a relaxing hike through the forest

Spend your days at the park hiking, fishing, camping, picnicking, hunting, boating and more. Make sure to pack your camera to snap pictures of the incredible panoramic views of the park’s waterfalls, bluffs and canyons. While taking in the scenery, keep your eyes peeled for the myriad of wildlife, including eagles, wild turkey, rabbits, deer, ducks and more.

Enjoy the serenity and calm of the waterfalls

Enjoy the calm serenity of the waterfalls

After visiting this breathtaking site, you’ll understand why VirtualTourist.com has nominated it as the 8th Wonder of the World. You can vote here for Starved Rock now through September 30.

— The Illinois Office of Tourism