Chicago, wedding #4

Ben and Simiao got married this past weekend at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL, so we took the opportunity to go on a much-needed vacation and headed over the Sunday before via the Amtrak.

Or, at least, we tried to go via the Amtrak. Turns out they were having line trouble between Toledo and Chicago which meant both that we were two hours late leaving Pittsburgh despite the train being there on time (because the crew had exceeded their working hours or something), and we were woken up in Toledo and transferred to a cramped charter bus for the rest of the trip. So much for taking the more-comfortable Amtrak over the Greyhound. :(

Chicago turns out to be a wonderous land where the Walgreens sell frozen yogurt (with fresh fruit toppings), the Starbucks have a beer and wine selection, the people don’t seem very friendly, and the drivers honk all the time at nothing in particular. Interesting to visit, certainly, but not somewhere I’d really want to live.

We made quite a few trips out to the Bean.

The Chicago marathon was also that weekend, so we encountered a lot of marathon-related things, including rows upon rows of port-o-potties and chain-link fences that seemed quite out of place in the parks.

Ben had a bachelor’s party on Thursday evening. We tried to make it out, but it turns out the Blue line was having serious issues, with trains arriving overpacked and only one or two people able to squeeze into each car at the station.

After being unable to board 4 trains in a row, we gave up and met up with them for dinner instead, which ended up being amazingly tasty.

But mostly we spent the week wandering the city before transferring out to a hotel in Lisle on Friday before the wedding. We took the Metra train, which seems pretty much exactly like the Caltrain. The seats had a neat property though where the backs swiveled over the seat itself so you could face either direction or create little seating areas that faced each other. Kind of an awesome feature.

Saturday was the wedding, and we took advantage of the free admission to the Arboretum to wander it for a bit in the morning. We had no car and walk everywhere anyway, so we walked the 2.5 miles in, but it turns out the Arboretum doesn’t really expect people to wander in by foot. As a result, we ended up standing in a line of cars going to the entry booth while a bunch of confused volunteers kept asking if we were okay. So that was fun.

The wedding itself was beautiful. It was the quickest ceremony I’ve ever seen (less than 7 minutes from the time the officiant walked out the door to when he walked back in again after having married them), but it was still awesome. And you couldn’t beat the view.

The food, booze, and company were all awesome, and it was rather a shame to head home Sunday evening via the Metra to an L train to a plane to a Port Authority bus. Our great luck at Chicago public transit never failed us, with trains usually arriving shortly after we got to the platform, but gave out in Pittsburgh when we missed the 28X by a matter of seconds.

More photos can be found at photos.

That’s it for weddings this year (thank god). Next wedding is in March, followed by ours in April. Yay for more weddings?

Wedding venue, houses

We signed a contract for our wedding venue last Thursday, so we now officially have a place and a date!

Last weekend we actually looked at three places, thanks to some last-minute searching and emailing. In addition to the planned stop at the Children’s museum, we also took a look at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association and the Wyndham Grand downtown.

Our first stop was the PAA, and we liked it so much that it made the rest of the day rather anticlimactic. The venue itself was gorgeous, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the food. But their prices are also remarkably cheap (relatively speaking, anyway). And they have a bowling alley in the basement you can rent out.

Next up was the Children’s museum. It was pretty much what I expected as far as the rental spaces. The rest of the museum was a little disappointing though… it was my first time there, and while there were a lot of interesting things, it wasn’t anything that I would see holding the attention of wedding guests for an extended period of time. The best part was the third-floor water exhibits, but that would be expensive to rent (would probably have to do the whole museum) as well as a bad idea (formal wear + water = unhappiness). So it was nice, but not as nice as the PAA with bowling option.

Finally was the Wyndham Grand. It was certainly a beautiful venue (especially the ballrooms surrounded by glass), but it was quite expensive and also felt very hotel-y. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when you’re comparing it to other (cheaper) places, it just doesn’t feel very special. But Ashley was certainly friendly and very accommodating of our 24-hour-notice request to tour the place (which ended up being during a busy all-day Indian wedding, no less), so it had that going for it. (We were more interested in the smaller first-floor rooms due to size and cost, but they really didn’t feel special at all… just generic meeting space that could be set up for food and people.)

But overall, I think the bowling sealed the deal for the PAA. I had been concerned about people that didn’t like board games having things to do during the reception. Bowling fixes that, and their rental rate was also very fair.

At this point, we’re also close to signing the photographer (have the contract with me right now, actually) and are working on the officiant. Once those big three are done, it’ll be time to continue on with the more fun and awesome parts of planning.

I think our budget at this point has become “whatever it ends up costing”. We’re definitely going to be over $22,000 and will likely exceed $25,000 depending on how many people come. I think that also gives us the dubious honor of spending more on our wedding than anyone we know. I suppose we’re fortunate in that we can afford whatever ends up happening, and it’s really just a once-in-a-lifetime event. But it still feels wrong to me to be spending the cost of two cars on one evening of festivities. Meh?
I think the main unexpected cost is turning out to be the alcohol. Pennsylvania already has expensive alcohol, and the markup from the venue-provided-only alcohol is fairly substantial. I suppose we could always look into doing a “dry” reception (I know that a lot of people coming don’t drink at all), but there’d be a bunch of really disappointed people as well. (We could’ve saved a few thousand by going with a venue that allowed DIY alcohol and bringing it, but the only one that allowed that that we’d been looking at was the Children’s museum.)

We also saw another couple of houses last week. The first one was a huge disappointment… looked beautiful outside, and looked nice when you walked in the front door. But it became apparent as you walked around that they had just done a lot of last-minute patching work to make the place seem nice. The second floor was also terrible (thin, worn-down wood floors, broken light switches) and the basement was a disaster. And they wanted $400,000 for it. We were joking that we’d probably pay $150-$200k given the amount of work it would require, but I don’t think we would actually want to do as much work as would be necessary.

The second was very interesting. The first floor had been redone as an open floor plan, and as such only had two rooms. But it just didn’t work very well with the layout of the door and stairs, and also the design ended up making the place look more industrial or businessy than homey. The second floor wasn’t much better either… dark, rather old looking, and small. Our agent pointed out that a lot of the workmanship was also subpar. And they wanted $390,000 for it. So, yeah.

The house hunt continues. At least wedding plans are starting to take shape.

My photojournal has also been updated through the end of September. Just because.