Milwaukee, Wisconsin is best known for its German beer culture, its waterfront festivals, and for those of a certain age, TV’s Laverne and Shirley. Yet, scratch the surface and you’ll find a host of interesting and personal ways to interact with MKE.Here are a few of my Milwaukee travel favorites.
Bozwell Books, of Course
Book lovers in particular should put Bozwell Books, Milwaukee’s famous independent bookseller, at the top of their list. Bozwell, named after James Boswell, the eighteenth-century British biographer, offers friendly and extremely knowledgeable staff and sponsors scads of author readings, signings and events.It’s the kind of bookstore where you want to wander, browse and then settle in for a while.You can’t leave without chatting about books and buying several.
Pfister Hotel Literature and Art
Speaking of literature, I discovered that the gorgeous Pfister Hotel, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, offers art experiences that showcase Milwaukee’s own talent. The Pfister Narrator, a literary artist in residence, hosts seasonal mini-events with book themes, a modern take on a book club, and story prompts for guests and the entire community. There’s a new narrator every year.The current narrator, Nicole Mattke, shares her experiences on the narrator blog.
The Pfister exhibits its extensive Victorian art collection – the largest of its kind of any
hotel in the world – throughout the hotel.And, they host a popular Artist-in-Residence program currently featuring fashion designer Stephanie Schultz.She specializes in historically-inspired couture, a natural fit amidst the hotel’s Victorian art.Watch and interact with her in a working studio and gallery that is open to hotel guests and the public.
Radio Milwaukee 88.9
Radio Milwaukee, an on-air, online, onsite public radio station, uses music as a bridge to bring together the city’s diverse citizens.Jordan Lee, describes the station as “a town square.”For visitors to Milwaukee, Thursday is the big day at Radio Milwaukee because they offer building tours at 4:30 and live concerts from local and visiting musicians. The tour starts in the performance space and include the building’s Green Roof which offers views of the Hoan Bridge, Marcus Amphitheater, Walker’s Point and downtown Milwaukee.After the tour you’ll enjoy live performances at 6:00 and hit the Stone Creek Coffee’s Radio Milwaukee Cafe for coffee, wine and beer and food.
Museums and Motorcycles
Two more well-known Milwaukee destinations are must-dos. Located on the shore of Lake Michigan, the fabulous Milwaukee Art Museum is my favorite place in the city.Burke Brise Soleil (the “wings”) opens at 10 a.m., flap at noon, and close when the Museum closes, as weather permits. The museum is known for modern art, and outstanding collections of folkand Haitian art.I was recently there for that museum’s Art in Bloom, which made the snow- in spring weather bearable.
Finally, tour the Harley-Davidson Museum, with its rows of historic motorcycles for a full throttle experience.Even if you’re not a “hog” afficianado, it’s a fascinating view of Harley history and motorcycle culture in the U.S. Look for special events and activities this year as Harley-Davidson celebrates its 115th anniversary Labor Day weekend.
Okay, all you friends of mine who keep posting your tan beach vacation pix on Facebook…..
The sea caves on the western shore of Lake Superior near Bayfield, Wisconsin, have
been forming over thousands of years as the action of the water carved out vast caverns in the sandstone cliffs. They’re typically reachable only in summer by boat or kayak. The caves are remarkable enough in the summer, but in winter they’re frosted with thick icicles, hoar frost and fanciful ice formations. Problem is, you can’t usually see them. Right now, for the first time five years, due to the consistently frigid weather, the ice is sufficiently thick for frozen nature lovers to make the trek out to the caves. The Great Lakes in the last week reached its broadest ice coverage in 20 years at 88 percent, with Lake Superior at about 95 percent.
To some people, going to ice covered sea caves on Lake Superior must seem like a trip to Siberia. But this year, the caves have received huge media attention. So despite the fact that the trip isn’t for the underdressed or infirm, thousands of people are making the hike. At times the bundled up figures silently trudging in the same direction through the vast expanse of white looked like they stepped from that Dennis Quaid movie, The Day After Tomorrow. You expect to find a frozen-over New York City just around the bend, but the destination is far more like the place you’d Santa’s workshop in the movie Elf, or maybe a scene from Frozen.
You can’t just hop out of your car to see the caves. The round-trip trek takes about three
hours or more over a well-packed and slippery path with little cover to break the sometimes fierce winds. The caves are part of the Apostle Islands National Seashore and their web site offers an Ice Line to check on current conditions. (Or, you may want to just enjoy these photos from the warmth of your computer.)
The popularity of the caves has been a huge bonus for the area’s winter tourist business. If you want to avoid the crowds, go on a weekday. And if you’re looking for a cozy place to stay, check out the Rittenhouse Inn B&B in Bayfield. The little shops in Bayfield are happy to welcome visitors to the area and sell you any extra warm weather gear you may need and the Apostle Islands Booksellers offers terrific books to hunker down with when you return from your trip.
If you’re a traveler, fall, not Christmas, is the “most wonderful time of the year.” Same sites but fewer crowds, cooler temps, and often, lower prices. It’s the perfect time to go so many places, you may find it hard to choose a destination. The answer lies on your bookshelf. Whether they’re classics or “beach reads,” your favorite books can offer guidance and inspiration for a “lit trip” to see the sites of the stories, absorb the environment that inspired the authors, and even walk the paths of fictional characters. Literary travel allows you to extend the experience of a great book and expand your understanding of your destination. Reading and travel enhance each other, and one taste will leave you yearning to go back for more. Best of all, you don’t need to head for Hemingway’s favorite Paris haunts or Jane Austen’s English countryside to take a lit trip. Opportunities for book-based travel abound in the U.S., too, and many are at their best in fall.
California Wine Country – Vintage Reading
Harvest time in California’s wine regions, typically from mid-August through October, overflows with vibrant golden yellow and crimson colors and the trucks rumbling by overflow with grapes ready for the crush. M.F.K. Fisher captured the delights of Napa and Sonoma where she lived and wrote her classic essays on food, wine, and life. Jack London also loved the Sonoma area where he lived and wrote in his later years. And, for fans of another type of grape, The Grapes of Wrath (which has absolutely nothing to do with wine), the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, is a short jaunt from wine country, making literature and wine the perfect blend for fall travel.
Read: M.F.K. Fisher, Musings on Wine and Other Libations, (Anne Zimmerman, ed.)
Jack London, Valley of the Moon (another name for Sonoma),
For more contemporary reading, try James Conaway, Nose, and Rex Picket, Sideways.
Explore: the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties, and take a side trip to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas (www.steinbeck.org)
Stay: L’Auberge Du Soleil, Rutherford (www.aubergedusoleil.com)
Eat: pack a picnic and enjoy it on the grounds of your favorite winery or in Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen www.jacklondonpark.com
Events: Fall in wine country means special celebrations of wine and food such as Flavor! Napa Valley in November (flavornapavalley.com), vintner dinners such as those at Grgich winery (grgich.com). Schramsberg winery in Calistoga offers special camps in fall and spring for wine and food lovers (www.schramsberg.com/news/campschramsberg)
Santa Fe – Willa Cather’s Archbishop Comes to Life
Santa Fe is a sensory fiesta year-round but in fall the aroma of roasting chili peppers adds to the mix. New Mexico’s beauty, dramatic history, and architecture have lured for artists and writers for decades. Among them, D.H. Lawrence (to Taos) and Willa Cather, who captured the drama of the New Mexico environment as she wrote a fictional version of the real-life story of Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, in Death Comes for the Archbishop. Shoppers and art lovers will find equally dramatic adventures in Santa Fe.
Read: Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
Explore: Bishop’s Lodge which offers a spa, horseback riding, and a chance to see Bishop Lamy’s chapel and home. (www.bishopslodge.com)
Stay: Inn on the Alameda (www.innonthealameda.com)
Eat: The Shed (www.sfshed.com)
Events: Santa Fe Wine and Chili Fiesta (www.santafewineandchile.org)
Newport, RI – America’s “Downton Abbey”
Since the 1800s, America’s wealthiest families have flocked to Newport, Rhode Island, and built summer “cottages” that most of us would call “palaces.” Among them was Edith Wharton, who wrote of her experiences in Gilded Age Newport in books such as The Buccaneers, which is about wealthy heiresses who married into the British aristocracy, much like “Downton Abbey’s” Cora Crawley. You can explore Newport’s Gilded Age mansions as well as its gorgeous seaside sites. The more “off season” you go, the more you can afford live like a Vanderbilt.
Read: Gail McColl and Carol Wallace, To Marry and English Lord
Edith Wharton, The Buccaneers
Explore: Newport Mansions (newportmansions.org)
Stay: Vanderbilt Grace (www.gracehotels.com/vanderbilt) Ask about packages that include admission to the Newport Mansions.
Eat: The Mooring (www.mooringrestaurant.com)
Polo matches, sailing regattas, or just a hike along Cliff Walk. In Newport you can sample “upper crust activities” or just enjoy the view. (www.gonewport.com)
Nantucket – A Whale of a Trip
You can’t find a more concentrated dose of New England charm than in Nantucket. And, if you’re a fan of Herman Melville’s whale tale, Moby Dick, you know that Nantucket is the place where Captain Ahab’s ship, the Peaquod, set sail.
Read: Herman Melville, Moby Dick,
Nathaniel Philbrick, Why Read Moby-Dick? and In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
Sena Jeter Nasland, Ahabs Wife
Or for more contemporary tales, read Summerland and other books by Nantucket resident Elin Hilderbrand.
Stay: White Elephant (www.whiteelephanthotel.com)
Eat: Millie’s. Enjoy the sunset and sample a Whale Tale Pale Ale. (www.milliesnantucket.com)
Explore: Nantucket Whaling Museum (www.nha.org)
Events: The Nantucket Maritime Festival. You’ll hear sea shanties sung, see harpoons thrown, and boats raced. (www.nantucketmaritimefestival.org)
Driftless in Wisconsin
Because of its geology, the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin is a place tailor-made for meandering. And the fall colors are reaching their peak in Wisconsin right now. As David Rhodes explains it in his beautiful book Driftless, “The last of the Pleistocene glaciers did not trample through this area, and the glacial deposits of rock, clay, sand, and silt–called drift–are missing. Hence its name, the Driftless Region. Singularly unrefined, it endured in its hilly, primitive form untouched by the shaping hands of those cold giants.” In this area, you’ll meet friendly folks who may remind you of the characters in Rhodes’s book—organic farmers, artists, shopkeepers, and the nice Norwegian lady at the dairy coop. Amish folks sell produce and hand-made wares at roadside stands, making the entire area a giant farmers market through fall. By the end of your trip, you’ll be reluctant to leave. But you can return by reading Rhodes’s newest book, Jewel Weed.
Read: David Rhodes, Driftless and its sequel, Jewel Weed
Stay: Charming B&Bs abound in the Driftless Area. Check out The Roth House(therothhouse.com) and the sister property The Old Oak Inn (theoldoakinn.net) in Soldier’s Grove or Westby House Inn in Westby (www.westbyhouse.com)
Mark Twain said, “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” One of my book clubs travels fairly often, usually on short jaunts to members’ cabins, and we’ve found out that we like each other a lot, even with the extra large dose of “togetherness” that comes with group travel.
Last week ten of us piled into a 33-foot R.V. and drove to Three Lakes, Wisconsin. That’s about five hours from Minneapolis, and not far from Rhinelander, home of a mythical creature called a Hodag. We stayed at a member’s cabin there, using the R.V. as an extra bedroom. We used the opportunity to plan our reading list for the coming year (check it out below) and to discuss a book that takes place, in part, in Wisconsin, Wallace Stegner’s classic, Crossing to Safety.
Though we try to retain a bookish façade, I have to admit that much of our time was
spent on the activities for which Wisconsin is famous, with Jake’s Bar at the center of intellectual pursuits such as darts and pool, beer and cheese curds. We just call it “promoting literacy.”
Driftless — David Rhodes
In Caddis Wood — Mary Rockcastle
Breakfast at Tiffany’s —Truman Capote
Cutting for Stone — Abraham Verghese
The Postmistress —Sarah Blake
The Paris Wife —Paula McLain
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks —Rebecca Skloot
The Irresistible Henry House —Lisa Grunwald
Unbroken —Laura Hillenbrand.
The Language of Flowers —Vanessa Diffenbaugh
My Nest Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space —Lisa Scottoline
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.