Ever since I worked as a waitress in Yellowstone National Park in college it’s been one of my favorite places in the world. A couple of years ago I went there with my family in winter which made it even more special. Very few people, just animals, geysers and solitude.
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.
It’s around 4:30 a.m. Fishing boats have arrived in port through the night and unloaded their ocean catch at Pier 38 on Honolulu Harbor. Auction workers have set out the ice-covered pallets of fish in the damp and extra-cold air of the market building.
Wholesale buyers arrive around 5:00 or earlier to examine the fish–thousands of pounds of tuna, marlin swordfish, snapper, opah and many others–and carefully evaluate it for freshness, fat content and other qualities. At about 5:30, a bell rings and they gather in a competitive scrum around the auctioneer who quickly takes their bids.
These are valuable fish and it’s serious business. A single fish may go for upwards of $1000. Each fish is tagged with the name of the winning bidder and sent off to the buyer’s wholesale or retail operations, in Hawaii and on the mainland.
Visitors may tour the market. Afterward, head over to Nico’s restaurant on Pier 38 for breakfast or shop at their market. You can’t get any fresher tuna for sushi or poke than right here.
“New Orleans isn’t like other cities.” That’s what Stella Kowalski said in Tennessee Williams’ most well-known play, A Streetcar Named Desire. So true, Stella, so true.
New Orleans Tricentennial
This crazy and fabulous city celebrates its 300th anniversary this year, which makes it a great time to visit, though I must say, just about any time is fine to visit New Orleans. They’re planning all sorts of events for the celebration including a visit from some Tall Ships.
Over 300 years, New Orleans has evolved, as Stella says, to become very different from other U.S cities. Tricentennial events aside, the city constantly features such a variety of unusual experiences–parades of second line marchers, drinking everywhere, cemeteries above ground, and the phrase “who dat?,” to name a few–that it’s sometimes difficult to understand how it came to be that way.
“It’s a city of ‘oddnicity,'” says author Andrei Codrescu in his collection of essays, NewOrleans Mon Amour. John Kennedy Toole’s captures much of the oddnicity of New Orleans in his quirky classic Confederacy of Dunces. Yet, the city is so unusual and has such a reputation for its party atmosphere that it’s easy to pass New Orleans off too simply, as just one big raunchy party on Bourbon Street.
“That’s not the whole picture,” New Orleans author Chris Wiltz told me. “It’s a city of amazing contradictions. People in New Orleans will party until down on Fat Tuesday, but it’s a city of extremely devout Catholics who show up with ashes on their foreheads the next day. This is a city where Desire Street runs parallel to Piety Street.”
Fiction: French Quarter Fiction: The Newest Stories of America’s Oldest Bohemia—Joshua Clark ed. City of Refuge, Tom Piazza (about Hurricane Katrina) The Feast of All Saints–Anne Rice, about New Orleans free people of color. And, sample one of her vampire novels before visiting a New Orleans cemetery. Confederacy of Dunces–John Kennedy Toole A Streetcar Named Desire—Tennessee Williams All the King’s Men—Robert Penn Warren
Non-Fiction Feet on the Street: Rambles Around New Orleans—Roy Blount The Last Madam: A LIfe in the New Orleans Underworld—Christine Wiltz Zeitoun—Dave Eggers Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans— James Gill
If you haven’t been there lately, that may sound pretty crazy. There’s been no shortage of reporting on Detroit’s hard times. But I grew up near “the D” and as a kid, a trip to Detroit meant something special–a Detroit Tigers game or a speedboat race on the Detroit River with my dad, shopping at Hudson’s with my mom, Broadway shows at the Fisher Theater, field trips to the Detroit Institute of Arts, all accompanied by the rhythm of Motown.
I live in Minnesota now, but returned to the city last week and once again felt how special it is–its history, it’s people, and a general vibe of grit and coolness found in few other places. Best of all, many of the things from my memory are still there, though sometimes in altered form.
The Tigers have moved to Comerica Park.
Partly because of those qualities, the city is making a huge comeback. I was there for five days and could have stayed longer, partly enjoying the memories, partly seeing what’s vital and new, and feeling nostalgia with a positive spin.
While I’m on the topic of travel photography….Portraits–don’t even get me going on what a challenge I have getting good portraits of people I meet while traveling. Yet, there’s nothing more interesting than faces. Portraits are worth the effort because photography lacks a greater sense of place without them. Sure there are beautiful landscapes, artistic still lifes—food!—and some fun shots of people from a distance but those close-up photos of faces are what really tell a story and give an impression of the folks who inhabit any place—from Minneapolis to Morocco.
I’m kind of chicken. It’s hard to get right up close to people you don’t know, but that’s what it takes for a good portrait. Up close, the subject may become more stiff and self-conscious so sometimes I take the photo from a distance, maybe when they’re not looking, and just crop the heck out of it later. If I’m lucky it won’t be blurry. Ultimately, it just takes a few extra seconds–and a little bravery–to get a better shot.
Also, there’s the etiquette and ethics of portraiture. I’m getting better, but it’s a challenge to ask people that may not speak my language if I can take their picture. Some people just hate to have their picture taken, sometimes for religious reasons. Often, the more exotic looking (or sometimes the more downtrodden looking) the person, the more dramatic the photo. Am I taking advantage of them or invading their privacy? In Morocco, I was told not to pay children for their pictures because it encourages them to forego school for money-making photo opps.
Happy schoolgirls in Guatemala.
This young man was slightly suspicious of the photographer at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis
I like taking pictures of people through windows or sculptures.
One way I’ve found to get good portraits is to buy something the person is selling or simply put a few coins in a street entertainer’s music case. And, if my potential photo subject is in business, like a bartender or shopkeeper, they’re usually happy to cooperate.
When all else fails, animals are usually very eager to pose for a portrait, no questions asked.
I’ve been traveling a lot lately and have many stories and pictures to share since I last posted. I’ve had adventures in quite varied places including the backroads of Missouri on the Katy Bike Trail, around central Italy, and a few spots right here in Minneapolis (more on those soon). Every time I return from a trip, I pour over my photos, delete the junk, crop and perfect the good pics and relive my experiences in the process.
I use these photos in my blog and sell them as part of article packages or slide shows, but I take pictures on the fly, more like a tourist than a professional photographer who camps out for several days to get the best light. I’m too small to lug all that equipment–several cameras, lenses and a tripod and more. Plus, I’d rather pay attention to the experience than gadgetry.
That’s why I try to keep a few basic ideas in mind to elevate my photos several notches above “snapshot.” Sherry Ott, a photographer and travel writer who as far as I can tell is completely nomadic, which fascinates me, just posted a great summary of what to keep in mind while taking pictures as a traveler. On her blog, Ottsworld, she says, it’s not about the equipment, its about composition. In fact, many of the travel writers I know take great pictures with their iPhones, though I have to say a good digital SLR makes a difference.
I’m sharing a link from her blog, my fellow travelers, for your own use and inspiration: How to Take Better Vacation Pictures. No matter what your skill level, her tips are a great reminder that it just takes a little extra thought to compose more satisfying photos.
And please share any tips you have with the rest of us by commenting here.
Need a little travel inspiration? This explorer, teacher and environmentalist’s example will get you out on your next adventure.
Ann Bancroft became the first woman to arrive at the North Pole on
foot and by sled in a 1986 expedition with Will Steger, six other men and 49 male dogs. After that, she tallied other firsts, including being the first woman to cross both polar ice caps to reach the North and South Poles and was part of the first group of American women to ski across Greenland.
I had the fun of interviewing Bancroft for an article as she was about to set out on a new expedition, a surprising trip for someone who is typically associated with cold and ice. She and her frequent expedition partner Norway’s Liv Arnesen, are leading an international posse of women who are paddling the length of the Ganges River, from the source of the river in the Himalaya Mountains to the Bay of Bengal. They’re doing it to to call attention to the crisis of fresh water around the world.
Bancroft is an inspiration for anyone who yearns to get outdoors for some adventure travel. You don’t have to go to the polar regions or the Ganges, but she encourages everyone to push themselves for new adventures and experiences. “We’re all on a journey,” she says. “What’s your expedition?”
Travel and reading. They go together like cherry pie and ice cream….
Back in May, Ann Patchett, author of book club favorites such as Bel Canto, Patron Saint of Liars, and Truth and Beauty, wrote a great travel article for The New York Times about her love of Petoskey, Michigan, and in particular a bookstore there called McLean & Eakin Booksellers. She says that, while some people center their travel around baseball stadiums, museums or Civil War battle grounds, for her the focal point of travel is the independent bookstore.
Her article, “As American as Cherry Pie,” will resonate with book lovers, particularly when she says, “It is just so thrilling to be around people who read, people who will pull a book off the shelf and say, ‘This is the one you want.’ People who want to know what I’m reading and will tell me what they’re reading so that while we talk, stacks of books begin to form around us. It’s my own personal idea of heaven.” Check out the full article
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.