Wisconsin or Bust, Part II: Sunday, Monday, Happy Days

When we were planning our trip to Wisconsin, we jumped at the opportunity to go during a holiday. With Independence Day landing on a Monday, both Tara and I had a paid holiday, which meant we wouldn’t have to use a precious vacation day. Great idea in theory, but because of that holiday, a bunch of places we wanted to see were closed.

Alas, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin; an authentic supper club experience; MadCity Music; and rooftop juice-box cocktails will have to wait for another time.

This doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty to see and do. At times, it felt like sensory overload.

Ayy, That’s Cool

Some people prefer to wing it, but I’m a planner at heart. I always research the hell out of places before we visit, so I knew we had to eat breakfast at Bassett Street Brunch Club one day. Luckily, Tara trusts me and is happy to go along for the ride.

After sleeping in Sunday morning, we walked down to the restaurant. There was a short wait, but those 11 minutes were worth it for the buttermilk-fried chicken breast sandwiched in a buttermilk biscuit, smothered with a sweet corn-sausage gravy, finished with a sunny side up egg and apple-bacon greens (total copy-and-paste job from their website). Washed down with a Bloody Mary, of course.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, the food scene in Wisconsin is incredible. I was like a kid in a candy store. Or a cheese store, as the case may be.

After breakfast, we hopped in the car and drove 79.4 miles to Milwaukee. “Why do you want to go to Milwaukee?” my mom had asked before our trip. “Because it’s Milwaukee,” I replied, and that was reason enough for me. I was curious about the largest city in the state, home of the Brewers and the Bucks, not to mention Richie Cunningham, Arthur Fonzarelli, and Laverne & Shirley. Madison may have been our main destination, but we wanted to explore other areas, too.

Driving into the city felt a little surreal; I never imagined I’d one day be walking the streets of Milwaukee. The city was never on my radar the way a Chicago or Austin or Cleveland might be. But you know what? Milwaukee is awesome.

Our first stop was the RiverWalk. This pathway takes you along the river for 20 blocks, cutting through historic neighborhoods like the Historic Third Ward and Beerline B.

Honestly, I always pictured Milwaukee looking grittier. And I know there are other, less touristy, more industrial parts of town. But the RiverWalk is quite lovely. We wished we could have kayaked down there ourselves!

Along the way, we had to pay a visit to the Bronze Fonz.

Along the way, we stopped and loaded up at a cheese store (don’t ask me how much cheese we brought back home with us, because I either lost count or am too embarrassed to admit the truth), then ducked into a bar for a drink. This place put the “E” in eclectic: the walls were lined with moose, deer, and caribou heads; the chandeliers were mounted on antlers; and the wood paneling and stone fireplace made the place look and feel just like a hunting lodge—except for the uncensored hip-hop and gangsta rap blaring from the speakers.

But hey, they know how to pour a tall one!

We struck up a conversation with our server, Cassidy, and she asked if we were planning on checking out the Milwaukee Public Market. For all my research and planning, that inexplicably hadn’t made my list, but we decided to take her advice. And were glad we did. The market is cavernous, filled with vendors selling a wide assortment of artisan products and foods. It reminded me a lot of Pike Place Market in Seattle, only completely enclosed. Winters on the shore of Lake Michigan are a tad colder than those in the Puget Sound area.

We decided to take advantage of the wide variety of food and grab something to eat. I don’t know which was better, Tara’s lobster mac ‘n cheese or my tuna melt panini. All I can tell you is, both hit the spot.

Properly satiated, our next destination was the lakefront. I have a fascination with the Great Lakes and wanted to see Lake Michigan, so we strolled many blocks to get there, marveling over the interesting mix of historic and modern architecture in downtown Milwaukee.

Thousands of people were lined up along the shore of Lake Michigan for Summerfest and the attendant fireworks. We briefly debated staying ourselves, but sunset was still four hours away, we weren’t dressed for potentially chillier weather later, and walking over a mile back to our parking garage after dark in an unfamiliar city didn’t seem wise. Instead, we sat down for a little bit, people-watching and gazing at the lake, before making the trek back to our car.

Back in Madison, we walked down to Great Dane Pub & Brewing for supper and drinks. We snagged a corner table in the beautiful backyard patio, surrounded by tall ivy-colored walls and bedecked in string lighting. It was very cozy and inviting, and the food (again) did not disappoint.

It was the perfect end to a great day!

Fireworks Courtesy of Mother Nature

July 4th dawned cloudy. Again, with a lot of places closed, we had fewer options, but made the best of it. I picked up coffee and breakfast sandwiches from Colectivo on the Square a few blocks away and brought them back to the room for a quick breakfast.

Our plan was to make a big loop around Madison, checking out the various suburbs. We picked a good day to do so, as the weather wasn’t great—warm, humid, with showers and thunderstorms. Fortunately, we were in the car most of the time, though we did find a brewpub in Sauk City for lunch. The patio area looked lovely, but because it was pouring rain, we opted for indoor dining. Not that we had a choice.

Oh, wait. Back up. First we hit the local Trader Joe’s, and if you ask why, I’ll give you the mountaineer’s classic response: because it’s there.

At least we kept our cart pretty light this time. This had to be a record for fewest TJs purchases ever.

Back at the hotel, we walked down State Street in search of t-shirts and food. Luckily, we found both. Tara wanted a slice of pizza and a salad, while I chose a more exotic because-I-can roast duck hand-pulled noodle from Ruyi. We took those back to our room and ate there. The rest of the evening was relaxing; Tara read and I thumbed through my phone before growing bored, so I decided to take a walk. Took in Madison one more time, because it was our final night.

I found myself standing on a floating dock on Lake Mendota, admiring the stormy skies and fireworks in the distance.

I came back to the room, slid a chair next to the window (we were on the 10th floor, by the way), and spent an hour watching fireworks light up the sky. Followed by lightning lighting up the sky. Which was every bit as dramatic.

It’s always bittersweet when you’re at the tail end of your vacation, and Monday night was no different. I didn’t want any of it to end and went to bed reluctantly, knowing that we were getting up at 5 a.m. for the long drive home the next day.

It turned out to be a lot longer than anticipated. If we thought our journey back to Rapid City would be uneventful, boy, were we in for a surprise.

But that’s a separate story entirely. One that I’ll save for tomorrow.

Do you plan out your vacation itinerary or fly by the seat of your pants instead? Ever been to Milwaukee? Are there any cities you’ve ever found yourself surprised to be visiting?

29 thoughts on “Wisconsin or Bust, Part II: Sunday, Monday, Happy Days

  1. More great trip stuff! Amazing food. Intriguing buildings. I prefer the historical ones, but the lady bugs! Wow! Fonze statue made me smile. My dad looked just like him in his younger (happy) days. 😉 Fireworks and lightning. Fun stuff! I look forward to the story of the trip back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the historical ones, too. It’s an interesting dichotomy, having ultra-modern high rises right next to buildings straight out of the 1800s. Really makes you appreciate the craftsmanship of ye olde days.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I will research for sure. Usually time is limited and I want the good stuff, then I keep a list of possibilities for future visits. I’m intrigued by the full indoor market. It looks well worth the time wandering through it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Milwaukee was much grittier when I was growing up, but we returned there several years ago when the husband was doing a triathlon there and I was pleasantly surprised by how nice it had become. Never got to that market though – that looks amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That Great Dane pub looks amazing! All the pictures do. 🥰

    I remember a scene in Happy Days when Arnold went to Canada for something wearing a big down coat, making a big to-do about snow. I’m like…. He coulda walked to the border for crissake, what’s with the dramatics? But then I remembered it was a sitcom. 😂

    Also, I’ll be expecting an entire post on cheese to help you get over your embarrassment. 🧀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha…that’s hilarious. He definitely should have been familiar with cold and snow living in Milwaukee! As I recall, the weather was always sunny on that show. Not very realistic, was it?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow! A lot of cities seem to have riverwalks. Milwaukee looks just beautiful. I love the market; it reminds me of Cleveland’s West Side Market, only newer looking.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve never been to Milwaukee, and like you said, I expected it to be grittier as well. It looks lovely. As does all of your meals! The photos of the sky are amazing; I also love a good storm.
    I’m laughing at you hitting up the local TJ’s. I’m guessing you brought a cooler with you? Or two, one for food and one for CHEESE?

    Liked by 1 person

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