Big City of Little Neighborhoods

Most of us have probably traveled to a destination, planned or unplanned, not having high expectations, only to be pleasantly surprised. We recently had one of those “ah, this is so nice” moments when we visited the “big city of little neighborhoods” – Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We knew Madison, the state capital to be special, as Terry had lived there many years ago, but we weren’t expecting Milwaukee to charm us like she did.

We were doing a housesit for three weeks in one the smaller towns nearby and when our hopes of hiking and biking the trails were quashed due to the plummeting temps, a visit to the big city situated on Lake Michigan rose to the top of our sightseeing plans, and we found it so inviting that we kept going back for more.

In no particular order, here are our top 10 picks of Milwaukee gems:

1/ St. Josaphat Basilica

Built in 1888 by Polish immigrants, this beautiful church was designed after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and is in the Lincoln Village neighborhood, on Milwaukee’s south side. When the plans for this spiritual house were nearing completion, the priest at the time, Fr. Grutza, was told that the Chicago Post Office and Custom House was going to be razed, so he purchased it for the sum of $20,000 and had the salvaged materials brought to Milwaukee by flat cars. For this reason, many of the doorknobs today bear the seal of the U.S. Treasury. It was the third church in the United States to be raised to Basilica status.

2/ Milwaukee RiverWalk

The Milwaukee RiverWalk meanders through the heart of the city, tying together three riverfront neighborhoods – the Historic Third Ward, Downtown, and Beerline B. The RiverWalk extends more than twenty blocks from north to south and is sprinkled with permanent and changing art exhibits. It was a delight to walk on a warm autumn day when the trees were sporting their deep red and gold attire. It is a wonderful way to discover so much of what Milwaukee has to offer, lovely boutique shops, craft breweries, and award-winning restaurants.

3/ North Point Lighthouse

Perched on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan in Milwaukee’s Lake Park, the site of this picturesque lighthouse was chosen and built in 1855 to mark the north point of Milwaukee Bay. Located in the Historic Water Tower neighborhood, the height of its tower is not that impressive, standing at just 28 feet, but with its bluff-top perch, it hovers 107 feet over the lake, and its Fresnel lens projected out across the water 20 miles. Unfortunately in 1888 bluff erosion forced the government to build another lighthouse further inland. It stood vacant for years until the Friends of North Point Lighthouse brought it back to life as a museum in 2007.

4/ Historic Third Ward

The Historic Third Ward, a neighborhood onto itself, is one of Milwaukee’s more creative endeavors, home to studios and art galleries in former warehouses and performing arts venues like the Broadway Theater Center. Restaurants are trendy and boutique shops sell fashion and home accessories. The indoor Milwaukee Public Market, open all year, has a wide array of interesting shops, including the renown St. Paul Fish Company, where Terry had his first lobster roll and a long walk afterward to walk it off. 🙂

5/ St. Joan of Arc Chapel

In the Avenues West & Marquette neighborhood, tucked among a mix of modern and vintage architecture, a “sacred heart”, born of medieval France, graces the grounds of Marquette University. The oldest building in Milwaukee, dating back to the early 15th century, the St. Joan of Arc Chapel is the heart of this Catholic university community. In the 1920’s a railroad magnate and devotee of St. Joan of Arc purchased this chapel, had it dismantled in France, and shipped to her property on Long Island. Over the years she sold the property and the new owners in time offered it to Marquette University, where it now sits nestled among the towering trees. Today it serves as a spiritual community gathering place.

6/ Lakeshore State Park

Lakeshore State Park, situated in the East Town neighborhood, has a network of walking/jogging trails running along Lake Michigan. It is a great place to fish and has a marina where boats can be chartered on sunny days. For us, it was a great place to get some exercise while enjoying views of the city skyline.

 7/ Milwaukee Art Museum

Also in the East Town neighborhood, the Milwaukee Art Museum is one of the largest museums in the United States. The museum’s unique design, sitting near the bank of Lake Michigan, is like none that I have seen, looking more like a futuristic airliner ready to take flight. It was one of our favorite attractions in Milwaukee.

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The Burke Brise Soleil, the museum’s signature movable wing-like sunscreen, can be raised or lowered to control heat and light in the glass-enclosed reception hall below it. Weather permitting, the wings open at 10 am when the museum opens and close at 5 pm when the museum closes. The wings also flap (open and close), at noon each day, to a musical accompaniment. The wingspan spreads 217 feet at its widest point, wider than a Boeing 747-400 airplane, and weighs 90 tons. It would be wonderful to see these wings from a sailboat on a warm sunny day on Lake Michigan.

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8/ Milwaukee Pierhead Lighthouse

Located in the Harbor District neighborhood, the Pierhead Lighthouse marks the location where the Milwaukee River flows into Lake Michigan. Built in 1872, the lighthouse had a keeper until 1926, and today is solar-powered and operates on auto-pilot. From the pier you can get a peek of the Breakwater Lighthouse as well, two for the price of one. 🙂

9/ Black Cat Alley

The Black Cat Alley had to be included on my top 10 list, due to my love of street art. Located in the East Side neighborhood, this alleyway was transformed from an unlit walkway into one of Milwaukee’s top photography destinations, thanks to the talent of a dozen local artists.

10/ Harley Davidson Museum

Located in the Menomonee River Valley neighborhood near downtown Milwaukee, this museum may well be the crown jewel of the city. Even if you are not a motorcycle fan, or not a Harley Davidson enthusiast, one cannot deny the rich history of this company, nor its staying power. This company most likely deserves its own post so I will leave you with just one photo to piqué your curiosity.

“Serial Number One”, the oldest Harley Davidson in the world, built in 1903, is a bit of a mystery and a Harley legend.

One thing that was for certain, we weren’t leaving Wisconsin without reconnecting with friends we met during our time living in Mexico, a lovely couple we haven’t seen in over seven years, who now live near Milwaukee. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at the historic Fox and Hounds Restaurant in nearby Hubertus and were thrilled to catch up with them. Theirs is the kind of friendship that neither time nor distance can diminish.

Although the photo quality may not be the best, the company certainly was. Thanks so much David and Les for taking the time to reconnect.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore ~ #1

We have settled for a week at the Thompson West End City Park in Washburn, WI, looking out onto the majestic Lake Superior.  This lovely park sits on the outskirts of Bayfield, the doorway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  It is a great city park, big-rig friendly with 50 amp service and cable TV.  There are several artesian wells within the surrounding area and one of them is flowing right at the park.  Cold, clear delicious artesian water is just a few steps away!

The is my first visit to Lake Superior so I thought I would provide a few interesting facts:

Surface Area:  *31,700 square miles          Avg. Water Temp:  40° F

East-West:  382 miles                                  North-South:  160 miles

Volume:  3,000,000,000,000,000 (quadrillion) gallons of water

Lake Superior has more water in it than all the other Great Lakes combined.  It is the largest freshwater lake in the world based on surface area*.

Immediately upon settling into our site, we saw a beautiful large bird in the tree next to us, with a most unusual sound.  We were treated to the greeting of a pileated woodpecker.

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is a group of islands sitting within Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin.  The name was given to these islands by the historian Franςois Xavier de Charlevoix, who named them after the 12 apostles, even though there are 22 of them!  The islands are the spiritual home of the Lake Superior Chippewa.

Madeline Island Ferry

We decided to take a trip over to Madeline Island but before hopping on the ferry, we were able to spend a little time exploring the town of Bayfield.  It is home of the headquarters for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and was constructed from rock quarried from the islands before they were made into a park.  The local Holy Family church was built from this same brownstone.

The Rittenhouse Inn, Wisconsin’s first B&B, built in 1975, is an elegant structure, having the reputation as one of the great Country Inns of North America.  It has a huge wraparound veranda and views of Bayfield Harbor and the Apostle Islands beyond.

Bayfield Harbor with Rittenhouse Inn in Background

The seasonal festivals in Bayfield are ranked among the nation’s finest, particularly the Bayfield Apple Festival, drawing roughly 40,000 visitors annually.  This year, October 7-9 they are celebrating their 50th anniversary and we wish we could be here for the festivities.  This festival is listed as one of the Top Ten Autumn Festivals in North America by the Society of American Travel Writers.  Other highly supported festivals occur here year-round.

Madeline Island, largest of the Apostle Islands archipelago, was named after Madeline Cadotte, daughter of Chief White Crane and wife of fur trader Michael Cadotte.  It has been inhabited by Native Americans, missionaries, and fur traders, and has flown the flag of three nations over the past 400 years.  The town of La Pointe, population of 272, occupies a space on this island, as well as Big Bay State Park.

Madeline Island View from Ferry
Terry on Madeline Island Beach
Funky Restaurant in La Pointe

Bayfield, the berry capital of Wisconsin, is home to the largest organic blueberry farm in the state, the largest raspberry producer in the state, and offers the biggest variety of berries that you will find most anywhere.  We were too late for the berry season but just in time for apple season.  With more than a dozen orchards/farms around the Bayfield area, we spent a day touring the countryside and many of the orchards.  We also scheduled a tour to the Raspberry Island Lighthouse and took a hike that gave us some great views of the sea caves.   I will talk about these in upcoming posts.

Door County, WI

We spent a leisurely week in Door County, WI, a four-season tourist haven.  This picturesque county has so much to offer:  5 state parks, 10 lighthouses, 300+ miles of shoreline, colorful farmers’ markets, boutique shops and wineries, stunning flower gardens, and countless mouth-watering restaurants.  We were reminded around every turn that this is a big dairy state, given the number of ice cream shops we encountered.  Needless to say, we felt compelled to sample a few.

Door County was named after the strait that runs between Door Peninsula and Washington Island.  This dangerous passage, strewn with shipwrecks, sits where the waters of Green Bay join the open waters of Lake Michigan and has been given the nickname “Death’s Door“.

Early on we spent an enjoyable evening with Jay and Beth, the couple from whom we purchased the RV, along with Beth’s mother.  They made the decision to sell the RV and purchased a terrific 2-acre property right on Sturgeon Bay.  Their loss was our gain, but the sunsets they traded for are spectacular!  After dinner we sat around a bonfire on their little stretch of beach and watched the sunset.

Jay & Beth
Mother "Dona" and her Beautiful Smile
Jay & Beth's Sturgeon Bay Sunset

We spent our stay at Tranquil Timbers RV Park, right outside of Potawatomi State Park, where we took pleasure exercising daily along the shores of Sturgeon Bay.

Tranquil Timbers RV Park

I believe that the pictures below give a good representation of the color and character of the towns and villages of Door County, so I will let them speak for themselves mostly, with a few of my thoughts thrown in for explanation.

The seat of Door County is Sturgeon Bay, a historic community that dates back to 1835.  With a population of 9778, it boasts an alluring waterfront and 17 separate annual festivals, making it one of Wisconsin’s premium vacation getaways.

 Egg Harbor, population of roughly 280, was named one of the top ten “Coolest Small Towns in America” by Budget Travel Magazine in 2010.  Parks, beaches, a marina, golf courses, boutique shops, galleries and restaurants abound, not to mention the striking flower gardens.

Fish Creek, in the heart of the peninsula, takes pride in a historic main street, with enticing shops, galleries, and restaurants.  With a population of 929, it has some of Door County’s best performing arts, as well as great marinas and beaches.

The Cookery

The Cookery, originally opened in 1977, had seating for 20.  A subsequent fire closed it for a time, and when it reopened, it included a second story with wine bar and a seating capacity of 85.  The seafood chowder is delicious!


The Oilerie, a very popular shop, was opened by a couple in 2003 after a visit to Europe, where they experienced charming little boutique olive oil shops.  They decided to bring this concept to the US, where it has done very well.  It is wonderful to be able to taste test the various olive oils and balsamic vinegar prior to purchase.  Their 25-year old balsamic is exquisite, and their truffle oil and roasted walnut oil have found a place in our home also.

Along with the delightful shops and restaurants, Fish Creek is also home to Peninsula State Park, where we were able to spend an afternoon hiking.

Eagle Bluff Lighthouse in Peninsula State Park
Horseshoe Island Seen from Tower in Peninsula State Park

Sister Bay, population of 870, boasts the largest public waterfront, with a sand beach, docks, an extensive park area, and a gazebo that hosts free concerts in the summer.  It was voted #1 in Wisconsin for small town dining by a state-wide survey.

Door County Bakery

The Door County Bakery is best known for their Corsica bread, heavy and laden with extra virgin olive oil.

Jacksonport, population of 750, is home to some of the county’s most scenic shoreline parks.  Cave Point County Park, in our opinion, was certainly one of the most picturesque.

Cave Point County Park

With a population of 310 full-time residents, the village of Ephraim exhibits a blend of Norwegian and Moravian heritage.  It is an artists’ haven and houses a graffiti-covered warehouse on Anderson Dock, now known as the Hardy Gallery.  It was commonplace when fishermen docked that they write their names and name of their boat in paint on the sides of the warehouse and this tradition continues today.

Francis Hardy Gallery at Ephraim Wharf

A relaxing few hours can be spent sitting on the lawn at Fred and Fuzzy’s Restaurant, sipping on a cherry marguerita.  It was a great way to while away a sunny afternoon.

Bay Viewed from Grounds of Fred and Fuzzy's in Ephraim

We enjoyed perfect weather while in Door County.  The day we were planning to leave, the skies were overcast, which was our sign to move on.  We headed back to Elkhorn to have a part replaced on our refrigerator and plan to spend the weekend back at Chain O Lakes State Park, a great park for hiking and just soaking up some summer sun.  Have a great holiday weekend!

Madison, WI

Madison or “Mad City”, as it is better known by the locals, is the capital of Wisconsin. With a population of 233,200, it is the second largest city in the state, behind Milwaukee. Madison was founded in 1836 and is named after our fourth President, James Madison. It is unique in many ways, one of which is that it sits on an isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona.

Terry lived in this clean, vibrant city about 30 years ago and was excited to see how it had changed during his time away.  I was seeing it with fresh eyes, having never been here before but anxious to see it, given all I have heard.  It did not disappoint me in the least and, except for the temps in the winter, which even the locals say are difficult to bear at times, it is a very livable city.  It consistently ranks near the top of the best places to live, with the city’s low unemployment rate being a draw.  Madison also ranks second in the nation, according to Forbes Magazine, in the “Top 20 Places to Educate Your Child” category.  For a larger city, it has repeatedly been named one of “America’s Safest Cities”.

We stayed at a lovely little inn for a couple of nights, Ruby Marie B&B.  We chose this location as it allowed us to walk everywhere, with bike paths along Lake Monona right outside our door and downtown a few blocks away.  Ruby Marie’s opened as a hotel in 1873 and was used as a railroad hotel.  The Wilson street area, where this B&B sits, was mainly a German community in the 19th century and still retains that flavor.  It has been renovated by the current owner, with all the original woodwork retained.

Our first lunch in Madison took up to the Old Fashioned, which is a local haunt, serving wonderful salads and sandwiches.  It sits across the street from the capitol building so that is where we ventured after a leisurely lunch.

This grand building is the largest state capitol, excluding that which is in Washington, DC.  It is the only capitol built on an isthmus and can be viewed from most anywhere within Madison, due to its being situated near the high point of the isthmus.  The existing structure was erected between the years 1906 and 1917, being the third capitol building in Madison, the second having been devastated in a fire.  This majestic granite building stands over 200 feet tall and has the only granite dome in the United States.  It showcases 43 varieties of stone from around the world, hand-carved furniture and glass mosaics.  A mural entitled “Resources of Wisconsin” graces the ceiling of the rotunda.

Rotunda Ceiling

After a lengthy tour of the capitol, we headed off to State Street, probably the most noted street in the city, with much of it open to foot traffic and bicycles only.  Madison is a very bike-friendly city, rivaling the likes of Portland OR.

State Street runs for several blocks and consists of countless funky and boutique clothing stores, microbreweries and bars, and more ethnic restaurants than I have seen in a city in a long time.  We enjoyed a hearty, fragrant Afghan soup, bread and tasty dipping sauces for our first evening meal.

On our way back to the B&B we encountered a young man and his dog.  He was playing an upright piano (very well I might add) and a sign was posted stating that he was traveling across the US, hoping to inspire people, through his music, to follow their deepest desires.  His website, entitled tells his story.

Dotan Negrin and His Little Friend

We wrapped up our day with a visit to a German pub next to our B&B, to imbibe in a couple of microbrews.

Terry and I both enjoy the beauty of gardens so we decided to check out Olbrich Botanical Gardens, covering 16 acres, with upwards of 12 separate gardens and a conservatory.  The textures and colors of the gardens, along with the babbling brooks and the Thai pavilion made the trip worthwhile.  Enjoy a few of the pictures that we took.

Thai Pavilion

The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.  This is what we encountered when we left the botanical gardens and entered their parking lot.  You think you know someone after 20 years of marriage but I would have never guessed that this sight would have caused the reaction that it did in Terry.  I think in some respects this may have been the highlight of his trip to Madison.  I was beginning to wonder about this man, seemingly cultured, who appeared to be so enthralled with the Oscar Mayer wienermobile.  I certainly remember the Oscar Mayer commercials as a kid and seeing pictures of the wienermobile but I can’t say that I was exhibiting the same emotions as my husband.  It wasn’t until Terry told me that he emailed this picture to our friend Les and she had a similar reaction that I am now feeling a little fragile about my own childhood.  What meaningful experience did I miss early in life?

Perhaps I was just focused on our next stop, Gail Abrosius Chocolatier.

 Gail specializes in dark chocolate delicacies only and they are like the food of the gods.  She has received notoriety from the Foot Network and has had an honorable mention in the Oprah Magazine, not to mention a wall full of other local awards that this woman has received.  We spent a lengthy amount of time there, inhaling the rich aromas and sampling the homemade Mexican chocolate gelato.  Of course we had to walk away with many varieties of her chocolate creations as well.  Since dark chocolate has such great antioxidant value, we were feeling pretty healthy when we walked out of her store.

A stroll along the Lake Monona waterfront and another State Street venture, along with dinner at Bukara, a popular East African restaurant, rounded out our day.

A visit to Madison is not complete without walking the grounds of the University of Wisconsin, which we did the following day.  Bascom Hall, seen below, is the main administration building of this esteemed campus and was named after John Bascom, former president of the university.

 Many of these buildings date back to the late 1800’s.  North Hall, the first university building, completed in 1851, is still in use.

Noteworthy also is Babcock ice cream, a homemade delicacy created in the dairy of the agricultural school, and served up daily in the Student Union.

Madison offers such a wide array of gifts to locals and visitors alike.  It is a cultural capital, with free jazz and orchestral concerts in the summer, as well as being a biking mecca.  Thank goodness for the miles of bike paths that provided us with exercise each day, to assist in burning some of the calories that we consumed while here.  My only regret is that we were not here on a Saturday to enjoy the farmer’s market that is held in the downtown capitol area.  I am told it is magnificent.

From Madison, we are taking a week-long respite in Door County.  Stay tuned for my thoughts on this enchanting part of Wisconsin.