The Almost Travel Blogger Tours Wisconsin: Milwaukee


Yes, it will be sad when the Lake Michigan lake monster gets you, but here are some ways to spend time before it does…

Wisconsin tends to have a reputation among those who don’t live here, and sometimes among those who do, of being a flyover state. That’s there’s not a ton to do. And the fact is, on the face of things, it’s not necessarily wrong.

When I moved here just over four years ago, everyone was trying to “sell” me on Wisconsin.

“Oh, you’re going to love it. There’s the farmers’ market and concerts on the square.”

“Has anyone told you about the concerts on the square? Or the cheesy bread at the farmer’s market?”

“We have this big farmers’ market! And concerts. They’re on the square.”

“I mean, you’re going to go to the farmers’ market, right? And the concerts on the square? Right? You’re going to go?”

Guys. That’s only two things. That’s not that many things.

And do they count as two when they’re both on the same square? What happens when you leave the square? Political discourse? Quiet reflection on the changing nature of time as you get older? Everyone eats cheese in silence?

Needless to say, I wasn’t convinced. And also I was pretty insufferable to be around, but that hasn’t changed.

It was about a year later that I was sitting on a flight to New York, listening to a young woman in the seat behind me complain about how boring Wisconsin was, and how she couldn’t wait to be back in the city after spending two weeks here.

She “literally” couldn’t wait, which must have been a real bummer considering we were stuck on the runway for two hours because of air traffic in Chicago, our connecting city. That’s really bad timing for literally being unable to wait.

It made me angry. Not because I hadn’t said similar things, because I had. But because I could tell she hadn’t tried. And because she was talking loudly enough that the whole plane could hear, but mostly because she hadn’t tried.

And really, there are things to do in Wisconsin if you’re willing to dig. And only most of them are on squares!

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Milwaukee Chronicles Part 2: I am a person with a hat.

Hey team. Welcome back.

It’s been awhile! Unfortunately the job that pays me takes precedence over the blog that doesn’t, but I’ve missed you guys.

Some news! And before we go any farther, let me say, this is going to be a very important blog post. This is basically breaking news.

I am now a person who owns a hat!

Milwaukee is home to local millineries, the Hen House and Brass Rooster, two connected shops that make hats for women and men respectively. After two years of perusing the hats as a curious shopper, thinking they were too expensive for that particular trip, snapping a picture for Instagram, and running out the door, on my recent birthday extravaganza, I decided it was time to make a purchase.


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The Almost Travel Blogger: Milwaukee

When you’re on the hunt for a very particular escalator, you can’t mince words. It’s serious business. You see, this escalator plays polka music.

But I think I’m getting ahead of myself.

Bronze Fonzie. Bronzie.

Last weekend, I took myself on a day trip to Milwaukee. And if I were a travel blogger, I would probably have lots of really great tidbits and facts and itineraries and suggestions, but I’m the almost-Travel Blogger. I’m also the almost-good-at-cooking-blogger, but we’ll get to that a different day. (Spoiler Alert: I’m pretty sure my sourdough starter has sinister intentions.)

The Drive

For anyone ever driving through Wisconsin, I suggest doing at least part of your stretch on country roads instead of the interstate. It’s on the country roads that things get weird and awesome and then weird again.

Spotted on my drive yesterday:

  • A building reading “North Prairie Freedom” with the head of a smiling viking next to a cross underneath the text. I’ll never know what that building is, and it kills me a little bit.
  • A bright red barn with large text reading, “Mountain Man Guns!” I know what that building is, and there is no part of me that wants to know more.
  • A man wearing a Life is Good shirt, walking in the middle of the road with his dog. And when I gave him the “seriously?!” hands you give a person when you’re behind the wheel and convinced you’re in the right, he gave me a happy nod and wave and kept walking in the middle of the road. Classic city-dweller-mistake, self.
  • A yard with a series of flags with different faces of golden retrievers printed on them. Basically a vision from my future.
  • A church with a sign that said, “This is a church for families.” Don’t even think about it, single people!

The country roads take a little longer, but think of it like prolonged people-watching. And only the occasional avoidance of the mountain men with guns despite being in very much not a mountain range.

The Learning!

Everyone’s very favorite part of a day trip! I use Google’s Field Trip on these little excursions, to varying degrees of success. For those who are unaware, when you turn on Field Trip, Google accesses different historical and cultural databases to show you interest points that are in your vicinity.

I kept getting alerts on my drive that I was passing landmarks and history and interesting tidbits, but also, I was driving. I kept passing the history and the tidbits, so a good deal of my driving was spent figuring out how many roving mountain men I would run into if I parked on the shoulder and went on a little walk. I always chickened out. You win this one, Mountain Men.

Field Trip lends itself much better to walking, and speaking of… the Polka escalator.

In planning out my Milwaukee trip, I mapped out some oddities I wanted to see thanks to Top of my list: the Polka Escalator.

There I am, in downtown Milwaukee, finally finding the Wisconsin Center, the location of the famed escalator, and the door is locked.

I came this far, I can’t give up. I try another door. And then another.

And you may be thinking, “Get a clue. Last weekend was a holiday.” I was saying the same thing to myself, but when a polka escalator is on the line- and when you can’t find a sign with hours printed anywhere- you keep trying doors! It’s your duty as an almost-travel-blogger!

It was on the sixth door that I got inside, and became immediate and best friends with the polka-enthusiast security guard.

Me (under my breath to myself): Yes. You’re about to say what you think you’re going to say…

Me: HI! I’m looking for the polka escalator!

Security guard: That part of the building is closed.

Me: I was starting to get that message after trying five locked doors! (Laughs)

Security guard: -silence-

Best friends! Then we high-fived.

No polka escalator? Enter Field Trip! (After the requisite 20 minutes and wailing to the tune of “Roll out the Barrell”, obviously.)

What’s near me? It could be history! It could be architecture! It probably won’t be a polka escalator, but it might be a film location for a movie you saw last month!

I saw that Old World Third St. was nearby, and thought I’d go check it out. The street signs were even styled in really helpful Old World calligraphy. Not at all difficult to read.

Old World Third St. review: Confusing. There was a Hyatt and a Cousins subs and then 9 or so German restaurants advertising sausage in large fonts.

A 12 year old boy is snickering somewhere.

Colonial Williamsburg may have spoiled me, but if a street is going to be “old world” someone better be wearing a costume and teaching me how to churn butter.

The Shopping

I’ve turned to Milwaukee several times for antiquing trips, and I’ve always come away with something fun without having to auction off my golden retriever flag collection OR my mountain-man guns.

Antique Center – Walker’s Point 

It wouldnt be antiquing without a healthy dose of creepy.

This is probably your best bet for reasonably-priced surprises. Another fun twist: It feels like half the building is tipping into the road below, so in a fun budget-keeping technique you can ask yourself, “is it worth dying to get the Queen Elizabeth II coronation commemorative mug?” Answer: Meh. Maybe next time.

Riverview Antique Market

This was the point in the day where the sun was at it’s peak, and I had already been walking for three hours. So when I entered Riverview Antique Market, my eyes zeroed in on- not the wide selection, not the cool vintage circus posters hanging from the ceilings- the free animal crackers. Gotta love an animal cracker.

 Of the antique stores I visited on this trip, Riverview had the nicest pieces- an excellent clothes and accessories section- and the best layout, but it also had the pieces that made you think:

“I sure did see that mug in a Starbucks last year.”

“Is this poster from really an antique?”

“If I speak in a different accent, could I get away with taking more animal crackers?”

This is the place for those who can spot the diamonds in the cubic zirconium. And even if you can’t, cubic zirconia are still pretty, so we’re all still ok.

Honorable mention: Antiques on Pierce, Tip Top Atomic Shop

On the drive home, it seemed like all the weirdos had gone inside. Maybe they heard about the armed Middle-of-Wisconsin men (because I don’t think anyone can be called a mountain man in the midwest. Vague-hillside men? One-of-the-forty-lakes men?)

Maybe they were at families-only church at a dog-flag rummage sale. Maybe they heard about the famed Milwaukee animal cracker.

Maybe they have their own white whale Polka Escalator, they’re seeking, and wondering when the universe will unite them.

I know I am.