A Day in Milwaukee

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“What is there to do in Milwaukee?”

That’s the first question friends asked me when I told them I was visiting the largest city in Wisconsin. I did not have an answer, but I knew that after returning from New York and catching up on missed YouTube subscriptions in my pajamas for 8 hours, I needed a break from Evanston (again).

Milwaukee was only two hours away from Chicago by train, and it wasn’t some random cornfield town in America I hadn’t heard of. I had a day or two to kill before spring break ended and a desire for adventure to satisfy, so that night, I booked a round-trip train ticket to Milwaukee for the next day.

Ben, my friend who had spent the break at Northwestern, decided to come along with me (it took some convincing, but I like to think I made his break that much better by giving him an option to leave Evanston).

I woke up at 6:30 to meet Ben and take the Metra to Chicago’s Union Station, a 30-minute ride away. We boarded the Amtrak to Milwaukee, where we passed picturesque fields and suburban homes blanketed with snow. Watching each passing frame and changing landscape, I felt like the protagonist in a movie, taking a spontaneous trip to a new place with nothing but a sense of wonder and camera phone to document it all.

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We pulled into Milwaukee at 10 a.m., catching a glimpse of the steel arch of the Hoan Bridge as we passed by. As we treaded on frozen sidewalks on our way to the Milwaukee Public Market, a large indoor food market 10 minutes away from the station, the sun radiated overhead. At the market, we were greeted by local vendors selling fresh seafood, farmers’ salads, artisanal coffee, Mediterranean food, chocolate fudge, and more.

Ben and I were fairly hungry so we each got a chocolate egg from Kehr’s Candies. I got the sea salt caramel egg, which had a dark chocolate outer shell and thick caramel filling – probably not the best choice for breakfast. 

Walking around, I sipped on a pear chai juice as we settled on lunch at St. Paul Fish Company. I was craving seafood, and they had fresh lobster, Alaskan king crab legs, oysters, shrimp – the whole enchilada. Both Ben and I ordered the lobster roll, which had plump lobster chunks in a brioche hot dog bun that was soft and sweet and crunchy like french toast.

After lunch, we walked around the Historic Third Ward, Milwaukee’s oldest center of commerce, which is lined with art galleries, restaurants, and specialty stores. 

We wandered into the U.S. district court building, where after going through security, a kind lady guard offered to show us two courtrooms and allowed me to take pictures, since no photos could be taken anywhere else in the building. Ben wanted to check out more historic buildings in the area, and we stumbled upon the Pfister Hotel, which had a very ornate, regal lobby. Although it was quite small, it had a European air and it felt like I had been transported to Italy.

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Once we left, we headed east towards the Milwaukee Art Museum. From the front, the museum looks like a whale’s tail-slash-modern sailboat.

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Inside, there was a curved glass ceiling with square panels that felt like the inside of a cocoon. At the edge, a half-crescent glass window offered views of the glistening waters of Lake Michigan.

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The featured exhibit inside was “Nature and the American Vision.” Nineteenth century pieces of Niagra falls, Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite Valley, and the American landscape by artists Louisa Davis Minot and Thomas Cole were on display. I enjoyed the contemporary art section the most, where we saw Roy Lichtenstein’s “Crying Girl” and Andy Warhol’s “Marilyn Monroe 1967.”

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By the time we were through with the museum, it was approximately 2 p.m. and Ben and I realized that we had pretty much seen everything in Milwaukee’s CBD, so we ended up walking around and let our feet decide where to go.

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We ended up wandering back to the Milwaukee Public Market, then to Starbucks, where I got an ice blended honey caramel latte. At Starbucks, Ben and I sat down for a brief pause, contemplating life and school with our feet propped up and without the weight of schoolwork on our shoulders (a moment, to thank the quarter system).

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We went to Cafe Benelux for dinner, where Ben got the cod fish fry and I had a Sprocket burger, which had bacon, cheddar, and a duck fat fried egg on it. (Side note: After I bit into the burger, the yolk from the egg burst and got all over my clothes and hair and I had to go to the bathroom to clean myself up. It was an embarrassing mess.)

We still had an hour left after dinner, so we headed back to the Public Market for the third time. I snuck a glance at St. Paul Fish Company, thinking I could stuff down one of their renowned $15.95 lobster dinners, but the line was long and I wasn’t about to wait for 20 people to order and get their food first.

On the way back, we passed by the riverwalk as the sun began to set. Its riverwalk is much smaller and less dynamic than that of Chicago’s, but it was still pleasant to stroll along.

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We boarded the 7:35 p.m. Amtrak back to Chicago’s Union Station, then the Metra back to Evanston. Milwaukee was a nice one-day escape; I wouldn’t say there’s any reason to return beyond the Public Market and the art museum, but it offered a change of scenery and a nice view of the lakefront. I got to check ‘spontaneous day trip’ off my bucket list, catch a glimpse of a state I hadn’t been to before, and find a bit of myself exploring a city unknown.

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