Wisconsin: Waukesha

Recently we’ve been in Wisconsin, which is one of the more northerly states of the USA. We spent nearly a week visiting a friend of mine, Josh. Josh is another friend who I met online years ago and did not know in person until now. He foolishly signed up for a week of our company and even took the whole week off to show us around Milwaukee and his home town of Waukesha.

Josh met us at the train station and took us straight to a favourite watering hole where we tried the most popular cocktail in the state – the bloody mary. Now, you might think you’ve had a bloody mary before but not like this one!

They often drink out of ‘mason jars’ which you can put a lid on and take home!

Neither Luke nor I had tried one before and we didn’t really like the drink (too salty) but the slider (mini burger) and all the various things in the drink were great. In fact it was probably the best beef burger we’ve had yet on our trip!

Josh owns his own house and lives there by himself right now so there was plenty of room for us. Oh – and he has a dog. The largest Rottweiler I’ve ever seen. Poor Archer is afraid of climbing stairs after a few bad experiences so he stays on on ground floor and the bedrooms are upstairs and the theatre room is in the basement. Josh’s theatre room is really cool – proper theatre seats, a bar and a huuuuge screen. If I had the money I’d steal all his ideas for my rumpus room. He’s even planning a popcorn machine and cool theatre-style rope lights around the seats.

For our first outing Josh took us to the Discovery Centre, a place that housed a bunch of science stuff and an aquarium. Josh’s friend was working in the aquarium so we got to go behind the scenes and see the baby seahorses. They were fingernail sized!

Babies!

Looking over the top of the big tank, right before the food was thrown in and the feeding frenzy began. There’s a tunnel big enough to walk through in this tank, so it’s much larger than it looks in this picture.

The weather in Wisconsin was pretty cold when we were there – down to -12C at times, so doing outside stuff was not so appealing. We did visit a nearby landmark, Holy Hill, on which sat a church with a terrific view and beautiful stained glass windows.

We ate a a bunch of local places and enjoyed mac and cheese (one of my favourite American dishes by now), a traditional Wisconsin fish fry, some bbq ribs, Mexican and many other delicious things.

We ended up going out on the town twice. The first time with Josh’s friends Matt and Jackie, their friend Jenny and also Brenda, Josh’s wonderful girlfriend. We started out with a fancy steak dinner but the night took an unexpected turn when we walked through Milwaukee to see the Bronze Fonz (a life sized sculpture) and then went to a bar called The Safe House. To get in you had to know the secret phrase. No one warned Luke or I of this and so, of course, we didn’t know it. Jenny didn’t know it and Matt got it wrong so we had to dance around singing and basically acting like fools for the entertainment of the bar patrons who could watch us on CCTV. Once we got in we could watch other people doing similar thing. Oh, and the door to get in was a bookshelf that swung open.

The bar was full of spy memorabilia and funny trick things – for example, in the Ladies’ toilet there’s a picture of a nude male with a fig leaf. If you move the leaf a siren sounds and everyone knows you tried to look. There’s also doors that go nowhere, tubes for martini mixing that shoot drinks around the ceiling.. all kinds of things. It was quite a hilarious evening, and we discovered Jacqui and Matt will be in San Fran when we’re there so we may catch up with them.

Our last night out was to a bar called Kelly’s Bleachers, which Josh is always talking about on Facebook, so I was keen to experience it for myself. I could tell straight away that he wasn’t kidding about it being his favourite bar – everyone knew his name and the owner even gave me a couple of t-shirts when I expressed an interest in buying one. Everyone was super friendly and nice and there was a room out the back with a dj so we ended up dancing to cheesy music and having a great time. Matt joined us for a bit and there was much hilarity when he pulled out some glowsticks and they played ‘Sandstorm’ on the jukebox – video evidence was acquired but no photos, sadly.

We had such a brilliant time in Waukesha and I was particularly happy to meet Brenda and spend Thanksgiving with Josh’s family. Thanks for looking after us, Josh!

Typical Wisconsin men don’t put on long sleeves till it’s at least -10C outside ;-).

Wisconsin: Thanksgiving

We spent Thanksgiving with Josh’s family in Waukesha. His grandpa owns a huge, beautiful house by a gorgeous lake and we spent the whole day there chatting to his family and going out to play a little in the snow.

The lake looked like it had a thin layer of ice but when we tried to break it with stones they skittered around a made a weird noise. Lots of fun!

Josh was doing all the cooking and wouldn’t let us help at all so we watched from a couple of bar stools. We sat with his cousin Nick and learned a bit about American Football (I’ll be honest, it still makes no sense to me) and talked about the differences between Australia and America. I tried to convince him that Australian animals weren’t that dangerous but I’m not sure I succeeded.

Josh’s cousin Megan dropped off an apple pie and stayed to chat for a while but didn’t stay for dinner (the pie was ace, by the way!), and a few other people came and went. It all had a really nice family vibe that we haven’t experienced much of this year – except for when my mum was in the UK and when we were with Andrew’s family. I always find it fascinating to see how other people’s families interact. It was also a pleasure meeting Josh’s sister, who has three cute cats -amazingly, our allergies didn’t seem to flare up too badly, which was a relief.

So here’s some photos of the food!

A very nice looking bird – Josh soaked it in brine overnight before cooking it, leading to extremely succulent flesh. I’ll definitely be trying that at home!

The buffet. Croissants and jelly with a roast dinner! Only two people had the jello… some things are too strange, even for me ;-).

My contribution – some mead that I’d brought from the UK. Everyone seemed to like it.

Everyone at the table, right after I went back for seconds. Such tasty food!

My favourite photo of the day – Josh and his grandpa.

I wish I’d taken more pictures of Josh’s grandpa’s house. He practically rebuilt the place himself and the design and craftsmanship is just beautiful. The whole place has lots of exposed wood and feels really warm and inviting. Many of the walls were painted by a couple of artists. They did each room with a different theme but in the same colours. The lounge wall has a topographical map of the lake outside the house and it’s done with such elegant detail and lettering that’s it’s a real feature. There’s also heaps of photo collages of various family members and pets throughout the place that make it feel like it’s the hub of a really close family.

We really valued the experience and enjoyed the day immensely. So thanks Josh – and all of the family members reading this! We couldn’t have had a better Thanksgiving.

USA: The Desert Eagle

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, the Desert Eagle is the train we caught from St Louis to Milwaukee.

I didn’t know quite what to expect from trains in the US. We’d been warned against buses and I’m rather partial to train travel so when Josh suggested catching the train I was keen. I looked at the website and the only thing the train promised was ‘Texas’ sized seats. I think we all know what that means.

We could also check baggage and have it transferred to the Hiawatha – the train that we’d change to in Chicago that continued the journey to Milwaukee. Convenient!

We boarded the train at about 8am and the first thing we noticed was that it was two storey… there’s probably a term for that on trains… double decker? So we sat up the top. The seats were indeed large, and we had a huge amount of legroom. The seats also reclined to an impressive degree and had footrests that popped out and meant that the seats were almost as comfortable as beds. Nice!

I wish I’d thought to take a photo of the seats fully extended.

The train also had a viewing car with windows that wrapped up over the ceiling, a dining car with booths and a kiosk for when the dining car wasn’t open. The selection at both wasn’t large but it was nice to have two options. I got a veggie burger from the kiosk as I hadn’t had breakfast… it was probably the worst meal I’ve had all year and I ended up just eating the bun and a Twix.

The observation car – and as a treat, Luke’s arm!

The train ran on time, and as we got into Chicago it started to snow – the first time Luke had seen falling snow. He was very excited. We had about 90 minutes before the Hiawatha so we ate some food and I tried a bun from Cinnabon, which our friend Megan had recommended. It was a delightfully warm, gooey mess.

The Hiawatha wasn’t as fancy as the Desert Eagle but it was also only a short trip. We arrived in Milwaukee very excited to see my friend Josh and maybe get a chance to play in the snow!

It’s hard to get a photo of snow from a moving train so here’s some of the scenic beauty you can expect around Chicago.

I should add that the whole trip was $50 for each of us – not a bad deal at all for about 8 hours travel in much more comfort that you’d get on a plane.