Sunday, September 11, 2011

Chicago in a Day

Another plus of living in Milwaukee is it's close proximity to Chicago.  Either by car or by train, the trip will take you about an hour and 15 minutes.  The train line, Amtrak Hiawatha, departs from both the Milwaukee Intermodal Station (MKE) and the Milwaukee Airport Railroad Station (MKA).  For those of you air travelers, the MKA station has connections to Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport.

A few Saturdays ago, my friend Mike was visiting and, along with Dave, we headed over to the Hiawatha at the MKA station at the brisk hour of 8am.  After seeing that parking was only $5 for the day, we happily printed our $40 roundtrip tickets at the self service stand and waited a few short minutes to board.  We ended up on the quiet car, which was vigilantly upheld.  The quiet car ride allowed for a pleasant nap for Dave and undisturbed scenery gazing for Mike and me.
We arrived at Union Station a little before 9:30am and, even though we had a lot to see in our ~11 hr day in the city, we decided our first order of business was breakfast.  We cut up Jackson St (all of these street names seem to be President's names) and headed for the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue.  Known for it's shopping and dining, we were aiming for a place that had an outside patio.  We had luck with The Gage and enjoyed a reasonably priced brunch before we headed out on our sightseeing adventures.

Fueled up from brunch, we meandered across Michigan and Columbus and headed south through Grant Park to see the renown Buckingham Fountain in the center of the park.  The 84 year-old fountain, said to be inspired by the Latona Fountain in Versailles, is quite the sight with its large center display and numerous jets. The backdrop of the city isn't too shabby either.  The fountain is meant to represent Lake Michigan, with each seahorse representing a bordering state (Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin). You can catch a water show every hour from mid-April through mid-October.  If you wait until after dusk, you can see the same show but with the addition of choreographed lights and music.  Unfortunately, we did not stick around for the show, but I have it on my to-do list next time for sure.
Turning north, we walked back through Grant Park and made our way to Millenium Park.  Technically an extension of Grant Park, Millenium is a public art venue at its core.  One of its highlights is the Jay Pritzker Pavillion, which is home to the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra, Grant Park Music Festival and many other musical acts.
Not far from the pavillion is Cloud Gate or "The Bean".  We weren't the only tourists interested in a closer look and feel of this 3-story steel sculpture.  Created by Anish Kapoor, the sculpture is undoubtedly captivating.  As you get closer, you're immediately drawn in by the unique, distorted reflections of the city and sky.  When you're within striking distance, it then becomes quite fun to see your own distorted reflection and make your way through its curved archway.  The only real downfall to this attraction is its popularity! Don't count on getting any amazing non-people filled pictures while you're there...unless of course you get there extremely early.
Feeling oh-so-done with the swarms of tourists at The Bean, we started our many mile walk to the Navy Pier right on Lake Michigan.  On our way, I was noticing the lovely Riverwalk area.
Although Navy Pier was also crowded, I immediately got a great vibe as we approached.
We found many Mid-Westerners happily drinking with friends either out on restaurant patios or simply walking around (open containers allowed once inside).  It was more than easy to join in the merriment, as we decided to rest our feet and grab some beverages at Harry Caray's outdoor patio.
After our refreshments, we walked the rest of the length of the pier and noted all of the activities.  There were numerous boat launches for guided tours of the city from the lake, the Childrens' Museum, carnival games & fun-houses, and tons of restaurants & bars.  There is also a fireworks display every Saturday at 9pm (ending Oct 29).  
At this point in the afternoon, really interesting low-lying clouds set over the city.  I loved the photo ops they created but it was nice that they didn't stay and block out the August sun for too long.
Knowing that we also had other attractions to hit, we headed out from the pier and walked north along the shoreline towards the John Hancock Observatory.  Eager to see the city from 1,100 ft up, we paid our $15 admission and headed up almost 100 stories.  Note: you can also buy a CityPass for $76, which gains you access to your choice of 5 attractions including the J.H. Observatory, Willis (previously Sears) Tower's competing SkyDeck, the planetarium, the aquarium, the Field Museum or the Art Institute of Chicago.

The J.H. Observatory offers the city's only open air SkyWalk and also provides a multimedia tour free of charge to all patrons (narrated by David Schwimmer for any of you Friends fans).  It also provides an interesting overview of Chicago's storied history, with particular attention to The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 where the city had to literally build itself back up from the rubble.  Then there is of course the amazing views...which is not lost in translation on anyone.  Lake Michigan's vibrant shade of blue never looked so beautiful in my opinion and I was entranced by the full 360 views of greater Chicago.
We finished up our Chicago-in-a-Day experience with dinner closer to the downtown Loop area.  Upon recommendation from my friend Eden, we shuffled into avec on Randolph Street.  Careful though... the restaurant is about the size of a narrow hallway and it does not take reservations.  Hence, make sure to get there early or be prepared to be tremendously patient while waiting for a table.  At least there is a long bar that can help you pass the time.  Our experience at avec was tremendous.  Small plates is the name of the game here and we couldn't get enough.  My favorite was the stuffed dates :)
After dinner, we squeezed in one more drink at the Elephant Walk in the financial district and then scooted back over to Union Station to catch our train.  Unfortunately, the last train back to Milwaukee leaves around 8pm.  Even though we had planned ahead and got into the city early, it would be nicer if there was a later option.  Although, in our case, we had jammed so much sightseeing into our day that we were completely exhausted and ultimately appreciative of getting back on the train to rest!

As we reflected on our day during the ride back, we all agreed that, for such a large city, Chicago was extremely well organized and impeccably maintained.  We're all excited for trip #2 to discover more of Chi-Town, now my neighbor to the south!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A New Home ... A New Me

A lot has changed since I last checked in.

While I may still be sitting on the same couch, semi-watching my guilty pleasure General Hospital on DVR, I'm no longer in the same home - no longer in the same state - no longer in the same part of the country.

Where you can find me is about 1,100 miles due west of my prior home in Salem, MA, making my way in Greater Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Source: Enchanted Learning
I can say without uncertainty that I never thought I would be uploading a map of Wisconsin and guiding my blog readers to look for the Milwaukee dot close to Lake Michigan in the south-east corner of the state.  I guess that's the beauty of life never know what opportunity may be coming your way.  In my case, Wisconsin courted and successfully wooed me with a great new position at a large, well-known and respected global corporation.  I'll give you a is the only company that trades on the Dow Jones today that was also listed on the original Dow index in 1896.

Although the new job is going well so far, I've nonetheless been in a serious adjustment phase.  When I thought of a few key words for where I was heading...bitter cold winters, cheese, beer and industrial came to mind.  Although I won't be able to avoid the cold winters, I've found that there are a lot of great things (some part of the stereotypes and some far from) that are definitely helping me to adjust.

Great, local beer ... whether it's the powerhouse Miller, smaller craft breweries such as Lakefront or Sprecher or local brew pubs such as the Milwaukee Ale can find something tasty to slurp down for sure.
Cafe Hollander, Wauwatosa WI
Milwaukee Ale House, Milwaukee WI
Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee WI
Amazing lakefront parks & beaches ... who knew right?!  Cities aren't typically known for miles of open space to walk, run, boat, jet ski and sun bathe, but that's what I'm learning makes Milwaukee so special.

Stunning art museum ... featured in the latest Transformers pan movie, this architectural wonder, designed by Santiago Calatrava, has been statuesquely gracing Lake Michigan's shoreline since 2001.  

Riverwalk ... 2+ miles of revived shops, restaurants, bars and trendy apartments running alongside the banks of the Milwaukee river.  Bar hopping here can be accomplished by foot or by boat ... which would you prefer?
Source: Fine Art America
FESTIVALS ... although I got here too late this summer to enjoy many of them, Milwaukee is home to a different music or ethnic festival practically every weekend.  The festival grounds have a specific home, right on the lake a little bit south of the downtown area.  Although thousands visit Italian Fest, German Fest, Irish Fest, Polish Fest (the list goes on), the most famous festival is undoubtedly Summerfest, touted as the world's largest musical festival.  It takes place over 11 days and 12+ stages with a tremendous amount of musical variety.  I heard on the news this summer that annual attendance now reaches over 1 million people!

The only big event I did make it to this summer was the Air & Water Show over the lake.  Here are a few pictures ...

Miller Park & Avid Brewers Fans ... built not too long ago, Miller Park is a fantastic MLB park.  The seats are affordable, spacious and are close to a bevy of yummy snack stands.  Gone are the days of a simple hot dog alone, you can supplement your dog with pulled pork sliders, Wisconsin white cheddar cheese curds, selections from a baked potato bar and roasted almonds & walnuts & pecans.  Not to mention the fact that the city is obsessed with their Brewers, who are on their way to a division title :)

I have a feeling I'm going to keep discovering special things about my new city that I will continue to share with you all.  In the meantime, I'm looking forward to my apartment being filled with not just my boring boyfriend David will be a welcomed addition to my daily routine and, of course, as many visitors as possible :)