How do you tell when an Oregonian is traveling?
Amanda, one of my lovely ex-coworkers from Adventure Cycling Association, won a bike trip to Wisconsin at Interbike. She was chosen through a drawing done by Travel Wisconsin. She asked if I would like to be her +1, and I leapt at the opportunity. We scheduled our four day trip for Memorial Day weekend, and largely went about our daily lives until then. I worried about being able to pull off a long day on my bike, and made sure to do a long ride each weekend in the month leading up to our trip.
We spent one night in Milwaukie, then two nights in Madison, and then were whisked back to Milwaukee to catch our flight home. Over the four days we only got one significant ride in, around Lake Monona in Madison. Fate was not cooperating with our plans to bike beautiful Wisconsin.
There were still many great things we discovered in Wisconsin though! My personal favorites:
You don’t normally think of hotel restaurants as amazing places to eat, do you? That is because you haven’t visited Kil@wat, which is on the second floor of the Intercontinental Hotel in Milwaukee. Kil@wat’s staff welcomed us with open arms. Although it’s not on their website, they have a significant vegetarian menu. The butternut squash soup (of all things) was to die for. Our server was friendly and had a pleasant conversation with us—even offering us complimentary dessert at the end of our dinner. We also started getting a sense of Wisconsin’s game in the cheese department here.
• The Bronze Fonz
Right around the corner from our hotel we discovered a life-size (Henry Winkler is a short man) statue of Fonzie! It was right along Milwaukee’s Riverwalk, which houses other public art such as “Gertie Gets Her Ducks in a Row” by Benjamin Rothschild.
Tillamook Cheese is one of the original culinary prides of Oregon. Their medium cheddar has won international competitions, so I wasn’t planning to be too impressed by Wisconsin cheese. I was pleasantly surprised though. As a vegetarian in the midwest, cheese is about the only thing you can eat at many restaurants. And boy did I eat a lot of cheese. Cheese plates, grilled cheese sandwiches (minus the bacon, which seems to be an interesting regional requirement), mac and cheese, cheese popcorn…so much cheese. Fortunately it was all quite tasty.
Another pleasant surprise was my discovery of pretzel buns. At the Great Dane Brewpub in Madison I had the mac and cheese with a pretzel bun, which was rather flavorful. The next day at Essen Haus, my veggie burger came on a pretzel bun. This second bun lost that delicious yeasty pretzel taste compared to the Great Dane roll, but it was more like a hamburger bun. Dana and I have made pretzels before, and we’ll have to try pretzel buns sometime in the foreseeable future.
• Manna Cafe and Bakery (and a special cameo!)
Remember Diana the cross-country bicycling veterinarian? She visited Portland last fall and we Brewcycled together but she lives in Madison now with her adorable Newfoundland Amelia. They hung out with us when we first arrived in Madison—Diana took us to Manna Cafe and Bakery, her favorite place to eat in town. I think it’s my favorite place too—knowing the meat-and-cheese landscape of the midwest, I was able to get a meal with serious veg here. Before leaving I picked up a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin and Earl Gray scone with lemon drizzle for later. Both were delightful, and I’m also going to see if I can reproduce that scone at home.
Our second day in Madison wasn’t cooperating with us, but we still had some time to kill. Even though it was Memorial Day, the Wisconsin State Capitol building was open, so we went inside. It’s the third capitol building I’ve been to, after Oregon and Montana. Last year it was the site of much national attention when Governor Scott Walker had a showdown with the unionized public employees of the state. I found beauty in both the immense tile murals adorning the rotunda and in details such as the Ws that reminded elevator passengers which state they were in. Unlike other state capitols, Wisconsin’s rotunda sports an observation deck where visitors can circumnavigate the building and see out in all directions.
In Madison, busses kept passing by with a line drawing of a badger that looked straight out of the 1950s. Soon I found out this was Buckingham U. Badger (or “Bucky” as he’s known to his friends)—the official mascot of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. At one establishment across the street from the capitol building I found small bags of Bucky Badger Cheese Popcorn. A great gift for my loved ones at home!
That’s not quite everything, but those were definitely the highlights of this bike trip that featured more eating than biking. I also enjoyed the pet friendly hotel we were at in Madison, where just at the moment I was missing Atticus, a dog came around the corner and made fast friends with me. There was the Free Little Library we discovered—and I later learned Free Little Library started in Madison. We also got to check out Madison’s bikeshare program—which I’ll leave for another post.
As Amanda noted on our last day, Travel Wisconsin gave us just enough of a taste of the state to want to come back for a longer bike adventure!