Corn fields still stretched out across the landscape in Wisconsin, but the hills are forested and not as flat. The colors are slowly starting to change as we cross Wisconsin. Many trees are still very green, but then there would be bursts of intense red and rich orange. The corn fields would but right up against the forest without much transition in the landscape. Red barns and old gray silos would dot the country side. To get the best definition of pastoral – driving through Wisconsin is it.
The sun was already setting before we made it to Madison. One of the best benefits of driving through prairie land is the sunsets. There are no mountains to disrupt the horizon. This sunset turned the clouds pink to contrast against the rich blue sky.
We pull into Madison to early to already camp, so taking Teddy’s recommendation we head over to Le Tigre Lounge. Teddy’s a friend from my favorite cafe in San Francisco, Contraband, and he was also raised in Wisconsin. His recommendation of Le Tigre Lounge is perfect!
Le Tigre is located in an older strip mall located next door to a Mexican market. A 50’s style bar with padded edges greats us as we walk in. The bar is dark and not very crowded. However, the decorations consist entirely of tigers. Some are stuffed animals and others are taxidermy. An old jukebox has a selection of 200 classics from which to choose. I had my favorite, a whiskey mule and a manhattan. The drinks were strong and very cheap. It is the perfect dive bar!
Then we head over to Walmart again to camp another night. This night was not as peaceful as the Walmart in Duluth because we lucked out to be there on the night they were painting the lines in the parking lot. I was able to sleep through without issue, but my dad had to keep watching trying to figure out what they were doing.
In the morning, we cleaned up and headed out to the House on the Rock. I had first heard of this house from Maria, who said I needed to check out all the locations from the novel American Gods by Neil Gieman. I’ve not read the book, but it was one of Maria’s favorites. And she told me a bit about the plot, and it the book is definitely on my reading list. However, I didn’t want to miss out on the locals just because I hadn’t read the book. So we asked some of the locals at Le Tigre if we should go and they said the House on the Rock is a must see.
I really had no idea what I was getting into by going to the House on the Rock. The building started in the 1960s by Alex Jordan who was a massive collector and I think a bit eccentric. Alex originally built the house himself by dragging limestone and cement up the 75 foot rock. The original gate house and main house have really low ceilings, with passageways and rooms lined with with couches. The decor is Asian-inspired, but crossed with 60s shag carpet on the floors and ceilings.
Exploring the House on the Rock is not stroll, it is a 3 hour odyssey into a very strange world. The stained glass and replica tiffany glass throughout the main house are beautiful, but the rooms are really dark and smell musty old. The newest completion to the main house is the infinity room, which is a point that extends off the house out over the trees. The room was completed in the 80s shortly after Jordan’s death. Walking to the end of the room is dizzying as the room sways slightly in the wind. Many of the others visiting, weren’t able to make it out to the end and look down over the valley.
The ceilings through the house were no more than 6 feet high, which is crazy considering Alex Jordan was 6’4”. He preferred the guest enjoying his home, where he never actually lived, to be sitting rather than standing.
After exploring the main house, we head into the rooms Alex built to store his collections. It is definitely at this moment, you jump down the rabbit hole in search of the mad hatter! He was obsessed with his collections – old dolls, vintage music machines, the royal jewels, model ships, guns, armor, old games, circus figurines and villages…
But it is not like walking through a museum to view the collections. I’m not sure if I walked into a nightmare or a fantasy exploring the rooms, but what ever it was I was completely in awe and absolutely overwhelmed.
The model ships wrapped the walls of a massive room filled with a sperm whale battling a giant octopus. Each of the mechanical music machines are huge and take up entire rooms. They are air and cam driven wonders. A giant rube goldberg machine in the shape of a steam engine train fills up another room. Then you enter a room with the world’s largest indoor carousal spinning in front of you. The carousal music and red lights turn the room into a dream and I wonder what pill the rabbit slipped me as walked in.
Then we walk into the Organ Room, which has the worlds largest chandelier. Multiple music machines, a drum tower that stretches into the sky, and orchestra made up of automated lifelike dolls.
The madness of the house just kept going on and on. I’ve definitely not described everything in detail, and my head is spinning just from thinking about it! The House on the Rock is an absolute must see for anyone Wisconsin or the mid-west for that matter. It is absurd, surreal, insane, eccentric, amazing, scary, and beautiful.
After leaving the House on the Rock, my brain was completely fried. I had horrible headache, and really was not up for any more site seeing. But just down the road was Frank Lloyd Write’s Visitor Center for his home ranch Tailisin. Driving down through road, I could tell immediately that all the buildings were Write’s. We stopped for a few minutes in the visitor center, but did not stay for a tour.
We headed back to Madison and go downtown to check out the Capitol and get some local Wisconsin cuisine. Thanks for the recommendation of Emily, we had the beer-battered cheese curds at the Old Fashioned. I really enjoyed the cheese curds, but I’m totally afraid I’ll have a heart attack if I ever eat them again. Then multiple people recommend going to the Great Dane, which I enjoyed the beer. However, going on a Friday night was a bad idea. It was super loud and crowded, and the crowded seemed like they would be going to a frat party after dinner and beer.
Madison’s Capitol is a beautiful building with impressive mosaic tiles. It was huge and stately, but Wisconsin is a state running a strong political divide. Dad managed to get in political conversation that I had to walk away from. I walked around and then stood in the middle of the rotunda, the most visible spot in the entire capitol. 20 minutes later, the capitol closed and Dad was nowhere to be found. Getting kicked out of the building, I find my dad outside taking photos for a wedding party. I learned that he is now the dorky old man we crashed a wedding and got a picture with a bride. I wonder if that will just be deleted or become a story for the couple!
I still haven’t recovered from the House on the Rock and I’m grumpy with dad for disappearing, so it’s time for a drink. Downtown really wasn’t my scene, so we head back to Le Tigre because that place is just that good! Finally, we close out the night at Walmart again before we head to Milwaukee in the morning. Ted has sent me lots of good tips for Milwaukee so we need the entire day to explore.
Milwaukee had a lot more urban feel to it than Madison with more industrial areas and warehouse buildings. Our first stop is to tour the Miller Brewery. Since I have the same namesake I felt it was a must stop for the journey. Yet, I was worried that by just mentioning Miller and Miller Time, it would just get everyone calling me by my last name again. So standing in the gift shop, I’m sent right back to high school, when I’d walk into the classroom and everyone would go, “What time is it? It’s Miller time.” I probably should have embraced that back then, but it was embarrassing. So I’m going to call visiting the Miller Brewery my reclaiming of “It’s Miller Time!” Because, hell yes, it is 🙂
Well, the tour was marketing at it’s finest. We watch a few very polished videos, saw the packaging and distribution rooms. We walked up 50 stairs to see the fermentation tanks. All of this, just to get some free samples of beer at the end. It was definitely interesting to see the automation process, where they can bottle 2,000 cans of beer a minute. But at the end of the tour, I had no motivation to wait in line to try the beer. We still had so much more to see.
So we headed into the Bay View area of Milwaukee, which is an area under gentrification. So the old buildings are used for some really cool shops. It was about to start raining so we headed into brunch at Honeypie cafe and it was fantastic! We had the Pork Fries with and egg, and it was so tasty. All the ingredients were local and the food was super high quality. I would definitely rate this cafe as a must visit for any visit to Milwaukee.
Then we headed over to more of the downtown area of Milwaukee to see the Milwaukee Art Museum, which is an architectural wonder. Plus, with the storm clouds rolling in, the Museum was easy to photograph. However, because it was winding and about to storm, they wings of the building were not extended. So the view of the Museum could look very different on a sunny day. This was also our first view of Lake Michigan, since the Museum sits on a small harbor to the Lake.
So we walking around the park by the Museum and finally the clouds decided to dump on us for about 15 mins. We hid under the Veterans Monument next door to the museum until the rain stopped. Then the clouds broke up and it became a beautifully sunny afternoon.
There is so much to see and do on this trip, I have to take time to find a cafe with wifi so I can work on my blog. So I wanted to get caught up a bit more on my blog, so we went over to Stone Creek Cafe, which was warm and rich cafe. The wifi worked great and we sat there for a few hours so I could get caught up.
To close out our evening in Milwaukee, we went over to Sobelman’s which is rated as the best burgers and best bloodies in Milwaukee. The burger was fantastic, but I skipped the bloody and went for a local beer from New Glarus. Ted had recommend trying a beer from this brewery and it was fantastic.
After dinner, we hit the road to the KOA is northwest Chicago Land Suburbia, where we’d rest for the night.