Friday is cleaning day at the lakeshore docks in Milwaukee, so while a nice young lady hosed off a week’s worth of goose-poo, we took ourselves out for a tour of downtown Milwaukee. Now, as a big fan of the TV series Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, sitting in my jarmies as a kid I never thought I’d actually get to Milwaukee; especially by yacht! It’s quite bizarre really. Along the river walk is a statue – the Bronz Fonz. Curiously, I never realised how much Fonzie looks like an Aussie Rules goal umpire!
Milwaukee (aka ‘Brew City’) is famous for beer, cheese and bratwurst (Milwaukee’s baseball team are the ‘Brewers’ and their home field is the Miller Stadium). These tastes were introduced to Milwaukee in the 1800s, when thousands of immigrants fled Europe. A large percentage of immigrants to Milwaukee were German and by 1887 almost 30% of Milwaukee’s population was German. Frederick Miller (of Miller Beer) was one such immigrant who did very well for himself in the new land.
Milwaukee has over 60 miles of cycle paths, although much of it is a combination of roads and footpaths. On a cold, rainy day we rode in a clockwise direction taking the Hank Aaron Trail south of Milwaukee’s Menomonee River and the Oak Leaf Trail across the north and back to the city – around 40kms. Amongst the old buildings and former factories there are cosy cafes and warm eateries. On our ride we bypassed the Harley Davidson factory – where tourists can do a tour if they so desire (I didn’t). At the west of the city where the Hank Aaron joins the Oak Leaf Trail the views of factories give way to more attractive suburbs and parks. Dodging rain showers and squirrels, we ended up stopping for lunch at Pizzeria Piccola – one of many eateries at Wauwatosa or ‘Tosa’ as it’s known to locals.
From the list of top ten things to do in Milwaukee is a visit to the Miller Brewery. Miller Beer began in Milwaukee in 1854 by Frederick Miller, a German immigrant mentioned earlier. Apparently he brought yeast from Germany and we were told the culture is still used today for their special beers. (I don’t know how they’ve done that; I couldn’t even keep the culture for my yoghurt going for six months!). The brewery occupies over 80 acres of land – named Miller Valley – for its Milwaukee brewery and distribution centre. This brewery alone produces thousands of bottles and cans each hour; in fact we were told 2000 cans processed per minute. At the end of the one hour free tour with heads filled with stats, guests are invited to have a beer or two and receive a free gift – a stubby holder!
Near to the Lakeshore Marina is the Milwaukee Art Centre. It’s really quite beautiful. The design, known as a ‘brise soleil’ literally folds up to block out the sun.
After such a big day we rode back to the boat to drop off the bikes before walking to the Summerfest area where the Indian Summer Festival was being held. We walked around and looked at the Indian artefacts and trinkets for sale, and later that evening from our boat which was berthed nearby we fell asleep to the sound of drums at the powwow.
We filled our days in Milwaukee and with the wind now from the north the time had come to make the run to Chicago. About 20nm south of Milwaukee we stopped at Racine where we filled up with fuel for the price per gallon of US$2.49 (around A$0.85c) – that’s the best we’ve paid so far on this trip. Sailing into the night for another 50nm, we arrived at Chicago after midnight, dropping anchor at the Navy Pier under a thousand city lights. The skyline of Chicago is impressive – day or night!
A few hours we moved around to the Monroe Harbour mooring ground which has literally hundreds of moorings (around 800 in fact). All the marinas in Chicago are controlled by Chicago Harbours. The prices are the same at each place so it doesn’t really matter where you stay. A mooring at Monroe is better value than a berth though, and we are within walking distance to the city.
With only one day of fine, calm weather before a forecast week of southerly blows, we stayed on the boat and prepared Blue Heeler for unstepping the mast. First we dropped and stowed the sails; removed sheets and lines; boom and vang; and reinstated the wooden constructions that hold the mast in position, making sure they were swept free of spiders and cobwebs. Our time on the Great Lakes is over.
After our busy first day, the next day we walked around Chicago taking in the sights and looking up at all the buildings. Chicago is all about the architecture. The Great Chicago Fire destroyed the city in October 1871 leveling the entire business district and killing 300 people in the two days the city burned. In the 144 years since then the city has risen from the ashes.
We walked the River Walk and ended up at the Navy Pier – apparently the Navy Pier is Number one on the ‘top ten places to visit’ in Chicago but it’s just a bit too touristy for me. The following day we decided to make some progress so with the bikes off the boat we zipped around the peak hour traffic, weaving between cars and pedestrians; went the wrong way up one-way streets; yelling at drivers that got too close; I love riding the bike in the cities – exhilarating! (By the way, the drivers and city are very bike friendly).
Having bikes is so useful to get to places too far to walk. West Marine is around 7kms from the harbour but a short bike ride up the lakeshore path then west on Division Street we were there in no time. We needed some bits for the boat and this store is huge and had everything we need. On the way back we stopped at a hardware store to replace a couple of tools that had found their way overboard. From there we flew down Clark Street admiring the eating houses and delightful smells along the way.
Chicago, as we all know, has an infamous history of lawlessness and gangsters. I’ve read that it’s a part of history they don’t like to mention much, but it is a little fascinating yes? With the intermittent sounds of blues or jazz, we ride by buildings made famous by Al Capone’s (aka ‘Scarface’) speakeasies, bookie joints, nightclubs, gambling houses, and brothels. A slippery character, particularly through the prohibition era, Capone was finally brought to justice through tax evasion, as illustrated in the movie ‘The Untouchables’ with De Niro and Costner. Capone died through complications of syphilis at the age of 47. Serves him right for not keeping his paperwork in order!
Riding north again we stopped for a Chicago hot dog at Portillos Restaurant on Clark Street. Sitting outside on this warm day we enjoyed the famous Chicago hot dog – pickles, tomato, chillies and a dill pickle and NO KETCHUP!
On the way home just off Randolph Street we stopped for groceries at the impressive Marianos Supermarket and filled up our panniers with much needed supplies.
On the third day in Chicago we decided to stroll around and stretch our legs. This day we stopped off at Buddy Guy’s Legends where we listened to a solo artist perform a few bluesy and jazzy tunes while we ate a Catfish Po’ Boy and a Damn Right Burger!
But the weather dictates our movements. The southerly winds are easing and on Saturday a forecast gale force wind will arrive from the north. By the end of this week we had moved from Monroe Harbour down to Jackson Park Harbour about 7nm south. Here we had the nerve-wracking unstepping of the mast…