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Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: And Behind Door Number One…

And the travelogue is finally here!

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 11: And Behind Door Number One… (Door County, WI)

Door County.

The Holy Grail of Exploration.

Everyone’s favorite part of the state.

The Martha’s Vineyard/Berkshires/South Bass Island of Wisconsin.

And it lived up to its reputation.

Geographically, Door County is the thumb of Wisconsin, if Wisconsin were a hand. It detaches from the mainland at Sturgeon Bay, its county seat, and continues on as a small, thin island between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, with Gills Rock at its tip, and Washington Island just a short hop away by boat. We didn’t make it quite that far, but it’s definitely incentive to come back.

Day 1: Road trip up from Madison to Green Bay, WI, where we spent the night at an awesome Airbnb right on the bay. We only stopped once for a Chinese dinner in Appleton. Mostly an uneventful day, but we did enjoy watching The Age of Adaline before bed.

Day 2: Got up at 9, but took our time and didn’t leave the Airbnb until about 10:30. A half hour later, we crossed the old steel bridge in Sturgeon Bay and were in Door County. After a quick gas stop, we drove just over the border into Carlsville, where we had breakfast at Door County Coffee and Tea Co. We were just in time for the end of the breakfast menu. The place got amazing reviews on Yelp and it didn’t disappoint. The coffee was divine, and my meal of a croissant and Spanish-style eggs was warm, thick and flaky in all the wrong places. Dessert was bread pudding made with Door County cherry jam (the local delicacy) and it was sugary and delicious. Definitely worth driving a little out of the way.

Next up, we drove over to Jacksonport to check out Whitefish Dunes State Park. It was a small park, but you barely had to walk 200 feet down the trail to encounter a gorgeous, practically deserted beach with the clear blue waters of Lake Michigan lapping at its sandy shore. We basked in the warm sunshine and got just a little burnt, and I got a hundred pages or so read in an hour.

Driving up the coast, we then entered Baileys Harbor, and even though it was hard to find, we made it through the windy roads to the parking lot for the Cana Island Lighthouse. What we didn’t know was that to access the island, you needed to cross a causeway of dirt and rocks, with water gently lapping at your toes. Managed to make it across to the island pretty much unscathed. It cost us $7 per person to explore the tiny island, and $5 to climb the 97 steps inside the lighthouse.

But it was totally worth it. The lighthouse is remarkably well preserved, with a beautiful view from the top, impeccable masonry, and stone paths down to the lake outside it. Plus, there were two geocaches hidden on the island. It was just so much fun to explore. Inside the lighthouse, we learned about how the Fresnel worked, as well as the history and lifestyle of the lighthouse keepers. They saved several ships from being wrecked, but not others. They also kept a logbook. Curiously enough, it was recorded that a female with a power canoe stopped off at Cana Island on her way from New York to Chicago.

Walking back across the causeway was not as easy of a feat. I sort of gave up halfway through when I began to sink into the muck. I waddled back to the car in wet shoes. Gross.

The day was winding down, so we decided to go as far up as Sister Bay, where we saw Al Johnson’s, the famous Swedish restaurant with goats grazing on the roof. It’s true! After a quick browse in the gift shop and a walk along the waterfront, it was time to turn the car around and head home. On the way out of Door County, we went down the bay side, stopping off at a few farm stands, sampling butters, jams, fudges, and salsas. I added to a jar of cherry salsa to my souvenir bag of food (coffee from the place we ate breakfast) and we were off home. We made one more stop for gas in Allouez, and had pho in De Pere, at a place which took way too long, and got back to Madison close to midnight.

Overall, I would highly recommend Door County. Hopefully I can go back soon.

17

Five Reasons Why Wisconsin is the Best State Ever

Today, I was on Facebook, and I found out that one of my close friends from when I lived in Israel is moving to America: New Jersey for a little while, and eventually, Philadelphia. While I’m not thrilled about him being so far away, it’ll hopefully be a great change for him and we’ll be in the same country again. Someone commented on his wall that he could come and stay on his couch in New York City, and I responded, “my couch is better.” And as I was redoing the Wisconsin refrigerator magnet puzzle (some of the pieces had gotten out of place) I realized that Wisconsin truly is the best state ever.

So here are Five (of the many) Reasons Why Wisconsin is the Best State Ever.

  1. I can point out where I live on my hand. Sure, so can Michiganders, but we don’t have the lake effect in the winter.
  2. We have some of the best produce and dairy products in the country. Go to any weekend farmer’s market and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Also, if you’re into dairy and not on a diet, Calliope ice cream is kosher and DELISH.
  3. Midwestern nice. Seriously, I feel like I’ve become nicer since I’ve been here. Or at least more social. People here are just so genuine.
  4. The best European cuisine outside Europe. Since my parents have been here, we’ve had Belgian food at Brasserie V, Norwegian food at Norske Nook, and Dutch food at Cafe Hollander. Not to mention the German restaurants and the Catholic-inspired Friday Fish Fry, every Friday, all year long.
  5. Concerts on the Square. Tonight was my parents’ final night here, so we went to Concert on the Square, which is a summer tradition here in Madison. About six Wednesday evenings every summer, when it’s light outside until 9 PM, everyone brings blankets and food and picnics on the lawn of the State Capitol building to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra play. People have fancy spreads and get dressed up, and it’s just such a fun time. Does your state capitol double as a marketplace, art museum, AND concert venue? I didn’t think so.
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Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: A Park and a Half

Summertime is prime time for exploring Wisconsin, and with tomorrow being July 4th and therefore prime time for all the Wisconsin spots worthy of exploring to be full of people, we decided to spend today exploring one of our great State Parks.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 10: A Park and a Half (Roche-A-Cri State Park, Friendship, WI)

I wanted to spend the day, or at least part of it, doing something fun out of Madison. Unfortunately, I woke up with a splitting headache that had me on the couch until mid-afternoon, Fortunately, I was feeling well enough to rally by around 4 PM, and we were on the road to Roche-A-Cri State Park, a place I’d seen on the map and randomly picked to visit.

Roche-A-Cri (French for “crevice in the rock”) State Park is in the tiny town of Friendship (population: 725) in Adams County, about an hour and a half north of Madison. Fortunately, the park is open until 11 PM due to the campgrounds being so popular, so we had plenty of daylight and sunshine to explore.

Getting there was a little difficult at first. We took a back road through the Dells, and didn’t see any signs for the park until about one mile away. Once we got in and parked, though, it was a pleasant surprise at how peaceful this little park was. We paid the $5 admission fee and left it in an envelope at the park’s entrance (all WI state parks cost money to enter – if you park on the grounds) and set off on the shady trail.

Being a rather small park, we weren’t expecting too much. The longest trail, the Acorn Trail, is only about 3.5 miles long. But it was perfect for an hour and a half walk-around. We walked about half of the trail, only seeing a handful of other people, and then made our way to the observation point at the Indian mounds. The signs warned us of a strenuous climb – 303 steps, on an elevated staircase. The sign wasn’t kidding! Once at the top, though, we were treated to incredible views, and actually had the viewing platform all to ourselves – just as we left, a big family was coming up the stairs, so we crossed paths but otherwise it was quiet and serene.

We headed back along the trail to the car, stopping off at the petroglyphs for which this park is known. There is a huge rock, several stories high, with petroglyphs carved both by Native Americans and travelers from the 19th century (and probably some modern vandals, I’d suspect) and some fading red pictographs. We read the plaques about them, and were able to make out some of them, including a signature left by a traveler in October of 1845. It really was impressive and I’ll get the pictures up soon.

Upon leaving the park, I wanted to go a different way, so we could include more highway driving especially as it got later, but I ended up missing a turn. We were about 4 miles down the wrong road when we decided to turn around. To do that, we turned into a parking lot…and what do you know, it was Rabbit Rock – not exactly a state park, but one of the rock formations visible from the top of Roche-A-Cri, one that looked really interesting. Since we happened to be there, we poked around for a few minutes before getting back in the car. Apparently, visitors are allowed to climb this rock, and while it would have been fun, it was getting close to 8 and we needed to hit the road in order to be in Madison before dark. We backtracked, turned onto Route 21, and headed for the highway. About halfway there, Ship Rock appeared on our left; we didn’t stop, but it was really impressive and colorful, both with rock strata and graffiti. It took us about the same amount of time to get back to Madison, with a quick stop at the Starbucks on E. Washington for an iced coffee because I was fading (even though it was 9 PM and we only had like 15 minutes to go; wonder how I’ll sleep tonight). All in all, it was worth the 3 hours round trip to get out of town and walk around for an hour and a half, in a quiet park with beautiful views and ancient petroglyphs.

Oh, and in other exciting news…my third 2016 pen pal response showed up, all the way from Baby Ruth in the Philippines! Thanks for the fun letter; I got it out of the mailbox last night along with my other mail as I was flying out the door for Salsa Saturday, stuffed it in my bag, and ended up opening and reading it at the club during the break between the two sets. I thoroughly enjoyed the fan mail (which is what I’ve decided to call the response letters, heh) and I will write back soon! 13 other pen pals, take note.

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Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Say “Strawberry” One More Time

A beautiful Sunday merited some exploration, so today I drove to Oregon…Wisconsin, that is, to go strawberry-picking!

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 9: Say “Strawberry” One More Time (Carrandale Fruit Farm, Oregon, WI)

Strawberry season is over almost as soon as it starts here in Wisconsin; it’s only about six weeks, and we’re on the back end of it. After seeing some delicious Facebook pictures from friends who went last week, I decided to see it for myself.

It’s a pretty straight shot to get to the farm itself; just keep going down Fish Hatchery Road until Madison turns into Fitchburg, and Fitchburg turns into Oregon, and then follow the signs to this tucked-away little farm. We parked and checked in, and they gave us a basket, and told us that we pay by the pound as we exit, $1.80 per pound. So, we walked out to the fields and were assigned Row 8, and given a flag to put at the end of the row when we were done. We only had about 40 minutes until they closed (they’re open from 7 AM to noon), but we had the basket half-full with strawberries after 20 minutes bending over in the sun. The strawberries were tiny and bright red, and tasted like candies. After getting weighed, I handed over ten dollars and we went home.

And that’s how I spent the rest of the afternoon searching for recipes with fresh strawberries online, and ended up making sangria.

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Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Because The Devil’s in the Details

I’m a little sunburned, a little tired, and a little itchy, but I had a lot of fun today with around 25 members of my ballroom team. Join me in:

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 8: Because The Devil’s in the Details (Devil’s Lake State Park)

After twenty long, hot minutes of walking in the sun, I made it to the ramp at Steenbock where the rest of the group was waiting to set off for a day of fun at Devil’s Lake State Park in Sauk County, near Baraboo. I squished into a car, and less than an hour later, we were in the wilderness. Well, us and a ton of other people, but none of us had phone service, so we all had to interact. It was a beautiful afternoon, and people were swimming, playing, and enjoying the sunshine.

A huge group of us set off together, hiking on one of the trails around the lake. Hiking is fun when there’s a ton of people and everyone’s talking.

Until someone got the bright idea to climb up the rock fall.

So, as a group we clambered up an almost vertical rock wall on hands and knees. Of course, I ended up at the back, asking myself why we did this rather than just walking up on a trail. But after several close calls, I made it to the top, and wasn’t even the last one, and the view was beautiful: a blue-green lake just shining through the trees. After a short break, the only way to go was down, and fortunately for all of us we took a conventional trail. We stopped for several group photo ops, tripped a few times, and saw a snake, but we made it down in one piece, to the North Shore parking lot. We had been hiking for two hours, but were still less than halfway there. Regardless, we took a break at the concession stand there (yummiest strawberry shake ever) and then continued along the trail towards the South Shore parking lot, where we started. Half the group took the high trail, and I joined the other half, who walked along the lake on a lower trail. There were way more people, but the breezes were nice and cool and the rocks were all differently colored pastels. There were even a few balancing rocks. Just as the group of us (five at this point) were in sight of the end, somebody had the idea to wade through the lake…so we did. As the only person in the group wearing pants, I was worried, but surprisingly, I was able to roll up just enough so that I didn’t get them wet. We beat the high-trail group back, but by this point it was 5:30 PM, an hour past our reservation time at Farm Kitchen for dinner…whoops. But, we went there anyway, and although it took almost 2 hours, the 20 of us got dinner (or most of it) and headed back.

Now, I’m just sitting on the couch, pounding some popcorn. Despite the fact that I only got through maybe half of my reading goals for the day – just 1 book for prelims and 1 play over breakfast, no pleasure reading – I feel pretty accomplished. And a little exhausted. But not too exhausted to walk down to Capital Centre for some ice cream.

5

Antique Mall Haul

I don’t know if this should be another episode of Wonderful, Wonderful, Wisconsin, but today I woke up and thought, I want to go antiquing today.

So antiquing I went.

And when you’re in Wisconsin, and you want to go all-out for antiquing, you go to Columbus Antique Mall in Columbus, Wisconsin, about 40 minutes north of Madison, straddling Columbia and Dodge Counties. I think the actual mall is on the Dodge County side. Anyway, it’s five stories of great crap, from thumbed-through paperbacks to rocking chairs, plates with birds to TV trays advertising Coca-Cola. You never know what you’re going to find there.

Today, among my walks through the aisles, I picked up three items of note:

1. Erin, the green Beanie Baby bear. I remember when Erin and Princess came out, and the entire Beanie Baby world (myself included) collectively went nuts. Since then, I’ve managed to acquire a Princess in my collection of Beanie Baby bears, and spotted an Erin (actually, several) on the shelf, marked $2.50. If I could only travel back in time and sell it in 1996…

2. A black-and-white photograph. I always keep an eye out for interesting looking pictures, and I found one today. On one side is a couple, with the woman seated and the man standing behind her. On the right, another man and woman, holding a baby, only they are a little blurrier and lighter, almost light ghosts.

3. A new outfit! On the very last clothing rack, there was a black jacket-pants combo, men’s medium-large, cotton, from China. The sleeves in the jacket were a little big, but the frog buttons are awesome, and the pants fit perfectly, which I found out after I bought them.

A successful day.