PASSPORT TO ADVENTURE: Chicago to Milwaukee

PASSPORT TO ADVENTURE: Chicago to Milwaukee

At Amtrak we believe every trip you take has the potential to become your next great adventure. That is why this summer, we have partnered with Passion Passport to help capture a look at the services we offer and the many destinations we serve across the country. Read on for a little trainspiration:

Last weekend, I found myself sitting beside my friend, photographer Alina Tsvor, on an adventure to explore Chicago’s neighbor city to the north: Milwaukee. We hopped on Amtrak’s Hiawatha Line to Brew City Friday evening, and arrived at Amtrak’s downtown station before sunset. The ride is under two hours, and we barely had time to enjoy the relaxing whir of the world going by because we were too busy finalizing some plans for the next 48 hours in Milwaukee on the train’s wifi and snapping perspective shots down the aisle.

Upon arrival, we took a quick Uber ride to the sleek Intercontinental. In the waning daylight we grabbed burgers and walked along the river to get a feel for our weekend ahead. We entered the hotel’s doors wondering what the shimmering reflections and boat silhouettes would look like come morning.

After several enthusiastic recommendations on Instagram, Comet Café was our first stop the next day. Our expectations only grew when we saw the groups of people outside cheerfully waiting to be seated. Sipping coffee from homey mugs, the crowd quickly dwindled until it was our turn to enter, the atmosphere a cross between diner and bar lounge. The first bite of my Comet Benedict — a homemade biscuit, smoked ham, fried egg, with hashbrowns (only $8) — quickly confirmed everything we had been told. The food was well-worth the wait. The biscuit in particular, stood out.  I consciously had to pace myself and close my eyes to savor every flaky, mealy note. And although we didn’t get to experience it, Comet Café hosts Bacon Night each Sunday.

Fueled and ready to go, we made our way to the Mitchell Park Conservatory. Famed for its triplet domes, approaching its glass beacons was like walking up to Emerald City, which inspired a mix of fascination and curiosity. Each structure transported us to a different climate and horticultural theme: Desert, Tropical, and Floral Show. We leisurely ambled through the flora — past ivied waterfalls and through cacti — forgetting that we were still in the Midwest.

Few things highlight this city’s summer charm more than the Milwaukee Riverwalk, lined with public art and families enjoying the breeze. People-watching, dangling our feet in the water, and gazing as the boats passing by during sunset was the perfect end to a  far-ranging day. If you happen to still be feeling active, though, you can rent kayaks and dock for a bite or a brew in any of the numerous pier-side cafes, restaurants, and pubs. Our dinner plans brought us away from the water edge and, although we were famished, we couldn’t pass up a fake British telephone booth on the way.

After a sushi dinner at Sake Tumi, we strolled around admiring the downtown architecture in the waning light of dusk before returning to the hotel. My favorite building was certainly the Mitchell Building National Register of Historic Places, but overall the area has an air of European grandeur that we were not expecting to find nestled in the Midwest.

Sunday arrived in a hurry. We hurried through brunch at Wolf Peach — another highly recommended brunch spot which offered playfully-named dishes like the ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’ — to make the most of our Sunday before leaving. We had an early afternoon departure and wanted to have plenty of time for one of the city’s star attractions.

No visit to Milwaukee is complete without a visit to the Milwaukee Art Museum. Even before entering, the MAM opens your eyes with its bridge and wide, white ‘wings’ (reminiscent of sails) contrasted sharply against the blue sky. The interior is just as magnificent as you are greeted by the famous Quadracci Pavilion (designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava). You are drawn to the latticed windows overlooking Lake Michigan, and  it is almost as if you’re at the helm of a giant, white spaceship. It is only when your eyes adjust to the pristine, glaring white do you manage to pull yourself away from the architecture to discover the rest of the Museum’s gems: geometric hallways lined with 30,000 works of art including the current exhibit Van Gogh to Pollock: Modern Rebels. While there’s never enough time in a museum of this magnitude, we had to be especially mindful to not lose ourselves too heavily in the art and architecture because we needed to make it to the train.

After a mere 48 hours, boarding the return train home was bittersweet. We hunkered down in our seats to catch up on emails, look over photos, and grin about memories made over the weekend. Back in Chicago, we made sure to walk through Union Station’s grandiose Great Hall as our final stop before returning to real life.

As a Chicagoan, it’s easy to overlook other cities in the Midwest, but in doing so you miss out on a lot. Milwaukee is an easy, enjoyable escape from the Windy City and only a train ride away. For me, the most pleasant discovery of the weekend was the chameleon diversity of the city. You can experience Midwest charm along the river, explore Parisian refinery in classical architecture, and tour spaceship modernism in the ethereal vision of Calatrava — all in the span of a few blocks.

Author: Elliot Vernon is a photographer based in Chicago. He was the winner of Round 3 of Passion Passport’s The Bucket List Initiative