Toll Booth Country

Trip Start Feb 09, 2010
Trip End Mar 17, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Wisconsin
Monday, February 15, 2010

(written by Jessica)

We decide to head up to Milwaukee from Chicago. Before heading straight to Milwaukee, we drive to our friend's childhood home about an hour outside of Chicago. It was nice to see where he grew up, though I thought he had lived a little closer to the city.

As we make our way over to Milwaukee, the snowfall gets a little thicker and the air gets a little colder. We arrive in the city at sunset, which is apparently (and ridiculously) around 5:30pm. We find a row of restaurants and bars that are almost all German-influenced. We stop in at Mader's Restaurant, which is well-known for having been visited by Ronald Reagan, John F Kennedy, and other famous people. The interior was dim and traditional German music was playing throughout the restaurant, giving the atmosphere a somewhat serious, depressing feel. The waitresses wore traditional "dirndls," and only one was under the age of 55. Our waitress, a deep-voiced woman well over fifty, looked like she never had fun in her spare time. She was courteous, but seemed like she didn't really know (or care to know) how to be friendly or engaging. I told Justin a lot of fun could be brought into this environment just by the attitude of the waitresses; why not greet the guests with a boisterous German phrase? At the end of the meal, she left comment cards with us to rate our experience and her service, but we left them blank. The menu was more expensive than we were expecting, so we just ordered soup. I got a German onion soup (which was very good) while Justin dared to try a German "favorite": Soup with liver dumplings. It was actually a large piece of liver that looked breaded (but might not have been), sitting in a watery broth. I'm sure he'll describe that experience.

After the restaurant, we stopped in at a bar next door and chatted with the bartender over a beer. He said the weather was actually warmer than what's normal for this time of year. "It's usually about ten degrees colder. It's snowing. When it's colder it doesn't snow," he told us. We then drive to a hotel in the snowfall to figure out what to do tomorrow.

(written by Justin)

 Eager to get out of Chicago and away from the rudest hotel staff we have encountered thus far, we soon discovered that we are in Toll Road country.  Thankfully when we stopped to do laundry I turned a $10 bill into quarters.  We went through probably 11 or 12 tollbooths on our way from Chicago to west of Chicago to Milwaukee - each ranging from $0.80 to $1.10, so my $10 in quarters is now gone.  Who knew you could spend more money per mile on toll booths than on gasoline?

It was dark by the time we got to Milwaukee and snowing hard.  The streets are wet but there is no sign of ice.  Driving around downtown felt like a sigh of relief after the chaos we encountered in Chicago.  Although it is a self-proclaimed beer town, the baseball team is named "The Brewers", and there are microbreweries on every corner - I have yet to find a beer for under $4.00. 

Oh yea the liver dumpling soup.  If you've ever sat and stared at a large chunk of organ laying on your plate for the first time - you may know how I felt.  I knew what I was getting myself into but I was determined to try what was described as "Germany's favorite soup" since I love every other German food I've had.  I was hoping it would at least be small chunks of liver surrounded by the dumplings that it was supposed to have, but it ended up having no dumplings and instead was a large plump organ in a bowl surrounded by a small moat of broth.  I ended up eating all of the broth and picked off all of the outside of the liver, but as I got into the redder meat I was starting to get nauseous from the lack of texture and salty flavor so I threw in the towel.  I looked up the nutrition info online and livers have an insane amount of protein but are also very high in cholesterol.  I would have to say that I would personally prefer to get my protein from other sources.  At the next bar I ordered beer cheese soup that is supposedly made with three ingredients: Cheese, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Bacon.  It was pretty damn good after the liver experience.

The usual story, we had to drive down near the airport to get decent affordable hotel prices.  Thus far even the budget end of Choice Hotels have been exceptional, and they have a mildly useful rewards program so we will continue to look for those. Hopefully the temperatures will continue to stay reasonable while we are here!

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