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FastPlans/Christmas in Chicago

The Christkind at Chicago's Christkindlmarket.

During the holidays, this glittering city pulses with excitement. The Christkindlmarket turns Daley Plaza into a Old World town square, skaters pirouette at Millennium Park and shoppers cruise the Magnificent Mile.

What to do: Visit the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza. Ice skate at Millennium Park. Go to a holiday show (check HotTix for half-price tickets). Shop on the Magnificent Mile. See "Christmas Around the World'' at the Museum of Science and Industry.

Details: For more, see Chicago at Christmas.

A merry holiday in Milwaukee

Cathedral Square at Christmas.

During the holidays, Milwaukee's downtown lights up like a child's face on Christmas morning.

What to do: Tour the decorated Pabst Mansion. Visit the Milwaukee Art Museum (and its shop). Ice skate at Red Arrow Park. Shop in the Historic Third Ward or on Old World Third Street.

See the holiday lights in Cathedral Square and Pere Marquette Park. Catch "A Christmas Carol'' or "Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley'' at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Events to catch: Nov. 30, Christmas in the Ward.

Details: For more, see Milwaukee at Christmas.

Sampling in Iowa's Amanas

Pouring fruit wines in Amana.

Once upon a time, people in Iowa's Amana Colonies lived simply. Now, people go there to indulge.

These tidy, once-communal villages in east-central Iowa, near Cedar Rapids, are famous for their family-style restaurants, wineries, brewery and shops. During the holiday season, tourists descend on the villages to buy gifts — quilts, pottery, chocolates.

What to do: Shop and sample wines. Tour the Amana Heritage Museum on Saturdays. See "Away in the Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas'' at the Old Creamery Theatre Company.

Events to catch: Nov. 30-Dec. 2, Prelude to Christmas.

Information: For more, see Truly Amana and Eating in the Amana Colonies.

Shopping in Madison

A window of the Chocolaterian Cafe.

There's always excitement in the air on and around Madison's State Street, but especially in November, when the holidays are on the horizon.

Where to shop: State Street has great museum gift shops, and Monroe Street, which heads south from Camp Randall stadium, also has fun shops and places to eat.

Shopping events: Nov. 17-18, Art & Gift Fair at the Overture Center. Dec. 1, Holiday Glow on Monroe

Nightlife: See a concert, play, ballet or touring show at the Overture Center on State Street.

Details: For more, see Shopping in Madison.

The Gales of November

Split Rock Lighthouse on Minnesota's North Shore.

Early November is a dangerous time on the Great Lakes. In 1913, a storm called the White Hurricane killed 250 people and destroyed 19 ships between Nov. 7 and Nov. 10. In 1975, the Edmund Fitzgerald sank in near hurricane-force winds on Nov. 10.

Events to catch: Nov. 10, Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Beacon Lighting at Split Rock Lighthouse. Nov. 9-11, Lake Superior Storm Festival in Grand Marais.

What to do: Visit the free Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center in Duluth. Watch ore boats coming and going. Visit sites of shipwrecks along the shore.

Where to watch waves: Canal Park or Kitchi-Gammi Park in Duluth, Stoney Point on old Minnesota 61 between Duluth and Two Harbors, Sugarloaf Cove near Schroeder and Tofte Town Park in Tofte.

Details: For more, see Gales of November.