MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest


In search of Christmas past

At Old World Wisconsin, pioneers party like itís 1899.

Once, every child in America celebrated Christmas without battery-operated toys.

Instead, they played flap jacks and dominos. They made paper ornaments for the tree. They got an orange brought all the way from Florida.

That’s still what kids do during Christmas time at Old World Wisconsin, where it’s always the 19th century. Danish, Norwegian, German, Polish, Finnish and Yankee families toil there, trying to get ahead on the American frontier.

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Old World Christmas at the Osthoff

On the shores of Elkhart Lake, a luxury resort imports a slice of Germany.

No one knows how to celebrate Christmas like the Germans.

It's thanks to them that Americans decorate Christmas trees, hang wreaths and put nutcrackers on mantels. Because of them, we bake gingerbread men, open Advent calendars and fill stockings with treats.

Still, not every German Christmas tradition has crossed the Atlantic.

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Two trails from Two Rivers

On Lake Michigan, bicyclists ride the breezes between a lighthouse and a submarine.

In summer, overheated tourists head for the Cool City.

Two Rivers, Wis., gets its nickname from cooling breezes that come from three sides: the East Twin River, the West Twin River and Lake Michigan.

Swimmers can cool off with a dip from Neshotah Beach, a great strip of sand, but there’s an even better one five miles north, where Rawley Point Lighthouse towers over the dunes of Point Beach.

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Life on Horicon Marsh

At an avian rest stop, humans learn about life on the wing.

On a spring morning in east-central Wisconsin, two geese suddenly shattered the stillness, honking urgently. Yellow warblers zoomed down from trees and out of sight. Redwing blackbirds clung to cattails, swaying in the stiffening wind.

It was only 6:30 a.m., but it was rush hour on the Horicon Marsh.

A human here feels oddly out of place, a lumbering interloper on a fast-moving avian freeway. Birds own this marsh, and they aren't shy about saying so, rending the air with trills and tweets as they go about their business.

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Blasts from the past

Every September, the Civil War comes to an old stagecoach inn in Wisconsin.

The forest was quiet and the afternoon still. Unnaturally still.

Fifteen Union Army infantry units were camped around wagons in a meadow, near artillery and cavalry. Along a split-rail fence, a drum-and-fife corps pounded drums and blew trumpets.

Gunners began to load their muskets. The cavalry got on pawing horses. Then a Union skirmish line marched down the meadow, followed by a tight column of infantrymen.

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Riding the Glacial Drumlin

Mementos of a distant past line a bicycle trail through Lake Mills.

In the middle of southern Wisconsin farmland, there’s a mystery that rivals those of the Mayans and Anasazi.

Riding along the 52-mile Glacial Drumlin State Trail east of Lake Mills, I stopped on a bridge over the placid Crawfish River to read a plaque, "Glacial Time in Perspective.’’

It noted the retreat of the glaciers 143 lifetimes ago and then directed me 1½ miles northward, to where, "17 lifetimes ago, an ancient civilization flourished.’’

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Thrills and hills in Elkhart Lake

At the northern tip of Wisconsin's kettle moraine, an old resort town still draws a crowd.

In its entire 150-year history as a resort town, Elkhart Lake rarely has been a sedate place.

The early resort owners loved entertainment and built opera houses, dance halls and theaters. Then they put in casinos, and gambling became so commonplace that placing a bet was like buying an ice-cream cone; everybody did it.

The town was a little bit Catskills, a little bit Vegas and a lot of Chicago.

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Packer country

Like Oz, Green Bay glows green and gold.

The man with the big, Dentyne smile and Marlboro voice slammed his fist into his palm.

"Okay, here's the game plan,'' he bellowed. "No. 1! You WILL see Lambeau Field. You WILL see the press box. You WILL see the executive skyboxes. You WILL sit in the club seats and see a video.

"So where are you all from? How many of you are not Packer fans? Ma'am, you have my condolences. The rest of this group, we know the Packers are the best team in the NFL this year.

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Jolly Cedarburg

In southeastern Wisconsin, a historic village has perfected the art of the party.

When a small town is about as pleasing as can be, what else can it do?

Why, make sure everyone notices, of course.

In 1972, an old Yankee mill town just north of Milwaukee started a Wine & Harvest Festival. Two years later, it started Winter Festival.

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Sights of Sheboygan

Surfers, sculptors and sausage makers all follow their passion in this Wisconsin town.

As far as most people know, there’s nothing but sausage in Sheboygan.

This town on Lake Michigan is the bull’s-eye of brats, for sure, and serious eaters go straight for a double on Sheboygan hard roll.

But serious sightseers come to Sheboygan for other reasons: for surfing, for quirky sculptures, for sand dunes.

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Bicycling along Lake Michigan

Miles of trails in Milwaukee and on Ozaukee County's Interurban Trail provide non-stop scenery.

We all know Milwaukee for its beer, bratwurst and oompah bands.

But not many people know it’s also a great place for bicycling.

Sure, there’s a constant stream of bicyclists on the lakefront stretch of the Oak Leaf Trail. From Lake Michigan, bicyclists can veer off onto a secluded stretch of the Milwaukee River or head toward Miller Park on the Hank Aaron Trail.

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Kohler's luxuries

In a tidy Wisconsin town, a family's reach stretches far beyond plumbing fixtures.

It all began with an enameled horse trough/hog scalder.

It grew into an empire that includes a five-diamond resort, a collection of upscale shops, an innovative art center, a foundation that rescues Wisconsin folk art and, in fact, an entire town that's so perfect it's almost eerie.

That horse trough evolved, too, into such products as the Body Spa, a futuristic shower stall with a waterfall and 10 jets that pummel tired muscles with 80 gallons of water per minute.

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Prize-hunting in Princeton

In central Wisconsin, shoppers flock to a flea market like bees to clover.

In an up-and-down economy, people still like to shop, even if they can't spend much.

That's turned out pretty well for the town of Princeton, which operates Wisconsin's largest outdoor weekly flea market in its tree-shaded City Park.

The last years have been busier than ever for the market: For a buck or two, anyone can find a treasure, even if it's a bag of marbles or a freshly baked pastry.

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Welcome, darlings, to Ten Chimneys

When it was play time, the first couple of the theater headed for Wisconsin.

In a bucolic corner of southeast Wisconsin, a famous acting couple created a retreat unlike any other.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Milwaukee-born Alfred Lunt and his English wife, Lynn Fontanne, dominated the Broadway and London stage, where they were known as "the Fabulous Lunts.''

They had so much star power they took only roles that allowed them to work together — and to spend summers at their beloved country house near the village of Genesee Depot.

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Foot to the floor in Elkhart Lake

In this eastern Wisconsin resort town, unleash your inner speed demon.

Thanks to the last glacier, Elkhart Lake is amply endowed with curves — just the kind of curves a race-car driver appreciates.

In 1949, the old lake-resort town was struggling. Then millionaire sportsman Jim Kimberly, scion of the Kimberly-Clark paper fortune in Neenah, began looking for a local place to race his cars.

He and three buddies, including Fred Wacker of the prominent Chicago family, chartered a plane and circled the forested kettle moraine west of Sheboygan. They found exactly what they were looking for in the undulating curves and swells of the roads around Elkhart Lake.

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