Once, I thought of Milwaukee as the ugly duckling of Midwest cities, a colorless runt with the grit of Chicago but none of its allure.
Its true that downtown Milwaukee, during the day, is not exactly flashy.
On a beautiful summer day in Milwaukee, history's underdogs were having a ball.
They were listening to pianists play Chopin. They were dancing an exuberant style of polka. They were tucking into pierogi and paczki.
Call it payback time for Poles.
No one ever accused Milwaukee of being flashy.
Best known for tractors, motorcycles and beer, its a meat-and-potatoes kind of town, stolid and practical like the Germans who built it.
Its not what youd call a trendy destination. And yet every time I go there, I have a great time.
For people who love beer, theres no better place to drink it than in a brewery.
In 1880s, beer-loving Milwaukee had more than 80 of them. Three became national giants, giving Milwaukee the nicknames Beer Town and Suds City, but only one survived.
Thats Miller, acquired first by Philip Morris, then South African Brewing, and now merged with Coors. Schlitz closed in 1981, and Pabst in 1997.
Milwaukee doesnt toot its own horn much, so youve got to explore it yourself to see how much fun it can be.
But the city also is surrounded by old Yankee mill towns and German settlements.
Theres one city in the Midwest that never will get too big for its lederhosen.
Milwaukee, sometimes called the biggest small town in America, doesnt brag though it should. It has a swell baseball stadium, a beloved art museum and a beautiful lakefront.
Lake Michigan borders downtown, lined with beaches, bike trails and playing fields. Craft breweries and restaurants reflect a culture steeped in Gemütlichkeit, the German term for congeniality and good life.
We all know Milwaukee for its beer, bratwurst and oompah bands.
But not many people know its also a great place for bicycling.
Sure, theres 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.
Until recently, my memories of college dorms mostly involved sloppy drunks, sloppier roommates and a bathroom shared by the whole floor.
Then my husband and I stayed at Marquette University in Milwaukee. It was as quiet as a cathedral, and we had a private bath and a panoramic view of the city from our 17th-floor picture windows.
We paid $28 apiece, which was nice because we like to save money. But mostly, we stayed at Marquette because it was so convenient, three blocks from the special bus that takes summer visitors to the lakefront Henry Maier Festival Park and right on the route that takes baseball fans to Miller Park on game days.