A Trip From Heaven: Brandon Shares His Midwest Journey to Cream City Hostel

Cream City Hostel

Travel Stories,
Staff Favorites

February 9, 2020

By Brandon Williams

Brandon was our guest here at the Cream City Hostel as part of our work trade program. We asked him to share his adventures traveling the Midwest. Thanks, Brandon, for sharing your adventures and for being a great guest!

On the day after new years of 2020, I decided to embark on an adventure that would have me leaving the Queen City (Cincinnati) and embarking on my adventure to the Cream City (Milwaukee). 

Along the way, I decided to make a stop in the Windy City (Chicago). But even with my timing, I decided it would be best to make a stop before I went into the city to avoid traffic. So where did that stop end up taking me to? Why what else but Indiana Dunes National Park and Indiana Dunes State Park. To make sure I was doing my short trip to the Dunes correctly I decided to stop at the National Park Visitor Center in Porter, Indiana. I was welcomed by one of the kindest park rangers that I have ever talked to, who gave me a few empowering trails to conquer. If you explore the State Park portion you will find a trail that connects you with the Three Dune Challenge. The breathtaking 1.5-mile course takes you to the top of three different dunes that give you a view of the holy blue waters of Lake Michigan. Although most people take roughly 20-30 minutes to complete the challenge, I decided to take my sweet little time to take pictures, stare into the crystal blue lake and enjoy the moment I was in and took 45 minutes to complete. The Ranger also recommended I make it up to West Beach to see the lake from an up-close perspective. Although the waters were frigid and my feet were clammy afterward it was worth sticking my feet into the lake.

After I was done I decided it was time to leave the Dunes and drive into the chaotic city. The place I stayed at was the Freehand Hostel, which is a self-proclaimed boutique hostel. The rustic boutique style that the hostel provided was perfect for creating an environment where one could sit back and relax. But time would not allow me to relax on that day as I had a lot to see in a short amount of time. So I ventured off and headed towards the Art Institute of Chicago (undoubtedly tied with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as my favorite museums that I have gone to) and was eager to see what perspectives the museum would provide me with the second time around. Along the way, I walked down the Magnificent Mile and the Riverwalk. If you take a moment while walking on the Dusable Bridge you will see architectural wonders in all directions that are not limited to the Wrigley Building, the Tribune Tower, Trump Tower and my personal favorite, the Marine City Complex. I had a greater appreciation for this portion of Chicago the second time around. 

Before I could make it to the Art Institute, I got stopped by this huge park called Millennium Park. I’m not sure if anyone who reads this post would be familiar with it. So where are all the tourists? Well if you continue walking past the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and the gardens you will see this small sculpture named Cloud Gate. What is truly great about it is that you get to be near 300 of your closest "Bean Buddies." In all seriousness though this sculpture is quite a sight to see, whether it’s on the touristy or not. 

In this situation, both the journey and the destination to the Art Institute were worth what I wanted out of this trip. The $19 student general admission was the best price I could ask for. Yet fear-of-missing-out-virus hit me hard and I realized I also wanted to see the Andy Warhol Exhibition that was in town. My favorite sights in this museum include the Impressionist Gallery which includes Paris Street, Rainy Day (which is cool to see with only 10 people wanting to decipher the painting instead of 100), A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and endless Monet Paintings. The American Art Gallery has masterpieces such as American Gothic, Night Hawks, Nightlife and many more. Seeing Pablo Piccaso’s The Old Guitarist also is a magical experience to feel in person. But my overall favorite gallery for me is the Thorne Miniature Rooms which is one large exhibit of modeled to scale European and American Rooms.

The next part of my adventure found me wandering through the Riverwalk area yet again and just taking it all in. The lights illuminating off the beautiful architectural buildings into the water truly felt like something you’d find in the Art Institute. But beauty can be interrupted by a hungry stomach. So I decided Lou Malnati’s was my choice for this trip for where I would eat. After ordering the Malnati Chicago Deep Dish Pizza, I had a 45-minute wait before I was truly able to enjoy this marvelous foot of a pizza glory. In the end, I found it worth the price I paid for it and left knowing I could debate with my friends over the best deep dish pizza. This was my last event for this day since I am under the drinking age in the United States, so I headed back to catch some rest for the night. 

I woke up bright and early the next morning and the first thing I decided to do was look out my window. When I looked out of my room I could see 875 North Michigan Avenue Building ( or formerly known as the John Hancock Building). For the 28 dollars I paid for my room, you can bet your bottom dollar that I was nothing short of impressed about what I was getting. I went to the common area and spoke to other travelers for a solid half hour before I checked out to see a few more sights.

I decided before I went up to Milwaukee that I should at least stop in Lincoln Park, because why not? If I ever wanted to do it, then a day where it was still the middle of the week and 30 degrees would be the perfect day to do so. My first stop took me to the Lincoln Park Conservatory, which perfectly houses a lot into a small building. I took at least 300 photos on my phone and spent roughly 45 minutes checking the place out. Then I took a stroll over to the world-renowned Lincoln Park Zoo, and although I am not one to admire zoos, I did appreciate what this one had to offer. I mean within minutes of walking in you can get a visible view of the Chicago skyline. So after walking around I sure thought both were worth the price you were paying for them, absolutely free.

After this, I decided to drive up to Milwaukee to check into the place where I would be volunteering for close to a month, the newly established Cream City Hostel. A stop that may call my name in the future is the Mars Cheese Castle, which believe it or not is a castle that houses cheese… Who would want to go places like the Neuschwanstein Castle or Edinburgh Castle when you have a castle in the city that gave us the backdrop for That 70’s Show?

But I had been on the road for a long time the past few days and was eager to just find a place to situate. There is always a glimpse of magic when driving into a new concrete jungle and Milwaukee was no different. It provided the perfect charm for a skyline and that was all I needed. I knew I had made the right decision after seeing what this city holds. Before even finding my accommodation I decided to go back into the past and eat some custard from Leon's Frozen Custard. The location is supposed to be the basis of the show Happy Days. Within an instant of biting into the delicious Butter Pecan Custard, a tune played in my head that went something like “ Sunday, Monday, Happy Days. Tuesday, Wednesday, HAPPY Days” and so on. 

Luckily, around 3 PM, I was introduced to the Cream City Hostel, which is a budget accommodation hostel housed in a neoclassical cream bricked building. Now, how many hostels can you think of that puts you into a unique building like this? Along with that, I got the backstory of how the location was formerly a bank and a school for children. I was truly amazed at how the owners Carolyn Weber and Wendy Mesich created a vision of how a place that used to be those things could now be a place for intellectual travelers to come and stay. In my eyes, they were nothing short of a modern-day Da Vinci or Picasso. I also knew instantly that I would receive nothing short of midwestern hospitality from both the owners and the staff.

After doing my check-in and getting provided with the standard hostel tour I was now ready to experience the Cream City. So I hopped in my car and found parking near the Riverwalk area and began trekking down the urban trail. The vibe gave off the ones that I felt a day before Chicago and it provided me with a feeling of intense happiness. What could make an experience like that even better? Well, let me tell you, THE FONZ. That's right Henry Winkler aka Fonzie. If you didn’t know before know now that you can find a bronze statue of him along the Riverwalk area and it's well worth the quirky photo op you'll take with it. 

The next morning I found out that the Milwaukee County Zoo was offering a free day. So I decided it would be well worth my time to go and try it out. I enjoyed the exhibits they had and also loved how a good portion of the animals were outside. 

But the top thing I was looking forward to was the Milwaukee Art Museum. Once I got there I found myself astounded by the futuristic-looking building. After asking one of the kind workers I found out that the building was designed by architect Santiago Calatrava. I also found out that three times a day there was a "wing feature" that goes up and down. I found their post-modern exhibit to be one of the best of its kind of all the museums I had been to. Some of the other pieces I enjoyed were The Two Majesties by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Wally Barker by Max Beckman, The Wood Gatherer by Le Pere Jacque Isola Di San Giacomo In Palude Chandelier Ii by Dale Chihuly, and many other pieces. 

After my great experience, I decided to take a stroll on over to the Milwaukee Public Market. Like a nice rug brings a room together, the Public Market brings this city together. The place I decided to try was the West Allis Cheese and Sausage Shop. I decided this would be where I got my fried cheese curds and some chili. During this culinary experience, I got to sit back and talk to the locals and found a charm in how nice the people of Milwaukee truly are. 

To continue my perfect travel day in Milwaukee, I decided to take a stroll along Lakeshore State Park. From this park, you have a view of Lake Michigan on one side and the city skyline on the other. I loved this in winter and would find it even more perfect in the summertime. 

To end this perfect day I decided to go and get some joes from the raved up location of Colectivo Coffee Lakefront location. My decision on what to order was the salted caramel latte with a cinnamon roll. After sipping into my cup and taking a bite I realized I had made the perfect decision. It also was the perfect place for me to complete some assignments for my online class.

The next night I decided to go and watch a movie at the Oriental Theater. The Oriental Theater is this classic 1920’s movie house that was created in an East Indian decorated building. To make it even better, I decided to see the movie that has been killing it during the award season. The movie I am referring to is the South Korean film Parasite, which is directed by Bong Joon-Ho. I loved my experience in not only watching this modern masterpiece but also taking in this old movie theater.

My next day was an off day so I had more time to see even more sites. I decided that I would go and see the Mitchell Park Domes. When you drive up you see these cool domed shaped buildings. You go inside and pay the $6, then you go in and explore. The place offered a tropical dome, a desert dome ( my favorite of the three) and a show dome ( that was closed). This was for sure one of the better conservatories that I had visited. 

Afterward, I went to go and see the Harley Davidson Museum. If I were a wild hog I would have enjoyed this museum more. I recommend paying 16 dollars for this location if you are into motorcycles and automobiles. But if not then potentially find other locations to go off and see. 

When my next off day came I decided to go and visit my two friends Liz and Alliyah who just happened to be in Chicago during my time. So I took a morning Amtrak from the Intermodal Station to Union Station. Our first stop took us to one of my favorite museums, The Field Museum. The second time around was just as grand as the first. Yet something stood out to me that was apart from the museum experience. My friends and I ended up having a conversation with this sweet Bosnian woman who escaped her country during the turbulent war that ravished her country in the 1990. We also found out that she is married to an Egyptian man. Together they have a brilliant son who was born in America, but celebrates both cultures. She realized that we live in a very chaotic world and talked about how her family is usually discriminated against. The line she said after is one that my friends and I will remember until we die and that was, “at the end of the day we all cry over the same things. So we should learn to love one another for the cultures that they bring to the world and respect everyone for who they are.” After hearing a powerful quote like that from a stranger we found it hard to pay attention during the rest of our time there. 

By the time we left the museum, we found ourselves very hungry. What better way to satisfy hunger than by eating a Portillo’s hot dog? On our way, we got to walk down the lake area and enjoyed the nice January day. We continued to walk towards the location near the Magnificent Mile and devoured the living bejesus out of some Chicago hot dogs. Next, we walked over to the overrated Navy Pier, but it was cool to get a quick photo-op there. Then we walked over to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Although it wasn’t my favorite place I saw on my journey, I will say it was cool to say that I was able to see the collection they displayed. The last destination that we went to was Giordano's, which gave my friends an introduction to deep dish pizza. Afterward, we headed back into our destinations. 

The day after I had a working shift in Milwaukee. But during the night I attended one of the local hostel events which were a Wednesday night bowling outing at the Falcon Bowl. The place was in the basement of this old bar and is better than you’d expect. The bowling alley is only comprised of 6 lanes and is as vintage of an alley as you’ve ever seen. The atmosphere was lively and strikes you as one where friends come together and have true connections with one another instead of peeping at their phones every 5 seconds. There was another moment that was romanticized in my mind. This was when the song "Easy" by The Commodores came on the speaker and created a mood that not even "The Man in Me" by Bob Dylan couldn’t even create in The Big Lebowski. I would recommend that if you're staying at the Cream City Hostel on a Wednesday that you should go and try this out. 

After my cleaning shift the next day I went on over to the Pabst Mansion where I paid $ 12 to tour the home of none other than Captain Pabst himself. 12 dollars was nothing to spend considering that the man has created much joy and happiness for us college folks. Outside of that, it was well worth seeing anyway because the home is very grand and provides a unique charm. Hopefully, more people can make it to the location so it can raise more money to completely furnish the home.

The next morning I drove off to the Devil's home at Devil's Lake State Park. If I remember correctly, it was still able to magnify beauty even in close to freezing temperatures. I took the moderate West Bluff Trail to see the lake from above and see part of the Ice Age Trail. This route also included the small trails to both Devil's Doorway and Balanced Rock. If you're in Wisconsin and love hiking I will say this was one of the highlights of my journey. The place is out of this world and far from being a place that resembles hell.

After resting for a few days, I decided to step back out into civilization after my grand adventure. I decided to try Lakefront Brewery's fried cheese curds. Well, I got there and not only did I try the cheese curds, but I also decided to go big or go home. After I ate both meals, I was about to succumb to a food coma. A well worth it food coma, but a food coma nonetheless. Also, the quirky Three Stooges sculptures in front of the building provided a cool photo-op. 

The day after I went to my first NBA game and saw the top-ranked Milwaukee Bucks (led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greek Freak) take on the New York Knicks. I never imagined a place like Milwaukee having pumped-up fans for basketball but the Fiserv Forum provided nothing less than that. It was cool to say this was my first opportunity to go and see an NBA game. Also, I found the prices very reasonable for what you’re getting.

That night I took a journey on a Greyhound bus to go off to Minneapolis (only 6 hours from Milwaukee by bus). I decided to get off at Union Depot in St. Paul and took the Green Line into Minneapolis. My first stop on my busy day took me to Minnehaha Falls which was unique because when I went half the waterfall was flowing while the other side was completely frozen over. I could not have asked for a better sight of the falls. Next, I walked out and took a view of the Mighty Mississippi from the observation deck. Then I walked the Stone Arch Bridge and took in the views of the historic bridge. Then I explored the Mill City Museum which took a look into the  Milling industry. They provided a cool video when you start that puts you in an elevator and watch a show based on interviews of workers of the past. I was very impressed by this museum and found it to be much better than I thought the museum was going to be.

After the museum, I took a trip to the Walker Art Center, which had to have been one of the better contemporary art museums that I had been to. The sculpture gardens directly behind also provided me with a cool opportunity to view amazing sculptures. On my way towards First Avenue, I decided to walk into this quirky record shop where the workers were close to The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. Since Prince is one of my favorite musicians it was very neat to get such a wonderful perspective on his life. Also along my walk to First Avenue, I found the Basilica and since I am a lover of nicely designed buildings I stopped in. It was a very neat place to self-tour. But finally, I decided to go off and see First Avenue and after 20 minutes of walking, I finally arrived. The place had this cool wall of stars of the artist who had performed there.

After my busy day, I decided to go back to my AirBnB to take a small nap. Afterward, I went on a bus to go and try the food institution that is Matt's Bar and Tavern, which is the birthplace of the holy Juicy Lucy. The place was a hole in the wall bar that had a very unique atmosphere ( but a lot of inconveniences so bring actual cash and make sure your phone is charged). Nonetheless, I am glad I got to say I got to eat at such a wonderful location, but decided that I needed to go and rest. So I went back to my AirBnB and took a few hours rest. When I woke up, I purchased tickets to go see Andrew Wiggens and Karl Anthony- Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves take on the Indianapolis Pacers. When I got there, I was disappointed to find out that KAT had been put on the injury list. But either way, it was cool saying I got to see Target Center. Afterward, it was officially time to go and sleep for the night.

In the morning I woke up and went to the free Minneapolis Museum of Art (which is what I was most looking forward to seeing). The museum did not disappoint and may have potentially found one of my favorite paintings that I have ever found in a museum, The Carpet Merchant. I spent about 3 hours at the location and decided it was time to finally see the Mall of America. I took the Blue Line to see this place that represents a lot of America's values of capitalism and consumerism. Since I’m not big into the idea of shopping till I drop, I could say that I was not the biggest fan of the MOA but did enjoy the fact that they had a huge amusement park and a very nice Duluth Trading Company store ( my favorite place to shop). But after two hours, I decided to go and try the other famous Juicy Lucy location. That place was the 5-8 Club, which I found to be much grander than Matts' Bar and provided with a much lovelier and smooth atmosphere. If I were to go to one of the locations again this would for sure be the location I would go and eat at again. My last stop was to the Guthrie Theater again. This time however I would be taking in a play called Nora which was a modern-day adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's The Doll House. I found the play to be truly wonderful and was the perfect way to end my time here in the Twin Cities. 

A few days after I got back, I decided to go and see their Ikea which is nothing too special but cool to see no matter where you are.

Then on the day the Packers went and got defeated by the 49’ers (and back in Milwaukee) I was at this cute little coffee shop called Rochambo. Now this place was special because it had every counter-culture group and a variety of different niches together in one place. The drink I decided to get was Irish Coffee without alcohol and it was very warm t0 drink. I spent a solid 6 hours here just reading Jane Eyre and taking the place in.  

The night after, I decided to attend one of the events that the hostel held and that was taking a small journey over to Company Brewing, which was holding their weekly trivia night. I may have had my ego shot down considering I believed I was capable of answering every single question ( I learned in the first round that I was not as bright as I thought I was). Either way, I was glad that I got to experience this event and believe anyone visiting the hostel should give it a try. 

My last day had finally approached and I had to take in saying goodbye to this beautiful city. It was a very melancholy experience, but I knew in the back of my heart that all good things must come to an end. But it was not all bad, as I found a friend in one of the guests staying in the hostel and ended up showing her around to the different places that I had enjoyed. Those included the Milwaukee Art Museum (to go and see the wing flaps again), going and trying some cheese curds (ending up going to this cool hole-in-the-wall place called Klinger's, because Lakefront Brewery was having an event). I ended up taking my friend to another location which I had not even been to and that was Kopp's Frozen Custard. I had heard many stories about how amazingly good this location was and decided it was worth a try. I was told to select a classic heart-healthy cheeseburger with a custard of the day ( which happened to be Butter Pecan, which to me is a straight YUMMM). I am a self-proclaimed foodie and instantly fell in love with this place. I found the food and custard better than Leon's but wished it had some more of the flare that Leon's had. But either way, I loved both locations (just preferred this one). But my time finally came to leave Milwaukee a few hours later and after taking it all in I decided to head out early the next morning to stop and see Chicago for the third time. 

After leaving at 3 in the morning I finally arrived at my location of Wrigley Hostel at 5 and just hung around and saw Wrigley Field from up close. But my stomach was craving food so I took the L line into downtown and ate at the iconic Lou Mitchell's, which is the start of the famous Route 66. There I had an egg omelet, pancakes, toast with jam and some of their “ world's best coffee." Just like Will Farrell had in Elf, I made sure to scream to the crowd of morning goers of how great the coffee truly was (disclaimer: I did not do this, but did think the cup of joe was pretty good nonetheless). Then I walked over to the Contemporary Photography Museum, which I’d advise you skip because it was disappointing, to say the least. My next museum was a much better stop and that was the Mexican Museum of Art (which was small but still a nice place with great pieces). Then I went back to my hostel to take a nap since I had not slept the night before. That night I ended up going to the Chicago Bulls vs. Minnesota Timberwolves game at the United Center. I got to see the Michael Jordan statue that my Biology professor at school helped make and overall had a great time seeing Zach Lavine take charge. Even better is the fact that I got to see an uninjured Karl Anthony-Towns. 

The night ended up being wild due to an unruly guest but that calls for a story for another time as it is not suited for my blog post. I ended up waking up bright and early the next morning and doing the last few things I wanted to see in the Windy City. I decided to drive over to Chicago’s Chinatown, which was cool for a few hours until the novelty wore off, but still super cool to eat some orange chicken at MingHin Cuisine and some dim sum at this other location. And just when it seemed that I couldn't possibly eat any more food I decided to go eat at the iconic Superdawgs Drive-In and have another Chicago Dog. My very last stop would be my most sentimental. That was to see my friend Elliot, who I had met the previous year in Toronto, Canada at Portillo's. It was a great little reunion to see someone who I had gotten so close to in Canada. After talking to him for three hours I drove to my last destination before I went home, which was Indianapolis. 

In Indianapolis, I stayed at the Indy Hostel and enjoyed my night at the location. The first thing I did right off the bat was to see Benjamin Harrison's Home, which was one of the better presidential homes I had seen up to that point. Then I took a trip over to the Eiteljorg Museum (which is a Native American Art Museum). Then I walked near the canal in White River State Park while walking towards the capitol building in Indianapolis. After a half-hour stop at the capitol, I decided to enjoy my last flex of this trip. That was to eat at St. Elmo's Steakhouse, which is considered one of the best in the country. So I went to this place and enjoyed their iconic cocktail sauce, medium cooked steak and a nice cup of Creme Brulee. Then my journey was officially over, but I now have more memories to reflect on. 

I can’t wait to visit all of these wonderful states and cities again. Especially Milwaukee and Wisconsin, because they have even grander activities to enjoy in the warmer months. These include kayaking on the riverfront, catching a Brewers game, enjoying one of their many concerts and many other things. 

Brandon Williams attends Miami University in Ohio, where he is currently a small business management major. His hometown is Liberty Township, Ohio, a small town located halfway between Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio. His favorite hobby is traveling and he says he "finds a lot of joy in finding places to volunteer for.”

Related posts