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Cornucopia, Wis. -- In honor of this week's Vikings-Packers game, I thought I'd spin a recent Wisconsin yarn that gets at why we love to travel: those little moments of serendipity.
We'd just spent a lovely weekend kayaking on Lake Superior's South Shore and stopped to buy some smoke fish at Halvorsen's in Cornucopia, up along the Siskiwit Bay near Bayfield. I should mention I collect cribbage boards, an eclectic hobby that has left our house littered with bowling pins, antlers and little toilet seats punctuated with dueling rows of 120 holes on which the ancient game of cribbage can be played.
So I wandered into the little gift shop next to the smoke fish place, nestled along a harbor with bobbing steel-hulled fishing boats. And there I found a hybrid of the Mona Lisa and the Holy Grail, of cribbage boards, that is. On a dusty shelf sat a three-foot long replica of an iron ore boat. The shopkeeper showed me that by removing the chunk of black walnut from the hatch deck and flipping it over -- voila -- a cribbage board complete with two decks of cards lurking in the hull and little metallic pegs.
I forked over the $140 -- most I'd ever paid for a cribbage board -- and asked where I could meet the artist whose detail work included tiny flags and tarps painted on the lifeboats. She said, this being a Sunday, he'd be at the Village Inn watching the Packers game and he drives a small gray pickup.
So off we went to find the Cribbage Board Creator of Cornucopia. Parking next to a gray pickup, we wandered into the bar, which might as well been a morgue. The Packers were losing 13-0 to Carolina and rookie quarterback Cam Newton. Every patron was wearing a green and gold Packers jersey and a long face. The cook in a white smock and his son stood in the kitchen doorway, looking ill.
We took two stools at the edge of the bar and ordered a couple beers. On the TV above, Aaron Rodgers was orchestrating a touchdown drive, culminating with a pass to Jordy Nelson, the ultimate Packer name if ever there was one. Everyone hollered and an old guy in his 80s said: "You guys aren't moving from this bar. You're good luck."
I asked if he knew who might have created my cribbage board and he shrugged. So I wisely waited until the next commercial and asked if anyone knew who might have been the artist of the ore boat cribbage board I'd just purchased. I got a bunch of blank looks that said: Who is this idiot from the Cities and why isn't he wearing a Packers jersey?
Down at the end of the bar, Bill Draeger raised an index finger. I went and shook his hand and learned he was a retired over-the-road 18-wheel truck driver who had spent 70 hours on the cribbage board. It wa the last of its kind, modeled after the 1970s-era Edmund Fitzgerald class of ore boats.
I told Bill he had to make more. There was a void on the shelf of the gift shop. "Don't worry. I have plenty of plans for the winter ahead." Then he autographed the bottom of the boat and the young waitress smiled and said, "Well, Bill, I didn't know you were an artist."
He smiled and puffed out his chest. Just a little.
MASON, WIS. -- Ever consider saying the heck with it and moving to the middle of nowhere and starting over? That's precisely what Kirsten Lid-Solomon did with her husband, Louie. And they're now serving up the best burgers in Wisconsin. Nine years ago, Kirsten was bartending at Murray's, the end of a long run that included stops at the 400 Bar, the CC Club and other, shall we say, urban Minneapolis haunts. Then they saw an ad for a bar for sale in tiny Mason, pop. 79.
Her latest, the Chee Burger, Chee Burger, features the Korean picked cabbage known as Chee with pepper cheese and a thin slice of sweet onion.
On my last and third visit I had a burger with cream cheese and green olives during a Packers game. Kristen was cooking up two pots of soup. One for her bar and one for the other bar in town.
"All he has is frozen pizza," she said.
She won't consider a fish fry because other nearby bars do that.
"These people are so genuine, we absolutely love it. They have become family."
At Travelzoo I found a hot deal for those want to escape the cold (sort of), but stay close to home. The Chula Vista Waterpark Resort in Wisconsin Dells is offering a special $69 a night deal for accommodations in any room type up to a Junior suite. That includes four passes to the resort’s 80,000 square foot indoor water park. The offer applies only to the following dates: Dec. 9 to 11, 13-18, 20 to 21, 23 to 25 and Jan. 5 to 8, 14, 17 to 22, 24 to 25, 27 to 28.
If you stay two nights, you'll also get a $25 dining voucher. Stay three or more nights and receive a $50 voucher. You must book by Dec. 18.
Go to www.chulavistaresort.com and type HOT in the promo code box, or call 1-800-388-4782.
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