Overnight rain left puddles and blowzy clouds that dominated our route to Madison. We were relieved for the light and intermittent shower activity, but decided it would be a safe bet to tour the State Capitol first – at least that was indoors! It took a while to figure out the parking situation and we opted for a centrally located covered lot and had our rain gear in tow as we made our way through the streets. Madison has a Berkeley-type vibe, and is an interesting blend of government/business/student streetwalkers as they follow their business. The Capitol was quite busy – since we had some time before the next tour, we grabbed something hot at a local coffee shop – Collectivo (they are also at the airport), a Wisconsin-grown concern that has been roasting their own since 1993. We still had a half hour before the tour, which gave us time to check the layout, read some of the generic exhibits, and kibbutz with other tourists and vigilant security guards. People, so far, seem to be generally friendly in Wisconsin.
Our tour guide was a wealth of information and had a great personality, so the hour-plus went pretty quickly. For those willing to brave the narrow circular stairway, there was access to the observation deck, which circled the dome and offered a 360 panorama of the city. Well worth the short climb. Of course this gave us a full up view of the weather headed in our direction, and a few drops whipped through the air. It’s always inspiring to tour these older buildings – you really get a sense of the effort and pride that went into building them. Back then it seemed more of a community of spirit and pride in making it to statehood, and building the infrastructure for those that followed. That is how history should be taught.
Time for lunch, but where to go? By cross-referencing a AAA tour book, a Visitor Center promo book and Yelp, we decided on The Great Dane Pub and Brewery. What a find. The place is deceptively huge. It also has a varied menu. I was able to find food that wasn’t in violation of my new, healthier eating habits. Wisconsin and Great Dane-brewed beer on the menu. And a very cool surprise – beer and chocolate (locally made, of course) pairings! Be still my heart! We chose the Stone of Scone Scotch Ale, and the Tri-Pepper Pilsner. Both were perfectly balanced, but the Tri-Pepper Pilsner combo stole my heart. Occasionally people would blow into the pub with wet clothes. After a nice slow and largely interrupted lunch we decided to venture out and it was rain rain rain. At first light and showery, by the time we reached the Capitol Square it was pouring crazy and bouncing up as far as it was bouncing down. We ducked into a bank vestibule and waited it out for a bit before deciding to make a run back to the Capital for better shelter. Soon enough it cleared enough for us to wander down State Street, walking the stretch that takes pedestrians to the University of Wisconsin. Lots of shops and eateries. Time take a load off the barking dogs, find the hotel and bunker down for the night!
Next day was a cool 56 degrees, raw and windy. Another great day for a museum. Chazen Museum of Art is relatively central on the campus. Loved the exhibits – there was quite the variety and it kept us entertained for a while. As with any campus, there was a lot of construction. It was quite the trek to get to the stadium. Luckily, since the students were returning for the new semester, there was a lot of activity and we were able to enter the stadium and see the field. After that it was another walk along State Street, searching for eats (that always seems to happen at some point in the day!). This time, after a few false starts, we found the Capital Tap Haus right on State Street. Fair amount of business traffic, standard menu and – again – good local beer. We still had the better part of the day left, and had heard that there was a Frank Lloyd Wright building in the area. Actually, there are several sites since the FLW Architecture School is based in Wisconsin, his home state. Frank seems to follow us. We’ve been to Falling Rock in Pennsylvania. Scottsdale, near where we live, has a monument from an unbuilt state building proposal Wright submitted to the state. Of course there is Taliesin West, also located in Scottsdale. So, being so near, why not check out the Unitarian Meeting House? As luck would have it, we arrived 10 minutes before the daily tour, that being the one tour of the day. Just one other person was there waiting. I imagine that we received a little more in-depth information than what would normally be given. It’s a very cozy set-up, and the Unitarians are very nice hosts. They are very proud of their facility, music program, and community outreach programs, and understandably so. What I though was ironic was that although Wright was Unitarian himself, and he “offered” to build the Meeting House, he still made sure he was paid, even though he blew through the budget threefold. A LOT of fundraising and volunteer work, you can imagine, but he got his fee.
It’s light a lot later than we are used to in AZ, and we love to take advantage of it when on the road. Which meant there was plenty of time to make it to the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. The outdoor gardens are open quite late, and they certainly get a lot of local traffic. The grounds are beautifully manicured, with many different themes throughout. It’s popular for photographers as well – there were several parties getting portraits dome on the grounds. Great town, Madison – we really enjoyed you!