The decision for what city to explore the next day turns out to be Madison, the state capital, both because it’s nearer from Wisconsin Dells than Milwaukee and it’s on the freeway going back to Illinois. Madison is a nice enough city to explore on a weekend, especially around the Capitol area, where protesters, vendors, and pedestrians converge.
I explore the Capitol building itself for a bit, with its stunning architecture acting as the focal point of the city. I gawk at the interiors, whose design draws inspiration from various architectural movements, including the Beaux-Arts style, which was popular in Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Beaux-Arts style emphasizes classical elements and symmetrical designs, often incorporating lavish ornamentation, grand staircases, domed ceilings, and intricate detailing — features that can be observed within the Capitol, giving it a sense of elegance and sophistication reminiscent of European architectural aesthetics.
Families and students fill the corridors, appreciating the architectural beauty and historical significance of the building. The building’s immersive experience allows visitors to feel transported to a different era.
The area around the Capitol Square also buzzes with activity, especially during events and protests. It’s a vibrant gathering place where locals, vendors, and visitors come together. The lively atmosphere, street performances, and diverse food options make it an exciting place to explore.
Outside, I walk around and see a couple of museums in the west side, as well as the Madison Municipal Building and the Monona Terrace in the southeast side.
We then head to the Olbrich Botanical Gardens a bit further to the northeast. It’s one of Madison’s numerous parks. This one’s a result of a partnership between the city government and the non-profit Olbrich Botanical Society. The park is named after its founder Michael Olbrich, a local politician and conservationist who founded the park but died shortly before the park opened to the public. Garden guide Gary shares interesting details about the park and some of its features as he drives us around in a tram.
The Olbrich Botanical Gardens encompass various themed gardens, including the Rose Garden, Thai Pavilion and Garden, Sunken Garden, and Perennial Garden, among others. Each garden providing visitors with a delightful horticultural experience, offering a unique atmosphere and showcasing a variety of plant species.
In addition to the gardens, the park features a conservatory that houses tropical plants and serves as a refuge during colder months. The Bolz Conservatory offers an opportunity to explore a different range of flora from around the world.
The Olbrich Botanical Gardens also host educational programs, events, and exhibits, allowing visitors to learn more about plants, gardening, and conservation. It’s a place where nature and art converge, with sculptures and artistic installations scattered throughout the park.
After the park, we stop for a bit at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where the youthful vibe of Madison becomes more apparent. While it may be smaller in size compared to the University of Chicago, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is widely recognized for its academic programs, research, and contributions to various fields. It has a strong reputation, particularly in areas such as science, engineering, agriculture, and the social sciences.
The university campus offers a range of amenities, including libraries, student centers, and recreational facilities, which contribute to the overall lively atmosphere. Additionally, the presence of students often translates into a diverse range of cultural events, performances, and activities taking place on and around the campus.
Restaurants and establishments near the university often cater to the university community and provide a relaxed and inviting ambiance. These spaces become popular gathering spots for students, faculty, alumni, and visitors, creating a sense of community and fostering a fun and social atmosphere.
Madison, and Wisconsin in general, is a charming place offering a range of attractions and activities, making it an ideal destination in the Midwest. The state’s blend of natural beauty, cultural offerings, and outdoor recreation provides visitors with a memorable weekend getaway.
After taking a few pictures of the campus, we resume our long(-ish) drive back to Illinois.