From Madison, Wisconsin...

Dear Emma, Sebbie, and Lizzie,

Remember how yesterday I said we didn’t have our day planned yet?… We were just going to see what happened and be surprised. It worked out so well; we had an amazing time!

If you had said to me, “Chris, you’re going to end up in a golden Thai Pavilion in Madison, Wisconsin” I would have laughed and said, “Lizzie, Sebbie, and Emma, you are great kids, awesome actually, but you are being crazy pants! What kind of candy have you been eating that gives you such silly ideas?!”

But you know what? That’s exactly what happened!!! Let me tell you the story:

Our first decision yesterday morning was to book a hotel room in Wisconsin Dells. We chose that town because it's halfway between my uncle’s house, where we were staying, and Minneapolis in Minnesota where we need to be tonight to visit Eric’s brother, Dave, who lives there.

By the way, here’s a picture of me with my cousins in Chicago, just before we said “good-bye.” They are 17 and 15 years old. Can you believe how tall they are? Nobody believes me when I say that in my family, I’m an average size.

chris and pj.jpg

Okay, back to my story —

So we booked a hotel in Wisconsin Dells. Now here it gets a little confusing because the town is named Wisconsin Dells, but there is also a famous gorge next door, with unique sandstone cliffs, and it’s called the Dells of the Wisconsin River; often people refer to it as “The Dells” or “Wisconsin Dells.” The whole area is famous for this gorge and for all the water parks. There are A LOT of water parks there!! I thought Skye would be excited to go to one of them, so I was ready for that. But that’s not what happened.

We’d done two hours of our three hour drive when we were all tired of sitting in the car. I looked at the map and saw that Madison was the next big-ish town. Skye didn’t want to do a water park, so there was no hurry to get to Wisconsin Dells. I went to a tourist website and looked up things to do in Madison. It turns out they have botanical gardens. I thought that would be nice for walking around.

We arrived at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens just before 4 o’clock. There are two parts to the gardens: one part is a two-story, all glass conservatory that has tropical plants; the other part is the outdoor garden that covers many acres.

We went to buy our tickets and the sign said, “Last entrance to the conservatory 4:00.” It was 3:58, we had just made it!

The next surprise was that we happened to be there during a special exhibit called Blooming Butterflies. They had two butterfly hatcheries in the conservatory so we got to see beautiful plants AND butterflies.

Here are some pictures:

butterfly on white flowers.jpg
striped butterfly.jpg
orchid.jpg
bridge.jpg

There were koi and goldfish swimming under this bridge:

Look how big these leaves are!!

huge leaves.jpg

Doesn’t this plant look like someone splattered paint on it?

spotted plant.jpg

I was your age when I learned that bananas grow upside down. I still think it’s amazing!

bananas.jpg

The next surprise was that while we were walking around I saw this blossom sitting on a rock; it’s a Frangipani blossom.

Frangipani blossom.jpg

I think they have Frangipani trees in Singapore, so maybe you know it. It is my most favorite flower. I fell in love them when I first saw them in Fiji in the year 2000. Not only are they beautiful, but they smell like magic!

We went on a mission to find the tree this blossom had fallen from. It took awhile, but we found it!

frangipani tree.jpg

After that we went to the outside gardens. There was a special scavenger hunt to find all the butterfly wing sculptures. Here’s a picture of Skye standing in front of one:

skye wings.jpg

Here are some other pictures from the outdoor gardens:

fountains.jpg
grape arborway.jpg
aquatic plant.jpg
zen garden.jpg

The last stop of the butterfly scavenger hunt was the Thai Pavilion. This pavilion was actually created by artisans in Bangkok and then taken apart piece by piece and brought to Wisconsin where they re-assembled it. The whole thing is covered in real gold! It’s called gold leaf; paper thin pieces of gold.

pavilion from bridge.jpg
pavilion fountain.jpg

Seeing this was another awesome surprise! Isn’t it beautiful?!

pavilion peak.jpg
pavilion ceiling.jpg
column detail.jpg
dragon carving.jpg

Because we completed the scavenger hunt, we received a coupon for a free ice cream. Yay!! We drove to the ice cream stand to use our coupon. It was fantastic and just what we needed after walking around in the sun.

This is the sign at the ice cream shop; I thought it was funny.

ice cream sign.jpg

Skye got a giant waffle cone with two different flavors of ice cream: Birthday Cake and Lemon Meringue. I got a serving of Heaps of Love and Eric got a flavor called Exhausted Parent.

skye ice cream.jpg

Here’s a list of all the flavors:

I wish I could have tried them all! But I was full after just one serving. I didn’t even have space for dinner. You know you’re on vacation when you get to have ice cream for dinner!

We drove to our hotel after that and were very happy to have beds to lie on. You know what they gave us when we checked in? Lemonade flavored popcorn.

lemonade popcorn.jpg

I hadn’t heard of that before! Have you? There are 2 things that are easy to get in Wisconsin, popcorn and cheese curds. I love them both! However, the lemonade popcorn wasn’t my favorite. I preferred the jalapeño cheddar that we’d bought earlier in the day; it was a great car snack.

Today we went to an animal adventure park, but I’ll tell you all about that tomorrow.

Bear Hugs & Unicorn Kisses,
Chris