Thanks for joining me and partaking in another travel adventure, this week closer to home here in the Madison, Wisconsin area. Our Friendship Force club is hosting eleven citizen ambassadors from Aichi, Japan and five from the Dallas, Texas area. I’ve written some about Friendship Force in past articles but here is a brief recap on what this is all about. Friendship Force of Wisconsin-Madison is one of about 350 FF clubs located on six continents and sixty countries. The purpose of this nonprofit international organization is to promote cultural learning and understanding through personal friendships and homestays. By meeting, hosting and staying with fellow ambassadors, we learn about each other and experience views of the world often much different than our own. This helps us overcome differences and promotes peace between our fellow citizens of the world.
The Ambassadors arrived at our local airport just after Noon on a Wednesday. It was a beautiful, sunny day here in Madison so the weather helped us get off to a good start. My traveling partner and I hosted a couple from Dallas so we eagerly waited for them to arrive. Several of our club members traveled to Aichi last year so hosted the ambassadors that hosted them in Japan. In the following photo, the group comes down the escalator and acquaintances are renewed.
After meeting our guests for the week, Edward and Paula, we headed back into town and stopped by the Memorial Union Terrace for a bit of lunch and lots of conversation. One of the ambassadors from Japan was also there with her hosts and a photo was taken sitting in the oversized chair on the Terrace.
After a driving tour of the University of Wisconsin campus, we arrived at our house so Edward and Paula could unpack and rest after their journey from Dallas. We had a delightful dinner and conversation that evening and hit the sack because we had planned group activities the next morning. Our first stop was in the village of Maple Bluff at the Executive Residence more commonly known as the Governor’s Mansion. After living in Wisconsin for the past 32 years, this was my first visit!
The Mansion is situated on about 3.5 acres of property along Lake Mendota. Built in 1920, the 16,000 square foot residence has 34 rooms, 13 bathrooms and 7 bedrooms. It hosts about 20,000 visitors each year for receptions, meetings and tours. There is a very popular holiday tour that features a Christmas tree decorated with ornaments made by state residents, often school children. After a briefing by our tour guide, we were surprised with a visit by Governor Tony Evers who was subbing for his wife! After greetings and passing out letters to the Ambassadors, it was time for picture taking.
After that exciting experience, we toured the first floor and gardens of the Mansion.
The guide pointed out that Governor Evers brought back to the Mansion a well regarded painting of children that the previous Governor had removed. Governor Evers after all was a life long educator and prior to being elected governor was the elected Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The artwork in the Mansion was fascinating to me, here’s a glimpse of couple of pieces.
In the gardens, we had another round of photographs!
Soon it was time for lunch, a walk to the Frank Lloyd Wright Monona Terrace and then a tour of the State Capitol. We had lunch at one of the fine locally owned establishments near the Capitol, the Great Dane. Our guests from Japan tried fried cheese curds for the very first time. They said they liked them! They are always very polite too.
Our guide for the tour of the Capitol was well informed explaining the history of the building as well as all the activities that take place there.
Then another group photo on the Capitol steps!
That evening we had our welcome dinner at the beautiful Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton.
On Sunday our main activity was a boat ride on Lake Monona that featured a champagne brunch. The weather didn’t cooperate, it rained most of the ride so we proceeded to run them out of champagne and eventually food!
I did manage a few photos between the rain squalls, here’s what I saw.
Afterwards, we stopped by the First Unitarian Society of Madison designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and a designated National Historic Landmark. It is one of the largest Unitarian congregations in the United States. The architecture is stunning and interpreted as a prow of a ship or a plow breaking the soil or hands folded in prayer. You decide!
On our last full day, we drove the 50 miles to Monroe, Wisconsin, the self designated Cheese Capital of the US. There we toured the National Historic Cheesemaking Center. I was raised on a dairy farm and studied animal science in college and thought I knew a lot about the industry but I learned some interesting information especially about the early days of cheesemaking. For example, I didn’t know that the National Cheese Exchange based in Green Bay, Wisconsin set the price of cheddar cheese every Friday that served as the basis for the buying and selling of all types of cheese throughout the country. This continued until 1997 when cheese trading moved to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. We also had a tour of a restored farmstead cheese factory that originally operated from 1890 until 1917 and lay vacant until it was discovered in 2009.
I wasn’t expecting much from this tour but I highly recommend it if you find yourself in the Monroe area. We had to end with one more group photo!
We had our lunch at the New Glarus Hotel famous for it’s Swiss design and food. Here’s what my pork dinner looked like!
After exploring the village of New Glarus, we made our way back to Madison to get ready for our farewell dinner. We had a delicious catered meal followed by an interesting presentation by Gail Ambrosius, a Madison based chocolatier. This is a person that is seriously passionate about chocolate going as far as to personally source the cacao she uses in making her chocolates. Afterwards, we sampled small disks of chocolate that came from different locations. It is interesting to note that tastes varied and there wasn’t a consensus winner, different tastes for different folks! A fitting farewell for Friendship Force members.
The next morning we drove in the sometimes heavy rain to Dubuque, Iowa where we handed off our ambassadors to their next hosts from the Cedar Rapids club. We met them at the Eagle Point Park overlooking the Mississippi River and Lock and Dam Number 11.
We ended with even more photos and said goodby to Edward and Paula wishing them well on the next leg of their journey.
It was a very enjoyable time, if this story perks your interest in learning more about Friendship Force International or the Madison club, click here and here. Stay tuned next week for our visit to Taliesen and more tales about Frank Lloyd Wright.
In Friendship, until next week, happy travels!