Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hand Pies, Chocolate and More in Madison

It was day three in Madison, Wisconsin, and my friend Roberta and I were getting ready to leave The Graduate Madison and heading to our next hotel, The Edgewater Resort.

I had chosen to split the stay between the two accommodations because they are totally different.
We certainly had enjoyed the college town atmosphere of The Graduate Madison.

Before we left, we had breakfast in the lobby café, Portage Pi.

Hand pies are the specialty here, and very popular with college students.
Lots of locals show up just to eat here and get coffee and smoothies, while taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi and power hookups.

I went for sweet, while Roberta preferred the savory. Both were good with our smoothies and coffees.
It was one time I wasn’t anxious to turn in my keys as I loved the idea that Graduate Madison had made them look like student IDs, but it was time to head out.
While in Madison, I was also covering a tennis tournament at the university. Roberta dropped me off and did some shopping while I was there. 

She picked me up and we headed to a place I knew I had to visit the minute I saw the sign -- Chocolaterian Café.

The selection here of chocolate goodies did not disappoint and it took a while before either of us could make a decision.

We saw a selection of cookies, including Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, Cherry Chocolate, Molasses, and Spicy Chocolate.

There was also something called, Kouiagn Amann, which was a cross between a croissant and a cupcake, layers of butter and sugar, and a crunchy exterior.

We decided to get two things to share: the Ugly Cookie, a chocolate chip cookie with pistachios, cocoa nibs, oats, and, toffee, and a Manona Bar, with gooey caramel, peanut butter, Rice Krispies, and milk chocolate.

With it we completed the cocoa overload with Parisian drinking chocolate. It was a heavenly experience.

Roberta and I left the café and took a scenic ride along Lake Mendota. It looked especially beautiful as the sun was beginning to set.

We checked into The Edgewater Resort & Spa. Our suite overlooked the lake and had a balcony so we could really take in the view.

It had been a few years since I had been to this resort and it had since been totally remodeled, making it the only AAA 4 Diamond in Madison and Dane Counties.

We got settled in and freshened up for dinner in The Statehouse, one of six dining options at The Edgewater (including room service).

I started with a Winter Kiss cocktail and we shared a mushroom flatbread for an appetizer.

It was the first in a selection of delicious food that arrived at our table, including steak, a tender pork chop, and scrumptious macaroni and cheese.

For dessert, the skillet apple crumb pie with ice cream was a perfect choice.

Roberta and I relaxed in The Statehouse bar for a bit before heading to our suite at The Edgewater .
It was supposed to be our one and only night there. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

History and Fun in Madison, Wisconsin

My friend Roberta and I woke up early in our room at The Graduate Madison hotel. We both had full days in this Wisconsin capitol, even though it wasn’t all together.

I loved our room at The Graduate. It’s got a dorm room look, but certainly upgraded from what I shared with two other women (only for a semester, then I decided to get my own apartment).

The beds had cute pillows labeled, “Brat” and “Curd,” old-fashioned phones and notebooks, and even a unique clock.

We had a light breakfast downstairs at the Portage Pi coffee shop before heading to the Henry Vilas Zoo.

Not only is this zoo impressive, but there is no charge for admission or parking. I love the idea of exposing children to animals.

As a small child, my grandmother used to take me all the time to the (then free) Bronx Zoo. I think that has a lot to do with my love of all types of creatures even today.

This zoo is set up for the same experience with a Children’s Zoo that includes goats and red pandas. There is also a carousel and a train ride (for $2).

We were in awe as we watched the polar bears put on a show for us (video below). Then we visited the African lion, brown bears, and tigers before we left.

I headed to the tennis tournament for a few hours while Roberta explored more of Madison, Wisconsin, which included more free attractions.

The Overture Center for the Arts is a beautiful venue for all formats of the arts, from touring artists to shows.

Overture also has galleries and Roberta walked through and saw some paintings housed there.

She then strolled through downtown to photograph the Capitol Building in daytime. It looked very different from the night before, but the architecture is still striking.

Next was the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, which has interesting exhibits dating back hundreds of years.

Among them are displays honoring Wisconsin and the Civil War, the Philippine War, the Spanish-American War, World War I & II, and the Vietnam War, The Veterans Museum also examines the War on Terror and looks at years of Look at weapons, uniforms, medical equipment, and the evolution of medicines.

The State Historical Museum is another stop worth making in Madison. It looks at Native Americans in Wisconsin, the dairy and auto industries here, and the effects of historical events, such as the Suffrage Movement and the Great Depression.

After Roberta left downtown, she drove by Lake Mendota and watched the ice fisherman and hockey players on the frozen lake. It’s a site fairly limited to Wisconsin Winter.

She then picked me up at the University of Wisconsin, where I was covering a tennis tournament, and we headed back to The Graduate Hotel .

We had dinner at the Graduate’s rooftop restaurant, The Madison Blind.

We started with a cocktail while we looked over the menu.

The Madison Blind uses local ingredients so the menu changes often. We enjoyed the meatballs, cheese dip, a beet goat cheese salad with orange slices, and a black angus burger.

The desserts were too good to pass up. The Chocolate Banana Hand Pie, with vanilla ice cream, and the Profiteroles were scrumptious.

I always like dinner in hotel restaurants because I don’t have to get in a car and go anywhere after.

This was especially true as we were both exhausted for the day, and had much more to come in Madison.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Arriving in Madison, Wisconsin

It’s not often I get to combine both tennis and travel into one trip. I was happy when the opportunity came to do just that in Madison, Wisconsin.

I had been to Madison only once before, and that was quite a long time ago for the Celebration of American Distilling.

I only stayed for one night and didn’t get to see much of the city.

This trip was scheduled for three nights: two at the Graduate Madison and one at The Edgewater.

They are totally different accommodations and I was looking forward to seeing Madison from these completely different angles.

My friend Roberta came along with me.

Our first stop in the city was to check in at the Graduate Madison .

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t what we got.

The Graduate brand has truly unique hotels. They are very welcoming with large open lobbies.

They are also each uniquely remodeled to the (college) town they are located in.

Although my first instinct was modern, retro is probably a better explanation.

Everything was colorful and bright, but contemporary in the sense of convenience in connecting devices and getting work done.

I loved their open table set-up for Portage Pie, the coffee shop-like restaurant in the lobby.

Even the front desk was not like any other I had seen.

I also liked the furniture and artwork that had been chosen specifically for this hotel.

The rooms at The Graduate Hotel are also themed on the local college, the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

They are set up a bit like dorms, but certainly more spacious and convenient

Madison is a big college town. Having lived in Champaign, home of the University of Illinois, for eight years, I am not only used to the concept, I love it.

I went down to the university for a while to check out the tournament before Roberta picked me up and we headed downtown for dinner with Curt from the Visit Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Dinner was at a highly popular restaurant in Madison, Cento. It was warm and comforting, with a thoughtful cocktail list.

I began to wind down from the day of travel with a Mule Romano, made with Tito’s Vodka, Ramozzatii Romero, ginger beer, and mint. It was served in the traditional copper cup made for mules and stayed nice and cold.

We began with salads made with fresh, local ingredients. The main courses were equally well-prepared. The short rib was tender and delicious, and the gnocchi with butternut squash was amazing.

We managed to also save room for some sweet concoctions from their pastry chef.

After dinner, we walked around the beautiful downtown.  The capitol building in in the center and it is architecturally beautiful.

We went past the Elephant Chocolate Café and I made a note that I needed to stop by there before I left town, but we were ready to head back to

The Graduate Madison and rest up for another day in Madison.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Finishing Memphis at Big Cypress Lodge

It was our final day in Memphis, but we decided to leave in the evening so we’d have a full day to enjoy it.

Angela, Kylie, Brittany, and I woke up around 8:00. 

We were staying in Big Cypress Lodge, within the Bass Pro Shops Pyramid, and could hear the rustling of those getting the store ready below us.

We dressed and went downstairs for breakfast at Uncle Buck’s Fish Bowl. 

This nautical-themed restaurant has a saltwater aquarium as well as a 13-land bowling alley that gives the feeling of actually bowling underwater.

There wasn’t enough free time on our schedule for bowling, but we did enjoy the egg sandwiches and pancakes before our tour.

It’s hard to even begin to explain everything within this massive 535,000 square foot pyramid that houses Bass Pro Shops and Big Cypress Lodge, which itself has 103 rooms and suites.

We began the tour walking through the common areas of the lodge and saw one of the suites (the rest were all full). 

The accommodations were spread apart from both the store and the other rooms with a sense of “wilderness” in between, so much so that you could feel like you were outside.

When you looked down at Bass Pro Shops from the room level, it almost looked like an amusement park with its endless activities and sections.  

This was exactly what Johnny Morris, the company’s owner, had envisioned when he and friend Bill Dance, a Memphisnative, had first seen the pyramid.

We walked through the huge store, though “stores” is probably a more accurate description.

There is a shop for sunglasses, sections of apparel and accessories, plenty of home goods and pottery, large aquariums, an alligator habitat (yes, they are alive), an archery range, watersports, and the General Store, where you can buy homemade fudge, novelty snacks, and sauces.

The Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid also includes an interactive Ducks Unlimited Waterfowl Heritage Center and a lake where you can try boats out before you buy them.

That is a good basis of what you can find there, but I suggest spending a full day to get the true feel of this destination.

After checking out the store levels, we went back down to the main floor to get to The Lookout.

In order to get to the top of the Pyramid, you take the world’s tallest freestanding elevator (28 stories).

When you arrive at the top, you’ll find The Lookout restaurant and bar, with a giant circular aquarium in the middle. From there, you can go outside for some amazing views.

You can see three states from The Lookout – Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

After the tour, we got in the car and headed to the Memphis Zoo.  We had fun seeing all the animals, but the highlight was feeding the giraffes.

We all had a great time and I’d recommend this zoo as a good day trip for all ages, especially since they’ve added in the Zambezi River Hippo Camp, which explores the animals along this African River.

We left the zoo and headed back to Big Cypress Lodge to pack up our things. It had been an amazing trip and we will certainly be back to Memphis in the future.

Special thanks to Memphis Tourism for arranging such a comprehensive trip.