Madison, WI

Madison or “Mad City”, as it is better known by the locals, is the capital of Wisconsin. With a population of 233,200, it is the second largest city in the state, behind Milwaukee. Madison was founded in 1836 and is named after our fourth President, James Madison. It is unique in many ways, one of which is that it sits on an isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona.

Terry lived in this clean, vibrant city about 30 years ago and was excited to see how it had changed during his time away.  I was seeing it with fresh eyes, having never been here before but anxious to see it, given all I have heard.  It did not disappoint me in the least and, except for the temps in the winter, which even the locals say are difficult to bear at times, it is a very livable city.  It consistently ranks near the top of the best places to live, with the city’s low unemployment rate being a draw.  Madison also ranks second in the nation, according to Forbes Magazine, in the “Top 20 Places to Educate Your Child” category.  For a larger city, it has repeatedly been named one of “America’s Safest Cities”.

We stayed at a lovely little inn for a couple of nights, Ruby Marie B&B.  We chose this location as it allowed us to walk everywhere, with bike paths along Lake Monona right outside our door and downtown a few blocks away.  Ruby Marie’s opened as a hotel in 1873 and was used as a railroad hotel.  The Wilson street area, where this B&B sits, was mainly a German community in the 19th century and still retains that flavor.  It has been renovated by the current owner, with all the original woodwork retained.

Our first lunch in Madison took up to the Old Fashioned, which is a local haunt, serving wonderful salads and sandwiches.  It sits across the street from the capitol building so that is where we ventured after a leisurely lunch.

This grand building is the largest state capitol, excluding that which is in Washington, DC.  It is the only capitol built on an isthmus and can be viewed from most anywhere within Madison, due to its being situated near the high point of the isthmus.  The existing structure was erected between the years 1906 and 1917, being the third capitol building in Madison, the second having been devastated in a fire.  This majestic granite building stands over 200 feet tall and has the only granite dome in the United States.  It showcases 43 varieties of stone from around the world, hand-carved furniture and glass mosaics.  A mural entitled “Resources of Wisconsin” graces the ceiling of the rotunda.

Rotunda Ceiling

After a lengthy tour of the capitol, we headed off to State Street, probably the most noted street in the city, with much of it open to foot traffic and bicycles only.  Madison is a very bike-friendly city, rivaling the likes of Portland OR.

State Street runs for several blocks and consists of countless funky and boutique clothing stores, microbreweries and bars, and more ethnic restaurants than I have seen in a city in a long time.  We enjoyed a hearty, fragrant Afghan soup, bread and tasty dipping sauces for our first evening meal.

On our way back to the B&B we encountered a young man and his dog.  He was playing an upright piano (very well I might add) and a sign was posted stating that he was traveling across the US, hoping to inspire people, through his music, to follow their deepest desires.  His website, entitled tells his story.

Dotan Negrin and His Little Friend

We wrapped up our day with a visit to a German pub next to our B&B, to imbibe in a couple of microbrews.

Terry and I both enjoy the beauty of gardens so we decided to check out Olbrich Botanical Gardens, covering 16 acres, with upwards of 12 separate gardens and a conservatory.  The textures and colors of the gardens, along with the babbling brooks and the Thai pavilion made the trip worthwhile.  Enjoy a few of the pictures that we took.

Thai Pavilion

The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.  This is what we encountered when we left the botanical gardens and entered their parking lot.  You think you know someone after 20 years of marriage but I would have never guessed that this sight would have caused the reaction that it did in Terry.  I think in some respects this may have been the highlight of his trip to Madison.  I was beginning to wonder about this man, seemingly cultured, who appeared to be so enthralled with the Oscar Mayer wienermobile.  I certainly remember the Oscar Mayer commercials as a kid and seeing pictures of the wienermobile but I can’t say that I was exhibiting the same emotions as my husband.  It wasn’t until Terry told me that he emailed this picture to our friend Les and she had a similar reaction that I am now feeling a little fragile about my own childhood.  What meaningful experience did I miss early in life?

Perhaps I was just focused on our next stop, Gail Abrosius Chocolatier.

 Gail specializes in dark chocolate delicacies only and they are like the food of the gods.  She has received notoriety from the Foot Network and has had an honorable mention in the Oprah Magazine, not to mention a wall full of other local awards that this woman has received.  We spent a lengthy amount of time there, inhaling the rich aromas and sampling the homemade Mexican chocolate gelato.  Of course we had to walk away with many varieties of her chocolate creations as well.  Since dark chocolate has such great antioxidant value, we were feeling pretty healthy when we walked out of her store.

A stroll along the Lake Monona waterfront and another State Street venture, along with dinner at Bukara, a popular East African restaurant, rounded out our day.

A visit to Madison is not complete without walking the grounds of the University of Wisconsin, which we did the following day.  Bascom Hall, seen below, is the main administration building of this esteemed campus and was named after John Bascom, former president of the university.

 Many of these buildings date back to the late 1800’s.  North Hall, the first university building, completed in 1851, is still in use.

Noteworthy also is Babcock ice cream, a homemade delicacy created in the dairy of the agricultural school, and served up daily in the Student Union.

Madison offers such a wide array of gifts to locals and visitors alike.  It is a cultural capital, with free jazz and orchestral concerts in the summer, as well as being a biking mecca.  Thank goodness for the miles of bike paths that provided us with exercise each day, to assist in burning some of the calories that we consumed while here.  My only regret is that we were not here on a Saturday to enjoy the farmer’s market that is held in the downtown capitol area.  I am told it is magnificent.

From Madison, we are taking a week-long respite in Door County.  Stay tuned for my thoughts on this enchanting part of Wisconsin.

8 thoughts on “Madison, WI

  • Isn’t it wonderful to discover beautiful areas in your own country? That’s what I would love to do, if only I could leave Yellowstone. Is Terry singing, “Oh, I wish I was an Oscar Meyer weiner, that is what I’d really like to be, for if I were an Oscar Meyer weiner, everyone would want a bite of me.”? I remember the weinermobiles, but that looks like a newer, sleeker model. Looking forward to your next post!

    • I apologize to all of Lu’s avid readers. The last line in the Oscar Mayer jingle should be: “then everyone would be in love with me.” I must have remembered my kid’s version.

      • Joan,

        You really had me wondering. First, I did not remember the excitement of the Wienermobile as a kid, then I really did not remember the jingle the way you recited it! I thought you were just being cute.


  • Great post! I, too, remember the Oscar Meyer wienermobile from childhood, but the chocolate shop sounds like much more fun.


    Kevin and Erin

  • All I ever hear from Les about Mad City is how much the students love to drink! But it looks beautiful. i love gardens too, and it looks like a pleasant afternoon strolling through them, munching on some chocolate for energy, and thinking about a little german food in the evening. love that b&b you stayed at. is that where the desk with the pigeon holes was?

    also, it’s been a long time since i heard the word ‘isthmus.’ good going lu!


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