Madison´s Mile O`Fun
A quick and quirky green getaway isn’t far away
Sure, it feels like traveling to another country, but you can leave the passport at home, because you can get in and out of Madison without it. â€śThe Athens of the Midwest,â€ť as locals would once tell you, or â€ś64 square miles surrounded by reality,â€ť as former Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus observed, is well known and certainly is a trip. Even better, you can experience a good slice of Mad City at very low cost.
The city center is built on a narrow strip of land (the isthmus) separating Lake Monona from Lake Mendota. Streets run in circles and squares, so visitors can easily get discombobulated. Make a call to the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau (800-373-6376 or www.visitmadison. com) about 10 days before you go. Theyâ€™ll mail you a free guide with helpful maps and detailed information. Ask for the free â€śGreen Guide,â€ť a publication that highlights the eco-friendly aspects of Madison, ranked in the â€śTop 10 Green Citiesâ€ť by Country Home magazine.
When you get to town, head directly for Capitol Square to enjoy a mile-long getaway called State Street. This outdoor mall connects (or separates, as some see it) the Capitol, the stateâ€™s seat of power, from the University of Wisconsin, academia, the brain trust (or deep tunnel of loony ideas, some say). Whatever, even those strapped for cash can enjoy the walk.
Consult with High-Ranking
Officials Chances are, youâ€™ve never visited your state representative or senator. Maybe youâ€™d recognize him or her on TV or campaigning at your door, but much of the traffic to their offices in Madison comes from various interest groups. Why not add some variety to their day? For fun, call in advance and ask if you can drop in to say hello and see the Capitol building. Theyâ€™ll likely be delighted to connect you to a tour (free, offered daily). Your â€śrep guideâ€ť may even walk you around, show you a few chambers and introduce you to other officials. If you have an issue youâ€™d like to discuss, feel free to share your opinion. Be calm, avoid shouting and make no threatsâ€”it isnâ€™t helpful. If you donâ€™t know who your representative is, call the legislative hotline at 800-362-9472.
If you get to the Capitol before Jan. 2, 2008, youâ€™ll see the â€śHoliday Treeâ€ť that, by the time you read this, may be called â€śThe Christmas Tree,â€ť due to a pending legislative resolution. It is decorated with hundreds of ornaments made by children throughout the state. Thereâ€™s also a Menorah celebrating Hanukkah (through Dec. 13), a Christmas message from Madison Baptists and a â€śseasonal signâ€ť provided by Freedom from Religion members. To check out other events at the Capitol, go to www.doa.state.wi.us/events.asp?locid=4.
Head for the Museums
Wander out of the Capitol to the corner of State, Carroll and Mifflin streets, where youâ€™ll find the Wisconsin Veterans Museum (admission is free). Current exhibits include a look at life in the deadly I Corps in Vietnam and a â€śPets in the Militaryâ€ť retrospective. Meet famous Old Abe the War Eagle and the lesser-known Bruin the Bear, who traveled with Civil War soldiers. If youâ€™re looking for an unusual gift for someone whose relative served in the Civil War, you can track official service records at the museum and have a detailed, ornate commemorative Certificate of Service printed for about $7.
Across the street is the Wisconsin Historical Museum, where youâ€™ll find one of the finest Wisconsin-themed gift shops in the state (free admission). The museum is well worth a visit, too (suggested donation is $4/adult, $10/family). The â€śWorld Series Wisconsinâ€ť exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of the Bravesâ€™ World Series win and the 25th anniversary of the Brewers 1982 American League Championship. The museum is closed Sundays and Mondays.
Just down State Street is the new $205 million Overture Center with the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Walk through the center and visit the James Watrous Gallery of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters (free/donations welcome, 608-265-2500, www.wisconsinacademy.org). Through Dec. 30 it features Wisconsin artist Aaron Bohrod. The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA, free admission, www.mmoca.org, 608-257-0158) is the real highlight and features changing exhibits. â€śIndividual Experience: The Photographs of Ida Wymanâ€ť and â€śStephen Hilyard: The Beautiful Lieâ€ť are available for viewing into 2008.
Shoppers may now be turned loose to explore the joys of State Street. The MMoCAgift shop is a great place to start. Walk toward campus to find more than 200 unusual gift shops, coffeehouses, new and used bookstores, galleries, music shops, jewelry stores, UW â€śBucky-wearâ€ť and all the provisions a college student might desire. When you get to Lake Street, take a short walk to University Avenue and then head west to the Chazen Museum (free admission, www.chazen.wisc.edu, 608-263- 2246). Ranked with the finest small art museums in the country, Chazen has several outstanding specialties, including a stunning collection of Japanese prints. The current exhibition, â€śCompetition and Collaboration: Japanese Prints of the Utagawa School,â€ť which features 120 woodblock prints, will be on display through Jan. 6.
Drop by the Doylesâ€™ House
One diversion you should consider is about 2 miles from Capitol Square. If youâ€™ve ever longed to see the house of Gov. Jim Doyle and first lady Jessica (99 Cambridge Road on Madisonâ€™s northeast side in Maple Bluff), this is a great time to do so. Theyâ€™re gracious hosts and have arranged public tours during the holidays on Saturday, Dec. 15, from noon to 2 p.m., and on Dec. 17 and 19 from 1 to 3 p.m. The guided 25- to 30-minute tours include a brief history of the executive residence, with a view of the main rooms on the first floor. A December tradition is to have several specially decorated trees. There is no charge, but guests are asked to bring a new or nearly new childrenâ€™s book to donate to youth organizations. Groups of 20 or more need a reservation (608-246-5501 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org). The residence is handicap accessible.
There are some 60 restaurants on State Street and more around Capitol Square. A few current pleasers: Frida Mexican Grill (117 State St.), Marigold Kitchen (off the Square, 118 S. Pinckney St.), the Old Fashioned (on the Square, 23 N. Pinckney St.), Nadiaâ€™s (508 State St.), Caf?ontinental (off the Square at 108 King St.) and the Nitty Gritty at 223 Frances St.
Comfortable lodging is available at dozens of hotels and motels. On Dec. 15, the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau will publish a list of special winter getaway packages at www.visitmadison.com. Theyâ€™re popular and tend to sell fast, so take a look and book early. Highly recommended as a Capitol Square headquarters is the Concourse Hotel & Governorâ€™s Club (www.concoursehotel.com, 800-356- 8293), especially for VIP and politician watching. A family favorite is the new Holiday Inn Suites and Waterpark (www.wiscohotels.com, 888-522-9472) on the west side of town.