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Madison´s Mile O`Fun

A quick and quirky green getaway isn’t far away

Dec. 12, 2007
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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. “The Athens of the Midwest,” as locals would once tell you, or “64 square miles surrounded by reality,” 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. They’ll mail you a free guide with helpful maps and detailed information. Ask for the free “Green Guide,” a publication that highlights the eco-friendly aspects of Madison, ranked in the “Top 10 Green Cities” 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 state’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, you’ve never visited your state representative or senator. Maybe you’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. They’ll likely be delighted to connect you to a tour (free, offered daily). Your “rep guide” may even walk you around, show you a few chambers and introduce you to other officials. If you have an issue you’d like to discuss, feel free to share your opinion. Be calm, avoid shouting and make no threats—it isn’t helpful. If you don’t know who your representative is, call the legislative hotline at 800-362-9472.

Celebrate Chrismukkah

If you get to the Capitol before Jan. 2, 2008, you’ll see the “Holiday Tree” that, by the time you read this, may be called “The Christmas Tree,” due to a pending legislative resolution. It is decorated with hundreds of ornaments made by children throughout the state. There’s also a Menorah celebrating Hanukkah (through Dec. 13), a Christmas message from Madison Baptists and a “seasonal sign” 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 you’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 “Pets in the Military” retrospective. Meet famous Old Abe the War Eagle and the lesser-known Bruin the Bear, who traveled with Civil War soldiers. If you’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 you’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 “World Series Wisconsin” exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of the Braves’ 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. “Individual Experience: The Photographs of Ida Wyman” and “Stephen Hilyard: The Beautiful Lie” are available for viewing into 2008.

Get Shopping

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 “Bucky-wear” 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, “Competition and Collaboration: Japanese Prints of the Utagawa School,” which features 120 woodblock prints, will be on display through Jan. 6.

 Drop by the Doyles’ House

One diversion you should consider is about 2 miles from Capitol Square. If you’ve ever longed to see the house of Gov. Jim Doyle and first lady Jessica (99 Cambridge Road on Madison’s northeast side in Maple Bluff), this is a great time to do so. They’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 children’s book to donate to youth organizations. Groups of 20 or more need a reservation (608-246-5501 or e-mail vicki.heymann@wisconsin.gov). The residence is handicap accessible.

Eat Well

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.), Nadia’s (508 State St.), Caf?ontinental (off the Square at 108 King St.) and the Nitty Gritty at 223 Frances St.

Sleep Cheap?

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. They’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 & Governor’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.


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