We all have to make trips for our family from time to time. Sometimes those trips are to places we don't really want to go, but this one wasn't. Madison, Wisconsin had earned itself a place in my heart thanks to the many visits my family made during my childhood. However, as I entered the adult world, my relatives began moving away to Milwaukee and beyond, and our family visits to Madison became a thing of the past. But, for whatever it was worth, I still had fond memories of Madison. I was hoping that something would pull me back here one day and, finally, something did—a wedding! 

I had about 48 hours to kill in Madison, and only about 6 or 7 of those were devoted to this wedding, so I had plenty of time to get out and see the sights. 

Here's everything you need to know about Madison in about 30 seconds... 



~ Madison In 30 Seconds ~

Madison is the second largest city in the state of Wisconsin, behind Milwaukee (whose true numbers are hard to gauge because it overlaps with Chicago so heavily). Madison has a population of about 253,000, although its metropolitan area is closer to half a million. It's also the capital city of Wisconsin and the home of the University of Wisconsin's main campus. UW is actually a massive university, so it is absolutely defining to the topography of this city—Madison is largely a college town. However, there's quite a bit more going on here than just Badgers games. In this article, we'll go through a few of the highlights from my time there, but first, a map for some context.... 



A Walk Down State Street 

State Street is pretty much the universal starting point for exploits in the city of Madison. The streets in the center of Madison make a series of squares, nested inside one another like Russian dolls, with the capital building as the center point (which you'll see if you zoom in on the map above). State Street is a small(er) pedestrian zone that cuts diagonally from UW campus, westward across these squares, eventually coming to a dead end at the stairs of the state house. It is the main downtown thoroughfare of Madison, and home to great number of festivities over the course of a calendar year. Most notably, every Halloween, hundreds of thousands of people make a pilgrimage to Madison to get shit-faced on State Street, turning this stretch of town into an absolute ZOO. 

During my walks down State Street, it was a beautiful summer day. Most of the UW student body was gone on break, leaving only the Madison locals and a skeleton crew of students taking summer classes. Here are a few choice pictures that I snapped. The modern-looking glass building is the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art—we'll circle back to that later, and we'll do the same for the state house, which you will see through the trees in the middle photograph... 



The Farmer's Market

At the end of State Street is the capital building, which actually turned out to be super cool, but we're not there yet. You see, every Saturday from April to November, starting at 6:15am sharp, Madison holds an amazing farmers market on the 4 city blocks around the state house. During the harsh Wisconsin winter, this farmer's market is held indoors, but in the glorious summer months, there are 300+ stands that encircle the state house every weekend. Officially, it's called the Dane County Farmer's Market and it's actually the largest producers-only farmers market in America. That means that every stand here is full of people who actually cultivated and created the food that they are selling, which is pretty cool. 

At the end of our walk down state street, we were quickly swept up the torrent of people that were orbiting the state house, browsing their way through the farmer's market. I was on another planet with my camera—I couldn't stop taking pictures. It was so picturesque and encouraging. This is the Midwest that I know and love. Among the vendors were families, children, seniors, immigrants in traditional cultural garb, amish people, and an old man selling honey with a honey-comb hat on his head. Here are a few of my favorite shots... 

Nearly every stand we passed was selling some sort of home-grown, non-GMO fruit or vegetable. I've got some pretty negative things to say about the state of food in North America so, to me, this was a ray of light. There sheer volume of strawberries was staggering. I was feeling healthier just by being there, and that's an unfamiliar feeling these days! I would love to my weekly grocery shopping at a place like this. Here are a few shots of some of the organic goodies that were being sold here... 

Being an out-of-towner, I didn't exactly have a kitchen at my disposal to run home to and cook some lunch. With no way to ride the healthy wave I was on, I resorted to something not-so-healthy. When we passed the tent of a local bakery selling fresh-made sweets and pastries, I crumbled like a pork pie and bought myself something sugary. YOLO? 

Yup—that's the Madison (Dane) farmer's market! Let me tell you, I wouldn't mind coming back here some time with a refrigerated truck so I could make the 10 hour drive back to my kitchen without the food going bad. 

So much of what I saw here put a big smile on my face, but none were quite as captivating as the troop of elderly women holding a knitted sign that said "RAGING GRANNIES." They were situated on the steps of the state house, performing a set of political protest songs in the folk tradition of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Bob Dylan. Except they were singing as sort of an amateur choir, which was... interesting. But these are strange time we're living in, so it's the perfect time for a few good protest songs. Nobody writes 'em like they used to. 

I am always so encouraged when I spend time with the progressive people of Middle America. Madison is a classic college town, making it tiny blue bubble in a sea of red. I'm sure you've heard Trump brag about how he got Wisconsin, right? (*rolls eyes*) Politically, it's been a very conservative state in recent years. Governor Scott Walker is a poster child for all that is wrong with the GOP, but nowhere is the true identity and spirit of Madison more evident than inside the halls of the state house... (you'll see what I'm talking about soon) 



The State House

Standing 284 feet and 5 inches tall, Wisconsin's current state house was completed in 1917 for a grand total of $7.25 million, after the previous state house burned down. I feel like a lot the "previous" old buildings around the world ended up burning down somehow. Anyway, this building houses both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature, as well as the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Office of the Governor. So this is where pretty much all the "magic" happens. During our visit, Republican Scott Walker was the governor of Wisconsin, but at a glance, Madison seemed pretty void of the earmarks of the right wing. In fact, there was some aggressively progressive rhetoric hanging on the walls inside the state house. That came as a surprise to me.

Here are a few choice shots from outside the state house. I was about 2 seconds too late to catch a picture of this Indian woman squirting water in her husbands mouth as if he were a baby, so that was a disappointment, but I did my best. 

It's free to enter the state house, and if you are ever in Madison, I would highly recommend that you do so. Honestly, we only went in because we were looking for something to do next. I wasn't expecting much, but this place actually turned out to be super cool inside! Almost nothing was off-limits or closed off. We had free reign to explore as we wished, and there was quite a bit of exploring to be done. This building is huge, the architecture is beautiful, and the statues of badgers were a funny touch. Here's a few shots I liked from inside the state house... 

And finally, we arrived at the the political puzzle piece that I've been alluding to. Posted in serveral places around the state house were massive signs like this one... 

If you can't read it, it says the following: 

"Trump, Ryan, Johnson, Walker, and feckless G.O.P. flunkies aren't coming for your guns. Instead, they're coming for your: Social Security; Medicare; Medicaid; Medical Research; Cheaper prescriptions; Equal rights for ALL; Freedom to protest; World-wide respect; Freedom to travel; National parks and monuments; Wildlife; Clean air; Clean water; Safe food; Food stamps; Disabled affordable housing; VA hospitals; Public schools; Student loans; Veteran's programs; Homeland security; Voting Rights; Pension funds; College grants; Post Offices; AND OUR CONSTITUTION" 

Aside from some liberal usage of capitalization and semi-colons that irked the writer in me, this sign isn't incorrect. It might be a little over-the-top, but mostly, I was just surprised. When they say "Walker," they are talking about Governor Scott Walker, whose office is in this very building. I wasn't sure if the 1st amendment would still still apply in government buildings like this, but I do know one thing: as long as there are still people in Madison with the balls to hang these kinds of signs up in the halls of the State House, there's still hope for America. I had to chuckle when I saw it. 



The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

Earlier, in talking about State Street, I said that we would circle back to explore the giant glass building in that photo gallery. And now it's time. This building is the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, or M.M.O.C.A. for short. It's a pretty freaking cool building, and the it's FREE to enter, so there's really no excuse for not paying this place a visit. However, maybe give them a small donation, because that's how they keep the lights on. Here are a few shots from the outside... 

MMOCA officially moved to this amazing new building in April of 2006. It was designed by world-renowned architect Cesar Pelli, and it has 51,500 square feet for art exhibitions, a 7,100 square foot rooftop garden and restaurant, as well as a 230-seat lecture hall, and a whole lot of other stuff. Once you get into the belly of this building, it's not hard to get lost. Be sure to check out their visitor information page to double check their hours. 

This museum actually attracts some notable exhibits, but if you're not an appreciator of the visual arts, the building itself will be enough to keep you interested. Above are a few of my favorite pictures of the space, but they don't include that roof-top restaurant I mentioned. If you're looking for an areal view of Madison, this restaurant might be your best bet. It's no CN Tower, but it will give you a great view of State Street from above, as well as a cool view of the State House over the rooftops. It's a regret that I didn't get to come here at night to take some pictures, but I ended up seeing something quite a bit better instead... 



After The Storm...

So I was in Madison for a(n outdoor) wedding. It was beautiful that day, but storm clouds were visibly brewing for much of the ceremony. After the vows had been said, it didn't take long for a cold wind to blow in and the sky overhead to darken. We ran for our tent as the heavens opened up and a cold, windy, torrential downpour began. We had the reception safe under our tent, huddled as close towards the middle as we could, away from the raging storm outside. But then, as quickly as it had began, the rain stopped. And outside... well, you'll just have to see it for yourself:

I'm no expert, but if this isn't a good omen, then I don't know what is. They got some incredible wedding photos out of this! Having left my actual camera in my room, I just took this photo with my iPhone's "panoramic" setting. All things considered, I think it turned out pretty damn well. 

So congrats to Liz and Trevor on tying the knot!

And thanks for the excuse to spend some quality time in Madison.