Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A snapshot of Madison, Wisconsin’s capital city January 27, 2020

Wisconsin’s capitol sits atop a hill in the heart of downtown Madison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.


MADISON, WISCONSIN, is, if anything, a capital city of vast green spaces. At least that’s my observation after visiting several times. Two of my three adult children now live there. So I’m exploring, getting to know this place that doesn’t feel all that much like a large metro area.


Downtown Madison, around the capitol, is one busy place on a Saturday morning during the Farmers’ Market. The way some of the streets come together reminds me of the squares in greater Boston. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.


I’m comfortable here without skyscrapers defining the cityscape. The lovely domed capitol, set atop a hill, centers the walkable downtown. I’ve been to the Dane County Farmers’ Market there, albeit on a rainy Saturday that didn’t lend itself to lingering. We ducked inside the capitol to avoid the rain.


Randy stops to check a photo he took inside the Olbrich Botanical Gardens conservatory. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.


Madison edges two lakes. Parks along the lakes and elsewhere make this city feel welcoming to someone like me who prefers open spaces. I’ve already visited Olbrich Botanical Gardens three times.


Me, thrilled to see my first Andy Warhol original. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Miranda, December 2019.


And last trip here, I toured the massive Chazen Museum of Art where I delighted in Andy Warhol’s depiction of Marilyn Monroe. The museum, on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, has no admission fee but a donation box.


Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.


But something else grabbed my eye while out and about—a pedestrian with a bicycle wheel strapped to his back. Madison is a bike-friendly place with trails throughout the city. So seeing this should not have surprised me. But, still, it did and caused me to laugh. As a back seat passenger in my daughter’s car, I didn’t have the best spot to get a good photo. But you get the idea.


During an October visit, I walked along this recreational/bike trail near my daughter’s home. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.


I love this aspect of Madison, this embracing of bicyclists on a great trail system.

TELL ME: Have you been to Madison? What would you recommend I see next visit? I’ve been to the capitol, dined at several restaurants, patronized a cheese shop, but have yet to visit a brewery.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


10 Responses to “A snapshot of Madison, Wisconsin’s capital city”

  1. We used to go to Madison when we lived in Freeport, IL fairly often. It was a little bit over an hour drive and a nice one. There was always lots to do and see and we loved the college town atmosphere. We also loved going to the Swiss Colony outlet and getting bags of petit fours for super cheap. One of my more vivid memories was seeing a guy drumming on a huge water cooler jug for donations. How’s that for a memory from probably almost 30 years ago? 🙂

  2. Jennifer Hernandez Says:

    Love Madison!! I went to grad school there 25+ years ago. As you’ve already discovered, the Farmers’ Market at the capitol and the restaurants on State Street are wonderful. I especially enjoyed the variety of international choices. My favorite place in Madison, though, is the Memorial Union Lakeside Terrace on the UW-Madison campus. I spent many summer mornings there with a scone, a coffee, and a crossword, enjoying the breeze off Lake Mendota, the sunshine, and the people-watching. In the evening, the brats and beer from the Rathskeller make the perfect accompaniment, and there is often live music on the Terrace. Another must-have from the UW campus is the ice cream from Babcock Hall. Wisconsin is the dairy state, after all! Off campus, one restaurant that sticks in my memory is Monty’s Blue Plate Diner on the near east side. I’m not a vegetarian, but I always ordered the black bean burger. It’s that good.

  3. Littlesundog Says:

    This bike-friendly city reminded me of Berlin, from my trip to Germany two years ago. Bicycles are a major source of transportation there. I loved all of the trees in your photos. Somehow, a beautiful capitol building or downtown area lack interest without those giant oxygen-producing plants!

  4. valeriebollinger Says:

    When I think of Madison I think Olbrich Gardens and the Farmer’s Market. I want to explore the bike trails someday, and tour the capitol.

  5. I dont believe I’ve been to Madison…I’m sure another wonderful city to explore.

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