I recently had the opportunity to drive up to Madison, Wisconsin (despite every Hawkeye bone in my body) and visit my friend before she embarks on her study abroad trip. And I hate to admit it: Madison is pretty RADison.
I started up on the drive thinking Madison would be small and not nearly as charming as Iowa City, but after a couple of hours of driving (and an unwanted detour through Illinois!) I found myself in thick traffic approaching the lakes.
Madison is actually on an isthmus between two lakes, with most of the city crammed in there. They somehow fit the state capitol, downtown, and the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus all on the strip there. Here’s the view from the capitol side:
Needless to say, the city is pretty impressive. Walking through downtown, there was no shortage of hipster coffee shops, restaurants, and stores over the slightly rolling streets. The skyline is also relatively even, as the law there mandates no buildings be taller than the capitol building’s dome. Speaking of which, my friend’s mom works in the capitol, and offered us a fantastic tour of the building.
The biggest highlight of the tour was being able to actually walk up inside the dome to the very top! Most people can only view it from the bottom lobby, as seen in the next picture.
We had a larger group of people (8 or 9 or so) and set off around 9am to climb the stairs to the top. An administrator had to unlock the stairs for us and ascend with us to the top, and we all started single-file up a narrow spiral staircase to the top.
The stairs were tight for most of the trip, but it only took around 10 minutes to get all the way to the top. On the inside, there was quite the view looking down onto the lower levels and floor of the lobby. (the fishnet-wire is spread to keep balloons from damaging the painting overhead)
On the outside, you’re greeted with a 360º balcony-style walkaround, surrounding this higher tower that reminds you of a lighthouse on the inside.
The capitol was also designed in collaboration with the city, and its four wings each point off in the direction of streets to the rest of the city:
And after the amazing view of downtown, we got to walk around the building and explore different wings.
We even went and toured the governor’s office, starting in the conference room out front. One of the most heavily-decorated rooms in the entire capitol (if not the most), Governor Walker often signs bills and holds press releases here.
And inside his office, somehow still very accessible to the public, Governor Walker had the cabinets and walls decorated with all kinds of memorabilia and, of course, guns! Apart from that, his office was actually one of the more modest rooms in the capitol, drawing a stark contrast from the conference room adjacent to the office.
Madison is somewhat bigger than Des Moines, but has much of the same feel Iowa City does. It’s a very liberal place, especially with the college downtown, and even follows in the footsteps of our very own Old Capitol (although a bit bigger than ours). Although you’d have to deal with all the Badgers fans and Iowa hate, downtown seems like an amazing place to live and work. If not, there’s always time for a quick drive up and visit!