An Unofficial Travel Guide: Part 1, Madison WI

We don’t travel like most people do. When Zoltan and I go on a trip, there’s usually some music playing, or other related business involved, and our “holidays” end up resembling tour more than what most people would consider a holiday. I’ve come to love the spontaneous nature of our trips, and all the unexpected things we find ourselves doing. So this isn’t really a travel guide, but rather a few highlights from Madison, some fun spots we’ve found, and how we make travelling work for us. And hopefully it will be an inspiration for you for any trips you’re planning on taking this summer!

The whole reason we ended up travelling to Madison and Chicago was our friend Michael’s wedding. We met Michael when playing at another wedding in Pennsylvania, and got to be good friends with him over the years of touring and meeting up in random places, so it was such an honour that he wanted us to be part of marrying his bride Eva.

We flew into Chicago on Thursday afternoon from Calgary, and rented a car for the first time (usually we have a vehicle or we use transit/Uber) and drove two hours north to Madison. The capital city is small, and is tucked between two lakes, Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. It’s a university town with lots of parks and bike paths everywhere!

We had a whole day to kill before the wedding, and the weather was beautiful, so we really just flew by the seat of our pants all day, and it turned out beautifully! The guy at the hotel we were staying at told us about a farmer’s market in Sun Prairie, just north of Madison, so we started our journey there and picked up some cheese curds (we were in America’s dairyland after all) and local honeycomb, and then after looking for garage sales and not finding much, we decided to drive to downtown Madison and check out the city. On our way downtown we found a few garage sales, but it was mostly clothing and household goods, and nothing really caught our eye. The last one we went to was quite small, just a man and woman selling some random home goods, a few interesting pieces, and then a table of antique jewelry caught my eye. And not just antique jewelry you’d see in your grandmother’s jewelry box, these were large pieces, necklaces, rings, belts and more, all from various countries in the middle east. One piece stood out to me, a beautiful Afghani silver necklace with a triangle bloodstone. The guy started telling us about his travels to the middle east, and how he used to sell these amazing pieces full time, but him and his partner were moving to the west coast. He sold me the necklace for $35, and we chatted for a while about travelling and our affinity for antiques.

After that, we continued downtown and found a giant farmer’s market surrounding the capitol! We arrived near the tail end but we had a great time walking around and checking out the local pottery, jewelry, art, flowers, baked goods and produce. Farmer’s markets are such a great way to get to know a city, and it felt like the best way to kick off a holiday. We grabbed some fruit smoothies and drove around for a while, with only a complimentary map as our guide, and and found ourselves at the University of Madison Arboretum, a beautiful piece of land with a variety of ecological systems. In other words, trees, beautiful flowers, ponds, walking trails, and the perfect way to round out our day. We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking through nature, and hanging out with a couple of ducks in the sun.

It amazed me that even though we had no idea what we were going to do with our day, we were able to discover such wonderful people and places. Sometimes it’s nice to have a plan and a goal of places to go and things to accomplish, but sometimes spontaneity makes for the most pleasant and unexpected adventures. You never know what you might find when you just let things happen. NOTE: If you decide to adopt this model for an upcoming trip, I would suggest to NOT have your phone available. It makes things a lot more interesting when you don’t have Google Maps to direct you to places and give you information. Asking someone for directions can be a great experience! 🙂

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In a nutshell:

Madison Farmer’s Market – every Saturday from 6:30am-2pm

University of Madison Arboretum – a beautiful place to spend the afternoon when you need a little bit of fresh air

Ella’s Deli and Ice Cream Parlour – probably the most over-stimulating place ever. There’s a carousel out front and the most unique collection of decorations inside. Definitely a great place to stop for an ice cream cone.

Next I’ll be chronicling our adventures in Chicago…stay tuned!

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