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Trip Report Madison, WI/Chicago trip report –PART 1

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Here is the Madison leg of our tour, posted on the Wisconsin forum. I’ll continue with Chicago in a part 2, posted on the Illinois forum.

BACKGROUND ON US: We’re a Brooklyn, NYC mom-daughter team, me 47 years old and she, a 16-year-old junior. We went to Madison, WI/Chicago for a 5-night trip to check out 2 schools – Univ. of Wisconsin @ Madison and Univ of Chicago. Neither of us had been to the Midwest before! On Wed. night, Oct. 8, we flew into Chicago, picked up a rental car from O’Hare and headed straight to Wisconsin.

ON THE ROAD: Had a really easy, breezy 2.5 hour trip to Madison with good directions from MapQuest. Thanks to Fodorites, we were armed with advice on where to eat along the way if we couldn’t wait to Madison. And, we couldn’t, so we diligently looked out for Fodorite-recommended Culver’s, good, regional fast food. Didn’t see any in Illinois, and finally, needing a break and hungry we asked the toll booth attendant near the Wisconsin border where we could find one. The woman actually called someone to get a good location for us near the highway. And none of the cars behind us beeped. These jaded New Yorkers were impressed! 15 minutes later, we were happily “Culverized” with a delish meal of banana milkshake, fried Norwegian cod, chicken tenders and fries. Mmmm mmm. Back on the road, as we entered Wisconsin, we saw a million Culver’s!

BEST WESTERN INNTOWNER IN MADISON: We chose this hotel because it seemed close to the campus and we had BW points to spend. Fodorites were correct in pointing out it wasn’t too close to the main campus, after all, but with the rental car, we were fine. It was a short 7 min car ride to main campus and all the Madison happenings. The hotel staff was very kind and accommodating, and the room was clean and comfortable. Nice pool, too, though we never got around to using it. Warning: Very expensive ‘convenience’ store food in the lobby.

DRIVING IN MADISON: There was a free shuttle from the hotel to campus that we almost took because the clerk warned us about parking near campus. My husband intervened on the phone that night: “Honey, you’re a New Yorker and you find street parking in Manhattan, you’ll be fine.” And, he was right! Metered parking literally in front of the place the campus tour started. And, while the streets were a little diagonally confusing near State Street, with a good map, a good sense of humor, some patience (and A LOT of change for the meters), we were glad to have the car. It served as headquarters for our coats (by midday it was very warm) and our purchases (a terrific Goodwill and used bookstore on State Street!) so we didn’t have to schlep stuff around. Those not comfortable with city driving, keep in mind that we are, but really in Madison it’s city driving at its tamest.

UW@MADISON: A great school with excellent academics and a plethora of study opportunities. Architecturally, sort of a mishmash and not that much remarkable, but the campus take advantage of its beautiful location – an isthmus between two lovely lakes. The union has a terraced eating area right on the lake and many dorms are strung along lovely green areas by the lake. Very fresh-faced, Midwestern feel to the kids (not that much diversity, really, coming from NYC) with a lefty, hippy edge (which we like!). Kids seem really happy there and have tremendous school spirit (esp when it comes to their sports teams). All in all, not sure if it’s a perfect fit for my NYC bi-cultural kid, but I’d be surprised if she doesn’t end up applying there and I’d be surprised that should she go there, she wouldn’t have a very happy 4 years.

MADISON EATS: The Curve, a greasy spoon for breakfast recommended by the young hotel clerk that was cheap and good and full of Midwestern atmosphere. My goodness, they grow them big and strong in the Midwest. We felt like we were in the land of giants! And patriotic, too. They served “American” fries. Without a hint of irony, as my daughter pointed out.

Babcock ice cream at the Univeristy’s union. Mmmmm good. Wisconsin does dairy products like it’s nobody’s business and this hyper-creamy, custardy ice cream made by the Ag school on campus didn’t disappoint. We had it after a typical student lunch at the Union (which we always do on campus tours, btw!).

Cheese curds. Who knew they were so yummy? And so squeaky!?

The Parthenon on State Street, a Greek fast food joint with excellent cheap eats.

Lots of cafes and such along State Street (which was a ton of fun) for coffees and teas.

On to Chicago! I’ll post that in a part 2 so it doesn’t get too burdensome! I’ll post that part on the Chicago forum.

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