Letters to Liona: Hello from Madison!

Liona is my 9-year-old niece. She lives in rural Wisconsin where I grew up, and like a lot of starry-eyed country kids, she's fascinated by cities and dreams about traveling and seeing the world. I wanted to find a way to share my journey with Liona and give her a little snapshot of what life is like in different places, so I've decided to write her a letter each month. Thought you might enjoy following along, too.

Dear Liona,

Hello from beautiful, green, sailboat-filled, lake-tastic, summery Madison! I can't believe I'm already here in city #8 on my 12 Places Project (only four more months — and places — left to go!). 

I went to college in Madison and lived here for more than 10 years, and I've been really excited to come back and visit. Madison is such a cool little city, and there are so many things I want to show you...so, let's go!

We can even ride these neat red bikes around to explore. :)

Madison is sometimes called "The City of Lakes" because it was built around four lakes: Lake Mendota, Lake Monona, Lake Waubesa, and Lake Kegonsa. All four lakes are connected to the Yahara River, which flows into the Rock River...which then goes all the way to the Mississippi River.

Downtown Madison is located on an isthmus, or narrow strip of land, between two of the lakes (Lake Mendota and Lake Monona). 

Having all these lakes means there are always loads of things to do on or near the water — like swimming, sailing, or just dipping your toes in!

Madison is the capital of Wisconsin, and is also the state's second-largest city (Milwaukee is the biggest, with more than twice as many people).

The official state motto is just one word: "Forward!" It reminds everyone to be positive and work together to make the state (and the world) a better place. This statue stands in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol building, which is where the governor's office is. It's also where all the state laws are made.

Let's walk up the stairs and go inside, shall we?

The inside of the capitol building is fancy and beautiful. You can even go up into the top of the dome, and look out and see the whole city.

One of my favorite things about Madison in the summertime is an event called Concerts on the Square. On Wednesday nights, the orchestra sets up in front of the capitol building and plays a free concert. Tons of people come bringing blankets and chairs, snacks and drinks, and sit on the capitol lawn to listen to the music as the sun sets. It's really wonderful.

Madison is home to the University of Wisconsin, where I went to college. There are more than 350 buildings that make up the university (388 to be exact!), and over 40,000 students go to school here each year.

The picture below is Bascom Hill, a big hill in the middle of the university campus. Once, in the winter, some friends and I borrowed lunch trays from the cafeteria at midnight and used them to go sledding down this hill!

In warmer weather (like now), Bascom Hill is a great place to play frisbee or have a picnic.

If you go all the way to the bottom of Bascom Hill you'll find State Street, a street with lots of fun shops and restaurants. No cars are allowed on this street — only walking, biking and some buses. Can you see the capitol building at the end of State Street?

Near State Street, on the shore of Lake Mendota, is the Memorial Union Terrace. Madisonians love everything about the Terrace, especially the distinctive orange, green, and yellow sunburst chairs.

The Terrace is a fantastic place to learn how to sail...

...or relax and eat a delicious brat.

I've been lucky enough to spend this month in Madison with some of my favorite people — my friends Mary and Jon, their three kids (Ethan, Charlotte and Hazel), and Jon's sister Joanna. 

We've been hanging out and playing tons of silly games, reading tons of books, and of course...building things with tons of Legos.

(Charlotte even decided she wanted to move a few of her toys and stuffed animals into my room to keep me company, which was very kind of her.)

I've gotten to see a bunch of other friends in Madison, too. And that has been really, really awesome.

One day, some friends and I took a walk and found the tiniest frog I've ever seen. Look how little he is!

This is my good friend Ruby (she's the one holding the frog in the picture above). She's almost 9. I think you'd really like her.

I also went to visit all of my old houses and apartments in Madison. There was the red house on Judd Street...

...and the little apartment on Lowell Avenue...

...and the places on West Gilman Street, and East Gorham Street...

...and Davidson Street. Whew! That's a lot of houses.

Summer weekends in Madison are pretty great. On Saturday mornings, the square around the capitol transforms into the Dane County Farmers' Market, which is the largest true farmers' market in America.

There are veggies and fruits galore, meats and cheeses, muffins and pies, honey and wool, and so many other colorful things.

There are curly green ramps, and beautiful boxes of mushrooms.

There are activists, and musicians, and interesting clubs you can sign up for.

There is also a great abundance of hot & spicy cheese bread. 

After loading up on fresh healthy veggies at the farmers' market, I think it only makes sense to stop at Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier...the best chocolate shop in the whole world.

Seriously. Gail makes the best chocolates. Ever.

And speaking of the best ever...

You know what would be the best ever? Having you come and visit me here in Madison.

Oh my goodness...you DID!!

You drove to Madison with your mom, little sis Eloise, and Grandma to join me for a special girls' weekend!

It was pretty epic.

We rode the carousel and got ice cream cones at Ella's Deli...

..and spent a whole afternoon at the very cool Children's Museum.

You got to hold baby chicks on a rooftop garden, and go swimming in the hotel pool.

You really loved Madison! I think it's your kind of city.

To top it all off, Grandma took all of us to see The Lion King musical. (It was so amazing!)

You, my dear, are one lucky girl. I can't wait to go on our next adventure.

Until then...goodnight from Madison!