There are some cities where you don't have to see the campus to know it's a college town. From Keene, N.H., to Berkeley, Calif., they share certain tell-tale characteristics: An abundance of coffee houses, used bookstores, bicycle racks, street musicians, co-op grocery stores, beer joints and fliers advertising Tom Hayden, Ralph Nader or other regulars on the college speaking circuit.
And so it is with Madison, Wisc., which is home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and several smaller colleges that together give the town a student population of nearly 50,000.
We rolled into town late in May, after the school year had ended, thinning the crowds at the restaurants along King and State streets. We got a table by the window at an eatery that offered both cheeseburgers and vegetarian-friendly sandwiches and had live music in the evening, and we watched the young people who'd stuck around for the summer go by.
Then it was time to hit the road. Just up the street, we admired the state Capitol, its dome modeled after the U.S. Capitol, but decided against a detour to see several buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a one-time resident.
A few miles outside town, we turned onto U.S. 151 and headed west. Soon, all evidence of a college town disappeared. Before us stretched green pastures and dairy farms and the occasional cheesemaker tucked into the rolling terrain of a very different Wisconsin than the town we had just left.
This is one in a series of postcards by Marjie Lambert, assistant Travel editor, who has been to all 50 states.