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Favorite Things To Do on a Rainy Day in Madison WI

September 16th, 2014 by Pat Fischbeck

Crab Trees at The Speckled Hen Inn

Crab Trees at The Speckled Hen Inn

It might not be spring showers here in Madison but fall brings with it a whole different type of rainy weather; the kind that can make you want to cozy up on the couch with a book and a mug of hot chocolate. Fortunately, regardless of the weather, this city always seems to have something to do. So here are a couple of our favorite things to do on a rainy fall day in Madison WI.

Being the state capital has advantages, like housing some of the most treasured artifacts of Wisconsin and beyond. Because of this, and the fact that many of them are free of charge or donation, if you have never been, the museums of Madison should be a definite stop on the itinerary. The Wisconsin Historical Museum is one of Madison’s treasures where you can find over 110,000 historical objects and almost 400,000 archeological artifacts. Another fascinating museum is the UW Madison Geology Museum  with exhibits featuring fossils, meteorites and dinosaurs including a 33 foot Edmontosaurus skeleton. There are too many to list here but you can find a list of many other specialized museums by clicking on this link.

If museum hopping isn’t your idea of fun but shopping and movies are, Hilldale Mall is the place to be. If you aren’t familiar with Madison, you may not know that Hilldale isn’t your typical mall. Sure, there is a Macy’s but that’s just the beginning. What you’ll find here are unique fashion clothing and boutique shops for that perfect outfit, pair of shoes or a rare kitchen gadget. If you can’t find your one-of-a-kind here, it may not exist. Once you’ve perused the stores, you can relax for a drink and movie at the elite Sundance Cinema. (yes, you read that right – a drink and a movie at a theater) One of five theatres across the nation, Madison was chosen by Robert Redford as one of the locations to implement his vision for high quality entertainment. Isthmus readers have repeatedly voted Sundance Cinema in Madison the best place to watch a movie in Madison. In addition to the 6 theaters, you will find an art gallery, rooftop bar and bistro and reserved ticket seating. Movie watching has never seen such luxury.

If you’d rather stay curled inside with your hot chocolate and book, the Speckled Hen Inn can provide all of the essentials plus more. Several of our rooms have window benches ideal for viewing the sheep and the llama while they graze and dash around the pasture. There is also a gazebo from which you can have a better view of the property while bird watching or just enjoying the peace and tranquility of the Inn. Whatever your rainy day desires might be, Madison’s got you covered.

Best Biking in Madison WI

September 16th, 2014 by Pat Fischbeck

Guests at The Speckled Hen Inn on Bicycles

Explore Madison by Bike

It’s true!  This is the time of year to enjoy the best biking in Madison WI.

The time of the year has finally come in Madison, Wisconsin that you can go for a bike ride without worrying if it’s going to be too hot and humid for a comfortable ride. Madison has one of the most complete system of bike trails in the state, they are easy to use and they well maintained. If you are in the market for a new bike or need to get the old one tunes up, Madison also has some of the most reputable bike sales and maintenance shops.

As a newcomer to Madison, it doesn’t take long to discover Madisonians infinite love for the bicycle. Throughout the city you see people running, walking and biking on the complex system of paths throughout the city. Despite the size of Madison, there is a bike route that will get you nearly anywhere you desire. Yes, it makes it easier to navigate through heavy traffic, it definitely saves money on gas and is a great form of exercise, too. But even more than that, it gives a lens to Madison that you just can’t get in the car. Just as in any other large city where the culture is found on foot, the culture of Madison is found on the bike trails. Some of the best restaurants, shops and parks are found via the bicycle making it a do-not-miss adventure for any visitor.

 

Before you head out to discover this great city, you want to make sure that you have all of the right equipment for the venture. Whether you want new, used or rented, there are a couple of places that can get you exactly what you need. For easy access to a trail, Machinery Row Bicycles is right on the bike trail along scenic Lake Monona. Their shop is one of the largest in Madison meaning they almost always have whatever you might need. Don’t let their size fool you though. They have always given professional, personalized service every time I’ve been there.

 

Revolution Cycles is a small shop that will get you the bike you want whether that be a brand new bike, a custom made bike or one made from recycled parts and materials. From my experience, they consistently exceed customer service expectations with product, Professionalism, and kindness.

 

 

The guests of the Speckled Hen Inn have the utmost advantage. We are located just off of the Madison bike trail system giving you access to nearly every location within Madison from our front door. In addition to that, we are also near a trail leading to Sun Prairie, a small neighboring community within the greater Dane County with access to additional bike trails. Come relax at the inn and soak yourself in a jacuzzi bath after discovering one of the great joys of Madison; our bicycles.

 

Civil War Sites in Madison WI

August 27th, 2014 by Pat Fischbeck

As we are in the midst of the sesquicentenial years of the American Civil War, we have had a number of recent guests inquiring about Civil War Sites in Madison WI.  Many people are very surprised to learn that there are a number of Civil War Sites in Madison and there are a few that we pass quite frequently.

While reading through my grandparents autobiographies, I’m reminded of how fortunate I am that my family has remained dedicated to preserving our history. One of the many pieces of information that I found was that my great grandfather was a member of Sherman’s Army on their famous “March to the Sea” contributing crucial victories to the northern cause. Not only did it create an interest in the experiences and battles of Sherman’s Army, but also in finding out more about the Civil War, itself. Why? Because regardless of your position regarding the war, it has turned into one of the most defining moments in the history of the United States.

Camp Randall Arch

Camp Randall Arch

So, you might be asking, “What does this have to do with Madison, Wisconsin?” I am sure you will be shocked to know that Madison has a great deal of Civil War connections and historical sites. For example, Camp Randall, the stadium of the Badger football team, played an integral part for the Union Army. It was named after Alexander Randall, governor of Wisconsin at the beginning of the war and was a training facility for over 70,000 Union soldiers, a Union hospital and eventually a prison for 1300 Confederate soldiers.

The people of Wisconsin didn’t  just train and send their soldiers off to war; they also set aside distinct areas for their fallen soldiers. The local cemeteries provide constant reminders of Wisconsin’s dedication to the war efforts. One of the many is Forrest Hill Cemetery where many of those tho passed while at Camp Randall hospital are buried. You will also find the graves of 8 children orphaned during the war and several of the deceased Confederate soldiers that were held in the prison camp.

While you are visiting the Speckled Hen Inn there is another veteran cemetery destined to be on your itinerary. The Token Creek Conservancy and cemetery houses the graves of several Civil War soldiers in addition to soldiers and veterans of other wars. Since it is a short ride down the road, it is a convenience place to visit when working on a tight schedule.

In addition to the abundant Civil War structures Madison has to offer, another favorite place to visit is the Wisconsin Veterans Museum where you can find some of the most eclectic Civil War memorabilia.  Although the exhibit is small in scale, it focuses on the fundamental concept that led to a Union victory. Total War, a war tactic that reduces all civil limitations, was the hope that kept the soldiers fighting and has become known as, “The Last Full Measure”. This was Wisconsin’s decision to concentrate all energies (human and industrial) to winning what seemed an unwinnable war. The exhibit includes everything from gifts between soldiers for honorable acts during battle to grave markers, camp utensils, uniforms and medals.

Outdoor Live Music in Madison Wisconsin

July 31st, 2014 by Pat Fischbeck

Are you wondering where you can find some outdoor live music in Madison Wisconsin?

Outdoor Live Music in Madison, Wisconsin

Orchesta De kache at Monona Terrace

Out of the many reasons one would visit Madison Wisconsin, live music ranks among the most notable. What makes Madison a repeated destination for live outdoor music, you might ask? I can tell you from personal experience that once you’ve been witness to the magic, it’s impossible to resist a return. Let me entice you with this imagery: a blanket on the grass, a bottle of Wollersheim Prairie Fume wine coupled with a few local artisan cheeses while taking in the sweet sounds of live outdoor music. No, this isn’t a dream. This is one of the many indulgences Madison, WI has to offer nearly every evening throughout the summer months. Madison has one of the most eclectic outdoor live music scenes ensuring you’ll find a venue to suit your style. It may be that you’ll need to plan a stay at the Speckled Hen Inn so you can take in several venues in a single visit.

 

A country setting provides more than the lofty smell of sweet green grass and cowboy boots and if this is what you’re looking for, the Dean House, maintained by the Historic Blooming Grove Historical Society, invites folks to their back porch for concerts on Thursday evenings. You are welcome to relax on your lawn chair or join in the jubilee of the diverse genres including Cajun, bluegrass, brass band or swing music while the fireflies glow in the distance.

 

For those wanting a more urban environment, no one entertains like the Monona Terrace or the UW-Madison campus. On Thursday or Friday evenings, local musicians entice spectators to dance the evening away on the terrace rooftop overlooking Lake Monona. You can bring a picnic basket filled with your favorites delicacies, however it isn’t necessary.  The Terrace meets every challenge to please its guests serving foods that meet your desires including brews from the local brewing company The Great Dane.

 

Not only does the infamous State Street on the UW-Madison campus provide many diverse options for window-shopping, unique gifts and wide variety of restaurants and café’s, it also is the location of Wednesday evenings Jazz at Five. Local performers offer pleasant background ambiance while taking in the sights and smells.

 

In addition to these ongoing events, there is always an ample supply of different festivals typically featuring several stages with varied local artists. For example, the Potosi Brewfest, Middleton Good Neighbor Festival, and the Merrimac Community Festival are just a few of the upcoming events with live, outdoor music.

At every turn, I have been pleasantly surprised by chosen viewing locations as well as those found accidentally. I promise you will find entertainment sure to fit your needs. Now, really, how can you continue to resist the desire to come witness it for yourself?

 

Four Sure Cures for Spring Fever in Madison, WI

April 14th, 2014 by Pat Fischbeck

Scarlet Tanager in a Hickory Tree

Scarlet Tanager in a Hickory Tree

I have Four Sure Cures for Spring Fever that you can find in Madison, WI.  I’m sure that this is just what you need after a long, rough winter.  It’s time to get out of the house, get a little exercise, and bring a little color back into our lives.

Beginning on Saturday, April 19, the Dane County Farmer’s Market will move back onto the Capitol Square.  Go to seek out fresh spring veggies, herbs and bedding plants for your own home and garden or go just to be a part of one of Madison’s greatest traditions.

You can also go visit The Allen Centennial Gardens on the UW campus.  The spring bulbs always put on a bright show of color and this compact garden packs a lot of inspiration into a space that easily translates into projects for your home gardens.  The gardens are also celebrating their 25th birthday this year.  If you have never strolled their paths, it is time to do so or maybe even take one of their classes.  Information is on their website.

The other sure Spring Fever cure that the UW Madison provides visitors is our UW Arboretum.  Walk or bike your way through the trails and enjoy the spring flowering trees or later the magnificent lilac collection .  But don’t rush!  Take your time and enjoy the scents and sounds of spring.  Listen for the call of the red-wing blackbirds, and the spring peepers, and the buzz of bees.  They also have classes, lectures, and walks to enhance your enjoyment of this outdoor treasure.

And finally, number 4: You must go visit Olbrich Gardens.  Admission to the outdoor gardens is free (as is everything listed above) but I’m sure that you will wish to leave a little contribution in the collection box.  I’ve often used the garden as a resource for inspiration of things to plant for a whole season of garden color.  It does begin with the spectacular show of bulbs in the spring.  I’n especially fond of the areas where there are naturalized tulips and daffodils.  The addition of small seating areas throughout the gardens make this a place where you will want to go to relax and spend some time either with a special friend or your own thoughts and dreams.

If that doesn’t cure your spring fever please book a visit with us at The Speckled Hen Inn Bed and Breakfast.  From the chives poking up in the cutting garden to the wild flowers on the hillside, lambs in the pasture and robins everywhere, Spring is finally here.

 

Spring Break Getaway Road Trip

March 26th, 2013 by Pat Fischbeck

Spring Break time has finally arrived and the innkeepers at The Speckled Hen Inn Bed and Breakfast in Madison WI know you are just dying to get out of the house and enjoy some sunshine and fresh air.  What better way to do this than to take a little road trip.

Less than an hour’s drive out highway 12 from Madison you will find Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac, WI.  Their winery is open daily from 10-5 and the historic winery offers tours, tastings and fun shopping and sight-seeing on any early spring day.  Select a few bottles to take home with you or become a member of their case club.

Carr Valley Cheese

Carr Valley Cheese

What pairs better with wine than cheese?  And right across the river in Sauk City you will find a Carr Valley Cheese store.  They are producers of some of Wisconsin’s finest Artisan Cheeses made from cow, goat, or sheep’s milk or combinations thereof.  Try a sample and ask about pairing a cheese or two with the wines you just purchased.  Your innkeepers will happily provide you a board, cheese knife and some wine glasses when you return to relax at the Inn.

 

 

 

But first, while you are in the area head back in to Prairie du Sac and make a stop at the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council Overlook to see the American Bald Eagles.  The overlook is just 2 blocks south of the Highway 60 and Highway 78 intersection in Prairie du Sac, right along the Wisconsin River.

What a great way to shake off the winter blahs and get out to enjoy some of the Best of Wisconsin.

Madison’s Top 10 Things to do in Fall and Winter

October 26th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

Yahara Channel in Winter

The Yahara River in Winter

Madison Wisconsin is a lovely place for a spring or summer getaway but don’t forget just how charming this city can be in the cooler, even frigidly cold, months of the year.  Here is a list of the top or first 10 things that the innkeepers at The Speckled Hen Inn recommend to their visiting guests.

1.   The Dane County Farmers Market  The largest producer-only farmers market in the nation is a year-round affair.  In mid-November the market moves indoors to the Monona Terrace Convention Center and then after Christmas you can visit the market at the Mifflin Street Senior Center.  You will be amazed at the bounty of the market while the gardens sleep.  The markets just before Christmas are a wonderful source of supplies for decorating, gift-giving and holiday feasts.

2.   Madison’s Restaurant Scene  Creative chefs, farm-fresh ingredients, and the quirky spirit of Madison combine to present a dazzling variety and abundance of really fine eateries.  Visit one of the tiny ethnic cafes on State Street or one of the big boys with stars after their name and you will be very well fed.  This is why we always ask guests what they want to eat before we start recommending restaurants.  Guests could starve to death before we get to the end of the list of Madison’s great places to eat.  A favorite dining scene for us is a window seat at a restaurant on the capitol square on a snowy evening.  It’s pure magic.

3.   University of Wisconsin Campus  UW keeps things lively in the winter seasons with their sports and cultural offerings.  Take in a basketball or hockey game, men’s and women’s for both.  The Hall of Fame in the Kohl’s center is worth a visit even if the team is on the road.  Recitals, concerts, and theater really get going in the winter months and Sunday afternoon at the Chazen Museum is a seasonal delight.  Stroll through the galleries while listening to the live music performed in the atrium.  That famous ice-cream is available all year round at Babcock Hall or the Memorial Union.

4. State Street  Madison’s well-known pedestrian mall that connects the capitol square with the UW campus is always a lively place to enjoy a cup of coffee, ethnic dining, or browsing the bookstores, boutiques and galleries.  During the holiday season it twinkles with thousands of white lights.  State Street Posters is one of our favorites and is the source of much of the art work in the Madison Lakes room at the Inn.

5.  University of Wisconsin Arboretum  1,200 acres of nature right in the center of the city provide residents and guests with ample space to walk off some of that fine dining.  The prairie and woodland areas and Lake Wingra attract abundant wildlife.  Occasional night-walks conducted by the naturalists on staff introduce participants to the wonders of nature that we seldom experience during our daylight encounters with the world.  Can you identify an owl by its hoot?

6.  Madison’s City and County Parks  Golf, picnics, and tennis give way to sledding, skating and skiing in the coldest months.  Most parks remain open in the winter and are a great spot for walking and admiring the city without the crowds of summer.  The lakeside parks are occasionally decorated with nature-made ice sculptures and the ice-fishing huts on the lakes themselves are, at the very least, a photo-op that proves how crazy those folks in Madison really can be.

7.   The Lakes  There are 5 of them here.  Two of the largest are right in the center of the city and we managed to just squeeze the downtown area between them and then spread the rest of the city around the perimeter of them.  What is more relaxing than watching the sunset across the water?  Hearty fishermen bobbing about in their boats under the sometimes stormy fall skies amaze us.  Ice boats flying across the frozen lakes are awesome.  Locals judge the ‘coldness’ of the day by the width of the open water under the Yahara River bridge on the Beltline Highway.  The waterfowl there are beautiful.

8.  A Wright Place  Frank Lloyd Wright spent much of his youth in Madison and designed a Convention Center that was the inspiration for the one that the city actually constructed years after his death.  Wright also designed the Unitarian Society Meeting House, which is open for tours, and several area homes.  A concert at the Unitarian Society Meeting House is a treat for the senses.

9.   Wisconsin State Capitol  It’s simply a must see.  The architecture, the art, the history, or even the grandeur would be reason enough to go.  Tours are free and leave on the hour from the visitor info desk in the rotunda.  The tour guides have the keys to take you into the Supreme Court, The Legislative Chambers, and the Governor’s Conference Room but most importantly, they know all those fun little stories that bring the building to life.  Before the holidays local choral groups perform around the holiday tree in the rotunda.  The tree is lovely as it rises up three or more stories high and the acoustics of the performing musicians will give you goose bumps.

Overture Center in Madison WI

10.   Madison Civic Center  This is the Cesar Pelli designed home of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and the Overture Center for the Performing Arts.  It seems like there is always something going on.  The museum has rotating and visiting nationally acclaimed exhibits (and a very nice gift shop).  The Overture Center hosts everything from Broadway Shows, The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and opera to brown bag lunch performances.

Things To Do In Madison

March 1st, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

Capitol Square in Madison Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Capitol Building

Folks who live in Madison, WI or who visited before know what a great city it is.  It seems like there is always something to do.  But visitors coming for the first time may not know what to do first so here is the list compiled by our staff at The Speckled Hen Inn.  There are the Top Ten Madison Experiences inside the city.  We will get to that long list of things to do, using Madison as a hub when you explore South Central Wisconsin, later.

  1. Take a tour of the Capitol.  Madison is the capital of Wisconsin and the building is truly a treasure.  Do take the tour because the wonderful guides know all those fun stories that bring life to the building and they also have the keys to all the locked doors that you will want to see behind.  Tours leave from the info desk in the rotunda every hour on the hour.  You will miss the school kiddies if you go late in the day.  Take the elevator to the 6th floor balcony for a bird’s eye view of Madison.  It is free, of course.
  2. Wander down State Street.  This is the pedestrian mall that connects the Capitol Square to the campus of the University of Wisconsin.  It’s a fantastic place for people watching and doing a bit of shopping.  Our favorite shops are the gift shop at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Little Luxuries, Tellus Mater, the Art Poster Shop and University Bookstore.  The little ethnic restaurants are wonderful too.
  3. Stroll through Olbrich gardens.  Our public gardens are nothing short of amazing for a city our size or for a city of any size.  There is a rose garden, a rock garden, herb garden and butterflies in the summer.  In the winter the structure of the gardens shine and provide a serene spot for a bit of exercise.  The indoor tropical dome will warm you to the core in the winter months.  Don’t miss the beautiful Thai Pavillion.  Everything but admission to the dome is free.
  4. You must have cheese.  Wisconsin is The dairy state so it would be unthinkable to not try our finest cheeses.  They are easy to find.  Fromagination on the Capitol Square is a great artisan cheese shop featuring many different Wisconsin cheeses.  Carr Valley cheese store in Middleton is goat, sheep, and cow’s milk cheese heaven.  Why, even most of our local grocery stores have a cheese counter devoted to just the WIsconsin cheeses.  Try, buy, and take some home with you.  You will be back for more.
  5. Visit the Memorial Union on the campus of the University of Wisconsin and have an ice cream cone for lunch.  The ice cream from the dairy at Babcock hall has a really high butter fat content that results in ice cream that is the smoothest and creamiest you will ever taste.  I think it is a meal all by itself.  Enjoy it on the Terrace overlooking the lake while listening to the musicians there and you have a memorable experience.
  6. Shop the Dane County Farmer’s Market.  It’s reported to be the largest true farmer’s market in the nation.  What is sold there has to be produced in Wisconsin and sold by the person who produced it  (let’s not quibble about tropical plants).  Every Saturday morning, rain or shine, year-round (check for location in the cold months) and again on Wednesday’s during the summer.  If fact, during the summer months there is a farmer’s market somewhere near Madison every single day of the week.  So, don’t despair if you can’t make it here on Saturday.
  7. Explore the Villas Zoo.  It is free, too.  Isn’t that amazing?  It is a great little zoo with much more than you would expect to find here.  Nice exhibits in great surroundings.  You can spend an hour or two here or the whole day.
  8. OK, this one will take a bit of advance planning.  Come go to a Concerts on the Square.  The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra plays on the steps of the Capitol building on Wednesday evenings for 6 weeks beginning the last week in June.  The music begins at 7:00 but guests start spreading their blankets on the capitol lawn around 3:00 for the largest picnic of summer.  This is the essence of summer in Madison.  Bring your own picnic or purchase a box supper from one of the vendors.
  9. UW-Madison Arboretum 11-03-2011 207Experience the UW Arboretum.  An Arboretum is a collection of plants rather than a garden and you will find a wide range of plant materials at the Arboretum.  The lilac collection in the Spring is amazing, a really fragrant experience.  The nature walks on a moonlit night in the winter are inspiring.  The natural diversity of grassy meadows, swamp, pine plantations, and the plant collections that the University has established combine to provide a great venue for biking , hiking, and exploration.
  10. Pedal your way around the city.  Madison is a very bike-friendly city.  A bike trail network connects all parts of the city.  Several local vendors provide bicycle rentals and not just some old clunkers either.  You can try out some of Trek’s latest developments at some rental places.  Just ask us for information.  City busses and Green Cabs have bike racks to help you out when the old legs are too tired to go another mile.  Many of the Wisconsin State Bicycle trails come very close to Madison too.

Innspiration for your Super Bowl Party

January 24th, 2011 by Pat Fischbeck

If you need a bit of inspiration for your Super Bowl Party, the innkeepers at the Speckled Hen Inn in Madison Wisconsin have a couple of suggestions for you.  Since Packer fans have a weekend off from watching football this weekend why not head to Madison to check out the Isthmus Beer and Cheese Fest.

Sample some of Wisconsin’s finest craft beers and specialty cheeses and decide which ones you will want to serve at your Packer’s party on Super Bowl Sunday.  There are even a couple of special sessions at the event that you won’t want to miss but need to sign up for early.  At 1:30 the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board will pair wonderful Wisconsin cheeses with the brews from Potosi Brewery.  That’s the great western Winconsin brewery that is also home to the Beer Museum.  At 3:00 there is a session on pairing beer with chocolate.  It even gets better.  The pairing is between Gail Ambrosius Chocolates (our local favorite) and the crazy craft brews from Furthermore Brewery.  (I’ve done this before and you have to try it to even imagine how good it is!)

If your entertainment plan is a bit more upscale head out to Wollersheim Winery in Prairie Du Sac for the party to celebrate the release of their 2009 vintage ports.  This year they will be adding a 2009 vintage White Port to their offerings and you can sample and celebrate any time between 10 and 4 on Saturday.  Enjoy a bit of live jazz and pair your port sample with a Combinacas Plate featuring Wisconsin-made Asiago cheese, a chocolate truffle, fresh bread, and dried apricots and almonds.  You will want to take home a bottle of Wisconsin Port or wine to toast the success of the Packers anyway.  Sampling is one sure way to find the wine that pleases you.

We still have rooms available on Friday night so that you can have a romantic getaway at The Speckled Hen Inn.  Enjoy our great breakfast and then head out to sample some of Wisconsin’s finest.

Photo of Downtown Madison Wisconsin

April 21st, 2010 by Pat Fischbeck

The Twins

Downtown Madison is one of the prettiest, most romantic, places a person will ever see.  The lighted capitol dome pictured here ,is like the centerpiece of a bountiful banquet table.