Nearly as many cows as humans call WISCONSIN home; more than five million of each reside in this rich, rolling farmland. However, America’s self-proclaimed “Dairyland” is more than just one giant pasture. Beyond the massive hills, red barns and silvery silos lie endless pine forests, some fifteen thousand sky-blue lakes, postcard-pretty valleys and dramatic bluffs. The state, whose Ojibway name means “gathering of the waters”, is bordered by Lake Michigan to the east, Lake Superior in the north and, to the west, the Mississippi and St Croix rivers.
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The history of Wisconsin is a familiar one in the American narrative of westward expansion. Seventeenth-century French and British explorers began by trading with the Native Americans and soon ousted them from their land. The European settlers who followed – predominantly Germans, Scandinavians and Poles – tended to be liberal and progressive; such major national social programmes as labour laws for women and children, assistance for the elderly and the disabled, and unemployment compensation found their first manifestation in the USA right here.
Wisconsin today is best known for its liquids. The milk from all those cattle yields cheeses of all kinds, while the beer, as the song says, is what made Milwaukee famous. Sparkling Madison apart, Wisconsin’s other cities can veer toward the quiet and tame side, but they’re also safe and amiable.
MADISON is best known for playing host to the University of Wisconsin and the state government. As a bastion of progressive politics and culture in the Badger State, its splendid setting on an isthmus continues to attract students and others from Portland to Pakistan. Today this stimulating, youthful metropolis is home to a clutch of compelling museums, great restaurants and a student-fuelled nightlife scene. Capitol and campus are connected by State Street, a welcoming eight-block-long pedestrian mall surrounded by restaurants, cafés, bars and stores.