Every year or two my husband's family gets together for a reunion. We've traveled to Texas and New Hampshire and Aspen, Colorado and Monroe, WA. I missed the cousin's wedding on the edge of the Grand Canyon, but my husband went. Two years ago they all gathered in Maine, but we had to pass on that one, too. We're talking San Francisco next.
And this year? We went to Minneapolis - with a side trip for one night up on the Boundary Waters in Ely.
Lake Animagnet - Burnsville, MN
The stated purpose was a memorial service for my husband's uncle, who passed away last year, which was lovely and sad-sweet. But I had my own agenda, of course. I've never been in that part of the world, and was really curious about what the middle of the country looked like, you know?
I found water. Lots and lots of water, in the form of about seventy million lakes. All of them surrounded by birch trees. From the air, Minnesota must look like dark green swiss cheese with blue holes.
Okay, that was a weird image. Shake it off. Anywhoodle, while I was there, I made the following observations. Use them to guide your next Great Lakes excursion...
The view from a canoe - Boundary Waters - Ely, MN
1. The drivers have personal space issues. Like, the first hint you get that someone wants you go change lanes is when they come right up on your bumper. And once you get out of their way, they're likely to skim your front end when they get back in your lane. Freaked me right out, and I wasn't even driving.
2. This place is so clean even the public restrooms smell good. Seriously. I think I saw ONE Coke can on the side of the road the whole time we were there, and even the skanky little highway gas station facilities didn't make me feel like I needed a total body wash after using them.
Prettiest highway shoulder in the world - Burnsville, MN
Close-up of the flowers. These look familiar, but I'm not sure what they are.
3. The cattails look like they're topped with toasted marshmallows. Or maybe that's because I threw Weight Watchers to the wind for the length of our stay, and ate whatever and whenever I wanted. I mean, what's the point of traveling to a new place if you can't taste what the locals have to offer. Wait, that might have sounded naughtier than I meant it to...
See? Don't you want to find a campfire?
4. The whole thing with the white bark birch trees and snow. Monotonous much? Also, the trees are short. We figure it's because they can only grow for about 90 minutes every year, before winter starts up again. However, what they lack in drama they make up for with quantity.
South Farm Lake. We have taller trees in my
North Seattle neighborhood, but they have more of them.
5. They know a little bit about beer, which surprised my Northwest Microbrew soul. On the plane flying in, the flight attendant offered us our choice of beers from the Surly Brewing Company. My husband chose the IPA. I chose a bloody mary, because what do Midwesterners know about beer? (I mean, Budweiser shouldn't count, right?) Turns out, they knew exactly how to make a good bottle of beer. With any luck, I'll find some of that Surly IPA out here in one of our specialty beer shops. Because yum.
6. I survived the Mall of America and never have to go there again. I mean, did you ever want to sit sipping cocktails in a fine-dining, Asian-fusion restaurant at a table for fifteen, while you vibrate occasionally from the gentle surge of the roller coaster on the other side of the wall?
Didn't think so.
I'm throwing this one in here because I need some
peace and quiet after that last memory.
7. There's a radio station that plays World Music on Sunday morning outside Duluth. Thank God. I was stuck in the car for five hours with a classic rock fan and a teenager, and there was a definite potential for violence if we hadn't discovered a station we could agree on.
8. We drove north out if Minneapolis, heading for Ely, and made it over 2 hours before we hit a hill. Now this was especially strange for someone from Seattle. I mean, there are two directions in my hometown: uphill and downhill. Seriously. Seattle bikers must have thighs of iron. My traveling companions agreed with me that in Minnesota, the sky was too big, and without a circle of mountains on the horizon, we felt way too exposed.
Not sure what these are either, but they're pretty.
9. Cheese is CHEAP in Minnesota, and you can get fried cheese curds, and we went to a grocery store with a smoker in the basement to make it's own beef jerky. Beer and cheese and jerky. I could live on that.
10. People here are genuinely nice, and not just in touristy places where their living depends on friendly. We didn't meet one grump the whole time we were there. I especially loved the host of our B&B up in Ely (the Blue Heron, in case you're in the neighborhood) who gave us a history lesson after breakfast one morning. I hope I get to go back there someday. For me, that one night in Ely set a new standard for peaceful.
Even the bananas were friendly...
Do you have vacation plans this summer? Even better, what are your favorite Minnesota memories?