Last evening at dusk, sitting outside, lights began popping up all over the lawn. Free fireworks' display. These little beetles don’t exist is the UK, so it took a minute or two to work it out. Great fun to watch. The slightest problem, however. They brought an audience of mosquitos with them and I became the food-truck. Oh well!
We had a “rest-day” today, relaxing during the morning, taking a ride in Dave’s Mustang and, later, enjoying a drive-by of some of the nearby lakes. Beautiful places to set up home, and many people had.
In the evening, we travelled to Janesville and a local winery where there’s live music.
Its red wine was very similar to German reds, very light and “dry”. I tried some of Wendy’s rosé - that was really clean and refreshing, but I’d started on beer, so stuck with it.
Food? Well we’d seen the bison yesterday. Today I tried them in a burger. Very versatile these indigenous cattle: both beautiful and tasty!
The music was exceptionally good. A country style duo with a set list that included country (some of their own, some well known), but also ranged from Meat Loaf to the Beatles.
Warm evening, pretty sunset, open vistas, beer, burgers, live music: checklist complete!!
Interesting and unusual stop today in Hibbing, the home of the World’s largest open cast mine. It mines iron ore.
The pit stretches more than three miles (5 km) long, two miles (3 km) wide, and 535 feet (163 m) deep. It was established in 1895 and was also one of the world's first open-pit mines. Currently, iron-bearing taconite pellets are produced at the rate of 8.2 million tons annually.
It is simply massive!!! And the view area offers some spectacular views as well.
We then drove on to Bemidji, famed in the US for a character (in children’s literature?) called Paul Bunyan. (He never crossed the pond - maybe not a bad thing?)
Paul Bunyan is a giant lumberjack in American folklore. His exploits revolve around the tall tales of his superhuman labours, and he is usually accompanied by Babe the Blue Ox.
The character originated with North American loggers, and was later popularised by freelance writer William B. Laughead.
Just as good (in fact, quite a bit more exciting) was a hot dog shop we stumbled across. Who'd have thought that smothering a hot dog with nacho cheese would be so good!
The hotel is superb. Called a “suites” hotel, not only do you have a large and very comfortable room, but a fully equipped kitchen. Real British Tea at last! Several mugs (yes, real crockery and cutlery on hand) consumed already.
The day started well; early (3:30am) but well.
The taxi was right on time at 4:30am, arriving at Cardiff Airport by 4:55am. Checked in, off to security, where, it appears, the contract has been awarded to retired East German stasi officers. Never have I met such an arrogant, passive/aggressive airport security officer. The American TSA mere kittens by comparison.
However, from there on, smooth and efficient. Both flights on time. Service exceptional throughout. If there was a problem, it was that they can’t stop feeding you and forcing alcohol on you. (I didn’t put up a fight.)
A full continental breakfast between Cardiff and Amsterdam. On boarding the long haul, champagne. After take-off, as soon as the seat belt lights were out, drinks and snacks.
An hour later, four courses and liquors.
An hour before landing a “snack". Forgot to photgraph that one. A salad. A pulled-beef burger, some more cheeses.
By now, my stomach could have been charged as excess baggage!!
Priority baggage delivery and a smooth and courteous passage through customs and immigration. Twenty minutes at most.
Dave & Wendy, were there waiting and we were off to their home in North Mankato.
“Would we like to visit a candy store on the way?” Why not?
So we stopped at the most, words can’t really describe, store selling every imaginable chocolate, candy, sweet, sodas and sugar infused confection possible. It was massive. A tourist attraction in itself.
We’re now settling in, in Dave and Wendy’s lovely home and looking forward to exploring the local area tomorrow.
The sun’s out, the sky’s clear, excellent!
A couple of quietish days before heading home, including a visit to a café by Makato’s dam, a timewarp back to the 1950’s. Good food and pies, however.
Next day, time to leave… mixed feelings… sorry to be leaving this lovely State, glad to be finding our own bed.
After breakfast, we set off at 10am for Minneapolis/St Paul airport. A straightforward journey, arriving at MSP around 11:30am.
After saying our farewells to Wendy & Dave, we checked in and took up residence in the Delta Sky Lounge to wait for our flight. Not the World’s best lounge, but not the worst by a long way. And there’s a first time for everything. Some drinks at a fee but, being America, the bar staff were hunting tips - Airline lounge… one doesn't tip flight attendants… get real!
Lunch was a strange (but tasty) eclectic mix of foods. Italian sausage on Caribbean rice? Some decent soups and salads but (strangely un-American) no salad dressings.
KLM however were right on their game. Boarding early. Snacks and champagne served whilst waiting for boarding to complete. Early departure (OK: by just 3 minutes) and we’re on our way.
Maybe we all looked like starving refugees. Drinks and nuts. Three pretty decent sized courses for lunch - or was it lunch, because by now we were undecided whether it was 4pm or 11pm.
Managed to collect a little shut-eye before a snack/breakfast was served up. Shortly after the Delft gin houses were handed out, and the Chief Purser decided we could have an extra freebie. Very pleased with that!
Landed around 10 minutes early and headed for the KLM Crown Lounge in Schipol.
Wow! Has this place had a make-over since last year. It’s massive, spread over 3 floors. Artwork everywhere. Several different food stations. Constant table clearing and cleaning. Everything complimentary. Seating for (I asked) around 5000 guests!
A pleasant, if bumpy, flight took us to rainy Cardiff and home. Lots of things to remember and make us smile.
We spent the day touring around the local area.
Before coming to (North) Mankato, all I knew was it was home to Minnesota State University and Dave & Wendy lived there. Well… what a surprising place it’s turned out to be!
Both cities have a “street art” festival where local artists display their work along the cities’ streets. Most of the art is really good, some a little too “modern” for my taste.
Mankato also has a Civic/Concert/Conference Centre that would be the envy of many a much larger city. And, very important, a significant Ice Hockey venue, right in the centre of town.
We found a lovely artisan olive oil shop, selling flavoured oils and balsamic vinegars, claiming to be from Arizona. The owner admitted that not all were sourced in Arizona; some originated from California. Didn’t care. Bought a flavoured balsamic to die for.
In the afternoon we visited Sibley Park. A beautiful green space with a petting farm modelled around Dutch Barns. Very lucky kids live here.
We also visited the property of a slightly eccentric artist called Arnie who lives along an unmetalled road on the outskirts of town.
He loves to work with metal and has made individual pieces and “storyboards” (e.g. the life of Jesse James) from silhouetted metal work.
It’s his hobby and his joy and we spent several fascinating minutes talking to him about his work. His next project! He’s going to fell some trees, build Noah’s Ark and make two-by-two metal animals to fill it. I asked him about the commercial aspects.
“Everything’s for sale,” he said, “but if no one’s buying, it doesn’t matter. I do it for fun.” That’s a real artist!
We also toured around some of the interesting businesses in the area and the MSU campus.
So much in such a small place. Amazing!
A quiet day, today.
Took a trip in Dave’s Mustang to visit nearby Nicollet and enjoyed the most incredible Philly steak sandwich for lunch, served with enough fries to feed a regiment on manoeuvres.
Margaret went with Wendy to do whatever wives do when unsupervised with credit cards.
Dinner at home ended a restful day, necessary because tomorrow we’re travelling north to the Duluth/Lake Superior area, around 250 miles distant.
Just a few miles outside North Mankato is the Minneopa State Park.
One section, apart from well laid out picnic areas, has a spectacular waterfall and peaceful woodlands to explore - so we did.
Maybe just 10 minutes drive away is a section which is home to a herd of about 45 bison. We took a tour around there; not a single animal to be found. It was really picturesque, so we decided to return later in the day for another “safari”.
New Ulm is about 30 minutes away, a city established by emigrant Germans in the late 19th Century and home, amongst other things, to one of the small number of “original” German Brewhouses remaining in the US - Schell’s.
It has the characteristics of a Craft Brewer, brewing different lagers and ales according to the season. We took the tour.
A really good guide, a storyteller by genetics, told us about the firm's history; how it survived two World Wars (Germans not being flavour of the month), Prohibition and the Depression.
Following a tour of the plant we were invited (if invitation was truly necessary!) to sample five of the company’s products and then select our favourite for a full size serving. Each was a revelation. These beers are proof of why multi-nationals are losing ground to quality local producers.
We took a short tour around the town and visited a small Catholic chapel, The Way of the Cross, where nuns have made and lined its approaches with tableaux depicting the 14 Stations of the Cross.
Time for an early dinner, so we visited a German restaurant famed for its BBQ Ribs. Its fame for cooking ribs is well justified, wonderfully well flavoured fried breads (maybe a thick soft pretzel) and delicious chicken noodle soup. (However, its German potato salad should be declared a capital crime against side-orders!)
Heading homeward we kept the promise to ourselves to seek out the bison.
And there they were, just a few hundred metres inside the park. Quite unexpected and spectacular to see this ancient indigenous species up close, but in the wild.
What a day! Scenery overdose.
We drove from Duluth to Tofte on the North Shore of Lake Superior, stopping off at a variety of places en route.
Two Harbors: Old railway (OK: Railroad) locomotives, an iron ore dock and a jetty going a long way out into the lake. People fishing (but not catching!) and otherwise enjoying the glorious summer weather.
On then to Gooseberry Falls State Park (with a brief stop for pie & coffee). Spectacular waterfalls being enjoyed as swimming holes for kids and lovely trailways through woodlands.
Next stop, Split Rock Lighthouse. I forgot to mention that the drives were along the shores of Lake Superior, the highway itself being a scenic drive.
Saw our first ever chipmunk, then (like buses) another came right behind. Chip & Dale, maybe?
The lighthouse (looked quite modern, but one has been on-site for a long while) again commanded spectacular views and even more forest pathways. Dappled sunlight through trees. Not many better ways to pass the time.
We’re staying at the “Cliff Dweller Motel” in Tofte. The room has a balcony overlooking the Lake.
No hotel restaurant, so we going out to dinner. We’ve certainly worked up a good appetite!!
Quite a remarkable day today. Start by waking up to look out over Lake Superior from your hotel room.
We drove through the Superior National Forest - what incredibly beautiful scenery - to Ely, home to the International Wolf Centre.
At first, it’s a little disappointing. More a “museum” with displays, data about wolves and video presentations.
Then things took a very different turn. We were fortunate, as just once a day, they entice their wolf pack down to the viewing area, and today, they were using food. And we’d arrived at almost exactly the right time.
I’ve always had a thing about wolves, one of the most maligned and beautiful animal species. And these wolves were beautiful.
Two deer haunches were dropped off. The alpha examined them both, chose his and carried it away. The others looked less than pleased, but kept their own council.
Three wolves stayed for perhaps 20 minutes deciding what to do. Eventually, one of them decided enough was enough, and laid claim to the other haunch.
Simply an incredible thing to watch. Unforgettable.
Next we drove quite a way to Eveleth, home to the US Hockey Hall of Fame, dedicated in the most part to US Olympic Teams and prominent US players, coaches and stripeys.
A fascinating look at Hockey history.
Dinner was at a “Smoke House” where a single portion of anything could feed an army on manoeuvres. Mine was chicken wings, Margaret’s a chicken breast burger. Chickens around here must be the size of geese!
The hotel itself, a Super 8 motel, has rooms and a service ethos that should make Hilton rethink their offering. One of the best rooms we’ve had in a long while. OK… no business centre, trouser-press, over-priced room service and restaurants. Just a large, comfortable fully equipped room and a “nothing’s too much trouble” front desk.
After breakfast, around 8am, we set off for the 250 mile trip to Duluth.
We viewed some glorious Minnesotan countryside and farms, small communities and Minneapolis/St Paul.
We arrived in Duluth just after midday and stopped for lunch.
Dave and Wendy knew of what turned out to be a super lunch-stop: a craft brewery that brewed more beers and ciders than you’d dare wag a stick at, and, it also served really good bar food.
Sunday. Lunchtime. Busy, busy, busy.
“Not a problem,” said a smiling (and latterly proved deceitful) hostess. “I’ll have a table in maybe 5 minutes."
Some 45 minutes later, and after previous polite enquiries by both Wendy and Dave, I applied a little British style pressure.
“Excuse me,” said I (because we Brits are famously polite). “Can you help me? Yes? Could you explain to me how 5 minutes became 45 minutes for a table to come free?"
Maybe it was the beaming smile that confused her. “I’m so sorry,” she said, “I’ll seat you straight away.” (Magically, there was a table free at exactly that moment.)
It was worth the wait, though. Food: very good. Beer: outstanding (I had to try more than one just to be polite.)
We took a stroll around Duluth to walk off lunch.
Maybe they let cousins marry around here? We saw one guy, laid out in the sun with pieces of bread on his oversized belly, with dozens of seagulls deciding whether or not it was safe to get the bread.
We made our way into Wisconsin (two states for the price of one!!!). Staying at Barker’s Island Inn for 2 nights. A well equipped room with a view of Lake Superior from our window (photo includes a view of the fixed bug-screen).
It’s a really nice hotel, super-helpful reception staff and the restaurant menu looks excellent.
Can hardly wait to see what tomorrow brings.
A combination of questionable weather and tiredness gave the last few days a much more laid-back feel.
We spent the time chatting, reading, watching baseball on TV and going out for some nice meals (although one planned visit to a winery was called-off by some serious rainfall).
Instead, we viewed with “interest" a tornado watch on TV for a nearby county, and having been given an absolute assurance by our hosts it was far enough away, watching with interest (as opposed to wide-eyed fear) was possible.
A lunch in Rapidan was a one-off. At the hydro-electric dam, there was a “restaurant” that had remained unchanged since the 1960’s. Even its juke box has tracks that ranged from Buddy Holly to really up to date music by the Beatles (before their transcendental adventures). Good burgers, though.
Off to the airport tomorrow with some great memories and an unexpected sun-tan!
We spent most of the day travelling back to North Mankato. Maybe 8 hours with stops.
But one of the stops… !!!
The Mississippi River. One of the World’s mightiest waterways. Wide, powerful, an important artery for US shipping.
Not so in Minnesota where it all begins. Little more than a stream. We walked across it on a tree trunk in just a few seconds.
What an unmissable experience.
We had dinner out in Mankato; a perfect end to a totally surprising day.