Friday, March 12
Traveling alone and traveling with friends can be two totally different types of experiences, each with benefits and drawbacks, and company or lack thereof can be crucial, depending on the travel objective. This trip to Minneapolis/St. Paul was almost essential for me to have a buddy, and inviting Ann along seemed the most natural of choices. Wise decision on my part! Part of the reason for the trip was to scope out the area as a potential place to live, to see if it’s at all somewhere I could even consider, and I needed someone to join me who could give me feedback, advice, and an honest opinion about whether the fit would work, and Ann was the exact person for that job.
I drove up to Kenosha to pick her up slightly after noon, and by the time we added her gear to my gear, the backseat and trunk of my car were covered. You’d never know we were only going for 2½ days.
Ann brought her GPS, which we named Sally (personification being a problem for both of us, so almost everything got named), and we chucked my printouts of directions from Google. Sally was wonderful because she didn’t just tell us where to go, but she told Ann how fast I was going (which Ann tsk-tsk’d occasionally, though I didn’t hear her complain when we arrived an hour early), nearby attractions, and the approximate time of arrival at any destination. Part of me was grateful to have Sally along due to traveling to an unfamiliar urban area, which can be intimidating, and part of me was a bit disappointed because getting lost can be fun and revealing as well. However, we put all our faith in Sally and she never led us astray. Though, often she did get an attitude. There was something about they way she said, “Recalculating,” that reeked of a sigh and disappointment. That attitude was often thrown back at her tenfold when she told me to keep both right and left at the same time. On the other hand, there was a definite excitement in her tone when she announced we had arrived at our destination. Given how many orders she gave me over those 2½ days, my only real complaint was that I received no positive reinforcement when I did what she said. An occasional “good job” or “nicely done” or even a “good girl” would’ve been nice. Despite the roller coaster of give and take, Sally did us proud and we confidently went anywhere our hearts desired all weekend long, which was quite a blessing for us.
On the drive up, we each had bags of snacks on which we munched, but snacking is so unfulfilling on a long drive. By the time we reached the Wisconsin/Minnesota border, my stomach was grumbling and I was getting irritable.
As we were driving, Ann asked me what it would take to move me up there and I said I had two criteria that would be prerequisites before I'd even consider it. There had to be Panera and Culver's in the area, and I already knew there were Panera locations, so what remained to be seen was if Culver's were there. When we pulled into the parking lot, under the sage guidance of Sally the GPS, right IN THE PARKING LOT was a Culver's. Ann announced that this was a sign. What it was to me was access to cheese curds and that made me happy.
We checked into the La Quinta in Bloomington by 6:15 and found ourselves wondering whatever to do with the night ahead of us, as it was. On the long list of things to do that I’d started to amass weeks before departing, the one place I refused to even consider was the Mall of America, positively the epitome of anti-Nikki targets. The enormity, the crowds, the parking, the PEOPLE… I’d rather get stabbed. However, having arrived so early and having nothing on the agenda to do, Ann asked if we could just run into the MOA for a bit. I gave in, though every inch of my intestines hated the concept, and my tummy growled for meat and veggies.
Sally got us safely to the MOA and by some strange stroke of luck, we managed to get a very close parking spot. Still I grumbled. Once in the mall, I felt a part of my soul die. It was every bit as bad as I imagined, dark, crowded, loud, and irredeemably sterile. How could something so enormous lack character? We wandered around, visited each floor, strolled into a handful of stores, bought nothing, and in the end, enjoyed only the Lego creations. An hour later we escaped and I was released from my MOA obligation. Whew!
With growing hunger that was starting to make me sick, we decided to head to a chain restaurant (something I typically would never do out of town) where I knew exactly what I could order that I liked, and which would hit the spot, so to the Applebee’s in Bloomington we went!
Secondary to scoping out the area as a potential relocation landing zone, we were also there to de-stress, so before we even considered the menu, we each ordered drinks. Ann had a Long Island and I had my usual strawberry daiquiri. Both were delicious, although mine was gone in probably 10 minutes and I wanted another. I resisted, which was good, because suddenly my head felt hot, my pulse echoed in my ears, and everything became hysterically funny to me. We ate, got incredibly silly, laughed through dinner, laughed more after dinner, and had to stick around a little while longer for the loud pulse in my ears to quiet down so I knew I could drive us back to the room. Not many people have seen me with alcohol in me so Ann was experiencing a rare encounter. However, she was quickly passing out at the table, and though it was only 10 pm, we had to call it a night.
The hotel room was nice, the beds were luxuriously comfy (and we thoroughly tested them by taking running leaps onto them), and we both slipped into deep sleep before 11 pm.
Saturday, March 13
I don’t know if it was the darkness, the comfort, or the exhaustion of letting go of the stress in our lives, but we slept until 9 am on Saturday, and hurriedly got dressed in time to grab some food from the hotel at their continental breakfast.
Our first destination of the day was a little neighborhood in Minneapolis, which houses a bookstore called Wild Rumpus, a bread store called Great Harvest, and the Linden Hills Co-op. Wild Rumpus which is named after a phrase from the book Where the Wild Things Are, and has an interior design based on the book The Salamander Room, both wonderful children’s books. They have pets wandering around like a cat, a chicken and other caged pets like a lizard, some rats, and many other birds. We were totally psyched about the book store, and despite the battle of trying to find a parking spot, we were bouncing with anticipation over Wild Rumpus, and we were not disappointed.
It took about an hour to get out of there, and that was only after forcing ourselves to leave. I bought The Graveyard Book, which I’ve wanted to own a copy of for a long time. Ann didn’t get anything after walking around debating what to get the entire time. Self control: she has it, I don’t. Or… decisiveness: I have it, she doesn’t.
We perused the other local shops, found ourselves drooling at Great Harvest and leaving with bags full of carbs (their soda bread rocks!), then roaming the aisles of the co-op and picking up more edibles. We begrudgingly left our parking spot for the next beggar and made our way to Chicago Ave.
Driving around, I discovered a love of this neighborhood, wrapping around Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet. It felt like a suburban version of Lincoln Park in Chicago, and that was perfect to me. Though it seemed expensive, I felt quite drawn to it.
On Chicago Ave., we stopped in another bookstore, True Colors, and much to Ann’s surprise, it was a very women-centric, feminist, lesbian bookstore. She was quite embarrassed to have been exposed to this. Her discomfort amused me greatly, though!
We picked up more food at the Turtle Bread Co., then got organic ice cream at the Pumphouse Creamery, which was delicious.
From there we drove to St. Paul to see the Cathedral of St. Paul, which is modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome, and it was stunning.
I took pictures outside while Ann was inside, and then she texted me to tell me to come in and take more pictures inside. I thought the outer structure was impressive until I got inside. The stained glass, the sculptures, the art, it was all breathtakingly beautiful.
From there we drove to the area where St. Paul has bronze Peanuts statues near Rice Park so that we could take pictures of ourselves with them.
Ann wanted her picture taken with the bronze statue of F. Scott Fitzergerald, one of my least favorites of the classic American authors, and I took her picture while sticking my tongue out at him.
We decided to see Minnehaha Falls in Minnehaha Park back in Minneapolis before grabbing dinner, and this was a wise choice because dinner would not come quickly. The falls were so much higher than I expected, and quite dramatic. The ice that flowed from the top of the canyon down to the base was a bluish color that added to the cold look of the falls. It was very nice to see such a natural element in the middle of a bustling city.
Dinner had long been anticipated: a Jucy Lucy burger at Matt’s Bar. We knew it was famous. We knew it was featured on two shows on Food Network. We knew it was a local point of pride. But what we didn’t know was that this tiny little bar would draw a crowd on a Saturday night that would line the inside, fill the foyer, and drift down the sidewalk out the front door. We arrived when the line was still in the building, and it was over a half-hour before we got a table, plus another half-hour before we got our food. The Jucy Lucy was unlike anything we’d ever had before, and something I’ll probably crave for many years to come. The basket of French fries we got could’ve fed four people easily, if not six, and as we slowed down with our gluttonous consumption, Ann began naming the fries while telling me I was sick for putting mustard on them. Eventually neither of us could eat another bite and we called it quits. As we left, we squished our way through the hungry, waiting crowd that was now down the street.
Having our fill of people, crowds and noise, we decided to spend the night at the hotel room, drinking and making a party for two. We stopped at a local liquor store, picked up a 6-pack of Mike’s Hard Berry, and some silly, useless toys at the Dollar Tree down the strip mall, and brought it all back to the room with our many food purchases. We had glow stick jewelry, coloring books and crayons, key lime cake, champagne glasses, pajamas and each other. It was a blast!
But we were still exhausted and ready for sleep by 11 again. Given that it was the night of starting Daylight Savings, we didn’t feel too guilty for crashing so early.
Sunday, March 14
Despite going to sleep early on, we slept long and hard that night and didn’t want to get up with the alarm at 8:30 on Sunday. However, we did anyway.
We grabbed a quick breakfast, packed, checked out of the hotel, and headed to a church for Ann to attend mass in a town called Wayzata. After mass, we drove back to Minneapolis to visit Wild Rumpus again. Ann suddenly was overcome with a need to purchase something she’d talked herself out of on Saturday, and I didn’t need to be persuaded to go back to that awesome little store. She picked up a handful of books and I bought a copy of The Salamander Room, which only seemed appropriate, and by 1 pm we were ready to leave the Twin Cities.
One of the big trips I’d like to do at some point is the Great River Road, and my curiosity got the best of me while planning this trip, so I scheduled a detour down the Great River Road from Minneapolis to La Crosse, just to get a taste. The plan was to stop in Red Wing, then Wabasha at the National Eagle Center, where they were having big eagle programs through the month of March.
Prescott, Wisconsin was a cute little town, though we didn’t stop there. The drive was gorgeous, weaving up and down huge hills adjacent to the river in Wiscons, bluffs on one side and the muddy Mississippi on the other. We crossed the river back into Minnesota to Red Wing, which was also a great town, but we didn’t have time to stop there either. We had to get to Wabasha. The views along 61 south of The Cities were spectacular. The bluffs were tremendous and somewhere around Red Wing we spotted our first eagles. By the time we got to Wabasha, they were all over the semi-frozen Mississippi River and soaring above us.
We spent a brief time in the National Eagle Center. It was so crowded that we missed out on the eagle-feeding program. However, we did have an opportunity to walk through a barrier-free room with four eagles (1 golden and 3 bald eagles), who were bound by their ankles to a strap that was connected to the floor. It felt wrong. It felt disturbing. EAGLES didn’t belong tethered to the ground! Yet, I don’t know what their stories were and perhaps they were hurt and flightless, but I couldn’t stay too long looking at these amazing creatures and wishing they could fly.
On the way back to the car, we stopped at an ice cream/chocolate shop in town to pick up some snacks and more ice cream. Ann got chocolate and said it was fantastic, and I got nectarine Italian ice, which was some of the best stuff I’ve ever tasted.
Up the road, we had some magnificent eagle encounters. I found one sitting on the ice tearing something to shreds and eating.
Another adult swooped down and landed near the first one, walking across the ice to be closer.
Then an immature eagle began plunging from the bluffs and circling the pair on the ice. He finally landed near them and it looked like a complete family sitting on the ice together.
There were so many eagles at one point that I counted up to 20 and then lost track of which ones I’d counted and which ones I hadn’t. They were flying, sitting on the ice, fishing, grooming, eating, and doing what eagles do. It was incredible!
Eventually we tore ourselves away and headed back on the road home. We crossed the Mississippi one last time and said adieu on 90, heading back into Wisconsin.
We made a brief stop at Culver’s in Sparta, WI for dinner, and then made it all the way back to Kenosha by 9:45 pm. I helped Ann unload, thanked her tremendously for coming with and making it a great trip full of life-long memories that were loads of fun, and then drove an hour back to my own house.
I don’t know if I’ll move to The Twin Cities, but the trip was fantastic. Almost perfect.