Tag Archives: travel

Travel Tuesday: Drink like a local

A health nut might say “you are what you eat,” but a well-seasoned traveler’s credo might be “eat where you are.”

Why eat a burger on the coast when you can enjoy fresh seafood? Why seek out McDonald’s in Tokyo? Why not try sausage in Bavaria?

Having visited some of these places, I will say definitively that travel has opened my eyes to great foods I might never have experienced without the long drive or a flight.

But eating where you are is also true of drinking, and it’s true when you’re close to home, too. When in Minnesota or Wisconsin, drink as the Minnesotans or Wisconsinites do.

skal crawl

Earlier this summer I enjoyed the Skål Crawl in Central Minnesota. “Skål” rhymes with crawl, and it’s Norse for “toast,” that is, the kind of toast that involves raising glasses, not burning bread.

The Skål Crawl, the first Minnesota wine, liquor and beer trail, offers a T-shirt and cool drinking glasses for those who visit Carlos Creek Winery, Panther Distillery and Copper Trail Brewery, all located in and around Alexandria, Minnesota. It was a fun way for a couple of couples to spend a day while quenching our thirst. And I’m a sucker for a “free” T-shirt (the crawl costs $15 and entitles crawlers to souvenir tasting glasses, the T-shirt and discounted tastings).

fawn creek

And, having spent a bit of time in the Wisconsin Dells recently, I discovered Fawn Creek Winery, one of nearly 80 wineries in Wisconsin. Breweries, I knew about (among other, I have actually visited and enjoyed New Glarus, a well-known craft brewery in southern Wisconsin), but wine? Who knew?

The tastings at Fawn Creek are free, but even better is the atmosphere. Tucked among the pines, the winery is a pretty place to spend some time, especially when one can enjoy wine, beer, too, and pretzels that are 15 inches across. Oh, and live music on the weekends.

What else is Wisconsin known for? No, not the Packers. Well, maybe sorta, if Packers make you think of cheeseheads. It’s the cheese! The brochure from the Wisconsin Winery Association suggests a cheese and wine pairing for every month of the year. Because wine and cheese are delightful when consumed together. September’s suggestion? Mead with cheddar and provolone. October? Try hard cider with cheddar and colby. Just makes you want to plan a themed trip, right?

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Throwback Thursday: An ode to the roof

Regular subscribers have noticed, I imagine, that Minnesota Wonderer hasn’t been posting very often. Hey, it’s busy around Wonderer’s house. But it’s probably busy around your house, too, so we can do without all the excuses.

As I peruse my Facebook Newsfeed every morning (everybody’s got time for that), it’s replete with “memories on this day” that remind me, among other things, of all the blog posts I logged over the years. It occurred to me that I have hundreds of entries in the back list that I could resurrect in a Throwback Thursday sort of way. Sometimes those old posts pop up, and even I’m surprised by my depth of thought.

So, with 1,982 entries from which to choose (this post makes 1,983—you betcha we’ll be celebrating 2,000 in a big way!), I’m going to share some oldies by goodies in this space on Thursdays.

Today, as the sun finally shines in Houston after days of drenching rain, I’m offering this ode to a roof, first published June 25, 2015. Because it beats living without one over one’s head.

The sky’s the limit if you have a roof over your head

Of all life’s blessings, the roof over my head is one for which I rarely give thanks.

Roofs, after all, are so commonplace they are to be expected. And they’re dull. Very dull. Usually gray or brown, maybe black. Made with shingles — the ultimately hum-drum material, or maybe cedar or tile. Installed by competent, height-defying, tight-lipped pros who appear like flies and disappear a week later, leaving a few stray nails in the yard.

But mundane or no, without a roof, every day is a bad-hair day. Or a bad day in general.

I woke at 3 a.m. last night, thankful, so thankful for the roof over my head.

It was pouring down rain. Literally pouring, like God had a bucket he couldn’t wait to empty. Lightning. Thunder. A storm for the ages. But unlike many nighttime storms observed from the comfort of the bed in my sturdy house, this storm came to the campground where I slept in a sturdy, yes, but relatively insubstantial camper.

One never goes camping but it rains. Or at least that’s how it is with me. Most camping rainstorms are day-long drizzly affairs that make everything damp and never stop until everything is packed up and you’re headed home.

This storm, however, was more hard-nosed, like a pissed off cop with a gun at a pool party (kidding! all right, already! I know all cops are not angry and overbearing! It’s a joke!).

In any case, this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill storm. And we were camping next to a river.

My Beloved’s cell phone awakened us before the drenching rain did. It warned of flash flooding.

All I could think about was a flash flood filling the valley, and us, bobbing down the river in the camper until we were splintered against a bridge pier (thank you, Voice of Doom, but our flash flooding came in the form of big mud puddles, not a jökulhlaup).

That’s when the roof started leaking. Drip, drip, drip. A persistent sort of leak. Drip, drip, drip. Reconnaissance revealed the drops were coming from a light fixture (uh-oh). Drip, drip, drip.

Sounds restful, huh?

But actually, I said a little prayer of thanks for the roof.

Because 30 yards away, a family went to bed last night.

In a tent.

I didn’t care how fiberglassy our roof was. It wasn’t canvas!

* * *

The Percussionist's WifeBefore Minnesota Wonderer was Minnesota Wonderer (or Minnesota Transplant for that matter), she was The Percussionist’s Wife. I tell the whole story–every sordid detail–in my memoir, which I published five years ago this week. To celebrate the milestone, the Kindle version of the The Percussionist’s Wife: A Memoir of Sex, Crime & Betrayal is free this week and tomorrow’s the last day to snag a copy. Fans of memoir and true crime might agree with reviewers who’ve called it “remarkable,” “candid” and “compelling”; a friend downloaded it this week and read it one day! So “it reads like a thriller!” isn’t an exaggeration. See for yourself. If you like Minnesota Wonderer, this is her origin story. Download it here for free until midnight tomorrow.

Travel Tuesday: Water, water everywhere (and a freebie, too!)

Whatever it is about waterfalls, they demand attention. Maybe it’s the racket, as noisy as they are. Maybe it’s the danger (nothing like a sheer rock face to put a little scare into one’s soul). But it’s probably the beauty. Waterfalls can be so pretty.

I’ve had the opportunity to see quite a number of lovely waterfalls in my travels around the country this year, and I thought I’d share a few today.

Yosemite valley

This is a long shot (because the view is that beautiful), but in the center of the photo you can see Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite National Park.

washington falls

We found this strange place hidden among miles and miles of grassy bluffs. Palouse Falls is the only major year-round waterfall remaining from the Ice Age floods that carved the landscape of southeastern Washington state thousands of years ago. The falls plunge nearly 200 feet over layers of exposed basalt that make up the Palouse River Canyon. Check out that eerie rock formation behind and to the left of the falls.

yellowstone falls

In a place like Yellowstone National Park, the falls are probably among the least interesting sights to see, but I caught a rainbow in the mist at the falls of the Yellowstone River.

Cascade Falls

The St. Croix River cutting between Wisconsin and Minnesota north of Stillwater is really quite beautiful. Cascade Falls in Osceola is breathtaking. I got to see these during a lingering Saturday afternoon drive earlier this summer. The hike to the bottom is worth it (and the steps back to the top are worth it, too, with a little ice cream at the top).

fountain.jpg

This is more of a fountain than a waterfall, but you take what you can get when you’re visiting central Wisconsin. I snapped this picture last weekend while I was was Fawn Creek Winery near the Wisconsin Dells. The fish in the pool at the bottom liked the liquid libations as much as I did.

* * *

The Percussionist's WifeBefore Minnesota Wonderer was Minnesota Wonderer (or Minnesota Transplant for that matter), she was The Percussionist’s Wife. I tell the whole story–every sordid detail–in my memoir, which I published five years ago this week. To celebrate the milestone, the Kindle version of the book is free this week. Fans of memoir and true crime might agree with reviewers who’ve called it “remarkable,” “candid” and “compelling,” and more than one “couldn’t put it down”; “it reads like a thriller!” See for yourself. If you like Minnesota Wonderer, this is her origin story. Download it here for free until midnight Friday.

When it’s hot, think cool

Coping with summer’s heat requires air conditioning, swimming gear and the right attitude.

Statistically, we’re smack dab in the middle of the hottest two weeks of the year in Illinois, Iowa and the southern halves of Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Coming right up, July 15 through August 1 are the hottest two weeks for the northern halves of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

If one has a mindset that these days are Old Man Winter’s answer to our prayers in March that he get the heck out of town, then one can endure the dog days of summer better.

We asked for days like this. Days like this are a gift. Days like this will be go away eventually.

That’s the right attitude. It’s hot now. But it will be cold again.

With that in mind, I’m sharing an image taken a year ago in June when my Beloved and I visited Barcelona, Spain. Barcelona is the type of town that inspires night life, so one late evening we stopped by IceBarcelona (get it? Ice? Bar? Celona? I love wordplay like that) for a drink.

On the way in, there’s a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean Sea for an al fresco cocktail, the perfect respite from the 20-degree atmosphere inside the ice bar. Patrons can borrow natty parkas and gloves. Everything, including the bar and the furniture, are made of ice; drinks are served in glasses made of ice, of course. Elaborate, seasonally changing ice sculptures decorate the place.

Naturally, it’s called the coolest bar in Barcelona.

Here’s a shot of my Beloved and I on the ice couch in front of a sculpture of an Imperial Walker (it was a “Star Wars” theme when we were there). That’s an icy cold screwdriver in my hand.

icebarcelona

Here’s to hot July days. Cheers!

Impressive natural and manmade wonders abound along Columbia River Gorge

There’s something I keep forgetting to tell you, my faithful readers.

Wait, let me think a minute.

Rodins The Thinker

The Maryhill Museum of Art, on the north bank of the Columbia River in Washington state, features an entire room of works by Auguste Rodin, including his “The Thinker.”

Oh, yes, this is it: Don’t miss seeing the Columbia River Gorge marking the border between Washington state and Oregon. While it may not be on list of the Seven Wonders of the World, it is worth a visit.

My Beloved and I traveled through the area in May, and we were awed with the natural beauty in many of the same ways other visitors have been. I remember descriptions of the place in Stephen E. Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage, the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and, more recently, in Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Columbia River 2

When we visited, we stayed in the wooded and shady KOA Kampground in Cascade Locks, Oregon, which gave us nearby access to the Bridge of the Gods. The river crossing gets its name from an American Indian legend describing the strange and fantastic geologic changes wrought by the Earth’s moving tectonic plates.

Bridge of the Gods

Bridge of the Gods

The manmade version of the Bridge of the Gods was built in 1920, one of only 17 Columbia River Crossings along almost 300 miles of river in Oregon. At this point, the Columbia is wider and more ominous than say, anywhere along the Mississippi north of the Twin Cities.

It’s also quite lovely and astounding, surrounded as it is by the Cascade Mountain Range. The roadways on the both the south and north sides hug the river for the most part making for spectacular views as one drives along.

Further west, the river passes through treeless plains. “The face of the Countrey on both Side of the river above and about the falls,” wrote Meriwether Lewis in his journal, “is Steep ruged and rockey open and contain but a Small preportion of herbage, no timber a fiew bushes excepted.” Different, but no less beautiful.

Here, we visited the aforementioned Maryhill Museum of Art, a formidable architectural structure originally built as a mansion by Samuel Hill on the Washington bluff at the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge. Besides the impressive works of sculptor Auguste Rodin, I was fascinated by the gallery of international chess sets on display in the basement. Every piece was a tiny objet d’art created by artists from around the world.

Maryhill Museum of Art

You can see the Maryhill Museum of Art on the left, overlooking the river and, in the foreground, acres of grape vines.

While we were there, my Beloved spent one day fishing for salmon in the Columbia River, and he landed a whopper, on which we are still dining, thanks to the wonders of the modern freezer in our RV.

Add a visit to the Columbia River Gorge to your bucket list. You won’t be disappointed.

What happens when it rains in Portland

I once visited a successful scrapbook saleswoman in a suburb of Portland, Oregon, and now after spending more than a night there, I understand why she was successful.

It rains there nonstop. No wonder people want to be indoors doing something—anything—to distract themselves from the constant downpours.

It’s no surprise Portland and nearby Vancouver, Washington, have the highest rates of depression among the 150 largest cities in the country, according to WalletHub, an online clearinghouse for financial advice and quality-of-life studies. I’d be depressed, too, if the only time I saw the sun was between rain showers.

Portland’s rain is a tease like the instructions on a bottle of shampoo. After a particularly violent downpour, maybe one that includes hail big enough to hear pinging on your camper but not big enough to damage your pickup truck, for example, you’ll spy a bit of blue sky the size of the eye of a needle, and you’ll think maybe the water will part, and the Promised Land awaits. But no. The sky clouds up, and it rains. Again.

Hope, rinse, repeat.

It’s not that it isn’t lush there. It’s like a rain forest. If rain forests had pine trees and moss. Turns out, coniferous trees, ferns and moss are characteristic of temperate rain forests like the one Portland occupies.

Cheryl’s on 12th, a downtown breakfast joint, was a bright spot in an otherwise gray place when we visited there in May. I enjoyed the special of the day, Eggs Benedict piled high with real, fresh crab meat (because Portland, being a port city, has access to good seafood) alongside a piping hot coffee and, to ward off depression borne of another rainy day, a spicy Bloody Mary that was worth the extra buck for “spicy.” Another food highlight (because food is a great comforter when the weather is drippy) was Dar Essalam, a Moroccan place in nearby Wilsonville that served lamb and couscous like it was high art.

We also took in Portland Saturday Market, the largest continuously operated outdoor market in the United States. Some salesperson did a great job luring vendors out in a place where it surely must rain every other weekend. Under blocks of tents, we found all kinds of interesting and beautiful baubles, handmade by inventive and talented people who were drinking a lot of Starbucks and eating hot snacks prepared nearby, possibly because they were hungry but more likely just to keep their hands warm.

These artisans had obviously been keeping themselves industriously occupied during rainy days.

Grand Tetons are mountain fresh

Have you ever purchased laundry detergent or air freshener that purports to smell “mountain fresh”?

Having grown up in a state where Inspiration Peak was a high point (1,750 feet above sea level, if you’re counting), I’m a sucker for that scent. Some ephemeral combination of pine, snow melt and wild flowers with a hint of loamy soil, “mountain fresh” is the definition of fresh in an exotic way to me.

When I get to smell mountain fresh in a real and natural way, I experience a little bit of paradise. That’s how most of Grand Tetons National Park smells.

grand-teton-flowers.jpg

My Beloved and I got to appreciate the park earlier this month in conjunction with a visited to Yellowstone National Park, which lies just north in the northwestern corner of Wyoming. I spied these wild flowers when I strayed from the walkway; the Grand Tetons peaks are in the background.

teton other side

Looking the opposite direction from the majestic mountains, this is the view at the top of Signal Mountain Summit Road in the park. Signal Mountain is 7,720 feet above sea level. As impressive the view, it’s more than 6,000 feet short of the highest point in the Grand Tetons.

Unlike the top of Grand Teton, this stop at the top of Signal Mountain is drivable. As lovely as it smells and as expansive as the view, it was the kind of mountaintop quiet where the only sound is the breeze and the flowers blooming in the sunshine.