Road trip to Minnesota

I spent last week in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The mission was to drop my son off at college. He was born in Minnesota but we were living in Russia at the time. Over the next six years we dragged him all over Europe. At one point we were sitting in a restaurant in Amsterdam. It was late and we were enjoying a nice meal. There were two men at the table next to us. One of them leaned over and asked, “does your son always sleep at restaurants?”. I looked over and he was fast asleep with his head on the table. My answer was, “Yes he can sleep anywhere”. And he did.

My child learned to adapt and adjust and deal with things he found unpleasant. He went to a Russian school and hated it because he was the “different” one. When he returned to the US and went to school, again he knew he was the “different” one.

After returning the US, my son had other challenges – adjusting to five different schools, his parents’ divorce, and his father’s death. His experience in Russia and traveling around Europe gave him unique tools to cope with these things. His father’s family was Russian and he now embraces his heritage with a balanced view. He knows the hardships that people endure there but he also knows about their rich culture and has memories of the wonderful people who helped care for him.

But Minnesota always felt like home to him and was the only place he wanted to go to college.

Lake Michigan

Our first day on the road we drove from DC to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It wasn’t too bad except we hit Chicago during rush hour and had a few disagreements about navigation. Apparently I was falling down on the job because I was taking pictures when I should have been guiding. However, we managed to find out our way in the end. Plus I took a great photo of the lake.

After spending a day with relatives in Milwaukee we headed north to Minneapolis. Minneapolis and St Paul, also known as the Twin Cities, are located across the Mississippi river from each other. Minneapolis is the larger city and was culturally influenced by its Scandinavian Lutheran population, while St Paul was more influenced by its German and Irish Catholic roots. Minneapolis currently is host to the largest Somali population in North America. If you saw the movie “Captain Phillips”, the Somali actors all came from Minneapolis.

We took in a Twins baseball game, ate at a lot of good restaurants, saw a lot of people, and went to the Fair.

Crop Art

The first Minnesota State Fair was held in 1859 and has been an annual event ever since. It is a major tourist attraction and is host to live entertainment, educational booths, technological and industrial exhibits, artwork and much more. I love the “crop art” made from corn, wheat, or whatever they are harvesting.

The fair attracts 1.8 million visitors annually and is held in the last 12 days of August ending on Labor Day. The fairgrounds are on 320 acres between Minneapolis and St Paul. The grounds themselves are beautiful with gardens and historical art deco buildings dating back to the Works Progress Administration eras. During the rest of the year the grounds are used for horse and livestock competitions, hockey games, car shows, and expositions.

This year my niece was manning the DNR booth. The exhibit educates more than half a million visitors each year about natural resources, outdoor recreation, conservation, hunting regulations and my niece’s specialty, protection against invasive species.

The new offerings this year in the food category included bacon-wrapped turkey legs, beer gelato, chicken in the waffle (crispy chicken nestled in a crunchy waffle cone, then smothered with a creamy sausage gravy), deep-fried breakfast on a stick, deep fried lobster on a stick, chocolate dessert salami (chocolate, butter, almonds and walnuts all blended and rolled into a distinctive salami shape, dusted with powdered sugar, then sliced and served on specialty crackers), and cheese curds coated in pretzel batter and deep fried.

Do you see a theme here? Lots of deep fried food on a stick. Of course, the old favorite staple of the fair were the deep fried mini-donuts covered in sugar and cinnamon.  And it was only $1 for all-you-can-drink milk – two percent regular or one percent chocolate.

Milking Cows

I have been to the fair many times but it would take a full week of intense submersion in order to see everything. I usually walk through the farm machinery just to be in awe of the size of the tractors. The cow barn is always fun with a stroll outside to see the milking machines in action.

Butter Sculpture

The butter building is not to be missed. The Minnesota Dairy Princess competition is held each year and the winner is crowned Princess Kay of the Milky Way at the State Fair. She receives a scholarship and spends the next year as the goodwill ambassador for the Minnesota dairy industry. The best part is she is immortalized in a 90 pound block of Grade A butter. The sculpture is displayed in a walk-in, glass-walled refrigerator. Not only is it fun to see the sculpture but it is also the coolest place at the fair where it can be very hot and muggy.

We ended the evening at the Midway where there are plenty of rides and games. It was fun to watch the people.

The next day we dropped my son off at his dorm and I thought about the new challenges he will face. He was excited. He will do well.