North woods hike

Last weekend we went up to the cabin in northern Minnesota so we could check out some wedding venues in the area (more on that later). We took our friends Brigid and Aaron so they could see what we’re always talking about, and though we didn’t have much time and the weather cycled through at least three seasons while we were there, we did get one afternoon of exploration in.

Mike knew about a waterfall that’s sort of hidden – no signs, no tourists pulled over to the side of the road. We hiked down a pretty steep hill covered in toppled trees and all kinds of mossy growth and lichens. It reminded me a little of the Portland walking photos from Posie Gets Cozy.

I loved these little sprouted saucer-like growths.

And then suddenly we were face to face with a massive waterfall, absolutely gushing from recent rains and spring meltwater. It was terrifying and gorgeous at the same time.

Sigh. Too pretty for words.

Chicago wrap-up

We had so much fun in Chicago. And we ate. so. much. I can highly recommend:

Ethiopian Diamond
Burt’s Place
Half Shell

They were all recommended by friends and/or Anthony Bourdain, and all places I would most definitely visit again.

My favorite has to be Burt’s Place. Best deep dish pizza I’ve ever had. The secret from what I hear is that Burt puts a little cheese under the pizza so it makes a caramelized, crunchy crust as it bakes.

We almost didn’t have dinner there because we were told at the door that we should have called ahead and it would be at least an hour and a half before we could eat pizza. But feeling travel weary, we sat down with drinks and the time flew by. Why? Because this place is an amazingly quirky gem. Tucked in a residential street it’s dive bar tiny and covered wall-to-wall in old radios, newspaper articles, toys and other random items like a gigantic whisk. Because, according to Burt’s wife, he collects this shizz and has to put it somewhere.


While we waited over garlic bread and salad, a slew of people came in to pick up orders, including a woman three sheets to the wind who harrassed Burt’s wife to no end because her order wasn’t ready. Finally she sat down and had a beer, but even our pizza came out before hers. When she left, I thought maybe the whole restaurant would clap.

Anyway, when our spinach pizza arrived it was fantastic. Just full of all the simple flavors that make pizza taste so good, and not as much bready crust as other deep dish pies have. We also tried Gino’s East, for the record, and it was wonderful. But I think Burt’s wins.

As for the other two places, Ethiopian Diamond is a pretty good sized Ethiopian restaurant serving the traditional injera – shared meals of curries on top of what I would call a huge, bubbly crepe. We ordered a sampling of different ones, and found that some were better than others, but we found plenty to love.

Half shell is a basement bar in Lincoln Park with a gruff bartender, gruff waiter and incredibly fresh, tasty crab legs. I’ve never seen so many crab legs on one plate (for less than $20 at that). It was another one of those places Mike and I agreed we never could have found on our own.

So what else did we do? Oh you know, everything.

A little Wrigleyville.

A little Sears tower. (A helicopter flew by while we were up there).

We saw Sue. Hi Sue!

Tired feet. TV in bed. Wasn’t our hotel room nice? We stayed at the Knickerbocker.

Familiar faces…

Nerds.

Sisters.

For me it was a getting to know Chicago trip because with a sister in residence I am sure I will be back again. Now that I’ve checked a lot of touristy stuff off my list, I can focus on the rest, and I really look forward to that.

North Shore weekend

It was pretty snowy along the shores of Lake Superior last weekend.

Cold, too. Can you see that? It says something like -12.

But we braved it for a weekend away. I love going there in winter, when the tourists are long gone and we can drive far out of cell phone range to Mike’s parents’ cabin near Grand Marais, Minnesota.

This time we weren’t in a hurry. We stopped a lot. Discovered an incredibly good restaurant near Duluth called the New Scenic Cafe, where I had butternut squash stuffed ravioli in a divine cream sauce with spinach, sun dried tomatoes, pecans and a hard salty cheese shaved on top. No picture of that, unfortunately.

We also stopped at our usual scenic overlook, where the ice chunks crash up against the shore. (I heard people surf in this lake. Why??)

And at the Split Rock lighthouse, just before sunset.

We woke up with the sun, much earlier than we usually do on a weekend. This is what you call nature TV.

We snowshoe-ed, Mike taught me how to build a fire (the proper Eagle Scout way), and then cozied up with a few lanterns for the evening.

I can’t tell you how essential it is for me to truly get away sometimes. You need the perspective. When all you have is a wind-up radio playing WTIP, the greatest public radio station on earth, you soon forget all your woes. You laugh at the deadpan host saying how he’s wired from drinking too much coffee and read the local news briefs in the paper (“Woman fell through the ice at Devil’s Track River. She refused treatment.”) You wish you could stay, but miss hot showers too much.

So we did all there was to do. We played marathon rounds of Yahtzee. Then we played Scrabble. Mike beat me, of course.

And then, this.

(!!!)

I’d say it was a good weekend. About the best you could have.

Eureka!

Over the weekend Mike and I traveled to Eureka Springs, Arkansas for my cousin Alana’s wedding. I haven’t been there for a long time, but I used to go there as a kid because my great aunt lived nearby. We’d hit the toy stores, and then head to Branson for a little Silver Dollar City action. I think this photo, circa 1987, is from there:

I remember it being a cute little town with trolleys and lots of shops with lacey dolls and fudge. I also remember the drive in being windey windey to the point of making us nauseous.

Well, some things have changed.

Thankfully, the roads have been updated so that only the last 20 minutes or so are windey. The town is still cute as ever, lots of stone buildings built right into hillsides and full of cute shops and restaurants.

This guy was just hanging out.

But now in addition to the townies they also have a good sized biker population alongside a good size gay population and a good sized hippie population. According to the groom, when they checked out the rehearsal dinner spot last year, a tranny convention was going on.

Oh yeah, and apparently pot is legal, too. We dubbed it the San Francisco of the south. You should go!

It worked out well for us because this eclectic crowd also digs the fair trade coffee and vegetarian food. We ate very well over the weekend.

But, what we were there for was a wedding, and it was just beautiful. They couldn’t have asked for better weather. Here’s where the ceremony took place (outside the supposedly haunted Crescent Hotel).

Isn’t this a lovely lady? My grandma Mason.

And how about this cute couple.

Only to be outdone by this even cuter couple.

More vacation photos

A while back I realized I had dozens of photos from our vacation that I never posted. Things have been a little hectic since we got back so I’m just now getting to putting them up (apologies). I can’t remember which ones Mike took so I’ll just say they’re from both of us.

Mike takes on a statue in Boston. And wins!

Mmmm, pastries.

Harbor in Portland, Maine.

More from Maine.

A schooner that passed us on the ferry to Nova Scotia.

A crazy caterpillar we saw on our hike.

White sand beach. I try not to think too much about the fact that I’m not still there.

I just liked this tree. (spoken like a true hippie)

They know how to pick paint colors in Nova Scotia.

At the Anne of Green Gables house, Anne’s room.

Toward the end of our journey, with about 50 million miles under our belts.

Vacation photos

Our approach to travel is a little unconventional but it works for us. We try to see as much as we can possibly see – that we have never seen before – in just over a week. Two summers ago we covered the deep south, 13 states and 3,500 miles. This time, with a wedding in Hudson, New York as our excuse, we decided to try New England and the Maritimes — Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island in Canada.

I think this trip was much more stressful than the south trip. You try driving to a new major city every single day. Navigating took all the patience we had and some we didn’t. But we reaped the rewards in extraordinary views, and weather that always seemed about 12 hours ahead of hurricane Hanna. She let us be, and we soaked it up.

Here’s the wedding venue, a factory turned empty warehouse turned theater.

One of many, many, many statues in Boston.

I loved Boston. Couldn’t get enough of it. What a smart city, full of history and cool architecture and great shopping and restaurants. Best pizza and bread pudding I’ve had in my life was at Figs in Beacon Hill.

What else? A lighthouse near Portland, Maine.

The view at lunch at a little pub in Shelburne, Nova Scotia. By this point we were trying to master driving in the metric system. Do you know how fast 100 km/hour is?

Sunset in Lunenburg, NS.

That afternoon we drove through little beach town after town and stopped for a hike in the Kejimkujik (i think?) national park. There were seals and crashing waves and white sand. I just don’t think our photos captured how incredible it was.

Me in front of the Anne of Green Gables house on Prince Edward Island.

That’s right girls, it’s a real place, and it is incredibly beautiful. So picturesque it doesn’t seem real.

Switching gears, Stephen King’s house in Bangor, Maine.

Driving there the night before in dense fog was so creepy I completely understood how he could imagine his stories.

Mike examining a canon at Fort Ticonderoga in New York. I never said we weren’t huge geeks.

Is this heaven? No, it’s Vermont. A state full of hippies and Ben and Jerrys. Love at first sight.