Road Trip 2018 #4 – Minnesota

I am a big fan of Democracy.  I love democracy.  It’s a great and wonderful thing.  We all need to do all that we can in order to preserve and fortify democracy.

Except when it comes to Pict family decision making.

When it comes to making decisions about our family life and especially about our travels, we need to put democracy on the back burner and become an authoritarian regime.  It was because of democracy that my day in Minnesota – my 32nd state – was pretty much a wasted opportunity.  I had proposals that everyone else dismissed or derided.  When it was put to the vote, we ended up with Mall of America coming out on top.  A mall.  Seriously.  We could have been learning about Minnesotan history or culture or exploring the landscape or taking in the scenery.  Instead, we trudged around a mall for no particular reason than it being the country’s largest mall.  Homogenous consumerism won out over specific culture and history.  It was a product of parental indecision and a failure of democracy.  Mr Pict and our youngest son went on a rollercoaster in the central fairground area, the boys enjoyed sampling and purchasing jerky, and they liked browsing in the Lego store but somehow we managed to spend four hours – four flipping hours – in a mall while accomplishing nothing in particular.

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Our next stop was Paisley Park, Prince’s house and studio in Chanhassen.  Our 9 year old is a Prince fan so the visit was really for him.  Apparently it is now possible to tour Paisley Park but, without a ticket, it is impossible to get close to the building.  Angry signs told us to not even think about crossing the road and walking on the verge at the perimeter of the late star’s estate.  Instead we had to take in the building from the other side of the road.  It is a large but weird piece of architecture, its exterior very blank and stark definitely, much more working studio looking than domestic home.  I would like to think it is much more comfortable and cosy inside.  And probably very purple.

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Our final stop in Minnesota was in Alexandria in order to see Big Ole.  Big Ole is a 25 foot tall Viking who was built for the World’s Fair in 1964.  Judging by the names of businesses we passed, Alexandria (despite its Egyptian name) is very proud of its Viking heritage and I assume that is why they obtained Big Ole.  The town also possesses the Kensington Runestone.  It is purported to be a record left by 14th Century Viking explorers but it is extremely likely to be a 19th Century hoax.  Sadly, we could not visit the Runestone or anything else in the Museum as we arrived after closing time.

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So my explorations of Minnesota were pretty woeful to say the least.  Big Ole was probably the highlight of the day.  Northern Minnesota was so flat that it made Wisconsin look positively undulating so at least I was beginning to appreciate the topographical nature of the Plains states.

We crossed into North Dakota just shy of 6pm to spend the night in Fargo.  The hotel pool had twisty slides so the kids were happy.  We ate dinner at a place named Doolittles.  There was an unfortunate mix up with my order that led to me being presented with duck and a waitress trying to convince me that that was what I had asked for.  Otherwise the food and service were great and we left the restaurant feeling replete and restored after a day that was a bit of a dispiriting trudge.  We had a swing through central Fargo on our way back to the hotel.  Life really is focused on the one main street, which is charming and characterful, but the surrounding areas are more workaday functional.  Thanks to being a college town, Fargo apparently has an average age of 30.  It certainly had a pleasant atmosphere.  We were too deadbeat to explore much, however, so we returned to the hotel to hit the hay and prepare for another day and another state to explore – North Dakota being my 33rd state.

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Road Trip 2018 #3 – Along the Mississippi

After departing the House on the Rock and partaking of a cheese and cracker picnic in the car, we journeyed through places named Gotham and Kickapoo and past scores of splattered raccoons to wend our way towards Wisconsin’s share of the Mississippi River.

We had been reliably informed by the internet, various guide books, and by people we spoke to, that the Great River Road – the drive up the side of the Mississippi River – was spectacularly beautiful and that we would be bowled over.  Well, spoiler alert, we were not.  We were instead disappointed and found ourselves wishing we had taken a speedier route in order to buy ourselves more time at the other end of the day.  It may well be the case that the Minnesota side of the River is stunningly scenic and full of breathtaking vistas.  Since we were on the Wisconsin side, however, I can only relate our unanimous opinion that the views were disappointing and the experience deflating.  For much of the route, we could not even see the river from the road, either because of distance or because of visual blocks.  The kids were not at all impressed with the decision making of their parents.  We had many miles of grumping.  This was the first time seeing the Mississippi for our youngest two sons so we found a couple of places to pull over for them to have a proper look.  The first was overlooking a railway embankment and was a pretty grotty view but we thankfully found a second, more scenic spot.

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We stopped off in La Crosse for a comfort break and because I had two bits of “Roadside America” I was keen to see.  The first of these was a giant blue baby hatching from an egg.  The sculpture is by an artist named Wolfgang Auer who hails from a German city twinned with La Crosse.  It is made of fibreglass, is 9 feet tall, and I think I read it is supposed to represent the vulnerability of parenthood – though I may be misremembering.  It was originally sited somewhere else in the town but we found it at its new home in the grounds of the town hall.

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Our second stop in La Crosse was at the Brewery Company to see the World’s Largest Six Pack.  These are actually storage tanks built in the 1960s and subsequently painted to look like cans of beer.  A board in front of the six pack informed us that they hold 7.3 million cans worth of beer, would stretch 565 miles if those cans were lined up, and that you could give one person a six pack of beer each day for over 3000 days just from the contents of these tanks.  A statue of Gambrinus, the King of Beer, was across the street but the road was too busy so I did not cross over to visit him.  Besides, it was time to hit the road again.

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Our destination for the evening was St Paul.  We arrived so late that we did not even countenance doing anything beyond seeing the city skyline.  The kids didn’t even make use of the hotel pool.  Still, it meant I claimed Minnesota as my 32nd state.