Minneapolis to Bismarck

One of the reasons I was so excited about this trip is because I only had three states left to visit and both North Dakota and Idaho were on my way to Portland. Cynthia and Robert took a little longer to get ready so I went over to Target to wait for them and pick up some washer fluid. We got some coffee while we were there and then left Minneapolis.

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Pit stop!

Robert is a terrific co-pilot (when he’s not practicing his driving) and he was scanning Roadtrippers for interesting stops along our route. I’d already mentioned the giant otter so we started with that one.

Otto the Big Otter is in a park not far from the freeway. Also in the park are more geese than I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

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Hitchcock would have loved this park

There’s a really cool tree in the lake that also had a TON of creepy birds. Seriously, there was geese poop everywhere! We walked over to the otter to snap some pics and found an amazing woman doing yoga on top of the giant otter.

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Side crane pose?

We decided that the geese might be problematic in terms of our picnic and decided to head to another Fergus Falls park which was supposed to have a giant Canadian goose statue. TBH that one was a big let down, especially after seeing Otto. But it was a lovely place for a picnic!

 

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Picnic in the park!

Our next stop was Fargo.

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Forty eight down, two to go!

Fargo is famous for its woodchipper. Well, I’m sure they are famous for more, but that’s the first thing that comes to MY mind. The Cynthia found out the woodchipper is in the visitor’s center and that you could borrow hats to pose for pictures. Not only that, but the staff there are super helpful and happy to take your picture for you!

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The woodchipper!

They also gave us a very handy brochure “9 Places to Visit in North Dakota Along Interstate 94”. We jumped back in our cars and headed to Jamestown to see the largest buffalo in the world.

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This attraction did not disappoint

Cynthia and I had a lot of fun with the big buffalo!

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Pucker up!

And the stage coach…

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Taking the stagecoach for a little spin.

I love North Dakota!

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Kicking off My Summer Vacay

This summer MINI USA is sponsoring another MINI Takes the States and I have been looking forward to it for two years! My friend Cynthia Womble and her son Robert met me in Chicago so we could rally together towards the MTTS launch in Portland.

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#womblingon towards the #BACONrally to the #MTTS2018

The route we planned would take us from Chicago to Minneapolis on the first day. We decided to stop at the House on the Rock to take a tour and eat lunch. We rolled out of Chicago and our first stop was the O’Hare Oasis on the Tri-State Tollway. Robert wanted to check it out and since they are getting ready to demolish it, it felt like the right time.

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Wombles!

From the Oasis it was another two hours to the House on the Rock, which is in Spring Green, WI. The parking lot was packed so we parked under some shady trees in the back of the lot and purchased tickets for the tour of the house (it’s one of three sections but we didn’t have a ton of time!)

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If you ever get a chance to visit the House on the Rock, take it! So much to see, I plan to return!

The highlight of the house tour was the Infinity room. It was incredible!

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And so many collections!

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Lots of Santas

When we finished the tour, we sat next to our cars in the parking lot and had lunch.

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Parking lot picnics are my FAV!

That’s where things took a wrong turn. literally! I pulled out first and turned right at the end of the aisle. I pulled under a shady tree to wait for Cynthia and Robert to pull in behind me. After about five minutes I thought maybe they turned left and were waiting near the entrance to the parking lot so I drove over there. There was no sign of them but I didn’t want to go anywhere in case they were headed in that direction so I waited another five minutes. There was still no sign of them. I began to think maybe they’d had some sort of problem so I drove back over to the spaces where we’d parked. They weren’t there either! I tried to text them to find out their location, but my signal was spotty (thanks TMobile). Eventually I decided they must have thought I was ahead of them and had left.

I pulled out on to the road and headed towards Minneapolis by way of the Great River Road. Every once in a while I’d get a text from Cynthia or Robert, but I still wasn’t sure how far ahead of me they were so I hauled ass and didn’t stop until I got to Minnesota. As I motored north along the River Road I discovered that somehow I’d passed them! Probably because they had stopped at some really cool spots while I was driving as fast I thought I could get away with to catch up! Along the way I stopped to check out the river.

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The Mighty Mississippi

I made it to the hotel a couple of hours ahead of Cynthia and Robert and collapsed. Tomorrow we will address our communication issues with some group texts and two-way radios!

 

 

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It’s a Fairytale Town, Isn’t It?

Cyndi and I got a late start, but eventually set out for Bruges. We caught the metro to Central Station and picked up a waffle before we hopped on the train. The waffles in Belgium deserve their reputation. Just a plain hot waffle from a subway vendor is better than any waffles I’ve ever had anywhere else!

It was an hour-long ride to Bruges from Brussels. When we arrived at the train station, we started walking towards the town. Cyndi and Gil had done a walking tour when they were there which came in very handy since she remembered a lot of trivia and had dropped pins on her map for some of the most interesting sites. It was very close to lunchtime so we found a cafe first and ate lunch while we planned our itinerary for the day. The first stop was the Frites Museum. The best part of the Frites Museum was the fun facts!

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Hussy potatoes!

We enjoyed learning more about potatoes.

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My first job was working at Hardee’s so I guess this was a bit like riding a bike?

And of course the instagrammable photo ops!

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We love frites!

The next stop we made was the Choco Story Museum, a museum dedicated to chocolate!

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Tasting what chocolate was like before anyone thought to add the good stuff, like sugar. 

There were lots of interesting facts.

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Oh England!

And of course photo opportunities…

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Conquistadors encountering chocolate don’t look as excited as I would have been.

When we left there, Cyndi showed me a lot of placed from In Bruges she had learned about on her first trip.

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Movie sites and other places of interest

On the way we decided to stop for a drink, because it is important to stay hydrated.

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We stopped at Cafe Vlissinghe, the oldest continuously operating pub in existence. I had a hot chocolate with rum. I can see why their business model has stood the test of time.

Eventually we walked to the windmills that sat by the canals.

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We arrived just in time to see the drawbridge open

From there we walked back to the city center to do a little souvenir shopping before heading home.

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Doors of Bruges

Since our trip to Ghent had been cut short and we didn’t visit any candy shops there, we were really excited to find that they had the famous Ghent candy, little noses in Bruges!

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A super helpful Belgian woman explained to me that these were the best candies in the world. I tried them and I can verify that she was absolutely right.

We bought a few more trinkets and then walked back to the train station. We got a little turned around and ended up taking the long way, which worked out very well when we accidentally found ourselves in a street art tunnel that led to the train station.

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Streetart in Bruges

“It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s fucking thing? How can all those canals and bridges and cobbled streets and those churches, all that beautiful fucking fairytale stuff, how can that not be somebody’s fucking thing, eh?” – Harry, In Bruges

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Who Wouldn’t Love a Pot of Cheese

It was another rainy day in Brussels and Cyndi and I planned to see a few local sights. We bundled up and took the bus to the Cora (it’s like the local Walmart).

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Riding the bus to the Cora

It was a short ride and a long walk and then we wandered up and down the aisles looking for christmas lights and license plate holders. They had everything we needed and Cyndi picked up a few more bags of sausages while we were there. We walked back to the bus and then rode to the stop for the Aldi and picked up some schnitzel for dinner.

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I really, really wanted Cyndi to make chicken donuts but she wouldn’t go for it!

The rain had let up so we walked home from there. After we unpacked the groceries, we walked to The Open for lunch.

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The cutest restaurant I have ever seen. And that was BEFORE they brought out my pot of melted cheese.

The Open is a local French bistro, about a block from Cyndi’s house. Cyndi suggested we visit since they had the best fondue in town. It was essentially a giant pot of melted racklette cheese with small potatoes in the bottom of the pot. It came with a salad and a trio of meats.

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I would have licked the bowl but there were people in there…

From there we walked to the Arc de Triomphe which is literally two blocks from Cyndi’s apartment.

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There is a lovely view of the Arc from the balcony in my room.

Access to the top of the Arc is through the Military History Museum, so we bought a ticket and went up to the top.

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Looking at the city from the top of the Arc!

The views of the city were amazing! Since our ticket was good for the museum as well, we went down and walked through that as well.

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Made a few friends while we were there…

The air wing was our favorite part.

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Lots of aircraft in the airwing

Across the parking lot from the military museum is Auto World so of course I wanted to see that!

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Just missed the American Dream Cars

Sadly the American Dream Cars show doesn’t open until December 15th, long after I leave. But the rest of the cars were pretty amazing.

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A few of our favorite cars

We walked home from there, it was only two blocks. Cyndi made schnitzel and when Gil got home we had dinner and a movie. It had been a long day so we turned in early so we’d be well rested for our trip to Bruges!

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A Rainy Day in Ghent

Cyndi and I decided to spend the day in Ghent. It was cold and rainy so we bundled up and grabbed some umbrellas and took off. We took the Metro to the train station and arrived early enough to get a hot waffle and a cappuccino before our train arrived. We watched him make our waffles and the sugar was carmalized and formed a crunchy shell.

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Tastes like heaven

It was a quick 30 minute train ride from Brussels to Ghent and when we arrived we decided to walk to the old city from the train station. We walked along the canal and admired the houses.

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Fancy houseboat on the canal in Ghent

First up on our agenda was a visit to Gravensteen Castle. It was originally built in 1180 and it decayed over time, but the city of Ghent restored it in the late 1800s.

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Gravensteen Castle

I paid for out tickets and we went inside. The top of the castle has some amazing views of the city.

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Admiring Ghent

but the climb up there involves a lot of narrow, twisty steps.

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Creepy!

As we passed through the castle, we also got to see the various torture instruments.

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This was the guillotine they actually used in Ghent

And one room had weapons and armor.

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No idea how they even carried this around!

My favorite room was the throne room.

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TBH I would have preferred a more impressive throne. 

By the time we left the castle it had started to drizzle again. We decided to look for somewhere to eat lunch and I wanted to find some Waterloo Stew, a dish Ghent is supposed to be known for. Cyndi tried to Yelp it, but we weren’t having any luck so we decided to walk towards the cathedral and see if we could read a few menus along the way. That’s when we stumbled across Street Art Alley.

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The entrance to the alley really caught our eye!

We walked through and saw some amazing art.

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Cyndi loved this one.

I took a TON of pictures.

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This one made us laugh.

When we got to the other side we realized we were walking away from the city center so we turned around and walked back through the alley.

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Loved getting a new perspective on the way back!

The rain started coming down harder so we passed the cathedral and walked to a square that was surrounded by restaurants. We searched all the menus but there was no mention of Waterloo Stew. We were getting colder and wetter so we settled on a spot that had Ghent Stew.

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Our server claimed this was the best stew in the city. Made with beef cheek and lavender, it was simmered over sixteen hours and he was right, it was amazing!

When we finished eating, I went inside to pay our tab since Cyndi had conveniently forgotten her wallet. They ran my card twice and it didn’t work either time. They didn’t take Amex so my backup card wasn’t any good either. I was starting to panic when I realized I had 50 Euro in my pocket. Lunch was 45 Euro so I had just enough left to buy bus tickets to get back to the train station. It was raining even harder so we decided to head home and pick up Cyndi’s wallet!

By the time we got home it didn’t seem worth going out in the rain again so Cyndi cooked a delicious dinner and when Gil got home we turned on In Bruges to do some research for our trip on Wednesday.

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Giving Thanks for NATO

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization sponsors a charity event each year. NATO countries and supporters set up booths where they sell items from their own country to raise money for charity. My sister and brother-in-law took me to this year’s event which was packed! Lots and lots of families wandered through the halls examining the wares from each country. We aren’t allowed to take pictures within the building, so I gave my sister my phone and we set off.

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Photo ban at the NATO Charity Bazaar. 

We saw reindeer hides from Finland (which my sister’s Swedish friends told us make sitting outside in the winter OK), drinking horns from Georgia, and pottery from Poland (another item my sister’s friends highly recommended). As soon as we walked in we saw the Polish stand. While we were looking at the pottery, they convinced us to buy a raffle ticket because every ticket was a winner. I won two different tubs of cosmetics. I don’t read Polish so I have no idea what they do. Cyndi won fish. Three tins of fish.

I picked up a few Christmas gifts for some friends back home which I won’t list here on the off chance that any of them follow this blog (looking at you Bob and Angel!) Canada was my favorite stand because they were passing out shots of my new favorite drink, maple whisky.

In the cafeteria there were stands with native foods. We saw a giant pan of paella passing through on its way to the Spanish stand. The French were making racklette sandwiches. I got a hot dog from Denmark because my brother in law said they were highly recommended (he was right!) I also tried the Moose Milk. This was from the Canadians and it was the Moose Milk that convinced me Canada might be my new favorite country.

After picking up a few more items from Slovenia and Turkey we couldn’t carry much more so we headed home.

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Of course I picked up some maple whisky and Glögg

Cyndi and Gil decided to take me out to dinner at their favorite restaurant Balls and Glory. We hopped on the Metro and rode to Central Station. Then we walked past the Grand Place.

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Friday night the Christmas Markets open which I guess is when they light the tree because it wasn’t lit yet. 

Balls and Glory is a meatball shop, but they are meatballs like you’ve never had before. They flash freeze various sauces and insert them into the center of the meatball. Then it is baked (never fried) and served with a stump (a mash of potatoes, carrots and the vegetable of the day) and a salad. We decided to order multiple meatballs so we could try one of each.

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I was the only one who thought the chicken was the best. Everyone else like the tikka masala better.

After dinner we walked over the St Catherine’s Cathedral.

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Waffle trucks! Too bad we ate too many meatballs…

And then we walked through the Gallery to peek in all the windows of the chocolate shops.

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So much chocolate…

On our way back to the Metro we passed the Smurf museum. I had been the Smurf Assistant when I worked at Hardees in high school so I insisted we stop for a photo.

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Nice hat!

My first weekend in Brussels was fantastic. Next week we will explore more of the city as well as Ghent and Bruges!

 

 

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Happy Birthday, Marines!

After landing in Luxembourg, I caught a train to Brussels. I upgraded to first class but as soon as I boarded I realized it was clearly a commuter train and there was no difference between the cars except the one I was in was basically empty. I wedged my bags up against the window and settled in. It was a three-hour ride from Luxembourg to the Central Station in Brussels. Thanks to T Mobile, I was in constant contact with my sister while she was at her hair salon and I was riding the rails.

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All alone in the first class car…

I tried to stay awake and broke out my journal to pass the time. I was worried about missing the stop for the central station since all the announcements were in French. I tried really, really hard to stay awake but eventually the gentle motion of the train got to be too much for me and I passed out.

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I woke up occasionally and saw random stations like this…

I was sleeping hard and suddenly realized the train had stopped moving. I looked out the window at what appeared to be a major train station and I heard the announcer speaking a lot of French. I knew just enough French to recognize the words “central station” in the middle of her announcement. I thought, “Oh shit, this must be it!” I grabbed my coat, my suitcase, and my overnight bag and ran to the door. I stuck my head out to make sure it was the right station, but there weren’t any signs. I could see the conductor on the other end of the platform start to get back on board and I didn’t want to miss my stop so I chucked the heavy bag off the train, grabbed my overnighter and my coat and jumped off right before the doors shut. The temperature had climbed to about 1 so I put on my coat and hat and looked around. The station was entirely deserted. No sign of life. At that point a text from Cyndi arrived.

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Turns out I was nowhere near Central Station.

After I explained to her I was in a different station which had no signs but appeared to be very fancy, she figured out I was at the EU. She sent me a screenshot of her route to the station and it said she should arrive at 2:39. I assumed she was driving so at 2:35 I went out to stand on the curb so she wouldn’t have to park. Turns out I was all wrong about that as well. She had taken the metro to meet me. I waited outside for about 10 minutes and there was no sign of her so I went back into the empty station.

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No people, no signs, no idea where I was…

Cyndi texted me that she had arrived but I still didn’t see any sign of her. She told me she was at the entrance to the station. That’s where I thought I was. She asked me what street I was on though really if there had been any fucking signs at that station I’d have been at the right one! Finally I saw her walking around a corner. I almost wept. I said, “Where is the car? I’m freezing!” She said, “I didn’t drive. I thought you were coming into Central Station and it is just a couple of metro stops from my house. We only need to walk the quarter-mile to the Metro station here because this is the only train station in the city that doesn’t have a Metro station attached.”

When we finally got to Cyndi’s house, Gil was waiting for us. They gave me a quick tour, showered me with gifts, and fixed me a snack. We had just enough time to get pretty before they took me to the Marine Corps Ball.

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Cyndi thought we had a Dynasty vibe going on.

Several of Gil’s co-workers were seated at our table. There was a couple from Hungary, a couple from Poland, and a woman from Italy with her Danish boyfriend. The program was great. Of course my favorite part was when they sliced the cake with the sword.

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Happy birthday, Marines!

We drank wine. A lot of wine.

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Dinner was great, and that’s not the wine talking…

And then they brought out the pièce de la résistance,,,

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Macaroons as big as your head.

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