Minnesota State Fair

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The crowd at the last sunday of the 2016 Minnesota State Fair

One of the last celebrations of the Minnesota summer and its quick and exorable transformation into fall, and winter, the Minnesota State Fair, also called “the Great Minnesota Get Together,” and I’m sure a lot of other self-aggrandising nicknames. Lindsay and I spent the last Sunday of the venerable Minnesota tradition enjoying its treats and braving the crowds. It was surprising that I had avoided the fair for the last decade or so, and so I really enjoyed getting to rediscover it with a newcomer to our strange state. After moving here, Lindsay found herself enchanted by many aspects of the Fair and attends faithfully each year, and I was eager to experience it again with her.  I was definitely not disappointed by my return!

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So much honey…

A lot had changed, and a lot had stayed the same, since my last visit. As our local media is dutiful to report, there were a lot of delicious, if not exactly healthy sounding, new culinary innovations being hawked throughout the Fair, some delectable and some, not so much. In any case, we had to track a few of the most promising sounding ones down, and as we explored twisting grounds of the fair, weaving through the throngs, we encountered some of the weird and wonderful quirks that make our state a little bit different. By all accounts, this was the largest attendance ever for the Minnesota State Fair, an event not known for a small turnout.

We started out with some breakfast near the in the Blue Barn in the new West End Market, a welcome transformation of what I found the chintzy old “Heritage Square.” Nothing says breakfast like a cup of beer, so I started off with that, a Caramel Apple Pi beer, which was the closest one could get to drinking a caramel apple pie, along with some fried french toast. The important artifacts remain, the cabin and the windmill, and there’s still plenty of taxidermied animal carcasses to take home (if you must).

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Saying hi- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Heading over to the livestock, always a popular attraction at the fair, we wandered through the goat and sheep barn, echoing with bleats, munching, and that goaty smell. Even better, Lindsay and I were enchanted by the rows and rows of Lindsay’s favorite creature, rabbits. There were so many, of so many different hues, sizes, fur types, and ear shapes, but all adorable. Some stood up, inspecting their surroundings with concern, if not interest, while others simply took it easy on their furry little bellies. Of course, some were winners and some were losers to the farm kids who raised them to show at the Fair, but they were all great to us city kids. The baby animals of the Miracle of Birth barn, with calves born just hours before and was also an interesting stop.

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newborn calf- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Hungry for lunch and other refreshments, we walked towards the Agriculture Building, but not before grabbing some fried croissants from the French Meadow and floating through the Old Mill, the oldest surviving attraction at the Fair. The Mill, a rickety contraption that propels brightly dyed water and boats of visitors through a cramped, dark, damp maze, past pastel murals of gnome villages, is what is known as a “tunnel of love.” The place is so old, as you creak through the maze, attempting to find the lips of your loved one in the darkness, you can think of Garrison Keillor doing the same years before. Sorry!   

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Dahlia- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Finding our way to the Agriculture-Horticulture Building, I again subjected Lindsay to a slew of beers courtesy of the Land of 10,000 Beers, the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild exhibit. With a sampler of four different local beers by theme, Lindsay and I picked out a couple, the sweeter beers and the “Cicerone’s Choice.” By the time we were done with them, we were both a little overly indulged. What better time than to tour lovely displays of Christmas trees, rows of precisely arranged jars of honey, and tables covered with dahlias of every color. Of course, the iconic seed art was worth checking out, too.

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wow, that’s a lot of cookies!

 

After drinking a few more State Fair themed beers, I needed something to soak it all up, and Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar definitely had enough. I had never heard of this stand before, but judging by all of the fairgoers dragging around piles of chocolate chip cookies throughout the fair, it was a popular place. I was enticed to get the giant bucket option, a tub overflowing with cookies that we snacked on as we rode the SkyGlider over the busy crowds, marveling at weird agricultural vehicles of Machinery Hill and all of the stuff that somehow ended up on the roofs of the nearby buildings. By the time we escaped from the dangling cable cars, the sun was setting and our feet were burning. It was time to escape the Fair and make our way home. I would definitely recommend taking advantage of one of the bus shuttle services that bring people to the fair (there was one a short walk from our home), as the fair only seems to be getting more crowded and parking more difficult to come by. It was nice not to have to worry about that as we stumbled back and boarded our shuttle to return home, to relax and try to massage our feet back to life.

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Happy times on the SkyGlider

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A New Adventure in Wisconsin

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The sun sinks low over Green Bay, Door County, Wisconsin- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Now that we are officially in autumn, and I’ve been struggling to catch up recording all of my summer adventures for the blog, I felt I would take the opportunity to share one of the biggest adventures of the year; my engagement to my beloved! As I’ve blogged about before, my family has traditionally taken a holiday every year in the fall to Door County, Wisconsin. This year, though, we embarked on the first summer visit to Door County, and I was proud to be bringing my lovely girlfriend, Lindsay, with us for the first time! Among the usual Door County diversions, we got a lot of reading done, though not always as lovely as the surroundings- check out my reviews of Door County related books over on the new platform for my book blog, Reading Rainstorm.

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Lindsay and I kayak near Peninsula State Park, Door County, Wisconsin- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

 

Summer in Door County was a bit more crowded, but was still fun. Lindsay and I then left the group to do a little exploring of our own in eastern Wisconsin, visiting some places neither of us had ever visited before. Across Green Bay from Door County, we drove up the coast looking for the grave of Lindsay’s great great grandmother, buried in Marinette, Wisconsin. We found the headstone, took a few pictures, and then crossed the border into Michigan, so that Lindsay could say she’d been there. We ate a couple of the Upper Peninsula’s famous pasties and headed back into Wisconsin. Along the way, we visited an interesting local museum, the Peshtigo Fire Museum, the site of the worst recorded fire disaster in North American history, which ravaged the region back in 1871 (but was overshadowed by the Great Chicago Fire, which happened the same day). The museum, housed in an old church, features a few charred artifacts that survived the fire but is also packed full of old stuff of every description. Outside the museum, the Peshtigo Fire Cemetery houses the mass grave of the hundreds of victims of the fire who were never identified. Definitely a interesting place to stop if you enjoy cemeteries, history, or perusing rooms filled with random old objects!

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Peshtigo Fire Monument, Peshtigo, Wisconsin- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

We stayed in Green Bay, which is a bit much if you’re not entirely devoted to the cult of football- though the beer is good! Neither of which appeals to Lindsay, so Green Bay may not have been the best choice for us. I got plenty of good beer at Badger State Brewing, and Titletown Brewery, but being confronted by so much football was a little much. Nope, not a fan! For a train fan like Lindsay, though, the National Railroad Museum was a bit of a must see. The vintage train ride around the grounds was kind of a summer disappointment in that the oppressive heat inside the historic train car required that we ride in a much less charming open platform pulled behind it. However, the museum’s cavernous train sheds housed an amazing variety of old trains, some lovingly restored, like the train that carried Eisenhower throughout the UK during WWII, and some, like the Zephyr, musty and waiting refurbishment. In either of both types, visitors could explore and poke around through many of them.

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The train car we couldn’t ride in, due to the heat- National Railroad Museum, Green Bay, Wisconsin

 

The college town of Appleton was a bit more to our tastes- we visited the History Museum at the Castle, a very interesting local history museum housed in an atmospheric old Masonic Temple built in 1923. One of the museum’s ongoing exhibits features Houdini, the famed illusionist. Harry Houdini, born Ehrich Weiss in Hungary in 1874, moved to Appleton as a toddler and claimed it as his hometown ever after. The exhibit is controversial, apparently, for detailing how the magician performed his famous acts. In addition to this, the museum had some very touching and informative exhibits on the history of bicycles in the “Fox Valley,” the history of African-Americans in the region, and local homelessness. It is always nice to see local museums tackle such heavy and important topics!

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Museum at the Castle, Appleton, Wisconsin- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

After the museum, we strolled around the town for a bit, stopping by a funky little boutique, the Blue Moon Emporium, which we found packed full of awesome knick knacks by local independent craftspeople and designers. All the Wisconsin shaped earrings and t-shirts one could want! We also saw some lovely rings shaped from antique spoons, and found ourselves enchanted. We bought a pair and proposed to each other under the drizzle and the imposing turrets of the Castle. Engaged in Appleton! Not the most expected locale, but I feel it fits our wandering natures!

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Vintage Buses and Beer

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The bus travels through downtown Minneapolis

Over the past year or so, the Hennepin History Museum has been trying to raise its profile in the community with a series of evening Night at the Museum events featuring different themes and topics. After our romantic cookie exchange at the museum last year, Lindsay and I have attended some of them, which have always been interesting and full of fun activities and little known facts about local history. We toyed with the idea of robots, learned about bees, saw how the history of pets and bicycles affected the local culture. As I said in previous reports, the Hennepin History Museum is a hidden gem of Twin Cities museums, and each visit has been a treat.

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Interior of the vintage bus (before crowd fills it up)

This summer, the museum hosted, along with another local institution, the Minnesota Transportation Museum, a historical Vintage Bus Brewery tour of Minneapolis. Bringing together three of my interests, local history, public transportation, and beer, it was definitely a blast! One of the highlights of the summer, Lindsay and I boarded the 1950s era GMC Transit buses which served Metro Transit for some years during the ‘50s and ‘60s to be whisked around to several local breweries, all the while listening to interesting facts about the history of the area. Maybe it’s just me, but I find the history of the region’s public transportation fascinating- we were riding in the bus that replaced the streetcar lines across the Twin Cities in a shady bit of corporate grift. The bright colors and lines of the old city bus attracted the attention of passersby as it rumbled through town. The preservation of the vintage bus was immaculate, with its period advertisements and creaking seats, it was like traveling back in time.

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enjoying a beer at Boom Island Brewing

 

Our first stop was at Boom Island Brewing, close to the river. A Belgian-style brewery in North Minneapolis, Boom Island’s beers are earthy and powerful, with enough variety to please just about any beer connoisseur. I had not been there before, but it would definitely be one I’d like to visit again. I particularly liked the Brimstone Trippel and the Cuvee de Boom. While we were visiting, the brewery was hosting a Bayou Blowout Crayfish boil, which was a nice place for me to get my seafood fix along with a beer. Some crayfish fettuccine is just the thing I didn’t know I was craving before setting out!  

Reboarding the bus, the crowd a bit more in our cups than before, we trundled off to our next destination, a stroll across the Stone Arch Bridge. Along the way, we passed through Nicollet Island, our interpreter having to raise his voice a little to be heard over the reveling. Crossing the river, we strolled around the park, walking off some of the beer we already imbibed. St. Anthony Falls, the reason the city was here in the first place, was roaring, the wet weather making it more than twice as full as it would be that time of year on average. The river-scented mist billowing off of the falls dampened us as we watched it flow from the bridge. I also took the opportunity, like so many others on the tour, to capture a few new pokemon on the newly exploding Pokemon Go app. Yep, it was just like being on an actual bus! As for the app, well, that can be an entirely different conversation best saved for another entry.

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View of St. Anthony Falls from the Stone Arch Bridge- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Our last stop was Day Block Brewery, one of my favorite breweries in Minneapolis, a venue that, in addition to its great beers, offers some intriguing craft cocktails for Lindsay as well! After enjoying a few more libations, and a fairly delicious pretzel to help absorb the booze a bit, we got back on the bus and returned to the Hennepin History Museum. While there are no more tours being offered this year, I’m looking forward to trying out one of the vintage bus history tours of St. Paul breweries next year, and I’d definitely recommend it!

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Preparing to board, outside of Day Block