Wednesday was a travel day for us, so we caught a taxi to the Metra stop to downtown Chicago to catch Amtrak’s Empire Builder rail service to Minneapolis. We spent quite a bit of time in the lounge car with its large windows, watching the American landscape pass by. We arrived early, to our surprise, and found the ’89 Oldsmobile our relatives kindly lent us for our northerly trip. We hit a freakish blizzard for the first half of the trip, so we were glad to make it in around 1:30 a.m. Thursday was a light day with a dog walk and errands, ending with a sushi dinner.
We all got up early for mini dog sled races that began at 7 a.m. It was super cute with dogs under 20 lbs. pulling miniature sleds hopefully the twenty or so feet to the finish line. Afterwards, we had a light breakfast and took a walk along the chilly Lake Superior shore filled with broken up ice that made beautiful sounds as the waves moved them. DeWitt Seitz marketplace warmed us back up with some inside shopping, as well as some antique shops across the streets and the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory (caramel apple, yum!). Across the river, we had lunch with my uncle I haven’t seen in at least five years, then we called it a day to prepare for an evening bonfire. Herr provided some homemade gluewein that went over well.
Saturday was a big day. My aunt came up from Minneapolis and joined us for the Cutest Puppy Contest. The venue was quite crowded, however, so we didn’t stay too long. An Alaskan Malamut won (she was very adorable and fluffy), although I voted for a Great Dane puppy (the size of those paws… so cute!). The weather was conducive to a sleigh ride (unlike our wedding), so 16 of us piled on a sleigh way out in the boonies and had fun pushing each other off for near an hour. Pretty exhausting, but it’s all fun. We had a good mix of food and roasted s’mores around a bonfire per tradition.
The Beargrease races started on Sunday, but we were pretty worn out from all those activities and chose to instead go for snowmobile runs. Herr and my father took the sleds out to the Buffalo House, and my mom and I met up with them. It was a good day for it, and Herr hadn’t had a real chance to go sledding before. He seemed to enjoy it well enough!
We had to get ready to head up farther north though, so we packed up and drove to Larsmont Cottages on the North Shore Monday afternoon. We took it easy and swam a bit indoors before heading for the outdoor hot tub. Woo! Nothing like sitting in hot water with below freezing conditions to feel like you’re really in Minnesota.
Tuesday started off well with a lazy morning and a scenic walk on the waterfront outside the cottage. The resort provided complementary snowshoes, which we used around Gooseberry Falls. We stopped at Bettys’ Pies for a quick bite before joining my parent for a yummy meal at the New Scenic Cafe. When we were leaving, I noticed just how bright the stars were so far out of the city. What a sight!
On Wednesday we celebrated our fourth anniversary by nordic skiing, swimming, taking an hour-long professional massage, and then eating at the Rock Edge Grille located at the resort. I did okay for my first time cross country skiing, but as a beginner, I really do not like turns going down hills. The massages were some of the best we had; I’m sure they helped us recover from our outdoor activities.
It was sad to pack up and head back down. The staff at Larsmont are all friendly, and I was getting used to a whirlpool tub. Alas, we stopped in Duluth to have lunch with my grandma and have a chat with my other grandma before hitting the road for Minneapolis. We stayed with my aunt who then kindly brought us to the airport the next morning for an uneventful flight back to Germany.
On Wednesday we departed Germany for the States. We took a wide array of transportation: tram, train, bus, plane, then taxi. After arriving at the Frankfurt airport, we learned our flight was cancelled due to a cabin crew strike. We were to connect in Dublin, so the employees rerouted us on a nonstop flight that arrived in New York four hours early. When we went to the new check-in desk, the employee gave us business class seats before realizing the other airline’s code for economy was their code for business class. She tore up the tickets and printed us standard economy but was kind enough to give us all three seats in the middle row. So close to an upgrade but can’t complain.
New York and Chicago
We stayed at the Wellington just two blocks south of Central Park and were given a top floor (27th) room with kitchen and balcony on the roof. We were far above the steady thrum of life on the streets below and had bright yellow sunlight streaming in the large windows in the morning. That evening we visited the New York Public Library and Central Station, having our five or sixth meal (we ultimately stayed up about 23 hours that â€œdayâ€) at the Oyster Bar. A few blocks away we stopped by Birdland for dessert and live free-form jazz by Dave Murray and his big band.
After walking around Central Park and back down Madison Avenue in the morning, we caught a cab to Penn Station for our Lakeshore Limited overnight train trip. New York to Chicago is a 19-hour trip, so we went all out for a first class sleeper room with private bath (meals included in the dining car). We only arrived an hour late, possibly due to snow on the tracks. From the station, we crossed to catch a Metra (the local train) out to the suburbs. Other members of the family arrived later, and we all went out to eat at a good restaurant with live music (a tad too loud for us to talk).
On Saturday we celebrated two birthdays. Herr’s niece just turned two and his grandfather 84. We had a large family gathering with entertainment from the little one banging on her new toys. Everyone was heading back to their homes by Sunday afternoon, leaving the four of us to take in a play at the Steppenwolf Theatre called Sex with Strangers. It was a literary play that everyone seemed to enjoy, with a hibachi (Japanese) meal to follow.
Herr’s mother had to work the rest of the time we were visiting, so his father chauffeured us around Chicago to see the Shedd Aquarium (I think the amount of time spent photographing fish tested his patience), and then we stopped by the Field Museum to check out the new Gold exhibit. I want a gold-leaf room now… We visited the Egypt exhibit as well before hopping back in the car to make some paella.
The next day we returned to downtown Chicago to investigate the Art Institute of Chicago. The museums offered free days on Monday and Tuesday so we were able to take advantage of this deal and see some pretty amazing exhibits. We started in the Thorne rooms, known for its miniature models of interior design over the centuries. Needless to say I acquired a few ideas of my own.
After seeing all the miniature architecture, I suggested we go to the architecture exhibit. It’s contents were primarily conceptual. I found several of these thought provoking, especially an augmented (hyper) reality presentation. After a brief lunch in the new wing, we made a short stop in the modern art section. I believe Herr’s father is glad we left as we both were making several somewhat insulting comments about splotches as art (some days I am just not that interpretive…).
Overall the Institute had some fabulous artwork including Saurat’s stippling masterpiece, several Georgia O’Keefe pieces (I really like her technique but could do without the sexual undertones â€“ or overtones in most cases), Edward Hopper, and a couple Monet, Picassos, a Carravaggio… well, they have some good art. I had determined that morning that I did not have enough outfits to make the trip comfortable, so we walked to Macy’s department store and picked up two in maybe 40 minutes? It was a very quick trip for me. We joined up with Herr’s mother for dinner at Noodles and Co. and watched the State of the Union Address.
From there, Herr drove thirteen hours to his family’s cottages near Lake Michigan. As a quick side expedition, we stopped by Bond Falls to give our legs a stretch (and get a HUGE ice cream cone).
Upon arriving, we were given the porch room, most aptly named for its former life as a porch. It is screened in on three sides on the second level of the cottage, providing a commanding view of the family cottage area. The lake the cottages reside by was having its annual sailboat race, of which Herr’s family participates. Herr gave me my first sailing experience (my family does power boats). Our time there was much quieter, a welcome relief to everything that had happened so far. Herr took me to see some of his childhood haunts before we took the twelve hour drive back to the airport.
The trip back wasn’t bad (aside from the general nastiness of flying). We arrived sleep deprived after the night drive with the threat of another storm. However, Minnesotans are much hardier than Pennsylvanians (and the storm just missed the area… :P), so the flights were on time. Back in Germany, however, we could not get on a direct train unless we sat around for a few hours. After 48 hours of no sleep, I wasn’t too happy. We ended up taking the great circle route home and crashed for most of the weekend. The dogs were very happy to be home with us, but they weren’t too keen on how much we slept. 😛
Flying is never fun, but this topped the list of worst flights for me. Lufthansa was striking (luckily, not international flights). After trouble with excess baggage (we packed one suitcase instead of two, bad idea with all the camera equipment weighing it down), and several other troubles, we landed in Philadelphia to catch the connecting flight. However, we flew right into a storm.
The flight was delayed for nearly four hours before getting canceled around 10:00 p.m. I should mention a republican convention was being held in Philly and 50% of flights were already canceled before ours. No hotel rooms available. We “slept” in the terminal (you can’t sleep in terminals, believe me). We eventually made it to our destination, but we were much worse for wear.
The wedding went over much smoother than I anticipated. We had some initial drama (bachelor party, then a freak storm the morning of), but the Rose Garden was in full bloom, the sun was out, and the weather overall agreeable. Herr had a good time as the photographer, and I tailed him taking photos with my brother’s camera to capture candid moments. They couldn’t have asked for a nicer atmosphere. The two are now hitched! Congratulations to them! 😀
It was good to see family again. I was sad to have to leave so early (everyone else was going on a trip to the islands, no fair!), but it was time for us to depart on our second leg of the trip.