Archive for the '5. Minneapolis to Quebec' Category

Days 43,44, and 45 – Minneapolis and Muriel Deserted by Allan

Wednesday September 17 (Muriel)

Grateful for help from Our Lady of the Dashboard (GPS), we navigated the two or three miles to the Walker Art Center.  We enjoyed the lovely modern building and a special exhibit about the architecture of Eero Saarinen and sampled various displays of modern art.  Tiring of that, we strolled outside to the sculpture garden across the street in a spacious park.  Unfortunately we had no camera with us, but Allan “cheated” using the camera in his cell phone for the photos below.  The museum required me to check my purse and Allan hadn’t brought one along.  Many of the modern sculptures were outstanding and all were interesting.  One scene was especially striking:  a colorful sculpture-fountain shaped like a huge spoon, titled  “Spoonbridge and Cherry,” was installed in the center of a large grass lawn, with a couple dozen Canada Geese behind its pond.  The impressive Minneapolis skyline was outlined against a clear blue sky beyond the closer scene.  The only note that was not absolutely perfect was the difficulty of walking on the grass to get near Spoonbridge due to mighty volunteer efforts by the geese to fertilize the lawn.

We returned to the art center and lunch on its patio at its Wolfgang Puck restaurant.  Yes, we were back among some of the big city charms we had left behind in Los Angeles.

Next stop was the Mall of America.  Imagine stretching Topanga Plaza to 78 acres and four stories, with a family theme park in its center.  Next to the theme park is a LEGO imagination center.  There is an aquarium in the basement, but we only visited the four above-ground stories of the mall and missed some of the attractions.  We eventually found a replacement car charger for my cell phone as our only purchase other than a couple of small non-fat lattes at the Starbucks.  Our main motivations in going to this mall on steroids were for Allan’s business knowledge, a bit of curiosity, and the fact that the mall is near the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.

Allan has to be at a major business meeting in Los Angeles tomorrow and Friday morning.  We drove from the ultra mega mall to the airport, where I dropped him off.  He will sleep downtown, not having time to go home.  The lady of the dashboard enabled me to find my way back to our hotel where I visited the hotel happy hour for about half an hour, did laundry which was much more complicated than it should have been, and dined on leftovers from lunch and a banana from breakfast.   Checking Allan’s flight on the internet, I learned his flight left almost an hour and a half late.  He’s going to be pretty short on sleep.

Meanwhile, I hope to find things to do tomorrow that I can walk to or otherwise get to easily.  Then Friday I will drive to Milwaukee while Allan flies there after changing planes in Minneapolis.  I’m none too happy about this arrangement, but we’ve been gone 6 of the 12 weeks we plan to be touring, and Allan promises this is the only time he’s going to leave me dangling.

Thursday September 18 (Muriel)

I spent the morning watching news of the financial crisis on CNN, on my computer doing email, and deciding what I wanted to do that wouldn’t involve driving.  In the early afternoon I got directions from a hotel clerk to Mill City Museum.

It was a pleasant walk of probably less than a mile to Mill City Museum, built in the ruins of an old flour mill located along the Mississippi River next to the falls that once powered the mill.  With about 20 other visitors, I took the Flour Tower tour.  We boarded and sat in a huge industrial elevator which moved up and down between floors, each of which had a dramatic multimedia presentation about some aspect of the mill’s history, from around 1880 until it was abandoned by General Mills in 1965.  In its last decades it turned out 2 million pounds of Gold Medal flour daily.  It was destroyed in a fire long after it had been closed.  It certainly makes a lovely ruin and contrasts dramatically with the nearby black, starkly modern exterior of the Guthrie Theater.

After a few minutes to enjoy the view from the top story of the building, I hurried to a scheduled one-man re-enactment of Franklin Steele, a founder of Minneapolis and builder of its first lumber mill and of the first bridge over the Mississippi anywhere.  Of course, the Mississippi is relatively narrow in this area.  Finally, I watched another entertaining and informative offering, a film “Minneapolis in 19 Minutes Flat.”

Before, between and after all of these, I got to play with unusual interactive displays that demonstrated things like how water wheels and turbines work with water flow and how to control water flow, and watched a demonstration on how flour dust explodes.  I ambled out the back door to the grassy bank of the Mississippi.

I learned about the different kinds of wheat and the kinds of flour they make and figured out that most of the grain elevators Allan and I saw on our drive through southern Minnesota to get to Minneapolis must have held … have you guessed it yet? … wheat.

Visiting the Mill City Museum was a delightful and entertaining way to get a feel for the history of Minneapolis.  I walked back to the hotel taking a slightly different route than I took to get to the museum.  It was afternoon rush hour, the streets, many of them one way, were very crowded, there were traffic directors at several of the intersections, and I walked a few blocks too far at one point because of ignorance of what streets cut through to where I was.  It’s a good thing I decided to walk.

Friday September 19 (Muriel)

I loaded my stuff into the car and headed southeast to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The Lady of the Dashboard gave me a bit of trouble when I first got onto the freeway system but behaved herself the rest of the day.  After about half an hour on the road I was in Wisconsin.

The terrain was fairly similar to southern Minnesota’s.  The landscape was very green.  There were rest stops every 50 miles, some with excellent displays about the area.  One rest stop even had displays about Wisconsin rest stops.

Highway signs about gas stations were less useful.  I decided to wait until the eastern edge of Madison before buying gas.  I passed through Madison and into countryside much faster than I expected.  There were no services for quite a while.

The first time I followed a sign off the highway to a gas station, the station was so new it wasn’t open yet.  The second time, I found no gas station at all.  The Lady of the Dashboard thought from my turning off the highway (please excuse my attributing thought to a GPS) that I intended to take an alternate route, so she sent me along a series of county roads for many miles.  It was a fascinating detour, but not so relaxing when my main concern was to not run out of gas.  The local roads were excellent.  The farms were surprisingly small, based on how frequently I passed farm houses.  The houses and barns were surprisingly large and well maintained.  Even the fields were beautifully manicured.  After many miles I found myself driving through a very upscale exurban lakeside community.  Then, just before I got back to the highway, two gas stations appeared.  The gas tank got filled.

I checked into a motel about 5 miles from the Milwaukee airport.  After a pleasant dinner at a restaurant across the street from the motel, I spoke to Allan by cell phones while he changed planes in Minneapolis.  We decided I wouldn’t pick him up at the airport.  Some time after midnight, after I went to sleep, Allan arrived by taxi


Days 46-48 – Entering Canada for the Second Time

Saturday, September 20 (Muriel)

Allan and I drove north and slightly west to Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin for some bird watching.  As I had the previous day, he noticed that the farms seemed to be surprisingly small and prosperous.  Since the refuge center was closed for remodeling, we asked for advice from the leader of a bird watching class from an arboretum that was visiting the marsh and a local couple.  We got some tips on where to bird and were told that most of the local small, ultra prosperous farms were “hobby” farms.


We managed to see 4 Sandhill Cranes and a Common Moorhen.  There were also gobs of coots and Canada Geese, and several Great Egrets, Pied-billed Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, and distant unidentified female dabbling ducks.  A few Yellow-rumped warblers flew in and out of trees, and one “different” warbler was so backlit that we could only identify it as a warbler.

It was mid afternoon by the time we found a restaurant for lunch in Oshkosh.  Afterwards we drove north along the west side of Lake Michigan.  The countryside became much more industrial and less attractive than it was from the Minnesota border to Milwaukee, and north until beyond the Horicon area.

When we got to the area of Green Bay, WI, we left the highway and headed for the center of town, driving past suburbs, the football stadium and Lombardi Avenue.  We ignored the extensive suburbs, as they looked like fairly new suburbs that you might see anywhere.  I wanted to see central Green Bay to get a feel for the city where my grandmother’s family had settled in the late 1890’s and where my grandmother and her siblings had grown up.

The waterfront of the City of Green Bay was heavily industrial and uninviting, with huge tanks and smoke stacks.  The city is named for its location at the head of the Green Bay, a huge bay of Lake Michigan.  We drove on a large bridge over the Fox River which empties into head of the bay.  The river did not seem to have any recreational facilities or housing along it.  The downtown held many large churches, some huge ones, and an impressive but ugly old county building.  The stores were small and tired looking.  We did not see any shoppers.  The homes were small wood-sided two-story houses in reasonable repair that sat haphazardly on small lots.  There were no flowers anywhere.  At least there were grass and a lot of mature broad-leaved trees.  There were a number of kids hanging out but very few adults outdoors on this Saturday afternoon.  We found this the old urban core of Green Bay very depressing.  Although it felt safer than many of the areas near downtown L.A., it seemed entirely lacking in vibrancy.

Just as my family had moved to Green Bay a few years after immigrating to the USA, central Green Bay apparently houses many recent immigrants.  We even passed a Taqueria Jalisco.  I suppose that my great grandparents must have lived in a small wood house in the general vicinity of Green Bay that we visited.  I hope that in my great grandparents’ days there, the residents took enough pride in their surroundings and had enough energy to plant some flowers there, and that families enjoyed time outdoors on mild September Saturday afternoons.

We drove farther north along the edge of the Green Bay, to a motel in Marinette, WI, the most northerly town along the western edge of Wisconsin.  It was late and we were more tired than hungry, disinterested in going to a restaurant for dinner.  After we settled into a motel room, Allan headed out to a nearby market for apples, cheese, prosciutto and a bottle of wine.  One of the apples he bought was a local variety the store was pushing, “Zesta.”  I plan to look for this variety again – excellent.  We enjoyed our odd dinner.

Sunday, September 21 (Muriel)

The morning was cloudy, but the weather improved as we drove north along the west side of Lake Michigan.  Within minutes we left Wisconsin and entered the state of Michigan.  Continuing north, close to the west shore of Lake Michigan, we drove through mixed coniferous – deciduous forest.  There were extensive public lands (state parks and state forests), frequently mixed with vacation homes tucked behind a screen of forest.  Sometimes we could see through forest to Lake Michigan.

The terrain eventually became more open, with better lake views.  For miles and miles we could see the Door Peninsula that separates Green Bay from the open waters of Lake Michigan.  Then we passed smaller bays and eventually we drove along dunes.  We both recalled that one of Allan’s work friends had been so enamored of Chicago during a temporary job assignment there that he decided to settle permanently in Chicago.   One of its biggest attractions was his cabin on the Door Peninsula, where he spent long weekends and vacations.

We stopped for lunch in the attractive town of St. Ignace which had many resorts and lakeside facilities.  Eventually we reached Sault St. Marie (pronounced Soo St. Marie), MI.  We explored the Michigan city, near the meeting of great lakes Michigan, Superior and Huron.  We visited the American “Soo Locks” that enable large, ocean going vessels to travel past the 21-foot falls between Lake Superior to the west and lower elevation Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.  With the aid of these locks and others between lakes Erie and Ontario, boats are able to travel from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean through the Great Lakes and the St. Laurence Seaway.  At an Army Corps of Engineers visitor center, we learned that the much larger city of Sault St. Marie across the falls in Ontario, Canada has smaller locks that cannot accommodate large vessels.

We crossed over the falls on a large toll bridge from Sault St. Marie, MI to the larger city of Sault St. Marie, ON, Canada.  We drove through the city of 75,000 people and into the countryside.  We headed southeast along the top of Lake Huron toward Toronto.  We had hotel reservations in Toronto for tomorrow evening, but no reservations for tonight.  It was early evening on a Sunday night in a lightly populated area.  Fortunately we had cell phone service here and Allan found a AAA-recommended inn in Blind River, ON that was able to give us a room, although it appeared we would be too late to find dinner at their restaurant.


The drive was lovely.  In recent days, deciduous trees had been showing hints of fall colors as early as my solo drive from Minneapolis to Milwaukee.  The hints were a bit stronger going north through Wisconsin.  Going north through Michigan and east through Ontario today, there were many areas where many of the trees had turned lovely and varied shades of yellow, gold, and rufous, some draped with vines that had turned maroon, and contrasting with dark green conifers.  The narrow highway passed many mirror-like bays and rivers, some reflecting the beautiful trees as we drove by.

It was very dark by the time we reached the inn.  When Allan had phoned the inn, they told him the restaurant had already closed for the evening, so we planned to dine on part of our supply of almonds from Trader Joe’s, augmented by a bit of cheese and a less appealing apple left over from the night before.  Fortunately the staff of the inn took pity on us and served up a lovely dinner upon our arrival.

Monday September 22 (Muriel)

We continued driving southeast through miles and miles of lovely foliage changing to fall colors.  We stopped for lunch in the town of Parry Sound, at the head of Georgian Bay, another part of Lake Huron.  The scenery was spectacular here, even from the window of the restaurant in a log cabin.  We enjoyed trying pickerel, a local fish that is a specialty of Georgian Bay.  We drove through town to its performing arts center where we parked and strolled along a harbor side path.  We found a flock of Blacked-capped Chickadees when we climbed stairs up a hillside, but otherwise the birds were starlings, crows and Ring-billed and Herring Gulls.

Continuing our drive we eventually passed beyond Lake Huron and turned more southwards, toward Toronto.  We had noticed that shortly after we entered Canada at Sault St. Marie there were many road cuts through hard rock (granite?).  This was in great contrast to all of the countryside that we had driven through for the past week once we were east of the Black Hills.  There had been no road cuts – no need for them – until this different terrain.  Eventually we came to areas where we could see construction of a four lane highway.  The terrain was so rocky that we briefly wondered if we were passing a rock quarry or some other form of mineral extraction.  Soon we were driving on completed portions of the enlarged highway and heading into Toronto.

The Lady of the Dashboard kept giving us directions to our hotel in Markham, Toronto that made no sense to Allan, so we got off the highway and headed for a gas station.  We filled the tank, got directions, and found the GPS had been set to not allow toll roads.  We reset the GPS and noticed a beautiful, modern drive-through carwash.  We drove through the carwash, which did an amazingly good job on our filthy car.  Allan had his first experience using a drive-through carwash.  I – more experienced with such facilities — was impressed with how good this one was.

The Lady of the Dashboard, having been set correctly, got with the program.  We drove easily on the logical freeway to our hotel.  The only wrinkle is that the freeway isn’t free; it’s a toll road without toll booths.  You’re supposed to have a transponder on your car.  Will the Royal Mounties come knocking on our door in Malibu, saying we owe $10 in Canadian tolls plus umpteen thousand $ more in collection fees – for sending the Mounties and their steeds to Malibu to collect the $10?  (Emily and Alex, Grandma’s just joking.)

Tuesday, September 23 (Muriel)

We spent a quiet day in our Toronto hotel.  We both had our hair cut, something we badly needed to do.   Allan caught up with a bunch of work.  I used the treadmill in the hotel fitness center.  We had visited Toronto a couple of times before.  Our main purpose for visiting Toronto this trip was to see our daughter-in-law’s parents who live here.  We had not seen them since the wedding of their daughter and our son 11 years ago.

Our opposite numbers – the parents of our daughter-in-law – met us at our hotel, where we had a leisurely dinner in the restaurant.   It was a wonderful opportunity to visit and catch up with them!


Days 49-51 – Entering French Canada

Wednesday, September 24, 2008 (Muriel)

We checked out of our hotel in Toronto’s Markham neighborhood, where we saw many construction cranes as we had in Calgary.  Modern glass towers were rising there, most of them attractive.  One was an even uglier version of the office building in Westwood that looks like the top is going to topple onto Wilshire Boulevard.   We found the freeway and headed east to Montreal.  Well into the afternoon, we stopped for a very British lunch along the highway.

We detoured from the main highway to drive along the Thousand Islands Parkway for about 37 miles of the journey.  The Thousand Islands (actually there are 1,800 islands), are what separate Lake Ontario, the smallest and most easterly of the Great Lakes, from the St. Lawrence River.  The islands are billion year old granitic remnants of old mountains that were worn away over the eons by glaciers.  They are part of the Frontenac Ridge that connects the Canadian Shield in Algonquin Provincial Park north of Toronto to the Adirondack Mountains in ­New York State.  We stopped at most of the official pull outs where we read the informational signs, hence whatever sounds knowledgeable about the Thousand Islands in this journal.  It was a bit frustrating that the signs were set up for people traveling west, rather than east.  We kept reading about what we had seen and should have looked for.

Images of the Thousand Islands

Back on the main highway, we contended with increasingly aggressive trucks and crossed from the Province of Ontario into the Province of Quebec.  Suddenly all road signs and other signs went from being in English with French below to being only in French.  The truck drivers were more aggressive.  There was construction narrowing major arteries to one lane (not the first place in eastern Canada this happened).  We followed The Lady of The Dashboard through a maze of arteries and freeways into downtown Montreal as the sky darkened.  Houses and apartment buildings looked subtly but distinctly different from those we had seen in Anglophone Canada.  The neighborhoods became industrial, and then we were downtown.  The Lady got us to our hotel, where we had a bit of trouble finding the entrance.  After some block circling, a garage door automatically opened for us.  We parked in the bowels of the earth under the hotel and headed for the lobby.

There was a problem!  Our reservation for three nights was to have started the night before.  We had been no-shows.  We had been cancelled.  Normally this would only have cost us the forfeit of last night’s fee.  This was not a normal period.  We had lost our reservation.  There was an enormous medical convention in town.  The hotel was booked.  Andrew, the clerk helping us, had recently phoned about a dozen other downtown Montreal hotels for other people showing up at this hotel.  They were all booked.  Finally he found a fancy hotel where he booked us for tonight at an amazingly high price.  But wait….  Carmen, the assistant manager who was in charge for the evening, had an idea!  She went to check it out.  To shorten the story somewhat, we are spending the night in the model unit of the condos in the floors above the hotel.  It’s the 21st century version of the secret passageway in the castle.

Cefik, the Bosnian bellman, is the only hotel employee with a key to the elevators providing access to the condo floors and to the door of the model unit.  He and Carmen took us up to the unit to check it out.  It is a cute junior one-bedroom apartment-condo attractively furnished in Ikea modern.  As it happens, Allan and I like Ikea modern.  Even if we didn’t, this would have been much better than sleeping in the car.  We said “wonderful.”  Carmen fetched the few missing necessities, towels and toilet paper, and arranged for someone to bring light bulbs for the lamps that were missing them.  She recommended a couple of nearby restaurants.

After checking the restaurants in the AAA guide which confirmed Carmen’s recommendations, we walked about four blocks to one of them.  We had a wonderful French dinner, where we were told the restaurant was surprisingly busy for a Wednesday evening because of a big convention.  After dinner, we walked back to the hotel.  Andrew (from Italy) summoned Cefik of the key, who let us into the elevator that goes to the condos above the hotel.  So here we are, comfortably hidden away.  Carmen will phone us as soon as a hotel room is available in the morning.  We will then be able to move to a regular hotel room.  After that transfer, I expect we will get our own room keys, rooms we can get to on elevators we can access without Cefik’s help, a shower curtain for the bathtub, and somewhat fancier décor.  I’m not sure we will prefer the fancier décor, but we look forward to the other luxuries.

It’s interesting.  Finding our way into downtown Montreal was intimidating, even with the assistance of the GPS.  The truck drivers were extremely rude and aggressive.  Drivers were honking at us and just about everyone else.  Finding our way into the hotel parking was intimidating.  We were altogether alienated.  But the helpfulness of the hotel staff and their resourcefulness entirely disarmed us.  When the food server at the restaurant asked how we liked Montreal, Allan enthused “wonderful!”

Thursday, September 25 (Muriel)

After breakfast at the hotel, the hotel clerks advised we should sightsee and get located in a proper room later.  They reserved places on a Gray Line tour of Montreal.  We were picked up by a bus that took us to a tourist center where we boarded the tour bus.  The driver/guide was boring.  He told us much more than we could conceive about wanting to know about how much the various religious edifices cost and how the funds were raised, but little we could understand about the things we found interesting.  However, we did get a good overview of the interesting areas of the city and found our hotel was within walking distance of most of the sites we wanted to visit.

When we returned to the hotel, we were given keys for a real hotel room where we settled in and received our luggage.  Feeling much more relaxed about our near term future, we walked to Rue St-Paul, a major restaurant street, where we found lunch at an Asian-French fusion restaurant.  We walked along the park at the edge of the harbor to the ticket office for boat tours and got the schedule for boat tours.  Then we explored the Chateau Ramezay Museum, a restored early 18th century home of a French governor of Montreal, that is now a museum of the history of the area.

Back at the hotel, Allan spent a lot of time on business phone calls.  Eventually we went to an excellent dinner at the other restaurant Carmen had recommended.

Friday September 26 (Muriel,with a little help from Allan)

We spent the morning at the Pointe-a-Calliere Museum of Archaeology and History.  This museum is a very modern building built on remains of the original European settlement in Montreal.  After a slick and informative multi-media show about the history of Montreal, we wandered among the archaeological displays in the ruins of the earlier buildings on this spot.


Yes, this is as designed although the spectator was not sure and we did have to ask

Through a Sewer (abandoned) Darkly

Then we headed to the pier for an hour long tour boat tour of the shore and St. Lawrence River on Le Bateau-Mouche, a Paris style riverboat.  A huge flock of schoolchildren filled the lower level of the boat, while a dozen or so adults like us had a quieter tour on the upper deck.  We had excellent views of Montreal and a much livelier guide who explained what we were seeing in both French and English.

One of the fascinating aspects of the boat tour was seeing some of the then iconic elements of the 1967 Montreal Expo as they looked a forty years later.   Both Moishe Safdie’s Habitat for Humanity and the Calder Stabile had some elements of timelessness but Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome for the US Pavilion burned up a few decades ago and now servies only as a visual frame for buildings since built within it.


We had been told that smoked meat is one of the culinary delights of Montreal, and several people told us that Schwartz’s Delicatessen is THE place to get smoked meat.  So we took a taxi to the many-times recommended establishment.  Although our taxi driver did not know the restaurant, we had to wait in line on the sidewalk at 3:00 in the afternoon.  Within a short time we were seated at one end of a long table, where we ordered a plate of smoked meat, half-sour pickles, etc.  Two more couples were seated at our table.  The smoked meat was essentially pastrami with ryebread served on the side.  It wasn’t much different from food we could get at many of the Jewish deli’s at home.  What was different is that all three couples started gabbing happily.  One couple was from New York, the other from Culver City.  We traded information about our travels and the like.  We chatted with our waiter who raises a variety of small exotic songbirds and is trying to find the courage to go on a bird walk.  We assured him that birdwatchers are friendly, helpful sorts.

We decided to walk back to our hotel, having seen that our taxi ride from old town to Schwartz’s wasn’t all that far.  We walked faster than normally, as Allan had to be in our room by 4:30 for a conference call.  Even so, we walked through a fairly hip shopping area, several strip joints and Chinatown before returning to the city center and our hotel.  As we had already noticed many times, a lot of people on the sidewalks were smoking cigarettes.  Our noses told us that not all of the cigarettes were tobacco.

By 7:00, when Allan was finally finished working, I was exhausted despite taking a short nap, and neither of us was hungry.  We went downstairs for a glass of wine in the lobby, chatted briefly with Carmen, and turned in early.  Having napped earlier, I watched the first presidential debate before going to bed.

While we sipped our wine before retiring, we learned that Carmen was born in Romania.  We already knew one of the hotel clerks, Emelie, is Portuguese, another is Italian, and the bellman is Bosnian.  Although we saw fewer Asians in Montreal than we had in western Canada and in Toronto, Montreal is also quite a melting pot, one with a very French accent.

The central city and old town areas we had explored are filled with a mix of old buildings and modern highrises, as well as scatterings of squares with monumental sculptures or tiny parks.  Montreal feels quite European and, of course, French.  To us it felt very old, but we were told many times that it wasn’t really old like Quebec City, as Montreal was originally built of wood and kept burning down.  The last time it burned down was 200 years ago.  Then it was finally rebuilt in stone.  So the old buildings here are “only” 200 years old, although we saw foundations of much greater age at the museums.