Roadtrip: On the way to Fargo

Wisconsin is very wide.  Also, its rural areas along the interstates has a lot going on–the exits may have been 10-20 miles apart, but it seemed like every single one had some sort of local attraction or winery or cheese shop or quilting center.  Even its rest areas have scenic views.

Rest stop scenic view, WI

Rest stop scenic view, WI

Black River Valley, WI

Black River Valley, WI

Minnesota, on the other hand, was quite boring to someone who grew up in rolling farmlands.  So no photos from that part of the drive.  Straight on to Fargo, ND, which is just over the border from Minnesota.  Yes, I’ve seen the movie, and so have, apparently, the good people at the official tourism center.

Fargo Tourism Center, ND

Fargo Tourism Center, ND

Airbnbs and regular hotel prices are comparable here (seeing as there was only one Airbnb listed when i checked), so I opted for shopping along the strip of hotels lining I-94 till I found a good price.  Just down the road was a really, really retro diner called Kroll’s, whose menu has, tucked deep into the back page of regular diner/breakfast fare, a couple interesting German specialties to go with the region’s immigrant roots.

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Fried dough is exactly that, like naan or pita or any other flatbread except it’s taken to the ultimate carby extreme.  You eat it with butter, or dip it into knoephla soup, which is a cream-loaded chicken and dumpling thing that gives lobster bisque a run for its money in the richness department.  The fried cheese curds were probably overdoing it, but if you’re gonna eat a heart attack, why not?  I’m going to be hiking around national parks and stuff all week, anyway.

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Roadtrip: Wisconsin

After a pitstop to visit my parents, I’m now trying to blow through the Midwest (which I know very well) to get to North Dakota, the next never-visited state on my list.  Well, without having my legs lock up from driving all day.  I overnighted in Madison, WI, which I visited before, in the winter; it’s much prettier in the spring.  And it does appear to be having a spring, unlike the East Coast, which skipped straight to summer.  I actually had to have my car heater on for part of this morning.

I got in a bit too late to get to many stores (forgot that the Midwest Sunday mentality is different than the East Coast), but did grab dinner at The Old-Fashioned, a tavern that a passerby recommended last time I was here, but which was way too full then.  It was super-full again and I had to sit at the bar–and stick to beer instead of its namesake drink, since I want an early start tomorrow.  I had a Honey Ale, which was lightly crisp without having much taste at all, a mac and cheese (decent, but the breading was barely a sprinkle), and a spicy pickled egg, which was probably the tastiest part of the meal.  I think the heat comes from cayenne, but it’s a nice, gentle warmth all through your mouth, and the egg isn’t over-vinegared.

One quick stop at the local grocery for some cheese curds for the road, and I was back at my Airbnb place for the night.  Two cute cats, one noisy but friendly dog.

Cat on fridge, Airbnb listing

Cat on fridge, Airbnb listing

I have allergies to fur, but I booked it on purpose anyway, figuring it’s just one night–and I do like cats *sigh*.  I also like how Airbnb makes whether the host has pets a standard info item, since I’ve booked B&Bs before and then been surprised without my antihistamines when I arrive and there’s a small, fuzzy thing watching me sneeze.  Place was neat and clean, anyway, and better live animals than creepy stuffed ones.

Roadtrip: Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee was stop two on the Wisconsin trip.  I had a couple brewery options lined up to tour, since it’s winter and you need something to keep you warm and go with the cheese.  And no, the brewery was not Miller’s.  I never liked that stuff even when I was in college, and everyone in college drinks terrible, terrible beer.

We went to Sprecher’s.  Its root beer is pretty common all over the Midwest, and I was surprised to find out the soda was actually a sideline for them.  Sprecher’s facilities are located in a suburb of Milwaukee, in a very ugly building that looks like it’d house dentists from the eighties, and the tour isn’t much to speak of.  But it does allow you four beer samples (about 6 oz of each) per person, plus as much soda as you can drink at the end, so we had a good, alcoholic time of it.  My picks: Shakparo, an unusual African-style beer made from millet, which puts it more in line with the Asian beers of my ancestors, and the blueberry soda, which avoids being supersweet and is nicely fruity.

Assorted sodas and beers from Sprecher's in Milwaukee, WI

Assorted sodas and beers from Sprecher’s in Milwaukee, WI

It took a bit longer than expected to work through twelve beers and four or five types of sodas, collectively, so we skipped the second tour and just hit up the gift shop of the Great Lakes Distillery for some liquor (maple syrup-flavored rum for the absent entropyenator’s sweet tooth).  Got lunch at Wisconsin Cheese Mart (so many flavors of cheese curds!), and dinner at the Ginger tapas bar, which culminated in a sort of ultimate drunk-food poutine with local cheese and very salty, very flavorful little dark curls of crispy duck skin.

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And then we went back to the hotel, and wandered into the mall next door, attracted by the sound of music.  Because apparently, animatronic bear concerts are a holiday thing in Milwaukee.  Plays every hour, on the hour.

Singing holiday display, mall in Milwaukee, WI

Singing holiday display, mall in Milwaukee, WI

(I was sober at this point, honestly.)

Roadtrip: Madison, Wisconsin

I’m down to the last twelve or so states on my quest to visit all fifty U.S. states, which means that the remaining ones are either geographically awkward, or are testing my creativity in coming up with reasons to go.  Wisconsin falls into both categories: no direct flights on my preferred airline, and I have no personal connections to the place.  It is, however, within driving distance of my parents’ place, and it is full of cheese, which I eat with glee.  Added to the fact that I am allergic to cats, and spending the holidays with my parents puts me in close proximity to two felines for several days, and you have the makings of a quick post-Christmas trip (non-allergic entropyenator babysat the cats with glee).  Cheese, some exploring, and a couple days off the antihistamines.  Sounds fun.

Well, except first you have to drive through Indiana.  I’ve done this a lot over the years.  It’s still quite boring, although the wind farms are new.

Wind turbines, Indiana

Wind turbines, Indiana

Madison is the state capital and the center of University of Wisconsin.  Typical college town, it was pretty bare and sleepy during a student break.  It was also unexpectedly ugly in a very functional way, all drab concrete blocks and slab walls.  In my experience, college towns and state capitals both tend to have more “statement” architecture, which may or may not be your kind of statement, but which at least are interesting.  Madison, you’re lucky if you even find an overwrought Victorian brick tower.

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Still, there was cheese at quirky gourmet shop Fromagination (half the non-cheese stock seemed to be out of Brooklyn, which amused me to no end), and slightly upscaled pub food at the Great Dane Pub and Brewery, whose menu had some delicious African flourishes in the Inner Warmth peanut stew (squash and peanut base, yummy nutty winter heartiness).  The house brews ranged from mediocre to good; I wish brewers would get that dark beer doesn’t have to mean an anvil to the taste buds.  Lighter beers were better, and I imagine it’s a hot place in the summer.

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