Anyway, everything was great fun and we ate many good meals and spent time with lots of interesting people and saw so many sights my eyes are aching.
I spent many an enjoyable hour in advance scouting out and thinking about places to eat. These are the first two meals we ate:
- In Duluth we found Sarah's Table, near the University. My friend Matt and his family had checked it out for me and told me they enjoyed their fish tacos. My mother, too, enjoyed the fish tacos. They were not the fried or greasy things I was expecting. No, they were plump nice white lakefish with a tangy avocado dressing in a tortilla. Yum. My father and I had "small" bowls of beef soup with spaetzle, and my father had a fine hamburger with french fries (not a common meal for him, but he was just in the mood) and I had an excellent herb-roasted chicken. It was cold and wet outside, you see, so the soup and roasted chicken just cried out to me from the menu, along with a glass of beer. Sarah's Table is an informal place lined with used books (all for sale) with friendly service and a very hippie/folky/University feel and extremely reasonable prices. In other words: It was exactly what I hoped it would be, and was very much the sort of place I wanted to take my parents. The drive to Sarah's Table took us up the steep hill of Duluth through some beautiful neighborhoods of between-the-wars homes (possibly older).
- The next morning we walked across two parking lots to the Duluth branch of Hell's Kitchen, which is just an excellent breakfast place on all counts with very well cooked standard breakfast fare and loose-leaf tea and bison sausage and interesting specials. I had lemon ricotta pancakes, which the menu pleads with you to taste before dousing in maple syrup. My mother had fruit and yogurt and granola, and she thinks the yogurt was laced with lemon. My father had a standard eggs and sausage sort of breakfast -- in retrospect I think he was in an all-American food mood in general.
To stop talking about food for a second: We stayed in a Hampton Inn right along Lake Superior, which turned out to be more interesting than most Hampton Inns. The furnishings were all Mission style, and there was a large windowed porch in the back of the lobby overlooking the Lake -- the sort of place you could be very comfortable relaxing in with a book. Our rooms faced the city rather than the water, but with the common morning fog advisory the view up the hill into the city rising into the clouds was really beautiful, in its urban way. Also I loved being able to walk to the breakfast restaurant, and in fact to walk along the revivified waterfront.
Glensheen, the former Congdon estate that was our excuse for the trip, exceeded my expectations tremendously. We were there on a slow day out of season first thing in the morning and we took the special VIP tour that goes through the whole house, all of which factors combined to mean we had a private tour with the guy who turns out to be the supervisor of tourguides. This was a most excellent stroke of luck. I didn't expect to see so much Mission style furniture (which interests me more than the Edwardian stuff I thought I'd find), but I did -- it was all custom made (so it wasn't anything you've seen before in a Stickley catalog). The house was surprisingly embracing and livable, despite the amazing cost. I could write a lot more just about Glensheen, but suffice it to say that you should make a point of going to see it. There really aren't that many houses that still have their original furniture (most of which was stuffed up in the top two floors during the final years of the Congdon occupation of the house) -- and bedspreads and decorative items. It's a window through time -- it honestly does not feel like a museum.
We were able to make a quick stop to see the Tiffany windows that used to be in the Duluth public library and which the city of Duluth recently tried to sell - to much public outcry. They are on display in the train museum that used to be the railroad depot -- right in the front, so it's a five minute stop off the highway. They were beautiful.
We had a quick lunch of good sandwiches at another hippie place -- the Amazing Grace cafe -- and then drove back to Minneapolis in beautiful weather. Then a nap, and a dinner with friends at Christos, where I've always been happy with the food. It's a Greek restaurant, but they've recently added some basic bistro specials (pork tenderloin, roasted chicked, that sort of thing). Then we all went back to my place for ice cream and more talk.
Saturday we met our friend Pat for a nice breakfast at the French Meadow Bakery Cafe (it's always about bookending your day with food), then we took the house tour of the Purcell-Cutts house, and then drove through South Minneapolis looking at Prairie School homes, using a booklet the Minneapolis Institute of Art makes available on their website. We were just housed out by the end (so I'm glad I'd shuttled my plans to see more historic homes the next day). We stopped at Birchbark books (where everybody bought a book -- me I found the new AIA book of Twin Cities architecture) and had more fine sandwiches at the deli next door. My parents saved half their sandwiches, which turned out to be a fine thing to eat the next day when we were restauranted out. After dropping off Pat we swung by the gift shop at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts so my father could buy the wonderful book the museum publishes about their Prairie style holdings, with a big section devoted to the house we'd just seen.
Saturday night some other friends came by with pizza and I made a nice salad and my neighbors came down and there was lots more conversation and silliness until I kicked everybody out since we had an early morning the next day, as we were going to the Renaissance Festival as guests of Minnesota Traditional Morris. It was a bit chilly and rainy again on Sunday, but we went to the Festival anyway -- me in Morris kit -- and I danced with MTM. MTM treated us like honored guests, and my father and I both bought nice leather mugs which we had each been wanting to buy for a while. Despite the weather and the mud mud mud mud the morning was a hit and my father is now talking about how he'd really like to go back when the weather is nicer and check out more of the shows and explore more of the festival.
My father caught a couple of pictures of me being pulled in to dance with MTM. Click for larger versions. This is me learning a different tradition of Waltzing Matilda on the fly:
This is me at the end of Abram's circle, ready for my crucifixion:
Sunday food: We had small breakfast at my place, and then found good food at the Renfest (spinach pie, chili in a bread bowl, a cream puff for dad...).
Sunday evening was shapenote singing, then a visit with more friends.
Although they would have preferred an earlier flight home on Monday, it turned out to be a fortunate thing that my parents' plane didn't leave until the afternoon because we didn't have to rush on Monday morning and my parents didn't have to pack on Sunday night. We went to the Longfellow Grill for breakfast, where my mother noted the Googie-style architecture and decor, and then we tried to go to the Fort Snelling visitor's center (it was an absolutely gorgeous day) but it was closed for the season after Labor Day. Then to the airport for our goodbyes and then I went to work, exhausted.
Here's what we didn't fit in: A neighborhood tour of 15 of the houses in a fancy area of St. Paul. The James J. Hill house. The Swedish Institute. A visit with some relatives. And, surprisingly enough, we probably would have enjoyed a little more time in Duluth -- getting a sense of the city and its history.