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Wrapping things up

Day 24: Winnipeg, MB. 6,660.4 km.

I guess I can't end this story in Fergus Falls, can I?

Morning started with a quite acceptable breakfast in the hotel, and then I re-packed the car in the frigid cold…it was definitely below -20°C; closer to -25, I think. But I had made a bit of a mess of things while unpacking the previous night, and the extra bags from our shopping in Albertville had clogged the rear window, so I spent a little while rearranging things and then bringing everything from the hotel room to the car.

Mmm!

The car, I should mention, was very reluctant to start. But, start it did, and off we went in the general direction of home…with a few stops on the way.

We stopped in Fargo, to visit Kohl's, Target, and JCPenney. We didn't buy anything at any of them, but the JCPenney turned out to be attached to a very nice mall that we wandered around, and ended up picking some stuff up at The Gap. Then it was a quick lunch at the food court, and out onto the I-29 north to Winnipeg.

West Acres Mall in Fargo

Unfortunately, while we were shopping, it got snowy, and there was a lot of blowing snow on the road, combined with less-than-ideal visibility. But traffic was light, and we made decent progress, with the worst problems (again) being caused by snow plows plowing the shoulder. One of them was kicking up so much snow that I couldn't see the road in front of my car, and didn't know if I was going straight, veering left (towards the snowplow), or veering right (towards the guardrail and dropoff on the side of the bridge)! I actually came to a complete stop briefly, and when the snow cleared I had two wheels over the dotted line! We passed that plow safely, as well as another one a little while later.

Then, after two quick stops (gas in Grand Forks; duty-free in Pembina), we were home! A weird feeling, after so long away, but it's nice to be back.

And that's it: over three weeks on the road, over six thousand kilometers driven, and ten different cities slept in. We've had a lot to be thankful for: we visited lots of relatives and friends, had some great experiences, and were safe and healthy the whole time. It was a great trip — the longest either of us have ever been on — and we don't know when (or if) we'll have the chance to take another one like it.

Thanks for reading along with us; I hope you enjoyed it!

 

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Winging it

Day 23: Fergus Falls, MN. 6,201.5 km.

Wait a minute…Fergus Falls? Where's that? What happened to Rogers?

Well, this morning, Ali and I decided to cancel our third night in the Holiday Inn Express in Rogers, and get a head start on our drive home. See, we were going shopping at the outlet mall in Albertville, and we figured that wouldn't take all day, so rather than drive 20 minutes in the wrong direction to get back to Rogers, we'd just keep going west and stop somewhere else.

So, we packed up, checked out of our hotel, and went shopping!

We got to Albertville right at 10:00, when the stores opened. The outlet mall was alright, but nothing outstanding. We got a good deal on shoes at the Converse store: I got two pairs and Ali got one, and a pair of shoes was the one thing I was really hoping to get. Other than that, we bought some kitchen stuff and clothes at a few different stores. To my surprise, I ended up with more clothes than Ali!

It's an American store, but they know who shops here!

Once we were done shopping, we got gas, stopped at another Caribou Coffee for dark hot chocolate (yum!) and pastries, and then started driving west. We passed St. Cloud, Sauk Center, and Alexandria, and finally pulled off the interstate at Fergus Falls. As it turns out, I chose the wrong exit, so we got a bit of a tour of town as we meandered over to the retail area of town. We stopped at a Target where Ali did some more shopping while I used Target's wifi (thanks, Target!) to look up local hotels. I'm glad I did, because the advice online was that the AmericInn was the best hotel in town, and that's where we are now!

Nice place, but I'm easily bribed by the free cookies and hot chocolate with flavour shots 🙂

Oh, one other thing…it's COLD! It was chilly and windy in Albertville, but the farther west we drove, the colder it got. It's -27°C here; even colder than Winnipeg's -25°C! I'm not looking forward to repacking the car tomorrow morning…with the shopping we did, we need to rearrange some things.

But, if all goes according to plan, tomorrow we'll be sleeping in our own bed!

 

Hitting the mall

Day 22: Rogers, MN. 5,905.7 km.

Today (the 18th) was planned as a nice short drive, in daylight. We had breakfast at our hotel in Madison (waffles, mmm!), and only needed to drive about 4.5 hours to Minneapolis (well, Rogers, where our hotel is).

When I checked the weather in the morning (just wondering how warm to dress), though, I found a weather warning: 1-5 inches of snow for the Minneapolis area! Not something we'd want to drive in, so we figured the earlier we got going, the better.

We left the hotel around 9:00, stopped for gas, and headed west on the interstate. Then we saw this:

So, we stopped to buy cheese for dad…unless Ali gets hungry on the drive home and there's nowhere to stop for lunch 🙂

Back on the highway, we had a bit of snow, but nothing treacherous. The pavement was clear and dry; in fact, we passed a few plows that seemed like they were just wasting Wisconsin's money, because there was hardly anything to clear. One of them was even making things worse, by kicking up a huge cloud of snow from the shoulder that was blowing across the road and temporarily reducing visibility to just a few meters.

Halfway to Minneapolis, we stopped at a rest area; Ali wanted some fresh air, and my shoulder was bugging me (for some reason, over the last two days I've gotten a sore neck and shoulder while driving). We ended up taking about a 20 minute break there. They had a TV showing weather maps, and it looked like the weather around Minneapolis was clear, so that was good news!

And, as it turned out, accurate. By the time we got to the city, everything was clear and dry, though there were signs that there had been a fair bit of snow in the recent past. From talking to people later, we learned that it had snowed heavily in the morning, but it was all over and done by the time we got there.

It was early when we arrived — around 2:00 or so — so we decided to go to the Mall Of America before going to our hotel. This was a bit daring, because we didn't have a map or directions to the mall. We navigated on the basis of me knowing that it was in the south end of the city, remembering a highway number from looking at a map way back in the Wisconsin rest stop, and assuming that there would be signs when we got close.

And it worked! There were a few signs, and then we drove for a while without seeing any signs, and then just when we were thinking we might need to pull off the highway and ask for directions, there it was!

Nice mall!

Finding parking, though, that was another question. We drove into the first parkade we saw, ended up in a turning lane that forced us to go to a particular level, and drove in circles until we saw someone leaving and took their spot. Then we walked across the walkway to Nordstrom's, entered the mall, looked at a map…and then I said “I don't remember if I locked the car or not”.

Tempting, but I decided against it.

So I went back to check, and good thing too, because it was indeed unlocked. By the time I got back (it wasn't long) Ali had a list of stores we might want to check out, and off we went.

Ali did not find this nearly as attractive as I did.

There's not much to talk about, though. We went shopping, had supper, walked through a bit of the amusement park, checked out a little bit of the aquarium that we could see for free, and eventually left again for our hotel. We saw some neat stores — Alpaca Connection, the LEGO store, the Victorinox store — and had a nice walk around, but didn't buy much. Before leaving, we stopped at the “eBar” in Nordstrom's for a couple of excellent iced teas and a chat with the barista (?), and browsed around Norsstrom's a bit on the way out ($120 ties!).

At the LEGO store.

One weird thing: at the LEGO store, we overheard a mom talking to a security guard about her missing child: giving a description, asking if she should stay where she last saw him or go searching, etc.. And by her tone of voice and demeanour, she could have been discussing the weather — she was totally calm and almost bored-sounding!

Am I the only one that thinks this is creepy?

Anyway, after we left the mall, I successfully navigated us back to the interstate, where we could follow our printed-out directions to our hotel. It's in a suburb named Rogers, a little bit northwest of Minneapolis. When I looked at the map, I thought the hotel was in a weird place…the street layout looked residential. And sure enough, our directions took us through an industrial area, into a residential area, with not a hotel in sight!

We retraced our steps, drove to an area where we had seen other hotels, gave up, and I asked for directions at a gas station. The directions were very simple and worked perfectly. It turned out that there are at least two pieces of “135th Ave N” in Rogers, and they're not anywhere near each other, and they're not connected, and our directions took us to the wrong one.

Our room...at least, for now.

Once we got to the hotel, though, we checked in, found that our room was very nice…and then found that it had no bathtub, which was something I specifically checked for when booking! After talking to the front desk, it turns out they overbooked, so they “upgraded” us. The upgraded room is the same price, and seems to have all the same amenities except no tub, so, not really an upgrade. We might be able to switch rooms tomorrow…we'll see.

And now, we stay put for a few days before the final drive to Winnipeg!

 

Out and about

We left our hotel room at 9:30 this morning, giving us time for breakfast before we got picked up at our hotel for our bus tour. Our pickup was at 10:00 and the tour started at 11:00; we spent the intervening hour hopping from hotel to hotel, as the driver picked up other passengers. Not really a wasted hour, though, since we got to just look out the window and see different parts of the city (mostly downtown).

The tour itself wasn't bad; 3.5 hours, with four stops for photos or, as our driver put it, “pee-pee”. I really don't know if he was being cute, or if this was a result of his less-than-fluent English…he had a few other unusual turns of phrase too that he kept repeating. And it took a bit of time to get used to him switching back and forth between French and heavily-Francophone-accented English.

Regardless, it was a nice tour. Our first stop was at the Notre Dame Basilica, which we saw yesterday. Good thing too, because on the tour it's only a 30-minute stop, and that's not nearly enough time (we think). We wandered into the Bank Of Montreal instead, and visited their currency museum, which is small and well-presented (and included a photo of the big Bank Of Montreal building in Winnipeg – home!).

Bank of Montreal...in Montreal!

Currency museum. It included old counterfeit bills, with genuine ones to compare them to.

Then we drove out to the old port area, where we saw the port itself, Habitat 67, Olympic Stadium…a ton of stuff. I'm too tired to try to list it all, but here are some pictures! (Not the greatest pictures, sorry.)

The incredibly weird Habitat 67, built for Expo 67 and still in use today.

The Montreal skyline behind the old port.

The famous dome, built for the American pavilion in Expo 67, and now home to the Montreal Biosphère, an environmental museum.

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Village, the athletes' residence for the 1976 Olympics

Pierre Trudeau's house, still owned by the Trudeau family.

St. Joseph's Oratory — sort of a church but not quite. People apparently go up the 99 steps on their knees, praying for miracles.

I cannot describe how big this graveyard was. It's incredible.

Montreal, seen from Mont-Royal. You can see Olympic Stadium on the right.

From the same vantage point, you can also see the Laurentian Mountains.

Oh, and we learned about the exterior staircases! They started because they allow you to have more room in your apartment — you don't lose interior space to the stairs. But they're dangerous in the winter and you aren't allowed to build them anymore. Houses that already have them are allowed to keep them, but new buildings need to have interior staircases,

After the tour we went to the “underground city” — Montreal's network of shops, malls, and office buildings connected by tunnels. Very much like Winnipeg's skywalk/tunnel network and Winnipeg Square, but on a larger scale. We grabbed a late (3:00) lunch in the food court (where someone asked us for directions, saying that we “look like Montrealers”!), and did some wandering around and shopping (but did NOT buy the $300 cashmere scarf we found).

Shopping in Centre Eaton

It's too cold for us to be tempted by ice cream, but this almost convinced us!

Art! I think!

I'll give them credit, they build nice shopping malls here.

Afterwards we went for a walk down St. Catherine Street: the “Fifth Avenue of Montreal”, aka the main shopping drag with all the big stores on it. It was much nicer weather than yesterday, so it was an enjoyable walk, and then we tripped over “Lumino Thérapie”, which was a neat art installation made up of a field of reflectors, changing coloured lights, music, and projected images. Hard to describe but neat to experience, especially since it was unplanned.

Cathédrale Christ Church

Église Unie Saint-James

Me, at Lumino Thérapie

Lumino Thérapie. The lights changed colours a bit, and there were speakers hidden among the reflectors playing quite nice soothing music.

There was a whole crazy animated something going on on the side of this building.

We then took the Metro back towards our hotel, had our “nice meal” of the trip at a little Italian place called Pizzedelic, and took our (delicious) dessert back to our hotel room to enjoy with tea.

Pizzedelic

Good night everyone…and happy birthday, Katie!