Last week’s roller blading on a wet and slippery trail while raining finely did not annihilate my love for inline skating, so I was ready to do some more in my last few days in the USA. Out of three skating trips (and 32 more miles) two of them happened round the three lakes and especially the last one was particularly nice. I do not think it was that surprising. Knowing that something is done for the last time makes sky look more blue, wind more refreshing and waters of the lakes deeper.
MINNESOTA STATE FAIR
Due to completely booked flights, my stay became longer than originally intended and this way I made it to the Minnesota Great Get Together. At least that is what they say on TV. I personally believe that a nickname similar to Great Gluttony would be more descriptive. On the other hand, I have no idea where else you could get anything on a stick. And when I say anything, I mean anything. Cheese? Olives? Hot dish? Chicken? Shrimp? A pickle? Corn dog? Hot dog? Meatloaf? Cheesecake? Deep fried candy bars? Cookie dough? Even mashed potatoes? They got it all!
I am pretty sure that each of the tens (maybe even a couple of hundreds?) vendors have their own trick(s) to prepare anything-on-a-stick but I also have no doubt that one trick they all have in common. Deep fry it! This was the case for mashed potatoes on-a-stick, too. I was interested in trying them so much and then ended up disappointed so much. The grease was literally flowing out of the sample ball and the taste was nothing great either. Being spoiled by Mrs. M’s delicious mashed potatoes, it was naive to hunt for anything better.
While the potato experiment was not a success, there was plenty of other food that fully satisfied me. Frozen vanilla yogurt with blackberries, raspberries and chocolate chips. Mini donuts – still warm and so pleasing for my taste buds. I learned a new approach this year – a poor student and two tiny bit aging seniors is a trio just calling for mercy, i.e. food donations. This is how we got to try Australian buttered potatoes (probably my number one food). Honestly, it was some potatoes and a ton of butter but they were so good. For even higher culinary experience, two dressings were available. Another free sample came from a place called Duke’s Poutine. I had absolutely no idea what the name meant, neither could I be sure about the composition of this food. However, something in there looked too much like half-melted cheese and just a sight of it was enough not to even think of trying this one. It still was a great experience as I got a proof that food can unite people. The couple who offered the sample to us were nice companions from Louisiana and there was lots of chatting going on for a while. I was supposed to hear their different accent but two months down there were apparently not enough to help me with this part of English study.
The strongest impression of the Fair was that paying an admission allowed visitors to spend even more money – for food primarily but also for art and decorations, clothing or household tools useful to varying extend. I had a feeling that the only things left from the original farmers fair were the machinery that we ignored entirely and livestock we did not care for this time either. After all, I could imagine a huge pig already and poultry did not arrive this year because of the bird flu risk. But we did visit Creative Activities buildings and an art display.
I dare to say that Creative Activities should be a must of any visit to the Fair. Call me old-school if you want but I did enjoy admiring people’s skills as different as boat building and quilting, sewing and other needlecraft and complicated woodwork – bowls as well as pictures ready to be hung on the wall. And if you are as lucky as me and have guides to explain how the work was probably done, then you truly appreciate the authors‘ abilities.
To me, the Fine Arts Exhibit was little less interesting than the display of creative activities but nevertheless, I enjoyed it. Again, it was a mixture of variability: different painting techniques, photography as well as few sculptures. The exhibit did not seem to be organized in any way and that was good. I generally do not care for paintings so much and when I was about to get bored of too many canvases, then a refreshing photograph popped up. And sometimes I even got confused – some of the paintings were so real that I considered them to be photographs.
A final advice to anyone interested in visiting Minnesota is as follows: Go there when the Fair is on.
MINNESOTA LANDSCAPE ARBORETUM
Part of the University of Minnesota and spreading on the area of over a thousand acres, it definitely was the nicest arboretum I can remember visiting. It was not only enormously big but also beautiful, and both a walking tour and a ride by a tram were enjoyable.
We started our visit with the walking tour that covered not only some of the key gardens or plant collections (in the proximity of the visitor center) but also a short visit to the Anderson Horticulture Library and sneak-peek on Lego statues spread all over the place. While the guide (a volunteer) seemed to know quite a lot, it was rather obvious she was not a biologist. She, nevertheless, did a great job and whatever I missed was my fault as I made the tour a photography opportunity in the first place. Me, photographer and me, biologist were glad to check annual garden with its azaleas, herb and Japanese gardens, rose walk, terrace garden and probably several more.
When the tram ride started I was not sure whether it would be good for anything – again I heard the same story of the arboretum’s establishment. However, the tram covered much more of the arboretum, thus giving me a chance to admire plants I did not see in the morning and, obviously, listening to new information thanks to that. Sitting comfortably, I could briefly encounter various trees including oaks, willows and conifers, as well as shrubs and dahlias. Among sites I wish I could visit (rather than just pass by) were a maze and Sculpture Garden.
I had a great time visiting the flowers and I was sure I could have spent a whole day there – I sure would have been tired but definitely not bored.
A FAREWELL TO MINNESOTA
At first, the change of my summer plans sucked but it turned out that during my time in Minnesota, I was enabled to visit several interesting places. In only two weeks I got little education in the state’s history as well as in several areas of Biology. I stepped on the ground of Wisconsin, too. In a short time I had more ice-cream than I normally have in an entire year and I also consumed an increased amount of alcohol – raspberry beer was my most favorite one and mango margarita was an entirely new drink to me. A chapter completely on its own was food. Of course. It was the States. I sure appreciated the chances to try new dishes (such as Australian potatoes at the Fair) as well as those that I had gotten to like earlier (onion rings as a great example). Thankfully, there was roller blading as a mean to compensate for all that.
Visiting those places was fun for most of the time but there were some tough moments, too – sort of “unexplored waters” to me. But in the end, I felt grateful for being with people who meant so much to me, who were role models in a way and who cared about me for several years. I saw time both dragging on and flying by. I experienced the pain of loosing someone and I was leaving with a lot to think about. Finally, I decided to cherish hope for a better future.