A wedding in MSP and an engagement in YVR

I don’t know why, but it’s always more fun to book one way or multi-city flights than just a simple return ticket. Instead of making a trip to Minneapolis for a wedding and then another trip to Vancouver for an engagement party, it was better (and cheaper) to fly: Keflavik – MSP, MSP-Seattle (drive to Vancouver) YVR – Edmonton (5 hour lay over), and Edmonton back to Keflavik.

 

the newlyweds

 My favourite Canadian Clio lives in Minneapolis where she just finished her Phd in something smart and intelligent like clinical child psychology. She celebrated the best way I can think of – she got married to her beau at the same time! It was a small wedding in city hall, only 7 or 8 in attendance, and then 150 friends got together on the weekend for a reception party. My plus one was Ursula who I had just surprised 2 weeks before in DC for her birthday, and now she flew out to MSP to join in on the festivities. We couchsurfed with a swiss guy in his 1920’s house, and took one touristy day to go to a major league baseball game – the Minneapolis Twins against the Toronto Blue Jays. It was my first live game and Im still not sure how it works, but I think I cheered mostly for the Canadians.

 

first row at the ball game

 Then I was off to Seattle, where my photographer and arctic loving friend Mike lives. We went out to my favourite restaurant, the Spaghetti factory, and spent the night catching up. The next morning it was a short 2.5 hour drive to mom’s house in Chilliwack. There we feasted on home made curries and roti and bathed in the hottub and sunshine for a couple days. My older sister Kristjana held an engagement party for her and Michael, the fiance I hadn’t met until then. All our family met all of his and we ate some more homecooked food – I don’t realize how much I miss it til I have it again.

 

my sisters engagement cake

 The way home was Vancouver to Keflavik through Edmonton, a city I’ve never been to and only know a couple people. One of them is Caleb, a guy I lived with in student dorms in Montreal 6 years ago for french immersion. I introduced him to a girl back then who he dated ever since and now lives with, and we all met for an afternoon of brunching and beers on some patios. It was a warm and sunny day, with those fluffy white Simpsons clouds speckled through the sky, and I couldn’t belive how flat and wide the plains were. I guess it really is true that you could see your dog running away for days if he tried. 

the flat praries under some Simpsons clouds

City hopping in ‘Merica

I love being Canadian because they basically treat us as Americans when we fly into their horribly unorganized airports. I don’t need to fill out some I-94 form or ESTA waiver and I can stay up to 3 months without any hassle. I still get fingerprinted everytime, and  from time to time, asked for proof of departure, but I can always just say Im driving to Canada after and then I dont need to show any flight booking. And I learned never to have an e-ticket or electronic boarding pass, since you’re not allowed to use your phone in any customs hall, even if its to show your flight out of the US.

Me and Clio at Minnehaha Falls

Me and Clio at Minnehaha Falls

After some 10 weeks straight of horse back riding in the Icelandic highlands, summer finally met me in Minneapolis. Its a direct 6 hour flight from Iceland, over Greenland and northern Canada, that plops you right int he middle of a thousand lakes. There are lakes everywhere, which makes it a very green and bike friendly state, but like Iceland, the summers are short and most things are dead, frozen and/or snow covered for more than half the year. I’d been twice in the winter to visit my best friend Clio, and this was the first time I had seen the city in bloom, and it made a much better impression on my summer-seeking soul. Of course we rode bikes, and swam in lakes, and then we satisfied my culture side with some visits to the strange-looking Wesiman Art museum, the Walker Art Center Sculpture garden, and the fancy schmancy Nordic inspired  restaurant Bachelor Farm.

Sculpture garden selfie infront of the spoon

Sculpture garden selfie infront of the spoon

I had $900 in American Airlines vouchers to try to use up, so I hopped over to Seattle for a short visit. I can count the number of hours I was there on my fingers and toes, but it was still worth the visit to see my photographer friend Mike Reiter settled into his new home and peek into his working life at corporate giant Amazon. Apparently everyone takes their dog and bikes to work, so Seattle is also a hipster-lifestyle friendly place, but Oakland-native Mike Reiter is anything but hipster. But the Chocolate factory and whiskey distillery that he lives between makes up for it, since he gets to wake up every morning to the sweet smell of chocolatey whiskey. He was proud to show me Pike Place market in downtown Seattle, but I’m not sure I fully appreciated the highlights: men throwing fish and a long line up outside the first ever Starbucks.

boating on the Delta

boating on the Delta

My next destination was San Francisco and the east Bay, back to the hills I used to live in 5 years ago. It was crazy to come into this highway congested bay and see two road-kill deer on the side of the road, but just behind the hills are huge forests and parks with lots of open space for wildlife. There’s a severe draught going on, but in the valleys behind the bay theres a series of canals called the Delta where boaters take their little yachts for joy rides. My friend had a little speed boat we took out to soak up some sun, and water, and I finally got that sun-kissed bronze glow on my skin that my body’s been missing in Iceland.

St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago

the river runs green!

the river runs green!

I tend to skip the mid-west whenever I go to North America, favouring the west and east coasts over the middle of nowhere. After the worst winter in history, I had yet another reason to avoid going to the frigid middle states, but my favourite Canadienne lives in Minneapolis and we were long overdue for a visit. We started planning an elaborate trip to Chicago, since I was visiting over St. Patricks day weekend, and the trip grew from us two, to 5 friends, to a group of 11 that all wanted to drink green beer and see one of the biggest Irish parties held outside of Ireland.

jumping at the "bean"

jumping at the “bean”

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snowy Minneapolis

We stayed in some executive suite at the Hilton, which was worth every penny of the thousand dollars-plus we spent on it after my couch-surfing streak all over Africa. It was cold and snowy, but trading that for the mosquitoes and always being too hot was also a welcomed change. We had hot breakfast and a hottub to warm ourselves up every day, and the sun still peeked through on St. Patrick’s day to brighten up the parade and the green river Chicago (it was really, really, unnaturally green!). I was also a good tourist and visited the 103rd floor of the Sears Tower, Cloud gate (which everyone knows only as the Bean I learned), and the Chicago Arts Institute.

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Me and Clio with an Irish elf lady

Google maps says Minneapolis to Chicago is a 6.5 hour drive, but it took 9 hours, and we played trivia the whole way in and out so I feel a lot smarter after this weekend. I learned all sorts of random facts about American and French history (we had a frenchie with us in the car who knew the answer to every question), and the capital of every American state. I drank green beer, Guinness and Bailey’s to show my patriotism to the Irish. My great-great-great-great-great-great…. grandmother was an Irish princess so I figured even I could claim to be a patriot.

Actual St. Patrick’s day was Monday, March 17, which we celebrated in up-town Minneapolis at an authentic Irish bar called Morrisey’s. We wore green sweaters, green leis, green jewelry and met an actual Irish man who I thought was most deserving of one of those “Kiss me Im Irish” tshirts. Like all of Chicago on Saturday, crowds of people just looked like one sea of green. I kind of started to forget what it was exactly we were celebrating, I just knew that it was green and Irish, but then I went to the cathedral in St. Paul and remembered. There in the church, alongside humongous statues of St. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, stood St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. I had always known he was connected to shamrocks (4 leaf clovers), rainbows and pots of gold, but the myth from reality was never a clear distinction.

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the parade

Apparently St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish, but he was one of Christianity’s  most famous missionaries. He was ordained a priest in Ireland against a pagan/celtic population, after being born somehwere in Britain around 387AD and being taken prisoner by Irish raiders. He died March 17, hence the holiday, and invented the picture of the celtic cross – a flaming sun ontop of the Christian cross. I still don’t know whats historically true or not, but the depiction of a bearded Green leprechaun with jodphur pants, shiny black shoes and gold buckles is the first thing that speaks to me when I think of St. Patricks day. The second thing I think about is Lucky Charms cereal, but that isn’t really relative since that just plays on the green leprechaun and rainbow ideology… but anyway. Everyone agrees St. Patrick’s Day is a great American drinking (non-recognized) holiday, and I’m happy to have been a part of the 3rd biggest celebration possible (number one and two is Boston and Savannah… and maybe Manhattan). Put them on the to-do list for next year 🙂

The Midwest Roadtrip

cleaning my shoe after throwing myself into a big snowbank (I did it to make Clio feel better for throwing her into one). They're not as soft as they look.

My best friend Clio was applying for Phd’s starting last fall and when she got accepted in Seattle, I was super excited for her to accept. Then, at the last minute, she changed her mind and instead moved to Minneapolis (!?) Most people reacted as surprised as I did, but only out of ignorance since, as it turns out, Minneapolis is a great place, with lots going on! I just didn’t have any clue about it until I visited her there a couple weeks ago. First of all, Minneapolis has the largest snow banks Ive ever seen, thanks to the snowstorm that hit just before I arrived and luckily stopped in time for my plane to make it in. Minneapolis is really two cities, hence, the TwinCities nickname. Minneapolis has great cheese (from next door Wisconsin). And of course, Minneapolis has the University of Minnesota, which apparently has the one of the best clinical psychology graduate programs in the US. Good job, Clio 🙂

Me and Clio outside the U

We spent time around town, seeing the university campus, sampled the nightlife, but then took a roadtrip to Illinois. We craigslist rideshared our way all the way through Wisconsin, driving 7 hours from Minneapolis to Chicago with exactly the type of guy you don’t want to lay eyes on when first getting in his car. Craiglist is one of those things that you hope only trustworthy people use, since its kind of risky and a little less common in the midwest than the very liberal westcoast. We got an email, text and call from this guy named Glen who Clio thought was an average caucasian guy, and he seemed nice enough to spend 7 hours in his car with. When he picked us up in the morning, an hour and a half late, we discovered he was actually a 6 foot 3, 300lbs African-American. But, we realized you can never judge a book by its cover, and all the invalid stereotypes we pegged him with disappeared when the first thing he asked us was “Oh, you aren’t afraid of hamsters, are you?” There were two, tiny baby hamsters that looked like teddybears sleeping in a cage in his backseat, and as we learned more about his job working with troubled youth and the YWCA, we realized he was just a big harmless teddybear too.

girl and guy, reunited in Chicago

We spent the weekend in Chicago, met up with that guy named Guy, and braved the -26°C to oogle at the Chicago Bean. Its this amazing, massive, reflective sculpture that no matter what angle you look at it or approach it, you´re eyes are being tricked by all sorts of optical illusions. We also saw a friend of mine from Semester at Sea who I hadnt seen since our Fall 2006 voyage – I love reuinions like that.

the Chicago Bean

After a classy night at the Chicago Symphony Hall watching the Brass Orchestra and some touristy days, we craigslist rideshared out way back with a guy named Andrew from Tennessee. He turned out to be a little nerve wracking before we met him;  he wanted us to meet him at 11 am, but called at 9:30 to explain his car had been towed since he parked somewhere he wasnt allowed when 3 inches of snow had fallen. He claimed the sign was unclear, I dunno, but either way there was lots of snow around. Then he took until 2 pm to get it out of the towyard, and $160 later he picked us up at a café where we had been waiting for him. All the delays were history once we learned he was a spunky gay guy from the South, not so common if you know anything about the conservative south. We were greeted by him pumping his tires with a protable car air pump, in his tiny 2 door Honda. It wasn’t the best car for winter driving, but then when another massive snowstorm hit as we were leaving Chicago, the 7 hr drive quickly turned into 10 hours and I still can’t believe we made it home that day! Moral of these craigslist stories: it always works out, maybe not as you expected, but hey, travel is more fun that way.