At the end of that long first day came one of the most magical parts of the trip. As the sunlight faded, we moved out onto the balcony from our second floor room and sat, sipping beer, leaning back in our chairs. One by one, the stars appeared overhead. We pointed out each new one to each other, “no that’s a satellite” or “I think that’s a plane” peppering our dialog. After an hour, the universe had opened wide in ways that are impossible to see in the metro area.
We went to bed. The past few weeks, we’d been around people from my home town, old high school friends. My relations with my hometown are tenuous at best, cut off nearly entirely is more accurate. Earlier that day we’d seen some rosemaling decorations and a lefse stick at one of the art stops, which also reminded me of my grandmother and growing up. Maybe that’s why I dreamed I was being attacked by people from my home town, pinned down. I warned them that I would scream if they didn’t let me up. They didn’t let me up.
So I screamed.
In real life.
It’s very disconcerting to be screaming in your dream, then have all that wash away with yourself in bed as the scream dies from your mouth.
Becky shot up. I’m surprised the rest of the rooms didn’t start knocking on the door – we all had open windows.
Becky hugged the remaining willies out of me until we fell back asleep.
The next day, we woke. It was Canada day.
Due to the night terrors, we took our time waking up. We drove up the coast, through Grand Marais, which was the farthest either of us had been to that point. I don’t remember much of anything of Minnesota beyond that point. Every now and then there were signs that we were in another town or township. No roads branched off, just driveways to houses we couldn’t see through the trees. It was all a bit eerie. Even Grand Portage’s only structure visible was the casino and gas station.
We got to the border. Becky had our passports at the ready. I gave them to the guy. He gave me back my nifty Doctor Who passport holder. Apparently not a fan.
He asked where we were headed: Thunder Bay. How long: Just a day trip. Where were we staying: Lutsen. Where were we from: Twin Cities.
As he scanned our identification, I said it was Becky’s first time to another country, and that she was REALLY hoping to get a stamp on her passport.
“Hmm. We’ll see.” He said, with more non-commitment than can humanly be expressed in such few words.
We got the go ahead and our passports and headed off. Becky checked her passport. “He stamped it!” she said, hugging the document. He didn’t stamp mine.
Canada was full of more culture shock than we had any right to expect. I’ve been in other countries, but have never driven in one. We had to get used to the lower speed limits, in kph. And weird signs like this:
And this one that looks like a truck will attack the road:
The landscape was beautiful, with big, tree covered hills in the distance. Gold and purple tall grasses underneath yellow, green and orange trees along the road. We had hit the peak color season! Also peak season for seeing people cruise along the highway on weird skates with ski poles.
Becky had planned our trip to Thunder Bay using her handy North Shore guidebook (mostly focused on culinary delights. Not a delight: the horrible beer in Ontario due to government sanctioned monopolies on beer. Even the liquor stores are just called “Beer store.”) Becky had bought the book from U of M press two months before the trip, Lake Superior Flavors.
We were headed to the Farmer’s Market in Thunder Bay, with a pit stop at a bank to get some local currency, and another pit stop at a Tim Horton’s.
Tim Horton’s is like the Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts of Canada – ever present, ever caffeinating the populace. It was my sole bucket list item for Canada, and we checked it off. Twice.
What I liked about it – they do lines the smart way. One line that feeds into the various registers so you don’t have to worry about getting into the slow line.
What bugged me – The service. Both times we were made to feel a bit dumb. The person helping us would go off and snicker to the others about our order or something. Also my card wouldn’t work so I had to run out to the car to get currency where we had left it.
The coffee itself – I thought it was all right, but I’m not a coffee person. The mere fact I could drink it speaks tons, which means that Becky, who is a coffee person, was highly undercaffeinated, which explains the second trip to Tim Hortons.
We then went to the farmer’s market, which was a 2 story barnish-like building with tons of booths for meats, cheeses, knitted things, hats, baked goods and more. Very old timey in nature, and lovely in its way.
Becky got talked into buying some home made spices in small baggies while I worried how that would look to customs. She later yelled at me for running away and admitted to buying the stuff just to get the guy to quit talking to her. We also got several wedges of cheese from Thunder Oak Cheese Farm, which saved us a few miles trip to the farm that was on Becky’s list. The smoked fish place we were going to next was there, but Becky wanted to visit their store itself. After our GPS failed us due to recent road construction, I went back in and asked for directions and got some – they were vague, but they got us there eventually 16 miles out of town.
The Fish Shop was delightful, especially for Becky, a jewelry nut. It was wall to wall amethyst stones in various settings. Down a slight set of stairs was the fish shop, known for their traditional way of freezing and thawing the fish so that it doesn’t take on a heavy smoky flavor, and they were right. I got a chunk of fish (can’t remember what type) and some salmon bites. The guy was super friendly and we chatted about the weather, the road work nearby that has been hell for their business, and Lutsen. The woman helped Becky as she picked out two necklaces and a woven rug. What I loved most was her way of adding “hey” to the end of her sentences. We both agreed on that point after leaving, and we both agreed that the salmon bites were phe-frickin-nominal.
A side note about smoked fish
Our Lake Superior book recommended places we were already aware of, but more importantly, I am a smoked fish nut. I discovered this last time we were at the North Shore. So Becky went out of her way to make sure we hit three separate places because they smoke them in different ways – in order to see which I liked best. Smoked trout from Northern Waters Smokehaus – he uses “a smoke in the style of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska called kippering,” where you step up the temp gradually. In Knife River, we got whitefish from Russ Kendall’s Smoke house. He still smokes over open fire pits the way the original people here, the Anishinaabe, taught his family. In Canada, we’d get fish from The Fish Shop, that’s prepared in a traditional Finnish style by freezing it and then thawing it, then hanging it in a smoker. Becky and I did a taste test when we got home, and Russ Kendall’s fish was our favorite, closely followed by Northern Waters. The Fish Shop’s pike was rather dry for both of us – though their salmon bites were amazing.
Back to the trip…
We stopped at the water front on the way back and took some pics. Then we checked out a restaurant we were thinking of going to. However, they didn’t open for another hour. We had had our fill of Canada, (Becky quote: “Why is Canada so hard!” when we kept driving on one road and it changed names four times even though we never changed roads) and to be honest, the town was not glamorous. Thunder Bay sounds like a rocking hair band, but in reality, it’s not. Pretty much like mainstreet Fargo near 25th Avenue, so we headed back.
The U.S. Border was a bit more rigid, but not much. Definitely felt more watched. They asked the same questions, were fine with the purchased fish and such. And we were on our way.
The original plan had been to do Grand Marais the next day, but since it was 4, we decided to get it out of the way.
Angry Trout has a reputation, and it’s well earned. We had eaten there last time and can still vividly recall it. The restaurant is on the waterfront, and if you want to sit outside with the seagulls, you will be in for a long wait, even at 4. Since we weren’t particular, we were seated in 10-15 minutes inside next to a window.
I ordered the grilled herring with fettucini. Becky ordered the grilled whitefish with wild rice. Both came with salad, grilled squash, and one of four homemade dressings. We also got a fish bites appetizer and a cup of trout chowder.
Becky was off tidying up when the fish bites came. It took all my willpower to stop at just one before she came back. They were breaded, deep fried, 1.5 inch balls of heaven, especially with the dill tartar sauce to dip in. You bite into one, and you have to slam your fist against the table to balance out the sheer joy with some pain or you may float away.
The grilled fish, likewise, was fresh caught and grilled to perfection in a way I have never enjoyed anywhere else. I said this last time we went there, but it still holds – it was as if the fish just jumped up from the water and onto to the plate and said “I’m ready. As it is written, so it shall be. Enjoy me and spread my words.” Balancing the fish, the fettucini was better than it had any right to be in a fish restaurant at the edge of America. The chowder, likewise, was ridiculously good. Basically, you can’t really go wrong at this place, though I can’t swear to that cause I will never order anything other than these items if I happen to find my way there again.
Properly be-fished, we turned our attention to getting some souvenirs at the nearby trading post. I let Becky have at it while I waited outside, skipped a few rocks, took pictures of a drone someone was playing with, and generally enjoyed life as the sun got closer to the horizon.
Once again, we headed to the hotel to call it a day.
Sunday, we woke to get 10 minutes down the road to the Waves of Superios spa where Becky had reserved us some massages. She also had a body wrap thing, but was wise enough to know that sort of thing would make me uncomfortable. Becky was first. I went to soak in the biggest hot tub I’ve been in, then spent some time in the sauna.
Saunas are the only place on this planet where I can sweat and feel comfortable about it. I hate sweating. I hate being hot. This is probably why I’m OK living in Minnesota. But for whatever reason, sitting in a sauna, breathing the humidity, sweat beading everywhere, feels good. It feels like a clean sweat, like the crappy life hang ups are escaping the places they are trapped within me to pool together and run away.
The massage was equally wonderful. We’ll skip ahead.
The rest of Sunday was dedicated just resting. We like to try to balance the activities on a vacation with downtime to relax. We get enough of the “have to be doing something every waking second” in our real lives, so though it goes against my instincts, we tend to build in nothing days to remember the silence of being. Becky napped. I did some editing. I took a walk and explored around the resort into areas we hadn’t ventured last time. I found my way to the second covered bridge and a waterfall among the rocks. I even saw a frickin big ass fish try to jump up the waterfall and stood there with my camera ready for another 10 minutes to capture the event, but it appeared the fish gave up. sad face. But, for those wondering, Hambone was here.
We headed back to the lodge later to sit on the beach near a fire in the chilly wind. Becky was relaxed as the weird sky/lake horizon finally had some definition. But the rain showed up to usher us inside.
We ate at the lodge that night – where they make poutine with veal reduction for extra “Why do we ever eat anything else?” effect.
Monday, we rolled out of bed lethargically. We had to head home. We finished off our pie for breakfast (no judging!), packed up and made our way south in a leisurely fashion. Our first small pit stop was at the nearby ski resort to head up the hill in a gondola. Becky hates heights, so I LOVE that she puts that aside for the 10 minutes or so it takes to get up the huge hill (to be fair, it seems like a lot of it is up, down, up, down and up).
We surveyed the land, took hella tons of pictures, drank scalding hot beverages, and tried to mentally prepare for heading back to real life. That last part was super hard.
We continued back down 61 with stops at Baraga’s Cross (a landmark in this murder mystery trilogy we’re reading by a Norwegian author), Gooseberry Falls and Betty’s Pies (because why not bring home another pie to enjoy for the rest of the week?).
Getting home is always a bummer, but we crammed a lot of activity and downtime and experiences into four days on the North Shore. Becky got her first trip out of the country, the first of hopefully many. We ate like kings who eat lots of fish. We breathed air steeped in pine needles, lake water and decaying leaves. We put away our worries for at least a few days.