Thursday, June 27, 2013

Duluth and Superior - the non-Running Portion

Last weekend we headed north - way north. Holly was participating in Grandma's Marathon that takes place along Duluth, MN's shoreline of Lake Superior. In today's post we will cover the businesses we visited over the weekend. We will have more on the race in an upcoming post.

We never realized how far north we were going. Dave was surprised to see we were farther north than Ottawa and that businesses in Thunder Bay were advertising in Duluth. The temperature dropped about 30 degrees from the start of our drive until we reached our destination. The weather report wasn't looking too promising so we were sorta prepared for damp, foggy conditions.

We planned a lunch stop in Eau Claire, Wisconsin at the Northwoods Brewpub. The decor was straight-up Wisconsin log cabin theme: canoes, bear rugs, green and red plaid, etc. We each ordered a pint ($3.25 for 20oz), got a couple free samples of other flavors and ordered sandwiches.  Northwoods offered around 8-10 of their own beers on tap. Out of the 4 we tried we only liked one. Our sandwiches were not that good either. So next time we go this way we will take a pass on this place.

We can't stress enough that this was a boring drive. We had no cellular data availability between The Dells and Eau Claire. Lots of trees - which were pretty, but that's about it. We hit some rain on the way up and that added to the blahs of sitting in the car for so long.

When we pulled into Superior, WI (the location of our hotel) we met the thickest fog we had seen in a long time. We knew Lake Superior was just to our right, but we could not see it.

Living close to Wisconsin gives us a familiarity with some of the exports from the state - beer, bratwurst and other sausages, and cheese. This trip we learned about a new touristy item - wild rice. Almost every gas station and road-side cheese store was advertising wild rice. Apparently it's as normal up here as cheese.

We quickly checked into our hotel and headed over to Duluth for the race expo. Still no visibility as we crossed over the bridge. It wasn't until race day that we were able to see downtown Duluth. There appeared to be a few good walkable blocks of nice bars and restaurants. Unfortunately we booked too late and ended up in Superior (and that was unfortunate for more than one reason).

After the expo we drove towards our planned dinner location and noticed a microbrewery on the way. We stopped at Bent Paddle Brewing Company and enjoyed a pint in their really nice taproom. They had two flagship beers - a Black Ale and an IPA plus a few seasonal rotations. We are happy to report dark beers outnumbered the IPAs!! We tried the Black Ale and the Calibration Dark on nitro. Both were very good and we wish we could buy these beers at home. Prices were decent too - $3 for 10oz, $4 for 16oz, and $5 for 20oz. They did not have a kitchen but we guess folks could bring in their own food.
Our final stop of the evening was Clyde's Iron Works. This restaurant was in the same old industrial district where Bent Paddle was and it looked like the area was going through a slow revitalization. Clyde's used to be home to a steel refinery and manufacturing site of heavy machinery used in logging and construction. Today they hosts events, concerts, and have a nice casual restaurant. You can even play bocce and big chess inside. Dave tried their signature label beer - Clyde's Lager and it was pretty good. His pork sandwich was good while Holly's spaghetti and meatballs were average.

The next morning was race day. After trekking back to our Superior hotel (keep in mind that is not a description of our lodging) and changing we went back to Duluth for some lunch and post-race celebration.

Race events and concerts were scheduled to go on all night and that kept the area around Canal Park pretty busy. Our instinct was to go a few blocks north to Fitger's Brewhouse for lunch. Short-story, Fitger's is located in a large building that was originally a brewery built in the 1870's. The brewery closed in the early 1970's. Now the building is a small shopping center housing several stores and restaurants. Fitger's had several of their own beers on tap along with a few guest breweries. We had a really good lunch that included sausage corn chowder, burgers, fries, and onion rings. All the food was top-notch and the beer was good, not great.

We trekked back to the Canal Park area. This seemed to be the central entertainment district of town. We visited Canal Park Brewing which was quite a contrast to Fitger's old-time feel. This place was a modern space with a mix of wood, concrete, and steel. We were here for drinks but were drooling over the food that passed by. We were also lucky to take in some live music while enjoying our drinks. Dave started out with a large porter while Holly went with the nut brown. After that Dave tried a sampler of four other beers. All were pretty decent and well-representative of their styles. Their beer menu was essentially a stack of large flash cards on the table with some nice photography and good product descriptions.
We were hoping the fog would have cleared by the time we finished our beers so we could take in a little bit of the lake and Canal Park. It didn't. So we headed back to Superior to hit our dinner spot: The Thirsty Pagan. The main reason we chose The Thirsty Pagan for dinner was the fact it was a microbrewery. Surprise! The inside had a ton of character. Antique regional beer signs and posters all over the walls. There was a performer singing and playing guitar in the main bar room. They offered 10 of their own beers plus a full bar. We each ordered drinks and a pizza to go. We really enjoyed this place.
We went back to the hotel, put the pie in our room and walked across the street to Hammond's Steak House for a cocktail. What we found out was Hammond's was on the second floor with a different entrance than the one we went through. We ended up in a bar attached to a liquor store on the lower level. Perfectly fine place. We met a nice couple who actually turned out to be board members of the marathon. We had a lot of fun talking with them and learning more about the area - and their two days of summer.
The next morning we started the trek back home. We got a recommendation for a good local breakfast place but opted for the Best Western so we could get out of town as soon as possible. We decided we'd find a place to eat in The Wisconsin Dells - which is a big tourist area north of Madison. Holly found Moose Jaw Pizza and Dell's Brewing Company not too far off the highway. This location also opted for Wisconsin-chic with chandeliers resembling antlers and the required mounted deer heads. Dave (whom wasn't driving the next leg) had the 6-point sampler of beer. The beers were pretty good, but all light-bodied. Lunch portions were so big we ended up having a slice of toast with peanut butter for dinner.

From a brewery-enthusiast point-of-view the weekend was a success. We had some decent (bar) food and got to see a new area of the Midwest. Too bad we never saw the number one tourist attraction.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Who's Going to be Robin Hood?

Things are a little quiet for us this week. Dave's been working on finishing up editing our Photopass+ pictures from Disney World and Holly is gearing up for Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, MN this weekend. There should be some race-related content next week.

In the meantime, enjoy this classic Chuck Jones cartoon: Robin Hood Makes Good - 1939


Friday, June 14, 2013

Dave went to San Antonio and it was OK

This week Dave attended a conference in San Antonio, Texas. It's a city he's never been to and always wanted to visit one of its top attractions: The Riverwalk. Since his conference was in a resort pretty far north of the city (JW Marriott - Nice!) he took some time on his travel day to take in a couple of sites.
His first stop was The Alamo. This is a mission that saw some battle in the 1800's during some war. All Dave really remembered about it was from the Disney series Davey Crockett. Crockett died at The Alamo and you can see his wallet there. If you want to know more about The Alamo you can check their website or wikipedia.
A couple of things were surprising about The Alamo. First, it's not a National Park. Not sure why it isn't since it is such a symbol of freedom in America. Second, no entry fee. Visitors can opt for an audio or guided tour at an extra charge. Third, the city didn't do a great job keeping things classy in that area. Across the street was a Ripley's Believe it or Not, Fuddrucker's, and Pat O'Brien's.

You could not take pictures inside the building. The grounds inside the walled area were nicely kept. Overall Dave spent 20 minutes in the compound with 5 of those minutes in the gift shop. They had a nicely detailed model of the property during the final battle in the store so he was fascinated.

After visiting The Alamo Dave took a short walk to the Riverwalk area. This is where they beautified a section of the river and put in a bunch of restaurants and clubs. The area was very pretty, but not as large as Dave had expected. The river was pretty narrow in this section, which was nice when you had to take a bridge to the other side.

The restaurants on the walk were a mix of national chains you'd find in your converted city buildings (Hard Rock, Landry's, Dick's Last Resort), some local/casual establishments, and some higher-end offerings. Dave chose to have a late lunch along the banks of the river at The Republic of Texas. Nothing special, but it offered a nice view of the tour boats going by. One other surprise about the area was that there weren't really any shops - mostly all restaurants. Dave thought the Riverwalk was a little bit of a disappointment, but maybe his opinion would change if he ever experienced it at night.
The ducks on the Riverwalk were annoying during lunch. They kept pecking Dave looking for a handout. Later on, Dave noticed a shrine - like one someone would put at the scene of a car accident. It was for a duck that was apparently beloved by all and senselessly murdered by a couple of alleged drunks.

There was a lot of charm to the area and portions of the walk where there weren't any restaurants were very nice. One thing though - there's no breeze down by the river. It was hot, so hot.

Here are some more pictures from the Riverwalk and the general area.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Pontoon Boat Rental at Disney

Since this was a long trip to Disney we decided that we wanted to relax more and take advantage of some of the things offered at our resorts.    On our first full day of vacation we left the Magic Kingdom around 3pm and headed over to the Contemporary Hotel to rent a boat.

We could have chosen little water racers, a center-console whaler, or a pontoon boat.   Originally we thought we were going to rent a whaler, but we were told if we did only one person could drive.  There were also strict rules about moving around and what the driver could do (not eating, drinking, or photographing).  Both larger boat options were priced at $45/half hour with each additional 5 minutes price pro-rated.  We were eligible for an Annual Pass discount of 30% off that price.    The larger boats can hold up to 8 passengers - making this an affordable group outing to split amongst several parties.

We opted for the pontoon boat so we could take photos and switch turns driving.   We were surprised at the speed of the boat.   It was really slow!   Disney puts regulators on all boats so no one can go more than 10-12 mph.   Bummer.  Even if you can't drive fast there's still a lot to see.   We were able to go by Discovery Island, River Country, Fort Wilderness, Wilderness Lodge, the Magic Kingdom, the Polynesian, and Grand Floridian.

We were able to get some good photos from the pontoon point-of-view.   We had some more taken with the GoPro, but the memory card died later in the trip so all those shots are gone.

Photo was poorly exposed - only way we could get a decent shot of the Grand Floridian

Here's some video from our boat ride:

The trip took us about 45 minutes and the cost, with our AP discount, was $50.  We think we may do this again in January when we are down for WDW Marathon Weekend and get a group of friends from Team Allears to join us.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Star Wars Weekend Dash

We hoped you enjoyed the daily updates from our latest Disney trip. We're still sorting through photos and videos so I think it's a safe bet a few more Disney related posts are coming up. Today's post is no different.

While we were in the parks Star Wars Weekends were occurring in the Disney Hollywood Studios park. For Four weeks The Studios is all about Star Wars with a character parade and meet & greets, presentations, merchandise, and shows. In prior years we spent our time watching the parades and getting pictures with characters so this year we decided to concentrate on presentations.

While we were in The Animal Kingdom Park Friday we talked about seeing the presentation by Warwick Davis. He was Wicket, the lead Ewok in "Return of the Jedi" and the lead role in the movie "Willow". We weren't smart enough that morning to research what time the show was. We decided to do this after sitting down for lunch around 12:30. We found out the show was only playing once a day - at 1:45. That wouldn't work for our schedule Saturday or Sunday. Today was it. After a few minutes of contemplating we decided to go for it. We scarfed down our lunches in 5 minutes and were off.

A few things were in our favor: We drove to Animal Kingdom that day so no buses to wait for. We were staying at The Boardwalk, which meant we could access the Studios via the walking path. We figured this would be quicker than parking at the Studios and getting pushed way far back in the parking lot.
Started at purple pin. Red is walking, blue is driving.

Note:  Holly does not think Warwick Davis or the Ewoks are stupid.  Running in the heat was bringing out those comments.

If you skipped watching the video, you will be happy to know we made it. It wasn't pretty. That was the hottest day of the trip and walking a quick clip in that heat right after eating wasn't a great idea. Dave was contemplating buying a new t-shirt for the rest of the day. It was worth it because the presentation was very good. If Warwick Davis is in your neighborhood be sure to go see him.

Our friends at recorded the entire show.  Here's the video they posted on Youtube.