Our family may never experience flying on an airplane together. In opening our hearts to a bigger family, we silently agreed to give up this luxury, though we may not have known it at the time we were in the midst of collecting kids. But one sacrifice I've never been willing to make is to forgo spending time together away from home every summer, even if it means limiting trips to within driving distance.
The Black Hills was an early destination of choice. We'd never been there before and it seemed like the right time. But when we realized our time frame would hit the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally, we decided we weren't up for battling crowds and spiked prices, so we began devising a suitable Plan B.
After a fair amount of rumination, I threw Duluth, Minn., into the mix. Some of us had been there several years ago for a cousin's wedding and done a few touristy things, but it was quick and focused. Maybe something more intentionally vacation-y would fit the bill. The four-hour distance seemed about perfect and from what we could tell, Duluth has a lot of offer families wanting a little relaxation time together.
We left Wednesday morning and came back Saturday night, but we covered a lot in that time, and by the end of it, I'd put it high on the list of favorite family vacations so far.
To appease the younger kiddos, we chose a hotel with a water park. This was a compromise, since earlier deliberations had us considering an amusement-park destination, and I'd put in my vote to avoid spending our time together going on rides in the hot sun like a few years back.
It's important to me that our time together has some sort of opportunity for restoration with a side of education when possible. I want it to be a little more than a joy ride. The best trips, in my mind, leave you feeling connected to the place, and enlightened somehow.
For many reasons, Duluth proved to be a dream vacation for me, and I haven't heard too many complaints from the rest of the crew, either. It has just about everything I would want -- an ocean feel without being on the coast, a city with a small-town feeling, and a coastal, creative vibe. We were only four hours from home but it felt like we'd traveled a great distance from our prairie home.
We enjoyed many terrific meals. The first was mine to enjoy with a friend I've known for a while now through a mutual friend but never met in person. What a great start to our adventure, sharing my morning with Jennifer at Amazing Grace Cafe, which also exposed me to the lovely area of Canal Park; a portion we'd missed somehow during our last visit.
Hanging out with Jennifer also gave me a great overview of the area. She explained how the fog in the mornings is common in June and August, as well as the relationship between the two cities of Duluth and Superior. She also gave me some choice insider's advice. If you want good pie, she'd said, skip the well-known Betty's Pies and go just a little further up the road to try the Rustic Inn & Gifts instead. It will be worth it, she'd promised.
We were not disappointed. The pie was fabulous, but the big surprise for me was the best bowl of homemade chicken and wild rice soup I've ever had the delight of tasting.
We shared three big pieces of pie -- five-layer chocolate, apple and strawberry rhubarb -- though we gobbled them down too quickly for me to snap photos
of the actual pie.
We also spent time at the shoreline just off Canal Park...
Enjoyed introductions to various critters at the aquarium...
And an evening pizza cruise.
We topped that off with caramel apples at one of many candy shops scattered throughout the area.
I'll save my photos of Gooseberry Falls for another day. It's hard to narrow down hundreds of photos in one post.
For now, I'll close by saying again how much I loved Duluth -- enough that I could imagine myself living there someday, if ever I were to peel myself from the Fargo I also love.
In an email from my Mom, I was reminded of a family connection to the place. My Grandpa Louis, my father's father, grew up in this fair city. It felt right somehow to be here during my father's birthday month when he is so much on my mind. It was one of the treasures of the trip that didn't come to me until we were well into our adventure, but brought a deep happiness to my heart.
|Grandpa Louis in the middle, my Dad, little Bobby, far right|
Perhaps this is why it felt so instantly like home to me. There's something about knowing a part of you has a connection to a part of the earth like this, no matter how small and hidden.
We're back now, and better than when we left, filled with new memories, refreshed by water and green, better equipped to meet what's next.
Q4U: Where did you find yourself restored this summer?