Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Why not Minot?

I've been to Minot before, but for some reason I thought I'd gotten tougher and could handle the cold.

Joke's on me.

When I walked out of the airport and took a breath, I'm pretty sure my lungs froze a little because it actually hurt.

I'd been in Pennsylvania for several days in the cold and snow, but the middle of the night in Minot is definitely colder.

Thank goodness my high school pal, Matt, was there with the car heated up and ready to go.

People say there isn't much to do in Minot, which is sort of true, but we entertained ourselves just fine. Plus, time spent with old friends is time well spent.

The boys are in a bowling league, so there was a night of that, while I was ordering them to bowl strikes, random older gentlemen stopped to chat.

Many a stop was also made to Ebeneezer's, their official hangout after bowling and I have to say I'm a fan. Especially when endless pots of coffee are involved.

Last year, Matt and I drove out to the town of Rugby to see the geographical center of North America. It's actually in the middle of a lake, so the monument to mark the spot is a little bit off. We decided to pass on that this year and instead checked out the city's arboretum, which has about one tree. To be fair, it was February, maybe more show up during the summer?

Matt and I and one of his co-workers headed to the local area for some ice skating too. I know, in February, as if it wasn't cold enough. I used to figure skate competitively and also coached, but hadn't been on skates in years. And wearing rental skates was throwing off my balance even more, but it was a blast and made me miss being on the ice even more.

For a small town in the middle of just about nowhere, there's a nice wine bar downtown near Matt's apartment that I've now been to twice. And an Italian/American restaurant that I've also grown fond of, although I can't remember the name.

I hear the summers are toasty and they're are plenty of outdoor activities. So, it may be in the middle of nowhere, but if you've got some time to kill...why not Minot?

The tundra, in February.

This never made the paper, so you're getting an online exclusive! From my trip to PA to visit Abbie in February.

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No Jenn Rowell trip is complete without missed flights and lost bags.

The rule applied to my first quarter “fur-cation” to what I call the great white tundra.

A college friend, Abbie, was living and working in Altoona, Pa. and a high school pal, Matt, is stationed at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, so I decided it was a good time to visit.

In February.

But I love the cold and snow, and was ready to bundle up and explore.

After missing my first flight out of Montgomery, because I like to cut it close and this time I failed, I landed in Pittsburgh. My bag — a bright orange rucksack — did not.

There was no tracking information on my bag, the luggage man told me. Not a good sign.

I left my number with the luggage man and headed into Pittsburgh with Abbie.

A local friend is from Pittsburgh and he gave me a to do list for his hometown. Abbie and I got to work on the list, starting with lunch at Primanti Brothers in the Strip District. It’s a must do in the ‘burgh, but we probably wouldn’t do it again. Massive sandwiches loaded with meat, fries and coleslaw are just not our thing.

The bag showed up that night, although it had been repacked and not nearly as systematically as I had done it.

Up next on the list was the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. It’s 42 floors of academia, with a library, the Honors College, study areas and offices. The lower levels look like the inside of a European cathedral and include 26 nationality rooms. The rooms represent the different culture and ethnic groups in the city.

With a tape-recorded tour guide and a key, we spent about three hours going through Greece, Japan, Italy, Armenia, Israel, Poland, Romania and more. For two travel junkies it was a day well spent.

The Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History were the next stop and another hit. Abbie and I are planning a trip to Egypt for our 30th birthdays, in 2013, and the museum had a great Egyptian exhibit, complete with actual mummies. Minus some screaming children, we used the exhibit as a jumping off point to learn about the country and start brainstorming our trip.

There was also an exhibit on whales, done in partnership with a museum in New Zealand and many of the features were places I had been while studying in New Zealand.

Running short on time, we crammed in another exhibit, the Hall of Architecture. It’s a huge room with replicas of famous sites and architectural classics like the Parthenon and the fa├žade of the monastery at St.-Gilles-du-Gard in France.

Walking into that room definitely caused us to stop and catch our breath. They may only be replicas, but most of the replicas are built to scale and it was a bit like we were in Greece or France as we stared up at the massive creations.

Our Pittsburgh to-do list conquered, we headed to Altoona for some small town fun, like fresh sticky buns and conversation with the sweet locals and a drive out to Horseshoe Curve, although it’s closed for the winter.

Horseshoe Curve was constructed by the Pennsylvania Railroad because it was too difficult to build tracks through the summit of the Allegheny Mountains. The curve has been used continuously since it opened in 1854 and was guarded by Union troops during the Civil War. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and is now part of the National Register of Historic Places.

Abbie and I don’t sit still for long, so next we were off on a three-hour road trip to Washington. We went to college in Virginia and her family still lives in the DC area (my parents are in Yorktown and my sisters are in Charlottesville). It’s also my all-time favorite city.

We visited the arts and crafts market at Eastern Market, a few blocks from the Capitol. We also went to the top of the Washington Monument. In all my visits to Washington, I’d never done that. The views from the 555-foot tall stone obelisk were stunning that day. It was a bit overcast, but we could still see the entire city.

The best part of the time in Washington on this trip came when a stranger asked us for directions to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. We got to chatting and the man had an accent I couldn’t place. A few minutes later, he told us he was from Egypt.

Abbie and I exchanged shocked glances and the Egyptian caught it.

We explained to him that we were planning a trip to Egypt and how odd it was that off all the people to strike up a conversation with, we would find an Egyptian.

He gave us some travel tips for our future adventure and we parted ways as we headed to other Smithsonian museums.

Maybe my bags will get lost then, too, but I’d consider that a sign that we’ll be climbing pyramids in 2013.