I love going to discover new places small, between, and big. This weekend was no exception. I made the journey North to a small town during the off season and I didn’t miss the other tourists. There were some places closed and that didn’t make it through the past year, not because of the people passing through but according to the locals due to half or less being allowed inside. The locals said they had a record number of people visiting their own State because they couldn’t fly.
Yes, the C word did spread quickly in this little town called Ely but they survived. The talk around town is how the border to Canada may not open and who’s still recovering from illnesses. Some locals let the visitors eat inside and pick-up their orders to return home.
Saturday night was spent trying a recommended appetizer from a local gift shop worker yummy bacon and duck filled wontons at the Grand Lodge that sits between Miners and Shagawa Lake. The hilltop view was worth the pricier dinner. My husband and I stuffed our faces with new texture of duck bits, corn, cream cheese, and hints of bacon and I was surprised. It wasn’t smothered in sweet. The tangy sauce made them disappear faster.
After driving all over the place to literally dip my hand in a freezing cold lake so that I could say I touched the Boundary Waters (also recommended by locals), sharing a warm meal with some conversation help me relax before our long drive back home.
I finally landed my walleye without having to sit on freezing ice or out in the cold rain. My walleye landed breaded and with a big baked potato. Crunch after crunch was delicious. We argued whether or not it panko or some other breading. I took a bit of his Cajun pasta dish and I thought it wasn’t too hot but the slow heat built on the tongue and the sauce reminded me of a Thai shrimp dish I had that made me sweat bullets. The creamy sauce was so good I had to finish and dab my forehead later. When the young waiter asked if we would like desert, I didn’t stop my husband from ordering carrot cake at the end of our meals.
The low lights, spread out tables, and lots of locals meeting after a long day was cozy even if we were distanced. I would recommend a nice dinner at the end of your trip at the same Evergreen restaurant. Prices are closer to $20 an entree but it’s not so stuffy that you can’t walk in wearing flannel. Staff is in uniform and they are taking guests. Most of all ask the locals because some places may or may not be open. Call ahead and make a reservation if you can.
During our meal I realized something, their drinking water smelled funny- not in a bad way but different from our water in the cities. The smell was like smelling my ice tray at home just out of the freezer. Then, I thought of water sitting in a well surrounded by the large, blue stones on the side of the road mixed in with bits of wet marsh. Did the tap come directly from the lakes? I didn’t ask.
Maybe this was seasonal but I tried to note all the differences and the advice of the locals. Ely has a huge Blueberry Festival and everything is booked and it’s very crowded. A local said you can’t get through with your car. It can be fun but that time of year needs planning. I spoke with a student graduating this year in a class of 32, who’s moving to the cities for college. Another local said a small town can be clicky and difficult because everyone knows everyone but she returned after college. Her difficult experiences didn’t deter her from coming back. She graduated with 50 in her class.
One thing that stood out in the small towns of the North was that everyone we met was friendly and never stopped smiling when I asked questions.
On the way home we didn’t drive through Biwabik to visit Vi’s again. We traveled back down 169 and toward Virginia. There are fewer towns but the view through the hills of the boundary waters is beautiful. Tower has a small train on display and then you travel a distance before you reach Cloquet. This was our 2 hour stopping point for a bathroom break, stretching, and refreshing of drinks.
One of the best parts of traveling is more than the excitement of going through the journey of reaching a destination, it’s also about the feeling you have when you return home. The thought of my own bed and familiar sights brings me calm. I thought to myself, I need to remember to do this for my readers as I take them on a journey. I need to bring them back home and leave them in a place that makes them feel settled and familiar.
Another piece of travel advice, when you open your door and give that relaxing sigh – don’t sit down. Put away your things right away and unpack. Reward yourself with a steaming drink or something over chunky ice after you scurry around. Then, relax.
The rest of my week is going to be spent gathering my notes, and the changes that happened the more time I spent walking around and driving the local roads. My sense of direction shifted and some of the places I wanted to include are closed. There’s more work to be done and my drive into town was affected by the real experience. Wish me luck as I type away.
I hope everyone stays inspired! Follow as I post on my progress throughout the month and share the experience.
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