A trip to America for a magnificent wedding, family fun, lovely midwestern countryside and great food.
21-28 July 2023
Text by Blake Milteer
After a month in Germany, I had less than two days back in Edinburgh before Sarah, Sam and I were off to the airport for another 6:00 am flight, this time to America.
We were looking forward to this trip, as its main purpose was the wedding of my brother Joel and his fiancé Rachel. It was a lovely opportunity to spend time with my family and meet new family as well.
When flying from the United Kingdom to America, we tend to look for good flights on Icelandair. The flight path goes over Scotland's western isles to Reykjavik, then over the southern tip of Greenland, over Canada, Lake Superior and into Minneapolis. Here are a few images from the air:
As far as stopover airports go, Reykjavik is a good one. It's beautifully designed, and the international transfer area is easy to navigate. The salmon salad and beer are excellent despite the £18 bill.
Our week-long stay was delightfully full of activities beginning with a couple days of final wedding preparations in Minnesota before heading across the Mississippi River into Wisconsin for two nights surrounding the wedding itself, then back to Minnesota for the remainder of the week.
Everything about the wedding was brilliant. Joel and Rachel put a lot of planning and hard work into every aspect of the event. Both families stepped up to lend a hand (many hands) along the way, and it was great fun working together with everyone getting the venue set up on the wedding day.
Magnificent floral arrangements were at the centre of the wedding's lovely aesthetic. Behind their unparalleled design was Richard Milteer, who's still got it at 83. Here's a short video showing bits of the venue, the decor, the master floral designer at work, and just a hint of the stunningly beautiful wedding (duration: 3:14):
We really enjoyed the time with family in this beautiful setting. The wedding venue is in Wisconsin's Western Uplands, a landscape of rich farmland (we were surrounded by corn fields!) and forests bordered by the Mississippi River to the west.
Most of the family stayed either in a farm house on the venue property or in a group of cabins just a short walk down an unpaved farm road.
Local wildlife such made several appearances in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. Lots of deer were wandering around; we watched a squirrel stealthily approach a bird-of-prey, getting close enough unnoticed to squawk loudly, scaring the bird away; a massive golden eagle swooped into a roadside tree near the Mississippi River; a coyote slinked across the road as we were driving in Wisconsin. Perhaps most entertaining were the uninvited guests at the groom's dinner: two raccoons who were clearly impressed by the Darth Vader-shaped cake a wanted a bit of their own.
The day after the wedding began with an impressive thunderstorm in the early hours. Startled awake just after 2:00 am, went all out on the porch to watch the display as the the boom of rolling thunder shook the cabin and spectacular flashes of lightning seemed to rip the surrounding landscape out of darkness. A hint of the experience can be seen in the video further down this page.
Sarah and I were on our own getting back to Minnesota from Wisconsin. We had a lovely day with stops along the Mississippi River, and in the towns of Pepin and Red Wing. Here's a video (duration: 5:12):
The next section features food porn ranging from disappointingly flaccid and pale to deliciously saucy and spicy to downright moist and meaty.
You've been warned.
A salad so bad it almost makes British ones look good. Almost. This atrocity accompanied a plate of chicken fried steak so mediocre it wasn't worth the pixels. The steak and veg seem to have gone from the freezer into the fryer and boiling water (I'll let you imagine which went into which). We've had fantastic diner food in America; this was not it. The name of the diner has been withheld in honour of the server whose surly demeanour was the only bit of the experience within expectations.
Enchilada plate at Gran Plaza Mexican Restaurant in Northfield, Minnesota. Not the prettiest presentation, but the flavours were perfection. We could have eaten our way through the menu at this place. This sort of deliciousness is nowhere to be found in Edinburgh.
Barbecue at Revival Smoked Meats in Minneapolis. Having grown up in Texas, I'm used to gut-busting quantities of meat and sides, which this was not. Maybe that's not such a bad thing at my age. The brisket was tender, juicy and flavourful. The coleslaw, beans and cornbread were excellent. An old fashioned made it all even better.
Our last day was spent in Minneapolis. It's a great city for arts and culture. There's a healthy music and theatre scene, but our emphasis is always to spend time with family, so opportunities for cultural excursions are usually focused on visual arts venues. Though most visits include days at the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Art, there wasn't time for those on this trip.
There was time after our lovely meal at Revival Smoked Meats for a meandering drive to see a few of the city's many public murals and get a hint of the stunning variety of musicians (and a smaller number of comedians and politicians) who have appeared on stage at a single 1,500-seat venue, First Avenue. More than 400 performers are represented by stars on the venue's exterior walls. Most of the stars are silver, with two notable exceptions: a gold star for Prince and a red star honouring George Floyd.
The video below shows a small selection of the murals and the stars on First Avenue. It ends with another magnificent thunderstorm that occurred on our last night in Minneapolis (duration: 3:37).
Summer 2023, Part 5 of 5: Working and Walking on the Isle of Skye