Thursday, May 27, 2010

Saskatoon to Edmonton

Catching up.

Where to begin?  Actually, that's the easy part.  We last spoke in Regina.  Or maybe Saskatoon.  Since then, we drove to Edmonton, explored the freak show that is the West Edmonton Mall, stayed the night in a hotel with a gorgeous view, got up the next morning and powered through to Fort St. John, where I sit in a Super 8 Motel at this very moment.  Sophie and I are officially on the Alcan!  A mere 1500 or so miles separate us and our bed in Anchorage.

Saskatoon was uneventful.  Continental breakfast, fill up on gas, get going.  Token picture.

Motels are exciting. 

The landscape has been slowly getting prettier over the last two days.  We've gone from flat and uninteresting to hilly and exciting.  I first noticed that the badlands were becoming less bad at a rest stop between Saskatoon and Edmonton.

As you all know, Sophie and I are animal whisperers.  We often whisper in the presence of animals, mostly because we don't want to scare them off.  Although we rarely share the secrets of our practice with outsiders, or even family, we have decided to make an exception in order to show you all an example of the extremely rare mammal, Rodentus Cutus Tinius, genus Restus Stopus.

We now reach the terrifying climax of our trip thus far: the West Edmonton Mall.  According to Joe's vague memory of a Wikipedia entry he skimmed several days ago, the West Edmonton Mall is the largest mall in the known universe.  There are actually seven thousand malls in Dubai that are larger than the West Edmonton Mall, but as it has recently been discovered that the laws of economics are totally different in Dubai, it can no longer be considered a part of the known universe.  It's more like the hard-to-believe-they-actually-think-that-shit-is-a-good-idea universe. 

While the West Edmonton Mall does have the standard Sephoras, American Apparels, and Oakleys that are the standard fare of malls worldwide, in order to differentiate itself from apparently reasonable places elsewhere it has chosen to include a giant pirate ship, a scale cast-iron model of a whale, the world's largest indoor waterpark, three indoor rollercoasters, daily sea lion shows and a lemur exhibit.  The mall also has a dining area named "Bourbon Street" which conveniently omits authentic Cajun food from its restaurant options, and a small Chinatown, complete with sign and kitschy fountain, that has a surprisingly odd assortment of produce that I have never, ever heard of.  Sophie and I wandered around for a while before the stress of driving began to sink in and I treated myself to a deep tissue massage at one of the several spas in the mall.  It was awesome.

Please observe the incomprehensible insanity that is the West Edmonton Mall.

Sophe, growing extremely tired of the car, decided to try to find alternate means of transportation.

Last but not least, the traditional Canadian indoor lemur exhibit.

Well, friends, although I would love to write some more tonight, I am completely exhausted and need to go to bed.  Expect more news in the next few days.  I leave you with the night skyline of Edmonton.

Good night, and good luck.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

O Canada

Fargo is kind of an icky place.  It's a flat and giant midtown without a Starbucks that two moderately intelligent people armed with two iPhones and a Motorola GPS can find.  Sophie and I stayed at the Holiday Inn Fargo, which was fine, except for the horror movie-long hallway.  It seriously made me nauseous.  I would have taken a picture, but a little girl on a tricycle took my camera.

Above you see the post office where Sophie and I mailed various and sundry stuffs and things.  Isn't Fargo exciting?

Following our glorious Fargo breakfast of Subway and Lära Bars, we began the long, long, long drive to Saskatoon.

North Dakota is super flat.  So is Saskatchewan.  We stopped in Minot, ND for lunch and drove around for about a half-hour trying to find a Thai restaurant that Google said was in two different places.  In reality, it wasn't anywhere.  We ended up at a Chinese buffet slash Mongolian Barbecue that was plastered with posters: "TOP 100 CHINESE RESTAURANTS."  The caveat was, of course, that this restaurant wanted you to vote for them.  The smell alone told us that it was highly unlikely that this particular restaurant ever had or ever would earn such honors.  Big surprise, Chinese food in Minot sucks.  The China King buffet had clearly decided to use the scarier sets of sauces available at Asian grocers throughout America.  You know, the soy sauce that for some reason has benzalkonium chloride, redistributed manganese substrate and pre-hydrated collagen substitute.  Sophie and I picked anxiously at our lukewarm stir-fries for about a half-hour before we headed off to Canada.

Many hours later, and after an uneventful border crossing, we arrived in Regina for dinner.  Yelp and Google Maps successfully led us to a tasty Korean Restaurant called Korea House.

See if you can guess who ordered what!  That's right.  Sophie ordered the spicy pork.  Sophie insisted to me that the tea, which I was sure was barley tea, as it usually is at Korean restaurants, was made of corn.

I asked the waitress.

The tea was made of corn.

It was tasty, so I was okay with being wrong.

Three hours later, at about 11 PM, we finally landed at the Super 8 Motel in Saskatoon.  Tomorrow (or, actually, today) we head to Edmonton to see the largest mall in the knowable universe.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Madison to Fargo

Dear Faithful Readers,
     Do you know that Madison is awesome?  I surely didn't until this this morning.  I could totally live there.  Soybeans and all.

Sophie and I stopped in Madison, which is about an eight hour drive from Cleveland, in order to visit my cousin Zack and his baby boy Peyton.  Also, we conveniently arrived just in time to get dinner before the finale of Lost.  We.  Are.  Dorks.  It was a lot of fun to see Zack, although in the flurry of visiting I forgot to take any pictures.  Rest assured that Peyton is extraordinarily cute, and very vocal about the fact that I am his favorite person.  Except for Zack.  And his Mom.  And Sophie.

Let it be noted, also, that the Lost finale exceeded both Sophie's and my expectations.  I may or may not have cried.

I went for an exploratory jog the next morning, and this is what I found.

Now turn around and cross the street.  You will find, and inevitably enter, "Fromagination."

Sophie and I love cheese, so rather than eat an overpriced hotel breakfast, we ate here.  A cheese and meat platter and strawberry soup.  And a strange plant-orb.

So now I love Madison.  All of the cheese was local, and super delicious.  The bread and crackers were good, too.  I loved the cured meat, but I always love cured meat.  As I was eating it I realized something sort of strange about European-style, and in particular Italian style eating.  The food either has to be as fresh as possible, or mind-numbingly old.  Is that today's milk?  No?  Let's wait two years and eat it then.  The most exciting food (falling, for your information, on the fresh end of the spectrum) was the strawberry soup.

I am going to be honest with you.  It is hard to beat strawberry soup with anything.  Seriously.  It's SOUP.  Made of STRAWBERRIES.  It's as if someone asked a five year-old what they wanted to eat.  Imagine the following dialogue.

"Honey, what would you like to eat?"

"I want soup!"

"What kind of soup would you like to eat?  We could have chicken soup, onion soup, lentil soup..."

"I want strawberry soup!"

"Honey, you can't have strawberry-"


"But there's no-"


Five year-olds, despite their obvious failings in height and anger management, clearly have brilliant culinary minds.  Strawberry soup is awesome.  The experience in general was awesome.  We really didn't expect to find such a cool place in Madison, or really to find Madison remarkable at all.  They even have a lake!  Superior to other lakes!  Surprises are nice, sometimes.

After our breakfast/lunch (I refuse to acknowledge the existence of brunch) we started the medium-long drive to Fargo, North Dakota, where we are staying for the night.  Tomorrow we enter the strange land that is Canada.  We're trying to get to Edmonton as fast as possible, because we both really like the oil sands.  The oil sands are really what have brought Sophie and I together on many levels.

See you in C-Land.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Point of Consciousness

First, an aside.

Although this is officially a blog about traveling in Europe, in order to get to Europe Sophie and I have to brave the long drive from Cleveland to Alaska, where we will be living for the next year or two.  We packed up our car this evening and headed to a hotel in Beachwood, the leaping off point of our journey.  We leave tomorrow at 6 AM.  It is presently 11:16 PM.  Sophie is hanging out with her best friend Katie on the couch, and I am recording our experience.  Here you can see Sophie and Katie.

Both Sophie and I were pretty sad to leave our apartment.  It was our first apartment together, and we had a great time living there.  It's too easy to think that we're leaving good times behind, instead of running to catch the good times that are waiting for us.  I said goodbye to a lot of things as we drove from University Circle through Shaker Heights to Beachwood.  We passed my favorite lake, the Unitarian church that I worked at, and other things that seem to grow more sentimental in the dark.  Moments like these (moments of great change) for some strange reason feel more static than every day life.  Such a dramatic change in routine and outlook crystallizes awareness.  It's like you can't see how small a place is until you're driving away from it.  Probably because it actually looks smaller.  Huh.  But I'm talking about that weird feeling that you're looking forward and backward at the same time.  Knowing that an era is ending.  A non-artificial point of demarcation.  A life event.

Here are some pictures of our furniture!  We will never see it again.

I leave you with one final image; one that I feel truly represents the heart and soul of Cleveland.

But seriously.  It is the Champagne of Beers.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

One Month and Counting

Hear ye, hear ye: upon thine eyes falls ye inaugural post!

But enough of that.

What you are reading is the travel blog of Joseph Mintz and Sophie Blankensop.  Thanks to an extremely kind and generous grandfather (thanks, Papa!), we are going to be spending two months backpacking through Europe (referred to both previously and hereafter as "The Old World") starting on June 12.  We're really super excited about it, and we want to share the experience both with you and our future, memory-impaired selves.  Thus: blog.  Expect photos and other things that computer screens are good for.

This is Joe.

This is Sophie.

See? Expectations fulfilled.