Salt Cellar, Dining in St Paul

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I discovered a great blog recently. Chef Alan Bergo of the Salt Cellar restaurant in St Paul writes as the Forager Chef. He likes to use indigenous Mid-western ingredients and local purveyors. He cooks with dandelions, knotweed, ramps, spruce. burdock root and nettles. He writes about hunting for mushrooms, cooking methods and recipes. The recipes look fabulous – Spruce Brined Poussin with Apple Mustard Sauce and Beef Tartare with Dead Man’s Fingers and Ramp Vinaigrette are a couple that caught my eye.

View into the kitchen

View into the kitchen

I don’t remember seeing them on the menu at the Salt Cellar. A friend of mine was raving about the meat so I went there for the first time the other night. There is a large glass window into the kitchen from the main dining room so you can watch the chef in action. The meal started with homemade potato chips and pimento cheese with warm fresh rolls that melted in your mouth.

The beef steaks were tender and flavorful. They came with a small cup of wild mushrooms and a cup of their own special béarnaise sauce with a little tomato added. Our sides were the market vegetable medley which were nicely seasoned and the beef fat pommes frites. I think I ordered the roasted potatoes but the pommes frites were sinfully delicious.

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Chocolate Mousse with Shortbread

We finished the meal with a chocolate mousse and a Boston cream pie. Our waiter insisted we try the spruce ice cream that was offered as part of the daily ice cream selection. It was unexpectedly delicious. Very fresh and light.

Manu

Manu

Our waiter’s name was Manu and he had a strong French accent. Usually when I ask people where they are from, they will tell me the country or the continent and I have to ask several times to find out where exactly they are from. He told me he came from Toulouse, France right away and was happy to chat. His mother’s family was from Catalan across the border in Spain and his grandmother had called him Manu, short for Manuel and it stuck.

My dining partner and I had been speculating about how he got here. My friend was sure he followed a woman. I thought he might have come for school. Of course it was a woman. He said he followed a woman here and then fell in love with Minnesota and could not leave. The restaurant was empty on a Friday night and I asked him if it was always like that. The explanation was that the restaurant has no outdoor space and in the summer Minnesotans like to be dining outside if in town but many were probably at their summer cabins. We consoled each other for not having a summer cabin.

 

 

James J Hill – the Empire Builder

James J Hill House

James J Hill House

Recently I re-visited the James J Hill house on Summit Avenue in St Paul, Minnesota. JJ Hill remains today one of the richest men ever. He amassed a fortune and built a huge house he and his family lived in for over 25 years.

James J Hill was born in Canada in 1838 to a successful Irish-Canadian farmer and his Scottish wife. He attended a Quaker school until he was 15 when his father died. He traveled to the US when he was 18 after hearing from a passing stranger that the US needed young men with spirit, like him.

After working in the shipping business in on the Mississippi River for twenty years, he, along with some other investors, were able to purchase the almost bankrupt St Paul and Pacific Railroad. He built the line to the west over the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, often overseeing things personally. The name was changed to the Great Northern Railway in 1890. To this day the Empire Builder runs from Chicago to Seattle with lines going off it along the way. I rode it once from Minneapolis to Montana. By the time he died in 1916, he was one of the wealthiest men in America.

Mary Theresa Mehegan

Mary Theresa Mehegan

While working as a station agent, he ate his meals at the Merchants’ Hotel in St Paul where Mary Theresa Mehegan served him his meals. Once she agreed to marry him, he sent her away to school and paid for her education. They were married in 1867, when she returned. They had ten children. Peabody, Stearns and Furber built the house they moved into in 1891 to Hill’s specifications in the Romanesque style. It sits on the top of Summit Hill overlooking the Mississippi river and is now registered as a National Historic Landmark. The Minnesota Historical Society owns it and offers guided tours.

The house is massive with 36,000 square feet on five floors and includes 13 bathrooms, 22 fireplaces, 16 crystal chandeliers, and a two-story art gallery with a skylight roof and a complete pipe organ. The house was fitted with both electricity, a new phenomenon at the time, and gas so if one failed the other would be available. The doors on the first floor all had hidden metal gates that were pulled shut at night and locked and electrified so if anybody tried to break in they would get a shock and it would alert the butler in the pantry through a buzzer system.

On the stairway there is a bank of stained glass windows. Tiffany submitted designs for these windows but Mr. Hill said they were anything but what he wanted and ended up using the A.B. Cutter Company from Boston.

The main hallway

The main hallway

The dining room has a gold leaf ceiling and hand tooled leather panels on the walls. A small hidden door leads to a large walk-in safe where the silver is housed. The table has 19 leaves.

The kitchen is at one end of the basement and a big boiler room at the other. The man who serviced the boiler was also called upon to pump the bellows for the organ during parties and recitals. A large laundry room included heated drying racks for the clean clothes.

JJ and his wife had adjoining bedrooms each with their own bathrooms. A balcony led off of Mary Theresa’s room. JJ’s bathroom had a shower in it. This was quite modern and some considered dangerous. It was advised that a doctor approve the use of such a thing since the force of the water could be harmful and women were discouraged from using it altogether since they were too delicate.

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On the third floor was a schoolroom with chalkboards on the walls. Legend has it that a couple of the older boys managed to get a pool table all the way up there without their mother knowing about it. That’s how big this house is. Each of the children had their own room with the exception of the eldest who was already married by the time they moved in.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St Paul and lived there off and on until 1920. The last house he lived in was Summit Terrace, eight blocks down the street from the James J Hill house. In chapter 9 of The Great Gatsby, Gatsby has died and his father, Mr Gatz, says “If he’d of lived he’d of been a great man. A man like James J Hill. He’d of helped.” Unfortunately the Great Mr Gatsby did none of those things in life.

JJ Hill had a large collection of nineteenth-century French Romantic and Realist art and was one of the founders of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, known as MIA today. Hill built several office buildings in downtown St Paul and the James J. Hill Reference Library, one of the best business research libraries in the country, was completed after his death. He also supported many schools and churches.

Baseball Fun in St Paul

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Last year the St Paul Saints minor league baseball team of St Paul, Minnesota, moved to downtown, St Paul, and a brand new stadium. Since it is a block from my home I was invited on a tour.

The stadium was built to AA standards but is much smaller than the Twins major league stadium in Minneapolis. It is intimate and there isn’t a bad seat in the place. There are plenty of bathrooms which is a welcome change compared to the old stadium.

Bill Murray is part owner of the team. His role is listed on their website as “Team Psychologist” and his duties include morale boosting and train spotting. He has been involved in the team since opening night 1993 when he was stationed at the entrance taking tickets and threw out the first pitch. He is kind of an urban legend. Everybody is sure they will see Bill Murray at the game.

Back in the 1800’s the area now known as St Paul was called Pig’s Eye Landing after French Canadian fur trader and bootlegger Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant’s popular tavern. The Minnesota territory was formed in 1849 and the soldiers at Fort Snelling evicted Pig’s Eye. Father Lucien Galtier, a French priest, renamed the settlement St Paul after Paul the Apostle.

The St Paul Saints have a mascot that honors Pig’s Eye. It is a live trained pig that takes balls to the umpire between innings and is named via a fan contest every year. This year the pig’s name is Little Red Porkette in honor of Prince and it is dressed in purple. A portion of the street directly in front of the stadium has recently been named Prince Street.

Each year a new piglet weighing in at about 20 lbs. is introduced and by the end of the season the pig goes into retirement at over 200 lbs. They also have a bright pink two-legged mascot called Mudonna T Pig along with several other ‘entertainers’.

The team’s locker room is comfortable and spacious. The guide took us down to the field so we could see the dugout and the small concrete area for the pig. She also pointed out Bill Murray’s yellow spray painted signature just behind home base. She said he was such a perfectionist he wanted to do it over but they wouldn’t let him.

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Bill Murray’s signature behind home base

It is one of the greenest stadiums in the country with solar panels and mechanisms to capture and reuse rainwater. Because of the recycled water, the city of St Paul insists they put up signs in the bathrooms saying ‘Do not drink from the toilet’.

The stadium was built on the site of the old Gillette factory. The foundation and several walls from that building are being reused in the current structure. The guide said about half of the materials used to build the stadium were either salvaged or recycled.

Last night I went to see the St Paul Saints vs. Winnipeg Goldeyes so we started out listening to the Canadian national anthem along with the Stars and Stripes. The game had a slow start but by the end we were all biting our nails as they tied it up at 10-10 in the 9th inning and the Saints finally won it in the 10th inning 12 to 11 on a wild pitch. I think both teams went through at least six pitchers.

Saints games are unpredictable and fun. It was the thirtieth anniversary of the movie Top Gun so there was entertainment throughout the game around that theme in the form of quizzes, competitions and running commentary. Each game has a theme. One game I went to had a Grateful Dead theme and all the players were wearing tie-dyed uniforms.

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Grateful Dead tie-dyed uniforms

Little Red Porkette would trot out on a leash between innings carrying fresh balls in its saddlebags to the umpire. The umpire would feed the pig something in a baby bottle and chat with the pig’s trainer. One time the pig had Kermit the Frog riding along on its back and another time it had Mr. M&M.

During the 7th inning stretch we all got up and sang Take Me Out To The Ballgame and bags on peanuts came showering down on us from the press box above. This was followed by lively polka music. It gave me my second wind.

The food was good, the beer was good, the company was good and it was a great night. Go if you get the chance!

 

 

Windmills, Pipes and Petroglyphs – PART THREE

PART THREE – JEFFERS PETROGLYPHS

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Jeffers Petroglyphs is a Minnesota Historical Site about one and a half hours east of Pipestone. The rock here is also Sioux Quartzite and the area is called Red Rock Ridge which is about 250 yards wide and up to 50 feet high. It is part of a ridge that extends 23 miles across Cottonwood County.

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As we approach the Visitor Center we are welcomed by a sign that says “Landscaped by Mother Earth”. The area is 160 acres of prairie, 33 acres are native and 127 were reconstructed. The Prairie Bush Clover is a federally-designated threatened species that thrives at the site. There are about 300 species of prairie plants. Our guide pulled up some wild garlic and mint for us to smell. Really lovely.

On the rock face there are over 5,000 carvings, some as old as 7,000 years. It is a spiritual place where Native Americans came, and still come, to offer prayers and honor Grandmother Earth. It is still used for prayers and religious ceremonies throughout the year.

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The earliest carvings show bison and atlatls. The atlatls were something that helped spear or dart throwers by giving the dart leverage to send it farther. These would have been long before the bow and arrow became common 1,200 years ago. At the Visitor Center you can try your hand at throwing an atlatl at a target. We watched as several people struggled and nobody came close to the target.

The Center offers tours at 10:30 am, 11:30 am, 1, 2, 3, and 4 PM. We made it in time for the 1 pm. It was over 90 degrees and not a piece of shade in sight. The guide pointed out eight different sections of rock highlighting the drawings from different eras. We started with the bison 7,000 years ago and worked our way up to more recent ones from 250 years ago.

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In order for us to be able to see the drawings the guide sprayed water on the area she was highlighting. It was so bright and they are so faint they were hard to see otherwise. We saw thunderbirds, turtles, stick figures of people doing various things including dancing, other animals such as deer and moose. We also saw fossilized sand ripples that became rock 1.6 million years ago and scars left by the glacier that passed through 14,000 years ago. It is hard to imagine how old that is.

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In 1966 the Minnesota Historical Society purchased the area from Mr. Jeffers in order to protect the sacred site. They are studying the drawings and dating them and provide very interesting and informative tours. They work with elders and members of the Dakota, Ioway, Cheyenne and Ojibwe tribes to help them understand the drawings and the spiritual significance of the place.

A 1.2 mile trail winds through the prairie at the back of the rock so we worked our way back to the Visitor Center on this uneven path. It was so hot and humid I was not sure I was going to make it but we forged through and it really was beautiful with wild flowers and purple clover dotting the landscape.

Back at the Center after drinking copious amounts of water, we wandered through the small gift shop and I even bought a t-shirt. They had some nice ones.

It was great fun driving the small roads in south Minnesota. We passed through Florence, Delhi, and Darfur. We were seeing the world. We started to see more lakes as we turned north and one that really caught our eye was a large and beautiful lake called Lake Elysian. In Greek mythology, Elysian is the final resting place of the souls of the virtuous and heroic. Somehow it was the perfect ending to our trip.

 

Windmills, Pipes and Petroglyphs – PART TWO

PART TWO – Pipestone National Monument

Pipestone

Pipestone National Monument was created by an act of Congress in 1937 on 300 acres just outside the city of Pipestone, in southwestern Minnesota. Its main purpose is to preserve the pipestone quarries unique to the area. It is a sacred area to Native Americans and is home to spiritual and cultural activities throughout the year. Our first stop was at the site of the Three Maidens, considered to be the guardian spirits of the pipestone quarries. They are very different from other rock in the area. They are granite and came from far away, deposited by the glacier when it melted thousands of years ago.

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The Three Maidens

We arrived at the visitor center soon after it opened and were in time to see the beginning of a 20 minute film about the site. The color red is sacred to the Native Americans and the red stone found at Pipestone has been quarried for over 2,000 years. This was the preferred location for the Plains tribes to quarry the stone since it is of a high quality. All tribes, even enemies, would work here in peace. The pipes made from this stone were used to mark rituals, ceremonies, prepare for war and trade agreements. The smoke from the pipes is thought to carry prayers up to the spirits.

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Native Americans in this area did not originally have tobacco so they would smoke something called Kinnikinnick which means “that which is mixed”. It is still in use and available today. It is a mixture of herbs often unique to the pipe owner. It can contain red willow bark, bearberry leaves, dogwood, sumac and tobacco among others.

You could tell this was a spiritual place from all the colored cloth prayers tied to trees along the path. A three-quarter mile Circle Path takes you through the area around active quarries, a quartzite cliff, native grassland and Winnewissa Falls. If you follow the creek from the waterfall you will see Lake Hiawatha, home to many turtles. Unfortunately we didn’t see any.

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Today only Native Americans of federally-recognized tribes can get a permit to quarry at Pipestone and there are currently only about 30 to 40 permits issued. The majority of the people who quarry here come from the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska and other central areas of the US.

All the work is done by hand. The particular pipestone found at this location is known as catlinite. It is found in veins inside the Sioux Quartzite rock predominant in the area. The rock is one of the hardest on earth. In order to get to the pipestone it is necessary to work your way through the Sioux Quartzite with hammer and chisel until you reach a pipestone vein. This can take weeks. The pipestone is sandwiched in-between the quartzite and can be10-15 feet down into the rock.

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It had just rained so many of the quarries were flooded.

Another interesting thing about the 300 acre monument is the tall grass prairie covering it. It is native prairie that has never been plowed. Less than 1% of the prairie that once covered 200 million acres of North America exists today and some of it is here. It contains over 70 types of grasses and hundreds of plants and wildflowers. The Minnesota DNR Scientific and Natural Areas Program and The Nature Conservancy have established programs to protect and expand the native prairie.

There is a small museum with artifacts, carvings and tools on display at the Visitor Center. The Pipestone Indian Shrine Association has a small shop within the Visitor Center. They are a non-profit cooperating association established in 1955 to preserve the art of pipemaking and help with the programs at Pipestone National Monument. There are a couple of stations where you can watch artisans at work. If you are interested in history, art, nature – this is a great place to spend an afternoon.

As we were leaving we saw a man pushing a wheelbarrow full of tools and a large cooler accompanied by his two children make his way down the path to his quarry. We agreed it was a good thing he had a large cooler since it was going to be a very hot day.

From there we headed to Jeffers Petroglyphs, about an hour and a half away. Stay tuned for part three!

A Weekend in Southwest Minnesota – Windmills, Pipes and Petroglyphs

PART ONE

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Friday after work we took off for Pipestone, Minnesota. It is about three and a half hours southeast of the Twin Cities, almost to the South Dakota border. We were going to the Pipestone National Monument and the Jeffers Petroglyphs. Of course there were lots of other interesting things along the way.

As we entered Pipestone County we were met with a wind turbine farm we could not believe. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Minnesota ranks 7th in the country for installed wind capacity and 6th for the number of turbines. (Texas is first, Iowa is second and California is third in wind capacity rankings.) In 2015, 17% of the electricity in Minnesota came from wind. This translates into 896,000 homes powered by wind.

In 2007 the Governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, signed a law that required the state to produce 25% of its electricity from renewable energy by the year 2025. That same year Xcel, the largest utility in the state, was required to derive 30% of its sales from renewable energy by the year 2020. Wind power creates no emissions and uses virtually no water which in turn provides additional benefits by saving 2.8 billion gallons of water a year and reducing C02 emissions by 4.9 million metric tons or the equivalent of 1 million cars.

It turns out there are about 2250 wind turbines in Minnesota. Most of them are in the south and southwest area of the state and over 200 of them are in Pipestone County, 446 square miles. Each unit takes up about one-third of an acres and the land is leased from local farmers who receive a percentage of the revenue from the sale of electricity.

Each turbine costs over $2.5 million and produces enough energy to power up to 500 typical homes per year. The turbines are 229 ft. tall with 136 ft. blades. The base is 15 ft. in diameter and runs 30 ft. into the ground. Each one weighs about 1450 tons. The blades will start turning with a wind speed of about 8 mph. When the wind reaches 25-35 mph, the blades can rotate up to 14 rpm which gives them a speed of about 105 mph at the tip. If there is no wind or too much wind, the turbine will shut down.

Clean renewable energy and beautiful to look at too.

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Our first stop was the Calumet Inn on Main Street in the center of the Historical District of Pipestone. The town of Pipestone was not settled by the Europeans until 1876. French traders and explorers like Lewis and Clark and George Catlin had been through the area in the early 1800’s but settlers considered it Indian Territory and stayed away. In 1878 the railroad was built and the first train came through in 1879. By 1890 Pipestone was the hub for trains in southwest Minnesota with 5 lines passing through it carrying both passengers and freight. Twenty trains were arriving each day.

It was decided that a grand hotel was needed to accommodate all these people coming in on the trains. The Calumet Inn was originally built in 1887. The primary building stone was Sioux Quartzite quarried at Pipestone and the darker trim came from quarries at nearby Jasper. As the automobile became more popular business declined and the Inn was closed in 1978 due to unsafe conditions. After a complete restoration it re-opened in 1981. It is still a busy hotel today with clean rooms and excellent service. It could use a facelift but we had a pleasant stay.

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Pipestone hosts a paranormal weekend every year and in 2016 it will be October 14-16. It includes a candlelight tour of the Calumet Inn. We didn’t see any ghosts, but you never know.

After dinner we took a walk down Main Street. It was pretty much deserted. Across the street was the Pipestone Center for Performing Arts. There were ads all over town for the Mary Poppins play showing there during the month of June. On the corner of Main and Hiawatha was a building with gargoyles carved in sandstone and applied to the Sioux Quartzite. A small red car full of boys and music blaring drove down the street. Twice. It was Friday night, after all.

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The next morning we got up early and headed out to the Pipestone National Monument. On the way we stopped at Lange’s Café for breakfast. It is rated number one on Trip Advisor and everybody raves about the caramel rolls. We can confirm the caramel rolls are delicious. They just ooze with gooeyness. The eggs and hash browns were good too.

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Stay tuned for part two – Pipestone National Monument.

Travel Bloggers North America Conference (TBEX)

I recently attended the TBEX North America conference in Bloomington, Minnesota. More specifically at the Mall of America Radisson Blu hotel.

It is billed as “the largest conference and networking event for travel bloggers, online travel journalists, new media content creators, travel brands and industry professionals.”

It was two days packed with seminars, keynote speakers, networking, and meetings with “destinations.”  I learned a lot.

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They had several pre-conference activities including parties, all-day tours, and a trip down the Mississippi river. I went on the river boat. We left from Harriet Island across the river from downtown St Paul at 2 p.m. and were back at the dock at 4 p.m. It was a two-story boat with the top open air and a closed cabin downstairs with a concession stand selling popcorn, hotdogs, beer and soda. We slowly cruised down river with the captain highlighting historical sites and points of interest over the loud speaker. Unfortunately it was a rainy day but not cold so not too bad.

Lou Mongello

Lou Mongello

I don’t consider myself a travel blogger per se. I write about all kinds of things as well as travel. Many of these people live and breathe travel. A recurring theme was how much time they spend working. But they don’t really consider it work because they love what they do. Lou Mongello was the first speaker. He lives and breathes Disney. That is all he writes about.

He is a successful blogger. He actually makes a living. Of course he is a former lawyer so I’m sure there is more to the story. But he is living his dream. I met several people who were former lawyers or IT programmers. They must have made good money. But it is rare to find a travel blogger who makes money at all let alone good money.

So the first day I learned about Cleaning out the Blogging Closet and Focusing on What Matters Most. I don’t remember a thing. Then I went to Keys to Successful Blogger Outreach. I guess I was in the wrong place because the speaker was talking to the business people who actually use bloggers. It was my first conference. I had no idea what I was doing.

The second day was better. The previous night, the local 10 pm news covered the conference and interviewed a guy attending the conference. The next morning I saw that the keynote speaker was that same guy who was interviewed, Johnny “Jet” DiScala. Apparently he is well known in the industry and several people got up and sang his praises. He was accompanied by his beautiful wife, Natalie, who is pregnant. They both spoke about traveling constantly and working all the time. I did some research on him and he does get around and attends all kinds of events and conferences and does press trips and makes a living. They certainly are an engaging couple.

I couldn’t help but wonder how the birth of their child will change their dynamic. Of course, I was that person who dragged her son around the world. He went everywhere with us and often crashed out on restaurant table-tops. But once they have to go to school, it gets a bit more difficult.

My first seminar of the day was How to Build your Community Around your Niche Brand led by Bret Love and Mary Gabbett. They are a couple specializing in eco-travel. They have been doing it for a while so they got in just as the whole eco/adventure travel became popular. Okay, I’m going to make a confession. I lost my notes. What I remember is they write newspaper articles and a weekly column. And teach. They have a pretty cool blog at Green Global Travel.

Next I went to How to Monetize your blog with Print on Demand led by Betsy and Pete Wuebker. They currently live in Hawaii and blog at Passing Thru. They supplement their income with an online print-on-demand store on Zazzle.com. They use the their travel photos to make postcards, phone covers, t-shirts and various travel accessories and sell them through an online store. I’m not sure it is a huge money maker but they seemed to be pretty happy with it. It looks easy enough to do.

The last seminar of my day was called Midwest Travel Bloggers: Challenges & Opportunities led by Lisa Trudell (The Walking Tourists ) and Sara Broers (Travel with Sara ). It was all about building community and getting ahead by reaching out to other bloggers and going to conferences. That was another recurring theme. Networking.

Travelocity gnome

Travelocity gnome

Booths were set up in a large room with people from Trip Advisor, Explore Minnesota, Viator, Great Britain, St Paul, Roseville, CJ Affiliate and many others. They all had cool give aways and we did get a goodie bag. I met with several of them over the two days and learned what an affiliate is and what a ‘destination’ means. I’m still trying to work it all out. It seems it is possible to make some money at blogging but it is lots and lots of work.

The closing speaker was Andrew Zimmern. Plenty of people were super excited about that. I don’t exactly consider him a blogger since he is more of a TV personality but he is from Minnesota and he does write about travel. My dirty confession is I am not a huge fan. I was beat, I didn’t stay for it.