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Archive for May, 2011

More Quirky Places to Stay in Minnesota

Posted by deborahmclaren on May 16, 2011

I promised to write more about interesting places to stay in Minnesota. I’ve found a former chicken house, a Viking Inn, a light house, another old jail, a tow boat, a house boat and some other cool stays. We’re obviously gearing up for summer travel as the number of visitors to the quirky places I’ve blogged about are rising daily.

The Broodio

The Broodio

Inside the Broodio

Inside the Broodio

The Broodio, a former “brooder” house (where baby chicks are raised) is a one-room cottage that is part of a Minnesota Valley century farmstead. The simple pleasures of the prairie surround Moonstone’s gardens, arbors and vineyard. A canoe, grill, campfire, sauna and beach are available to guests.

This is a real find! The Viking Inn is Central Minnesota ‘s Nordic Inn Medieval Brew and Bed! Built in an old church by “the crazy Viking, Steinarr Elmerson” who left southern California and corporate America to follow his dream. Steinarr loves to cook and the inn offers a Viking Dinner Mystery or an interactive Viking dinner theater with raids, pillaging, burning and feasting. Rooms start at about $60 for the tiny room built in the church’s bell tower to $150 for Odin’s Den. Soap, Shoes and Viking Vear come with the room!

Runestone Museum, located in downtown Alexandria, Minnesota is not far from the Viking Inn. You can tour historic Fort Alexandria, take your picture with the country’s biggest viking, and see the world famous Kensington Runestone.

The Runestone

Built in 1892 the Lighthouse B&B in Two Harbors is a working lighthouse operated by the Lake County Historical Society. It has three spare but tasteful rooms that share one bathroom, and there’s a half-bath in the basement. The Skiff House, on the grounds adjoining the visitors center, has its own bathroom and hot tub.

The Lighthouse at Dusk

The Jail Haus Bed & Breakfast and Ed’s Museum

Wykoff is a perfect little southern Minnesota village – a perfect blend of hospitality and local flavor. The ladies of Wykoff keep themselves busy. They not only renovated Ed’s Museum, but made their historic jail into a B&B. Stay in the jail for about $68/night then go over to Ed’s Museum to view the display of 1930s lollipop tree, old pin-ups and tons of other junk. It’s also next to the Root River, my favorite place for tubing. For lovers of Americana kitsch.

The Old Jailhaus, Wykoff, MN

On the St. Croix River in Taylors Falls, Minn., the Old Jail B&B occupies an old brewery/saloon and an 1884 jail on a hill at the edge of downtown. In 1869, the Schottmuller brothers built a one-story stone structure with a cave connecting it to their brewery further up Angel Hill and opened it as a saloon, storing beer in the cave. They then purchased a two-story stable and livery, built in 1851, from the Chisago House Hotel and set it on top of the saloon for living quarters. Since its days as a saloon, the “Cave” has housed a surprising array of businesses including a general store, a chicken plucking operation, a beauty shop, and a mortuary. The Taylors Falls Jail was built next door to the saloon in 1884. It was used over the years as an ice house, a shoe repair shop, and a garage. Historian Helen White restored the “Jail” and opened it in 1981 as Minnesota’s first licensed bed & breakfast.

The Old Jail Cottage in Taylors Falls, MN

The Old Jail Cottage in Taylors Falls, MN

In St. Paul, The Covington Inn was built in 1946 as a towboat and now is moored on Harriet Island, across from downtown. Four elegant rooms have fireplaces and superb views; the two-story Pilot House suite includes the pilot house as a sitting room and has a private deck. The boat is trimmed stem to stern in mahogany, brass and bronze. Windows and portals in the boat’s tiered design draw light into each room. Sleeping quarters feature a mix of ingenious built-in cabinets with simple furnishings from the Covington’s work era. Salvaged fixtures, nautical antiques and historic art provide tasteful reminders of the River and the Inn’s past life.

The Covington Inn, St. Paul

In northern Minnesota lakes country, in the tiny village of Dorset, the Heartland Trail B&B was built in 1920 as a schoolhouse and has six attractive rooms, named for different grades. 218-732-3252.

Little old school house B&B in Dorsett

Heartland Trail or Little old school house B&B in Dorsett

In the western Minnesota town of Ashby, on the Central Lakes Trail, the Harvest Inn B&B occupies the former 1926 Trinity Lutheran Church and has four rooms. Enjoy winery tours anytime of the day. Feel free to walk around and tour one of Minnesota’s largest horse facilities.218-747-2334. Email: info@harvestinn.net

Timber Bay Lodge and Houseboats is located on Birch Lake near Ely Minnesota and the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area (BWCA). They have both cabins and houseboats! located deep in the heart of the Superior National Forest. Fish, swim, and relax as you pilot your own houseboat. Watch for eagles, loons, and bears. The houseboats range and size and from $185 to $500 a night.

Timber Bay House Boat

Stone Mill Hotel & Suites are in the lovingly restored and very posh Lanesboro FEED MILL. It consists of a limestone and wood (barn-like), building. Renovated to honor their history, the buildings are reminders of Lanesboro’s significant agriculture contribution.

Stone House Mill Hotel, Lanesboro

Stone House Mill Hotel, Lanesboro

The Palmer House Hotel claims residence to a celebrity ghost! The spirit of Sinclair Lewis, a famous local author for which the town takes pride in, is said to haunt the very hotel that he was employed as a bell boy. Sauk Centre is the childhood home of Lewis. R.L. Palmer built the current hotel in 1901. The original hotel consisted of 38 rooms and one communal bathroom. The Palmer House was considered so majestic that a special contractor was hired from Minneapolis to wire the building with electricity, which many considered a novel luxury at the time. The first paranormal conference was held at The Palmer House in 2008. Hosts of the conference was Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Seminars included television celebrities Chris Fleming and Patrick Burns and Darkness Radio host Dave Schrader.

The Palmer House, Sauk Center, MN

Well, there you have it. Please let me know if you visit any of these quirky places… or learn about more!

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Authentic Travel a Myth? Your thoughts?

Posted by deborahmclaren on May 2, 2011

The article that initiated this discussion, 7 Reasons Why the ‘Authentic’ Travel Experience Is a Myth by Gary Arndt was published in the Atlantic in March. Since then it has been re-posted and discussed all over the internet. It’s an interesting topic in the on-going critique of global tourism. Here is a response and my own thoughts.

Gary Arndt has been traveling and blogging around the world since March 2007. He is the author of the popular travel blog Everything Everywhere.

One reason people travel is to have an “authentic experience.” They envision traveling to a foreign country and living, eating, and doing the things locals do. I have exchanged emails with people ready to set out on a long adventure who see themselves living with tribespeople in the African bush or in Southeast Asian villages.

Most likely, they are in for a disappointment.

The problem stems from the expectations people have before they go. When I was in Samoa, I was talking to a woman from New Zealand who had been driving around the islands. She sounded disappointed and a little bit upset that Samoans had television sets. She lamented the destruction of the Samoan lifestyle and blamed it on Western countries. She then went into a rant about how wonderful it was being able to live a self-sufficient life in a village.

When an ethnic restaurant opens up in a Western country, that’s diversity. When a Western restaurant opens up in a non-Western country, that’s cultural imperialism.

I pointed out the inconvenient fact that Samoa is not in fact self-sufficient in food. No Pacific country is. The most popular foods are instant noodles and corned beef. The biggest part of the Samoan economy is income sent home from Samoans living abroad. The current population of Samoa would be almost impossible to sustain by methods used in the 19th century.

She got upset and ended the conversation.

She had an idea of what Samoa was, and more importantly, what she thought Samoa should be. Her Samoa was closer to the Samoa of the 19th century or the Samoa of Margaret Mead. She was denied her authentic cultural experience because Samoans (how dare they!) were watching TV and using electricity. Samoans just weren’t Samoan enough for her. Even though she would never state it as such and would bristle at the accusation, she wanted Samoa to be a cultural zoo where she could go and look at the locals doing their cultural thing.

The problem of course wasn’t with Samoa. It was with the woman. She suffered from several fallacies that infect many travelers.

These beliefs include:

The myth of the noble savage

Steven Pinker explained this idea in great detail in his seminal book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. The belief holds that before the arrival of Western civilization, people everywhere lived in harmony with each other and with nature. This is far from the truth. If anything, even despite the horrific wars of the 20th century, humanity has become more peaceful over time. Early humans were warlike and did their damnedest to harness nature, which was the biggest threat to their survival. They just didn’t have the tools to do the damage we can. Sun Tzu didn’t write The Art of War as a thought experiment. It has been estimated that prior to the rise of civilization and agriculture, 60 percent of males in some regions could expect to die from the hands of another person through warfare, murder, or execution. Mass burning of land was a common way to flush out animals. People in developing countries are neither innocents nor scoundrels. They are just like anyone else.

Applying different standards to other cultures

When an ethnic restaurant opens up in a Western country, that’s diversity. When a Western restaurant opens up in a non-Western country, that’s cultural imperialism. If diversity is good for us, why isn’t it good for others? Preservation of culture is considered an asset when practiced by other countries, but a liability when practiced at home. There are more Chinese restaurants in the U.S. than McDonald’s, Burger Kings, Wendy’s, and KFCs … COMBINED. I don’t think anyone is worried about a Chinese cultural takeover of America. A few McDonald’s and Starbucks overseas is hardly an invasion. Author Rachel Laudan noted the response by one of her Mexican friends who was criticized for serving Italian food: “Why can’t we eat spaghetti, too?”

Confusing modernization and Westernization

Through the power of guns, germs, and steel, the first part of the world to modernize was Europe and North America. As other countries modernize, many people confuse this technological advancement with becoming more Western. In the above example, Samoans have TV, but they mostly still live in traditional fales and have strong village and family ties. Japan is a fully modern country, yet it is most definitely not Western. Technology isn’t culture. While there are some groups that resist technological change, the vast majority of humanity has quickly grabbed at any innovation that will make life easier. The classic modern example is cell phones, which have found their way to some of the poorest and remotest places on Earth.

A static view of history

If you take a very long view of human history, it can be thought of as nothing but a flow of people, ideas, and cultures. Empires rise and fall. Religions come and go. Trade routes open and ideas and technologies are exchanged. The clothing, dances, and music of a country can really be considered fashions and fads of a particular era as much as pillars of particular cultures. The design of the Ming Dynasty in China was different than that of the Chin. When you hear the traditional music of a people, that music may only go back a few hundred years, if even that far. The arrival of Buddhism in Southeast Asia dates back to about the time of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. Prior to that, Hinduism was dominant. When you visit a monastery in Thailand, you are not seeing something that has been there from time immemorial—you are viewing something that didn’t exist only a few hundred years ago. Expecting everyone you meet in a country to be wearing traditional dress is like expecting everyone in the United States to be wearing stovepipe hats and bonnets.

Taking photos too literally

Ever see a photo of a thatched bungalow on stilts over the water in a turquoise lagoon? It makes for a great photo and many people fantasize about staying in an over water bungalow. They are a marketing gimmick. Water bungalows are not authentic in the slightest. They were created several decades ago as a way to attract tourists. What the photo doesn’t show you is that you very well might be sleeping over mud when the tide goes out (with the corresponding dead fish smell), or that the bungalows probably have killed all marine life below them because they block sunlight. I have spoken in the past of travel porn. What you have to keep in mind is that just like porn, what you see is often fake. Don’t get your heart set on it.

White Man’s Burden

You will be hard pressed to find anyone who would explicitly say there is a “White Man’s Burden” in the 21st century, but you can find tons of people, from Jeffrey Sachs to Bono, who think that with the correct policy, plan, or organization, “we” Westerners can solve the problems of Africa and other poor parts of the world. The emotional desire to do something in the face of extreme poverty is understandable, but you’d be hard pressed to find any examples in history of a people rising out of poverty on the basis of the aid from another country. Go listen to the African speakers at the TED Africa conference. They don’t want pity or for us to solve their problems. They understand they must solve these problems on their own terms, in their own way. I am not saying you shouldn’t volunteer when you travel, but you should be realistic about what can be achieved and don’t look upon the people you are helping as objects of pity.

The Traveler Quantum Effect

One tenet of quantum physics is that the simple act of observing an event will alter the outcome of the event. Traveling is no different. When we have a guest over at our house we tend to clean up, dress nice, and be on our best behavior. One thing any true “authentic” experience would have is the lack of tourists taking part. The very act of being somewhere means that you are changing the environment and removes the possibility of having a true authentic experience.

Conclusion

The world is what it is, and you have to explore it on its terms, not yours. No matter what you expect to see when you visit a new place, the reality you will find will be different. You are traveling in the 21st century, not the 19th. Do not expect people to be caricatures or stereotypes of something you have in mind. View the people you meet as neither cultural superiors nor objects of pity. Moreover, whatever you think is authentic was developed without your having experienced it.

Change your expectations and you’ll find that every experience is authentic to itself.

– – – – – – – – –

“Authentic travel” is about accepting things as they are

authentic travel

I have just read an interesting article, which I don’t agree with: 7 Reasons Why the ‘Authentic’ Travel Experience Is a Myth by Gary Arndt (@EverywhereTrip on Twitter). Gary Arndt writes:

One reason people travel is to have an “authentic experience.” They envision traveling to a foreign country and living, eating, and doing the things locals do. […] Most likely, they are in for a disappointment.

The reason why I believe this does not necessarily mean that authentic travel is a myth is in the journalist’s words themselves. In a quite contradictory way, he continues:

The problem stems from the expectations people have before they go.

That is, in my opinion, the whole point. As I have stated in other posts, I am a huge supporter of forms of tourism which can be variously defined as “authentic, local, responsible, slow,… travel”. Authenticity is not a myth… it is acceptance of things the way they actually are. The way things are at a destination might not be what one expected, but if travelers are open-minded, able to see the limitations imposed by their own expectations and willing to embrace the reality of the local lifestyle, they can certainly experience the authentic spirit of the place. They might not like it, and they might find out that a certain place is not for them, nothing wrong with that. But the only disappointment should come from one’s own inability to get over one’s expectations.

Expectations are a dangerous thing and come with consequences. Yet they can’t be avoided. They might misguide us and when they are shared by many, they have the power to change a destination. Tuscany is an example of this.

Most expectations have been created by novels or romantic comedies set in the region. Stereotypes, romanticized images, and some misconceptions have been spread. Crowds of tourists have started coming expecting (and often demanding) the very same experiences portrayed in fiction. The result has been that certain areas have changed to adapt to that image and to keep those crowds coming.

Is this inevitable? Probably. Yet, as a vacation rental owner, and a blogger, I kind of feel the need to present life in Tuscany as it is. I always try to prepare our guests by explaining what they will find if they come to our village and what they won’t find. If they want an authentic experience, they have to be ready to give up some familiar habits and “put up” with what we, the local people, also put up with on a daily basis.

It might be for many, it is not for all. Nothing wrong. But experiencing the authentic local life is possible, provided one is ready to accept things as they actually are and not necessarily as one expected.

—————–

Ironically, although the latter blogger, Gloria, states she disagrees agrees with Gary, with notice they both end their articles on the same note:

Gary Ardnt: “The world is what it is, and you have to explore it on its terms, not yours.

Gloria / At Home in Tuscany: “But experiencing the authentic local life is possible, provided one is ready to accept things as they actually are and not necessarily as one expected.”

Final note: My response to both:

Authentic travel? Are you referring to small towns and nature as opposed to Disneyland or chain restaurants/accommodations? My concept of authentic travel is visiting and exploring and supporting small businesses – wherever they are – that celebrate and promote the local culture, food, art, heritage and travel. To me, authentic travel is about keeping local roots alive – increasing our understanding of what “buy local” really means. Not just buying from a business that is located in your town (or the town you are visiting) but one that is owned locally, that promotes other local products and services, that helps sustain the uniqueness of community culture, that recycles dollars back into the local economy creating more jobs. E.g. a Target or Walmart in a town is NOT a local business. While they employ people they create fewer jobs than they destroy by displacing existing stores in a region. I believe authentic travel means celebrating your community culture (local food, land/scenery, crafts, music, literature, visual arts, theater). Travel organizations and businesses that advertise “authentic travel” are selling concepts – unless they are promoting local businesses, organizations, events, etc.

Travelers interested in authentic travel will support locally-owned businesses and events and avoid corporate chains that suck the authentic out of the place.

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