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ASK JOURNEYS: More to Minnesota than 10,000 lakes

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Golf along the Brainerd Trail has become a major attraction.

RON PRADINUK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Golf along the Brainerd Trail has become a major attraction. Photo Store

Annually about this time, representatives of Minnesota's tourism-related venues and properties set their sales sights on Manitobans.

They file into media outlets, travel agencies, motor coach-operator head offices and try to meet with whomever they think will be willing to listen to their reasons why Manitobans should travel to that state.

Whether as a result of this regular blitz or because we find affinity with Minnesotans and the experiences we gain when travelling there, Manitoba has become a prime target market for the state, with strong visitor numbers recorded annually.

As I attended their hosted breakfast a couple of weeks ago, listening to these tourism professionals intone the specific attributes of their region or property, I drifted into a daydream phase where I recalled the multiple journeys I have made into Minnesota, reliving how much I enjoyed each trip.

As a younger man, Minneapolis was the perfect affordable destination to get away to visit a really big city with lots to see and do, without having to face the expense of exorbitant airfares and resort-style hotel prices.

Food and beverage prices are very much in line with our own, and the hospitality industry, as in many parts of the United States, is really geared to embracing visitors in a friendly and appreciative manner.

As my thoughts drifted back in time, I recalled the number of times I travelled there with friends to discover different restaurants, unique nightclubs and take in the variety of professional sports the city has to offer. With careful preplanning, we could occasionally combine at least two major sporting events in one trip.

More recently, it was a trip with my granddaughters that was highlighted by a stay at the Radisson Hotel Bloomington, with its themed room and huge water park that created the most indelible of memories.

Situated almost directly across the street from the Mall of America with its Nickelodeon Universe Amusement centre, we spent hours there with the girls as Mom and Grandma shopped.

It was at the Chanhasssen Dinner Theatre where we watched the children become enraptured by their first big musical performance featuring the ever-popular Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Over my third cup of coffee at the breakfast, as one of the presenters extolled the virtues of the Bemidji area, I remembered being overwhelmed by the huge statue of Paul Bunyan that greeted us as we drove into the city for the first time.

It was an image I had seen so many times in my youth and had often heard and read about.

But it is golf and fishing that has taken me back to the region around Brainerd several times since.

Fishing is a major attraction for Minnesotans and visitors alike, with almost 1.5 million licences issued every year.

It was in this area where I first learned how to locate and catch large-mouth bass. Although they can be found in some of the lakes we can access, the species can be caught in abundance in a number of lakes in the Brainerd area.

While outdoor adventures are still attracting visitors to the region, it is the preponderance of quality golf courses that has really gained traction in more recent times. The Brainerd Golf Trail lists 10 quality tracks, all within 45 minutes of each other.

A year-and-a-half ago, my wife and I chose an early fall weekend escape to the Detroit Lakes area.

Though thousands of Manitobans help fill the hotels and campgrounds for WE Fest, their annual country music festival that features America's top performers in the genre, our trip was one of relaxation and discovery.

It was from this base that we motored into the quaint community of Park Rapids. It offers its own fishing and golf attractions and its downtown, with its unbelievably wide main street, is a picture of tranquillity, where vehicles can park two deep along the middle of it.

Antique and souvenir shops, restaurants and stores line both sides of it, and during the summer months, the streets are filled with tourists from north and south.

Though Minneapolis and St. Paul may be seen as one mega-city by those of us who travel there, when they present themselves to the media, they do so separately and with different approaches.

St. Paul can, at times, get lost beneath the perception and branding of the better-known Minneapolis, but it has its own character.

It is the state capital, and its history is still alive in its historic sites and heritage homes.

On a most enjoyable excursion a few years ago, when we spent a good part of our time in St. Paul, we walked along Summit Avenue where so many of the historic mansions are located.

In the James J. Hill home, now a museum, we were surprised to learn this entrepreneur, who became one of the richest men in the United States, was a Canadian born in southern Ontario.

In 1878, he purchased a bankrupt railroad and created the Great Northern Railway, which not only went from Canada down through the States, but all the way across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

Just down the street from his home sits the Cathedral of St. Paul, perched on the highest point in the city.

As I make my way back to the office from the breakfast, I begin contemplating my next visit to Minnesota in August, when we will attend a family wedding in Moose Lake, not far from the city of Duluth.

Each experience in the state has been a good one, and I have no doubt the next one will be another to remember.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2013 D8

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