The past three days I have been in Northern Minnesota for work. I spent the past the time in the Duluth and Two Harbors area. I flew in Tuesday and out early (6 am local) on Thursday. Here are just a couple of thoughts and reviews.
Albany International: The airport keeps changing and improving. The last time I flew out of Albany was in May and they were expanding the security area and also adding a few shops/restaurants in the main concourse area. The project is done now as there are now six - compared to the prior three - security lines. (Although you never had more than a 15 minute wait.) There are new places to eat (a coffee beanery and an pizza company) and a more wide open concourse area. There is also now a small coffee shop in the C concourse (only three gates) where there had nothing in the past. More options the better! Parking, since I got to the airport at 5:30 i was able to get a very good space in the economy lot but that lot continues to expand as their is now a red, blue, and green lot (all gravel) in addition to the 40 or so rows of paved parking.
Because of a bumpy ride (rain from Albany to Cleveland) the plane got in about 10 minutes late, and I only had about 30 minutes to get to the gate. I really don't recall much about it, but I had no trouble getting to the gate on time and the airport appeared very nice.
Minneapolis's airport is extremely nice. I landed in Concourse F and had to almost high tail it to Concourse C to get on the flight to Duluth. (40 minute layover.) I was impressed at how wide and open the airport was, the number of shops, and also the restaurants that were throughout the concourses. I wish I had more time to stop and check the airport out.
Duluth is like a time trip to the past. Five gates, although two are mainly used for Northwest, the only commercial carrier into Duluth. Correction there is also Allegiant Air - which I had never heard of and appears to links small cities to either Orlando or Las Vegas - that flies out two days a week to Las Vegas.
The terminal is a trip back to the 70s with orange and brown colors. The security is right at the gate and actually opens for that flight only. There are about 10-12 commercial flights a day out of Duluth. Minneapolis and Detroit are the only destinations.
Detroit is very large, very modern, very clean. Terminal A (79 gates) has an elevated tram that runs within the concourse connecting the North, Center, and South segments of the terminal. It was something sleek and modern within the airport.
Tuesday in Duluth:
Stayed at the Hampton Inn right on Lake Superior. Tuesday afternoon was overcast on our arrival, but we headed to lunch at Grandma's Saloon along the Canal District. It seems like "Grandma" has a monopoly in Duluth. In a one block section, there was Grandma's Sportsbar, then her saloon, then her marketplace, then her box car that serves ice cream. Plus, she has a marathon as well. My thought was that they should change the town's name to Grandma's from Duluth. In all seriousness, Grandma's is a three decade old locally owned chain that is in Minnesota and North Dakota.
Next, I spent about three hours along the Lakewalk and Canal Park. Very scenic, and a great recreational outlet in the city. The Lakewalk includes a boardwalk and a bike/rollerblade trail. It stretches about three miles from Canal Park along the shore of Lake Superior to Lake Place Park and Leif Erikson Park. It parallels a lot of I-35 through the city and the parks (Lake Place and Leif Erikson) that are actually built over I-35 connect the lakewalk to the city proper.
Canal Park features two lighthouses at the lake end of the ship canal and the Aerial Lift Bridge. Great views of the lake - which on Tuesday had waves more consistent to the Atlantic Ocean along the rocky coasts of Maine - and of the many barges and freighters that utilize the lake. Lake Place Park is the first park (heading Northbound) that was built over I-35 in Duluth. A very nice, clean, and well landscaped park. A number of neat perspectives and views of the various buildings and landmarks in the city can be found here. Dinner was at Pickwick's which was established in the city in 1914. If you ever go, have the smoked whitefish appetizer. Very good and the horseradish sauce that comes with it is excellent. I had the Ribeye and a healthy portion of cheese au grautin potatoes to go with it. I was too full for desert.
Wednesday - Two Harbors/Gooseberry State Park:
Began the morning walking the Lakewalk at sunrise for a gorgeous view of the lake and lighthouses along with the fortune of seeing the aerial lift bridge in action. MN 61 is a great drive especially the two lane portion north of Two Harbors. Many scenic views and of course two curving tunnels through the rocky landscape. Lunch was at Betty's Pies. Excellent food and the reputation is well known. By the time we left lunch at 1 pm, there was a line outside (for lunch!) to get in. I had the Chocolate Banana Cream Pie. Wow the best I ever had! If you go, you may also want to try the Pie Shakes. Unfortunately for us, the blender was "broken" and we went with the pies. Be sure to try their burgers as they have a number of great combinations including the Beargrease and Whiskey Row.
Gooseberry Falls State Park: A good way to spend an entire afternoon hiking and exploring. Gooseberry Falls are part of the Gooseberry River. There are four sets of falls (Fifth, Upper, Middle and Lower). The upper, middle and lower all cascade with the steel arch brige carrying MN 61 as a backdrop. There also a number of trails leading to spectacular views of Lake Superior. Another great side drive is on old route 61 (Lake County and St. Louis County Route 61) which runs from just North of Duluth to Two Harbors. The entire route hugs the Lake Superior Coastline with many scenic views and pull offs. Numerous cabins and lake homes line the highway but there is plenty of space along the shore.
If you have a chance to have a very nice evening meal go to the Scenic Cafe. A very rustic interior and exterior with an unbelievable menu and excellent presentation. Unique salads and a healthy wine and beer list. I experienced quail (Grilled Quail) for the first time here, and it was very delicious. The espresso chocolate cake is excellent as well. As for the location, it is right across the winding two lane highway from the lake. It is a great back drop to your dining and also when the windows are open a great fresh breeze fills the room. Duluth and the North Shore of Lake Superior is a very gorgeous and rugged area. It is certainly a place I hope to one day maybe vacation at and explore further in my lifetime.