We need to get out more, that much is clear. Luckily, the perfect excuse to get out came this past June in the form of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Beth and I had not been on vacation since our honeymoon the previous September and our most recent road trip was in 2013. I, at least, was jonesing for the open road. The Women’s World Cup was hosted in cities throughout Canada this summer and we were not going to pass up an opportunity to go. Winnipeg was the closest host location to us and luckily the United States team drew Winnipeg for their first two games of the tournament! Beth and I were not alone in wanting to see our home nation kick some major ass North of the border. Her entire family went too, including her parents, Ken and Carol, her sisters Vicki and Val, Val’s husband Dave, and their toddler son, Carter. This trip takes place between June 6th through the 9th of 2015.
Day 1, Minneapolis to Winnipeg: Beth and I woke up in our new house for the first time. We closed on it the day before and then had an awkward encounter with the previous owners. We went there to change the locks while they finished packing their stuff. Apparently two months wasn’t enough time. Whatever. That Saturday morning was pretty busy. Beth and I dropped Maeby off at the pet hotel and ran into Carol and Vicki dropping off Penny. We had not boarded Maeby before and I bet she didn’t care for it. The place we took her was pretty nice, though. They have a large outdoor area and throw tennis balls for the dogs. Maeby likely gave them sore arms. Carol and Vicki then left for the airport to pick up Val, Dave, and Carter. They would have flown directly from Houston to Winnipeg but the ticket prices were absolutely outrageous. Beth and I went from the pet hotel to meet with Ken. Ken is in charge of the recreational soccer referees in town and had gone to work that morning. This fact was particularly annoying to Beth. Travel can be quite stressful (especially considering schedules) and him not being at the house ready to go was causing her to freak out. He eventually arrived and promptly lost his car keys in the house somehow (that went over well). He was inside for maybe ten minutes and lost his keys. I put myself in his shoes, retraced his steps and found them in less than a minute (son-in-law win!).
With such a big group headed to Canada we needed two vehicles, Ken and Carol’s SUVs. Word reached us at the house that car one had left the airport so we loaded up and left too. A quick pit stop at our new house to show it off to the Texas crew and then we were really on the road. After a three hour flight and an hour in the car Carter was soon ready for breakfast so we stopped at a truck stock diner called Nelson Brothers. It didn’t take long to get a table which is fortunate because Vicki was on crutches. A broken foot was not going to keep her from the World Cup! Carter chewed on crayons while we waited (a fairly long time) for our food. I had a big plate of eggs, bacon, pancakes, and hash-browns. For the official record, triple-berry syrup is my favorite. Before we left, Dave won Carter a bouncy ball from a crane machine. He loved it.
All the girls piled into Carol’s car with Carter (he’s a babe-magnet) leaving Dave and me in Ken’s car. This would be the configuration for most of the trip. I can’t say what happened in the other car but the conversation in ours was lively. Both Ken and Dave have their PhD but I hope I was able to keep up my end. The drive itself was quite uneventful. We stopped occasionally for bathroom breaks and gasoline. It rained 65% of the day. I took a lot of pictures despite the rain and the lack of interesting things to see. I don’t know any other way. I have
dreams nightmares where I’m on vacation and I realize I haven’t taken any pictures (#firstworldproblems). I missed taking one of the North Dakota sign as we crossed the border, though. Ken and Dave saw it but I didn’t because it was over the highway and I was looking off to the right. We stopped for dinner at a small place in Drayton, ND. It was practically one of twenty buildings in Drayton, ND. The food was pretty tasty. I had a burger and the plate of fries that came with it was enormous. Everybody Loves Raymond was on the television above our table. Carter chewed on butter packets. It’s the little things that matter.
We reached the border by 7pm and sat in line to cross for half an hour. It was a pain but we found out later in the trip that the wait was up to four hours on Sunday! I’m glad we went a day earlier. From there it was about an hour to Winnipeg. Manitoba is apparently very agricultural because all I saw were farms and windmills (yay windmills!). Entering the city from the South we passed very near the stadium where the games would be played. There’s nothing else around it so it’s pretty impressive.
Our first stop was Val, Dave, and Vicki’s hotel, a Holiday Inn. There are fish tanks in the elevators. We got them settled and the rest of us headed towards the airport where our hotel was located. We booked the Grand Winnipeg Airport Hotel on one of Travelocity’s Secret Deals. Hotel rooms in Winnipeg (and all the host cities most likely) were understandably renting for a very high price during the tournament. Travelocity’s offer showed a deeply discounted rate for a mystery hotel in Winnipeg. They guarantee it is a three star or higher hotel but they won’t tell you exactly where it is. I obviously said, sign us up! Our hotel was awesome. The room was really big and had upscale decor throughout. It had a big tiled shower instead of the typical hotel tub with dingy curtain. Our room was on the third floor and overlooked planes taxiing. Yes, I understand it’s weird to drive all the way to Winnipeg just to stay in a hotel at the airport but the deal was fantastic. There were only twenty channels on the television but two of them were the local CBS and NBC affiliates of Minneapolis. We could watch our hometown news in Winnipeg. Why, I do not know. End of day one.
Day 2, Around Town: Rise and shine, it’s breakfast time! We awoke rather early (for vacation especially) and drove over to the other hotel. We gradually got everyone ready and out to a breakfast place called The Nook. In my planning for this trip it was determined that I could come up with fun stuff to do if Ken could research restaurants. The Nook is family-owned and churns out a lot of good food from their small line behind the counter (in full view of diners). Dave ordered the Eggs Benedict because, according to him, it is the best way to judge a restaurant on their breakfast. I believe he enjoyed his meal but if I’m wrong he’ll let me know after reading this. Additional notes: my breakfast was delicious, Ken parked on the curb and we made fun of him for it, and the restaurant has a really cool mural featuring the employees on the exterior wall.
Normally my vacation itineraries are quite extensive and detailed but for this weekend excursion I planned light. I did put a short list together of fun things to do but didn’t force it on people. That being said, after breakfast the group looked to me, the extreme-planner, for somewhere to go. I suggested The Forks National Historic Site, a historic meeting place at the meeting of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. This large park contains a lot of awesome stuff including several museums, hotels, markets, sculpture gardens, stages, picnic areas, walking paths, river boat tours, and so much more.
Val and Carol stayed in the car with a sleeping Carter while the rest of us walked/crutched around for almost an hour. There was a festival of some sort going on that day and the area was packed. One of the stages had ethnic dancing of unknown origin, the kind where girls move their legs really fast and their upper bodies don’t move. It was similar to river dance. We circled around a big sculpture in a dug-out amphitheater-shape dedicated to Native peoples and read informational signage all over the area. There were fragrant lilacs everywhere. Dave, Beth, and I went down a small forested hill to the side of the Red River. Vicki then led the way across a footbridge over the Assiniboine River. She was an absolute champ despite her broken foot. It was getting pretty warm and sunny despite scattered showers that Sunday so we went back to the cars. It was time for a break so we retreated to the Holiday Inn.
After a quick refresher, I convinced everyone to go mini-golfing. A vacation favorite of my family and theirs it was an easy argument to make. The guys piled back in Ken’s car and the ladies took Carter in Carol’s. We didn’t have perfect directions to Thunder Rapids but I knew we just needed to head West on the same road as their hotel. I didn’t know it was located just outside the city limits and thus our GPS units couldn’t find it within the search parameters of ‘Winnipeg’. The ladies turned East out of the hotel for some reason and Ken, Dave, and I beat them to the mini golf by about fifteen minutes. We were waiting so long we got ice cream! I knew it would be hilarious if they showed up and we were eating ice cream and, sure enough, it was. It turns out their GPS started to take them to an address previously entered and they ended up at The Nook again before finding the right place. I should mention that none of us had full use of our cell phones while in Canada. Our phone plans do not include standard use within Canada (huge bummer obviously) so we had them in airplane mode. We were able to make use of WiFi in some places but that didn’t help us with directions on the road.
By the time we all finished our ice cream (yes, Carter and the girls wanted some too) the weather had deteriorated again. A scattered thunderstorm rolled in and sent everyone inside the one tiny building at the amusement park. Luckily, after the rain stopped half an hour later the golf course was largely abandoned. Dave had Carter on his chest in one of those carrying harnesses and still golfed like a pro. I said he had an unfair advantage because Carter was doing the aiming. I don’t remember who won but it certainly wasn’t me. I had a good front nine but completely fell apart in the back nine. Ken and I ended up in the rough AKA the real grass outside the green at least once each. Vicki golfed on one foot. She was able to balance on one crutch in order to swing her putter, somehow. As we left I noticed the last cookie was melting in the back of Carol’s car. I thought I’d eat it before it went to waste which was a horribly messy idea. I had melted chocolate all over my hand and lips and had to run back inside to wash up. Whoops.
Back at the hotel we were able to see a couple minutes of some of the other World Cup games on the lobby TV. Germany beat Ivory Coast 10-0. They would certainly be a formidable opponent if they ever met the USA (they eventually did and we won for those that didn’t know). For dinner we ended up a block away at a German restaurant. I had the scallops au gratin. The food was good but the restaurant was pricey and had a dreadful atmosphere. It was dark and some of the other patrons were kind of snobby. Carter didn’t want to sit still and one guy shot us an evil look. Dave took him back to the room and we got his food to go. The reviews for this place were good but sometimes you just get unlucky even after doing research. By the time we got back to the Holiday Inn again Carter was down for the night. Dave stayed in the room with him and the rest of us played a game of 31 for Canadian quarters down in the large pool room. It was humid as hell in there but there were tables and chairs. Val and Carol were the final two in play having eliminating the rest of us. On the final round Carol won by just a single point after Val knocked. Rough. End of day two.
Day 3, Game Day: Another early rise but at this point we were all pumped for game day! Monday was a lot of fun but started with a few challenges. Carter woke up with something resembling pink eye. I had pink eye a month previous and I knew what he was going through. No thank you! The plan was to go to another restaurant that Ken picked out. The target that morning was to be Cora’s, found during his extensive research. Carol went to get her car from the underground parking and it wouldn’t start. The cooler was plugged in and had drained the battery overnight. At that point people split up in multiple directions. Vicki and Dave took Carter to get breakfast in the hotel restaurant because he couldn’t wait to eat (he was understandably grumpy and pink-eyed). Ken drove to the nearest auto-parts store for jumper cables because we didn’t have any. Val, Beth, and Carol went to the car to try to start it and I went to the front desk to inquire about getting a jump. A nice, older gentleman brought a battery charger down to help us get it started. It took half an hour or so but after a couple of attempts we found success. I chatted with the bellhop and he told me he had a lot of experience jumping vehicles in harsh Winnipeg Winters as a cab driver. He was a nice guy and got four hugs when we finally got it going.
Once we were mobile again we piled into the cars. Dave earned another ‘martyr-point’ by staying with Carter in the room for his after-breakfast nap. The remaining six of us arrived at Cora’s and based on the crowd there it was an excellent choice. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it forever; follow the locals. More often than not, if the locals pack a place it will be a great measure of its quality. The menu at Cora’s is filled with fresh, healthy ingredients. My french toast breakfast came covered in fruit and bacon. It was called the “1990’s” and was fantastic. The french toast was made of a brioche bun, by the way, an underrated method. Other notable notables: Val’s plate came with a decorative apple garnish that was very intricately cut and Carol’s fruit and yogurt-filled crepe was enormous. She ordered the small version but the waiter must have heard her wrong because what came was definitely not the small portion. Oh, and I called shotgun leaving breakfast but Beth took my rightful seat. I sat on her.
Another culinary success under our ever-relaxing belts and we were ready for the World Cup! We drove back to Dave and Carter and his eye had not improved. It was more and more likely he had pink eye, probably picked up at the airport. We needed to leave for the stadium but first made a detour to a clinic. Val and Carol waited for him to be seen while the rest of us went off to the game. Carol was already planning to watch Carter during the games and Val would just join us later. The rest of us got a little lost on the way to the stadium. We had an issue with the GPS in Carol’s new car. One missed exit on a confusing Canadian road and we ended up in a more-confusing subdivision filled with row houses and round-abouts. A common thread throughout this trip was U-turns. There was a particular route that we had to take several times that weekend that involved a U-turn. The GPS kept recommending this path because it must have been fastest but in no way was the U-turn required. In the subdivision full of round-abouts Ken was supposed to take the second exit (essentially going straight) but he missed it. We all cheered that we got to do our trip’s first O-turn! O-turn! O-turn! O-turn! Eventually the GPS guided us out of the neighborhood and back towards the stadium.
I had found a phone number online of someone responsible for managing attendee accessibility issues and he was able to switch our tickets. We went from six tickets in the upper decks to four tickets in the upper decks and two tickets on the concourse level so Vicki could easily reach her seat. In addition to the tickets, this awesome gentleman told us where to go to get easier stadium access and parking too! We pulled up to the special drop off for people with accessibility challenges but a security guard sent us packing. She wouldn’t listen to anything we said. I’m not a big fan. We may not have been able to drop Vicki off where we wanted but we did get excellent parking right across the street from the stadium. Vicki wasn’t defeated. She crutched a distance of probably three-quarters of a mile from the car to her seat including forty steps up to the gate. Forty steps. We were, and still are impressed!
There were 31,000+ people attending the double-header. The first game was Sweden vs. Nigeria with the main event (in my humble opinion) being the United States vs. Australia. We found Vicki’s seat first, right on the concourse level in a movable chair that allowed maximum leg room! Ken sat next to her before the game and through halftime of the first game. It was supposed to be hot and clear that day but instead it was hazy and comfortable. Apparently a wildfire somewhere upwind in Canada was blocking the sun a bit and preventing me from being a sweaty mess (which I appreciated). Beth and I did a lap of the stadium to look around. The Swedish and Nigerian teams were warming up on the field. All the souvenir shops had massive lines. The main shop on one end had a line that was six feet wide and almost the entire length of the stadium! Most people wanted to shop before the games started, obviously, but those lines never dissipated. Never.
The rest of our seats were pretty high in the upper deck, three or four rows from the top, but it was worth it for the experience. Just get in the stadium. It’s not always necessary to pay for fancy seats. Beth, Dave, and I found the seats and enjoyed the view while talking soccer. Dave wore his Houston Dynamo jersey to represent his favorite club. Beth and I wore patriotic t-shirts we bought at Kohls before the trip. Vicki and Val wore matching Bomben Team USA jerseys. Ken had a shirt that spelled “BaCoN” using the Periodic Table symbols for Barium, Cobalt and Nitrogen that I got him for Christmas. He’s a chemist and loves bacon so I’m a pretty good gift-giver. The stadium was packed with American supporters. With the tournament being so close to home and Team USA being one of the favorites, this was no surprise. The other countries participating that day also had some fans present. Nigeria was probably the second best-represented contingent. A Swedish fan sat on my left. Of course there were Canadian fans sprinkled throughout and Team Canada stuff was available for purchase. The fans were ready. The atmosphere was energized. Game time!
The Swedish and Nigerian teams were led onto the pitch by a bunch of children in yellow FIFA shirts. The national anthems of each country played and then the action started. It was a fantastic game. Sweden scored and then Nigeria put in an own-goal giving Sweden a 2-0 lead in the first half. Beth switched with Ken at half time. Having a lower seat next to Vicki was a cool thing for us to all experience for a while (and to keep Vicki from getting sick of just one of us). Dave and I went for food at halftime and were fortunate to get in line rather quickly. One of the workers came out with three chicken sandwiches and no one picked them up. Who pays for food and doesn’t stick around to eat it? It took us ten minutes to get our meals and the line was forty feet long after we left. Nigeria came out of the locker room jazzed up and tied the game with two quick goals. Val showed up to see each team score another goal leading to a 3-3 draw. Good thing she made it before the US game!
Beth came back up between games and Val went down to sit with Vicki. I had already eaten, obviously, but I went down to wait in line with Beth. We waited a couple minutes only to discover they were out of everything she could eat. All they had left were hot dogs. It was incredibly frustrating. The lines for the nearest souvenir stand were gone so we checked that out. Turns out they were out of most items. Beth bought Carter a little soccer ball with the participating flags on it and I got a program book. The stadium bathrooms were enormous and really nice. For those of you reading this that have visited the Metrodome in Minneapolis, just imagine the exact opposite of those bathrooms. Back in our seats we got to see two guys in harnesses climb the catwalks and switch out Swedish and Nigerian flags for American and Australian ones. That was pretty neat. Game two!
The teams were led onto the field. One of the kids in yellow FIFA gear fell down in a crack-the-whip moment as they exited the field. It shouldn’t have been hilarious but it was. Megan Rapinoe, one of the most popular players on the US team, scored in the 12th minute gaining the US an early 1-0 lead. Australia equalized in the 27th minute and quieted the crowd a bit. At halftime, I made my way down to sit with Vicki and Val returned to the upper seats (I made sure to snap some pictures of the sisters first). The view from the concourse level was not nearly as good in terms of seeing the whole field but from there we could see the players a lot better (like expressions on their faces-better). The US got two more goals in the second half, one from Christen Press and a second from Rapinoe (named the obvious player of the match). VICTORY! Team USA was successful in getting their first win of the World Cup that they would go on to win. Yupp, the whole darn tournament! They tied Sweden and beat Nigeria in the rest of the group stage before defeating Colombia, China, Germany, and Japan for the top trophy.
Vicki and I were rejoined by the others on the lower level and we all hung out a while so other spectators could exit. The American team did a lap around the stadium waving at all their supporters. The Australians walked by a large group of their fans in the section below us. To exit the stadium we found a gate with a ramp instead of steps, a definite improvement. The traffic was terrible as to be expected following a sporting event but we eventually found our way back to the Holiday Inn shortly before dark. Val and Dave checked on Carol and Carter and then we went to dinner at a restaurant across the street called Boston Pizza. I don’t know why there is a chain of restaurants in Canada called ‘Boston Pizza’ but there are a bunch of them. Boston isn’t even known for its pizza. I could see a restaurant called Chicago Pizza or New York Pizza, but not Boston. If Boston is known for any food at all it’s probably seafood or chowder. Either way, Boston Pizza was similar to a Chilis or Applebees. The food was good and we got to watch highlights on TV. Sleep was well-earned. End of day three.
Day 4, Homeward Bound: We woke up fairly early again so we could start heading home. Beth and I and her parents checked out of the Grand Winnipeg Airport Hotel and drove to meet up with the Holiday Inn crew. We passed a Curling Supply Shop on the way. How very Canadian! Carter was feeling a little better but like any child he didn’t like taking drops in his eyes. Beth and I walked to a drug store for medicine for everyone else to take but all they had for pink eye was homeopathic stuff. Packing up their belongings, Carter almost forgot his keys but I found them under the bed. For breakfast we stopped for a quick bite at Tim Horton’s. I had a breakfast sandwich and a maple donut. Carol took Val, Dave, Vicki, and Carter while Ken took Beth and me and we headed for the border. I slept for half the trip there and unfortunately woke up to sit in the line of cars. It took us about 45 minutes to cross and apparently Carol’s car had to stop for a very messy diaper just after. Extremely messy I am told. Hauntingly so.
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful. I had a short list of things to see if we wanted to stop but with two cars and a toddler’s schedule my list wasn’t really in the cards. At least we finally had our cell phones back! We stopped for lunch at an Olive Garden in Grand Forks, ND. It rained off and on, sometimes pretty heavily. We stopped at a McDonalds closer to home because Carter was hungry. Two cops had a guy in the back of a squad car in the parking lot for an unknown reason. I had to blow my nose but there wasn’t a single napkin holder anywhere in the restaurant. Perhaps that was the man’s (alleged) crime, who knows?! We drove the rest of the trip through a heavy downpour. Beth made tacos when we got home and we watched the second Jurassic Park. The one with The Jeff Goldblum. It was a great trip! End of day four.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank my wife and her entire family for going on this adventure. It wasn’t the longest vacation ever but I think we all had a great time. I would also like to thank everyone for paying for a bunch of stuff. Ken paid for our hotel room, our World Cup tickets, and several meals. Beth and I still haven’t paid him back with all the craziness associated with buying and working on a house. That debt is still on the top of my mind and will be repaid as soon as possible. It probably hasn’t been on the top of Ken’s mind as he just went on a multi-week trip to see family in San Francisco. Being retired must be fun.
Thanks to those that read this entire post. Ten points to Gryffindor! It means a lot to me, which is why I keep writing this thing. If you have anything to say about my trip or want to share your own Winnipeg experiences, please leave a comment below. Look for Trip #7 – West Coast Road Trip this fall. I can’t wait!
Until next time,