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JG’s mom Susan came to visit us a few weeks ago, our only visitor to date since we moved from Florida three months ago.  She had to brave three separate flights and crisscross her way across the US to get to us so we knew we had to show her a good time (whatever that means for Small Town, Minnesota).

She arrived on a Thursday and we picked her up from the local airport.  Regional airports are definitely a perk of small town living – a bare whisper of security and the ability to drive right up, and practically into, the baggage claim area.  No need to get out of your car, just wave hello through the window and pat your visitor on the back.

We gave her an abbreviated tour on the way to our home.  Susan had lived in our town for 3 years about 30 years ago so we drove around downtown and the neighboring streets looking for her old apartment building, now a hospital parking lot.  That night, we dined at one of Susan’s favorite old restaurants, which we all decided had gone a little downhill since her days in town.  But it was wonderful for the three of us to sit around a table again with a nice bottle of red and catch up on the latest goings on.  JG and I have a few big life decisions coming up, such as where in the US to live after this year and what career I should try next, so it was nice to bounce ideas off of Susan and put our deliberations on the table.

One of the highlights from her visit came on Saturday, when we took a tour around Lake Pepin and visited Lake City, Alma, Nelson and Pepin all in one day (and a cafe, winery, creamery and restaurant).  We started our exploration with a walking tour of the harbor in Lake City, Minnesota and stopped at the Rabbit Café to sip on some hot apple cider with caramel drizzle.  Holy wow that stuff was good!  So good, in fact, that it sold out while we were still in the cafe.

The we drove through Alma, which had a very cute downtown, and up to a clearing that overlooked the town and the Mississippi River.  It was freezing at the top, but worth the trip (as evidenced by a group of people setting up for a wedding as we made our way out of the park).

Higher up beyond the overlook was the Danzinger Winery, where we sampled some of the local wines (and learned through puckered lips that the locals like their wine sweet, real sweet).

Then it was on to Nelson, Wisconsin and the Nelson Creamery, where, despite the fact that the temps were in the low 40s and the sun was taking a nap behind some grey sheets, the line for ice cream was out the door.  While JG and I are helpless for good ice cream, especially when at a specialty shop like a creamery, the line was enough of a deterrent that we just bought some cheese and continued on to Pepin.

Pepin, Wisconsin boasted an art walk that took us to a blacksmith shop, jewelry maker, run down garden center and an old time ticket building.  After a harrowing detour to a bathroom in the bowels of a grocery store so creepy that it could have starred in a horror movie, we made it over to Pepin’s main attraction – The Harbor View Cafe.

Harbor View Cafe does not take reservations (or credit cards); a fact that must cause about 50 fistfights a night as people start lining up outside about 45 minutes before the doors open.  By the grace of all who are hungry, we managed to squeeze into the first seating at 5 pm and were lead to a round, wooden table in the back of the main room.  Wooden walls and chairs, blue gingham tablecloths and framed Harbor View paraphernalia completed the look and made you feel as if you were sitting in your grandmother’s kitchen.

The menu was written on a chalkboard, broken down by protein type.  As there were no printed menus, we took turns getting up from our table and hovering over the couple seated directly in front of the board (who were so happy to have made it into the first seating that they didn’t seem to mind the company).

The food was straight up comfort-style and we dined on local seafood, lamb and baked pasta.  Dessert was almond cake and sticky toffee pudding.  A delicious way to end a full day of exploration!