Journal: TWUKSection:
Title: Issue Date: 17/07/00
Author: Page Number: 36
Copyright: Other

Wisconsin and Minnesota flydrive

A wizard time at Judy’s house

Alan Moore stumbles across the Garland home in northern Minnesota

It was the sea of flame-red poppies on the front lawn that caught my eye. Otherwise I could have missed the white, timber-framed house as I drove into the former logging town of Grand Rapids.

Inside, Judy Garland was being remembered by one of her greatest show-business partners of the ’50s and ’60s, Mickey Rooney, as he held court to the gathered media.

The occasion was Mickey’s guest appearance at the annual weekend festival in June that celebrates the home town girl’s life and career, and especially her role in the Wizard of Oz, the film that launched her to fame more than 60 years ago.

The house itself, Judy’s family dwelling, resembles a film set full of memorabilia of her early life in a comfortable country homestead.

Further into town, the famous Yellow Brick Road has been recreated, leading to a museum that recounts the famous Garland years.

Few international visitors will be aware of this little gem of a place, in an area of rolling countryside, swamps of wild rice, white-pine forests and vast lakes, some as big as inland seas.

It is a good 3hr drive from the twin cities of Minneapolis-St Paul and forms part of the Great Lakes states of North America.

For independent travellers eager to strike out on their own, the area offers many endearing discoveries of early rural lifestyles, riverfront settlements, native American traditions and cottage industries. The great Mississippi River, which winds its way south from the Midwest, provides a navigation point for self-drive visitors – you can follow the Great River Road, Highway 35, for 300 miles past limestone bluffs, inland lakes and little riverfront towns.

This stretch of the river splits Minnesota and Wisconsin. The latter state includes the unspoilt boardwalk town of Prescott at St Croix Falls and the Swedish immigrant village of Stockholm, whose colourful clapboard trading stores include an excellent bakery and small restaurant that serves a commendable pork and wild rice bratwurst and root beer.

Further down the River Road in Wisconsin is the village of Pepin, where the author of the Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder, was born in 1867; the river town of Alma, which is on the National Register of Historic Places; and Trempealeau, where French explorers set up camp in the 1850s.

The historic timber-fronted Trempealeau Hotel is indicative of the small and intimate bed-and-breakfast places where you can stay along the River Road Route for around $30-$40 per room per night.

The larger but quaint town of La Crosse – a former mid-1800s trading post for native American Indians and steamboat merchants – has one of the largest historic districts in the state that includes Italianate-style architecture dating from the late 19th century.

It’s well worth spending a night here – there’s a Holiday Inn and Radisson Hotel complete with new conference centre – and having dinner at Piggy’s.

This may sound like a fast-food joint but nothing could be further from the truth. It is a stylish restaurant overlooking the great river and offering some of the best steak, seafood and back ribs smoked on hickory wood from the surrounding hills. I tried them all, at the insistence of the proprietor, of course – and they were very good.

It was an ideal end to a relaxing and stimulating few days driving along relatively empty back-country roads in the Great Lakes.

Somewhere over the rainbow: Judy Garland’s house, which celebrates her life, particularly her role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz



The Great lakes

Who flies there: Chicago is served from London by carriers including American Airlines, United, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Daily flights to Minneapolis-St Paul from Gatwick are operated by Northwest Airlines. Other US Great Lakes gateways with non-stop service from London include Cincinnati, Cleveland and Detroit.

The Great River Road: apart from the Wisconsin route described, the Minnesota portion of the Great River Road runs for 562 miles from Lake Itasca and the Iowa border.

For more information: Great Lakes of North America UK representative Cellet Travel Services, tel: 01564 794 999, fax: 01564 795 333. Web site:

Minneapolis: Great Lakes gateway city twinned with St Paul

Location: the twin cities of Minneapolis-St Paul in Minnesota are just 11 miles apart but each is very different. Minneapolis is at the heart of the combined metropolitan area with large-scale shopping and entertainment, while St Paul has a more old-world charm and historic feel.

Getting around: Minneapolis has a glass-enclosed, second-level skywalk system which snakes through a 60-block area linking stores, attractions and downtown buildings. St Paul has a similar system. Hop-on/hop-off city trolley tours cost $8 for adults and $5 for children for a 2hr pass.

Sample attractions: in St Paul, the State Capitol building and St Paul’s Cathedral, which was built in 1905 and is a replica of St Peter’s in Rome. Also the new Science Museum of Minnesota, Minnesota History Centre and the Children’s Museum.

Sample product: Travel 4 offers a three-day Mall of America package with two nights at the Holiday Inn Select, transfers, savings coupons, shuttle to the mall, lunch at Planet Hollywood and a half-day tour of Minneapolis. It costs £114 per person twin share up to March 31 next year. Air fares from London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow start at £307 return.

For more information: Greater Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association. Tel: 001 612 661 4700. Web site: St Paul Convention and Visitors Bureau. Tel: 001 651 265 4900. Web site Cellet Travel Services, Great Lakes of North America UK representative. Tel: 01564 794999.