Girls’ Weekend in North Dakota

Have I ever told you about my friend (and former roommate) Crystal? If I haven’t, you are probably not aware of her awesomeness.

Case in point, last spring when she said “let’s book a girls’ trip for a weekend this summer!” I was instantly in and I started thinking about all of the places we could go – Napa. NOLA. Santa Fe. NYC. So many possibilities to consider!

She said “no” to all of them. Her idea? A Girls’ Weekend in North Dakota.

Yes, North Dakota. You see, this was last spring when I was still working on my goal of visiting all 50 US states. At that point, I had four left; one of them was North Dakota (I made it to Mississippi and Alabama prior to us going to ND so ND was #49 for me). She knew it and that is why she made the suggestion. Pretty cool, right? I told you she is awesome.

So away to North Dakota we went. We both flew into the capitol city of Bismarck, rented a car and set out from there.

Our Girls’ Weekend in North Dakota had begun.

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Such a pretty area to fly into
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North Dakota – State 49 for me

You might be asking what is there to do in North Dakota. Well, there is the World’s Largest Buffalo, Dakota Thunder and a live albino buffalo in a field nearby. There’s also a large holstein cow named Salem Sue and Theodore Roosevelt National Park is in the western part of the state.

Our goal was to see them all.

Day 1

Our first stop? A visit to the World’s Largest Buffalo. Dakota Thunder is a roadside sculpture located in Jamestown, ND, which is east of Bismarck along I-94. He is 26 feet tall and 46 feet long. He weighs 60 short tons and is anatomically correct (he is indeed a male). Dakota Thunder was constructed with stucco and cement around a steel beam frame.

For many years, it was customary for members of the graduating class at the local high school to paint his genitalia in the school colors of blue and white. They were not painted special colors when we were there.

When we were done hanging out with and taking photos of Dakota Thunder and the live buffalo next door, we headed north towards Devil’s Lake. I didn’t do much research about the lake before we went there and was shocked to discover how big it was when we arrived! I did not know North Dakota had such a large body of water! It seemed to go on and on and on when we were driving through. We did stop off and find a public beach where we could dip our toes in and admire the sheer size of the lake.

After spending some time near the lake, we turned west en route to Minot, where we planned to spend the night. It was a couple of hours drive and along the way, we drove through Rugby, ND, which is the (disputed) geographical center of North America. They even have a brick monument to mark the spot so of course we had to stop and take some photos!

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Our rental car was this BMW SUV. It was what we got because it was the only small SUV they had left. We were excited to drive it but by the end of the weekend, neither of us were impressed. The shift stick annoyed us both!
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That’s a big buffalo!
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Dakota Thunder and me
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We think this is the albino buffalo. He was in a field next door to Dakota Thunder.
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There was a replica of an old western town near the buffalo and so we meandered through it for fun before leaving the area. This photo was taken there. I hope I never get arrested because I do not have a good mugshot face.

 

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Our view of Devil’s Lake where we stopped to dip our toes in

 

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Me at the geographical center of North America 
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Crystal and me

When we finally made it to Minot, we had two goals for the evening:

  1. Find a place to stay
  2. Find a place for dinner.

Turns out, dinner was the easy part. Due to a kickball tournament in town (or something like that) most of the hotels were sold out. So we ended up at a place that was safe enough and sort of clean but with no hot water. Ugh! Oh well, it was an adventure and we survived. Plus, aren’t you proud of me for not planning and just winging it for a change?! (And look how it turned out. I rest my case that planning is good!)

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We had dinner in Minot at 10 North Main.
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And this was there we had breakfast – Charlie’s Main Street Cafe. We loved the old fashioned diner feel of this place.
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North Dakota is known for their caramel rolls so we had to have one while we were at Charlie’s. It was delish!!

Day 2

After breakfast at Charlie’s, we set out for Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park comprises three geographically separated areas in western North Dakota. It covers 70,446 acres and is the only American national park named directly after a single person. We visited the park’s larger South Unit that lies alongside I-94 near Medora. The park was pretty and would be a great place to explore and hike through. It reminded me a lot of the badlands in South Dakota.

Then, we started the long drive back to Bismarck, which seemed like the longest straight driving part of the trip. We decided to pass the time by logging into my Tinder account. If you don’t know what Tinder is, it is a dating app that finds other people who are on the app within a certain distance of your current location. We were curious because we had read that due to the oil fields in North Dakota, the proportion of men to women in the state is greatly disproportionate – meaning there are a lot more men than women. Seems like that would be a good thing for me. 🙂

I was driving during this stretch so Crystal did the work on the dating app, posing as me. We had several matches and spent the rest of that drive and the evening messaging back and forth with the matches. It was the source of lots of humor to close out the day.

Just before Bismarck, we stopped to see Salem Sue, the large holstein cow near New Salem, North Dakota. Holsteins are the breed of cows my parents’ had on our farm when I was growing up so I am very familiar with them. This one could have fit right in…if she was actually alive that is.

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Me at the entrance of Theodore Roosevelt National Park
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This area of the park is rumored to be the most photographed spot in North Dakota

 

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Such a beautiful background

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I am not sure if we saw more oil derricks pumping oil while we were there….
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or round bails used to feed animals like the ones to the right of the building in the photo above.

 

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Salem Sue and me
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Crystal and me with Salem Sue
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My favorite meal of our Girls’ Trip to North Dakota was here – at Butterhorn in downtown Bismarck. The food and drinks were yummy. The dinner included a broken wine glass (not me) and then a left behind credit card (me) that involved a drive back to the restaurant in a torrential downpour. Such a fun night!! 🙂
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Cheers to a great dinner in Bismarck!
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Our last meal of the trip was brunch here.
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I loved these light fixtures above the bar area at The Starving Rooster. They are made from the snout of the corn head of a combine.

Day 3

The biggest surprise of our Girls’ Weekend in North Dakota for me came right before we headed back to the airport to head home on Sunday when we decided to stop by the North Dakota state capitol building. I had been to the capitol buildings in Mississippi and Alabama a few weeks earlier so it seemed like the logical thing to do since we were so close by.

We followed the instructions GPS gave us but when we got to our destination, we got out of the car and wondered if we were in the right place. I couldn’t help but think “Where is the dome?”

It turns out, there is no dome on the capitol building in Bismarck, North Dakota. The capitol building doesn’t look like a capitol building at all. We saw the building in the photos below and had to confirm with a woman walking her dogs nearby that this was indeed the capitol building. It was definitely not what we were expecting. The women told us that it is the “least expensive capitol building in the US.” Yes. We can believe it.

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The North Dakota State Capitol Building
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Crystal and me in front of the state capitol building

And with that, our Girls’ Weekend in North Dakota came to an end. I had a great time and am so thankful for the time I got to spend with Crystal that weekend. We had many good conversations and lots of laughs too!

I know North Dakota isn’t on the top of many people’s “must visit” lists (South Dakota seems to be the go to and for a reason – you can read about my family trip to South Dakota here and here) but there are definitely things to do and see in North Dakota so if you get the chance to go, you should go. As we all know, the company can make a trip even better so grab some friends and make it a group trip!

One fun fact before I go. My parents trekked around the US last summer on a two week road trip that took them through North Dakota the week before I was there. ND was also my dad’s 49th state to visit. They stopped by the see Dakota Thunder and also had brunch at The Starving Rooster when they were in Bismarck.

The only state my dad hasn’t visited to date is Hawaii.

Summary of the places and restaurants mentioned in this post and that I think you should check out during your Girls’ Weekend in North Dakota: 

  1. Dakota Thunder, the World’s Largest Buffalo in Jamestown, ND
  2. Devil’s Lake, North Dakota
  3. Geographical midpoint of North America, Rugby, ND
  4. 10 North Main in Minot, ND
  5. Charlie’s Main Street Cafe
  6. Theodore Roosevelt National Park
  7. Salem Sue, the holstein
  8. Butterhorn
  9. The Starving Rooster

 

 

 

 

Exploring the Greek Islands

After a couple of great days in Athens, it was time for my next adventure: exploring the Greek Islands.

First up, I stopped by Skiathos to meet Amy and her two friends for a few days. Amy lives in London and is originally from South Africa. I met her in 2011 during my first trip to Europe. We kept in touch and I saw her again when I was in London in 2012. I was excited to meet her in Athens this time.

Skiathos

The hotel we stayed at in Skiathos was just outside of town and had many beautiful flowers, grapevines and olive trees on the property. There was a wonderful college aged girl, Vanessa, working at the hotel. She was on the island for the summer and didn’t know many people. We invited her to go to the beach with us on the first day (she worked late afternoons and evenings) and she became part of our group for the remainder of our time in Skiathos, as shown in the photos below. Meeting new people from different places is my favorite part of traveling.

We spent most of our time in Skiathos at the beach and exploring the town. We also did a boat trip to other islands nearby one day. The highlight of the boat trip was the island where the “Mamma Mia” movie was filmed. We got to stop on the island and visit the church where ultimately, Meryl Streep and Pierce Bronson’s characters were married.

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The view from my hotel room
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Olives!

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Photos from our boat tour of neighboring Islands

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Chilling on the rocky beach

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Mykonos

After several days in Skiathos, I ventured on to Mykonos because I seems no trip to exploring the Greek Islands was complete without visiting Mykonos and Santorini.

Mykonos is very beautiful! There was a great photo opp everywhere I looked. It was so great to set out and explore the island with no intended destination.

Exploring the Greek Islands
So many pretty colors everywhere!

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One of the things I was most surprised about in Mykonos was how windy it was. At night in my hotel room, it sounded like a Midwestern blizzard was brewing outside. On my last day in Mykonoes, the wind ended up being a problem because it forced them to keep delaying the ferry I was supposed to take to Santorini. They finally canceled all ferries so I had to scramble around at 11pm to find a last minute hotel room.

Hotel rooms were hard to come by since it was busy season so I considered myself very lucky. I should have held that thought because I overslept the next morning and missed the 5:30am rescheduled ferry. Ugh!

While Mykonos is very beautiful and I was so lucky to be there, I was getting tired of being stuck on the island by that point. Dragging my luggage around while trying to find the ferry docks and a hotel was starting to take its toll on me. I decided at that point that if I wasn’t on a ferry heading to Santorini by noon, I was booking a flight back to Athens. I would spend the rest of my trip there.

Upon arriving at the port where the ferries departed (after oversleeping), I found out the next ferry to Santorini departed at 10:30am. But just my luck, it was fully booked. I decided to stick around the port to see if anyone canceled and realized after the ferry arrived that it was a situation where you got on and showed tickets later. I decided to get on, figuring they wouldn’t toss me into the sea en route.

The risk was worth it. The ticket taker wasn’t too pleased about me not having a ticket for that particular ferry but I talked so much trying to plead my case that I think he just wanted me to go away. He told me to pick any available seat and let me go.

Whew! My time exploring the Greek Islands could continue!

Exploring the Greek Islands
The ferry I took from Mykonos to Santorini

Santorini

The ferry ride to Santorini took several hours. On the ferry, I met a wonderful woman from Ukraine who was also traveling alone. It worked out well because we were able to save each other’s seats and watch each other’s stuff. Getting up to walk around or go to the restroom was so much easier!

Once in Oia, Santorini, we checked into our respective hotels and then met up to explore the island together. It was so nice to have someone to take photos for me (and vice versa). We also had dinner together. Any meal I don’t have to eat alone while traveling alone is a bonus.

One of the main attractions in Oia is the sunset. People arrived in droves on buses from other parts of the island to see it. It was overwhelming for me.

I scoped out my spot to watch the sunset early. As I was backing up to let someone past while waiting, my finger hit a metal piece in the wall behind me. Next thing I know, my finger is bleeding profusely. I borrowed some napkins from a restaurant and was offered tissues and bandages in four different languages from people around me. It restores faith in mankind when people are so concerned and helpful. Of course my mini first aid kit was in my suitcase at the hotel. I managed to get my finger to stop bleeding and bandaged without getting any blood on my white shorts (a miracle!) and enjoyed the sunset.

I spent the next day (my last full day in Greece) exploring more of the island in the morning and then relaxing by the hotel pool to avoid the massive crowds in the afternoon.

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Exploring the Greek Islands
The famous Oia, Santorini sunset. 

Interesting in reading more about my trip to Greece? Read all about my time spent traveling solo in Athens here.

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