In downtown Minneapolis, holiday festivities stretch from Loring Park to the Hennepin Theatre District, Nicollet Mall and the riverfront.
Events to catch: Nov. 24-Dec. 24, free Holidazzle village in Loring Park, with fireworks on opening day and Saturdays.
Nightlife: The Dakota music club at Nicollet and 10th schedules many holiday shows.
Details: See A jolly holiday in Minneapolis.
Past fast plans: FastPlans/Merry holidays in Minneapolis, Sampling in the Amanas, Shopping in Madison, Gales of November, Late fall in Red Wing
Old World Christmas markets in Chicago, Naperville, Minneapolis, Excelsior, Monroe and Oconomowoc. Soak up the holiday atmosphere and buy cool gifts at these open-air markets. Nov. 24-26.
Holiday Homecoming in St. Charles, Ill. There's Lighting of the Lights and music Friday and free horse-drawn sleigh rides, movies and Santa visits Saturday, with the Electric Christmas Parade at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 2425.
Holly Days in Egg Harbor, Wis. This Door County village offers horse-drawn wagon rides, a children's elf hunt and mistle dough contest and caroling. Nov. 2425.
For more, see our Events Calendar.
In the sloughs of the Upper Mississippi, birds of a feather flock together.
Bird-watchers, especially. On chilly days in late fall, they crowd onto wooden platforms to watch tundra swans paddling around sloughs of the Mississippi River.
This big bird needs a lot of fuel for its flight from the Arctic Circle to the marshes of Chesapeake Bay.
So when ponds in southern Canada and North Dakota start to ice over in October, the swans fly down to feast on arrowhead tubers and wild celery along the Mississippi before continuing east.
For people who love the outdoors, luxury is in the eye of the beholder.
Is it a Jacuzzi or a latrine? A four-course breakfast or a fire ring?
The answer is not so obvious. If the choice also includes starry skies, silence and snow-laden pines, many folks would take a camper cabin over a fancy inn, even if they have to use vault toilets and cook over a fire.
Some people may guess that lakes or bicycle trails are the chief attraction for travelers in the Upper Midwest. Other might say museums, state parks or stadiums.
Wrong, wrong and wrong. The No. 1 attraction in travel is . . . shops.
Shopping is sightseeing for a lot of people. On vacation, they shop not as they would at the local mall, but as if had all the time in the world to browse, stroll and sample.
As, in fact, they do. Legions of weekend hobby shoppers have fueled the rise of such boutique towns as Stillwater in Minnesota, Cedarburg in Wisconsin and Galena in Illinois.
In winter, it's hard to find a lodge getaway that fits every budget.
Lodges that offer skiing on groomed trails, wood-fired saunas and home-cooked meals aren't cheap.
But if you'd like to try those things and be greeted by a plate of warm chocolate-chip cookies afterward you have a friend in environmental learning centers.
These non-profit centers are the low-cost Club Meds of the north woods, offering all-inclusive weekend packages that include lodgings, meals and winter fun cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, even wolf-tracking and sled-dog mushing.
For 500 years, Germans have done their
holiday shopping at open-air Christmas markets in town squares.
Named for the Christ child, the markets traditionally start on the first Sunday of Advent, with shoppers warming up with hot spiced wine while browsing at garland-draped timber kiosks.
It's a tradition worth importing,
and that's what Chicago did in 1996 with its Christkindlmarket, where two-thirds of the vendors come from Germany.
become more popular every year, and now many other towns from the shores of Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota to Wisconsin cheese country and the ethnic enclaves of Michigan have
markets of their own.
In the Upper Midwest, finding a good deal is a sport second only to football.
Some of us need a bargain. Some of us just like them. But we all need to get away occasionally, especially when cabin fever strikes in winter.