I'm back from my weekend in the Twin Cities - lots of good food, good sightseeing, good theatre and of course, good friends. I met new people, got my first look at the Mississippi River, toured a restaurant kitchen and - I know this sounds hard to believe - walked a dog for the very first time in my life. In fact, at one point, I was walking two dogs!
I've always been partial to cities. Sure, the suburbs and the country have their attractions. I've been to many places with great natural beauty - the Scottish highlands and Yorkshire dales, Yosemite National Park and Sedona, Arizona. I've enjoyed all of them and there's lots more I'd love to see. But when it comes to travel, exploring a new city is at the top of my favorite things.
As I wrote last week, I haven't really spent much time in the Midwest and I've always wanted to see more of it. Here's a little bit of what I learned and saw during my whirlwind weekend in Minneapolis-St. Paul, thanks to my two wonderful tour guides.
It's pretty big - 3.2 million people live in the metropolitan area, which includes part of Wisconsin - and kind of flat. Also, despite the state's motto, there are apparently more than 10,000 lakes. And despite the Twin Cities nickname, Minneapolis and St. Paul have very different histories and cultures. Here's an interesting article that delves into the sibling rivalry between the two cities.
As a history buff, what I found really fascinating is that St. Paul is considered the last city of the East and Minneapolis the first city of the West. It's based in part on architecture - St. Paul's narrow streets and Victorian houses, versus the more modern look of Minneapolis. While St. Paul grew up haphazardly from its start as a fur-trading post known as Pig's Eye, Minneapolis was a planned city from the start whose base was in industry - lumber and flour mills.
And Minneapolis seems like a very livable city. It's big enough so that there's a lot to do but not so big that you constantly feel crowded. It's clean, it has some great restaurants, a big but walkable downtown with enclosed walkways for those bitterly cold winter months, lots of cultural attractions, green spaces and diverse neighborhoods. (I saw 2 of the 10,000 lakes - Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun).
Downtowns in America have been pretty beaten up over the past 25 years or so, with department stores closing and manufacturing folding up shop and residents leaving for the suburbs. Like a lot of cities, older buildings in Minneapolis are being renovated and turned into hotels and condos, breathing new life into downtown. And I think it's great that the new stadium for the Minnesota Twins is being built downtown.
I had to take in some sights from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I saw the 8-foot bronze statue erected in 2002 at the spot on downtown's Nicollet Mall where Mary tossed her tam into the air in the opening credits. Mary Tyler Moore appeared at the dedication, where the crowd sang the show's theme song and had a group tam toss. And we drove by the house whose exterior was used for Mary's apartment. I didn't recognize it at first, because it's been repainted. It's a private home, at 2104 Kenwood Parkway, located on a quiet, leafy street in a very nice residential neighborhood. Now when I pop in a dvd from the tv series, I can say, "I've been there!"
We also stopped in Uptown to pick up a cake at the Twin Cities' famous Wuollet Bakery. (It was delicious!) From what I saw, it seems like a great neighborhood for browsing and strolling on a weekend, with a mix of quirky local shops, some national chains, ethnic restaurants, a movie theatre and a big bookstore. And the sign for the underground Walker Library, whose location is marked by large metal letters that spell out L-I-B-R-A-R-Y, made me smile.
And this was a total surprise for me - we went to Lakewood Cemetery, where I had a chance to visit the grave of one of Minneapolis' favorite sons, former vice president and senator Hubert H. Humphrey. I met Senator Humphrey in 1976, when I was a high school student on my first trip to Washington, D.C. I still remember how gracious he was in calling me by my first name (I was wearing my name tag from the Close Up program) and introducing me to his wife, Muriel. I'm glad that I had a chance to pay my respects and I'm glad I have a very thoughtful friend who knew how much it would mean to me.
I was also very excited about seeing the Mississippi River for the first time. The Guthrie Theater's cantilevered lobby, known as the Endless Bridge, offers a terrific view of the river and the old flour mills that once drove the city's economy. From its northern end the river seems so peaceful and calm. Hard to believe it's the same body of water that can lead to so much death and destruction at its southern end during hurricane season.
And the Guthrie itself, which opened in its new location overlooking the river in 2006, is beautiful. I saw Little House on the Prairie in the McGuire Proscenium Stage - the interior is draped in a deep red, with plush comfy seats and good sight lines and acoustics. I like the fact that it's a multipurpose building - you can see a show, (and there's often more than one going on at the same time) take a class or a tour, eat in the restaurants or just enjoy the view.
Food is a key element of a visit to any new city, and I had some great meals. Plus, Minneapolis and St. Paul have some of the friendliest, most engaging and talkative waiters I've ever met. In fact, one waiter spent so much time talking to us, I was certain my dining companions knew him. And another arranged a tour of the kitchen, which was a first for me!
On Friday night, we dined in St. Paul, which still had a few signs as reminders that the Republican National Convention had been there. We ate at Pazzaluna, where I had the house specialty gnocchi, with a tomato basil sauce, which went very nicely with some Banfi Chianti. I also got a lesson in the correct pronunciation of the tasty little potato dumplings. Believe me, I was in carbohydrate heaven.
On Saturday night, we ate at the 112 Eatery in Minneapolis, which got a nice mention last month in The New York Times. The restaurant is small and cozy, with a kind of old fashioned bar and grill feel. I had roasted halibut with marinated tomatoes. If you're not careful, white fish can come out a bit rubbery, but this was perfect - moist and tender and flaky. Accompanied by a bottle of Argentinian wine, bibb lettuce salad, spicy broccolini, cauliflower fritters and great conversation, it was a memorable meal.
Then for Sunday brunch, we went to Manny's Steak House, newly relocated at a new hotel, the W Minneapolis - The Foshay. Of course I had my favorite brunch beverage - a refreshing and sparkling mimosa, along with French toast with blueberries and part of a huge piece of chocolate brownie cake topped with whipped cream and ice cream - it truly was a sight to behold.
The hotel is in the 32-story art deco Foshay Tower, built by utilities magnate Wilbur Foshay in 1929 and modeled after the Washington Monument. It was a big deal when it opened - John Philip Sousa was commissioned to compose a march for the occasion. I'd never heard of the building, or Wilbur Foshay, but a small museum takes you through his career and the building's history. Plus, there's a great view from the open-air observation deck.
Of course, there was one final stop I had to make on my way to the airport - the Mall of America in suburban Bloomington. It's the most visited shopping mall in the world, with more than 40 million visitors every year to its 2.5 million square feet of retail space. Who am I to argue with that!
I only saw a small portion - it would take hours to walk through the entire place. The Mall of America has many of the same stores as any other enclosed shopping center - just more of them. It's like a mall on steroids. It's also the only mall I've been in that has its own amusement park, complete with Ferris wheel and roller coaster, an aquarium and a miniature golf course.
So, would I go back to Minnesota? You betcha!