Minnesota - Minneapolis, St Paul, Stillwater

Right lads, let's call that lunch


My references for Minnesota were; the singer Prince, the movie Fargo, and American Midwesterns of Scandinavian descent saying ‘Do you want a soda?’ (pronounced ‘sew-da’). Here are the things I found out; Prince lived in Minneapolis because it is awesome (may he Rest In Peace), it might have been snowing in Fargo but it was hotter than a hoppin hen in the Little Apple, and lastly, Minnesotans don’t called coke soda they call it pop!

Minneapolis and St Paul are twin cities, so close it’s almost incestuous. They are separate municipalities but essentially kissing cousins. Minneapolis is known as the ‘Mini Apple’ (a take on NYC being the ‘Big Apple’) for me the comparison with New York ends there. Minneapolis felt brand spanking new and shiny, New York, meh, not so much. St Paul, on the flip side, is more quaint and European, in contrast to NYC they call St Pauls the city that never stops sleeping!. They say if the twin cities were twin sisters you’d date Minneapolis and marry St Paul. What they don’t say is, if you did do that, what kind of philandering sister-splitting kind of jerk are you anyway. And who are ‘they’ come to think of it?!

You put the two cities together and they are a force to be reckoned with, right up there with Chicago as a hub in the Mid West. The locally based national baseball team are called the Twins, sports unifies all in the US (maybe not if you’re President Trump).

While walking around the streets of Minneapolis I was delighted that folks said casual hellos - good manners are a lost art, however, in the Mid West it is a way of life. Unlike most big cities there is no sense of claustrophobic suffocation, there were lots of wide open spaces, not too many people clogging up the avenues, a person can just stop and take it all in.

Little Apple, Big Ideas

The city was far more sophisticated than I had imagined, towering sky scrapers were wedged between art deco buildings. I think my unconscious bias had prepared me for a podunk town, people with corn tucked behind their ears saying ‘dontchaknow’ in the nicest possible way. Then I remembered this was home to Prince, one of the most flamboyant innovators in musical history. Not to mention where TVs 1970s Mary Tyler Moore Show was set (RIP), a show about a independent, intelligent, single woman in her 30s pursuing her career, groundbreaking for its time. Curses upon you ‘unconscious bias’ and your stereotyping shenanigans.

Seeing all the skyways (enclosed pathways between buildings) put me in mind of visits to Canada (for more on that - read here) where people can continue life as normal in the Winter months despite four foot of snow. Apparently it gets damn cold in Minnesota in Winter, there are some that call it ‘the nation's icebox’.

Even Giants Should Recycle - tut tut

Minneapolis is famous for it’s Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture, a humongous spoon than spans 50 feet over a pond, resting on it a gigantic cherry, it’s everybody's postcard pic from the Little Apple. We made our way to the sculpture garden it resides in, it was closed for construction, noooo, devastation. Refusing to accept defeat we cased the fence until we found a gap where we could peer one eyed at the truly impressive spoon and cherry (once you erased the wire fencing and JCB diggers from the postcard in your mind).

Over breakfast the next morning we hummed and hawed over a map about a plan for the day (I prefer a physical map over a phone’s virtual hologram Star Trek Sat Nav nonsense). An exceedingly nice older couple sitting at the table next to us leaned in, their coffee aromas wafting us together, and offered up some local tips.

Art Within Art

The tips started with the Walker Art Center (beside the defunct sculpture garden). Reflecting the city the museum was also big and spacious with floor after floor of world class modern art. We critiqued our way to top to find crazy golf based on exhibits from the museum, no doubt some very clever very arty Minnesotan ingenue came up with that idea, I loved it.

Metaphysical photography comin' atcha!

The next tip from the old timers was to take a spin down Irving Avenue and ingest the beautiful houses, oh these old folks knew me well, I could have spent the day loping down that avenue. Some of the rich neighbourhoods in Minneapolis were historically called ‘tangled towns’ because the streets were constructed with a curl which gave privacy, unlike the grid system of most American neighbourhoods.

We parked beside the Guthrie Theater downtown, famous for performances and theatre education. It was setup in the 1960s as a rival to Broadway. In my opinion the only thing comparable to Broadway is London’s West End. But the Guthrie did have a magical little theatre shop and if you make it to the very top of the building the views over the city are instagramable ( I just invented an adjective - we live in an age where nothing is sacred least of all language).

The Stone Arch Bridge....nuff said

Beside the Guthrie is the Stone Arch Bridge, a 2100 foot bridge exclusively for use by pedestrians, bikes and buses. It is the only stone bridge to cross the Mississippi river and one of the most architecturally arresting bridges I have ever seen, and weirdly I have seen a lot bridges in my day (I cross ‘em, I burn ‘em, and so on).

There wasn’t a plethora of lunch places so we let 
Róisín choose, her decisions are generally based on colour (the brighter the better), proximity (the nearest or the furthest) and a general unawareness that she has been asked to make a decision.

Next door to our lunch spot was the Mill City Museum. I couldn’t rate this high enough.

Butter wouldn't melt...

It was the very mill that first produced Gold Medal Flour, Betty Crocker mixes and Pillsbury products. Being non American I wasn’t raised on any of those baking goods (‘raised’ get it) but I’ve consumed enough American media (and cake) to know they are your 3 giants. Think of the Pillsbury doughboy in Ghostbusters. Minnesota is sometimes nicknamed the ‘bread and butter state’ because of all the flourmills and butter making plants.

As part of the museum you can do a ‘Flour Tower’ tour where you step into a freight elevator that is converted into cinema seats. The next thing you know the elevator is flying up (and down) 8 floors stopping intermittently at floors where the doors fling open to reveal scenes from the old mill - a production line, men heaving sacks of flour onto trains, the office of the owners, etc, Voiceovers and clever flashes of footage tell the story of the mill and the social history of the times. I have been very fortunate in my life to have visited a lot of museums, I have never experienced a tour as ingeniously executed as this was. Bravo Minneapolis, bravo.

I learned that working at the mill was a dangerous job, the machinery was unforgiving, people lost limbs if they got in the way. Inhaling the flour everyday made some people cough up dough balls at night as the flour mixed with the water in their lungs!

Women made up a decent population of the mill workers especially during the war years, they were known as ‘The Mill Girls’ and turned their restroom into a clubroom complete with piano and makeshift bowling lane.

The Mall Dives

I really really wanted to see the Mall of America, I’m not a huge fan of malls (Dom will disagree) but I wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to see the biggest of them all. It was bizarre. They took a mall and they layered on top of it a childrens amusement park. There were people swinging by on zip lines, Ninja Turtle rides that flew into the stratosphere, Dora the Explorer was handing out hugs, enormous Lego transformers towered down from the rafters. The place was certifiably bonkers.

Minniehaha falls was a recommendation from one of my well traveled great mates (thanks Katrina). It is a hop skip and jump from downtown, set in a rolling park you can easily bike around. We didn't bike, instead we lolled in the afternoon heat, sweating our way around a playground with other foolish parents. The falls was magical (waterfalls always are).

We drove to the Uptown district which is actually in the south west of the city. Can you call yourself ‘uptown’ if you’re not actually in the upper regions of a city? Maybe you can if you “identify” as uptown. It actually came about due to some savvy rebranding back in the 1940s. After a fire and a rebuild, the local business community got together and settled on the name ‘Uptown’ because that was the name given to the prosperous part of Chicago at the time. Who cares if its geographically inaccurate and potentially confusing. This is America, you dream it, you be it, truth to power.

Uptown led to the beautiful Lake Calhoun.

Dating Minneapolis had worked out very well, now it was time to marry St Paul.

Some locals had told us to start off by coasting down Summit Avenue. Holy Bananas, this was where the savagely wealthy St Paulians (St Paulines? St Paulers? St Paulites? St Powchiccabowwows?) lived. It was a wonderfully preserved Victorian residential street. The houses are definitely worth the voyeuristic drive by. Nearby Grant Ave contained the swanky stores where the swanks from Summit Ave deigned to shop.

Like them or hate them the Catholic church will always have the best real estate in town. I am a sucker for a Romanesque arch or a Gothic vault, don’t get me started on the flying buttresses. Dom and Roisin slept in the car (philistines) while I pottered about the cathedral in St Paul. I soon realized a wedding was in full flow so I took a dive into a pew and admired the elaborate nave as the congregation admired the lovely couple. It is the 3rd oldest (complete) church in America and the 4th tallest. It's like something you'd see in Europe, stunning.

Yer man was on his ear again!

Back in Minneapolis, one museum kept cropping up as a must see - the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA… love it). I had no idea before coming to Minnesota that Minneapolis is an art lovers town. The place is wall to wall (or canvas to installation) world class art.

Do So Huh's "Some/One" coat made of dogtags depicting the hubris of war / Cersei Lannister's next outfit

The MIA was no exception it is housed in a building akin to a state Capitol building. There are something like 90,000 pieces of art spanning 5,000 years. I felt like I was in the British museum at times.

Before we hit the road to see more of Minnesota en route to Wisconsin here is my snapshot take away - Minneapolis St Paul is a striking cosmopolitan area (wealthy to boot) with down to earth smiling citizens of diverse origins.Visit!

"Won't you take me to, Dinkytown"

On our way of out town we grabbed breakfast in a student neighborhood beside the University of Minnesota called Dinkytown. It was suitably studenty with book shops, bike chops, and cheap and friendly spots for breakfast.

Another stop was a Target. You can't visit Minnesota and avoid Target. It is the retail giants hometown after all. They have Super Targets the size of little countries. Interesting Target factoid: Australian Target has nothing to do with American Target but the Aussies did ask could they use the yanks logo, and for reasons I don’t understand American Target said ‘Bullseye, go for it, matey’ (that may or may not have been their exact words).

With the twin cities behind us we stopped at the town of Stillwater, apparently it is always in the top 10 of tidy towns in America. Indeed it was tidy and very picturesque, sitting on the banks of the lovely St Croix river. Lots of antique shops and artisan coffee houses.
Bear Hug!

A couple of streets back, up on a hill overlooking the town was the delightful "Teddy Bear Park". A 10 foot tall granite teddy bears for photo ops and plenty of quaint playground favourites to entertain Róisín.

Proceed to cheese country...

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  1. I had no sense of Minneapolis ("Mini-apple") til I read this, brilliantly done Sheilagh, educational AND funny!

  2. And yet again, you have made me want to visit somewhere I have never been (or would have considered!). Roisin looks bloody adorable in the pics too!


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