What makes for a Christmas vacation adventure? If you are near the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, you can explore skyscrapers, visit monuments to celebrities, check out historic stagecoaches, dine at terrific restaurants, stroll through museums of modern art, and stand mere feet away from birds of prey. Traveling with my wife to visit with her family over the holidays, I had an opportunity to return to Minnesota and Wisconsin and to play tourist yet again. Leaving New Jersey far behind, we flew to the Midwest and spent a week filled with family, friends, and celebrations.
Since no trip would be complete without a new post on The Open Road Ahead, I recorded my travels to share. Once again, I’ll eschew the long introductory write-up, and dive right into the photo essay:
Having been in Minnesota earlier in the year, we headed back to further explore the Twin Cities.
After our flight arrived, we headed to National Car Rental. My wife is a member of National, so we are able to pick any vehicle in the lot. As it was Christmas week, the choices were slim, so we settled on this Hyundai Tucson. At least the shade of blue would mean there’s no chance of losing it in a parking lot.
Our first stop after arriving was breakfast at Day By Day Cafe in St. Paul.
After waking up at 2:30 am to catch a 6:00 am flight, coffee was our first order. While perusing the menu, one entree caught my eye: the “Heart Stopper.” Order it and you’re getting three eggs, four sausage links or pieces of bacon, home fries with cheese (!), and toast.
On a cold December morning in Minnesota, a hearty breakfast of eggs, ham, and home fries hit the spot.
Our next stop was the Keg and Case Market. Built on the grounds of the Schmidt brewery, Keg and Case has restaurants, microbreweries, and a marketplace featuring goods from around Minnesota.
Schmidt closed its doors as a brewery in 2002, but Keg and Case is one of several ventures that seeks to revitalize the urban spaces occupied by Schmidt’s abandoned buildings.
One of the coolest vendors at the market was Forest to Fork, which grows shiitake mushrooms in logs in a climate-controlled glass vault.
On the way to visit my wife’s family in western Wisconsin, we stopped at Prospect Park in the town of Hudson. This scenic overlook of the town was like something from a postcard.
A funny thing happened as I drove the little Hyundai… it grew on me. A lot. This little crossover utility vehicle (CUV) has a peppy engine, handles well, and soaks up bumpy pavement with ease. I’ve never cared much for Hyundai vehicles before, but this little guy began to change my opinion. It won’t replace my Accord or my wife’s Grand Cherokee, but for a small around-town all-weather vehicle, it’s pretty good.
In fact, the little Hyundai earned something no rental car has ever gotten from me: a nickname. Meet Hank the Hyundai.
My father-in-law took me to visit Birkmose Park, another park in the city of Hudson, Wisconsin.
Birkmose Park has five Native American burial mounds. The mounds date from 100 BC until 1200 AD. These mounds, created by the Sioux people, have been preserved by the town of Hudson (via St. Croix County History).
The mounds sit high on a bluff overlooking the St. Croix River. The river divides Wisconsin and Minnesota.
A few days later, my wife and I traveled back to Minneapolis to tour one of the more unique features of the city: the Skyway system.
The skyways are a series of enclosed footbridges that are built between many of the skyscrapers and buildings in Downtown Minneapolis. The Skyway system connects over 80 buildings. In a city that can see temperatures as low as -20F, the bridges make life much easier for pedestrians (via Wikipedia).
“Who can turn the world on with her smile?” In 2001, this statue of Mary Tyler Moore was dedicated on Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis. My parents were fans of this 70s sitcom set in Minneapolis, and my wife and I detoured from our walk through the Skyway to visit the statue.
One of the stops along our Skyway tour was the lobby of the IDS Center, the tallest building in Minneapolis. The Skyway system is filled with restaurants, shops, and cafes. As someone described it to me, “It’s like the world’s longest indoor mall.”
The centerpiece of the nearby Wells Fargo Center is the 1863 stagecoach. Built in Concord, New Hampshire of four types of wood, these stagecoaches were pulled by six horses and were crewed by up to 18 people who were tasked with protecting a strongbox of gold as the wagons carried money from places such as Chicago and Omaha to businesses, farmers, and miners on the West Coast.
For lunch, I stopped by Annie’s Parlour in Dinkytown. No, I’m not making fun of this section of Minneapolis – Dinkytown is the name of a small commercial section of Minneapolis near the University of Minnesota campus. Originally a small commercial center, the area transformed into a student village in the 1970s, and remains so today.
Annie’s is a burger-and-shake joint. And so that’s exactly what I chose: a cheeseburger, fries (that were absolutely amazing), and a vanilla shake. Yum. Yum. Yum.
My next stop was the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota. Opened in 2011, this museum of modern art was designed by Frank Gehry. Most widely known for his revolutionary Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, Gehry is one of the most noted architects of the modern age.
I was fascinated by the museum’s exterior design, and a design that seemed to go as far as possible to avoid right angles and truly vertical lines.
“Standing Glass Fish,” an art installation by Gehry within the museum. He was inspired by the carp his Jewish grandmother would leave swimming in the bath tub before she prepared gefilte fish for Friday night dinners.
One of the galleries was devoted to modern Indian art, featuring artists such as Mayank Shyam.
Another gallery featured posters of student activism, created by students working for an art department faculty member at the University of Minnesota.
Perhaps my favorite work in the museum: One Portrait of One Man by Beth Lipman. A study of the life of artist Marsden Hartley, she created a work of art that tells the life story of Hartley, a artist who was profoundly affected by his experiences in World War I.
From the front door of the museum, you have a view of the downtown Minneapolis skyline. The Mississippi River, which runs from Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, is the second longest river in the United States.
I then drove to the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus. One interesting item about the Minnesota and Wisconsin area… what would you call this building? I have only encountered this structure as a “parking garage.” However, in the Midwest, you’re more likely to be given directions to a “parking ramp.” Regional dialects are fascinating.
My next destination was the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota. Established in 1974, the Raptor Center treats approximately 1,000 sick and injured raptors every year.
I arrived a little after 2:30, and then next tour wasn’t scheduled to start until 3:00 pm. I wandered around the Visitor Center, reading facts about these majestic birds, and the work of the Raptor Center. When I met up with the guide at 3:00, I was the only visitor, so I had a private tour of the center.
A room off to the side of the Visitor Center housed a few birds who need a warmer environment than the main enclosure, which is outside. This peregrine falcon, named Talon, kept a watch on me.
Peregrine falcons are lethal hunters. Using their excellent eyesight, they will dive at prey from great distances, reaching up to 200 miles per hour during their attack. These birds inhabit every continent except for Antarctica,
There are two kinds of birds in the Raptor Center. Those that will be treated and released into the wild are kept in the lower level of the building, with an absolute minimum of human contact. Those that could not survive in the wild are kept as educational birds, such as this 45-year old vulture. He imprinted on humans at a young age, and so lacks the skills to survive outside of the center.
Raptors such as eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls, have a few shared characteristics: they hunt live prey, they kill with their talons, and they have excellent eyesight. Unlike humans, raptors’ eyes do not move, so the bird must rotate their entire head to look around at their environment.
This bald eagle is 19 years old. Eagles typically live 20-30 years in the wild.
This immature bald eagle lacks the characteristic white plumage and yellow beak. He will develop them as he grows older.
This is Samantha, the great horned owl. Owls are nocturnal hunters, only looking for prey at night. The fluffy coat of feathers serves an important purpose – it keeps them virtually silent during flight, ensuring that they can sneak up on their prey.
This is Strix, the bard owl. These powerful birds can carry up to three times their body weight. Owls’ reputation as wise might be misplaced, however. Their large eye size means they have very little room in their skulls for brains.
Perhaps my favorite bird was Freedom, the bald eagle.
Freedom kept posing for me where some of the other birds would turn away when I attempted to photograph them. The guide remarked that he seemed extra social today.
Of all the places I have been able to visit during the course of writing this blog, the Raptor Center stands out as one of the most unique, educational, and exciting. Being so close to these majestic birds, and learning about the important work done by the staff to rehabilitate the raptors that come through their doors, was truly fascinating. The Raptor Center is open Tuesday through Friday from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm, and 12:30 pm to 3:30 pm Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 3-17, and $3 for adults over 62 years old. The Weisman Art Museum is open Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Fridays from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, and admission is free!
The Twin Cities area is filled with hidden gems to explore. If you are visiting Minneapolis-St. Paul, make sure to pick up a travel guide, grab your camera, and spend some time exploring. You never know what you might find!
Thanks for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead. And best wishes for a Happy New Year!
’Til next time.