Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Land of 10,000 Lakes (and Dan Gladden)

We visited Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., from June 26 to 30. Our initial plan was to notch another ballpark in Ashley's quest to visit all 30 active major league parks. Target Field, in only its third year after replacing the dreary Metrodome, ended up being No. 22 for her (and No. 15 for Charlie).

But we were pleasantly surprised by what else was offered in the Twin Cities. Here's a photo tour of travels.


Our first destination: The downtown, two-story Target, the flagship store for the Minneapolis-based chain. Ashley, a Target aficionado, was delighted. The store is part of Nicollete Mall, a series of shops located downtown connected by skyways. Our attempts to navigate the maze-like skyway, which apparently is quite useful during the winter, mostly proved unsuccessful. We instead took to the streets, enjoying the beautiful weather, gleaming skyscrapers and multitudinous panhandlers.

Target didn't disappoint, although there's nothing especially different from a regular Target store besides being on two stories, which necessitates a special escalator for shopping carts.

We only rented a car one day of the trip and mostly got around using Minneapolis' light rail system. It's relatively new and very good. We never had to wait long, and it only costs $2.25 per trip per person, sometimes less during certain hours. The line goes from Target Field, through downtown, to the airport and finally to the Mall of America. It's roughly a 40-minute trip from one end to the other. We walked to a stop about two blocks from our hotel, the Marquette, which Ashley scheduled using her points accumulated during years of work travel.

The most noteworthy thing about this Mary Tyler Moore statue is that the bronze used to mold it is more malleable than Moore's actual face, which has been permanently frozen into a Jokeresque smile by plastic surgery.

Target Field

Target Field proved to be one of Ashley's favorite ballparks. They took care to make it uniquely Minnesotan, building it with sandstone mined from the state.
For years, Charlie has desired to find a photo for an off-the-wall blog dedicated to pictures of people wearing jerseys of obscure professional athletes. Sadly, the blog is no longer active since we found this picture of a Mike Lamb fan. Lamb hit just .233 with one home run during a partial season with the Twins in 2008.

Former American League MVP Kevin Youkilis, in only his second game with the visiting White Sox after being traded from Boston, takes a cut at a pitch. I think he was late on it.

A view of the Minnesota skyline from our seats.

This delightful sign in centerfield depicts the camaraderie between Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The same sign at night. We went to two games: A day game on June 27 against the Chicago White Sox, and a  night game on June 29 versus the Kansas City Royals. We rooted for the home team on both occasions, although the Twins dropped both games.

A fellow fan agreed to take this shot for us, one of the few non-self portraits of the vacation.

The highlight of the Royals game was a rather speedy fan who taunted a host of security guards for some time as he darted around the outfield. The crowd cheered him on, but eventually security mauled him (see lower photo).

Segway tour

The most highly anticipated segment of the trip, for Charlie, was a tour of downtown Minneapolis on Segways, the two-wheeled people movers balanced by gyros. Our tour group consisted of about 11 people, and the trip wound around for about seven miles. It lived up to expectations.

The tour began in a former flour mill district across the Mississippi River from downtown Minneapolis. We watched a safety video, which greatly exaggerated the dangers of Segway travel, thus, scaring many of the tourists.
Thankfully, the guides led us to a concrete pad for some practice. After a few minutes, it became very easy to navigate around. You do it by leaning forward or backward. The hardest thing is standing still; you tend to move a little backward when trying to do so.

Our tour was led by the peerless Gary, a free spirit who seemed to have ridden straight out of the '60s (on a Segway). We had several stops along the 7-mile tour where he'd talk about the history of the area.
This is St. Anthony's Falls, which powered Minneapolis' flour mills for years, as seen from an arch bridge built by 19th century railroad magnate James J. Hill. It crosses the bridge diagonally. The interstate bridge that collapsed in 2007 is just down river and has been rebuilt.

We crossed back over the river (this is a smaller bridge over something other than the Mighty Mississippi) to Nicollet Island, which has a quaint community  and a high school.

 St. Paul

James J. Hill (1838-1916) earned a fortune building the Great Northern Railroad, which went from Minnesota to the Pacific. He was one of the richest men in America and a well-known figure in his day. He built a 36,000 square foot mansion on St. Paul’s elite Summit Avenue to house his wife, 10 children and ego. It was completed in 1891 and had all the stuff that the poorest people today have: running water, electric lights and gas. The common rabble have gotten the last laugh on James J. Hill.

Well, I guess they don't have cathedral-sized organs in their art galleries.

Or ornate staircases wide enough to carry a couch up sideways (Movers love it).

Or stained glass displays.

Or stunning views of St. Paul's Cathedral (built after the home, according to our tour guide, who was very good).

The great man himself.

Not quite getting our fill of Gilded Age finery, we walked to the nearby Cathedral of Saint Paul. 
It’s open daily to the public on hours when when mass isn’t being held. Suffice it to say, the only recognizable feature for us was the tract rack in the back (Ashley picked up a couple about Catholic doctrines).

The 1915 structure is truly grand in its design; it’s something you’d expect to see only in Europe.

But we noted the irony of this ornate building dedicated to a man who spent his life enduring shipwrecks, fighting wild beasts,  being stoned and left for dead, and “being made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things (1 Cor. 4:13)” for the gospel’s sake. (“Offscouring of all things” has always been a favorite phrase of mine. It brings to mind the gunk you scrape off a grill after cooking). A more fitting tribute to Paul would seem to be, in his own words, to become ourselves “a habitation of God in the Spirit (Eph. 2:22).”

Mall of America

Ashley rejoices at the thought of entering the Cathedral of Capitalism, also known as the Mall of America. We spent about three and a half hours there and didn't go to every store. It's pretty overwhelming and lives up to its name. To sum it up, there's a store there that sells only socks. When I started to get cranky, Ashley directed me to the food court, where an Arby's roast beef sandwich revived my failing countenance. I also picked up some Wisconsin squeeky cheese, making the day a success. Ashley showed remarkable purchasing restraint buying only a few items, inclucing some on-sale shoes for me.
The amusement park inside the mall has a lot of rides. We rode one roller coaster, which was a lot of fun.

The Mill City

The Segway tour included free admission to the Mill City Museum, located in a former flour mill. Minneapolis grew to prominence, we learned, using the water fall on the Mississippi to mill wheat into flour. What would become Pillsbury and General Mills had factories on opposite sides of the river. We're standing in one of them here.

The mill was abandoned for decades before eventually burning down. They built the museum out of the ruins. The tour included an elevator ride up the nine-story structure with re-creations of what went on at that level when the mill was functioning.
The odes to Bisquick, Wheaties and the like were large and frequent. We were both surprised about how interesting a museum dedicated to flour could be. We were glad we went.

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