MINNEAPOLIS—There are two ways to approach the weekend getaway. You can have every detail planned. Or you can fly to your destination, put on a pair of comfortable shoes and wander. And that was pretty much our strategy for a 48-hour visit to Minneapolis.
My daughter Julie and I didn't do too much planning. We booked our flights, found a hotel and perused the Internet to get an idea of what was going on in Minneapolis (and St. Paul, of course . . . you go to one and you get the other as a bonus). After that, we were game for just about anything.We flew in early Saturday morning and took a cab from the airport to our hotel, a $30 trip, to drop off our bags. We had decided against a rental car because we planned to play things by ear. Hoofing it around an unfamiliar town adds to the sense of discovery, as we would see repeatedly over the next two days. And besides, nothing screams "tourist" louder than someone doing 10 miles an hour in traffic while fumbling with a street map.
There were sites we didn't care to see--the Mall of America, a Twins game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, a two-story outhouse in nearby Belle Plaine. There were things we would have liked to see but couldn't--no one seemed to know where Prince's childhood home was located. There were a few cultural centers we were interested in, but there was nothing in Minneapolis or St. Paul that we had to see.
OK, that's not totally true. There was one can't-miss landmark. The Mary Richards statue.
The eight-foot bronze statue, located at 7th Street and Nicollet Mall, immortalizes Mary Tyler Moore, as Richards, throwing her tam into the air in the opening credits of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." It's situated on the corner where the scene was shot more than 30 years ago, outside a Marshall Field's. We were staying at the Embassy Suites on 7th, only four short blocks away, so this was our first stop. Walking another block or so, we noticed police barricades ahead. Wow, sirens and police lights, and we'd been in town only an hour. What it was was the city's Aquatennial Parade. The Aquatennial, with dozens of water-related events from July 16-24, is the official civic celebration of Minneapolis. We caught maybe a half hour of the festivities--it was your standard-issue parade, although the Twin Cities Unicycle Club was remarkable --and then pressed on.
Culturally, Minneapolis and St. Paul have much to offer. Armed with a street map, we headed off toward one of the best attractions, the Walker Art Center, which is dedicated to the visual, performing and media arts. Getting there provided us one of those opportunities for discovery. Our walk took us through Loring Park, southwest of downtown, with a beautiful fountain, flower gardens, rolling hills, pond and horseshoe courts. Totally unexpected.
Across the street from the Walker is the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, with more than 40 large pieces in a beautiful 11-acre setting (our favorite . . . everyone's favorite: Spoonbridge and Cherry, by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen).
Jam-packed with culture, we resumed wandering. We ended up in the Warehouse District, a collection of restaurants and bars and small shops, "the fun part of town," according to a bartender at one of our stops. (All that walking works up a powerful thirst.) But it was early and things were quiet, so we decided to head back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner.
First, though, another of those interesting detours. At the IDS Center, just down the street from the hotel, a bank was sponsoring a promotion. Five hundred thousand pennies were spilled on the floor of the lobby, and kids were invited to search through them. What were they looking for? Rare coins? Prizes? Germs? I never was really sure. And I was too hungry to ask.
For dinner, someone had recommended Vincent, a French restaurant at 11th and Nicollett. We didn't have reservations but they were able to squeeze us in at a small table in the lounge. That turned out to be another stroke of good fortune--we got a closeup view of a bartender nearly as entertaining as the Twin Cities Unicycle Club. The guy was a pro, even whipping up a Sazarac with ease. As for the meal, it was the best of our visit, and that's saying something. The bill, with tip, came to $108.
While we ate, we saw a crowd across the street at Peavy Plaza. We checked it out. Several hundred people were celebrating the Minnesota Orchestra Sommerfest, listening to a two-hour show by The Mouldy Figs, a New Orleans jazz and swing band. When they finished, the Figheads and the show moved to nearby Orchestra Hall for a classical concert, which was to be followed by another two-hour performance by the Figs, this one on the stage and lasting till past midnight.
We soaked up some music and atmosphere--there were dealers selling some amazing looking pastries--before setting off again. We began walking up 11th Street and after a block came across another of those pleasant surprises--Shakespeare in the Park. In this case, "Twelfth Night" was being performed before an audience of a couple hundred people in a small park on the campus of the University of St. Thomas (the shows run through early August, all around the Minneapolis-St. Paul area).
Fearing a cultural overload, we stuck around for only a few minutes then, footsore, headed back to the hotel.
Sunday started with a big breakfast at the hotel, then a $23 cab ride to the other half of this two-fer, St. Paul. We got dropped off at the Science Museum of Minnesota, which bills itself as "Minnesota's Favorite Museum."
It's easy to see why. This place is great.
Two of the featured displays were "Circus!" a very cool look at life under the big top from a scientific perspective (learn all about circus food, and find out how pink lemonade was invented . . . you don't want to know); and "Coral Reef Adventure," which explores a coral reef on a giant screen.
Then there are wonderful permanent exhibits: the Mississippi River Gallery, describing life in the area dating to prehistoric times; the Human Body Gallery, with tests you can perform on yourself; and the Collections Gallery, with cool stuff such as preserved polar bears and items from the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices (and I thought the vibratory chair really did improve breathing and cure constipation). Elsewhere there are fossils, exhibits on everything from electricity to weather to gravity to steam power, and teaching stations where guides will, well, teach you things. And everywhere, hands-on exhibits. It may sound like the typical science museum menu, but from top to bottom, the presentation of material makes this a special museum for adults as well as children. (My daughter was moved to try every exhibit, and I was actually disappointed when I realized I'd seen everything there was to see.)
Our exploration of St. Paul continued around Rice Park, a lovely small area a block or so from the museum. It being Sunday, and this being St. Paul, numerous interesting-looking shops were closed. What was available for perusal--everywhere--were statues of Linus, from "Peanuts" fame. More than 90 of the statues are on display this summer around St. Paul, former home of the late "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz, decorated in different ways, similar to Chicago's Cows on Parade of 1999. After seeing maybe 15 Linuses--really, after you've seen 5 of them, you get the idea--we decided to head back to Minneapolis.