Monday, March 28, 2011

"Fraternal" TWIN CITIES

With their downtowns just 8 miles apart, the moniker "Twin Cities" certainly fits, but Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota are definitely fraternal twins.  You will have no trouble telling the two apart.  Busy Minneapolis with skyscrapers and modern architecture is the more cosmopolitan of the two, while the conservative St. Paul, with its winding streets and downtown parks exudes quaint charm.  Indeed, these two cities have a friendly sibling rivalry.

May 2007 - State # 23 - Minnesota

This one and only trip, we flew Air Tran to Minneapolis.  (Enough said.)  We drove back across the Mississippi River to our hotel...The St. Paul

One of Scott's friends, Carlin, recommended this hotel after she stayed here on a college tour with her daughter.  (She also recommended our Boston hotel - which was wonderful.)  Now, we also recommend this hotel to anyone traveling to the Twin Cities.

While the lobby and our room were lovely here, my favorite part was the hotel garden...

I discovered two new plants here that I have since added to my own garden.  The service here was amazing, as well.  From the hotel gardener to the front desk staff...all were "You Betcha" friendly! 

When you stay here, be sure to dine at the St. Paul Grill inside the hotel.  Guy enjoyed a tasty Bacon Cheeseburger, while I tried their Beer Battered Walleye...what in the world?

Walleye was on every menu in Minnesota.  Totally new food experience for us.  Walleye is a freshwater fish that is reportedly exciting to catch and delicious to eat.  With Minnesota being the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" - (locals told us it was really 12,000) - it is no wonder we found Walleye on every menu in the Twin Cities.

After checking into our hotel and having an early dinner at the St. Paul Grill, we had tickets to the renowned Guthrie TheaterCalled "a 21st century dream factory" by Time Magazine, the new Guthrie boasts three stages, a full-service restaurant, pre-show dining, numerous bars and some of the best views of Minneapolis to be found in the city.   The design of the building was influenced by the size, scale and history of the historic mills adjacent to the site.  (This town was built on "Flour"...Pillsbury, General Mills, Gold Medal, etc.)

We saw "Major Barbara"  on the McGuire Proscenium Stage.


Barbara is a Major in the Salvation Army - and also the daughter of Andrew Undershaft, a man who made millions profiting from the sale of war munitions.  The real war exists in the struggle between a domineering father and an independent daughter as they wrestle with the question: does salvation come through faith or finance?

What happens when father and daughter clash is the magic of this delightfully smart, funny and timely play by the always witty and thought-provoking George Bernard Shaw.

We thoroughly enjoyed this production ...especially because of the venue!  Before the play, we saw a group touring along the Mississippi River on Segways.  A preview of our morning activity!
This is unquestionably the BEST  tour we have ever experienced in our travels.  (If you doubt me...just look at the name of the website.)  After a 20 minute video and training session, we donned helmets, grabbed a scooter and set out to practice on the pavement and guess who was chosen to go first?

Five minutes after this photo, I wanted to buy one as a souvenir!

After all 7 of our group were confident, we set out on a 2 1/2 hour Magical History Tour along the Mississippi Riverfront.

This was the highlight of our trip!  We learned about the history of Minneapolis and how to ride the Segway.

If you ever have the opportunity to take one of these tours, JUST DO IT!

This tour includes a stop at the Mill City Museum for refreshments.

After our tour, we had lunch at Vic's...on their street front deck along the Mississippi River, with a view of the Guthrie Theater and the Stone Arch Bridge.  And we ate Walleye...what else!

After lunch, we headed to the Walker Art Center to see what is considered to be Minneapolis' most recognizable icon...The Spoon Bridge and Cherry.  (Pictured above in the first photo of this post.)  You may recall the gigantic shuttlecocks at the Nelson-Atkins museum in KC-MO...the same artists are responsible for this enormous spoon with a cherry on top.
On a personal note - we do not normally seek out museums filled with modern art.  You see, Guy and I see some works of so-called "art" as crap.  Our usual comments sound like this, "Somewhere the artist is laughing his a** off while depositing a check for tens of thousands of dollars for this piece of junk."

In fact, after entering this museum we spotted a large pane of glass that was shattered in a beautiful spiderweb-like pattern.  Guy turned to ask a nearby docent about it...

"Excuse me..."
"NOT ART...Bullet," was his reply! 

Evidently Guy was not the first person to ask - he didn't even wait for the question.  And this shattered glass was probably the loveliest piece we saw in the entire museum. 

The Sculpture Garden was an entirely different matter though...

Of course, we had to visit the country's largest mall (I'm not sure why).  I guess because it is big...really big!  It has its own zip code.  It could hold 7 Yankee stadiums or 32 Boeing 747's.  It is the most popular tourist destination in Minnesota.  Mall of America is a huge Midwestern city-unto-itself; it even has its own wedding chapel!  When you arrive, grab a map (if you ever hope to return to your car) and set off.

After you can no longer tolerate the visual onslaught, return to the Nordstrom store and take several deep breaths.  Find the Cafe and order a nice salad (topped with Walleye...of course) and a glass of tea and your "chi" will return to normal.

Full disclosure - I suppose all my years of working in retail have made shopping one of my least favorite things in the world.  Actually, I hate it - but I am very good at "hard-target" acquiring-of-goods...just ask my husband!

I am fond of saying "Everything happens for a reason," and this accidental visit to the Minnesota History Museum is a perfect example.  We got lost trying to get back to our hotel and ended up here.  This was an incredible space with fascinating exhibits.  Beginning with a 1960's basement where we endured a Midwestern tornado. Seriously, this is as close as I ever want to be to a tornado!

And while we were in the museum, several of the employees invited us to The Centennial Celebration for the St. Paul Cathedral that very afternoon.

An ice cream social, with church members in period costume followed by could we possibly refuse?

This was a spectacular holy building!  And the costumed parishioners were charming, portraying the early church members and architects.

Inside the Cathedral, the Shrines of the Nations are testament to the important roles that immigrant communities have played in the history of the Cathedral. These shrines surrounding the sanctuary honor saints who were important to the many different ethnic communities that helped to build the Cathedral.  The Shrine for France includes a relic from the prison cell where Joan of Arc was held.  Guy, of course, just had to touch it!

We enjoyed three "Dining Destinations" while we were in the Twin Cities.  Here's a short review along with a link:

Bellanotte - hip twists on classic Italian recipes
**This restaurant closed in 2010**
Pazzaluna - authentic Italian in an energetic urban space

La Belle Vie 

La Belle Vie is one of the Twin Cities most lauded restaurants, earning Awards of Excellence by both Zagat and Wine Spectator Magazine.  Located in the 510 Groveland building in Minneapolis, La Belle Vie provides an atmosphere of elegance and sophistication from the dining room to the lounge.

As you can see from the framed menu (signed by chef Tim McKee) we enjoyed a superb eight course tasting menu.  Our favorite course was:

Grilled Poussin with Morel Mushrooms and Wild Baby Leeks
served with
Louis LaTour, Marsannay, Cote de Beaune, France 2003

On our final full day in State # 23, we drove to the small town of Wayzata.  This tiny village on the shores of  Lake Minnetonka was home to Guy's French grandparents and mother when Genevieve was a teenager.  Of the 10,000 (or 12,000) lakes in Minnesota, this is the only one we saw!  We arrived in town in time for our lunch reservations at a lakeside restaurant called...North Coast.

Out on the patio, we enjoyed a lovely lunch while watching the sailboats glide by.  Guy had the best choice - Asiago Encrusted Walleye.  Thankfully we saved room for dessert.  Baked Minnesota was delectable!  (It is the same recipe for Baked Alaska but using peanut butter cup ice cream instead of vanilla - YUM!)

After lunch, we took a boat tour of Lake Minnetonka on the Steamboat Minniehaha to the town of Excelsior.  For many years we had heard stories about the Big Island Amusement Park at Excelsior, where Guy's mother spent many of her younger days.  Now beautiful condos occupy that property.

This is the boats story:

  • Built in 1906 - from a streetcar.
  • Sunk in 1926 - as people drove their own cars instead of riding the boats.
  • Raised in 1980 - a diver, Jerry Provost, finds the boats in 1979.
  • Restoration Begins in 1990 - six years of hard work to restore Minniehaha.
  • First Public Cruise in 1996 - still cruising today.

It was a beautiful day for a lake cruise and we called my mother-in-law to tell her.  She asked if the Pillsbury estate was still was.  And she told us about attending a party there as a young woman!

On our return to St. Paul ,we took a small detour to Edina as they were holding their annual art fair.  We had a wonderful time browsing and listening to "Minnesota" accents.  (And we acquired a few treasures.)

The next morning we took a detour on our way to the airport to see if the apartment building where Guy's grandparents and mother first lived in America was still standing...

Still standing and still an apartment building!

And with that history lesson, we returned home from Minnesota.

Next time...

Motor City - in January!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Town

The first 31 years of my life I lived in Louisiana.  My mother was born and raised there.  She met my father at the Veteran's Hospital in New Orleans.  My father was born and raised in Mississippi.  Yes, that song "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man" could be about my parents.  I have visited Mississippi many times and a few of those have been with my husband...including this road trip to Natchez.  (There is my brand new car in the background...our first trip with GPS!)

December 2006 - State # 24 - Mississippi

We planned a visit to Baton Rouge to see my siblings and their families before Christmas.  So we changed our route slightly to include the quaint river town of Natchez, Mississippi.  This city is known for having one of the largest and finest collections of antebellum architecture anywhere in the south.  And one of those beautiful homes was our hotel...

And we had the Riches Suite...can you say, Hello Scarlett O'Hara!

On our drive from Atlanta, we arrived in the capital city of Jackson in time for dinner.  We had a wonderful meal at Schimmel's.

I had seen the chef/owner, Jay Schimmel, on an episode of Iron Chef and was intrigued.  (I gather travel advice from many sources.)  While he did not win the title, we were not disappointed in his "hometown" restaurant!  Our favorites of each course were...
  • 1st course - Warm Goat Cheese & Roasted Tomato Tart with Grilled Olive Toast, Arugula & Brie Fondue Reduction
  • 2nd Course - Smoked Cheddar & Crawfish Chowder - Silky Smooth Cheddar Cheese Soup with Plump Crawfish Tails & Cajun Seasoning
  • 3rd Course - Parmesan & Crab Crusted Gulf Snapper with Lemon Butter
  • 4th Course - Key Lime Pie with Praline Crust & Dee’s Delta Lotus Cream

On our first morning in town, we took a Southern Carriage Tour through historic downtown Natchez.  The carriages hold 6 to 8 people and last for an hour or so.  The gentlemen guides are gracious and tell funny stories about the historic structures all along the route.  Our driver/guide was retired from the music business; he told us about his days playing guitar with Elvis!


Because of the record setting cold while we were there, our driver provided warm, woolen blankets and hot cocoa.  Now that was..."Love Me Tender." 

After the tour, we decided to have lunch right on the river, someplace warm with cocktails...

I suppose because we were dressed in so many layers for the cold, the margaritas did NOT actually
"Knock us Naked!" 

After lunch we shopped at Natchez-Under-The-Hill.  This Mississippi town is situated on 200-ft bluffs that overlook the Mississippi River.  Under-The-Hill was the city's original waterfront which was notorious for drawing pirates, riverboat gamblers and outlaws.  These days it draws tourists with restaurants, bars, gift shops and docks for paddle-wheelers.

We returned to Monmouth Plantation and toured the lovely grounds and admired the Christmas decorations.

That evening we joined all of the other guests at cocktail hour for complimentary amuse bouches from the chef in The Quitman Study.  Then we settled in for a prix fixe dinner in their restaurant, 1818

Dinner is served nightly beginning at 6:30 in the main-house parlor, where every table is dressed in fine linens, gleaming silver, sparkling crystal and timelessly elegant china.  This was the most elegant setting for dinner we have ever enjoyed.  And there were "No Labels on the Table!"  (Just like my house.) 

At 1818, their award-winning Executive Chef Scott Varnedoe, crafts a white-tablecloth menu noted for rich, spicy Acadian influences coupled with world-class presentation.  The menu changes every night so our recommendations would not be useful to you...but we do hope the chef serves you Lobster Bisque with Caviar when you dine here!

The next morning, after breakfast in the Garden Room, we said farewell to Natchez and drove to my sister's home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  And that's where we Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler!

Mary & Mike
My Sister and Her Husband
This couple's photo should be in the dictionary next to "Southern Hospitality!" 

On this visit, they even hosted a "Class Reunion" of sorts, right in their home.  And as always, they served bountiful and delicious food and wine.  I hope the two of you know that we are so grateful to be counted as family.

Central High School
 Class of 73 & 74
So it was a very, merry Christmas visit to Mississippi and Louisiana.  And besides completing State # 24, we had a wonderful time with family and friends.

And as promised, Spring is officially here! 
And making an early appearance here in Georgia, the dreaded...

Next time...

Land of 10,000 Lakes
(We saw one!)