Twin Cities Time Travel: 1800s

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Fort Snelling at night: photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Last fall, I had the opportunity to explore a few remnants of the Twin Cities’ early nineteenth century history, survivors of more than a hundred years of urban renewal and change the dynamic region has experienced as it enters the 21st century.

A history buff with a master’s degree to show for it, I appreciate the changes that have led to a world where we might question the appropriateness of naming one of our most popular natural landmarks after one of the nineteenth century’s foremost proponents of white supremacy, restoring it to the name given it by the region’s original inhabitants, the Dakota. In the mid-nineteenth century Minneapolis and St. Paul were beginning to come to prominence as a major agricultural hub, feeding the world. At the same time, they relied heavily on investments obtained through the buying and selling of human lives and planned the wholesale destruction of the people who already lived here. Also the region became the destination for thousands of immigrants who would bring their own cultural and political ideas here, making it among the most heavily immigrant states in the country. As these tensions and contradictions became untenable and the continued presence of slavery in a nation founded on equality led to Civil War, Minnesota was fast to join the Union cause in spite of taking in so much slaveholding investment to found various state institutions, in particular the University of Minnesota. The relics of these times that still exist can provide a little time traveling to these fraught and interesting eras, and I do appreciate the chance to delve into the past.

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Waldmann Brewery

One such survivor was recently brought back to life in the up and coming West 7th neighborhood of St. Paul. Waldmann Brewery and Wurstery is housed in the oldest commercial building in Minneapolis-St. Paul, originally built in 1857 as one of the city’s first German immigrant lager saloons. Established by Bavarian immigrant Anton Waldmann, the saloon operated until 1863, and survived the next hundred and fifty years as a rental property before being completely renovated as one of the St. Paul’s most interesting new breweries. The drinking culture of German immigrants was, at the time, a controversial and dangerous aspect of these foreigners, though people did take quickly to the new German innovation of lager beer as it was thought to be a less alcoholic alternative to the Yankees’ ubiquitous whisky. So Waldmann Brewery’s authentic

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Some artifacts at Waldmann Brewery: photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

recreations of 19th century German beer styles is particularly intriguing as they are both “old fashioned” to our current brewing techniques while being a “cutting edge” technology to the period.  A new innovation from this culture which was beginning to influence the current culture of the Twin Cities, and yet are also emblematic of the fears of immigration that always strike the country.

Visiting last fall, the little stone saloon was packed with people enjoying the painstakingly restored architecture and ambiance. With the wood burning stove, the flickering oil lamps, and the period decor, it really does feel like going back in time. It is quite a cozy place to enjoy some beer and comfort foods such as wurtz and smoked fish (if you are a meat eater), or pretzels and cheese, if not.

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enjoying our beers at Waldmann; photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

 

Just down West 7th Street is another nineteenth century survivor, the impressive home of Alexander Ramsey, first territorial and second state governor, completed in 1872. Ramsey was at the heart of the contradictions present at the founding of the state, being the first governor to pledge troops to the Civil War while also advocating the genocide of the Dakota people in response to the US Dakota War, started as a result of Ramsey’s and other white elites enforcing fraudulent and exploitative treaties against them.

Ramsey’s ornate home definitely reflects the Victorian splendor of the gilded age elite, with technologies that would be the top of the line at the time, including both hot and cold running water and steam heated radiators. Ramsey’s family willed the mansion to the state, along with ninety percent of its original furnishings, and it is maintained as a museum by the Minnesota Historical Society. Today, the MNHS hosts many educational and entertainment events in its lavish halls.

I had never visited the Ramsey House until last October, when my wife and I saw an MNHS “History Happy Hour” focusing on historical hoaxes, including nineteenth century “fake news.” Arriving after dark on a rainy evening, the old mansion definitely had a spooky ambience, an atmosphere not harmed by the oppressive Victorian opulence. It was definitely an interesting discussion, touching on historical falsehoods that, in the past as well as the present, reach fever pitch in the popular culture. The Happy Hours are held the last Thursday of every month, and are a good way to experience the house and learn some information about the Victorian period and other historical topics, along with a drink or two.  

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Fort Snelling; Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Of course, the most infamous and prominent historical building in the state is across the river at Fort Snelling, ground zero of these themes of oppression and site of many of the atrocities the state and federal governments were privy to; the genocide of native peoples as well as the enslavement of people throughout the United States. The site where Dred Scott was brought as a slave by an army surgeon who leased his work, leading him to assert his freedom only to be ruled against by the Supreme Court, and where hundreds of Dakota were imprisoned in squalid concentration camps before being driven from the state, it symbolizes much of the injustice of American history.

The fort was built in 1819 at a prominent and sacred location for the Dakota, near the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers by United States forces to consolidate their power over the indigenous population of this formerly French territory, sold recently to them by Napoleon in order to fund his wars of conquest. It is an interesting example of how the confluence of global history can converge on a single location, and emblematic of the Euro-American quest for domination of the continent. Interestingly, and perhaps in part because of this conflicted history, by the 1950s only a few vestiges of the old fort survived, notably the Round Tower and the South Battery. By 1960, the MNHS performed extensive archaeological and reconstructing work, restoring the old fort’s appearance to that of the 1820s, making it one of their flagship historic sites. The site of many school trips and events, traditionally emphasizing it’s military history.

The MNHS is, however, currently working on a major revitalization project at the Fort, hoping to better serve the “many voices, many stories” that exist there, but there is still a dark, ominous feeling at the place. Not that I believe in ghosts or anything!

This feeling was heightened when Lindsay and I visited the site one late autumn evening after the sun had already disappeared, the moon was hidden behind dark clouds, and the winter cold had just begun to set in. I had not been since I was a kid, but we visited to experience one of the MNHS’ “CSI: Fort Snelling” events for the Halloween season, an interactive mystery based on a historical crime that actually took place in the fort. A crime unrelated, of course, to the matters of slavery and genocide that are centered there.

As someone who has been known to engage in a roleplaying game or two, and drawn to the idea of time travel, the idea of this event appealed to me. Time travel is, of course, a much more appealing thought for someone who needs not worry about their safety in the past. In spite of my knowledge of the horrors that took place here, it did not occur to me, in my privileged place, how inappropriate such an event in so fraught a place might be. As I discovered later, there was some controversy regarding the CSI: Fort Snelling event as people called out its insensitive nature and, in response, the MNHS will no longer organized the event in the future as they strive to serve a more inclusive mission with their revilization. Even when one is primed for such awareness, it is all too easy to forget, which is why it is so important to increase the acknowledgement of these aspects of our history. As it was, we set out to the fort curious about what this story might entail.

In this scenario, “The Musician’s Secret,” set in 1827, we would be portraying members a crowd of Scottish and Swiss refugees from the ill fated attempt at at settlement in the Assissinobine territory, near where Winnipeg exists today. It proved to be an atmospheric but crowded event. We arrived with a large group of tourists, bundled up for the cold, and were handed info sheets to get us caught up with who we were and the various personages we would encounter. Entering the walls of the fort, we found quite a few people milling around bonfires drinking beer and cider while listening to period fiddlers. Most were dressed in in street clothes, though a few came dressed as time traveling vampires.

Organized by the Scottish Lord Selkirk, the colony was plagued by disasters, flooding and locusts, and many prospective squatters, including “us,” who had plodded down the Red River ox cart road in an attempt to return to Europe. Stopping at the fort, hoping to board a steamship at St. Paul to return to the coast, we were supposed to have become entangled in the story of a musician and fellow former Selkirker who, it was said, stashed some gold nearby only to have been murdered by person or persons unknown. Given the information we were presented as we were guided around the fort, we were tasked with unraveling the conspiracy, identifying the culprit, and assisting with the trial.

The actors, costumed in their historically accurate garb and portraying various soldiers, servants, travelers, and professionals, were exuberant and earnest in that community theater sort of way, through the large group of people being led around did not really lend to too much interactivity, or much investigation or questioning as it was difficult to make sure everyone heard everything. While I did figure it out in the end, it was more my knowledge of the tropes of the genre than any clues I managed to garner over the course of the investigation. As an RPG aficionado, it also would have been better to have had more of a motivation in our “roles” as well.

However, none of this even acknowledges the stories of pain and injustice that took place at the fort, centered with its function as an outpost of the will of the invading colonial forces. As the MNHS struggles to make this surviving bit of our past reflect all of the viewpoints and tragedies that it’s existence created, taking stock of such uses of its history is important. In the end, I am not sad to see the end of CSI: Fort Snelling, though it remains to be seen how the stories of the cruelty of the state and it’s government will be told.

Look forward to more time travel adventures in the future as I write about some places in the Twin Cities that will bring you back to the 1920s and ‘30s and the 1950s and ‘60s, two interesting periods of 20th century history here.

This will be my last update of my adventures in 2017, and I’ll shortly be recounting some of the adventures of the first few months of 2018, including why updates have been so sparse around here of late!

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2017 Highlight: Night in the Children’s Museum

This was a new experience!

Last September, Lindsay and I were playing our weeknight trivia down at Emmett’s Pub on Grand, one of Trivia Mafia’s many locales. We’ve kind of gotten a little obsessed with them over the last year, but that’s a topic for a future entry in MSP Adventure Time. That Tuesday, we happened to win third place and claimed our prize; two tickets to the first ever 21 and over night at the Minnesota Children’s Museum!

I have vague memories of visiting the Children’s Museum in St. Paul as a kid years ago, though by this time, I was more into the dinosaurs at the Science Museum of Minnesota or the dioramas at the Bell Museum than the early childhood hands on educational activities at the MCM, so I never really thought much of them over the years. As a childfree adult, there was no reason to, I guess.

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It was a very fun evening, in any case, and I really appreciated the chance to see the vibrant, cool space in downtown St. Paul, from it’s cozy outdoor play area to the rooftop, and just run around like I didn’t have anything to worry about, while enjoying some adult drinks, of course.

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Throughout the museum, there were cool things to look at, and it seemed the grown up, or maybe “Kidult” attendees were having a good time, thanks to such activities as a fun improv game from the Theater of Public Policy and arts and crafts brought to you by Can Can Wonderland (see previous entry). Lindsay and I definitely had a lot of fun with the latter, crafting our own really cool magnets we totally have on our refrigerator.

Keep an eye out, ‘cause they’re planning another one for this spring. Or you could take your kids any day and miss out on having as much fun yourself!

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Some cool magnets we made from vintage books and magazines!

Life Adventures: Highlights of a Busy Year

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Photo by Mauricio Ballestas

It has been some time since I shared anything here, which is, of course, not to say that nothing has been happening in terms of Minneapolis/St Paul times for adventure, but for the most part I’ve left my blog for dead.

Far from being dead, though, perhaps there has been too many adventures to do justice to in recent months, and instead of typing up lackluster accounts I focused on the actual experiences themselves. Well, that and the continual parade of horrifying news rendering even the most fun events rather hollow. Not to mention a healthy dose of procrastination. As the months have gone on, from my last entry back in bleak muddy March, my mind has often drifted back to what I could say on MSP Adventure Time once I could spare the time to put something together.

So, now it comes to my attention that it is the last month of the stressful, amazing year of 2017; to use that Dickensian cliche, it really has been the “best of times and the worst of times” for me. I’m not one to shy away from a cliche now and then. As the world seems to fall apart around us, I find myself happier than I’ve ever been. I wanted to get back into it as the snows begin to fall and buries our fair cities for another five months of cozy, frozen winter, sharing some of the highlights of the year and getting geared up for another one.  

In any case, as I reported last summer, during an expedition into the wilds of Wisconsin, my beloved and I announced our engagement. Last May, our painstaking, all consuming planning came to its amazing conclusion with our wedding thing at the Hennepin History Museum, surrounded by friends and family. A bit of a distraction!

Back in my entry on the HHM’s cute collections and casual events, this was the place I called “perfect for a first date,” and I had no idea of knowing how right I was. It feels so great to think back on this, our biggest adventure so far.

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Photo by Mauricio Ballestas

One early winter Minneapolis night in 2015, two people’s lives changed, suddenly and forever. Armed with a bike and a bag of cookies, I walked into the Hennepin History Museum and found my heart. Lindsay, a vision of loveliness from California entered my life, and I hers. As the city spun into the hectic holiday season, we spun into each other’s orbits.  It was a perfect evening.   

After history, cookies, and delicious cheese, our conversation flowed like Ice Houses’ cocktails. We entered enchanted with each other and left to a landscape being made new with a fresh layer of Minnesota snow. Since then, we’ve adventured, explored, and tackled life in each other’s arms, a full year of love and happiness through the winter cold and the summer heat. Whether cuddling with a book on a lazy morning, dancing wildly in the basement of a German cultural institution, battling mosquitoes deep in the woods, or jogging on a foggy evening along the Pacific, every day is something new. Every day, we fall deeper into each other’s rhythms.    

Some might call it a “whirlwind” romance, but to me, it feels more like a romance that had lain dormant, waiting for a meeting to fertilize the seeds that bloom into a garden of wonders. Officially joining our lives together is be a dream come true.  

Returning to the place that we met to get married was wonderful, and the Hennepin History Museum was a lovely venue for such a ceremony, totally secular and low key, just how we like it. It was fun to draw in visitors from across the country to explore the Twin Cities themselves. It was quite a good showing for the Minnesota experience, with snow earlier in the week quickly transforming to a balmy 70 degrees by our wedding day.

Over the past months, we’ve continued to spend our time trying out new things, keeping busy. After a honeymoon to Alaska and a jaunt out to California as well, along with job changes and just life, there hasn’t been much energy left over to post.

During the last few weeks of 2017, I’d like to post a few highlights of a busy year, which was packed with more than I could ever record. Along with new things never before experienced, and the perennial favorites, a few stood out that I’d like to share in the coming weeks to prepare for a new, and productive, 2018. First, I will return to a perennial favorite- the Minneapolis Institute of Art!

Personal Favorites of 2016

Well, it’s past the third anniversary of my blog chronicling the fun activities I’ve found to experience Twin Cities over the past few years, and the one year anniversary of Lindsay joining me on these explorations, so I thought I would take the time to review a few of my favorite adventures of the past year. Only a little more than a month after New Years, but whatever! I’m raring to go to share my thoughts on fun things to do for Twin Citians for the next awful year of 2017, have to find something to take our minds off how the world is falling apart, after all.

Getting my first tattoo last January, with the colors added in March, was definitely one of the highlights of last year. Now, we just need to get a tattoo for Lindsay!

Over the summer, Lindsay and I found plenty of local state parks not far from the cities to go camping for a lovely weekend of hiking, canoeing, and enjoying the outdoors. Well, at least during the summer, our attempt to go camping in October turned out to be a little bit too cold. Also, watch out for those mosquitoes and deer ticks!

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Enjoying a summer weekend on the St. Croix, Interstate State Park

In late July, we had a great time riding vintage buses throughout the streets of Minneapolis sampling some of the city’s crop of craft beers and learning a little about the history of public transportation in the metro. I thought that the Hennepin History Museum and Minnesota Transportation Museum’s Bus and Beer History tour of Minneapolis was one of the most fun, educational, and enjoyable experiences from last year. I’d recommend checking out any of their tours.

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Twin Cities Lines

The trip Lindsay and I took across state lines to Wisconsin last August on my family’s traditional vacation area of Door County on the Lake Michigan coast was the most romantic and wonderful time of 2016, ending with Lindsay and I getting engaged!

A great end to the year was the Bell Museum Garage Sale last November, celebrating the last days of the University of Minnesota’s awesome natural history museum at its Minneapolis location before it hops over to the St. Paul campus this year. Looking forward to it! I also enjoyed being able to post one of my few prompt blog entries!

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Lindsay and crafting our new ornaments at the last Night at the Bell Museum, back in Decemeber

After looking over the past year, I’m looking forward to all the new things we’ll experience in the coming year! The temperature is already beginning to signal the coming of the Minnesota spring!

Bell Museum Garage Sale

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The James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History is one of my favorite hidden gem museums in the Twin Cities, tucked away on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. The U’s showcase for the natural sciences, of Minnesota, the world, and the cosmos, I loved exploring its detailed wildlife dioramas as a child and ducking in for a relaxing diversion as a college student. The handsome art deco building built in 1940 houses a great variety of specimens, hands on activities, and works of art, and is a great place to visit if you are interested in checking out exactly what type of creature a “golden gopher” is. However, if you want to visit it at its current location, you only have until the end of the year! After December 31st, the museum will close to prepare for a move to a new, state of the art location being constructed over at the St. Paul Campus. As the only natural history museum in Minnesota, it’s always been a special place to me, and I must admit some mixed feelings seeing it move. Still, I’m excited to see what the University has in store for the bigger, better building!   

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Waiting to enter, morning of November 25th.

This weekend is a great time to stop in at the Museum if you haven’t been or want just one more visit to the cozier old location before the great expansion. Until Sunday, the museum is hosting a garage sale, dispensing with a multitude of awesome museum ephemera that any museum nerd will just have to have. Lindsay and I stopped in this morning, braving a bit of a line to get inside where we dug through awesome t-shirts, posters, and display cards from special exhibits from past decades, and piles of books, among other interesting finds. There might still be fishing rods from the museums’ old summer camp, if you’re into that! While I think all of the lifesize fish silhouettes were snatched, there’s bound to be a lot more treasures to be found over the next couple of days, and at pretty good prices, too! Sunday, in particular, includes free museum admission and $5 for whatever you can fit in a grocery bag!

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Wolf diorama- Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

After loading the car with our haul, it was nice to get to wander through the museum’s renowned dioramas one last time, watching people walk over the simulated bog and other old favorites, such as the touch and see discovery room, filled with all manner of bones, terrariums, and other fun stuff. What will the new location bring that we still can’t imagine?

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Our haul! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

It’s open tomorrow from 9 to 5, with an admission of $8 for adults (free for University students and staff), and 10 to 5 on Sunday, with free admission!

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A collection of stuffed rodents- Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Vintage Buses and Beer

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The bus travels through downtown Minneapolis

Over the past year or so, the Hennepin History Museum has been trying to raise its profile in the community with a series of evening Night at the Museum events featuring different themes and topics. After our romantic cookie exchange at the museum last year, Lindsay and I have attended some of them, which have always been interesting and full of fun activities and little known facts about local history. We toyed with the idea of robots, learned about bees, saw how the history of pets and bicycles affected the local culture. As I said in previous reports, the Hennepin History Museum is a hidden gem of Twin Cities museums, and each visit has been a treat.

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Interior of the vintage bus (before crowd fills it up)

This summer, the museum hosted, along with another local institution, the Minnesota Transportation Museum, a historical Vintage Bus Brewery tour of Minneapolis. Bringing together three of my interests, local history, public transportation, and beer, it was definitely a blast! One of the highlights of the summer, Lindsay and I boarded the 1950s era GMC Transit buses which served Metro Transit for some years during the ‘50s and ‘60s to be whisked around to several local breweries, all the while listening to interesting facts about the history of the area. Maybe it’s just me, but I find the history of the region’s public transportation fascinating- we were riding in the bus that replaced the streetcar lines across the Twin Cities in a shady bit of corporate grift. The bright colors and lines of the old city bus attracted the attention of passersby as it rumbled through town. The preservation of the vintage bus was immaculate, with its period advertisements and creaking seats, it was like traveling back in time.

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enjoying a beer at Boom Island Brewing

 

Our first stop was at Boom Island Brewing, close to the river. A Belgian-style brewery in North Minneapolis, Boom Island’s beers are earthy and powerful, with enough variety to please just about any beer connoisseur. I had not been there before, but it would definitely be one I’d like to visit again. I particularly liked the Brimstone Trippel and the Cuvee de Boom. While we were visiting, the brewery was hosting a Bayou Blowout Crayfish boil, which was a nice place for me to get my seafood fix along with a beer. Some crayfish fettuccine is just the thing I didn’t know I was craving before setting out!  

Reboarding the bus, the crowd a bit more in our cups than before, we trundled off to our next destination, a stroll across the Stone Arch Bridge. Along the way, we passed through Nicollet Island, our interpreter having to raise his voice a little to be heard over the reveling. Crossing the river, we strolled around the park, walking off some of the beer we already imbibed. St. Anthony Falls, the reason the city was here in the first place, was roaring, the wet weather making it more than twice as full as it would be that time of year on average. The river-scented mist billowing off of the falls dampened us as we watched it flow from the bridge. I also took the opportunity, like so many others on the tour, to capture a few new pokemon on the newly exploding Pokemon Go app. Yep, it was just like being on an actual bus! As for the app, well, that can be an entirely different conversation best saved for another entry.

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View of St. Anthony Falls from the Stone Arch Bridge- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Our last stop was Day Block Brewery, one of my favorite breweries in Minneapolis, a venue that, in addition to its great beers, offers some intriguing craft cocktails for Lindsay as well! After enjoying a few more libations, and a fairly delicious pretzel to help absorb the booze a bit, we got back on the bus and returned to the Hennepin History Museum. While there are no more tours being offered this year, I’m looking forward to trying out one of the vintage bus history tours of St. Paul breweries next year, and I’d definitely recommend it!

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Preparing to board, outside of Day Block

Light up the Night at the American Swedish Institute

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Rupert Angeleyes performs in front of Turnblad Mansion

Where does the time go? Last time I wrote, an entry for my “Where U Wanna Eat?” segment, I wasn’t even in Minnesota, but spending a couple weeks in southern California. Spring popped up while we were gone, and now it’s practically summer! We got back some weeks ago, and adventures were had, but what with the move to St. Paul and my goodbye to living in Minneapolis, I’ve had my hands full. Better late than never, over the next few entries I’ll write up accounts of a few fun things I’ve done recently, and some fun traditions and new things that I’m looking forward to in the next few months!

Last spring, I attended one of the elegant American Swedish Institute’s fetes, Cocktails at the Castle, an intermittent event in the spring. I attended again this year on May 6th with my girlfriend Lindsay, her first time visiting the American Swedish Institute’s “castle,” Turnblad Mansion. The theme this year was “light up the night,” and we arrived early and spent the entire evening there, eating Scandinavian delicacies like herring and potato salad and drinking some of ASI’s special cocktails on the mansion’s lawn. The entertaining local “music project” Rupert Angeleyes performed on the steps of the mansion, setting up an awesome vibe. Lindsay and I have seen them perform before and they always put on a great show, one that really suited the festive atmosphere.

 

After the show, we painted a watercolor together, explored the mansion from top to bottom, searching for clues for the scavenger hunt, and then got a tour of the entire universe courtesy of the Bell Museum’s traveling planetarium. It was a lovely, warm night and a great time. Like last year, though, it was definitely a bit on the steep side, with a ticket price of $22 each, not counting the food or drink.

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Our watercolor masterpiece! 

As the summer progresses, some of my favorite local events are coming up, many of which are free to experience! Northern Spark is approaching in just a few weeks and looks wonderful, as usual. I’m also looking forward to visiting the Floating Library again later in the summer, and to the many Open Streets events that occur throughout Minneapolis. There will be new events to report on this summer as well, and I’m so excited to experience all the great things Minneapolis and St. Paul pull out for these months of warmth in Minnesota.  

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Enjoying a Scandinavian beer at Cocktails at the Castle. Not a cocktail, I know! 

Madison Bound

 

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Stained glass, Winona County Historical Museum

Over the next few days, I will be tackling a small backlog of adventures I missed writing about back in February. The first adventure is a fun road trip for those times when you might require a change of scenery from the Twin Cities. Over Valentine’s Day weekend, Lindsay and I crossed state borders for a little trip to Madison, Wisconsin, a fun college town that makes a nice weekend getaway from the Twin Cities. Here are a few highlights and recommendations from the trip!

Taking the scenic route down the Mississippi from St. Paul, we stopped for lunch in the sleepy but interesting college river town of Winona, Minnesota. This is the town where my grandparents lived, so I spent a lot of time here growing up, but it had been awhile since I visited so it was fun to stop again, see how things changed, and introduce Lindsay to another weird Minnesota town.

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Riverboat exhibit, Winona Historical Museum (Courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

We had a delicious lunch at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse, one of my favorite restaurants in the state. In addition to the yummy food and friendly, laid back artsy vibe, they share a space with a used and new bookstore, The Book Shelf, which always has good finds. We then explored the recently renovated Winona County Historical Society Museum, which I’ve found to be one of the best local historical museums in Wisconsin, displaying a variety of interesting artifacts from one of the oldest cities in the state. After climbing into a reproduction steamboat and marveling at some preserved storefronts, we then took the opportunity to explore some art in the collection of Winona’s ambitious and newest museum, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. It may seem like an unusual location for the collection, but Winona does have a historic port supplying lumber and flour for shipment down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. The Marine Art Museum explores the “historic human relationship with water,” an apt mission for a museum set on the banks of the Mississippi River. Featuring contemporary photography as well as work spanning the artistic movements from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, including such luminaries as Monet and Picasso, it is one of Minnesota’s hidden gem museums.

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Capitol District Madison being transformed into a skiing track.

Crossing the border into Wisconsin, we were in Madison by early evening, where we had a date to catch comedian and actor David Cross perform at the Orpheum Theater, located on State Street, the epicenter for entertainment in Madison. The humor of Cross, of Arrested Development fame among others things, was a great way to kick off the trip, especially when he upset the more religious portion of the audience.img_20160213_133136

Madison, the capital city of Wisconsin and home of the University of Wisconsin, is always an entertaining place to visit. Situated on an isthmus between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota, with the Capital building sitting on top of a hill, it is a compact, walkable city that seems to pack a lot into a relatively small area. We were in town during the last big cold snap in the Upper Midwest, and it came just in time for the Madison Winter Festival, though a lack of snowfall required the city to haul in a layer of snow to surround the Wisconsin State Capitol building for racing cross country skiers. With folksy fiddle music playing on the loudspeakers and a few quirky little snow sculptures, downtown Madison became a wintery wonderland.  

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Spending the weekend exploring the isthmus area over the weekend was a fun and relaxing way to brave the cold and enjoy each others’ company. Particularly with the Winter Festival going on, parking was difficult downtown, but most things are in easy walking distance of each other. At the center of Capitol Square is, of course, the Wisconsin State Capitol building, a pretty impressive edifice of state government. They offer a free and quite informative tour throughout the building, visiting the executive, legislative, and judicial branches where we marveled at the ornate interiors and fossils embedded in the stone walls. It was pretty interesting to be standing right there behind the leather upholstered chairs where the Wisconsin state legislatures make laws (rather poorly, under current administration, eh?). The tour was full of the usual list of notable “bests” that Wisconsin’s capitol building can boast (taller than the US Capitol Building, largest granite dome in the world, etc.) Some of which seem a little questionable, perhaps, but now I am looking forward to touring the Minnesota State Capitol building, to see what we can boast!

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Wisconsin State Capitol building interior (Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

In addition to the Wisconsin State Capitol, we also visited the Wisconsin History Museum and its entertainingly goofy exhibit on Wisconsinites in Hollywood. The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is also a good place to check out, which hosted several fascinating collections, including a surreal and energetic collection of 1970s prints by Wisconsin artist Warrington Colescott inspired by Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. That’s one for the reading list! The exhibit goes on until April, so if you’re in town, stop in!

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Sculpture Garden roof of Madison Contemporary Museum of Art, enjoying the snow

Strolling along State Street, we stopped in a variety of charming boutiques and shops, either just browsing or in full shopping mode. Of course, the bookstores were where we found the most to peruse. Browzers Bookshop is a maze of used books, with plenty of weird things to look at and you’ll probably get quite the deal there too! At the venerable independent feminist bookstore A Room of One’s Own, one can browse a very wide selection of new and used books. This was a very nice bookstore to spend some time hanging out and picking out a new book or two (or, hell, more).

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Some of Wisconsin’s fine beers, at the Old Fashioned

 

Of course, nothing says Wisconsin like enjoying an alcoholic beverage and we certainly had our fair share, so leaving the car behind was a wise choice. The charming, quirky, and rowdy bars of State Street and the Capital Square serve up some tasty Wisconsin beers and delicious cocktails. The Old Fashioned, a bar and restaurant specializing in Wisconsin’s food and drink specialties is a good place to start. Offering more than a hundred Wisconsin beers and a half dozen versions of the Old Fashioned, along with cheese curds, cheese plates, and many other tasty treats, it is a good place to go to be overwhelmed by choices. Just arrive early, the place is packed to gridlock by 6 on weekends. Breakfast, though, is a more relaxing time to visit. We had a perfectly decadent Wisconsin breakfast: A rich cheese plate, giant (and affordable) apple fritter, a breakfast old fashioned, and a pint of Tyrena Brewing’s Devil Made Me Do It Coffee Imperial Oatmeal Potter.  

Paul’s Club, on State Street, is another good place to stop in for a drink. Where else can you go to a bar that has a full side tree inside of it, along with a good beer and cocktail list?The Great Dane Pub is a pretty cool place to stop by in the Capital Square area as well, a brewpub that offers a nice rotating selection of brews, including the Stone of Scone scotch ale. Also come for the shuffle boards (Wisconsinites are super serious about this game).

If you find yourself famished while shopping on State Street, a nice place to stop by for very filling Laotian and Thai cuisine is at Vientiane Palace Restaurant, which has a lot of delicious food for reasonable prices, including some very tasty pad thai noodles. My eggplant dish was also very tasty. Graze is a romantic and atmospheric choice for dinner. A new restaurant specializing in farm to table cuisine, we had a very lovely meal here and I would recommend it for a fancy evening out, with nice views of the Wisconsin State Capitol and very good food. Again, the cheese plate is highly recommended, as is the oyster plate.

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Some of the collection of the National Mustard Museum (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

On the way out of town, we stopped by one of Wisconsin’s many “quirky” attractions. Where else, for instance, could you visit a museum devoted entirely to a condiment? Located just outside of Madison in Middleton, Wisconsin, the National Mustard Museum is worth a stop for anyone with even a little appreciation for mustard. An exhaustive selection of gourmet mustard varities from across the world upstairs, and a tongue in cheek celebration of the history and art of mustard downstairs, it is a cool and funny place to stop to sample some tasty sauces. After picking up some mustard for upcoming gatherings, we left Madison for St. Paul. A quick stop in Osseo, Wisconsin, for some top notch pies at the Norske Nook  Restaurant and Bakery rounded out or trip (and our bellies). All in all, it was a great weekend sampler of a winter town in Wisconsin, and I am looking forward to returning.  

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Did you know Tony Shahloub was from Green Bay? Display at the Wisconsin History Museum (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

 

 

Day Trip: A Winnipeg Adventure

Here I talk about some destination we in the Twin Cities can get to in less than a day’s driving in order to get a change of scenery for a bit

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Downtown Winnipeg

While some people in Minnesota go on vacations to Florida or Cancun in the middle of January, my sister and I decided to instead take our short winter trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba! We made the seven hour drive from Minneapolis to see a special concert, the Love, Lake Winnipeg concert, a tribute to Canadian folk singer Sol Sigurdson, which included one of our favorite musicians, John K. Samson of the recently disbanded Weakerthans.

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Just past the border!

I can’t think of a better long weekend escape than driving up to Winnipeg, such an interesting and fascinating city that offers a lot of fun things to visit even in the dead of winter with temperatures hovering around -2 all day(-18 celsius!). As we drove up through northern Minnesota and into North Dakota, we crossed the border with no trouble and headed north through the vast, flat prairies of the Prairie province, covered in layers of snow. It seemed snowier than we’ve had down here yet. After checking into our hotel and getting a wad of lovely Canadian currency from the ATM, we spent the rest of the day exploring downtown Winnipeg. Here are a few highlights you should check out if you visit.

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Canadian Museum for Human Rights, at twilight

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights– An amazing feat of architecture, the glistening, glassy spire of the museum towers over the banks of the Red River and affords a commanding view of the Winnipeg skyline on both sides of the river. Opened a little more than year ago, in September of 2014, this was a thought provoking, informative, and affirming museum to visit, one of the best I have visited so far on my blog. With glowing marble ramps and interactive, bilingual displays discussing human rights and Canada’s triumphs and failures throughout its history in terms of racism, sexism, gender, ableism, and labor, making me wish that the United States, and Minnesota in particular, had more to offer here. Truly an awe inspiring place.

The Forks Market

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Forks Market on a subzero morning

A cozy indoor market at the historic confluence of the Red River and the Assiniboine River in a converted rail yard horse stables, the Forks Market is definitely a fun place to go for lunch, breakfast, or just to do some shopping. There’s all sorts of different quick and tasty food to grab, Sri Lankan, Chilean, Ukrainian, crepes, and  Caribbean, among others, and plenty of places to grab those needed Canadian souvenirs as well.

The Exchange District

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Stephen Juba Park, just outside the Exchange District

There are a lot of fun things to do around this well preserved historic neighborhood, including Corrientos Argentine Pizzeria, with served up some delicious Argentine-Italian style pizza. For dessert, we stopped in at a really cool place, Across the Board Game Cafe, which, for five dollars minimum for drinks/snacks, you can play an unlimited number of awesome board games. The place was hopping, I had a few local Manitoba craft beers, and missed having more of these in the Twin Cities. I’ve seen them in Winnipeg, Victoria, and Toronto and I wish they would start to catch on around here. We certainly have the market for them!

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Some highlights, via Adventure Sibs

We ended the night by heading down Ellice Avenue to the West End Cultural Centre to see the Love, Lake Winnipeg Concert, which featured four groups of Manitoban musicians from diverse genres, including John K. Samson, formerly of our favorite band, The Weakerthans, interpreting songs from a cult classic lp, The Lake Winnipeg Fisherman, by folksinger Sol Sigurdson. A handful of audience members had a coveted copy of the 1970 original, which has become a hard to come by and much sought after item! It was definitely an awesome show, supporting the Lake Winnipeg Foundation’s efforts to preserve the great lake for the future. With our tickets, everyone got a cool EP featuring the covers and mixes of the groups so that we could keep on listening to them. 

The EP features the electronic artist DJ Co-op, alt country/folk singer Jess Reimer, Scott Nolan performing with John K. Samson and Christine Fellows, the young indie rock group from Gimli, Manitoba, Mise en Scene. Energetic performers, I definitely am excited to see more of them! All in all, it was a great show and I am totally excited to make up another excuse to visit Manitoba, maybe in the summer next time so we can stop by Lake Winnipeg, and the Icelandic community of Gimli as well!

Cookie Exchange at the Hennepin History Museum

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So, last night I attended a new event in Minneapolis I haven’t done before and it was a really fun time! The Hennepin History Museum hosted, for the second time, a holiday cookie exchange, which is a great way to get to know some other people interested in baking and history and break away from that beginning of winter funk of avoiding people. The Hennepin History Museum, a cool, little known museum tucked away in an ornate mansion, the George Christian house, just across the the street from the Minneapolis Institute of Art is, I feel, one of the great hidden gems in Minneapolis. The Museum is currently raising its profile in the city, so expect more awesome events to continue!

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I had only been there once before, but I really enjoyed visiting again and I’d recommend people do too. Focusing on the rich social history of the county, there are always cool special exhibits hosted; currently, the seasonal exhibit explores the background of Hennepin County’s figure skating, which is something I hadn’t even thought of before! Hopefully we’ll be able to do that this year! Also, artifacts from history societies in the West Metro, specifically near Lake Minnetonka were on view as well, which, of course, was pretty interesting to me, given that’s where I grew up.  I’m trying to think of a good excuse for my next MNopedia article to visit again and stop by their exhaustive research library to glean some cool hidden stories of Hennepin County.

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The rules of the cookie exchange are simple; just bring three dozen of your favorite cookies and swap them with other people’s for a tasty, homemade treats. It is also a very Minnesotan type of event! I made some vegan pumpkin oatmeal cookies, which turned out only semi-successful, I feel. Next time I’d try a bit less molasses, and also know what to expect from my oven. The others look delicious, and it always great to have a pile of cookies to enjoy this time of year. Hopefully, the Hennepin History Museum will host again next year. It would certainly be a good choice for a date night!

Hennepin History Museum,  2303 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis