The Foshay Tower: A View from Above in Minneapolis

Foshay Tower, Minneapolis, architecture, art deco, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, Minnesota

Whenever I go to a new town, I seek to take a peek at it from a good vantage point.  That usually means a climb or a ride up somewhere (read about my favorite “climbs” in Europe).  When I recently went to Minneapolis, I asked where could I go for a view from above.  The Foshay Tower was the answer.

Foshay Tower, Minneapolis, architecture, art deco, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, Minnesota

Meet the Foshay Tower!

Foshay Tower, Minneapolis, architecture, art deco, travel, photo, Olympus, Minnesota

Poster depicting the tower – neat!

The tower, completed in 1929 and inspired on the Washington Monument, was converted from an office building into a W Hotel in 2008.  To go up to the museum and the observation deck, one buys a ticket for a nominal fee at the front desk of the hotel.  The interior of that area of the hotel is of the period when the hotel was built (art deco) but updated for a hotel lobby.  I really liked the elevators as they made me feel I was going back to the time when the hotel was built.

The museum at the top provides the history of the tower and was small enough to check it out before stepping outside for the views.  Newer buildings have been erected close to the tower so the views are not completely open all around but, as the photos may show, these buildings can provide interesting targets for photos or even help frame photos.

Foshay Tower, Minneapolis, architecture, art deco, travel, photo, Olympus, Minnesota

Foshay Tower, Minneapolis, architecture, art deco, travel, photo, Olympus, Minnesota

View of Target Field and Target Center

Foshay Tower, Minneapolis, architecture, art deco, travel, photo, Olympus, MinnesotaFoshay Tower, Minneapolis, architecture, art deco, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, sunset, buildings, skylineMinnesota

—————-

My activities in Minneapolis were facilitated by its Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.

A Grain of Truth about Minneapolis

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota, mill, Mississippi River, photo, travel, Olympu

Minneapolis is a northern city by U.S. standards and that often conjures images of snow and cold.  While that may be true in winter, as in many places, that is not the grain of truth about the city I want to reveal to you today…

You may or may not be familiar with the history of Minneapolis.  It seems just another modern city with a great business environment, beautiful nature, and super nice folks.  It may seem that it just evolved in the great “wander West, folks” of the late 18th and 19th centuries.  Well there may have been some of that but the catalyst that planted the seed of this city was none other than the Mississippi River.  Where the city was established as a post along the river, though, was not random.  There were these waterfalls named St. Anthony’ Falls that were perfect for powering mills.  The post grew and expanded as these waterfalls powered industry whether it be lumber mills or wheat mills.  And in the latter is where we find the grain of truth about Minneapolis:  wheat was key in helping this city grow and thrive.

St Anthony's fall, Mississippi, Minneapolis, Minnesota, river, bridge, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

St. Anthony’s Falls were long replaced by riverworks; wish I could have seen the original!

See, Minneapolis became one of the great end points for harvested northern Midwest wheat to go to be ground into flour.  The mills were located right by the river.  Today, you still can see the Pillsbury Mill on the east side of the river.  But the best way to learn about the grain that powered this city is by visiting the Mill City Museum on the west bank of the Mississippi river where the Washburn “A” mill was located.  Since it was a short walk from my well-located hotel, The Hotel Minneapolis, it was a no-brainer to head there and learn more about the city.

Mill, Mill City museum, Minneapolis, Washburn, history, Minnesota,wheat, photo, travel, Olympus

The inner courtyard of the former Washburn A Mill shows some of the damage from the fire

The Mill City Museum does a great job of taking the ruins of the last mill to operate on that site (a fire in 1991 destroyed the mill, abandoned since 1965, except for its shell) and turning it into a learning experience about Minneapolis history, about the milling process, and even about baking!  It is geared for all ages with specific stations for kids to learn hands-on (adults can play too…).

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota, mill, equipment, history, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Exhibits include old mill equipment

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota, mill, equipment, history, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Plenty of good signage around!

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota, mill, equipment, history, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Many different stations for hands-on experimentation

I enjoyed the the film Minneapolis in 19 Minutes movie which does great job of helping someone like me (read:  unfamiliar with the history of the city) understand the city’s beginnings, how it became a major city, and even the trials and tribulations of the changes brought about by the 20th century (the Great Depression, mills closing, etc.).

The flour tower elevator “ride” was also very cleverly done and I will not reveal any more about it.  But I will say that it does take you to the top of the tower where you get great views of the might Mississippi River, the “falls”, and the east side of Minneapolis.

Mill City Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota, mill, Mississippi River, photo, travel, Olympu

A great view on a beautiful day!

I love it when a museum delivers great insights in easy to follow exhibits and narratives.  The Mill City Museum is a must-visit for all ages and it help connect you with that grain that seeded its home city!

—————-

My activities in Minneapolis were facilitated by its Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.

What’s in a Mall?

Mall of America, Minneapolis, Minnesota, entertainment, shopping, travel, amusement park, Canon EOS Rebel

I am no fan of walking around shopping:  I normally go to a store with a clear target of what I am going for – no strolling around for me.  Online shopping also has had an impact in my shopping mall visits, sometimes eliminating heading to a store.  So, in short, going to the mall is not something I like doing.  Well, except The Mall in Washington, D.C.,  which is not really a mall but a collection of open spaces, museums and monuments – a great place for a walk or a run for sure!

But I digress.  Malls are not my thing.  Until I saw what is in the Mall of America (MOA).  During my recent visit to Minneapolis I decided to park my mall bias and see what the MOA was all about since it is the largest mall in the U.S.  With that qualifier, I’d thought the least I’d do is go to see what the buzz is about and get some exercise in with a good amount of walking.

Mall of America, Minneapolis, Minnesota, entertainment, shopping, travel, Christmas, Olympus

The halls decorated for Christmas

Getting there is easy

The first good surprise was how accessible it was.  If it had been too much of an effort, maybe my curiosity would have lost to my “laziness” but the MOA is on the light rail line which makes it a short ride from downtown and one stop away from the airport.  I did some research and found out there was storage for luggage at the mall so I decided to go there straight after landing in Minneapolis.  Sure enough, one of the places to leave luggage is located by the entrance to the mall closest to the light rail stop.  Well done.

The shops

There are tons of stores from locally-headquartered Best Buy to Eddie Bauer (my favorite clothes) to tourist souvenir shops to large department stores to boutiques to Apple and Microsoft stores (that almost face each other across the aisle!).  There is every kind of shop you could be looking for.  But my favorite shop is the Lego store!!!  Pieces and sets galore as well as some massive pieces hanging up high!

Lego, Legoland, Mall of America, Minneapolis, Minnesota, entertainment, shopping, travel, Christmas, Olympus

The large wall of pieces is imposing!

Lego, Legoland, Mall of America, Minneapolis, Minnesota, entertainment, shopping, travel, Christmas, Olympus

Large Lego creations “atop” the store

Lego, Legoland, Mall of America, Minneapolis, Minnesota, entertainment, shopping, travel, Christmas, Olympus

And you don’t only shop but you can make your own figurines – for the kids only, of course…

More than shopping

As I walked in, I first ran into an atrium area with a stage and two massive silver Christmas trees on either side of the stage.  This is where I first confirmed that the MOA is not just about shopping.  It is an entertainment center, not just a shopping center.  Shopping is maybe the anchor business but it is just part of a series of entertainment options for young and old.  Famous acts perform and other presentations, like book signings, take place at this stage.

Mall of America, Minneapolis, Minnesota, entertainment, shopping, travel, Christmas, Olympus

The main stage area, nicely decorated for the holidays with two large trees

The “corners” of the mall also have smaller atria and these also have music or other similar activities.  Of course, the mall houses movie theaters.  Finally, the top level has bars and clubs.  I did not get to experience these entertainment options but I hope to some time.

Entertainment does not end with these.  There is a nice aquarium, Sea Life, also near the entrance closest to the light rail.  It has a long tunnel that goes under the tanks and it is fun to watch the sea life from below.

aquarium, Mall of America, Minneapolis, Minnesota, entertainment, shopping, travel, sea life, Canon EOS Rebel

Some of the creatures that reside at Sea Life

So what’s in a mall? 

I don’t know what the answer is in general, but what is in THIS mall, its pièce de résistance, is what is at the center of the mall.  As you may know, the center of the MOA has an amusement park:  Nickelodeon Universe.

Mall of America, Minneapolis, Minnesota, entertainment, shopping, travel, amusement park, Canon EOS Rebel

From a Ferris wheel to a carousel to a rope course to a roller coaster, this is an amusement park for real!

Mall of America, Minneapolis, Minnesota, entertainment, shopping, travel, amusement park, Canon EOS Rebel Mall of America, Minneapolis, Minnesota, entertainment, shopping, travel, amusement park, Canon EOS Rebel

I definitely left the Mall of America completely understanding why people love going there, including people who come from other countries to experience it.  It can easily keep a visitor occupied for a few days with a great range of options on what to do.  And… I hear more is coming!!

Minneapolis: A City of Arts and Culture

cherry, spoon, Walker Garden, Minneapolis, art, sculpture, Basilica St. Mary, travel, photo, Olympus

If you are from Minneapolis, don’t take this the wrong way but I was NOT expecting the vastness of the opportunities for art and culture in your town that I discovered in a recent visit!  As I pored over the options, I settled for visiting a few museums and checking out one show for this short visit knowing full well that there were a lot of options – just too little time (this trip!).

Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA)

In terms of art, I chose the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) not just because it was free but because it is vast in its scope and collection.

museum, art, Minneapolis, travel, photo

Entrance to the MIA

It was well laid out and quite manageable facing a nice park with the city’s skyline as its backdrop.

statue, sculpture, Minneapolis, art, skyline, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Chinese statue at the MIA with the skyline as its backdrop

It has a large section on China, including reproducing the interior of a home, as well as art collections ranging from medieval Europe to contemporary “art” (some of which could be just from some yard in the mountains of the South; hence the quotation marks….).

museum, art. Minneapolis, statue, sculpture, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Across the way at the MIA: a sculpture in flight!

table, French, Etruscan, Minneapolis, art, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Etruscan style table from France from the 19th century

In any case, one of my favorite pieces was the Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun by van Gogh.  Oh, heck, I liked all the impressionist art – there is just something either appealing, reachable, or understandable about impressionist art for me.  (I was reminded I like Signac but always forget him when I cite favorite impressionist painters…)

painting, impressionist, Signac, art, museum, Minneapolis, snowy scene, Canon EOS Rebel

Late 19th century painting by Signac: Snow, Boulevard de Clichy (Paris) – awesome piece

The Museum of Russian Art (TMORA)

Being a lover of Russian history, The Museum of Russian Art intrigued me and I was rewarded not just with art but also with a great exhibit about the Romanovs, thereby satisfying my eternal curiosity of Russian history – a great wealth of artifacts and video clips from the Russian monarchy.

Russia Museum of Arts, Minneapolis, Soviet, art, museum, Olympu, travel

The Russian Museum of Arts

They also had another exhibit about “Christmas” decorations from the Soviet era.  I did not know about the New Year’s Tree, the Soviet re-invention of the too-religious Christmas tree.  They had sample ornaments made during those times, some quite homemade and others of a little better professional manufacture…

American-Swedish Institute (ASI)

In this trip, I was seeking to learn more the history of the city and I was made aware of the American-Swedish Institute (ASI).  Minnesota has a lot of Swedish blood and one of the Swedish families – the Turnblads- built a mansion in the Golden Mile district of the city in the early 20th century.  The house eventually was donated by the family and now houses the ASI which is much more than a museum – it is also an important cultural center.

American Swedish Institute, history, culture, arts, Minneapolis, cultural center

The Turnblad Mansion reflected off the new building housing the Institute – great juxtaposition

American Swedish Institute, Minneapolis, Turnblad, mansion, Golden Mile, stained glass window, architecture, travel, Olympus, photo

Detail of the architecture of the Turnblad mansion – its huge stained glass window!

The house is open for visits and, during the time of the year when I visited, was decorated for Christmas.  But it was not just decorated for the season but it did so in the styles not only of Swedish traditions, but also in the traditions of the other “Scandinavian” countries:  Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland.

American Swedish Institute, Christmas, decorations, table setting, Norway, travel, museum, Minneapolis

Detail of the table setup display from Norway

A nice touch was that they also presented Mexican Christmas traditions given the strong Mexican presence in the area where the Institute is.  I have to say that when I first walked into the Institute (not the house itself) and saw the cafeteria area on the left, I felt I had walked into IKEA!  That soon passed though as, clearly, this was not an IKEA store.

Brave New Workshop

I did not have too much time left to squeeze in show but I had Saturday night open so I opted for the Brave New Workshop comedy theater as my show to see.  This is the place where Al Franken from SNL fame started so I thought I’d check it out.

Minneapolis, Brave New Workshop, comedy, improv, entertainment, arts, culture, travel

Marquee of the Brave New Workshop

The cast was composed of 5 actors who were quite funny on their own merits but some of the pieces written for them were simply brilliant.  The mix of their skills and the pieces exploded when it came to their spoof or “Royals” by Lorde and the “Twelve Days of Christmas”.  The theater is cozy and after the function, everyone is welcome to hang around for a full session of improv.  I had had a long day and, sadly, felt that it was time to leave to get a good hot shower and hit the sack.  But if you go, plan to stay on as I can ONLY imagine what this cast got into after I departed!

Art outdoors

Feel the need for fresh air and the outdoors?  Well, in Minneapolis there is art outdoors too!  The Walker Museum’s Sculpture Garden offers some interesting work near the art museum of the same name (which I will visit next time I go!).  Just cross the bridge from Loring Park (perhaps, as I did, before or after stopping at Café Maude for brunch or dinner – I enjoyed the country hash for brunch!), the garden is free and offers not only great art but a phenomenal backdrop with downtown’s skyline and the Basilica of St. Mary.

cherry, spoon, Walker Garden, Minneapolis, art, sculpture, Basilica St. Mary, travel, photo, Olympus

The spoon with the cherry at the Walker Garden Park (the Basilica of St. Mary in the background)

Even in random places you may find art…  As I made my way back to my hotel, I passed the U.S. Courthouse area – in its plaza, I found some really curious figures and landscape items.  Though the work on the plaza is not explained via signage, the whole plaza evokes Minnesota’s land and its many types of inhabitants:  wooden benches that are just logs, frogs, snakes, rocks, and many other cute characters.  I can see kids loving this plaza!  The plaza brought a large smile to my face as I headed to check out of my hotel and leave town.

rockmen, minneapolis, sculpture, courthouse, downtown, art, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

A rockman on its way to the pile of rocks…

rockmen, minneapolis, sculpture, courthouse, downtown, art, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

A fellow tourist like me photographing the plaza

If you head to Minneapolis, or if you want to explore arts and culture beyond the predictable places in the usual suspects (e.g., NYC), I think you should plan to explore these unique Minneapolis offerings (or the others I did not get to explore) – you will not leave disappointed!

The Minneapolis Convention and Visitors’ Bureau helped me plan my weekend based on my interests and kindly obtained visitor’s passes for me to these places.

%d bloggers like this: