What’s in a Mall?

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.

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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

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.

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Entrance to the MIA

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

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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….).

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

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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…)

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A rockman on its way to the pile of rocks…

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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.

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