The Foshay Tower: A View from Above in Minneapolis

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!

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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

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

A Grain of Truth about Minneapolis

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.

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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!

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

2013: Oh, The Places I Stayed At

OK, ending with a preposition is not proper but to make it sound Dr. Seuss-ish I hardly could have made it “Oh, the places at which I stayed.”

In any case, I shared my year in food and beverages in an earlier post.  But 2013 was also a good year in terms of exploring places to stay.  Here are the highlights of my year in accommodations!

Moshi, Tanzania

While in Moshi working with the Kili Centre orphanage, we stayed at two different hotels:  one before climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and one after.  Each is special for different reasons.

The Honey Badger Lodge had a great feel in the grounds and other public areas (bar and pool area) as well as spacious rooms / cabanas.  The owners and staff were incredible.  It was amazing to be greeted by the friendly wait staff by name every day!

Honey Badger Lodge,Moshi, Tanzania, Kilimanjaro, lodging, hotel, travel, photo, Olympus

Notice the monkey out for a walk in the beautiful gardens of the Honey Badger Lodge

After coming down from the mountain, we went to the Springlands Hotel.  This place was special because it is where we got to celebrate our success in climbing the mountain (100% of our group of 16 summitted!).

Springlands Hotel, Moshi, Tanzania, Kilimanjaro, lodging, hotel, travel, photo, Olympus

The ground of the Springlands Hotel

Mt. Kilimanjaro

One of the biggest pulls on me to consider doing Kili again are some of the great views afforded by some of the camps in which we stayed.  Shira Camp on day 2 and Karanga Camp on day 4 were just stunning for me.  Tell me what you think!

Shira Camp, Kilimanjaro, Uhuru, cimbing, hiking, photo, beauty, Olympus, Africa, Tanzania

Shira Camp with the summit and a nice set of clouds behind it

Karanga Camp, Kilimanjaro, Uhuru, cimbing, hiking, photo, beauty, Olympus, Africa, Tanzania

Looking at the top of Kili from Karanga Camp

Washington, D.C.

I stayed at a few different hotels over my two years of constant travel up there for work.  The Mayflower definitely was my number one choice though some of that is because it was the closest one to work.

Mayflower, hotel, Washington, DC, hotel, lodging, travel, photo, architecture, historical, Olympus

The newly renovated lobby and new restaurant bar: Edgar. A place I enjoyed hanging out at

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Elegant main corridor by the ballrooms

Mayflower, hotel, Washington, DC, hotel, lodging, travel, photo, architecture, historical, Olympus

Rooms were spacious and with the right amount of furnishings – not overdone

The Sofitel D.C. was not usually in range of my approved budget but even if I did not get to stay there, I loved trying the specialty cocktails of Le Bar.  I got to check out the W Hotel, right near The White House.  Though the room’s window did not close properly and it took a while to resolve the situation, the hotel was gracious in making it up to me.  It was a nice touch.  I love the modernity of the rooms (as with any Ws) and the great view from the room I finally got settled into!

W Hotel, Washington, D.C., lodging, accommodations, travel, photo, Olympus

View towards the Dept of Treasury (right) looking towards the south lawn of The White House

W Hotel, Washington, D.C., lodging, accommodations, travel, photo, Olympus

Great lines and furnishings in the room. And the translucent shower wall.

Other mainstays of my time there were the Renaissance on 9th St NW, near Chinatown, and the Renaissance in New Hampshire.  Of the former, I really liked the lobby, a space where I would happily sit for happy hour or a Friday night out with friends.  It also had the nicest executive lounge in the U.S. properties of hotels affiliated with Marriott.  Of the latter, I loved its location: closer to Georgetown, right by residential areas, walking distance from the Kennedy Center, and easy access to running trails without having to deal with too many street crossings and heavy traffic.  Also, very close to Dupont Circle which was nice in terms of having a broad range of dining options – and watching the unique character of the area!

Jordan

In Jordan we stayed all over the country and in many different types of accommodations.  I wrote specifically about all these different type of accommodations experienced here so I will not duplicate here what I have already shared (but do check that post out!).  However, I will share here more about the Six Senses Spa where we stayed two nights because I don’t feel I shared how unique a place this is, in the middle of nowhere (it feels), nestled in a narrow canyon that hosts the hot springs the place is known for.

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The lower hot springs are behind the building on the picture (taken from the hotel)

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Looking at the hotel from the entrance to the area

While management’s attention to the guest needed a little bit of polishing, the staff itself made every effort possible to deliver a great experience.  The rooms’ use of wood panels instead of curtains on the balconies’ doors was very unique and provided a warmth to the room that I really liked.  But take a look at the spa area from behind the falls!

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The public hot springs

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From behind the waterfall in the public hot springs

Manila, The Philippines

In my short trip to Manila, I stayed at two hotels, The Bayleaf Hotel and The Manila Marriott.  I wrote previously about how the former provided the best location to explore the Intramuros district of Manila whereas the latter was a paradise of relaxation. While The Bayleaf had less glamour than the Manila Marriott, its convenience to learn about Manila’s history was great.  Both shone because of the incredible attention to service and the customer by their staffs.

Minneapolis

While visiting Minneapolis, I stayed at The Hotel Minneapolis, from Marriott’s Autograph Collection.  It was my first time trying a property from the Autograph Collection so I was curious how it would be.   I really liked its spacious lobby and its location, close to the river, the theater district, and the business district. I walked everywhere downtown from the hotel.  The rooms, though not huge, were well-enough sized.  The building dates from the earlier 20th century when it was built as a bank.  I was really impressed by how cleverly the time and function of the building were tapped and applied to create great public spaces in the hotel.  If I were there on a business trip, I would definitely enjoy lounging in the lobby spaces after working hours.  The friendliness of the staff topped off what was a great stay.

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The lobby is a comfortable space to lounge around after work or during a weekend stay

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Some original details of the bank, like this vault, are preserved

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Bar design takes advantage of the original architectural details

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High ceilings and marble columns add a lot of character to the lobby spaces

Hope everyone has a great holidays and I wish you the best in 2014!

I was hosted at the Jordan, Minneapolis and Manila hotels.  All opinions are my own based on my experiences and observations.

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.

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

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…)

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.

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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.

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.

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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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