September 05, 2012

Minneapolis, MN

We spent Labor Day weekend in the city of Minneapolis. Minnesota was our 15th state to visit on this trip, and I’m happy to say that the scenery did indeed improve as soon as we crossed the border from South Dakota. We took the scenic back country road way into Minneapolis instead of the interstate and in doing so I think we caught the cuter side of the side. We passed some really picturesque farmlands with vibrant red barns. About 100 miles outside of the city the roadside views turned from farmlands to forest, and if I didn't know better, I would have said we were driving through Arkansas.

In Minneapolis we scored some really great street parking through a Couch Surfing connection. Stephanie welcomed us to park outside her house, and invited us to her birthday party before we had even met in person. Her house was really well positioned, as we were right on a major bike path, and only 3 miles from downtown and 3 miles from the Chain of Lakes.

Minnesota, being the Land of 10,000 Lakes, definitely lives up to its name. Minneapolis has its own fair share of the lakes, and one of them was right by Stephanie’s house, so we had lots of great walking and swimming space for the pups. When we arrived at Stephanie’s house, we caught a glimpse of the nearby lake, and we saw the LOCH NESS MONSTER!! Turns out, this monster, affectionately named Minne, moves from lake to lake within the city. City park employees move it in the middle of the night so that residents can wake up one morning and find the monster in their neighborhood lake! How awesome is that? So, we were lucky enough to have the monster swimming right outside our house. :o)

Minne, the Lock Ness Monster in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minne, the Loch Ness Monster!
 The Minnesota State Fair was culminating the same weekend we were in town. We couldn’t pass up an opportunity to visit the second largest state fair in the US (after Texas…of course everything is larger in Texas…), so we paid a visit on Friday afternoon. Walking around this fair required a map, as it was literally the biggest outdoor event we had ever been to. Everybody and their mom (and probably dad too) were at the fair that day, and it was PACKED. For the most part is was your mill-of-the-run fair, with corny rides, overpriced knick knacks for sale, and all kinds of really healthy food for sale (we saw a Deep Fried SPAM curds stands…need I say more?). It seemed all the food was available “on a stick”, which was the popular way to eat, so you could get Spaghetti on a Stick, Hot Dog on a Stick, etc. We got suckered into the All You Can Drink Milk for $1. Heck yeah! You could choose from regular or chocolate, so we drank to our hearts content. I even got a chocolate chip cookie from a random stranger who had bought a whole bucket of freshly made cookies from one stand over.

All you can drink milk for $1 at the Minnesota State Fair in Minneapolis
All you can drink milk for $1
The coolest part of the fair by far was the Miracle of Birth Center. This was a large barn-like building that housed moms-to-be. When we walked in a cow was in the middle of giving birth to a calf. The birth was being broadcasted live on large screen TVs in case you couldn’t a close enough view (there was a huge crowd gathered oohing and ahhing). We watched the birth, and then made our way further into the building. We saw chicks being hatched, petted brand new baby lambs, played with baby goats, and then caught the birth of a handful of piglets. I found the whole experience to be amazing. It was really spectacular to be present at the birth of so many creatures.

Newborn lamb at the Minnesota State Fair in Minneapolis
Newborn lamb
Watching a live cow birth at the Minnesota State Fair in Minneapolis
Everyone watching a cow being born, broadcasted live on TV 
Newborn calf  at the Minnesota State Fair in Minneapolis
A thirty minute old calf
Baby goats at the Minnesota State Fair in Minneapolis
Playful baby goats
Newborn piglet at the Minnesota State Fair in Minneapolis
A brand new piglet!
Newborn piglets feeding at the Minnesota State Fair in Minneapolis
Assembly line feeding
After the birthing center we walked around the barns housing show animals. There we saw gorgeous, really healthy cows, goats, sheep, pigs and horses. These were the “model” representatives of their breed, they had super shiny coats. There were shower stations where the animals were getting cleaned up for their upcoming performance, and most of the sheep had cute little coats on to keep them from getting their fur dirty.

Black cows at the Minnesota State Fair in Minneapolis
Bessys laying around
Pigs at the Minnesota State Fair in Minneapolis
Lambs ready for the show at the Minnesota State Fair in Minneapolis
The barbershop quartet
Lambs ready for the show at the Minnesota State Fair in Minneapolis
Ironlambs getting ready for competition
Lambs getting ready for the show at the Minnesota State Fair in Minneapolis
Sheep shaving
We also caught the live butter sculpting of one of the Princess Kay contestants. Princess Kay of the Milky Way is a title given to one lucky winner of the state-wide Minnesota Dairy Princess Program. The county finalist and the winner are commemorated by having their heads sculpted out of butter. At the fair they had a rotating refrigerated glass room that housed the already completed butter sculptures and the untouched blocks of butter (90 pounds each!) yet to be sculpted. Each day of the fair, one of the constants had to sit in the room and the sculptor would chisel away at the butter until their bust was complete. Each sculpture took about 6-8 hours to complete, so we got a chance to see the action.

Princess Kay butter sculptures at the Minnesota State Fair in Minneapolis
Sculpting of one of the contestants for Princess Kay
On Saturday we met up with some old school friends of ours, Taylor and Jenny. They recently moved to Minneapolis from Fayetteville, our mutual hometown, and have really enjoyed the city so far. They took us to a great breakfast cafĂ© and we spent some good quality time reminiscing on stories from our elementary days. After breakfast we took advantage of the great weather and rode our bikes around the Chain of Lakes. The Chain of Lakes is a collection of four lakes located in southwest Minneapolis that are connected by a great network of biking and walking trails. Most of the lakes are surrounded by ritzy neighborhoods, so not only do you get to ride around the beautiful lakes, you can also gawk at the unique and stunning mansions.

Breakfast with old friends in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Breakfast with old friends
View of downtown Minneapolis from the Chain of Lakes Lake Calhoun
Downtown views over lake Calhoun
Biking around the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Biking around the lakes
That evening Stephanie decided to invite folks over for a bonfire at her house. She went to the store to stock up on S’Mores ingredients and came away with not just the regular fixings, but also Cookies ‘N Cream chocolate bars, Dark Chocolate bars, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and three different kinds of graham crackers. This girl was after my own heart! We called up Jenny and Taylor, who biked over and joined the group, and then we all sat around the fire and shared stories well into the night.

Campfire with friends in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Campfire conversations
Campfire with friends in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Jenny and Taylor
Sunday we went downtown to see what the city had to offer. The downtown is separated into two parts by the Mississippi River and the St. Anthony Falls (who knew there were so many downtowns with waterfalls? not me apparently). There are many old factories on both sides of the river, most in pretty dilapidated conditions. The city has chosen to preserve the history, so the ruins are considered part of the downtown landscape, and you can even wonder around parts of them. We crossed the Stone Arch Bridge, over the Mississippi, and caught some pretty views of the skyline, and the new I-35 bridge. Remember that disaster in 2007? The new bridge was rebuilt one year later.

Old mill factory ruins in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota
Flour factories on the riversides
Views of downtown Minneapolis from the Stone Arch Bridge in Minnesota
Crossing the Stone Arch Bridge
Views of downtown Minneapolis and St. Anthony Falls from the Stone Arch Bridge in Minnesota
St. Anthony Falls
Old mill factory ruins in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota
Mill ruins
Old mill factory ruins in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota
Mill ruins that you can climb on
Views of the new Interstate 35 from the Stone Arch Bridge in Minnesota
The new I-35 bridge
We strolled down Nicollet Mall, a major shopping street in downtown. One interesting aspect of the downtown area is the Skyway system, an arrangement of glass tunnels that connect the second floor of 69 buildings. These tunnels make it easy to get from one building to another, bypassing all the street traffic, and provide a warm reprieve from the cold weather, which Minneapolis sees a lot of.

Skyway tunnel in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota
One of the Skyway tunnels
Overall we were pretty pleased with Minneapolis. I got the sense that there were lots of outdoor adventure opportunities to be found just outside the city. Also, we’ve heard a lot about the Boundary Waters, north on the Canadian border, which we didn’t get to visit on this trip. We plan to come back and visit again soon.

To see more pictures of Minneapolis, click here.

Happy Minneapolis Strolling,


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