My time in Minneapolis has seemed to pass by so quickly, and this week I had my final two free days before the last week of performances, which culminate on Saturday.
This week I wanted to go a little further afield, so I arranged to hire a car from the local downtown Avis office and on Monday morning I became the temporary owner of a bright blue Hyundai which would be my trusty steed for a couple of days.
Sadly the weather had taken a slight downward turn and although not actually raining it was very overcast and rather cloudy as I set out onto the streets of Minneapolis. With all of my walking this time I have become quite familiar with the road system and could navigate my way towards the I35 without any problems. My first port of call was the town of Stillwater (I know every American conurbation calls itself a city, but that is just too a large a term for some).
Dennis had suggested that a visit to Stillwater would be a nice thing to do, as it is a pretty riverside town. The drive didn’t take long and soon I was parking on the main street which was lined with beautiful old warehouse buildings from the Victorian era. The town is built on the banks of St Croix River and boasts to be the birthplace of Minnesota, as it was here that the Territorial convention was signed that led to the creating of first the Territory and later the State.
The main industry here was originally lumber and the town seems inappropriately named for the river seemed to be flowing very fast, with eddies and currents across its width. On the far bank is the State of Wisconsin, where the football supporters wear cheese on their heads, and people indulge in the ancient past-time of cow-tipping – maybe I will save all that for another trip!
I spent a lovely hour in Stillwater, before getting back on the car and exploring. I had noticed on the map ‘White Bear Lake’ which looked and sounded interesting, so I headed there. As I neared my second destination never had my point about the town/city status been more clearly proven, for I drove past a sign to the ‘City of Gem Lake. Population 393’! Now, that can NOT be a city!
Actually there was not a huge amount to see at White Bear Lake, and no beautiful walking trails around its perimeter, for the land was fully occupied by very large, sprawling and expensive-looking houses. I circumnavigated the lake as best I could and then headed back towards Minneapolis, passing on the way a rather distressingly named business:
I hope they have a very big workshop!
Before returning to the apartment I had one final stop and that is the Minnehaha Falls located on the outskirts of Minneapolis. Apparently Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was inspired by the name of the falls when he came to write The Song of Hiawatha:
‘At the door on summer evenings, sat the little Hiawatha; Heard the whispering of the Pine-trees, heard the lapping of the water, Sounds of music, words of wonder; “Minne-wawa!” said the pine-trees, “Mudway-aushka! said the water.’
The falls became a popular attraction in the Victorian era and part of a Minnesota grand tour. Tourists would arrive in St Paul by Mississippi steamers and then visit Fort Snelling (the first area to be settled by non-indigenous folk), St Anthony’s Falls and Minnehaha park.
The waterfall is not a high one, but certainly cascades with a great deal of force and creates some wonderful photo opportunities, including the inevitable cliché of the slow exposure, giving the misty ghostly look. I know I am not the first person to have done that!
The falls and the river are set in a lovely spacious park, although the ravine itself was disappointingly covered in graffiti and litter.
As I walked back to the car I passed an inconsequential little white structure, which proved to be the first building on the west river bank in Minnesota (originally near the St Anthony’s Falls, but moved here a few years ago). The house was used as a ferryman’s cottage, and was built in 1850, which is three years after our play is set: such are the vagaries of history.
If the weather had been overcast on Monday it was with amazement that I woke to snow on Tuesday. You can never fully trust the weather in Minnesota.
My Tuesday travels wouldn’t take me so far afield, as I planned to visit the ‘other twin’, St Paul, which is only about fifteen minutes away, which was just as well for when I arrived I discovered that I’d left my wallet back in the apartment, so had to drive back to collect it!
In my early years of touring I performed in the beautiful historic St Paul Hotel, and one of my annual treats was to visit the impressive Science Museum of Minnesota, where they have some amazing exhibits, including a remarkable collection of dinosaur skeletons, which roamed the continent before mankind came along with his freeways and baseball parks.
As I walked in, the first thing I saw was a huge stuffed Polar Bear – maybe that is what they do at White Bear Taxidermy in White Bear Lake.
The museum was packed with children on their Spring break (I assume they are not allowed to call it the Easter holidays here), and there was so much fun and laughter as they all ran from one interactive exhibit to another. To be truthful it was a little too children-oriented for me, and I would have liked some more permanent displays to dully study like adults are supposed to do.
After an hour or so I walked through the city and up to the amazing Cathedral of St Paul (as opposed to the visually similar St Paul’s Cathedral in London), which sits high on a hill overlooking the city. Walking up to it was rather like clambering up Montmartre towards the basilica of Sacre-Coeur in Paris.
The Cathedral was almost empty and dressed ready for the Easter services throughout the week, with every cross humbly shrouded. It was a silent and moving experience.
Outside, at the top of the cathedral steps I looked over the old city of St Paul and had a wonderful view of the State Capitol building, which heighted the Parisian theme, for it is built from white marble.
I walked back into town, and passed my old stomping ground at the St Paul Hotel, before returning to the museum to watch an IMAX film. Again this was a habit from the old days: I just love the scale of the films and it doesn’t really matter what is playing. I settled myself into my seat and looked up at the dome above me, and waited for the fun to start. Not only is the scale impressive, but I rather like the fact that it is on film, rather than digital, and every now and then a piece of dust would get caught in the gate and flicker across the gigantic screen, which gave me a warm nostalgic feel.
The film itself? Oh, it was about a raft trip along the entire length of the Nile, but that is not important at all.
And so my two days of play had come to an end. I dropped the car back to Avis and walked to the apartment, where I did a little housework and laundry ready for the last remaining days of the show.
I have really enjoyed being in Minneapolis in good weather and have greatly appreciated the opportunity of exploring more than I have ever been able to do before. It is a great city (no, they are great cities, for Minneapolis and St Paul are joined at the hip by the mighty Mississippi) and they have welcomed me and taken me in.