Three Summer Days in the Twin Cities – Minneapolis Saint Paul

By Saul Schwartz

My wife Fern and I had never been to Minnesota together before and we spent three days exploring the twin cities in August.  Without a rental car, we used public transportation to get from place to place.  The Mississippi River divides the state capital of Saint Paul with a population of about 300,000, from its larger twin Minneapolis, the largest city in the state with a population of over 400,000 residents.  Certainly, these are the most widely known U.S. twin cities.  Here the two urban areas competed for prominence as they grew. 

We flew into Minneapolis – Saint Paul airport, about ten miles from downtown Minneapolis.  Within the airport, there is a large Prince store in terminal one.  This pop-up shop pays tribute to a beloved Minnesota legend. The interior celebrates Prince and his career through music videos, artwork, and merchandise including apparel, books, CDs, vinyl records, and more.

Attractions – Minneapolis

Minneapolis Institute of Art

We took the number 11 bus from our Doubletree Hotel to a stop right across from the museum entrance at 2400 Third Avenue South.  The art museum is contained on three levels.  The first level contains a small café and gift shop, so most of the works are on the upper two levels, within several wings.  Unfortunately, the Agra Culture Kitchen restaurant was still closed due to COVID related issues.  The museum staff was very helpful in guiding us to see major works, as in-person tours were not available on the day of our visit.  The exterior of the building is lovely, with columns that reminded us of structures in Athens and Rome.

Looking up as we entered the museum, we saw a large yellow/orange Chihuly sculpture.  Sunburst is made up of more than 1,000 individual pieces of glass and 100 feet of neon tubing. It weighs more than 3,000 pounds.  This was a beautiful piece to see as our visit began. 

Admission is free for the permanent collection, although we paid $16 each to see the special Van Gogh exhibit called Van Gogh and the Olive Groves.  The small but internationally recognized Van Gogh exhibit featured about ten works, mainly from Amsterdam, 

The olive groves of Saint-Rémy deeply inspired Vincent van Gogh in his last year of life, and the paintings he made of them are among his most moving works. This exhibition unites this Museum’s own Olive Trees with three more paintings from the series, along with two other Van Gogh landscapes and three works on paper. Van Gogh created the olive grove paintings between June and December of 1889, during his stay at the psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy.

We spent about one half of a day at the Museum, especially enjoying the Impressionist art galleries.  A particularly interesting exhibit featured Vietnamese artist Teo Nguyen, including a three-level sculpture entitled Agent Orange and many pictures of the places and peoples without the stereotypes of the Vietnam war.  Also, we enjoyed the series of period rooms featuring wall paneling and historic furnishings (such as a French salon, a Tudor room, etc.). 

Perhaps our favorite piece was the Veiled Lady.  We can’t see through stone, but through tricks of light and polish, Raffaelo Monti created the illusion that we can. On his Veiled Lady, the top of the head and shoulders are polished smooth, to reflect light. But where the veil falls across the face, the marble is less polished. It reflects less light, suggesting the texture of fabric. As we left the museum, we wandered by a series of Frank Lloyd Wright pieces from several of his houses that no longer exist.  We were extremely impressed with the museum’s collections!

Mary Tyler Moore Sculpture 

From our hotel, we walked to the bronze sculpture honoring Mary Tyler Moore and her character Mary Richards, downtown at Nicollet Mall.  The statute features Mary tossing her hat skyward, like the opening sequence of the Mary Tyler Moore Show.  The statue is located at the very same spot where Mary tossed her hat on the show.  The statute was erected in 2002 and is inscribed with the words of the show’s theme song “Who can turn the world on with her smile.”  This is a stop worth a quick picture and viewing just for fun. 

Attractions – Saint Paul:

State Capitol

We took the green line light rail train from downtown Minneapolis to the Capitol stop.  The one-hour guided tour led by Robert was exceptionally detailed.  The building is an architectural masterpiece designed by architect Cass Gilbert.  Gilbert designed several state capitols and the U.S. Supreme Court.  Built in 1905, the building has undergone recent restorations and renovations.  On a summer day, the legislature was not in session. 

The free tour began in the first-floor rotunda.  The rotunda contains a large marble star, in honor of the North Star State, in the center.  The star contains a series of the letter M for Minnesota.  Looking up in the rotunda, high overhead is a crystal chandelier and the second-largest self-supported marble dome in the world.  The building features grand staircases and amazing works of art.  Fern and I thought this was one of the most beautiful state Capitols we have seen. 

Highlights of the tour included a trip up to the roof to see The Quadriga.  This sculpture of a chariot pulled by four horses is regilded with 23.5-karat gold leaf.  Its official title is Progress of the State.  The golden horses represent the four elements – earth, air, water, and fire.  From the roof, we had superb views of downtown Minneapolis and downtown Saint Paul.

We were able to sit inside the House Chamber.  Historic furniture, artwork and interior decorations have been restored to their 1905 appearance.  Although we could not enter the Senate Chamber, we were able to peek inside (as staff were having a meeting).  Also, we were able to sit in the state Supreme Court gallery.  Four lovely John La Farge murals in the court address historic legal moments.  We learned that Minnesota was the first state to have a majority of its justices as women.  When our tour ended, we were allowed to walk around some more on our own. 

Saint Paul Cathedral

The Cathedral is within walking distance of the Capitol (and at the same light rail stop on the green line).  The address is 239 Selby Avenue.  The tour is free with donations accepted and lasts about one- and one-half hours.  Our guide Jan was extremely knowledgeable about the Cathedral’s artwork and religious objects.  Guided tours are offered most days at 1 p.m. 

Opened in 1915, this cathedral is one of the most impressive Cathedrals in the United States.  It sits on a hill overlooking downtown Saint Paul and the Mississippi River.  The Cathedral is the third largest Catholic church in the United States and seats around 3000. 

The exterior features a copper-clad dome even larger than the Minnesota Capitol dome.  This landmark church is designed in the classical Renaissance-Beaux-Arts style, based on French themes.  The interior includes 24 beautiful stained-glass windows, huge eight-ton marble statutes of the four evangelists in the four corners of the church, beautiful rose windows and lovely religious paintings.  Our guide explained the significance of most of the art during our tour.  Jan explained that the large organ provides excellent sound during concerts and services due to the fine acoustics of the Cathedral. 

One of the wonderful features of the cathedral is a full-sized replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta, given to St. Paul’s by a donor in 2010. As in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome where the original is located, this statue is in a chapel to the immediate right of the cathedral entrance.  We left very impressed. 

Hubert Humphrey Memorial

In between the Capitol and the Cathedral, there is a memorial to former Vice-President and Senator Humphrey.  The bronze statue is at the intersection of Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. and John Ireland Blvd.  The seven-foot-tall statue was erected in 2018.  The surrounding plaza contains Humphrey quotes and information about his life, featuring his civil rights efforts.

Where to Eat:

Christos was an exceptional Greek restaurant in Minneapolis.  Located at 2632 Nicollet Avenue South, the restaurant is in the neighborhood called Eat Street, which is full of international restaurants.  The spacious restaurant is set up to look like a Greek taverna, with Greek ornamental articles and posters on the walls from various locations in Greece.  The husband-and-wife proprietors were very friendly and chatted with us about their origins from the island of Cyprus.  The food was exceptional.  The homemade pita and hummus were better than any we had eaten in Greece!  Prices were reasonable and the lunch special included both a side salad and an extra vegetable.  We shared the vegetable moussaka, a very tasty baked combination of eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions.  This area south of the downtown was easily accessible by the Route 11 bus and is near the Minneapolis Institute of Art. 

We ate several meals outdoors within Peavey Plaza in downtown Minneapolis (at 81 South 9th Street).  The Plaza has a series of benches and water fountains.  Designed by renowned landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg, Peavey Plaza opened in 1975. A notable example of modernist architecture, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. 

We stopped for drinks at Caribou Coffee several times.  Caribou is headquartered in Minnesota, and we were not as familiar with this coffee company as Starbucks.  There were several locations downtown.  The iced tea was very good, but unfortunately the café was temporarily out of almond milk, so we did not order our usual coffee drinks. 

Fern and I were very satisfied with the large grocery store Lunds & Byerlys.  We bought food several times at the 1201 Hennepin Avenue location in downtown Minneapolis.  The store reminded us of markets in European cities, with many healthy options to choose from (including salads).  Prices were reasonable and the staff helped us when needed. 

In the airport terminal one, Stone Arch featured a limited menu.  My salad was bland, and the vegetarian options were very few.  The prices were moderate, and the pub-like atmosphere was lively.  Overall this was a fairly typical airport restaurant experience. 

Where to stay:

The Doubletree at 1101 Lasalle Avenue is in the heart of downtown, within walking distance of many bus lines and the light rail.  The hotel included a moderate size fitness center, and the restaurant was open for breakfast only.  The rooms were spacious but older.  The staff was helpful and the featured chocolate chip cookies provided at check-in were exceptional! 

A few tips:

We were surprised at how many homeless were on the streets of both cities.  As a result, Fern and I were uncomfortable walking around at night.  The Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis had a very funky vibe even during the daytime.    Be careful!

The public transportation system is impressive.  The bus routes from downtown Minneapolis are numerous and easy to use, with a very reasonable cost structure, ranging from free to $2.50 per ride.  The light rail system allowed us access to both Minneapolis and Saint Paul with frequent trains running on the two major lines (blue and green), again with a low-cost structure of up to $2.50 per ride.  Our hotel was withing walking distance of many bus lines and the Nicollet Mall light rail station.  However, both the bus and light rail riders seemed to include many homeless riders, some of whom were smoking or high on the trains or playing noisy radios.  We were not totally comfortable until we reached our destinations.  As a result, we did not take public transportation to or from the airport.  More security on the light rail is in order. 

At all our attractions, the local guides and staff were very friendly and helpful.  We loved the distinctive Minnesota accents of the natives!

The airport is very large, and it takes some time to get around.  Also, allow time to get to the airport, as the airport is not close to either downtown,  We encountered some traffic.

The weather in August was very pleasant.  There was a little rain, but highs were around 80 degrees with lows around 60 degrees. 

To get to attractions outside of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, we would have needed a rental car.  With the current high expense of rental cars, Fern and I were content to limit ourselves to public transportation on this trip.  Over three days, we felt that we had seen many of the major attractions of the twin cities and gotten the local vibe.