An Urban Exploration

The city surprised me. With it’s tall looming buildings, close knot cross streets swarming with traffic, lack of ample parking, and the suffocating heat of the summer to top it off, it IMG_0928turned out to be a great place for a long, celebratory weekend. Usually my husband and I prefer nature centric vacations chock full of hiking and exploring the outdoors. The urban setting of downtown San Antonio didn’t fit our usual style, but it worked out perfectly.

blogThe city is known for its iconic River Walk, which is a canal system lined with sidewalk access to bars, restaurants, and shops. Tall trees and floral landscaping add to the charm of the attraction, so needless to say, it’s almost always a busy place. We indulged in delicious food and drinks along the River Walk for most of our meals. My favorite find was at our last dinner of the trip: the prickly pear margarita. It was pretty and refreshing! IMG_1014One morning however, we got up early and strolled down to the canals with our travel dog Cora, wandering in the serene quiet well before anything was open. It was peaceful and romantic and cool enough outside to truly enjoy the scenery.

People aren’t the only hungry beings that hang around the River Walk. We saw cute, tiny mice, huge fish, and birds a plenty, including ducks with babies trailing along behind them. The ducks wandered between the patio tables in case anyone was willing to share their leftovers. I became concerned when I saw a mama duck with two ducklings on the patio of a Mexican food place. Why would she bring them so close to people? I exclaimed this in exasperation to my husband who pointed out that she was probably teaching them how to scrounge for food dropped on the ground. She was teaching them downtown survival skills. We joked that she was showing them which places had the best tortilla chips.

We didn’t spend all our time at the canals though. We discovered a gourmet panaderia across the street from our hotel and spent every morning buying fresh made stuffed pastries, both savory and sweet, to enjoy for breakfast or anytime. Around the corner from our hotel, we stumbled on a library themed bar, minimalist in décor but with walls lined with photos of great writers. Without name plates, K and I sipped our fancy cocktails and worked the puzzle of putting names to those famous faces.

blogYes, we spent much of our trip eating and drinking. It was hard not to with so many scrumptious options half a block away. San Antonio has a rich history, and a visit isn’t complete without exploring a historical site. In all the trips I’ve taken to this city throughout my life, I’d never explored the mission trail, now part of the National Historical Parks until this vacation. The one that stood out for me was Mission San Jose. We walked the remnants of the restored Spanish-Colonial site that was once home to a local community, the Catholic church at its center, which still holds mass. It was a moving experience to stand under the archways and catch site of the dome under the blue sky, making it easy to understand the appeal of the place.

The mostly urban setting of our San Antonio trip surprised me. Walking from place to
place was a fun convenience I don’t get to enjoy often at home. We got a dose of history and culture, all while exploring some cool spots and indulging in some sensational meals. I call that a successful vacation.

 

Summer in the Land of Lakes

Before the plane even landed, I was intrigued. As we slowly descended into MSP airport, I stared out the tiny window at the landscape below scattered with blue bodies of water surrounded by charming houses and lush greenery. I knew almost nothing about Minneapolis/St. Paul before my visit, but by the time I left, the city had won me over whole-heartedly.

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My first introduction to the culture of the Twin Cities was via one of my favorite things – food! My friend D took me to a local dive called Matt’s, which is the home of the Juicy Lucy. It is a hamburger infused with cheese that melts as the burger cooks. An endless flow of warm gooey cheese enhances every bite from the first to the last.  It was intensely satisfying. Paired with a local beer, I was in food heaven.IMG_8356

A few other foodie favorites from my twin cities experience included a flaky lobster pot pie, organic breakfast quesadillas, single-source coffee, a salted caramel rice krispie treat the size of my face, and a pint of Leinenkugel Summer Shandy beer on tap.

Minneapolis/St. Paul is a broad metropolitan area, but it only takes about 20 minutes to get anywhere, which makes me envious considering my own sprawling metropolis. Pockets of urban areas are interspersed with neighborhoods full of “city homes.” Many are Victorian, Bungalow, and Prairie Square styles dripping with character and unique design dating back to the first half of the 1900s. The homes by the lakes are even more charming. As my friends and I wandered the neighborhoods by Harriett Lake, I daydreamed about living there. In the same neighborhood, be still my heart, I came across a little free library.

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Walking the streets of downtown and the urban pockets of the city, the unique identity of the city is clearly visible. Nature and architecture exist cohesively among flour factories, waterfalls, hike and bike trails, and bridges. The music scene is vast. Murals pay homage Prince and his once strong presence in his hometown, where he used to frequently perform for free. Show-goers clad in black attend the free Avenged Sevenfold rock concert downtown. Families gather together in the park for a free contemporary music concert by the lake.

There are unique eateries and shops all over the city. My friend D and I had the nerdy pleasure of visiting a specialty bookstore called Once Upon a Crime. I indulged in the
purchase of two mystery novels, both written and signed by Minnesota authors.
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Little Girl Gone unravels the mystery of a missing baby and takes place in the Twin Cities during the deepest part of winter. The weather, which is iconic in the Minnesota, plays a major roll in both the imagery and plot of the book. It is a fast-paced fun read.

 

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Windigo Island unravels the mystery of a missing teenage girl. It takes place in a more rural northern part of Minnesota but uniquely incorporates the culture and folklore of Native Americans in the region. It is full of interesting characters both gritty and wise.

One of my absolute favorite things about Minneapolis though was the fairy trees. Throughout the city including in neighborhoods and along the lakes, at the base of some trees sit tiny painted doors. Locals indulge the idea that fairies live in the trees.  They make doors for the fairy houses and kids often leave gifts and ornaments for the fairies at the bases of the trees. In a world where we can all use a little more magic and enchantment in our lives, these fairy trees made my heart shimmer.

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No trip to Minneapolis is complete without visiting the Mall of America. My friends and I spent a half-day wandering the endless shops and then indulging in thrill rides at the indoor amusement park. We anxiously waited in line for the Sponge Bob ride, and at the height of the first drop, we happily screamed at the exact same time and laughed all the way to end.

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The summers in Minnesota are misleadingly beautiful. The sun and warm breeze cast a spell on you, and you quickly forget the other side of the season in which wind chills create a real threat of frostbite and snow threatens to hold you hostage wherever you are.

Minneapolis/St. Paul definitely cast its spell of enchantment on me, and I cannot wait to go back.