A Few Days in the Twin Cities

In what is becoming an annual tradition1, I took a few days at the beginning of June2 to head down to Minneapolis and St. Paul. It’s about an eight-hour drive, nice and easy, and there are some great game stores and bookshops. Also, I have some friends there that I get to have dinner with, so that’s always nice.

Unlike last year, this year had great weather. That meant that, in addition to the shopping and movies, I did some more touristy things, as well. I drove down on Thursday, getting into the city in the late afternoon after a leisurely trip. The ease of the trip all stopped pretty much the second I left the highway into Minneapolis; the downtown area – right around my hotel – was under heavy construction, and traffic was pretty awful. Still, I got in to my hotel eventually, and it was pretty cool.

I didn’t really get a good look at the hotel facade until I was coming back from a walk that evening. The art is not quite Glorious Soviet level, but still pretty good.

My walk that evening showed me that the little I knew about the area – this was on the Nicollet Mall – was going to do me absolutely zero good. The whole area was torn up and under heavy construction. A lot of the sights and shops were either pretty much inaccesssible, and the nice evening strolls I had been looking forward to were pretty much off the table.

But that’s okay. I had dinner at Hell’s Kitchen, where I had a really tasty ham and pear crisp sandwich3 and also bought a whole bunch of their great peanut butter for people back home who had requested it.

Next day, I got up and went to the Minnesota Zoo. I’d planned to come here last year, but it rained every day, so I didn’t. This year, it was bright and hot and looked like a good day for the trip.

Well, it kinda was. It was hot – like, really hot – and because it was a Friday at the start of June, it looked like every school in the state decided that this would be a good day for a zoo field trip. So, it was very crowded, very loud, and the animals were all pretty lethargic in the heat.

But it’s a really nice zoo. I liked it. Here are a few pictures that actually turned out:

Snow monkeys, gazing up at the hordes of people surrounding them.
A couple more snow monkeys, up atop the hill in the enclosure.
Just past the snow monkeys, which are pretty much right at the entrance, is this great splash pad play area. It really looks like that metal cougar is gonna be eating soon, though.

I got some pictures of the brown bears, but they were all just slumped in the shade, looking like piles of rugs, so I haven’t bothered posting any. I imagine they would have been pretty impressive on the move.

These are takin. Takin it easy in the shade, am I right? …I’ll see myself out.
There was a pretty sizable field of prairie dogs, looking for snacks, I think.
This prairie dog is getting ready for the gravedigger scene in Hamlet. I hear he’s pretty good.

And then I got to Kangaroo Corner. This is an area where there are a number of kangaroos and wallabies, along with some other Australian animals, basically running loose, and visitors get to follow a path through their habitat without anything more than a rope strung between posts separating you from the animals.

I was somewhat disheartened by the fact that there is a big sign at the entrance with rules. Some of the rules were reasonable – don’t feed the animals, don’t chase the animals, stuff like that. But I don’t think I’d like to meet the people who made it necessary to post a rule not to put kangaroos into your backback. When I asked one of the keepers if that was really necessary to post, she looked kind of pained, rolled her eyes, and said, “We don’t take chances any more.” And that made me sad.

This picture of kangaroos lounging in the shade looked a lot like a pride of lions lounging on the Serengeti, and that image stuck in my head and amused me far more than it should have. It still does.
This is about the level of activity I saw in most of the animals. Their chests were moving, so you knew they were alive, but that’s about it.
This is a dhole, a wild dog from Asia, sort of midway between a wolf and a coyote.

And then it was into the tropical house. It was actually a little cooler in there, though that could have been the higher humidity.

The tortoises were positively frolicsome, in that you could actually see them move.
Tapirs do taper, after all.
This is a white-cheeked gibbon. It was gazing longingly off into the distance. All it needed was a breeze to tousle its hair, and it could have been the hero of a Gothic primate novel.
It’s a Best Flamingo contest, judged by the ducks. I assume.
Unlike so many of the animals, this red panda looks like he’s just enjoying being draped on a stick like a limp rag.
This did not make it easier to find my way out of the tropical house.

Along the Minnesota Trail, the only really good picture I got was this guy.

He was kind of grumpy, as one might expect of a porcupine.

And that was my day at the zoo. I went after this to drink a great deal of water and shower the sticky, smelly sweat off my body.

Over the next couple of days, I visited a substantial number of game stores and book stores4. I also went and saw Wonder Woman5, Alien: Covenant6, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales7.

On Sunday afternoon, I got touristy again, and headed out to Historic Fort Snelling8. This turned out to be a really good decision on my part.

Fort Snelling was originally Fort Saint Anthony, built after the War of 1812, ostensibly to help protect the Minnesota territory from the British and Canadians, though the main focus of the fort seemed to be to prevent European settlement of the area until the local tribes had been properly pacified. That said, a contingent of Selkirk Settlers, fleeing the troubled Red River Colony up here around Winnipeg9, so maybe they had a reason to fear us.

At Fort Snelling, they have a number of living history reenactors, doing demonstrations and answering questions. It’s not a large place, and there’s not a large number of reenactors, but everyone I talked to there were really on the ball and good at what they do. Fantastic fun.

This is the parade ground of the fort. The row down the left were primarily quarters for the enlisted men, and on the right were quarters and offices for the officers. The big house at the end was for the fort commander, of course.
I had to hurry from the entry centre along about a quarter mile of pathway to get to the fort. I arrived just in time for the Artillery Drill demonstration. That cannon is LOUD.
A recreation of the married quarters for enlisted men. Two families would live in this little room.
So, I’m heading through the main house to the back stairs down to the kitchen and the Hearth Cooking demo that’s about to start. But there’s this guy with a banjo made from a calabash gourd sitting here, and I had to stop and get him to talk to me about it and play me a tune. I missed the cooking demo.
I missed the cooking demo, but I got a neat picture of the larder. Nothing really interesting; I just liked the effect of light and shadow in the picture.
So, the Indian Agent for the area wasn’t in the fort back in the day, but because of Fort Snelling’s role in the Dakota War of 1862, they’ve got a recreation here, along with a lady who talked about the treatment of the local Dakota tribes by the US government. It’s not a pretty story.

The main fighting of the Dakota War of 1862 took place at some distance from Fort Snelling, but this was the site of the interment camp for the surviving Dakotas.

This dude was so great. He was acting as the doctor, and had all the little instruments and furniture. Plus, he seemed to know a fair bit about period medicine, and would gleefully tell all the kids about the horrific kinds of treatments administered. And the kids, of course, loved it.
Another very cool guy. He was the regimental drummer, and had a lot to say about the command structure and the officers in the fort.
Here he is drumming the troops to order for the Infantry Drill. I was far away from him, and the air was full of dandelion fluff. Hence the little floaty specks.
Here’s the Infantry Drill demo. They marched about a bit in formation, which would have been impressive if there were more than three of them. But still cool. And they fired the muskets several times, though there were a few misfires, as is to be expected with period firearms.
Last stop of my tour was up the round tower, which is (if I recall correctly) the only original part of the fortifications still standing. It was certainly round, and towered well enough for given values of towering.
Here’s a shot of the fort from the top of the round tower. The activity down on the parade ground is a game of rounders, a period game similar to baseball.

That evening was my dinner with my friends, Cam, Jessica, and their sons. We went to a lovely storefront middle-eastern restaurant called Zait & Za’atar for some great shwarma. This visit is always the highlight of my trip – good food, fun company, conversation filled with strangeness.

Next morning, it was back in the car and back to Winnipeg. My little vacation done for another year.

  1. Though, if I do go next year, the dates will be off, because I plan to be in Ireland at the beginning of June. []
  2. And I didn’t bring the cable I needed to connect my camera to my computer, so I couldn’t write this post in a timely manner. And then, of course, I got home and kept putting it off. But now I’m getting into full planning for next spring’s Ireland trip, so I wanted to get this posted before going too far down that road. []
  3. This was my first dinner at Hell’s Kitchen. Previously, I’d been there for breakfast a couple of times, which was phenomenal. []
  4. I can hear my friends gasping in amazement. []
  5. Great movie! []
  6. Bad movie! []
  7. Bland and forgettable movie, with a title that is way too long. []
  8. After a detour caused by me trusting an outdated GPS map over the freeway signage. At least I got to see an airport parking lot, so bonus! []
  9. The history of the settlement of Manitoba and it’s inclusion in the new nation of Canada is not necessarily a happy one. Commercial colonialism at its purest, really. []

2 thoughts on “A Few Days in the Twin Cities”

    1. Really good food. Heavy on style, but they don’t let that overshadow the food and the service. I recommend it. They do especially nice breakfasts.

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