Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Twin Cities

Hello everyone! Welcome to Minneapolis and St. Paul, also known as the Twin Cities! It's two impressive cities for the price of one!

The city of Minneapolis grew out of a ancillary town supporting nearby Fort Snelling, which was established in 1819. It became an official town in 1856, and incorporated as a city in 1867. Situated at the highest waterfall on the Mississippi river, Minneapolis became one of the greatest centers for direct-drive hydro-power in the world between 1880 and 1930. With the power, plus the distribution network of the Mississippi river and the railroad, Minneapolis became a hub for mills, where companies like Pillsbury and General Mills once ground enough flour to make twelve million loaves of bread a day! That's my kind of city!

On the opposite and eastern bank of the Mississippi, St. Paul grew up around the same time. In 1841, Father Lucien Galtier headed to the settlement which would become St. Paul to minister to the Catholic French Canadians living in the area. It was Father Galtier's influence, and his love for Paul the Apostle, which would provide the impetus to name the city St. Paul. When the Minnesota Territory was formalized in 1849, St. Paul was established as its capitol, and it remained the capitol in 1858 when Minnesota became the 32nd state of the union.

In the photo above I'm standing outside Everest, a restaurant which serves Tibetan and Nepali food. In this multicultural place, it was just one of the many great adventures I had.

Yak soup, yak dumplings, and a little chai tea were all quite delicious in Everest.

On to the city itself, just look at this impressive state capitol building. Stately, indeed.

The general architecture made for a pleasant urban hike.

It was a fun mix of the modern...

...and the classical.

There were many fun stores to explore, like Candyland...

...and quite possibly the best store in the entire world: Bread and Chocolate!

A large hill runs through the city, and on its summit you could get really great views.

Bike lanes on tree lined streets helped you make the most of pleasant days. What's that in the distance?

Why, it's St. Paul's Cathedral auspiciously towering over the land, built in 1915.

It was just as impressive inside as outside.

Let me tell you, the Twin Cities is a cherry of a destination. :-)

Not only is it very pretty, it's also well appointed, like with metal zebras.

And world-class museums, like the Art Institute of Minneapolis, with masters like Van Gogh.

As well as cultural arts like this spiffy African mask.

Some paintings had a way of stirring up love and joy.

While some statues had a way of making you smile.

Ultimately, the art was a reminder to appreciate the beauty of life. And that's a good thing... :-)

...even in architecture. Well, I see I am at the door, so it's time to say goodbye until next time!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mall of America

Welcome to a structure which combines the American drive for the grandiose with the love of indoor shopping. Welcome, to the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. It is huge, with 520 stores, but not in the sprawling sense. They've packed a lot of stores into a relatively small piece of real estate by making it square and stacking it up three stories high.

Presumably to help keep you from getting lost, each straight section of the mall is adorned with its own style of decoration. Different tiles, carpets, and furniture themes serve as visual cues to remind you that you still have a half a mile walk to get to the side where you parked your car.

Many features set this mall apart from the others, such as a hotel, a miniature golf course, and Nickelodeon theme park residing in the center of the mall, replete with roller coasters and a log flume! If you need energy to get you around the mall, don't worry. There are over 60 restaurants, including 6 coffee shops! Other than the funkier features, this mall is essentially the same as any other mall with all the same chain stores and a small handful of unique ones.

Here is a view down one of the mall's triple-decker corridors.

And here is another. Notice the design contrast?

My personal favorite was the Lego store. Life-size dinosaurs and space scenes were a real treat to see. It's imagination gone brick-wild!

Where can I get a job as a Lego-maniac?

Moose Mountain Mini-golf anyone?

If not, how about a log flume ride?

Or a stroll in the amusement park?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

SPAM Museum

Hello again! I'm sorry that I've missed the past couple of months. As you can see, I had some problems with SPAM! OK, well, I didn't actually have any problems with SPAM, I just took a little break, but I am back to report on my trip to the SPAM museum in Austin, Minnesota!

While spam is used as a derogatory term for unwanted emails, the real SPAM is a meaty loaf of ham shoulder bits congealed together with a little gelatin. SPAM was an innovation in food technology at the time when it came into being; finding a way to utilize the little bits and pieces of good meat removed from the more bony parts of the hog shoulder. The word SPAM is the splicing of the word spiced and the word ham, although there are not many spices in SPAM other than salt.

Due to its precooked condition and durable canning, SPAM was once a part of military rations in World War II. After the war ended, SPAM had a period of great commercial success. Today, there are still devoted fans of SPAM, and in Hawaii you can find it on restaurant menus, even at some gourmet places.

Right inside the museum is a mega-wall of canned SPAM!

Through the years, SPAM marketed all sorts of products. Why, you could even get Spic and SPAM!

SPAM Theater: Where puppets go to ham it up.

After touring the museum, my mouth was water for a salty slab of canned ham, so I headed over to Johnny's SPAMoramma for a SPAM and cheese omelet. Tasty!

I hope you don't think that I got carried away with the SPAM! See you next time!

Monday, July 20, 2009


Bienvenidos a Salta, Argentina! Behind me in the photo is the Iglesia San Fransisco and the hill of San Bernardo.

Salta is the eighth largest city in Argentina, where around 470,000 people call home. Originally established as an outpost between Peru and Buenos Aires in 1582, Salta played a key role in battles for the war of Argentinian independence, which ended in 1818 and left the city bankrupt. The city did manage to spring back to a rather prosperous life, largely helped an influx of Spanish and Italians, and to a lessor extent some Syrians and Lebanese.

Salta is a great mix of a romantic past and most modern conveniences. While there were some chain restaurants, by far small cafes and larger unique establishments dominated the food scene. However, despite being a mix of many cultures and having a large population, there were not many specific ethnic food restaurants.

The people are friendly, and proud to tell you about their beloved city, but English is not well known, so it's best to know at least some Spanish for the essentials.

The Iglesia San Fransisco is impressive during the day, but at night it really seems to come alive! The bright orangish-red, mustard-yellow, and starch-white trim simply pop when contrasted against the dark night sky.

Inside the Iglesia San Fransisco the colors are a little more tame, but no less beautiful.

Below is Catedral Basílica, the main cathedral of the city of Salta. Its light pink paint and creamy filigree visually dominates the Plaza 9 de Julio.

Here's another shot of Catedral Basílica. It puts on an impressive show at night too.

The churches weren't the only sources of great architecture in the city. Many homes were built with a neo-classical Italian or Spanish style, making walks around the city full of nice surprises.

I believe this was the city governor's office.

I'm just hanging out in another one of the city's plazas. On the weekends, vendors set out booths stocked with everything from leather goods to beaded jewelery.

Ah, a plate full of empanadas. Empanadas are very common in south and central America, which each region tweaks to their own unique tastes; and the empanadas in Salta are known to be some of the best in Argentina. In Salta, they are baked dough pockets traditionally stuffed ground beef, a little bit of finely diced potato, a touch of salt, and chopped green onion. Also on the table you can see some espresso. The Italian immigrants brought their love of premium and powerful coffee, making it somewhat of an institution in Salta. And on the little dish with the sugar packs... tiny sandwich cookies with dulce de leche filling! Yummy! :-)

Spice booths like the one below accounted for about 20% of the booths in this marketplace. This is like the Argentinian version of Hamburger Helper, only there's no box, no instructions, and the spices are fresh. ;-)

Argentina is known for producing some great wines, and so it naturally has some wonderful wine shops, like this one.

As you can see, I'm taking in a little of the local culture. There's a healthy appreciation for culture in Salta, blending Spanish, Italian, and a little Syrian and Lebanese influences with those of the historic Inca natives.

I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to drive out to Quebrada de Humahuaca. Quebrada de Humahuaca is a narrow mountain valley with some spectacular geological features and coloration.

All I have to say is WOW!

The scenery along this drive ranks as some of the most beautiful that I've ever experienced.

It was really a feast for the eyes, and was perfect for a road trip. Although hiking or bicycling may have been an even better way to appreciate the landscape, there were no real hiking trails and the road was not designed with bicycling in mind.

It was about a two hour drive from Salta, and was worth every minute!

On the way back I took a side road to a small town called Purmamarca to behold "el Cerro de los Siete Colores", the Hill of Seven Colors. I think I count many more than seven!

Check out this farm in Purmamarca. This is the life!

More colorful hills around Purmamarca, with some houses in the picture for a sense of scale. All I have to say is dulce! That's "sweet" in Spanish, and that's it for me!