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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

My hummingbird adventure

Banding the bird I later held

I felt her rapid heartbeat but I couldn't feel her weight. Her brilliance captivated me as she paused in my hand for a few seconds before flying away. I was completely smitten.

Kelly Bryan had just banded the 4-gram bird with a tiny numbered band. The silver jewelry around her leg will permit future banders and birders to identify her and track her behavior.

Each little ring is a band
The 50-degree morning, cold for the Texas Rio Grande Valley, didn't stop a couple dozen avid admirers from appreciating the beauty of the hummingbirds that were banded. While we watched, Kelly captured several buff-bellied and ruby-throated females and one ruby-throated male.

After he had secured the band, he conducted several measurements before giving the bird a much-appreciated drink. The hummingbirds needed the energy to fly away afterward. Several of us willingly volunteered to hold the birds in our hands until they oriented themselves and flew back to freedom. Kelly treated the birds with loving care, keeping them as short a time as possible.

As we watched, Kelly regaled us with stories of his 50-year banding experience. The thrill of recapturing and following some of the same birds keeps him coming back year after year. In some instances, he has found the bird in multiple locations across the country. This week he has banded hummingbirds at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco, as well as a private home and the Hugh Ramsey Nature Center in Harlingen.

The data from each banding is stored in an international database giving scientists, researchers and birders information on the habits, migration and lifespans of the birds.

It's now hours later and the enchantment has not lessened. It's a life experience to hold such a tiny, beautiful creature in the palm of your hand. Do you think I should ever wash my hand again?
She gets her jewelry

A male ruby-throated hummingbird

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Twin Cities - Twin Churches

The Basilica of St Mary Minneapolis

The Twin Cities can boast two magnificent churches that attract the faithful and tourists. They are both Roman Catholic and architectural marvels. Both are located on hills and stand tall in their respective cities.

In 1680, Father Louis Hennepin, a missionary, started the first Catholic settlement in Minneapolis. From a tiny shed church, the parish and buildings grew as immigrants came in droves to Minneapolis.

A basilica is an honorary title designated by the pope. The Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis became the first basilica in the United States. The church opened in 1914. Today it is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Altar in basilica
The basilica ceiling
The basilica covers an entire block and is the dream child of Archbishop John Ireland. At the beginning of the 20th century, he commissioned the building of a church in the Neoclassical/Baroque architectural style. The walls are built of white Vermont granite. The main entrance is a colonnaded portico with two 116-foot spires on each side. The grand dome measures 40 square feet at the base and rising 138 feet above the floor. In total, it stands 200 feet high.

It serves as the venue for area events including the annual Basilica Block Party weekend music festival.
Cathedral of St Paul

A cathedral is the home church of a bishop. The present Cathedral of St Paul is the fourth church building in a diocese dating back to 1841 and was completed in the early 20th century. The outside walls are built of granite from St. Cloud, MN. The church seats 3,000 and includes a Shrine of Nations with six individual shrines honoring the patron saints of the city's immigrants. In addition, the church encompasses four side chapels.

The cathedral is the third largest church in the US and the fourth tallest at 306.5 feet. It dominates the skyline from its perch on top of St. Paul's highest hill.

Altar in cathedral
In researching it, I learned a fun little piece of history. The original French Canadian settlement that would become St. Paul (named after the cathedral's dedication to the apostle Paul) was originally called Pig's Eye.

Pipe organ in cathedral
The cathedral is host to many local arts events throughout the year, including an organ concert series, Vocal Essence Choral Ensembles and the Minnesota Orchestra.

On our recent visit we stayed at the Residence Inn in Roseville, which offers close proximity to both Minneapolis and St. Paul. It is an ideal location for those of us who love to explore various places. For those like us who travel with their dogs, the Residence Inn is pet-friendly.

Disclosure: Visit Roseville MN (https://www.visitroseville.comhosted our visit to the Twin Cities, however, all opinions expressed in this article are my own.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis

More than 150 years ago, Minneapolis was founded on the banks of the Mississippi River. The river and St. Anthony's Falls, a natural waterfall, provided power for the sawmills and flour mills. Today the mills are part of the city's history, and the riverfront is a beautiful parkway that enriches the lives of citizens and visitors.

The Stone Arch Bridge is an early landmark. Completed in 1883, it tied the railroad to the new Minneapolis Union Depot. It remains the only arched stone bridge on the Mississippi River. At 2,100 feet long and 76 feet high, it has 23 arches.

Imagine 600 men working day and night, year-round, to complete the bridge in just under two years.

It continued to be used as a railroad bridge for years. In the 1990s, the Minnesota Department of Transportation repurposed the bridge as a pedestrian and bicycle trail. Today it is a key link in the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail. It is an Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The riverfront trails will make you fall in love with Minneapolis. Created and designed for walking, jogging and biking, the trails have historic markers, and are clean and well-kept. On a warm September day, the city's energy permeated the air. People of all ages were enjoying the day - from joggers and walkers to those using walkers or wheelchairs and parents with strollers.

It was as if the river that gave the city its first breaths is still giving its gifts today. As I strolled along the bridge, I saw the locks and dams that now control St. Anthony Falls and the river. I pondered a city's ability to use the river for commercial purposes, for beautification and for the well-being of its citizens. Minneapolis is doing just that. I understand that summertime sees a number of festivals in the area.

Take your phone and/or camera with you when you visit the trail and walk across the bridge. The views are fantastic.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Guthrie Theater, an architectural delight

The Guthrie Theater

Sometimes plans gone awry can produce a stroke of good fortune. We planned to start our first day in Minneapolis with a visit to the Mill City Museum. We drove downtown and located the museum only to discover that it was closed on Mondays. 

View from the 4th floor
We wandered around until nature’s call demanded we find facilities. A kind soul told us the Guthrie Theater, just across the street, had restrooms on the fourth floor.

Our helpful concierge
View when you enter the Endless Bridge
When looking at a visitor’s guide, we had talked about the theater but did not include it on our itinerary, thinking we didn’t have time to attend a performance. However, our chance visit turned into an awesome couple of hours exploring the architectural uniqueness of the building.

We wandered around the fourth floor, amazed at all the windows facing the downtown. Several comfortable chairs sat in strategic locations at each window. The concierge urged us to explore the Endless Bridge, a 178-foot-long cantilever structure that juts out facing the Mississippi River. We walked up the bridge and out onto the deck for a great view of downtown Minneapolis.

Stone Arch Bridge from Endless
Bridge deck
View from the 9th floor Amber Room

He then told us to visit the Amber Room on the ninth floor for a different viewing of the same scene. That room casts a warm-honey glow over the downtown and offers a birds-eye view of the nearby landmark Gold Medal Flour sign.

Gold Medal Flour
Standing on the ninth floor looking at the Stone Arch Bridge, we could hardly wait to get back to the first floor and check it out. I'll share more on that next time.

We loved staying at the Residence Inn in Roseville because of its proximity to both Minneapolis and St Paul. We found it great to explore the cities during the day and return to Roseville to enjoy its many restaurants in the evenings.

Disclosure: Visit Roseville MN (https://www.visitroseville.comhosted our visit to the Twin Cities, however, all opinions expressed in this article are my own.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Smack Dab in the Middle

Stone Arch Bridge

Roseville, Minnesota has the good fortune to be bounded by both Minneapolis and St. Paul. Its convenient location lends itself as the ideal place for visitors in any of its eleven hotels.

The Residence Inn
The Residence Inn, which hosted my visit, is a dream home-away-from-home destination. The staff is friendly, the suites roomy, clean and comfortable, and it is dog friendly. Since we travel with our Bichon, Luke, that's important to us. It always adds to our stay when the hotel staff is extra friendly to him and, of course, he loves it too.

Only minutes away from both downtown Minneapolis and St Paul, Roseville makes it easy to navigate to unfamiliar places. If you've never visited before, you'll find yourself eager to explore both cities. They differ in many ways but both offer diversity in destination options. Whether you're a fan of museums, art, the outdoors, sports, or city life, you can't go wrong.
St Paul viewed from the Mississippi River

We loved the riverfront area in Minneapolis, where the Stone Arch Bridge draws tourists and locals. The riverfront boasts beautiful biking and walking trails. People enjoyed the beautiful weather on or beside the river as well as the trails and parks. The downtown exudes energy and a love of beauty.

Gorilla at the Como Zoo
Downtown St Paul has an abundance of parks - green spaces well used by the residents. I loved seeing so many people enjoying the day and visiting the food trucks that lined the streets.

We visited the free Como Zoo and Conservatory, and especially loved seeing the baby giraffe and the polar bears. The grounds are gorgeous and I couldn't stop taking photos of the lilies at the entrance to the zoo.
Waterlilies at Como Zoo

Roseville is more than just a link between the two. It is home to Rosedale Shopping Center. Under some major renovations, the shopping center will soon offer even more than the current five restaurants, many shops and an AMC Theatre.

Roseville is home to a true original - the Bent Brewstillery, the unique marriage between a brewery and a distillery. If you enjoy your brew or spirits, be sure to try one of their tasty combinations of the two.
The Original
Malt Shop

A tasting at the Bent
You'll find plenty of food possibilities close to your hotel. We visited Granite City Food and Brewery, Pizza Luce, The Original Pancake House, La Casita and The Original Malt Shop (and yes, I had to have a chocolate malt). We barely touched the surface. On a return visit, I would happily return to any of them as well as checking out others.

I'll be covering many of the destinations we visited in the next several posts, but for now, I want you to know that this is a bucket-list destination

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Minneapolis & St Paul, the twin cities are anything but identical

Stone Arch Bridge

Don't count me as an expert since I've only spent one day in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul, but in the last two days, I've come away with the knowledge that the "twin cities" are, in fact, very different.

Downtown Minneapolis
I'm not sure what I expected, but I wasn't prepared for the uniqueness of each. We visited Minneapolis first and I loved its artsy outdoor culture. The cityscape is modern big city. I loved the architecture of the many buildings and the way the design flows into an artful composite.

We first viewed the historic Stone Arch Bridge from the modern Guthrie Theater. The ancient river is bordered by a first-class byway for biking and walking. The city is alive with its diversity of citizens and visitors.

The second day we visited St. Paul. My first impression of the cityscape was the total difference from Minneapolis. The skyscrapers are fewer and more traditional. Two stunning buildings dominate the skyline and define St Paul as an historical city with classic beauty.

The cathedral's main altar
The two buildings - the Cathedral of St Paul and the Minnesota State Capitol. Both stand on hills that add to their grandeur.

Cathedral of St Paul
Awed by the sheer size of the cathedral, I couldn't wait to walk inside. I wasn't disappointed. The third largest church in the US, it was completed in 1915. The cathedral boasts a 186-foot high dome, stained glass windows that illuminate the inside, a large pipe organ in the choir loft and five altars.

I didn't go inside the state capitol, but the classic beauty of the design and white stone demands attention. According to Wikipedia, the unsupported marble dome is the second largest in the world, second on to St Peter's Basilica in Rome. The building opened in 1905.
Minnesota State Capitol

I'm sure I will learn more about the similarities and differences, and Minnesotans may correct me, but I liked the differences I found in the two cities. The twin cities cannot be described as one big metropolitan area. Each has its own style and culture. I love the differences!

We are staying at the Residence Inn in Roseville which borders both Minneapolis and St Paul. It's surprisingly easy to navigate within the metro area, even with the preparations for the 2018 Super Bowl.

Monday, September 11, 2017

"And That's the Way It Was," Walter Cronkite

I walked into the Walter Cronkite Memorial in St Joseph, MO, totally unprepared for the nostalgia that awaited. If you're old enough to remember Walter Cronkite reporting the nightly news, it's a dream trip down memory lane. If you're too young to remember him, it's a great American history lesson.

Moon landing sculpture
from 2nd floor
From the John Kennedy assassination and the Civil Rights Movement to the Vietnam War and the moon landing, America was there with Cronkite. His voice was probably the most recognizable in America and throughout the world for many years.

"Of all of humankind's achievements in the twentieth century ... the one event that will dominate the history books a half a millennium from now will be our escape from our earthly environment and landing on the moon ... The first landing on the moon was, indeed, the most extraordinary story of our time."

This quote, from his autobiography, A Reporter's Life, is on a wall in the museum near the sculpture honoring the historic landing.

Once you've walked through the years with Walter, visitors can go upstairs and have a photo taken at a re-creation of his reporter's desk.

If you visit St Joseph, put this one on your bucket list. Everyone deserves a blast from a past when the world counted on Walter Cronkite to report the news accurately and timely.

The memorial is located on the Northwestern Missouri State University campus.