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US Travel Diary 1

US Travel Diary 1

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Published by Rowan Smith

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Published by: Rowan Smith on Jan 23, 2011
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MAGIC MOMENTS IN MINNESOTA(Sorry for the bad alliteration!)( March 6, 2001)We didn’t make it to Jamaica in the Spring Break as it was too short of a notice to book quickly andcheaply, but this may yet happen! Anyway, Minnesota is a great place to spend our current vacation(sorry Australia, but yes I am on vacation even although Jessie and Raymond being in a differentschool district are not until the end of the month).Minnesota is a great place to live, and we have settled in comfortably. I thought that I might try in mylimited way to give everybody some insight in what it is like to live here from day to day.The biggest and best impression is that of the people here! We have made so many special, helpfulfriends in the neighbourhood and at the different schools. The ordinary folks who we meet from dayto day are generally just so friendly and welcoming. They are like Australians, if not friendlier!Americans may know little about Australia, but I think many seem to be in love with the idea of Australia and Australians, and are genuinely interested in us. They are very welcoming and one isgetting a little tired sometimes of repeating the same explanation of how we have come to be here!Living in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul is special.The Twin Cities claim to be 2.3 million people total, but this seems to be counting all the suburbs.The cities are a far cozier size than this.Minneapolis is a clean and well-organised city with a wonderful system of skyways or glassed inwalkways that join the entire central business district above the streets and out of the winter weather.There are nice walks along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis around Saint Anthony’s Falls wherethe city was founded. To drive around the suburbs of Minneapolis is so easy. The freeway system iswonderful, and so easy to navigate running generally north south or east west by numbers and blocks.The various suburbs are small, fairly self contained with interesting individual attributes such as greattheatres in Hopkins, restaurants in other areas and so on. Many of the areas are wonderful, such asHyland Park in Bloomington, with its gigantic mansions overlooking the most beautiful lakes.Saint Paul is the capital city of Minnesota and in some ways even more impressive than Minneapolis.Saint Paul is beautiful. You can walk it in an hour or so and it makes Canberra look like a largemetropolis! It is so accessible with its skyway system too, but also its well-laid out streets at groundlevel. It is a city of theatres, restaurants and wonderful public spaces. The Science Museum andMinnesota History Museum are both impressive. We joined the former with a reasonable familymembership, which enables us to see the most amazing exhibits. Films are also shown such as onecurrently all about wolves. Wonderful.Most impressive in St Paul, however are the two buildings that dominate the higher parts of the city:the Cathedral and the Capitol. We parked the car near the Cathedral, were we two weekends agoattended a Brass and Choir Concert performed by the University of Minnesota, who is celebratingtheir 150
anniversary and walked to the History Museum. Just our luck, the exhibits are closed onMondays and the people who gathered in the building, where Social workers preparing their march tothe Capitol to protest against the funding cuts.- Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?So we went ahead of them to visit the Capitol. Inside the building we met a few more small groups,one called, “moms, who walk for millions” and another wearing yellow buttons saying, “we care for education”, all delivering letters and hanging around Governor Jesse Ventura’s office in the hope tomeet him. Unfortunately he wasn’t in.
The St Paul Cathedral is a magnificent domed structure finished in 1912 and is a copy of St Peters inRome. It looks something like a white wedding cake but whilst being grand and beautiful it is quiterestrained and not over-ornate. The Capitol building houses the state legislature (the MinnesotaCongress of Senate and House of Representatives). It seems roughly the same age, size and style asthe Victorian Parliament House, but I think in one way more impressive, as unlike the VictorianParliament. Here the completed and magnificent dome which was never finished on our Parliament athome. The colour of the Minnesota Capitol building is an impressive light gray and it is beautifully proportioned, high on a hill overlooking the city. We observed some debates and were able to actuallyenter the governor’s office and admire the astonishing collection of paintings.The suburb of Bloomington, where we live, is a comfortable and quite well to do middle class suburb.The snows now have abated although the temperature is still seldom above freezing, but we aremoving towards spring. The fishing huts on the frozen lakes for the ice fishing through a hole in theice have had to be removed. Sometimes when the temperature gets above freezing the snow begins tomelt, puddle and then refreeze. This will be happening more often now as spring approaches,although there will probably be more snow coming in the meantime as we warm up! Then out withthe snow-blower again. Our house is still covered with its blanket of snow at this time. It really is beautiful as we awake to fresh rabbit tracks at the back of the house, or our resident squirrelsscampering in the snow. We know spring is around the corner by the increased bird life. The cutelittle Chickadees, a local species are feeding at the bird feeder.Our house is cozy and warm and the kids rug up against the weather on the way to school in the“Yellow peril” busses, and we have learnt to live with the weather. It really isn’t a problem after awhile, although too much exposure to central heating tends to crack your lips and dry you out if youdon’t remedy this.The Twin Cities get the last of the Arctic weather in a big “V” that comes down into the Midwestfrom the North Pole. Our house in Xylon Road South, Bloomington, Minnesota is actually right at thevery bottom apex of this climatic “V”, as the neighbour’s house over the road is actually warmer. Our climate tends to have more similarity with Alaska or the Yukon than with our latitudes, although theTwin Cities lie further north than 70 percent of the population of Canada! We are cold!Australians will find such weather difficult to contemplate. The Celsius and Fahrenheit scale intersectonly once at minus 40 degrees. The coldest recorded temperature ever in Australia was minus 26degrees Celsius at Charlotte’s Pass in the Australian Alps. This is about minus 7 degrees Fahrenheit.Currently in Minnesota we are sitting around freezing (32 degrees F, 0 degrees C), but we have hadseveral nights and days where it was into the negative Fahrenheit with wind chills approaching minus40 or even more. One morning a few weeks ago they talked of minus 20 F and a wind chill of minus60 F though this was an extreme.This year a couple of toddlers, one 18 month and the other 2 years (two separate incidents) wanderedout of the back doors of their respective houses and were clinically dead when found not so muchlater. The 18 month one recovered with frostbite and the other ended up in a coma. Terrible. Butmostly people cope, although energy use is very high here indeed.BUT the spin off is the most picturesque countryside blanketed in snow. It is really beautiful.So far, what we have seen of the hinterland around the Twin Cities is equally impressive, and there is plenty to see. We have had a few nice drives into the countryside. Some highlights are places likeFort Snelling on the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, the first fort going back to the
1840s and from where Minnesota dispatched its soldiers to the Civil War. Also there is the MysticLake Indian Reservation with a world class casino run by the Dakota, Sioux and Ojibway Indians.The Indian gift shop is owned and run by a local white person, who not only buys and sells the beautiful handcraft from the local Indians but also from salespeople, who are travelling around theStates and Canada to buy the craft from other Indian tribes.For me the highlights are just the various sights and sounds of the countryside. The little and not solittle country towns with names like Cologne, Hamburg, New Germany, New Ulm, and, would you believe Glencoe and Hutchinson(the odd Scot being here too). These towns despite their colourfulorigins look fairly identical. Some how they have industry and make a living. The names indicate theethnic origins of the early settlers. Minnesota claims Scandinavian heritage but this is misleading it ismajority German, as are Wisconsin, Nebraska, the Dakotas and other areas around here. This is noteven second to English settlers, although they and the Scots etc were here as co-existing minoritygroups. The US really is a fascinating melting pot similar to Australia but more so by a factor of ten.Driving back through the white countryside, we see deer, snowmobiles and once something straightout of Jack London, a fellow exercising his dog team: a sled with eight wonderful dogs. We stopped,chatted, and Jessie got a ride on the sled for a couple of miles. Just wonderful the grin on her face wassomething to behold.The Funny Ways of the Yanks.You might remember my section of American funnies from last time! I’ll repeat these for those whomissed out:-“Bananas in Pyjamas” sold here and spelt “Bananas in Pajamas”. When I told the kids that I wouldgive them new grades once a fortnight, blank looks and they had no idea what I was talking about!The word “fortnight” is nearly unknown. And what the heck is a “guacamole” or something like that?It’s an avocado! And I discovered that harbours all have “U’s” in them on the Canadian side of LakeSuperior and have lost them this side. They have “zeds” and not “zees” in Canada too. I think adverbsand adjectives are nearly extinct here.Anyway, some new ones.Why isn’t “color” a homophone for “collar”? And why is “famous” not spelled “famos” here? If Mum is spelt “Mom”, then why isn’t Bum spelt “Bom” or “Bomb”? Do you have a bum or a bom? I better not go too far down that track! Spelling “reform” is less logical than the illogical English it proports to improve.Bring back traditional spelling I say (whispering it inaudibly here)!! I’ll keep working on it over here,and by the time we leave at the end of the year, this should be “in the bag” and the whole quarter of a billion people will have changed back. Not!Would you believe at present the State Legislature here is debating whether it would issue permits for individuals to carry concealed handguns. Particularly if you have had a conviction for a drink drivingoffence, are you liberties infringed if you are denied the right to carry a concealed handgun on that basis. This is seriously being discussed even although there has been yet another school shooting inCalifornia.We are still ever amazed with food shopping in the US and the things that you can and cannot find.Daggi doesn’t agree, but the kids and I are missing real Aussie meat pies of the Four and Twentyvariety. In spite of being the home of junk food, anything like this is unknown here. You can’t even buy plain pastry to make your own pies although you can buy scores of sweet confectionery type

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