Monday, May 30, 2016

Hiawatha and Minnehaha - Minneapolis, Part 3

After being introduced to Jucy Lucy and setting sail on the St. Croix…or would that set paddle?...we’re going to be seeing the city by train today. That train would be the Hiawatha light rail line that cuts a north/south swath through the city starting at Target Field in the north and ending at the massive Mall of America to the south.

We’re going to start at the bottom and work our way up to the top.

Watch the Video!

Traveling south, we pass the airport…two stops on this line…and in the southern flatness of Bloomington a massive parking structure looms across a large parking lot and field. We don’t know it quite yet… I do have suspicions…but this is hiding the mall that sits inside of it.

The train pulls into the structure, which holds the end of the line station at Mall of America. An elevator ride takes us to an unlabeled floor (thanks to the kindness of strangers who told us which one) where an accessible bridge connects the parking lot to the mall and in we go.

The Mall of America is…well…a mall. A very big one, on four levels that go in a very big circle around the perimeter. What makes it unique is its position as the largest mall in the USA, and a couple of other things like having an aquarium in the basement and an amusement park in the center.

The amusement park is the big attraction.  Not some kiddy carnival, it features some heavy duty rides. Roller coasters that drop vertical into loops and barrel rolls. Flying NinjaTurtles that dive and loop as you ride them. A log ride. A scary ropes course. And much more.

Prepared to be disappointed in it, I admit I was impressed by the Nickelodeon themed fun zone.

Other than that, it’s pretty much like any other indoor shopping center you’ve been too…let’s head back to the train.

Pulling out of the mall, we pass the Veteran’s Cemetery and the airport to get to our next stop. We’re having lunch at Minnehaha Park.

This large area south of downtown is a verdant, green expanse of lawn and trails stretching over 193 acres from Hiawatha Avenue to the Mississippi River. After crossing over from the train station, it’s about a quarter mile hike to Sea Salt, our lunch destination.

Just before we get to the restaurant, we hear the roar then step onto a footbridge crossing the creek that plunges 53 feet into a gorgeous grotto. This is Minnehaha Falls.

We stop to take in the view and to find a good wheelchair accessible spot for Tim to see the deluge as well. Along the north side of the grotto are several good spots for chair users to get a good view, not so much on the south side.  The many stairs also means that wheelchairs stay on the top instead of hiking down into the canyon.

Sea Salt is just a few feet away with a large dining room but better is the outdoor areas where you can hear the roar of the falls and take in the scenery.

Ordering is at a counter and servers bring the food to your table. You seat yourself.

Letty has a crab cake sandwich which she devours and pronounces excellent. I’m not so much of a seafood lover and there is precious little of anything else on the menu. I take a chance and order a basket of calamari to share with Tim.  It is excellent and the dipping sauce, combined with a few varieties from the huge salsa bar, makes the fried squid go down easily and tasty.

A little meandering back through the park and then to the Hiawatha Line for the next stop…Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.

A farmer’s market is going on here in the few blocks of the mall where Mary Tyler Moore famously threw her hat in the air during the opening credits of the show.

A statue celebrates that particular moment in TV history on one of the corners.

Lined with top-tier stores such as Brooks Brothers and Neiman-Marcus, the mall is also home to the headquarters of Target. Their flagship store disappoints me by being as messy and understocked as any other Target I’ve been to.

The upscale shops and farmer’s market are also in contrast to a kind of hooliganism going on around us too. A group of guys rough-house on the corner, one being pushed into Tim’s chair (did him more harm than Tim). Ladies that can only be said to be “professional,”  and a half-dozen police officers pummeling a suspect on the sidewalk while pedestrians calmly walked by.

It should be a nice area, and there is good shopping, but the street scenes are disconcerting.

We take it upstairs to the skyway, a series of interconnecting bridges that link most of the buildings downtown. Made for the extreme cold winters so people don’t have to brave the elements, it also comes in handy to feel a little safer walking around downtown. We have some coffee and ice cream before heading back to the hotel.

One more thing to do while we’re here is to go to the baseball game that is the reason for the trip. That’ll be in our next and final chapter…see you then!

Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2012 – Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, May 27, 2016

Game Day and the Mighty Mississipi - Minneapolis, Part 4

I was hoping that this day would dawn clear. We’d bought tickets for our Minneapolis baseball game on the only day they’d be in town for our trip…the last day. Minneapolis has a completely outdoor stadium and a reputation for surly weather. We had one shot, and one shot only, to catch this game. No rain checks for us and the weather is promising “scattered thunderstorms.”

Watch the Video!

Not to worry, though. The day did start sunny and stayed that way the entire day.  Game time is 7:05 tonight, giving us one more day to explore the city.

The mighty Mississippi river is only a short block from our hotel, the Residence Inn at the Depot. We haven’t really had a chance to explore it, until now.

We walk over and emerge onto a large lock. This particular section of the river is the only spot, from way up north in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, where there are falls. A set of locks…one on each side…carries boats and barges over the falls, which have been shapen by man over the years to be more of a spillway now.

Just south of the locks and falls is the Stone Arch Bridge, a former railroad bridge that is now used by pedestrians and bikes. At a ½ mile long, it’s our ticket across the river.

Starting out at a set of flour mill ruins, the bridge gives us unparalleled views of the river and of the many abandoned mills set along the banks of the river here. It was because of the rushing water of the falls that they are here…the water powered the wheels that ground the grain.

Pillsbury Park on the other side leads us to Main Street where a block long collection of taverns awaits but we’ll save that for the game.

An old iron bridge leads us over to Nicolet Island, past a bed and breakfast, then onto the Hennepin Avenue Bridge where we finish the crossing back to walk along the river back to the hotel. Around 2 miles total.

A little rest at the hotel, then it’s off on the Hiawatha Light Rail line to the game.  Target Field is new and beautiful. Access is wonderful. Tickets are a bit pricey but the food and beer prices aren’t bad. (You can see our entire stadium review at our Target Field entry in our Fields of Dreams series)

The Twins, not having one of their best years, take it as best they could to the visiting Chicago Cubs. It’s a back and forth game with a lot of action and several long home runs, and the home team finally edges out the visitors in the 10th inning.

Coming back at night, looking out the train, my wife mentions we could have walked. Yes, but with all the drug dealers and hookers we saw, I don’t think that would have been the best choice we could have made either.

It’s the last morning here in the Twin Cities. We have an afternoon flight, giving us time for one more treat.

When we came into town, we had the incredible Jucy Lucy at Matt’s Bar. There’s also another claim to that special burger, the 5-8 Club…a former speakeasy south of town…that serves the Juicy Lucy. Of course, we have to try it and compare.

As at Matt’s, the place is packed and we have to hover over the tables to score one as someone leaves (you’re on your own here for finding a place to sit). We get one and look over the menu, which is extensive compared to Matt’s.

The burgers arrive and immediately we notice that the patties here are bigger than Matt’s. The onions are also sliced instead of diced. My wife likes this version better, I like the diced onions better, but they’re both very good.

With that last comparison in the books, it’s time to make the last drive to the airport, turn in the rental car, and take the flight home.

Hope you’ve had a good time, I know we did.


Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2012- Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 23, 2016

River Cruising Along the Border: Minneapolis, Minnesota - Part 2

We’re waking up in downtown Minneapolis. A quick Marriott breakfast bar meal and it’s off…we’re out of here. At least for the day.

Jumping in the rental Ford Escape, it’s onto Interstate 35 heading north. Almost immediately, we’re crossing the Mighty Mississippi when Tim chimes in…

“Isn’t this the bridge that collapsed?”

Watch the Video!

Ah, yes…yes it is…and thanks for reminding me while I (who already has a bridge phobia anyway) am on said bridge.

It was a tragic day several years ago when the bridge here collapsed during evening rush hour killing 13 people and injuring another 145 due to bad design and too much weight. A little over a year later, the replacement bridge…the one we’re on now…was opened up.

Past that infamous river crossing, we continue north into lake country and head east toward the Wisconsin border. It’s a quiet, scenic road…many lakes, streams, farms, and a herd of buffalo.

It’s not long before we’re in the tiny village of Taylor Falls.

Parking’s easy and the ice cream hits the spot at Schoony’s. Afterward, it’s a short walk under the bridge to get to the office of Taylor Falls Scenic Cruises.  The web site promised wheelchair accessible boats but the river is raging a little today and we’ll have to walk down a road to an alternate loading area.

We get there and there are stairs into the boat. The crew easily handles Tim’s manual chair that he uses for travel but I don’t think it would have worked if we’d had his power chair.

It’s a warm day so Letty and I pull a couple of chairs out from the cabin and set up with Tim on the open-air bow. Since most people want to sit on the upper deck, we pretty much have it to ourselves save for the elderly lady with a cane that occasionally comes out to sit there too.

The paddle wheeler shoves off and we’re on our riverboat cruise of the St. Croix River…Minnesota on the left and Wisconsin on the right.

The first destination is slightly upriver to the “falls,” which after years of floating logs down river have degraded to a short section of rapids. The boat turns around and we head downriver.

The scenery is, in a word, spectacular. The water, the color of tea due to the decomposition of leaves up stream, is clean and inviting.

The crew points out different rock formation as we go through the dells. Kayakers lazily float by wooded islands in the stream.

A bald eagle circles overhead looking for fat fish.

The weather is perfect, the water relaxing, and our batteries are fully charged at the end of the 2 hour cruise.

We spend a little time looking at glacial potholes…deep pockets scooped out of the rocks by ancient glaciers…near the parking lot before moving on.

Downriver we get to the larger town of Stillwater and have dinner at a place we saw on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives…Smalley’s Caribbean Barbecue.

The hostess is a little clueless at first but finally finds us a spot on the outdoor patio by the bar. The server makes up for her by being very gracious and knowledgeable.

We have some jerk wings, ribs, and their smoked jalapenos that come free and unlimited with each meal. They’re great but the reason they’re unlimited is because they are extremely hot and we’re panting all the way back to Minneapolis.

We've got more to see back in the city but that’ll be next time. Be sure to join us again for the next leg of our great Minnesota adventure.


Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2012 – Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Dancing with the Green Fairy in Milwaukee

Today, I'm going to sent you over to for my latest published article, Up from the River...Seeing Milwaukee from Its Waterfront Pubs.


Here's the intro...

"The Trocadero sits on a quiet corner facing the river on the east bank. It’s a sunny day, so their flowery patio is completely full. We make our way into the uncrowded bar, where my wife will try her first absinthe.

Distilled south of downtown at the Great Lakes Distillery, this all-American version is a strong, licorice flavored kickstart to the day. I have my standby of Cazadores reposado tequila while my son stays sober with a Coke.

It’s the city that beer made famous, so it’s not surprising that Milwaukee has 101 ways to keep sobriety away..."


Friday, May 20, 2016

Malls, Baseball, and Waterfalls: Minneapolis, Minnesota - Part 1

Behind us is all the fun, food, and beer we had in Milwaukee. The wonderful Ambassador Hotel and the delicious pannenkoeken that we had for dinner last night at Benelux.  Ahead of us lies the drive.

We’re on a wide open interstate in Dairy country. As we make our way out of Milwaukee, it’s nothing but rolling green hills, an occasional rain shower, and lots of cows.  This will be an all day drive so we settle in for the long haul.

Watch the Video!

A few hours out, we hit the biggest vacation destination in these parts, Wisconsin Dells.

I had tried to see if any of their waterparks had any sort of wheelchair access before we went but no luck…not even a pool lift into a lazy river.

It’s touristy…very touristy…as in wall-to-wall tourist traps and curio shops. Even in my wildest dreams I didn’t imagine it would be that bad. For us, it’s just a snack stop along the way where we can get a quick bite to eat, gas up the car, and go to the bathroom.

Just before the border with Minnesota on the St. Croix River, I make one more bathroom stop at a restaurant that also gave out samples of some truly delicious local cheese. Since you needed to be a customer to use the facilities, I got a couple of hunks of cheese and some full-strength, old fashioned milk…the kind that comes in the glass jar and has a thick plug of cream on the top. Those will come in handy later for snacks to go with the summer sausages we picked up at Usingers back in Milwaukee.

A few minutes later, we’re crossing the Mississippi River and easily find our hotel, the Residence Inn at the Depot, in downtown Minneapolis.

Upon checking in, my wife notices a little sign on the counter…like the kind they use to announce conferences and such…except this one says “Welcome Darryl M…The Residence Inn Depot’s Guest of the Day.”

Kind of cool…the manager tells me they pick a guest at random each day for the honor.  I get a little swag bag with a bottle of water and a couple of granola bars.

After unpacking, we have one more trip to make today.

Tim said one thing that we absolutely had to do while here was try a Jucy Lucy.  He saw it once on the Travel Channel and had been dying to have one.

We drive to a neighborhood in the southeast part of the city…one that seems to have seen better days…and find the last place to park at Matt’s Bar.

It’s a dark, narrow, divey place on 35th Street and we squeeze into one of the nominally wheelchair accessible tables. Just in time too…a few minutes later, the place is full with about 20 people waiting to get in.

We all order the specialty…the Jucy Lucy…along with some Grain Belt beers. The Jucy Lucy (yes, that’s the way they spell it) is just a cheeseburger but instead of a slice on top of the meat, the cheese is stuffed into the inside of the patty so when you bite it, hot, melted cheese oozes out.

Here at Matt’s, the cook works in a microscopic kitchen at the end of the bar, churning out dozens of them on a flat top about four feet wide.  The meat is cooked with diced onions and served basically with the burger, onions, and a bun.  It’s up to you to add condiments from there.

We dig in and, yes, they are delicious.  A perfect little welcome meal for a friendly dive here in Minneapolis.

We feel honored…

More to come, stay tuned as we dig deeper into Minnesota’s big city. Will we have fun? You betcha!


Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2012 – Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 16, 2016

Game Day in Beer City - Milwaukee, Part 2

We've been eating a drinking in Milwaukee for a little while now. Let’s turn to something else the city does very well…sports!

Baseball is our sport. One of our travel goals is to see each Major League stadium. There are 30 of them altogether.  Our main reason…but not the only one…to visit Milwaukee is to notch our 22nd stadium, Miller Park.

Watch the Video!

Before that, we spend a little time seeing the city along the fantastic Riverwalk that winds through downtown. We do a bit of pub crawling…which you can see in more detail in this week’s Cocktail Hour, TheMilwaukee Pub Crawl.  Go ahead, click on that link and check it out.  We’ll be here when you get back…

One of our rules for stadium trips is that Tim makes all the arrangements for tickets. At Miller Park, there is no good public transit, so Tim also buys a parking pass which you can buy in advance for $9 if you’re handicapped…normally $15 on weekend games at the gate.

Turns out we could have gone on our hotel’s shuttle for free but that’s one to grow on.  Maybe next time.

Being an idiot, I had left our handicapped parking placard back on our car’s rearview mirror which was now sitting in the parking lot of the airport in Ontario, California.  Luckily, at the gate, I was able to show the parking attendant the wheelchair in the back and explain what a moron I was and he let us in.

We were directed to park in the tailgating area.  Here in Milwaukee, that means something.  Approximately 6 – 7,000 people surrounded us, barbecuing, drinking, playing games, and generally having a good time.  It’s said to be the largest tailgate party anywhere in baseball.  I believe it.

We spend a little time exploring the stadium and visiting the gift shop where Tim and I buy t-shirts to wear for the game.  You might notice that my shirt does not say “Brewers” on it. Instead, it says “Cerveceros.” More on that in a bit.

Come game time, we find our seats up above third base in the upper deck. We’re up pretty high but the views are still fantastic. A friend of mine from high school meets us at the game and we spend the next three hours catching up on the thirty plus years since we’ve seen each other.  It was a great time.

As far as the game went, tonight was Cerveceros Night where the team celebrates Hispanic heritage by changing the team name for a day (the visitors were the Piratas from Pittsburgh), playing mariachi and Latin music, and bringing out a special jalapaƱo mascot for the evening.

The Brewers…er, Cerveceros…handily beat the Piratas 5-1 during this evening’s game, putting a win in the middle of a losing streak. 

You can see more of our thoughts on the stadium at our Field of Dreams report on Miller Park (click on either of those links).

The next morning, after another delicious breakfast at the wonderful Ambassador Hotel, we jump on the freeway and head north a little more than 100 miles.

In a spot where I see nothing but endless trees and very little evidence of civilization, there’s a sign that says “Lambeau Field Next Exit.” We have ended up in the pretty town of Green Bay.

Not very well signed from the exit, nevertheless we finally do see the stadium lights (it’s pretty much the highest point in town) and make our way over.

Home of the Green Bay Packers, there are stadium tours given almost everyday. In the Atrium connected to the side of the stadium, there is also an extensive gift shop and a restaurant.

We’re here for the tour and to meet my friend afterward for lunch.  We find out the history of the team, founder Curly Lambeau, and legendary coach Vince Lombardi. The team has won more championships than any other in the NFL. The gift shop sells more items than any other gift shop, in any sport, in the world.

The guide then tells us that NFL rules prohibit us from videotaping in the stadium itself, so we must rely on our still camera to tell the rest of the story.

The grass is embedded with plastic strands to keep it from getting worn out and having to be constantly replaced. 90% of the seats are just plain flat bleachers. After the current renovation is complete, it will have the second highest capacity after Dallas.

It’s a fun tour and lunch at Curly’s Pub is delicious.  Now, it’s time to pack it up, head back to Milwaukee, and move on to our next destination.

Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2012 – Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved