Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Midwest Migration

Some of the best destinations can be the last to come to mind when you think of vacation. For me, the Midwest is "home": a nest of familiarity and comfort where I can regress into old habits while visiting family and catching up with old friends. Which is exactly what I did when I traveled to my parents' house in southern Minnesota last week, with the exception of the 36 hours I spent in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area where my sister now resides. In the Twin Cities, I was surprised to find something new for me to explore in the Midwest: a stimulating metropolis rich in recreation and lush with literary oases.

Even as my plane descended I noticed something different about the grid-like neighborhoods and residential areas spreading below. Wherever there was not a roof, there was a tree. From the air, it almost looked as if Minneapolis had been planted in a forest. Along the banks of the Mississippi and the many lakes sprinkled around the city are verdant parks and green spaces to explore. Boston has its "emerald necklace," but Minneapolis wears sapphires: Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, and Lake of the Isles are delicately strung on the west side of town, complete with recreational trails, a band shell, gardens, and swimming areas.

We visited three bookstores, all in basically one neighborhood: "Uptown" Minneapolis. The enormous Majors and Quinn on Hennepin Ave.; Booksmart, which we discovered beneath a record store; and Birchbark Books, owned by author Louise Erdrich. Located near Lake of the Isles, this small store is so carefully curated that not an inch of its cozy corners is wasted. As a bookseller, that old feeling of discovery that usually floods me when browsing a good bookstore can be hard to come by--I often feel I've seen it all before at work. But at Birchbark Books each display introduced me to a new title, tastefully chosen, such as The Art of Migration, which captures artist Peggy Macnamara's paintings of migrating birds in the Midwest.

For dinner I had a succulent crab cake at The Happy Gnome, one of my sister's favorite eateries in St. Paul, and the following day we had brunch at the Wilde Cafe, a restaurant on the banks of the Mississippi across from downtown Minneapolis, which pays homage to Oscar Wilde with paintings of the author, a loungey atmosphere, and entrees such as "Wilde Oats."

I left the Twin Cities with the feeling that there was still much to explore, that being from a region in no way divests it of its interest or charm.  For more ideas of where to visit in the Midwest, check out the New York Times new guide to the area, 36 Hours in the Midwest and Great Lakes.

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