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Enjoy more than meets the eyes in the Twin Cities
By Molly Beck

Think of Minnesota and fishing, hockey tournaments and maybe a Bob Dylan song spring to mind.

And there's even less to do when it snows, right?


As the state's hub, Minneapolis and St. Paul do their best to take advantage of the area's lengthiest season by providing guests and residents alike with a multitude of ways to spend the winter months.

The Cities, as locals affectionately refer to the metropolitan communities that sit along the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers in the bottom third of the state. They offer a visiting Springfieldian a chance to truly experience living with snow - instead of looking for ways to avoid it.

A glittering kickoff to the frigid season is the annual Target Holidazzle Parade in Minneapolis.

Beginning on Nov. 27, this series of parades turns Minneapolis' Nicollet Mall - an outdoor, upscale dining and shopping plaza for pedestrians in the heart of the city - into a winter wonderland at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays until Dec. 20.

Despite the usual components of any ol' holiday parade (marching bands, floats and sparkly-costumed dancers), Holidazzle attracts from near and far because of elaborate, colorful and unusually creative floats that perfectly showcase what the Twin Cities are all about - the arts.

Two of the best examples of the cities' devotion to the visual and performing arts are in Minneapolis.

The Walker Art Center, located on Hennepin Avenue, is home to what some would say are the best contemporary art exhibits in the Midwest. The center's focus on modern art begins with the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which sits just outside the center's building.

The sculpture garden was built in 1988 and has since provided an unofficial icon for Minneapolis - "Spoonbridge and Cherry." This sculpture of an oversized spoon with a cherry sitting upright on its tip was created by Claes Oldenburg, an American sculptor known for finding ways to render ordinary objects into something whimsical and oversized.

No matter how much snow is on the ground - and chances are a blanket has already covered the garden - you'll be able to see the sculptures on your walk from the parking lot to the doors of the Walker Art Center, which has 11 modern art exhibits open this winter for just $10 a ticket.

Just across town sits an architectural masterpiece that houses some of the best theater this side of Broadway.

The Guthrie Theater, founded in 1963, has a restaurant and several bars to accommodate patrons visiting one of the three stages at the complex.

While you're visiting the Twin Cities, stop by the Guthrie and catch its highly-popular performance of "A Christmas Carol." Running through New Year's Eve, the Guthrie's adaptation is billed as well suited for families and theatergoers of all ages. Ticket prices range from $29-$79 per person depending on where you're sitting.

For a more contemporary Christmas stage production, cross the Mississippi into St. Paul and visit the Fitzgerald Theater, home to Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion."

Seventh-season "American Idol"runner-up David Archuleta will be performing "Christmas from the Heart," a concert of Archuleta's popular songs and holiday classics, at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 9.

The Twin Cities' vibrant music scene keeps visitors coming back despite the sometimes-frigid temperatures.

The most famous venue in the area is First Avenue and 7th Street Entry, aptly-named clubs that sit on the corner of First Avenue and 7th Street in downtown Minneapolis.

The grungy nightclubs gave rise to most musicians hailing from Minnesota, including Prince, The Replacements and Soul Asylum, who will be playing there at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4.

While the winter months force many Minnesotans and their visitors inside - even to the point of building enclosed, pedestrian skyways connecting downtown Minneapolis buildings - truly experiencing what Minnesota has to offer means braving the cold.

Your first stop is to one of the three ski hills built inside the Twin Cities area.

Buck Hill, located in south suburb Burnsville, Minn., has 16 runs of skiing, snowboarding and snow-tubing trails open until 9 or 10 p.m., depending on the day you go.

If the Interstate 35-adjacent Buck Hill is not the idyllic skiing experience you'd like to have, head to Afton Alps. This 300-acre ski resort sits along the St. Croix River near St. Paul and provides its guests with nearly 50 trails and terrain parks for skiers, snowboarders and those into snow tubing.

If you're looking for something closer to the Twin Cities, Hyland Ski and Snowboard Area is an eight-trail ski area located in Bloomington, Minn. - just a few miles away from some of the best shopping in the country.

If skiing and the arts scene aren't your thing, but maybe you're a fan of the state's favorite sport. Head over to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and catch the Minnesota Wild, NHL ice hockey team. And if you'd rather see some professional basketball, the Target Center in Minneapolis is home to the Minnesota Timberwolves.


The home of the Mall of America
When 78 acres of prime real estate near the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport became available, officials toyed with the idea of office complexes, condominiums, a new convention center or a retail and entertainment center.

The last option won out, and the story of the Mall of America began.

When the complex opened in August 1992, it changed the face of retailing. It put four nationally recognized department stores under one roof for the first time and added a whole new dimension to shopping.

The Mall of America is a destination; visitors can shop, see a movie, play with Legos, ride a roller coaster, walk through a 1.2 million gallon aquarium, enjoy a flight simulator or drive a racecar on the Silicon Motor Speedway. And if none of those things seem appealing, there's the Chapel of Love where an ordained minister can perform a marriage.

The 4.2 million square-foot complex is home to 520 stores, 50 restaurants, 14 movie theaters and seven nightclubs. Nickelodeon Universe is a seven-acre theme park in the mall that has 25 rides.

The Underwater Adventures Aquarium has sharks, stingrays, seahorses, giant sea turtles and what has been voted "World's Best Shark Encounter" by the Travel Channel.

As far as the holidays are concerned, the Mall of America isn't letting all that shopping energy go untapped. The day after Thanksgiving is a 14-hour shopping day so all of the decorating must be done by that official start of the shopping frenzy.

For the first time, the mall is breaking away from the traditional red, green and gold decorations.

Visitors this year will see white, powder blue, silver and opal. Starting on the third week of October, 10 decorators along with a construction company and the mall's maintenance department will deck the halls so everything is perfect by the first big shopping day of the holiday season.

The centerpiece of the décor is two enormous Christmas trees. The two 44-foot-tall, 22-foot-wide trees take a construction crew 12 hours to set up. They are decorated with clusters of silver, metallic grey and ice-blue ornaments along with Swarovski crystals and silver musical instruments.

White birch tree branches cover the 18 arches that span the four areas of the mall, and the branches are flocked with pine sprays and LED lights. Nickelodeon Universe, the theme park, is decorated with 90 trees. To add to the fun atmosphere of the theme park, they are metallic-green and orange and are decorated with ornaments that are in shades of green, orange and blue.

The 25 10-foot-wide wreaths throughout the mall are staggered at different heights for dramatic effect, and are decorated with clusters of blue, silver and pewter ornaments.

Mall officials this year converted all the lights, including the twinkle and curtain lights, to warm, white LED lights for energy conservation. The change in the décor colors also means the mall's giant ornaments that are hung throughout the complex are in powder blue, silver and opal.

In addition to the main decorations, the mall also has 10-, 20- and 30-foot garlands that include finials, musical instruments and ornaments.

- Kathleen Ostrander


Story published Friday, December 4, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 7 )

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