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One of the “cold” twins

Say “Minneapolis-St. Paul” and people think “COLD.” But don’t sell the area short; the Twin Cities offer residents and visitors ample opportunities to enjoy the outdoors year round.And for those cold-weather wimps, there is always the Mall of America.Flying over the region, it’s easy to view the hundreds of lakes formed by melting glaciers after the last ice-age. Minneapolis grew up on the banks of the Mississippi and prospered because of St. Anthony’s Falls – a great place to begin a tour of the city.Father Louis Hennepin, a Belgian priest who was exploring French territories along the Mississippi in 1680, named the falls after his favorite patron saint. In 1820, soldiers from Fort Snelling used power generated by the falls to run a saw and grain mill. And more mills sprung up around the falls, which earned Minneapolis the nickname of “Mill City.” In 1890, the city became the largest wheat market in the country when General Mills established their headquarters next to the falls.St. Anthony’s Falls Heritage Trail begins on an old stone arch bridge, which was used as a railroad bridge from 1882 to 1978. Reserved for hiking and biking only, it is a wonderful 1.8-mile loop through the historical part of the city. Photography buffs should pick their hiking direction based on the time of day, because this trail offers plentiful photo ops, including the old Gold Medal Mill. Get a picture of the Minneapolis skyline before crossing the river. Continue on the trail past the Pillsbury Building – which is about to be turned into condominiums.Stairs leads down to the river, where visitors can see the old foundation of the Pillsbury mill. The trail is parallel to the city’s historic Main Street, where there are many good restaurants.The trail takes you over a bridge to Nicollet Island – known for its 19th century homes, row houses and park. The Historic Society offers guided tours of the island, and there are carriage rides as well – initiating at the Nicollet Island Inn. Residents and visitors can enjoy ice skating on a portion of the park during the winter months.Continue across the Hennepin Avenue suspension bridge, an impressive art-deco creation, to return to the starting point. Visit the interactive Mill City Museum, where, by taking the “Flour Tower” elevator, one can discover what it was like to work in a mill. A note of caution: The aroma from the Pillsbury Doughboy and Gold Medal Flour baking lab will entice the staunchest no-carb followers to taste samples of breads and desserts.Venture downtown is easy, in part because of the light rail system. And the city blends nature with metropolitan amenities.Minnesota passed a law in 1957 requiring that 80 percent of all park lands be retained in their natural state. The open space areas combined with a well-developed trail system and 22 lakes and waterways within the city, allows opportunities for viewing osprey, bald eagles, Sandhill cranes and Trumpeter swans – all living among the skyscrapers of the city.A popular spot is the 11-acre Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which is next to the Walker Art Center. Unless visitors are into modern art, I’d recommend skipping the art center; however, make sure to stroll through the garden and see the more than 40 interesting sculptures. A giant spoon with a cherry perched on top has been a Minneapolis landmark since its creation in 1988. While bizarre, it somehow fits perfectly into the park.The 11.6-mile Hiawatha LRT light rail line runs from the center of the city to the Mall of America in Bloomington. It is an inexpensive alternative to driving and the normal big-city traffic congestion. It makes traveling through the city less nerve wracking, and visitors never have to worry about getting lost.The Minnehaha Falls LRT stop drops off commuters next to a historic depot built in 1875. From there, it’s a short walk to the falls and a 193-acre regional park. While crowds congregate around the falls, a short walk down any trail will provide peace and solitude, leaving 98 percent of the visitors behind.Fort Snelling is actually in St. Paul, but it’s so close to Minneapolis that the distinction seems trivial. Minneapolis tourist brochures always include it, and trails connect Minnehaha Falls Park and Fort Snelling State Park. Visitors could spend their entire vacation in the park – swimming, fishing, hiking and canoeing. It’s a giant camp for adults and children. But take the DET along because those infamous Minnesota mosquitoes weren’t around in early spring, but they were starting to form, no doubt discussing their summertime battle plans.Fort Snelling was established in 1822, long before Minnesota was a state. It sits on top of bluffs overlooking the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, making it a strategic outpost for the U.S. Army. The fort also became an important trading post and the center for commerce along both rivers. Old army barracks used during World War II stand close to the original fort.Today, Fort Snelling is a historic landmark where fort life during the 1820s is re-enacted. Dakota Indians and actors dressed as soldiers, laundry women, blacksmiths, doctors and others demonstrate the skills needed to survive during that time. Their presentation is a notch above most other re-enactments presented across the country. Get back on the LRT and take it to the final stop – the Mall of America. Yes, it’s a massive mall with more than 520 specialty stores and four anchor stores, Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Nordstrom and Sears; an amusement park, an aquarium and the Lego Play Land.A dinner boat cruise is a great way to spend an evening in Minneapolis. Mississippi River paddleboat excursions leave from Boom Island in Minneapolis, and large boats also cruise Lake Minnetonka, west of the city. Many upscale restaurants grace the shores of the lake as well.After all that, you’ve earned a beautiful sunset. As the sun sets over the lake, the light and moisture combination produce a shimmering effect – making the city look warm and inviting.

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