St. Paul, MN Thursday August 21, 2014
Saturday the 16th we returned from Little Falls after having our second great breakfast at the Waller House Inn; stuffed french toast plus fresh fruit and bacon from the local meat market. The other 8 people at the breakfast table were planning to spend all of Saturday and most of Sunday at the race track. We bid them adieu and wished them well. They were heading for what they enjoyed.
We went home via Stillwater. Chris and I met Lori and Mike for a lunch cruise on the Jubilee II run by the Stillwater Packet Company on the St. Croix River. The Jubilee is a three-story boat, we landed seats by the window on the second floor (enclosed). The day was gray and overcast so sitting inside was just peachy. Lunch was a standard buffet, food was fine but nothing exceptional. The river was crowded with pleasure craft of all sorts; pontoons, kayaks, speedboats, houseboats, cabin cruisers (do they still use that term?), sailboats, etc. The boat ride did not go as far as Hudson before turning back but we saw the pillars being erected for the new and controversial bridge to cross the St. Croix.
We had not seen Mike and Lori for a while so it was good to have a chance to get together. After the boat landed, we spent a little more time with them at the Dock Cafe watching the boats on the river and talking. We even spotted a gondolier with two passengers. He looked to be earning his keep as the gondola made its way up against the current.
Sunday was a trip to Duluth with Kathy. Duluth is 2.5 hours away via I-35 and a fun place to visit. We had breakfast at the Duluth Grill which had been honored recently for families in food hospitality. One of the mottos for the Grill is “We grow our vegetables in our parking lot” and they do. We examined the vegetable beds surrounding our car and the lot and were quite impressed. The food was fine but not overwhelming. Sunday morning they had a nice crowd so we had to wait about 20 minutes. i had their red flannel hash without realizing beforehand that it was vegetarian. Oh well, good for me I guess.
Duluth is normally cooler than the Cities with its location on Lake Superior; today was cloudy and cool. We would have been happy with less “air conditioning”. (It did rain hard in the afternoon as we were heading back.) The Duluth Rose Garden was our first stop. They have an extensive display with many unique hybrids. From there, it is a 1 1/4 mile walk to Canal Park by the aerial lift bridge. Canal Park is the major shopping, lodging, and eating destination. Just down a ways, Bayfront Park was having an art fest which we explored. Kathy made a minor purchase, otherwise the wallets stayed closed. A number of the landscape artwork caught my eye. I always have been impressed with landscapes, one of the reasons we travel to so many locations in the US.
We walked back to Kathy’s car and visited the Tweed Museum of Art on the UMD campus. They had an interesting display of commercial art focusing on Canadian Mounties and one by a local Benedictine nun whose collection of icons and contemplative drawings of individuals made the visit worthwhile. The trip was capped off with a stop at Portland Ice Cream before we left town for a shake, a malt and a sundae.
Tuesday was an explore the Twin Cities Day. The Saturn was dropped off for its pre-road trip check and we took the bus to Union Depot in St. Paul. We had come here for the grand opening about 18 months ago but it was too crowded to enjoy at the time. Today’s tour was 75 minutes to learn about the main concourse, head house, and waiting area and was led by a staff member from Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority.
The taxpayers have spent $240 million to renovate this as a “transit hub”. So far, though, the usage includes two Amtrak visits per day, Jefferson Lines, Megabus and several of the Metro Transit lines along with Minnesota Valley transit. The building has people in it, but certainly not as crowded as other major depots/terminals we have seen around the country. The building looks nice as it should for $240,000,000. Hopefully the money will eventually prove worthwhile. Lunch was in the Depot at Christo’s, a Greek restaurant that has been there pre-renovations. Greek is not our favorite ethnic food but the buffet was reasonable and quick.
Oh yes, the newest light rail line (LRT) stops in front of Union Depot. The “Green Line” runs between St. Paul and Minneapolis downtowns. At a cost of $950 million taxpayer dollars, the line is clean and sleek. But as with many projects, by the time it satisfied every complaining group and political constituency, it comes across as a true mish-mash whose major compliment is that it is spurring redevelopment projects along its route. The Green Line LRT does not get priority over car traffic. The stops are frequent and since bus lines along University were reduced, it functions more as a glorified bus line.
We decided to ride it between the two downtowns to test it out. Result: one hour to make the trip in the middle of the day. While we did not run a car as a comparison, Mapquest says 16 minutes for the trip from Union Depot to Target Field is reasonable. What a waste of money-in my mind. The Union Depot tour guide talked how inter-connected rail lines are a great benefit to a metropolitan area. The Green line ride gave us ample opportunity to look at storefronts and developments as well as people watching. Good thing we are retired and have time for this. We went home via the Blue Line LRT (to MOA and airport) and bus down W. 7th Street. This combined ride only took 45 minutes.
Today was another tour. Monday our Minneapolis newspaper was not delivered. Chris, in looking up the circulation number to get a paper delivered, noticed that the phone directory had a listing for tours of the Star Tribune. We decided to give it a shot. After all, with a nephew working for the paper and cousins who had been in the newspaper business, it might give us a few conversation points.
It took both a phone call and an email before we received a response but we were lined up for a 4 pm tour today (Thursday the 21st). Well, we had a fantastic, two-hour tour just for the two of us. The tour is of the production/printing facility and was led by Bob, a retiree who had been a reporter, composer, and production manager but who has been retired for 15 years now. (He and his wife have taken 41 cruises so he encouraged us to explore that option more in our travels.) The Heritage Center as it is called, is located in the North Loop/Warehouse district of Minneapolis. The building was built in 1985 on land that had been primarily railroad yards. Now it is surrounded by condos and apartments in a very fashionable neighborhood of Minneapolis. Even when it went up though, neighbors were quite upset and made sure the building would fit in with the old brick style of the warehouses still in the area. It makes a nice appearance on the outside.
Inside are huge spaces for the printing presses, composition areas where the printing plates are made, and areas for sorting/stuffing/stacking the finished product. It is tough to concisely state a two-hour tour but here are just a few highlights of what we heard. A. The paper is moved from storage to racks to presses by a series of automated guided vehicles – (AGV)basically two ton robots. They are battery driven and directed electronically to get newsprint and deliver it to any press that signals it needs more paper. The robots even take themselves out of service and get their batteries recharged when necessary. It was weird. We probably saw 15-20 of these machines gliding along the plant floor all by themselves. I have to admit, this was probably the highlight of the tour.
B. All of the paper comes from a plant in Thunder Bay (where we are headed in 2.5 weeks, we will check to see if it offers a tour) in specially designed railroad cars. Each roll of newsprint weighs about a ton, when unrolled will stretch about 14 miles, and costs $700. C. The printing plates are made out of aluminum and are re-cycled after printing. The composition is primarily electronic and the staff in this division were given buy-outs several years ago as the new system made most of their jobs obsolete. D.The St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune are both printed at this facility under a complex agreement signed a few years ago, saving money for both but under strict separation of printing rules to prevent stealing of articles from each other.
E. The printing presses roll from 11 pm to midnight for editions sent to Greater Minnesota and then again after midnight for the metropolitan area. We were able to observe the advance printing of some sections for the Sunday paper which can be printed before the deadline for the daily news. F. One newspaper costs about $30 per week to print. A subscriber to seven day delivery pays only about $7 per week. Ads make up the rest of the revenue so obviously advertisers are treated very nicely and their concerns are important to the paper.
Ed and Chris Thursday August 21 9:15 pm