Winter Temperature Gauge:
- Hot: 50°F
- Warm: 30°F
- Most days: 20°F
Minnesotans are totally obsessed with weather.
It doesn’t matter what time of the year it is. For every point you can make about how beautiful the weather is, someone else will tell you what devastation it will cause. For instance, a mild winter with little snow will cause a drought in the spring and summer. Too much snow will cause flooding on the banks of the lakes and rivers. In summer, too much rain means flooded streets and fields; not enough rain will cause the dreaded drought again. The most commonly heard comment through a Minnesota winter will be, "It’s not the snow, it’s the cold"
Winter in Minnesota can be either a painful experience or a winter wonderland. Everything you have ever heard about the harsh and cold Minnesota winter is true; however, in recent years Minnesota has received less-than-average snowfall and has been downright warm, most days. Scientists blame this on global warming. I say, hold your aerosol can high, and spray proudly.
The only problem with the warm weather and no snow, is there is really not a lot to do.
If you visit Minnesota in the winter, your best bet is to go north. Northern Minnesota is where "winter wonderland" takes on meaning: open land, covered in a pure white blanket.
This year some friends and I decided to visit a small town called Biwabik, home of Honk the Moose. During the first Saturday in December, Biwabik hosts a festival called Weihnachtsfest, which is the town’s annual Christmas tree lighting.
Biwabik is the home of 1,097 people, claims the sign on the road leading into town. Judging from all the young families in town I would guess the population is higher, but not by much. What keeps this Bavarian-themed city on the verge of taking off is the Giant’s Ridge Golf and Ski Resort. Located about four miles east of town, early in December the ski hill looked busy, even though only eight runs were open. They were feverishly making snow. The golf course, of course, was closed.
In addition to the facilities at the Giant’s Ridge ski lodge, in town there are two shelter options. The first, about a half-mile east of town, was the Biwabik Lodge (800-383-3183). For one night they wanted $85 for four to stay in one room with two queen-size beds.
The option we chose was the Biwabik Motel (218-865-9980). We thought about it, twice, since from the outside the motel looked like a glorified trailer home. Inside each room, however, there was a kitchen, with utensils, oven, stove and refrigerator. Costing $75 for 4 people with two rooms, we were extremely comfortable.
Before the festival we stopped the Alpine Bar to make sure we would be warm enough. The bartender surely wondered where we came from; when we asked him what we should do during the festival night, he replied, "Party." When in
The Weihnachtsfest festival lasted all of about 15 minutes.
The police had blocked the streets, as if to contain all the people. I was convinced there would be a beer garden, and this became a source of humor for my companions for the rest of the night. In the town square, where everyone had gathered, there was a choir singing. Honk the Moose, apparently the town mascot, was there too.
At 6:00 p.m. the festival began, and the lights were turned on. Lighting the town Christmas tree, everyone cheered. Moments later the fireworks started – "Ooooooh… ahhhhhh."
And that was it. The festival was over.
Our first stop after the festival was the R Bar and Sauna, which actually used to have a public sauna, in the basement of the bar. It was still early, and pretty quiet. The bartender suggested that we come back later and listen to the band Blind Date in
the adjoining bar next door, Bulwinkles. We would return.
Our next stop was The Amber Flow (I’m not kidding). They had karaoke, something I have never done, and swore never to do, out of respect of reducing noise pollution. Let’s just say I promise it won’t happen again.
Several people came to wonder where we were from and why we came. The bartender dressed, in tight black shorts and shiny nylons, asked where we were staying. A cute guy, in a white sweatshirt and the required baseball cap, and formerly from Las Vegas, thanked us for being the night’s entertainment.
After wearing out our welcome by singing Guns N’ Roses’ Paradise City, we figured we’d better move on. At this point we were definitely warm enough, and it was time to check out the much-touted Blind Date at Bulwinkles.
The bar was packed; Blind Date was on-stage, and the crowd loved them. The lead singer, a pretty bond women dressed to the nines – from the eighties, in a shiny white shirt and skirt – apparently was from Biwabik. There was an opportunity for a scuffle to go on, so we left and made our final stop: back to the Alpine Bar, to report our night’s events to the man who started it all. No luck; a new, young bartender had taken the rail. By this point we were annoying, but she was unbelievably tolerant, and even scored us a much-unneeded shot, of some blue concoction.
It was time to learn to speak again. We bought two frozen pizzas from the bar and stumbled home.
Everyone in this town that we came in contact with, was extremely friendly and inviting. About a three-hour drive from the cities, I recommend this trip for anyone who wants to "get out there."
Back in Minneapolis
If a car is not an option, in the city you can check out a one-room museum: the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices (201 SE Main St., 612-379-4046). Located mysteriously across the river in no-man’s-land, this museum is something to see, and is filled with crazy medical devices and advertisements for cures from a long time ago. There is a pretty pink machine with a funnel for breast enlargement and, my personal favorite, an ad for sterilized tape worms – as a diet aid. The museum is free; however, donations are accepted. Hours: Tues., Wed., Thur., 5-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 12-9 p.m.; Sun., 12-5; Mon., closed.
Around the corner on Hennepin, another blast from the past can be found. Nye’s Polonaise Room (112 Hennepin Ave E; 379-2021) is definitely from a different era. Inside is a real piano bar, where the regulars can be heard howling song after song. Sit in sparkly gold booths, and try some meat and potatoes.
Minneapolis is very grid-like. Avenues run north/south; streets run east/west. There are a lot of one-ways, but the next street over usually runs the opposite direction. Please remember there are always exceptions.
There are several distinct areas in Minneapolis:
This is exactly where you think it is: the place where all the big buildings are.
This is the melting pot of Minneapolis. There are three main roads; Hennepin Avenue and Lyndale Avenue run parallel (N, S) to each other, and Lake Street crosses (S, E) both. Lake Street is a good border for the southern, more residential area, and the northern, more commercial area.
An area to the west of downtown that is slowly being rejuvenated, but still has some long-standing establishments and killer warehouse apartments.
This is literally the West Bank of the University of Minnesota (the campus is divided in half by the Mississippi River).
Nordeast is the way the movie Fargo claims we say it, and they’re right. This is a blue-collar, old-school region. There is a bar on every corner and a church across the street.
Minneapolis’ area code is 612; St. Paul’s is 952. You will not need to dial the area code if you are within the area. Get it?
Buses, buses, buses. That’s really all we have for transportation, and they go everywhere. Well, just about. Most bus drivers will answer questions for you, or tell you what bus to take to get where you want to go.
There is a bus phone line with an operator that will get you where you want to go on-time:
From the airport, a cab to the city will run you about $20-30. To take the bus from the airport, take the #7, and transfer to the #21 going west when you get to Lake Street. This will take you to the Uptown area.
At the Airport, when waiting for the #7, make sure you stand in the line for Downtown and not Mall of America. Unless of course you want to go to the Mall of America.
Minnesota is working on getting light-rail installed by 2003-2004. This is a great conversation starter with the person on the next barstool. You will most likely get more than one opinion.
There is a money exchange at the airport, and in Downtown Minneapolis at the Federal Reserve Bank on 2nd St. and Marquette. Call for hours: 340-2345.
My suggestion would be to exchange your money at the airport, unless you are planning on taking a daytime trip, during the week, to downtown.
Click here for info on where to rest your head.
Click here for some great eating-out ideas.