SPAM Museum ~ Austin, Minnesota

After spending the night in Austin, we decided to check out their famous SPAM Museum before heading into Iowa. Andrew and I had tried SPAM for the first time a few months prior, so we figured it would be interesting to visit to learn more about that canned spiced ham.

The museum was recently redone, and we were greeted warmly upon entering. We signed their guest book and were also asked what variety of SPAM we’d be interested in trying as they were going to make up some samples in the next few minutes.

The first area of the museum had several panels discussing the history of SPAM with a neat conveyor belt display running about our heads.

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The museum also has a kids play area that includes both a farm and a house and small market stand.

After this, we entered an area where we could test our skills at packing our own containers of SPAM. We could time how fast we could do one can, and the display would show how many the factory had filled at the same time. We both eventually got down to completing a can in 12 seconds.

The also had a fun sign explaining the entire process of how SPAM is made.

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There was also a section talking about the history of the company and especially it’s role in the World Wars. After that we entered the final section that shows the variety of SPAM found all around the world in a world village.

Near the end of that section, we got some pictures with Spammy, who’s something of a SPAM mascot in Japan.

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Overall we spent about an hour at the museum and got to try the Hickory Smoked SPAM. We liked it so much that we opted to buy a can of that and two other varieties from the gift shop. They offer all their varieties there, including two kinds that aren’t sold anywhere else in the U.S.

We had such a great time, loved the helpful staff, and learned a lot about SPAM at this interactive museum. We highly suggest visiting if you are in the area, or even detour off to make a stop!

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Green Giant Statue Park ~Blue Earth, Minnesota

Near the end of July, we had to make a short trip to the Quad Cities area and decided to make Austin, Minnesota our first stop along the journey. While en route to Austin, I remembered that I’d read you could see the Jolly Green Giant just off of I-90, so we decided to pay him a visit.

You can find the Green Giant in the aptly named Green Giant Statue Park behind the Dairy Queen in Blue Earth.  There is a small parking lot located beside newly built visitor center that houses a small museum dedicated to Jolly Green which was sadly already closed upon our visit.

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As you can see, a visit to the Green Giant also allows you to view his little buddy, Little Green Sprout. Can he get any cuter?

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Another feature of the Green Giant himself is that you can stand beneath him in his shadow for a fun photo opportunity.

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There is also a small information sign that details the history of how Green Giant came to be in this location and how he also receives a scarf to wear every winter, as the Minnesota winters can be quite harsh!

We had fun at this quirky stop off. It was great to quickly stretch out legs and seemed to be well visited and maintained. Two other families stopped off as we were leaving. I’d love to return again when the museum is open to see what other kinds of memorabilia they own.

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Microtel Inn and Suites by Wyndham ~ Moorhead, Minnesota

The night before Andrew’s half marathon in Fargo, we stayed across the Red River in Moorhead, Minnesota, as prices were slightly less. I was a little nervous to stay in a Microtel, as the one other memory I have of staying at one was in Tennessee when I was 11 on our way down to Florida and I just recall lots and lots of big bugs making their way into our room! Ha! But that could just be because we were in the South! This Microtel, however, greatly impressed me as it looked to be quite new and close to a plethora of restaurants just across the interstate, (including a Noodles and Co., which is a staple before any race Andrew runs!)

Our room was on either the second or third floor and was very spacious! The bathroom was off to the left and while small/standard hotel size, it had lots of shelving space to store items.20190517_151454

The room was divided into two sections, the main living area and the bedroom area with a small divider between.

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As you can see the TV could be viewed from either area and the desk area was somewhat shared between the two.

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To the left in the living space area there also was a small kitchenette area that contained the bare basics of coffee maker, microwave, mini fridge and a small sink.

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Our room contained a king bed, and we also greatly enjoyed the small window seat in our room. It gave it a nice homey touch.

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This hotel was definitely worth our money and also so courteous to those running the race. Breakfast hours started after we left, but they had a small bowl of fruit out with a sign wishing runners good luck, so we were well taken care of in that realm.

I would certainly stay here again for future races or trips to Fargo in general as it certainly beat the prices of hotels in Fargo. Do plan ahead if you stay here for marathon weekend though as streets were already being closed off as we followed Google Maps directions to reach the FargoDome. We would have been much better off sticking to the interstate to avoid those closures!

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Hampton Inn Minneapolis Bloomington West~ Bloomington, Minnesota

Finding a hotel in the Twin Cities area can be a bit overwhelming. Do you want to stay in the heart of one of the cities and be able to walk around the downtown? Do you want to stay in the suburbs and drive from place to place or find public transportation? If you are visiting multiple sites around the city, which of these would you like your hotel to be closest to? Decisions, decisions, decisions. For our trip we were on a somewhat tighter budget, so we didn’t want all of our money to go to waste on lodging, as many of the attractions we were going to visit cost money. That pretty much vetoed out any hotels located directly downtown as they always cost a bit more, plus have an additional cost of parking your vehicle. If you’ve been following out blog, you’ll know that I recently became a huge fan of the Hilton brand, which while on the slightly pricier side than the Wyndham hotels we previously stayed at, offer a nicer breakfast and usually much quieter hotel stays. That found me looking at Hilton brand hotels near the Mall of America. While there were a few closer to the Mall of America than where we wound up staying, our hotel was actually a newer build and located near a business park, which made for a much quieter stay.

Check in was a breeze and we even got to opt into a program where we could earn more points if we were staying two nights or longer and opted to not have housekeeping come clean our room. I haven’t checked to see if they actually panned out, since a few times we’d be gone for the day and realized they did still come make our bed or provide new towels, but I digress.

Our room was located on the third floor, so we took the elevators up and then realized we were located at the far end of the hall, so the stairs may have been the easier way to go. The bathroom was directly to our right upon entering and unlike many rooms contained just a shower rather than tub/shower combo. I’m not sure if all they rooms are this way, or just some in particular. What we did enjoy was that what look like drawer pull outs, actually gave you extended counter space on which you could place other bathroom necessities as you prepped for the day.

Our King Bed was actually against the bathroom wall and faced the window, with a small desk are to the right of the bed and the TV stand/microwave/fridge unit to the left. We’ve had a few hotel rooms now set up this way, and actually really like it as you bed isn’t sharing a wall with the neighboring rooms bed, hence cutting down on neighbor noise.

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This Hampton had a huge breakfast area. The serving area was in a “room” of it’s own that opened into their larger dining/lobby space. Despite all the tables they had, nearly every morning most tables were full. Luckily with just two of us, we usually were able to find a few free seats at which to eat. Every morning they always had a few hot options, waffles, fruit, assorted breads, cereal, and coffee. Sometimes they would list the hot options on a small chalkboard in the lobby.

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Since we were there for three nights, we had ample time to check out the amenities the hotel had to offer. We did not actually use the exercise room, but made sure to check it out for this post. As you can see, it was larger for a hotel exercise room and had plenty of different machines and equipment available for use, as well as I nice water dispenser and shelf for towels.

The pool area was also very nice with lots of lounge chairs, a large swimming pool (that was a bit cool in my opinion,) and a standard sized hot tub. We found that the pool area could get a bit rowdy in the evenings, not just with kids, but with adults who would choose to bring some select beverages with them, despite the rule board saying not to. Thus we found we limited our pool time to the afternoon, as that’s when many families were out exploring the Mall or had checked out/not yet checked in for the day.

This Hampton also offers a free shuttle that can take you to the airport or to the Mall of America. The Mall of America has a light rail station located nearby should you want to take that into the cities. A friend advised us not to go that route, because while the light rail seems inexpensive compared to parking your vehicle downtown, it sucks up a lot of time that you could be out exploring the town. There are plenty of restaurants located just a short distance away (especially if you shuttle back to the Mall,) and also a nice lakefront recreation area that we decided to take a stroll along our final night there. I highly recommend checking out this hotel if you will be in the area for more than one night and know you may be spending a decent part of your time wanting to just relax!

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The Nook ~ Saint Paul, Minnesota

After our time visiting the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, we drove back into St. Paul’s to try another restaurant that had been featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. You are limited to street parking outside of The Nook. We actually parked on a side street and found that much easier to navigate than the main roads that run in front of and to the side of the building that houses The Nook.

The Nook is aptly named as it is quite small inside, but we were lucky enough to snag a small table toward the back where the kitchen is located. We also felt pretty important as we had Guy staring down at us from his signed poster.

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Once again, we came here on a mission to try their version of the Juicy Lucy. They have several different stuffed burger options on their menu. I went for the Paul Molitor, which is a Juicy Nookie stuffed with pepperjack cheese. I’ve included both the before eating and after taking a bit photo so that you can understand the full effect of how stuffed the burgers are!

Andrew opted to try Guy’s Big Bite, which was a pepperjack stuffed burger, topped with roast beef, shredded cheddar, and bacon. Again, two photos are included so you can fully appreciate their full deliciousness.

These burgers are hands down the very best restaurant Juicy Lucy’s we have found to date. I finished mine all in one sitting because it was just that amazing. Andrew had some to take back seeing as how his was topped with quite a bit more meat and therefore more filling. We definitely plan to make this a stop anytime we are in the Twin Cities area because they were so tasty.

Guy summed it up best in his signed poster….”The Nook is off da Hook”.

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Minneapolis Sculpture Garden ~ Minneapolis, Minnesota

My main reason for wanting to visit the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden was to finally be able to check out the famous Spoonbridge Cherry that the city is so well known for. The Garden was recently revitalized (along with the Science Center and state capitol, seriously, half the town was being revitalized for several years and it made visiting iconic places a challenge!) The Sculpture Center was located next to the Walker Art Museum and you can park in their underground lot for a small fee. There also is a paid lot nearby, but we just parked on the road in a nearby neighborhood and walked to the park.

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We started out viewing that famous spoon and cherry, I’m sure it looks far more impressive when the water below isn’t frozen and the sculpture can actually reflect into it, but it was still really neat. They even place some Adirondack chairs nearby so you can work yourself into a photo of Spoonbridge quite easily.

We came to quickly realize that it would be very easy to spend far more time in the sculpture garden than we originally thought. We made a fun game out of naming the sculptures as we approached them, and then checking to see if our original interpretation matched the name and description. You’d be surprised at how many we guessed rather close on!

One sculpture became quite an interactive experience as you could swing below it!

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The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is also well known for it’s Blue Rooster sculpture.

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Our other fun discovery was the Love sculpture that finds it’s way onto so many postage stamps!

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Overall, I think we spent nearly an hour exploring the sculptures and had a great time! Even the pedestrian bridge across the busy highway is it’s own work of art. Sadly as we drove away, we noticed that their actually were several more sculptures located across the street from the main gardens up by the art center. So if you go, plan to explore those as well!

What do you think? Have you ever been to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden? If so, what was your favorite work of art?

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Minnehaha Regional Park ~Minneapolis, Minnesota

How I’ve never visited the famous Minnehaha Falls before this year is beyond me, but when we switched our Omaha trip to a Twin Cities trip, I knew it had to be a stop we finally made. After doing some research online, I’d heard that the park quickly gets busy most days, so we opted to make it our first stop in order to ensure that we could find parking. Turns out we didn’t need to worry!

The park has ample parking, we weren’t exactly sure where the falls were located in the park as we drove in, so we just kept driving until we got a close street parking spot nearby the restaurant located in the park. We fed the meter quite a bit since we didn’t know how far we’d have to walk…..turns out we didn’t need to feed it quite as much as we did!

When we began walking we noticed we’d have to cross a stone bridge to get over to where the restaurant was and figured that’s where we would find a map or some other signage telling us where to find the falls. We could already hear rushing water at that point, but figured it made sense since snow melt had been significant the past week.

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As we crossed the bridge we came to the realization that finding a map or sign was not necessary as we were standing right on top of Minnehaha Falls.

We crossed the bridge and came to an overlook from the side.

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As we walked a little further along, we came to another overlook which gave us a better full view.

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Despite the recent snow melt, you can see the falls themselves were still quite frozen. I thought this made for a neat experience as it was a unique way to experience the falls two seasons at once!

There was a steep set of stairs (that were also still a bit icy) open on that side that we thought we’d slowly make our way down to see the falls up close.

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There also was a set of stairs coming down from the side where we parked our car, but they were still blocked off for obvious safety reasons.

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Here’s a photo of the side we trekked down. As you can see, snow and ice was still an issue on that side as well, but not nearly as bad as the photo above.

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The area beneath the falls also had a little bridge that allowed you to cross the creek to access either set of stairs. It appears a trail would also normally extend out below the falls when there isn’t as much snow. They had lots of neat rock formations situated in that area.

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Of course, Minnehaha Regional Park also offers far more than the falls. We walked around for a bit noticing their disc golf course and dog park. They also have a restaurant that I mentioned earlier. It did not appear open the day we visited, which could be because we were there so early, or could be that they have different hours in the winter/spring. There also are a ton of other trails to walk and hike along.

I’m sure Minnehaha Falls is “more” beautiful when the grass and plants are green, but I’m truly glad we got to experience it when we did as the water flow was much stronger and we still got to check out the frozen falls. If any of you have ever visited the falls, drop a comment for your favorite time to visit!

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Blue Door Pub ~ Saint Paul, Minnesota

While in the Twin Cities, we decided to grab a meal at Blue Door Pub as it has been featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on Food Network and they boast about their Blucys. Blue Door Pub has four locations in the area. We went to the location on Selby in Saint Paul. We had to park on the street at this location, but it was a short walk.

This location is also quite small, just one small dining room area and another bar area with a few tables as well. We got lucky and snagged the last available table despite it being 3:30 in the afternoon. Granted it was the start of March Madness.

We decided to start off with an appetizer. We love trying cheese curds at different restaurants and decided to try the Flaming Hot Cheese Curds as that’s something different from other restaurants.

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These things were no joke! I like spicy, but even these were a bit spicy for me! The white pepper cheese inside and the habenero cheddar beer batter would have been fine, but the spice they placed on top was what took it to a whole different level.

We also both ordered a different Blucy, Blue Door Pubs take on a Juicy Lucy. I ordered the classic Blucy which contained American Cheese. Andrew ordered the Bacon Blucy which contained Smoked Bacon Cheddar Cheese and Bacon inside the burger.

We both enjoyed our burgers, but I prefer mine with pepperjack cheese and we both prefer them with the cheese more inside then outside the burger.

As I said earlier, Blue Door Pub has been featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, and they have the proof up on the wall showing that Guy did in fact dine there!

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While it wasn’t our most favorite meal we’ve ever eaten, we were glad to try somewhere that had been featured on TV and feel it’s worth a visit.

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Landmark Plaza ~ Saint Paul, Minnesota

One of that last things I wanted to be sure to revisit in St. Paul, was the bronze Peanut Statues found in parks downtown. I had thought that they were located in Rice Park, so we began to head that direction, but we actually found them in Landmark Plaza, so I clearly was mistaken! I’m glad we stumbled upon them before walking further!

Charles Schulz was a Saint Paul native, so these statues pay tributes to him. Landmark Plaza seemed a bit beat up on our latest visit, but it could just be all the winter weather they’ve faced this year!

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Linus and Sally can be found chatting along the “wall”.

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Charlie Brown and Snoopy are enjoying the sunshine on an elevated section of land.

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Lucy bugs Schroeder in typical fashion.

I’d really felt like there had been more statures on previous visits, but this seemed to be all there was. Upon further research right before writing this post, it does appear that both Peppermint Patty and Marcie are actually located in Rice Park, although at the time of this writing, Rice Park also is “closed” for construction and revitalization, so I’m not sure what the status would be of those two sculptures.

If you are walking around downtown St. Paul, these cute sculptures are definitely worth a visit!

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Minnesota State Capitol ~ Saint Paul, Minnesota

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Following our time at the Minnesota History Center, we made the short walk over to the state capitol building to take a guided tour. The tour center was clearly labeled in a room just off to the right from the doors we entered. They also had a small gift shop located in the same room. We were told the tour would start just outside the tour office in about 15 minutes, but were free to browse around the rotunda area until the tour began.

We actually had a decent sized group for our tour, including several children, but all of the kids were very well behaved, and our tour guide was wonderful in answering any and all questions throughout the tour. We began in the rotunda area, where he explained how all of the materials used in the building of this third capitol building were native to Minnesota (except for the materials brought in from a Georgia mine, but that mine was bought my Minnesotans to make it still count!) He also explained about how all of the flower/plant carvings found around the building were plants native to the state. Minnesota is also known as the North Star state, so the giant north star in the middle of the rotunda floor pays tribute to that, as well as providing a natural skylight to basement offices, which is why they don’t allow people to walk on top of that North Star formation.

From there we made our way up to the second floor, with our first stop being the Supreme Court chambers. What was neat about this room was that it contains four murals depicting important times in history where “law” was given. I got a picture of when the 10 Commandments were given as I liked how the artist portrayed God as a ball of fire.

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Our next stop on that level was the House of Representatives. We got to view it from the upper chambers public viewing area. I again really liked the artwork and quotes place within the chamber. I also thought it was neat how you could see the board where everyone’s votes show up.

We also got to take a quick view of the Senate Chambers but had to do so quietly as some senators were actually there working. The state capitol recently underwent three years of restoration, and the really neat part was they saved a small part unrestored so that you could see how needed the project was. You can see how dark the paint got from all the people who had previously been allowed to smoke in the building, as well as all the dust that built up over the years, and how as repainting would happen in prior years, things gradually shifted from their original painted location.

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Our tour ended in the Governor’s Reception Hall, which contained four portraits done of the Civil War as Minnesota Regiments were crucial in several battles of the Civil War. They also used to have two paintings of Native American tribes, but those were seen having historic inaccuracies, so they are now looking into other options to fill those portrait areas.

Apparently if you tour in April through October, you also can walk out on the balcony below the rotunda and few the golden sculpture up close. Sadly we visited a few weeks too early, so we may have to stop in another time if we want that experience.

I highly recommend taking the time to tour the building with a guide as it was very informative and is free! They do recommend a small donation, but are not pushy about it.

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