Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Greensboro, North Carolina

Greensboro, North Carolina is a two-hour drive from my home in Roanoke, Virginia and is the third largest city in North Carolina (270,000 people according to the 2010 US Census).

View of downtown Greensboro.

And again...

Fountain in Center City Park.

Artwork in City Center Park.

Greensboro was named for Major General Nathanael Greene, an officer in the American Revolutionary War and the city was built around a courthouse square.

  Statue of Greensboro's namesake.

Mural of Greensboro's namesake (or so I assume).

During the Industrial Revolution, Greensboro flourished.  It became the center of the southern textile industry.  Other industries like Vicks Chemical Company (known for Vicks Vapor Rub and NyQuil) and the Carolina Steel Corporation originated here, too.

As I walked around downtown Greensboro last week, I noticed many signs like this:


Some research revealed that Greensboro was also a center of the American Civil Rights Movement.  As alluded to on the sign above, four black college students sat down at a lunch counter at a Woolworth store (a segregated five-and-dime retail chain) in Greensboro on February 1st, 1960, and refused to leave when they were denied service.  Spurred on by their example, hundreds of others joined the sit-in, which lasted several months and ultimately led to desegregation of Woolworth and other retail chains.  The lunch counter is still in it's original location and is now part of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum which opened on February 1, 2010, fifty years after the sit-in began.

In addition to being a center of southern industry and the American Civil Rights Movement, Greensboro also has a thriving arts community, as testified by it's numerous theaters and cinemas.  Two are pictured, below.

The Triad Stage, a regional theatre in Greensboro.


The Carolina Theatre in Greensboro has a seating capacity of 2,200 and 14 exits to allow clearing of the theatre in under two minutes.

Greensboro maintains a "sister city" relationship with three cities (I didn't realize until this year that many American cities have an official "sister city" relationship with international cities) in order to foster friendship and cooperation.  The cities are:
-Yingkou, China
-Chisinau, Moldova
-Montbeliard, France

I spy...some random artwork.

Here is my list of 10 things to do for fun in Greensboro:

-The Bog Garden (1.06 mile elevated boardwalk through a wetland ecosystem)
-International Civil Rights Center and Museum (site of the infamous Greensboro sit-in)
-Center City Park (pictured above)
-Greensboro Arboretum
-Blandwood Mansion and Gardens (historic home of former North Carolina governor)
-The Natural Science Center of Greensboro
-Greensboro Coliseum Complex (athletic and cultural events)
-NewBridge Bank Park (baseball park, outdoor activities, concerts)
-The Greensboro Children's Museum
-Wet 'n Wild Emerald Pointe (largest water park in the Carolinas)

Overall, I thought that Greensboro would be a fun place to wile away a couple of days, and look forward to returning here some weekend in the next two years.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Wine Trail of Botetourt County, Virginia

Today I drove the Wine Trail of Botetourt County.  The Wine Trail consists of three family-run vineyards in close proximity:  Virginia Mountain Vineyard, Blue Ridge Vineyards, and Fincastle Vineyard.


Located about fifty miles from The Star city, The Wine Trail of Botetourt County is a good day trip.  And there are spectacular views enroute.




I left Roanoke after noon, and expected to visit all three vineyards before dinner. However, I got side- tracked at my first destination, Blue Ridge Vineyards.

I asked Teresa in the tasting room if I could help Blue Ridge Vineyards with the harvesting and winemaking process.  She directed my query to the owners, Barbara and Jim, retired professors from Texas.

Barbara not only allowed me to participate in the harvesting process, but she gave me a grand tour of the facilities.


Blue Ridge Vineyards makes seven types of wine in a building behind the tasting room.


First, Barb showed me the refrigerated room where freshly picked grapes are stored in their lug baskets.  Each lug can accommodate 35 to 40 pounds of grapes.

The first step in the winemaking process is to run the grapes through a press. White wine making and red wine making press processes are different.  White wine grapes are pressed for juice and the grape skins are discarded.  Red wine grapes are pressed for pulp, a combination of juice and skins.

Next, yeast is added to the juice (white wine) or pulp (red wine).  Over a one to two-week process, the yeast converts the sugar in the juice or pulp to ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide.  This is known as primary fermentation.

Red wines (and select white wines) undergo a secondary fermentation whereby malic acid is converted to lactic acid, a process that makes the wine less acidic, softening it's taste.  After secondary fermentation, red wines are sometimes aged in oak barrels to impart an oak taste to the liquid.  After removal from the barrels, the wine is settled, clarified and filtered before being bottled.

Obviously, this is a simplistic description of the process...



After Barb's overview of the wine making process, she allowed me to harvest grapes.  Mark, one of the workers at the vineyard, gave me a ride out to the vineyard on his four-wheeler.

At vineyards, grapes are harvested mechanically or by hand.  The advantage to mechanical harvesting is that it's quicker, but the machines also collect leaves, stems and other extraneous matter that has to be removed before pressing.

At Blue Ridge Vineyards, grapes are harvested by hand.  When white wine grapes turn a light purple color, they are ready for harvesting.

 A picture of a yellow lug basket, garden shears for harvesting grapes, and the light purple white wine grapes.

Mark and I harvested grapes for two hours.  Here are some views from the vineyard.





Blueridge Vineyards has almost enough lugs of grapes to press and I was invited back to the vineyard to help.

This was the first day since I left Marrakech, Morocco that I felt surprised by life. When I woke up, I never expected that six hours later I'd be four-wheeling through a vineyard and harvesting grapes.  It's a feeling that international travel gave me almost daily, but is usually absent (at least for me) in normal life. Most days, I can pretty much predict how my day is going to unfold (example: wakeup, workout, eat, shower, work, eat, work, eat, read, write, bed).  I'm not sure what the fix is to that, but I'm pondering it...     

Monday, 8 August 2011

Roanoke, Virginia

I made it Roanoke, Virginia (not to be mistaken for Roanoke Colony on Roanoke Island in present-day North Carolina) at 1 a.m. on Saturday, August 6th.

Roanoke became known as The Star City of the South because of a man-made star that officials erected on Mill Mountain in 1949 to showcase the city's progressive spirit.  (Other nicknames are Magic City, Big Lick, and Capital of the Blue Ridge.)

Roanoke Star.

At 88 1/2 feet tall (and 10,000 pounds worth of steel), this is the world's largest man-made star.  It is illuminated every day from nightfall until midnight.  

Roanoke Star inscription.

From the base of the Roanoke Star, there are great views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and downtown Roanoke.  Like this:

View of Blue Ridge Mountains and Roanoke, Virginia from the base of the Roanoke Star.

Roanoke has a population of 97,000.  Roanoke + metropolitan area has a population of 250,000 (about the population of Saint Paul, Minnesota).  As a City Girl, it feels small.  (The downtown area is a bit larger than Tacoma, Washington.)  But I think that smallness will be conducive to writing...and the road and mountain bike opportunities are unbeatable.  I'm excited to hike the Appalachian Trail (which runs through Roanoke County) and explore The Wine Trail of Botetourt County (nearby American Viticultural Area).  And Roanoke is within 300 miles of:

Greensboro, North Carolina:  98.9 miles
Charlottesville, Virginia:  121 miles
Richmond, Virginia:  161 miles
Washington D.C:  240 miles
Virginia Beach, Virginia:  270 miles
Baltimore, Maryland:  278 miles
Wilmington, North Carolina:  290 miles
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina:  301 miles

Sunset in the woods of Mill Mountain.

Historic Grandin Village, a neighborhood of Roanoke.

Coffee shops galore.

Culturally the city seems like a mix between New England and The Deep South. The many brick buildings, narrow streets, and presence of Dunkin' Donuts remind me of Alexandria, Virginia, the suburbs of Boston and other cities of New England.  The city also lies in the transition between Humid subtropical climate zone and Humid continent climate zone, meaning it has four distinct seasons like the rest of New England.

Yet, people speak with a southern drawl, I could imagine drinking sweet tea on my front porch, and there is a lazy southern feel.

 The Deep South:  Perfect for sweet tea drinking.

Versus

New England:  brick buildings, and narrow/tree-lined streets.

Seeing (and living) in another part of America is a pleasure.

Especially one so scenic...



I'm excited to start the next chapter of my life.  In the meantime, I'm unpacking my car, buying groceries and attempting to secure part-time employment.

I'll update Random Road Revelations as I visit other cities and geographical areas near Roanoke, Virginia.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Fort Leonard Wood to Roanoke

The first stop on my road trip was Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and I literally forgot the camera when I reconnected with friends.  Thirty-six hours of girl talk, cosmos, and movie watching ensued.  There was, unfortunately, no sightseeing involved.

The movie on the left was my pick, the movie on the right was my friend's pick.  I appear to be the more sophisticated (albeit morbid) film critic.

When I left Missouri, I was on a mission.  It was raining and I was determined to make it the 13 hours, 40 minutes and 818 miles from Fort Leonard Wood to Roanoke in one straight shot because I didn't want to pay for lodging.

These grand ambitions happen every road trip...

Last July, I attempted to drive 780 miles from Windsor, California to Tacoma, Washington after partaking in the Sonoma wine region.

At 2 a.m. I stopped to take a 20 minute nap at a rest area in northern Oregon.

The rest stop was reminiscent of a horror film.  Missing person posters plastered the walls and the florescent lights above the stalls flickered ominously.  The area was surrounded by miles of woods.

I locked my car and reclined the seat.  But I couldn't fall asleep.  I was haunted by the image of a deranged man taking a baseball bat to my window, yanking me out by the hair, beheading me behind the restrooms and throwing my body down a ravine.

A boyfriend convinced me to leave immediately and stop at a Howard Johnson.

...After that road trip, I may know how to quit.  Regardless, I was a woman on a mission.

I left Fort Leonard Wood at 9 a.m. and made a beeline for Saint Louis, Missouri. I caught a glimpse of The Gateway Arch before I left The Show Me State and slipped over the border into Illinois.  The Gateway Arch was completed in 1965 and honors the westward expansion of the United States.  At 630 feet, it is the tallest man-made structure in America.

  
Illinois (The Praire State) and Indiana (The Hoosier State) were next, and little more than farm fields and expanses of nothingness.  According to The CIA World Factbook, America had an urban population (percentage of citizens that reside in cities and suburbs) of 82% as of 2010.  (In contrast, the average world urban population is 50.5%.)  However, only 17% of land in America is urban land.  This means that 83% of America is virtually uninhabited.  As a City Girl, it's easy to forget how rural most of America is.

These three pictures and video basically some up my experience driving through Middle America.




video

I made it to Kentucky (The Bluegrass State) around dinner time, but didn't stop in Louisville or Lexington.  From the highway they appear fantastic.  I'll have to go back there to watch horse racing.

West Virginia was next.  It was dark by this time and The Mountain State was awash in winding highways and precipitous elevation drops.  I didn't encounter any rest stops or (nearly any) signs of civilization (but I did hit three toll booths). I also noted that the music selections in West Virginia were limited to country, Christian rock, conservative talk radio...Delilah, and static.  Not cool.

I entered Virginia (The Old Dominion State) from the southern corner of West Virginia.

Roanoke is not too far from West Virginia.  Nicknamed The Star City of The South because of a large star on Mill Mountain, people also refer to Roanoke as Magic City, Big Lick and Capital of the Blue Ridge.

Roanoke boasts the world's largest man-made star.

Culturally, Roanoke is a mix between New England and The Deep South.

I pulled into my house in Historic Grandin Village at one in the morning.

Daily Inputs:
-18 gallons of gas (thank you hybrid technology)
-1 Quizno's subway sandwich
-2 McDonald's mochas

Daily Outputs:
-818 miles
-Ready to embark on that next big step.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Goodbyes, Saturn Return, and Road Trippin'

"In a sense, Saturn is almost like a miniature solar system."
~Linda Spilker

Sandal on the accelerator.  Grey ribbon of highway.  Starbucks coffee in the cup holder.  Sleazy gas stations.  Lunching at diners.  Bruce Springsteen on the radio.

These are the things I love about Road Trippin', and on Wednesday I embark on another Road Trippin' extravaganza.  But first, the goodbyes and Saturn Return...

Goodbye Minneapolis.

When you're constantly away from home (as I was for the previous nine years), you become desensitized to goodbyes.  But live with your family for part of one year, and you realize the things you've missed.  As I leave Minneapolis, I am bracing for the hardest goodbye I've encountered, a goodbye that is tempered only by my excitement for the future.

Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Sister #4

As I bid farewell to family and Minneapolis, I also feel like I'm saying goodbye to my childhood.  A few weeks ago, I read about Saturn Return.  Saturn returns to the same point in it's orbit ever 29.4 years.  So, every 29 years Saturn occupies the same position it did at our birth (aka. Saturn Return).  In astrology, Saturn is associated with transformation and rebirth and Saturn Return is said to be a transition time from one life-phase to another. 

According to astrologers, the first Saturn Return coincides with a transition from childhood to adulthood.  The second Saturn Return (~age 58) a transition from adulthood to maturity.  And the third Saturn Return (~age 87) a transition from maturity to wisdom.

It's difficult, but if you're willing to make necessary changes during your Saturn Return, say astrologers, the entire universe conspires to help you.  

Minnesota wildflower.

Three years ago, I woke up one day and felt like an adult.  I'd recently returned from Afghanistan, and maybe that feeling of adulthood was more precipitated by my reintegration into civilian life than actual adulthood.  Either way, there must be something to Saturn Return, because I feel like an adult more intensely today than ever before.

One way is professionally.  Until the age of 28, I wasn't ready to commit to a profession, mostly because I didn't understand who I was as an individual.  I felt like I spent my 20s trying on dozens of costumes and reinventing myself.

But from this decades-long exploration process there emerged the idea of becoming a writer, an idea that I suppose has been staring me in the face since I first delighted in putting pen to paper at age five...


After these goodbyes, the road trip begins...

Pie.  An obsession.

First stop is Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  Fort Lost in the Woods is one of the Army's largest training facilities.  The surrounding area is a cultural dead spot (aside from a scattering of vineyards) and might be the American equivalent of Bulgaria.  Still, I'm thrilled to reunite with a few amigos.

Second stop is Lexington, Kentucky.  A Wikipedia search revealed the following: Lexington is Kentucky's 2nd largest city (after Louisville), it's nickname is "The Horse Capital of the World," the US Census Bureau identifies it as America's 10th most educated city (40% of adults have a bachelor's degree or higher), and Forbes named it one of the 17 cleanest cities in the world.

I know little about Kentucky, but reading about Lexington piqued my interest.  It would be fun to visit neighboring Louisville in May for the Kentucky Derby.  (Or maybe throw a Kentucky Derby viewing party in Roanoke, complete with mint juleps, fried chicken, polo t-shirts and oversized hats.)  

The third stop is Roanoke, Virginia, my new home.  It's a city of 97,000 nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The Appalachian Trail and an American Viticultural Area (winemaking region) are nearby.  And, political orientation aside, I'm reassured that two-thirds of Roanoke residents identify themselves as Democrat. (In my experience, that bodes well for farmer's markets, food co-ops, art house cinemas, granola, dreadlocks, and other delights.)  I can't wait to settle in and explore the area for three weeks before school starts.

More to follow as I cross America...


Thursday, 21 July 2011

The True Friend Travel Test

Traveling helped me separate True Friends from Imposters.

And the people in the True Friends camp were not exactly the ones I expected.

I first noticed this phenomenon - I'll call it The True Friend Travel Test - on my 15-month deployment to Afghanistan.  Some of the people I assumed would send me letters, care packages and emails didn't.  And other people, people I didn't expect to give a hoot about me, did.  In fact, they showered me with letters, care packages and emails.

I've also noticed a similar phenomenon called The True Friend Dream Test. This year, when I summoned up the courage to dedicate myself to writing, to be myself, to be authentic, some of my "True Friends" didn't "get it."  No one's been outwardly critical of my aspirations, but indifference hurts more.

Like the True Friend Travel Test, the silver lining is that others - people I hadn't met before, people I considered mere acquaintances before I announced my dream to the world - have materialized.  They've commented on my blog, sent me emails.  They've rung me up to congratulate me, encourage me, and tell me that they're inspired.  They've given me strength.

Life is odd.

Again and again I see the parallels between traveling and following one's dreams.  Both are lonely, frightening, and uncertain.  But, I'm thankful for the slew of True Friends I've acquired (and reconfirmed) in the process.  I hope I can support them on their journeys as well as they've supported me.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Travel versus Graduate School: A Fork in the Road

Before I left for India, I applied to eight graduate writing programs.  Pending acceptance, I imagined returning to America and writing my heart out for 2-3 years.  Travel changed everything, including my ideas about what constitutes an education.


Growing up, my parents encouraged me to value a formal education.  They assisted me with homework, and praised every "A."  They never said it, but I understood the expectation:  I would get a bachelor's degree and a master's degree.  I came to associate an education with an institution.

From the first day, it was obvious that travel rivals a formal education.  I had thousands of light bulb moments about politics, religion, and geography.  The world became a classroom and every person I encountered was a teacher.  (In retrospect, I learned more in 19 weeks than a year at university.)    

In India, I was accepted to four writing programs.  The news thrilled me.  But I couldn't help but ask, "Could I get a better education from travel?"

I've always been a realist when it comes to writing.  I know that a Masters in Fine Arts is not a requisite for a writer.  I know an MFA does not guarantee publication.

I don't even believe that people can teach you how to write.  You teach yourself. Still, I applied to eight graduate writing programs because I believed that an MFA could give me the resources I needed to teach myself.  It could provide me a writing community - something I've found valuable as an artist.  It could help me make contacts in the publishing world.  Above all, I believed I could improve more in two years of concerted, focused effort than six years of working full-time and writing on the side.  

When it came time to accept or decline my offers of admission (April 15th), I was in the Middle East.  I was seven weeks into my trip, travel fatigue hadn't set in, and I wanted to travel indefinitely.  The alternative to an MFA was this:  come home, cancel my cell phone, sell everything (including the car), and buy a one-way ticket to southeast Asia or Africa.

From there, my plans were vague.  I figured I'd go where I pleased and find employment along the way.  People I met on the road extended their travels by teaching English, working at restaurants and hostels, and volunteering in exchange for room and board.  I believed that I could pull it off - I still do.

I'm single, childless, and debt-free.  This may not last long.  The conditions may never be this stellar again.

At the same time, I knew the opportunity to get an MFA might not come along again, either.

MFAs are surprisingly competitive.  The schools don't care if you have a 4.0 GPA from Harvard - at least not much.  Ninety-percent of the admissions decision involves the writing portfolio.  Even if your portfolio is excellent, it may not be what the school is looking for.  When faced with two excellent portfolios, a school may choose the portfolio that most closely mirrors the type of writing that the faculty themselves are doing.  Really, it's a crapshoot.

And the stars aligned this year:  In 2010, I took a writing course at the University of Washington and had a polished portfolio.  A writing instructor and Army supervisors agreed to write me letters of recommendation.  My GRE scores hadn't expired yet!  

April 15th loomed and so began a series of sleepless nights.  Wavering, wobbling, and weighing the pros and cons.  To MFA or not?  To travel or not? Being decisive has never been my strong suit.

In the end, I chose the MFA.

It was Sister #2 who talked me down from the ledge by suggesting a compromise:  extend your trip by six weeks, then do the MFA.  That's what I did. I spent another six weeks in eastern Europe and north Africa.  Travel fatigue set in.  By the end, I was exhausted and ready to come home - at least temporarily.

Everyone's had a moment like that in life.  A moment at the fork of a road.  A moment where both paths are appealing.  Yet, you're cognizant that choosing one over the other will radically effect the rest of life.

I think I made the right decision.  I believe that formal education will improve my writing and I tell myself that when I graduate, I'll go back.  But so many things could change between now and then.  Kids, spouse, loans.  All the things that make travel difficult.

In the end, I realize that nothing is guaranteed and uncertainty is the only certainty.  Yet, I'm certain of this - travel changed me.

I can now name all 196 countries of the world.  I'm learning French.  Yesterday, I read an article about Bahrain with interest.  Bahrain!  Last year, I didn't know Bahrain existed.    

I sense that travel will be an important part of my future, an important part of my continuing education.

   

Monday, 18 July 2011

Five Benefits of Owning Fewer Possessions

Instead of renting a U-haul to drive out to Roanoke on August 1st (expensive when unemployed), I decided to ditch everything that would not fit into my 2006 Toyota Prius (and buy a cheap bed/dresser upon arrival).

It all has to fit in...there? 

Solution:
I willed all of my furniture to Sister #2 and fiancee.  They were grateful for the upgrades (and ability to relinquish that green, fart-stained couch that witnessed too many frat parties).  I warned them that I might take it back in two years when the MFA is complete.  But more than likely, I'll do something overseas when I graduate (Peace Corps?), so they'll be able to keep my furniture longer (perhaps indefinitely).  I cut my supply of non-furniture items (e.g. kitchenware, clothes, books) by about 40% by making donations to Good Will.  (If I was more frugal, I may have thrown a yard sale or sold my belongings on Craigslist or eBay, but at this point it wasn't worth the hassle.)

Outcome:
I attempted to pack my car like it's August 1st.  The remaining items do not all fit into my Toyota Prius.  Looks as though I'll need to downsize.  Again.

Pre-Good Will book collection.

What has this experience taught me?

First, nothing I've done is radical.  When I was traveling, I met people who sold everything to afford a year overseas.  They were literally carrying all of their possessions in a backpack!  Still, this has been radical - for me.

That said, downsizing is less painful than expected.

Here are five benefits of owning less:

#1.  Money Saved.
I no longer have to pay extra money for a storage facility, or a larger apartment to fit my extraneous belongings.  I can funnel that extra buck into my travel and retirement funds.

#2.  Increased Gratitude and Awareness.  
I really appreciate the things I have left.  The stuff that fits in my Toyota Prius represents about 20% of my total belongings pre-RTW adventure.  But it's the finest 20%.  It's my favorite clothes, books, blankets, and jewelry.

Moreover, I'm more aware of what I own.  I can almost list every item off the top of my head.  That, to me, is a litmus test of value.  Try it sometime.  Sit down with pen and paper in hand for 30 minutes and list your every possession. Then, compare that list to what you actually own.  If you forgot to name that wicker chair or book on beading or wool sweater, then chances are they really aren't that important to you anyway.  

#3.  More Travel Expedient.
Owning fewer belongings makes travel, relocation and living abroad simpler.  It's easier to pack it all up and take it with you.  It's easier to convince a family member or friend to store a dozen of your boxes in their attic as opposed to 12 dozen.

When your boss offers you a chance to work at the corporate office in Beijing, or the kids move out and you can finally execute a RTW trip, or you get that hankering to volunteer at an orphanage in Maputo, you're more likely to go for it (and less likely to use your belongings as an excuse for not embarking on the thrill of a lifetime).

#4.  Other People are Happier.
Think about how many books you own that you've read once and never opened again.  Or how many clothes, in the depths of your closet, that haven't been modeled since 2005.  If you're not using an item on a regular basis (say, once per week) consider that it's just taking up space.  Someone else would love to read that post-noir novel or slip into your Jimmy Choos.  Spread the happiness.

#5.  Less Likely to Overspend Again.
When you're constantly buying things that you don't need, it becomes a habit. You start to do it automatically, oftentimes to fill some physical, emotional, spiritual or mental void.  Once you downsize, you may realize that life is possible without the clutter.  You might find other pastimes to fill aforementioned voids that don't involve a credit card swipe (e.g. walking, frisbee golf, french kissing/petting, people watching, the public library).  In the future, you'll be less inclined to live outside of your means.

The bane of my existence.

Consider that living outside of one's means is a key reason why we're experiencing the current economic downturn.

Also consider this:  a wide body of research indicates that once a person has enough money to meet their basic needs (e.g. food, shelter), increases in wealth have little effect on personal happiness.  According to this research, happiness is most closely tied to job satisfaction and personal relationships - not how many pairs of galoshes, ceramic mugs, and New York Times best sellers you have at home.


Minneapolis, Minnesota

My family lives in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis + St. Paul metropolitan area), and I've resided here for the past month.


I wanted to add Minneapolis to my travel blog in order to encourage people to visit Minnesota, The Land of 10,000 Lakes.  The stereotypes about Minneapolis tend not to advance Minnesota as a top American travel destination.  They are:

#1.  The weather in Minneapolis is akin to an arctic tundra.  Pack your snowsuit if you come - the temperature is below freezing much of the year.


#2.  Minnesota is nothing more than farm fields (think Iowa) and back woods (think West Virginia).  Translation:  Unless you love the Great Outdoors, there is nothing to do.

Here's my take on the stereotypes, having lived for 18 years in Minneapolis before going off to college and joining the Army.  (Like most stereotypes, there is a kernel of truth to both assertions...)


Low-Down on Misconception #1

Stats:  Yes, Minneapolis has the coldest average temperature of any major metropolitan area in America.  (The average temperature in January is 13.1 degrees Fahrenheit).  However, despite the cold, winters are sunny.  And, these temps are not indicative of the entire year - summer days in Minnesota are warm to hot and usually humid.  (The average temperature in July is 73.2 degrees Fahrenheit).

My Take:  If only there was a way to cut January and February from the Minneapolis calendar.  Besides these two months, the climate in the Twin Cities is terrific.  By early March, the snow is melted and we transition into a pleasant, lukewarm Spring.  Summers in Minneapolis last forever.  Despite humidity, the heat is rarely oppressive.  Almost everyday is sunny, and rain, when it happens, is often accompanied by lightning and thunder (I missed summer storms when I lived near Seattle).

Having resided in several states, I believe Minneapolis has the most picturesque Autumn in America (there's a reason why the Twin Cities marathon, in October, has been dubbed "The Most Beautiful Urban Marathon in America.)  November is a draw - the leaves are down, it's grey and cool, but snow is unlikely. Minneapolis usually receives it's first snowfall in December which rocks - IMO, no Christmas can top a White Christmas.  But by January and February, you're wishing the snow (and the cold) would go away.

Bottom line:  If you find a winter sport to love (be that downhill skiing, nordic skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, etc.), invest in high quality winter gear (e.g. North Face, Columbia), and keep a stash of hot chocolate and Bailey's handy, then January and February in Minneapolis can be more than tolerable, they can be some of the best weeks of the year.  If not, you may decide that the other 10 months make up for it.

Low-Down on Misconception #2

Stats:  The Twin Cities metropolitan area is the 16th largest metropolitan area in America.  With a population of 3.5 million people, 60% of the state's population lives in the Twin Cities.

My Take:  Since 60% of the population lives in the Twin Cities, people that travel to other parts of the state are likely to see lots of woods (northern Minnesota), lots of farmland (southern Minnesota), and not a lot of people.  If you're an outdoors enthusiast you're in heaven, but if you prefer concrete and Gucci, most of Minnesota's draws are clustered around Minneapolis.

Minnesota basically invented shopping - we have the world's first enclosed Mall (Southdale) and the world's largest Mall (The Mall of America).  There are theaters (30+ venues, 100+ companies), clubs, bars and restaurants galore. An enticing string of lakes wind through the Twin Cities.  If you're a fitness fanatic, you'll encounter a plethora of fit, latex-clad bodies (we're routinely ranked as one of the top two or three bike cities in America and have one of the lowest obesity rates in the nation).

Bottom line:  A City Gal or Boy will find a lot to love about the Twin Cities (the rest of the state, not so much).


...All these years later, I may finally understand the appeal of my hometown. And I may finally understand a little bit of what T.S. Eliott meant when he said:

"We shall not cease from exploring.  And the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."