All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware. ~ Martin Buber
This past Saturday morning started bright and beautiful, he with tea and me with coffee, sitting on the top floor deck worshiping what brief summer sun Minnesota still has to offer. For the first time in two months, there were no small or large children present, no parents, no chores, no groceries to be shopped for, and no schedule. Then he looked at me and posed the question:
What should we do today?
I voted for an afternoon adventure on the newly built light rail. And off we went.
Metro Transit now has a Green Line light rail connecting St. Paul and Minneapolis. In addition to connecting the Twin Cities by public transit, other goals included 1) providing college students an easy way to travel to the University of Minnesota, 2) revitalizing St. Paul’s University Avenue, 3) providing people living in the area who do not own cars a means of travel to and from shops, and 4) working toward a greener forms of public transportation.
Our trip from St. Paul to Minneapolis took approximately 45 minutes on the light rail. Traveling the entire length of the Green Line takes approximately an hour. The stations are clean, easy to find, and have heat lamps for the winter months. You can pay by cash or credit card, and while tickets are usually not checked, every now and then security monitors passengers to ensure everyone has paid.
On our way to Minneapolis, I noticed that a lot of the stores along University Avenue are vacant. I also saw some of my favorite places to eat, shop, and play, which rolled by every few minutes. Before we dive into my personal best of the best locally-owned locales, major stops along the light rail include
- Rondo Community Outreach Library (461 North Dale Street, St. Paul)
- SuperTarget (1300 University Ave W, St. Paul)
- Cub Foods (1440 University Ave W, St. Paul)
- Menards (2005 University Ave W, St. Paul)
- University of Minnesota East and West Banks (Minneapolis)
I noticed several passengers on the rail with shopping bags, books, and other assorted items that one would find at a larger store. The light rail already appears to be extremely useful for people who may not want to drive or who may not own a car yet need to get their week to week shopping done. There were also several bicycles, wheelchairs, and strollers present, which again convinced me that this is definitely becoming a convenient and hopefully preferred form of transportation around the Twin Cities.
Now time for the list of my must-see, must-do loves along University Avenue…next time you are on the Green Line, consider stopping to check some of these out.
Bangkok Cuisine Thai Food (432 University Ave W, St. Paul) – Words do not exist to describe how delicious this food is. Bangkok Cuisine is easy to miss, so I included a photo. A large lot behind offers free parking, and a bakery is also immediately adjacent to the restaurant. While everything on the menu is delicious, our favorites include the Green Curry, the Garlic Dinner with beef, Pad Prik with chicken, and their Pho.
Shuang-Hur Oriental Market (654 University Avenue W, St. Paul) – Shuang-Hur is my favorite grocery in St. Paul. The produce section is enormous with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables that are well-priced. The selection of meat changes frequently, and over the years I have found everything ranging from whole shrimp to pork steak to goat to chicken breasts that cost half of what the neighboring groceries charge. The frozen section is well stocked with spring rolls and dumplings of all sorts, and we also purchase our rice here.
Midway Used and Rare Books (1579 University Ave, St. Paul) – This is a dangerous store for me to step into because I tend to lose myself. For hours. The book selection is enormous with over 50,000 titles and contains almost anything you can imagine. I dare you to go and try to set a 15-minute time limit on your browsing.
Ax-Man Surplus Store (1639 University Ave, St. Paul) – The sky is the limit for what you can find here. This store sells surplus merchandise from other retailers and odds ‘n’ ends of all sorts. The inventory changes, so of course you need to go on a regular basis. One of my girlfriend’s most recent find was a piece of $0.88 of open-cell foam that she is going to turn into a backpacking pillow and a $1.95 table map to turn into wrist wraps.
Espresso Expose (600 Washington Ave SE, Minneapolis) – I have been going to this Stadium Village coffee shop ever since I moved to the Twin Cities in 1997. Located on the East Bank of the University of Minnesota, Espresso Expose is across the street from the Fairview medical complex, which includes the hospital, dental school, research laboratories, and classrooms. While the decor has changed over the years and sandwiches have been added to the menu, what keeps me coming back are the unique coffee creations. Try a Roadrunner for a quick pick-me-up or a Rocket Fuel if a dire need for a shot of caffeine arises.
Weisman Art Museum (333 East River Road, Minneapolis) – The Weisman Art Museum, which opened in 1993, has a wide diversity of exhibitions. Permanent collections include Modernism, Korean Furniture, Ceramics, and Mimbres Pottery. There is also a program for Public Art on Campus, which can be found at over 30 locations around the University of Minnesota. The museum also offers internship opportunities and student job positions throughout the year.
Midwest Mountaineering (309 Cedar Ave South, Minneapolis) – Immediately west of the West Bank of the University of Minnesota, Midwest Mountaineering is your store for the outdoors. The calendar of events includes yoga, educational classes, bouldering, and much more. Sign up on the store’s mailing list to receive promotions for sales and specials which happen throughout the year. My favorite coupons are the ones for a free pair of SmartWool socks with an additional purchase.
So where was our final destination on that sunny Saturday afternoon? It was Nicollet Mall in Minnepolis. After arriving at our stop, we walked six blocks southeast down Nicollet Avenue to Brit’s Pub, where we enjoyed a Strongbow Cider and a Fuller’s ESB on the rooftop patio. This was the first time we had been to Brit’s in four years. What had prevented us from going was the idea of driving from one Twin Cities downtown to another, then finding and paying for parking, then walking, then doing it all over again on the way home. The light rail provided us with a fun, easy, and inexpensive way to travel from St. Paul to Minneapolis and home again all in an afternoon.