Thursday, June 18, 2015

Amtrak Adventure - Day 31 - A Grand Old Day in St.Paul

Day 31 started at the farmer's market in downtown St. Paul with the idea that we'd pick up a few goodies for a picnic lunch. I wish I could have bought some fruit and vegetables to bring home with me. It all looked wonderful.... and huge! Who knew green onions could be so big?

And then there was the rhubarb. Masses and masses of it, for about half the price I'd pay at home, displayed in enticing piles rather than the sad little pre-packs offered by my local supermarkets. We'd stopped in at other farmer's markets on our trip but never seen anything as healthy looking as the produce on display here. 

The market was only a couple of blocks from the river so we headed there next. St. Paul sits mostly on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, connection to the part of town that sits on the other side being via the Wabasha Street Bridge.  The bridge was built with pedestrians in mind and, unlike many other walkable bridges, has wide sidewalks making the crossing a pleasant stroll. 

Half way across the bridge steps lead down to Raspberry Island, a small island used for recreational purposes.

The island offers great views of downtown St. Paul:

There are walkways, statues and a covered stage, the latter used for concerts and exercise classes. If we'd been more suitably attired we could have joined a free yoga class. 

Instead, we kept on walking. Back up the stairs and across the bridge to Harriet Island, one of the major parks in St. Paul and the setting-off point for river cruises. Having cruised the Mississippi at the New Orleans end, it seemed only fitting to cruise it at the northern end too.  And if you are on the Mississippi, it might as well be on a paddle steamer. 

We passed grain barges which take local grain from the Northwest to New Orleans where it is loaded onto cargo ships and then taken all over the world - an environmentally friendly form of transport. 

Steamboats that plied the river carried most of the trade prior to the introduction of the railroads. A boat generally only lasted about three years, its demise a result of crashes (river boat captains liked to race each other), fires caused by the sparks from a steamstack, or a boiler explosion (usually caused by overheating in an attempt to win the race). Sounds like being crew on a steamboat was a dangerous way to make a living! 

The cruise took us to the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, where there is an island called Pike Island which we were told the Dakota Indians, the original occupants of the area, consider sacred - as the place where the world began. Pike Island is now part of Fort Snelling Historic Site. Fort Snelling was once the furthest outpost of the US military, set up to protect the growing American fur trade and stop encroachment by the British from Canada. Built by soldiers and completed in 1825, the fort had the first hospital, school, theatre and jail in Minnesota. Sadly there wasn't enough time for us to actually go and visit the site. Maybe next time. 

For a supposedly popular park, Harriet Park seemed remarkably quiet for a Sunday, but we found out why at our next destination. Grand Avenue is described on their website as 'an eclectic and inviting atmosphere, with our wide, tree-lined streets, patio dining, and cozy coffee shops'. It sounded the perfect place to go for an early dinner. Except when we got there we discovered most of the regular shops and restaurants closed, thousands of people thronging the streets, and a vast selection of food and activity booths lined along the street.

The bars were open. Most had live music outside and were overflowing with people. Grand Old Day is apparently the biggest one day festival in the Midwest! So much for a quiet dinner. Or so we thought, until we found India House, an oasis of calm amid the outside chaos and one of the few restaurants still open. We sat in the window, enjoyed Paneer Korma and Vegetable Makhani, and watched the people go by. I think the whole of St. Paul's population had turned out. 

Verdict: So pleased we had St. Paul on our itinerary.


  1. Love to see pics of my old stomping grounds! Things have definitely changed...

    1. Did you ever go to the Grand Old Day festival when you lived here? I couldn't find any info about when the event first started.