View From Table 9

May 24, 2008

In the Northwoods

Filed under: Travelogues — table9 @ 11:03 am
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This week I headed to Minneapolis MN for a few days.  Minneapolis is beautiful in the spring – so much so you think, “Man, I could live here!”  Then you remember Minneapolis in the winter (brrr).

Most of the time was spent in meetings, but I did get out a little bit. First, we had a block of free time to visit the Mall of America.   For many years now I’ve heard what an amazing place it is, how huge, how it’s a ‘destination’, ‘mecca’ for shoppers. Well, it is indeed huge, and yes there’s an amusement plaza complete with a ferris wheel and roller coasters in the center.  Other than that, it’s really just a mall, and one filled mostly with national chain stores that you can go to anywhere else in the country.  Granted, I got some deals at H & M and Nordstrom Rack, but these are both stores I can go to at home.  It was a nice way to kill time, and hey, I can say I’ve been there, that’s about all I can say.

The other place I went to was Sunsets Restaurant in Wayzata, MN.  Now, this place is not the easiest to find for someone from out of town, but once you get there, it’s lovely. It’s right on lake Minnetonka, and in a small resort town atmosphere with local stores all around.  The food was very good and the views were amazing.  I can now see why people love summering on the lakes in MN, heck this is something I want to do.   Now I finally think I get the appeal of ‘snowbirding’ – summer in the Northwoods, winter in the Desert.  It’s not at all a bad plan.

The one thing I didn’t get to do was to catch a Twins game, maybe another time.

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May 19, 2008

Texas Likes You Anyway

Last week we headed to Houston TX to visit family there. This time we were there for a long weekend, and got to do some things we hadn’t done during past visits.

One of our perennial visits was to the Johnson Space Center through the Space Center Houston visitor center. This was the first time we visited where they didn’t have an exhibit on the main floor. Fortunately/unfortunately they did still have the huge multi-level play structure, which was basically all DS was interested in. I like that he can go play, but it does turn the place into a rather expensive McDonald’s PlayPlace.

Another place we went to that we haven’t been since he was a baby was Kemah Boardwalk (not far from Space Center, on the bay). WOW, has this place grown up. Last time we were there it was really a bunch of restaurants and shops hoping to be a ‘fun place to go’. Since then they’ve added many amusement rides, including a wooden roller coaster and other thrill rides.

First, we ate at the Aquarium Restaurant. That was really cool, especially as DH and I are divers. They have an adjacent Stingray Cove where we got to touch stingrays (de-barbed, and as usual extremely gentle). Eating was great fun for the kids and adults as everywhere you look you see either aquariums or the view to the bay. Food was very good too. It’s a bit pricey, but worth it. Get reservations if you go or go early as it gets packed.

Once we finished dinner, it was off to the rides. There were many, a good spread of ages and thrills too. My only complaint was the ticketing system. Instead of buying a book of tickets and using them on rides, you had to buy each ride and they all had different prices. Also there is only one ticket booth for the whole boardwalk – meaning long lines and logistical nightmares. Being from out of town, we had not pre-planned what rides we were going to go on, making the individual pricing frustrating – we had no idea what DS would want to ride and weren’t expecting to have to know this. I think this also made the rides feel expensive. Most were in the $3.50 to $4.50 range, and while that’s probably what you’re paying in tickets from a ticket book, psychologically it just seemed like more. We ended up probably overpaying for all-day-ride bands so we could just wander and ride as we chose.

Kemah is a fun place, and has more variety for entertainment. I think next time we’ll plan more time there, like 3/4 of a day, so we can really check out all the rides and music and such.

Once again, we flew Southwest, which was great even with the weather delays. I truly love their boarding system. We got stuck in the airport with what was looking to be a 3-4 hour delay, and as such we were eternally grateful to the Houston USO located in Hobby’s new terminal. It’s quiet, well contained, inside the security gates, and when we arrived pretty empty, meaning we could take over the unwatched TV area with a kid’s movie (of which we had plenty). DS could roam the center without disturbing others or wandering too far off, and lastly they had flight screens so we could see the status of our delayed flight. The retired gentleman staffing the center was a delight too. As it turns out, our delay lasted only one movie (2 hours), we were relaxed throughout the wait, and got home only one hour later than planned.

I’m looking forward to future visits. Especially as DS is getting older, I think we can finally check out things like the Orange Show, zoo and some of the museums.

Happy travels.

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