Sunday, August 9, 2015

Chapter 39 - Jackson to St. Pauls, Minnesota

Thursday, August 6th:
The drive from Jackson to our campsite east of St. Paul, Minnesota was relatively easy as it was entirely on interstate highways. That said, after 4-1/2 hours both Kathy and I were still tired of driving.  Perhaps our age and 2-1/2 months on the road was starting to show.  Part of the problem as we neared the Minneapolis and St Paul area was that the traffic started to increase as did the amount of road construction which in most cases restricted the traffic down to a single lane in each direction.  Since I was accustomed to driving no more than 55 mph on the interstates and letting EVERONE pass us, the single lane restriction suddenly forced me to increase our speed to at least 60 mph to prevent a huge buildup of cars behind us. Fortunately when we arrived at the St. Paul East Campground we were pleasantly surprised with the attractiveness of our new home which almost immediately reduced our stress levels caused by the drive. We should be used to driving pulling a 1-3/4 ton trailer behind our car but even after almost 2-1/2 months such is not the case.  Our trailer site was shaded and comfortable - the perfect setting.

Unfortunately the weather here in St Paul was projected to be wet and perhaps windy. This we learned from the local TV channels via our antenna. With no cable TV coverage Kathy was the first to point out that if we wanted to watch the Republican debates on FOX news tonight, we were out of luck. Who knows, perhaps we were lucky. Despite the potentially rainy weather Kathy and I both agreed that we wanted to drive to downtown St. Paul to visit their famous Cathedral of Saint Paul. The drive was only about ten miles mostly on I-94 and we figured that we could be there in around 20 minutes.  Naturally with all of the traffic and the construction we ended up in a wrong lane then after driving hither and fro in all directions we finally, possibly after some divine guidance, pulled up alongside the church about 45 minutes later.

The photograph of the cathedral that shows above I actually took on Friday morning for after being at the church today for about 30 minutes mostly spent inside, it started to rain and the photos that I did take of the exterior were pretty depressing considering the overcast skies. Such a magnificent structure well deserves to be shrouded in sunshine. As this photo to the left shows the inside of the Cathedral of Saint Paul is truly beautiful. Kathy and I have visited many famous and elegant churches during our past travels including St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in Rome and Westminster Abbey in London among others, and the Cathedral of Saint Paul is equally impressive and for us an unexpected surprise.  We both enjoy visiting old historic structures and particularly old churches but we never thought we would find such a building in St. Paul, Minnesota.  We returned to our campground by mid-afternoon and because of the rather gloomy weather we remained mostly inside relaxing in our travel trailer.

Friday, August 7th:
Our plan today was to again visit the Cathedral of St. Paul then drive down a street named Summit Avenue near the church where there are suppose to be a lot of old and very large and beautiful homes. After that if we still wanted to continue driving, we will go into Minneapolis and visit another old Catholic Church, the Basilica of St Mary. Incidentally, one of the reasons that we favor going to the old Catholic churches is that they are most always open to the public. Our second visit to the Cathedral of St Paul had another purpose besides my taking a better photograph.  Yesterday during our visit there was a funeral in progress and as a result their gift store was temporarily closed.  Enough said in that regard.  However today, Kathy was able to purchase for a donation something very special that was offered to her by a priest who overheard her asking the woman at the gift store if they had anything commemorating this years 100th anniversary of the grand opening of St Paul in 1915. 

What Kathy purchased was a book marker made of copper. The priest told her that the copper had been removed 20 years earlier from the original dome of the church during repairs.  According to the priest this was not an item normally offered for sale in the gift store. Even if the priest was slightly stretching the truth about the copper's origin, this copper book marker is a wonderful collectible from this trip across America.

According to a local travel guide book, many of the homes on Summit Avenue in St Paul were originally built in the late 1800s by wealthy local business men.  It was at the time considered the fashionable place to live which is not hard to understand as much of the road stands atop a bluff overlooking the city and the Mississippi River.  The most famous home was that of James J Hill who built a 36,000 square foot mansion constructed of red sandstone that was completed in 1891.  We stopped at his former home which is now a National Historic Landmark, and took this photograph.  As is typical, Cabo was not allowed inside.

Another house that we liked among the numerous that we photographed along Summit was this very lovely house right up the street from the old Hill mansion that had a For Sale sign on its front lawn.  Kathy and I looked at each other briefly before we said "that one is for us."  We assumed of course, that homes in St Paul were selling at distressed prices since we did see a lot of for sale signs and folks are undoubtedly flocking to the south where the weather is better and taxes are less (and roads are not always being repaired.)  A later real estate search online informed us that this 4 bedroom, 5 bath house was on the market for $1,379,000 and I'll bet the property taxes are astronomical.  We'll pass on this one but this sure was a lovely street to live on here in St Paul, Minnesota.

It took us quite some time to find our way over to I-94 so we could then make our way over to Minneapolis.  It seemed like every entrance to the interstate was closed due to construction and once we did get on the interstate, traffic was at an almost standstill.  Got to love these big cities.  And you know by now, I am kidding.  Our goal amidst all of the construction was to find the Basilica of Saint Mary, another one of the magnificent old churches found in these Twin Cities.  It took us awhile but the frustration was ultimately worth the wait. This old church originally built back in 1913 looked kind of out of place among the modern buildings surrounding it on three sides and the noisy I-94 on its fourth side. Back in 1913 it was undoubtedly surrounded by residential buildings and perhaps some small stores.

The Basilica of St Mary like the Cathedral of St Paul was a wonderful place to visit and left us overall with a very positive feeling about the twin cities of St Paul and Minneapolis.  We were only here one full day and we know that one day is not even close to enough time to visit any city much less cities of their size and diversity. Had we stayed longer we might have gone to an Irish Festival, a Polish festival, and an Art Show that were all taken place at the same time over the next few days.  There were also dozens of museums that we missed, great shopping opportunities, and even a zoo. Unfortunately however, we have planned a whirlwind trip around our country and it is impossible to see everything.  Time just does not allow it and already we have traveled over 8,000 miles in our car.  It has been amazing but we must continue to move on.

Tomorrow morning we are going to do something different.  For one thing we are going to drive only 75 miles to a campground up near Shell Lake, Wisconsin named Red Barn Campground.  What makes this campground different is that while it is rated a little lower by supposed experts like Good Sams and AAA Trip-Tik Travel Planner and it is somewhat off our planned path east, this campground is really special for us because it is owned and managed by good friends of ours in Florida, Lee and Dotty Swan. Lee and Dotty operate their campground during the summer months and spend time in Estero, Florida during Wisconsin's cold winter months.  We cannot wait to see Lee and Dotty and their campground.

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