Category "Around town"
April 17, 2006
Bruce Vento Regional Bike Trail
Saturday's weather was great for a bike ride. This was our first venture out on the tandem this Spring, so we decided to take it easy and do a little reconnoitering.
Since we live in Saint Paul, one of the loops we like to do is to pick up the Gateway State Trail (photo map) near the State Capitol, head North-east, and then come back via the Bruce Vento Regional Trail (trail map link) past Lake Phalen and into Swede Hollow heading back into downtown.
But the Vento Trail had been closed for quite some time right at the junction of Phalen Blvd. and Johnson Pkwy (In Google's "Hybrid" view you can see the old trail curving off to the left of the intersection). Would it be open now? The frustrating thing is that, try as we might, we couldn't find any information about why the trail was closed and what all of the construction was for. There was no "Future Home of.." or "Coming Soon..." signs and nothing that we could find on the Internet.
As I said, the weather was nice and we had some free time, so we decided to chance it. One of the nice things about the Vento Trail was how quiet it was. As a converted rail corridor, it took you away from the traffic, past some industrial sites, and then down into the nice tree-lined Swede Hollow area. (Here's what it used to look like.)
What a change we found: a four-lane boulevard had sprung up where no road used to be! The Vento Trail now follows the newly-extended Phalen Blvd. through what is dubbed the Phalen Corridor. (The street is so new, it's not on Google Maps yet or Mapquest yet.)
The trail is now adjacent to the street for several blocks until you hit Arcade St. There you can swing off the the right and down into the original trail that goes through Swede Hollow (more). The newly-constructed trail is nicely surfaced and there are the beginnings of some nice landscaping. But the trail also crosses streets now and the new curbs are not well graded yet, so there's about a 1-to-2 inch gap in some places between the curb cuts and the cross-streets.
From the information on Phalen Corridor web site, it looks like the Phalen Blvd. part of the trail will only become more busy as new developments and businesses go up. The up-shot may be that, hopefully, this will attract more bike commuters to the area, either living or working in the Phalen Corridor.
I miss the seclusion of the old trail, but it's nice to have the Vento Trail connected and whole again. And if you do the loop like we did, coming South-west down the trail, it's a great down-hill ride all the way.
If the city wants to encourage more bike commuting, I have one last suggestion. The trail ends at the corner of Payne Ave. and 7th St. just North-east of downtown. It would be great to have bike lanes along 7th St. into downtown, especially on the bridge across I-94 E. The road is very busy, even on a Saturday, and a little extra wiggle room would be great. Oh, and connecting the Bruce Vento Trail to the new Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary would be nice, too.
Category "Around town"
November 21, 2005
Great photography exhibit at MHS
Saw a great exhibit this weekend at the Minnesota Historical Society. They are hosting Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs. It's a collection of the Prize winners starting from the first year an award for photography was given in 1942. It is a very powerful experience. These photographs are large -- they fill your field of view -- much unlike the medium in which they were first printed: small, with stories and text surrounding it. These photographs are like windows, and I found myself feeling like I was bearing witness to the event in the picture, just as the photographer did at that moment in time. Along with each picture is a short description, often including details from the photographer him/herself. Some tell of how their vantage was strategically staked out, others of how it was the fleeting luck of the moment. In particularly gruesome surroundings, a number of photographers report that they shot on auto-pilot, hardly aware of what they were doing. They captured assassinations, fires and floods, parades and portraits. Afterwards, Ben remarked on how quiet the exhibit hall was, even though there were dozens of people. We, all of us, I feel, were swept up in that singular connection each of us made with these pictures. It was the most riveting exhibit I've witnessed in a long time. Kudos to MHS and the Newseum, the creator of the exhibit. It's showing through January 15, and only $6 for college students. I highly recommend it!
Category "Around town"
November 9, 2005
Wednesday squirrel blogging
You've heard of Friday cat blogging. Well, after a long day of cleaning up statistical programming code, I thought I'd take a break and do a bit of frivolous blogging.
This is a picture I took last month -- the result of me trying to take a quick snap of a new visitor to our backyard. Saint Paul is the only place I've lived where I've seen white squirrels. I don't know if they are true albinos or just white, but there are at least two areas where you see them. One is in the Como area and by the U of M's St. Paul Campus, the other is in Highland and Macalester-Groveland area. (As an aside, there are more St. Paul neighborhood maps here.)
In addition to the pleasure of spotting one in my neighborhood, the squirrels are kind of interesting from a genetic standpoint. There must be a high enough prevalence of the "white" gene circulating around in the squirrel populations in these neighborhoods to keep that trait from dying out. I wonder if there are any other traits conferred along with the whiteness.
Anyway, right after I took this picture, a black squirrel and grey squirrel swooped in and shooed the white squirrel away. It's too bad I couldn't get a picture of all three. I hope it comes back to visit!
Category "Around town"
April 1, 2005
Enjoying a new St. Paul jazz venue sans smoke
The Twin Cities went smoke free in restaurants and bars yesterday! Actually, it's a bit more patchwork than that since Minneapolis and Hennepin county went smoke free indoors with no exceptions, while St. Paul and Ramsey county allow for some bars to be exempt. There's been a lot of talk about these ordinances, but as a non-smoker I really do think I'll be going out more often. It's been in the press a lot, but my favorite piece so far is the humorous "Smoker's Guide to the Twin Cities" presented by Hackey the Cigarette in this week's City Pages.
To celebrate, we went out to check out the scene at a new smoke free bar in downtown St. Paul. The French Press Jazz Café just opened in March in the Lowertown district. According to a write-up at JazzPolice.com, the owner, Kevin O'Neill, is a police officer in West St. Paul and is looking to provide another venue downtown for local musicians.
This jazz venue is a nice space with the lofty ceilings, hardwood floors, and exposed brick that makes this old warehouse district so great. The café part of it comes not only from the coffee and pastries it has to offer, but also the layout. The tables, chairs, and couch make it feel a lot like a coffee house. But make no mistake, it is primarily a bar - with a fairly good selection of wine and beer and an offering of appetizers. There is also a small lofted dining area over the bar and kitchen. The performance space is in one of the front corners by the windows, and the openness of the café allows the music to fill the space quite nicely. The atmosphere is very casual (in fact, I was a bit overdressed) and it was nice to see a mix of ages in the crowd.
I got the feeling that the French Press is still working out some kinks and wrinkles that come with a new place (like only having one wine bottle opener), but the staff were very friendly and welcoming, if not always organized. That's not a big deal to me in a bar, where I like to be left to converse and enjoy the music. The music was good, but a tad loud, and it was nice to come in on a night without a cover charge (usually $5) to check out the scene for the first time. To be honest, last night's performers, Cinco Latino, were a guitar-based jazz group, which really isn't our thing. It would be nice to go back to hear a more acoustic group or a piano-based group, which is more along where our tastes lie. As for the libation offerings, I liked that you could order 2 oz. "tastes" of wine, along with the regular glass or bottle. And they offered "flights" - 3 tastes from any of their 5 or 6 groupings, which are fun. All-in-all we liked the French Press and will be back again to check out other acts. And we really like the smoke free atmosphere! (As if you couldn't tell... )