Friday, January 10, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

In half-awake state Thursday morning, I heard a story on the radio about St. Paul, Minnesota's capitol, being chosen as the most romantic city in the US by USA Today's Travel section. Delirious and tired, my brain thought this strange but made some odd F. Scott Fitzgerald/ Midnight in Paris excuse and fell back asleep. Upon reawakening and hearing the story again, the real unusual aspect of this ranking began to set in.
I personally feel that the Twin Cities are one of the most unappreciated and best-kept secrets in the Midwest, if not the entire United States. But to vote one of them or even both of them as most romantic... I don't know. I'd like to say yes. Minneapolis certainly has a certain kind of cosmopolitan air that comes with fabulous restaurants, picturesque views, and a rich riverfront area. St. Paul, which I unfortunately don't know as well as Minneapolis as I haven't lived there or spent as much time in, does have a wonderful sort of vintage 1920s charm, a quiet atmosphere, and a unique charm. And it has the added benefit of being the birthplace of F. Scott Fitzgerald (hence my half-awake reference). But when I think of sexy cities, I think of places like Paris or London or New York, which are deeply idealized by various forms of media and are attractive for travel and romantic get-aways. St. Paul carries no such associations. And yet... well, maybe USA Today has a point. Maybe there is something really romantic about a quiet big city with its sprawling river and wondrous beauty even in the middle of hell freezing over.

With Valentine's Day approaching and the displays for it at my place of work (oh yes, we've had Valentine's Day cards out since the New Year), I am being pelted with reminders of this holiday and the love/hate relationship I have with it. If I were the sort of person who did whirl off to romantic getaways for this holiday, would I choose somewhere like St. Paul? Hard to say. I love the winter, I love the cold, and I love February in Minnesota (as usually it's a bit warmer than January and you get this lovely springish smell along with the hope of warmer days while still being able to enjoy the snow and drink peppermint mochas). But because I live in this area, it isn't quite as mysterious and romantic as somewhere I haven't lived. Though honestly, we'll take any praise and appreciation we can get for our cities - it's just kind of a surprise, that's all. You just called a city sexy that's never really thought of itself as sexy before. We're just a bit flustered and confused about it. But we'll gladly take the compliment.
I do think it's interesting that USA Today chose St. Paul over Minneapolis. The two cities are very close together - really only a ten minute car ride, depending on traffic - but each have completely different atmospheres. While in Madison for a summer music camp in high school, one student told me that she didn't understand that big deal Minnesotans made about the Twin Cities as both city seemed the same to her. I regret not challenging this and disagreeing deeply, because the two cities are greatly different. I've used the comparison of Edinburgh and Glasgow to emphasize this difference, even though it's a gross oversimplification and the differences between this cities are greater than that of Minneapolis and St. Paul, but the general idea works - they're two cities within a general vicinity that are very, very different from each other. Minneapolis is an old mill town with lots of steel and glass and skyways. St. Paul has a more historical edge with more stone and older buildings. Both have skyscrapers but Minneapolis has the more famous skyline. Both have fabulous restaurants, theaters, museums, and neighborhoods. Yet walking through each city provides a very different sense of culture, living, and expression that is still at its core Minnesotan but separate from each other.
I love both cities but I do have a greater fondness for Minneapolis (it's the St. Anthony area. It's absolutely gorgeous with the riverfront). However, the more I think about it, the more I think US Today might have a point. There is something really sweet about getting sushi and maybe seeing a show at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. There's also something really romantic about getting dinner in downtown Minneapolis and taking a stroll along the river, or seeing a show at the Guthrie and getting drinks after. Maybe we Minnesotans are being too modest - maybe our cities are far more romantic than we think.

So if you need a destination for Valentine's Day that won't be overcrowded, I have the perfect suggestion for you. :)

Photos are, respectively: St. Paul skyline, Minneapolis skyline, downtown St. Paul. 

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