• One Minnesota Writer

52 Ways to Shift Your Focus

Shift #21: Be a Tourist in Your Own Town

For the past few weeks, I’ve prepared for a visit with some friends from England. This is their first time in Minnesota. They arrived last Friday and are staying at my house until later in September.

While planning for this visit, I had to step back from my normal daily routine and think about what it would be like to be a tourist here, in this place where I’ve always lived. What do people come to the Twin Cities to see?

Well, there is the shamelessly money-grubbing entity that is the Mall of America. Biggest shopping mecca in the country with carnival rides for a bit of diversion. But my friends were explicit in their wishes to NOT go there. Okay with me.

Up next: the arts scene. The Twin Cities are loaded with museums and galleries and music venues and literary events. We have the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a wonderful museum that offers enough to keep an arts patron busy for an entire day. We have the Walker Art Center, an explosion of modern art with an outdoor sculpture garden. The Mill City Museum. The Minnesota History Center. The Science Museum of Minnesota. The Dakota Jazz Club, for after the museums are closed for the day. And on and on.

After thinking about it all quite a lot, I decided to start with something obvious: a tour of our state capitol building. On Saturday morning, we piled into my car, drove to St. Paul, and walked up the wide marble steps of the capitol, taking a moment to turn around to see the St. Paul skyline spread out below. Then we queued up for the tour at noon. We had a fantastic tour guide with a sense of humor that kept everyone engaged. As we went from point to point on the tour, I thought about how I had not come to tour my own capitol outside of going as a chaperone for my kid’s school group. As a chaperone, I spent far less time listening than I did watching grade-schoolers wander away from the group to touch something they shouldn’t. I loved my discovery that these tours were kind of fun.

Would I have done this tour without the prompt provided by hosting guests?

The day after we toured the capitol, we went on a riverboat on the Mississippi River. We launched from Harriet Island in St. Paul. I had gone on my brother’s boat out of Stillwater plenty of times, but had not gone on a riverboat cruise just for fun. As we sat back and listened to the audio that provided stories of old St. Paul, Pig’s Eye Parrant, and Fort Snelling, I thought how little attention I pay to the history I’ve grown up with.

Today, I’ll take my friend to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a place that I’ve gone to many times for classes, field trips, Sunday afternoons with my parents when I was little. I’m already wondering what will strike me differently as I try to see this all through the eyes of someone who hasn’t been there before. And I’m thinking beyond this visit with friends to the simple idea of being a tourist in my own town. To looking again at familiar things as if for the first time.

What would you show me if I came to visit you?

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