My wife and I just left the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN) area after spending three days there during the Thanksgiving 2010 holiday. It was a great visit. We got to see family, dine at a ski lodge for Thanksgiving and catch the movie, “Tangled” with the grandkids (we wouldn’t have seen the flick without this prompt). I even visited with someone who provided photos that I used in my “Extreme Weather” book.
But, there were also some issues surrounding our visit that simply must be addressed. And, if you ever head toward MSP or environs, please keep these in mind. You’ll need to, if you hope to survive!
The first occurred upon our arrival. We followed all of the MSP (3-letter call sign for Minneapolis Airport) airport signs to baggage claim, but never saw any signage directing us to the car rentals. It wasn’t until AFTER we left the terminal building (into frigid 33 degree air) that I caught the signage (facing in the other direction) that would lead us to the car rental area.
We boarded the elevator in the parking garage, but that lacked any indication of the floor on which the car rentals were located. Fortunately, I decided “down.” That worked!
Then, once we checked in at the car rental counter and got our keys, it was a meandering journey past Jersey barriers to find our car.
Getting out of the car rental garage was a challenge, too. There were several tight turns, followed by a gate.
Signage to the airport exit was adequate, but once we got onto the ramp for I-494, the Twin Cities by-pass, we almost missed our exit because there wasn’t a lot of advance notice. This, we discovered, is the norm in the Minneapolis area. Either you know where you are going or else.
Then it was time to “chill,” figuratively and literally. The weather turned cold and then colder, dropping to near 10 degrees on at least two mornings. The mercury didn’t rise to near freezing until we reached the airport to head back home to Naples, FL on Sunday, November 28th.
Finding a store at a shopping mall was an equally challenging activity. The ‘burbs” near Woodbury, MN (southeast of St. Paul), at least, are overpopulated with strip malls and shopping centers. It seemed as though every street was filled with nothing but these. It was almost like being in a shopping mall city, with every building a replica of every other building. We knew there were homes in the area, but they were all well hidden.
I noted that we went to the movies with the family. There was a deep discount theater (even less expensive than the deep discount theaters in Naples, FL). But with entrance/exit construction, all egress to the theaters was through one doorway. Hence, collisions, following a full-scale charge for the entrance, ensued. For a ten-screen theater location, bathrooms were woefully wanting.
Driving through shopping areas was tough, too. And I thought things were bad in Naples. People in the area were literally driven to find parking spaces, get out of the shopping center, or otherwise move somewhere else. Heaven forbid that anyone tried to back out of a parking space. Rear-ending was paramount on my mind. People raced their cars through the aisles to get where they wanted, not even cognizant of what anyone else was doing.
The identification of Interstate highways changed, too. I-494 became I-694 once it crossed I-94 east of St. Paul. And those exit signs that are supposed to track distance to and from state borders were lost in translation. Hence trying to estimate distances and keep travel in any semblance of organization was impossible.
The piece de resistance, however, was trying to find a gas station enroute to the airport. Since the rental car company required that we fill up within 10 miles of the airport (receipt might be required), we waited until we got closer to the airport before hunting for a gas station. None of the exit ramps signage showcased gas stations (although they did highlight eateries and hotels). So, we opted for what seemed to be a major roadway.
We had to wind our way down a secondary crossroad before finally locating a gas station. Then we opted to retrace our steps to get back to I-494. We found a way to get to I-35E instead and after winding our way through some more back roads reached that highway. I knew that I-35E would intersect I-494 and, so in minutes, we headed for the airport.
Then as we drove into the Terminal 2 area, we followed signs to the terminal, but saw none for car rental return. As we came around a left turn, we saw our first sign that directed us into the far right lanes IMMEDIATELY. Fortunately, traffic was light at 5:00 am and we could cut across three lanes of traffic to get to the rental car lanes.
Yes, we loved our visit to Minneapolis-St. Paul. But, I sure wish that Minnesotans took pity on those visiting from out of town. Some directions, with advance notifications, would be a nice welcome gift.
P.S. I am forwarding this article to the folks at MSP Airport and the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce. I’ll provide an update, when, and if, they take action.