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F. Scott Fitzgerald Walking Tour - St. Paul, MN

Dear Diary,
Only recently have I become aware of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Minnesota connection.

Before the romance of the Jazz Age, the lavishness of "The Great Gatsby", and his time in Paris and Manhattan that preceded his untimely death at age 44, Fitzgerald was just a kid from the Midwest.

He was born and grew up in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood in St. Paul.

The unassuming townhouse at 481 Laurel, though now a private residence, holds the distinction as the birthplace of one of America's literary geniuses.

I had to settle for a walking tour of the sites since the interiors are not open for public tours. And since I alone carry an interest in this sort of history, I decided to see them for myself while Landen practiced with the Minnesota Chill.

Street and pedestrian traffic was at a minimum that Saturday morning, so thankfully I didn't have too many passer-by to question why I was photographing these town homes.

Just a few blocks from Fitzgerald's birthplace is 599 Summit, and probably one of the better known addresses in the author's story. He himself proclaimed the building to be "ugly", but it didn't prevent him from penning a few of his works from within its walls.

Personally, I was mesmerized by the charm of this "New York" style brownstone.

Summit Avenue holds the distinction of being one of the longest rows of historic Victorian-era homes in the country.

What struck me most, was the juxtaposition between the images conjured in my mind when Fitzgerald's name is spoken and the modesty of the neighborhood that formed and informed him.

At the time of his upbringing, this neighborhood was considered "working class." The homes were quaint, and he was exposed to class differences. Later in life, his works brought him the celebrity and extravagance of cocktails with Ernest Hemingway, but he never seemed to forget his roots.

Fitzgerald may have left St. Paul, but the city never left him. He references it time and time again in his novels.

It drove the point home for me - we're all just a kid from somewhere.

Como Park Zoo & Conservatory - St. Paul, MN

Dear Diary,
Saturday mornings mean dropping Landen off at one of the colleges in St. Paul for MN Chill practice for a couple of hours. It frees Madelyn and I to do a little exploring.

Though it's referred to as many names, the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory was a mile up the road from where Landen was. It was my second time going, but Madelyn's first.

The property as a whole, is beautiful.

The Conservatory opened its doors in 1915, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. In fact, it's humble beginnings date back to 1873, when the City of St. Paul acquired 300 acres of land around Como Lake to create a public park. In essence, it's obviously become so much more than that.

Como Park Zoo & Conservatory greets and delights approximately 1.9 million visitors a year.

And though the gardens provided refuge from the true Minnesota chill, the zoo was Madelyn's main draw. With a park map in hand she happily directed me to the animals she wished to observe that morning.

Like the zebra ...

In the summer months, the Zoo allows visitors to feed the giraffes romaine lettuce and it's been on my bucket list since I realized it was a possibility.

Watching the zoo's baby was quite a sight.

There was also a naughty baby orangutan that climbed the cages to escape its mother's reach.

A penguin kiss ...

In so many ways, a zoo is our gateway to seeing animals we may not otherwise in our lifetime. We're able to come within feet of gorillas, large cats and even polar bears, which are always favorites of mine, then walk away with a greater appreciation for all of earth's creatures.

RELATED POST: Our visit to the Minnesota Zoo

But this gorilla, who seemed so sad as he sat there in his enclosure, really tugged at my heart.

I understand many zoos champion conservation efforts, but unfortunately there are many more that bring controversy to this good intent. I wonder if these animals should remain in their natural habitat, where they belong, instead of on display far from their true home.

Como, though open year round, was definitely in its "off season." The attached amusement park was still, the playground void of children's laughter, the snack bars closed. Crowds were also at a minimum so it felt like Madelyn and I had the place almost to ourselves.

The sleeping wolf hardly seemed like a threat.

While the silence of such a fun, family-friendly place was eerie, it was nice to have such easy access to what the park had to offer.

If you go:
1225 Eastbrook Drive, St. Paul
Admission is free, donations are encouraged

French Meadow Bakery & Cafe - St. Paul, MN

Dear Diary,
I've slowly embarked on a quest to try new-to-me restaurants in my adopted hometown. Thus far, I've dined at Fogo de Chao (which granted is a national chain, but a favorite in Minneapolis nonetheless), Bourbon Butcher, Harry's and the recently added, French Meadow Bakery & Café.

A schedule misinterpretation on my part lead us to a corner booth at this charming café on a chilly Saturday morning in St. Paul. It was a happy mistake.

Beginning in 1985 as the first certified organic bread bakery in the nation, French Meadow soon expanded as a café to keep up with their loyal customers' demands. Additional locations were added, and though we weren't at the flagship store, we were treated with its trademark care and hospitality.

When members of your family are Celiac, Diabetic and gluten-tolerant, dining out can be a bit of a challenge.

And well, we challenged French Meadow to breakfast.

Organic coffee for me.

Fresh-squeezed apple juice for the kids.

Then, entrees with locally-sourced, farm-grown ingredients that fulfilled so much more than our appetites.

Beyond breakfast, French Meadow boasts a full menu of burgers, organic wines, local beers and signature craft cocktails.

The vibe is refreshingly simple yet gracefully refined, and I admired the Old World fixtures of the 100-year-old building that houses the restaurant. The tin ceiling, brick walls, gorgeous hardwood flooring and Edison light bulbs pleased the eye as much as my meal appeased my taste buds.

This place championed organics before the concept existed, and now it's a friendly oasis that I'll rely on should I find myself near one in the future.

If you go:
Locations: 2610 Lyndale Ave. S in Minneapolis; 1662 Grand Avenue in St. Paul; U of M Recreation & Wellness Center; and Airports in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Atlanta, Milwaukee & Salt Lake City.

Minneapolis Menu
St. Paul Menu