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Rochester, Minnesota Sans Minivan

Submitted by on June 15, 2010 – 8:51 pm

Four women. One day. Zero kids. The plan? A day of catching up, exploring, eating, and making new memories. Our stage: Rochester, Minnesota. One mother and daughter, a life-long friend, and a Road Trips for Families editor finally on the road without the minivan. We called it our Girls Gone Mild weekend.

Probably best known as home to The Mayo Clinic, a world-class medial center, Rochester draws visitors from around the globe every year. The third-largest city in Minnesota, Rochester is safe and falls somewhere in the middle between big city and small town. Unemployment rates are low, safety is high, and the average Rochester citizen earns more than the average median household income.

In the unusual position of planning a girls weekend, we considered makeovers at About Face and massages at Healing Touch Spa. But like fish out of water, we piled in the car and hit a neighborhood garage sale on our way to an unlikely venue: Assisi Heights, a convent for Franciscan nuns.

Sparrow at Assisi Heights

Sparrow at Assisi Heights

Photography was not allowed inside the convent, but (forgive me Father, I have sinned), I snuck one quick shot of this sparrow in the inner courtyard, influenced by Italian Romanesque style of architecture. Set atop a tall hill overlooking North Rochester, Assissi Heights may look a bit imposing, but the spirit St. Francis is one of hospitality and open arms.

I can’t remember the name of the sister who led us through the chapel, the sanctuary, and the Motherhouse. Like Maria to Family Von Trapp, she filled my heart with the sound of music and made the tour anything but ordinary. I think if a person listened quietly, the stories of all the Sisters of St. Francis could be heard.

Rochester Art Center

Rochester Art Center

Having stepped back in time, we drove to downtown Rochester and found ourselves Back to the Future at the Rochester Art Center. A place to experience provocative and progressive art and bump into fascinating people, we explored the galleries encompassing all three floors of the brightly-lit building (not to mention up-close-and-personal views of the Zumbro River and the downtown skyline).

On exhibit during our visit was  Five Centuries of Medicine in Art, Romanian Palimpsest by Minnesota artist Caroline Kent, an interactive audio-visual project called Art Speak, and an aptly-named It’s All Wrong, but It’s All Right collection by Joe Sinness. The most perfectly-sized (and reasonably priced) modern art museum I’ve ever been in, we had just enough time to wander and ponder before day plans became an evening adventure.

Rochester Ramada

Family Pool at the Rochester Ramada

I tried not to notice, but from our spacious courtyard room at the Rochester Ramada I did happen to spot an arcade, exercise room, gathering area, and two different kid-friendly pools (one with fun-looking with water slide), and giant hot tub. I also tried to envision something other than a portable crib in the open corner of our room or cold cuts and juice boxes laid out on the over-sized counter top in the kitchen area. Kids change everything; even your ability to live without them.

The four of us fit comfortably in the room and had plenty of square footage to examine our garage sale loot. Out came the dresses and the heels and a quick mascara touch up. Back downtown, we easily found a parking spot in the buzzing entertainment district. Hungry from the blending restaurant smells, we hurried to make our 7PM reservation at Söntes Wine Bar and Tapas restaurant.

Dining at Sontes

Dining at Sontes

With popular menu choices including Pan Seared Hanger Steak, Chorizo Stuffed Dates, Pork and Laughing Bird Shrimp Rolls, and Main Diver Sea Scallops, it’s no wonder Söntes continues to be recommended to me by anyone I know who lives in or visits Rochester. Perhaps sadder than ending the weekend was the thought that Söntes is 150 miles from home (wah!). Pictured to the right are four satisfied stomachs about to meet a cheese flight (we picked from the stoic, luscious, and approachable cheese categories). Live background music filled the gaps in our conversation and our waiter was patient and delightful.

All in all, Girls Gone Mild was a success. Both eclectic and traditional, our Rochester weekend was emblematic of city we visited: welcoming, delightful, comfortable, and satisfying. See you back in the minivan.

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