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Francesca Elissa and two Bens in Minneapolis
 
 
(Click on the images for a larger version.)
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Ilaria's childhood friend, Francesca, moved to Minneapolis for graduate school in Economics around the same time that Ilaria moved to Boston for graduate work in Systems Biology. Like Ilaria, Francesca ended up with an American boyfriend, and we went to Francesca and Ben's Italian wedding in June 2007.

In the four years, they've been in the same foreign country together, Ilaria and Francesca had only met in Italy.
 
Elissa Ilaria
So when our friends from Boston, Elissa and Ben, told us they were having a baby shower in their hometown of Minneapolis, we decided it would be the best time to go to Minneapolis/St. Paul, because we could see two sets of friends in one spot.
 
Ben Cosgrove
We were really excited to see Ben and Elissa again.
 
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Elissa was looking pregnantly beautiful.
 
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Her relatives put on one heck of a brunch
 
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complete with a custom omelet service.
 
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Yummy...
 
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There basically had everything you could possibly think about about eating for breakfast. Eggs, cinnamon roles, fruit, and a make-your-own-waffle station.
 
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The festivities were at Elissa's family's church in St. Paul (see Elissa's moms photo album for the play-by-play).
 
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After the shower, Ilaria, Ben, and I used the Scion XD to shuttle the presents down the street to Elissa's house.
 
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Then we went for a walk
 
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while we waited for Elissa to say goodbye and thank you
 
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to all the folks at the shower.
 
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When Elissa got back, she and Ben took us on their deluxe driving tour of St. Paul.
 
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Most of my pictures from the window didn't come out so well, so I think I'll have to return some day for their walking tour.
 
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Here's where the women Gophers play hockey.
 
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Here's where they are rebuilding the I-35W Mississippi River bridge that collapsed on Aug 1, 2007. Very scary.
 
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Here's where the Minnesota Twins play baseball. According to Elissa and Ben, the roof is kept up with air pressure, so when they lower the pressure at the end of the game, everyone is pushed out of the stadium.
 
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Minneapolis/St. Paul has lots of nice bits of water.
 
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As we crossed this one (I think this is the Mississippi?), we headed to our tour of Gopher country -- the University of Minnesota.
 
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Like many important universities they have a building designed by Frank Gehry that looks like someone crapped out a mangled piece of aluminum.
 
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I believe this is the science building -- pretty nice.
 
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Arbys
We saw one of the reasons Elissa would like to return to Minneapolis.

After the driving tour, we hung out at Elissa's folks house for a while, and got to meet her dad for the first time.

It was great to hang out all together again with Elissa and Ben.
 
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That evening, Ilaria and I drove back to Francesca and Ben's apartment where we were staying.
 
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They had a beautiful view from their balcony.

Ilaria and Francesca went for a walk before dinner.
 
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And I tagged along
 
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as their paparazzi.
 
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Francesca and Ben live in a great place to take a walk. The area has many loft-retro style building.
 
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The building with the giant cantilevered bridge sticking out is the new Guthrie theater.
 
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We walked a across the Stone Arch Bridge
 
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which I learned was a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark (I didn't know we had such things).
 
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It was a pretty nice
 
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stone bridge.
 
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Across the water were lots of nice restaurants.
 
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And a really neat dam/lock thing where water was just pouring in.
 
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We could see Francesca's apartment building quite well from across the water.
 
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Minneapolis was better than I expected.
 
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While I took photos, Francesca and Ilaria kept talking about important things.
 
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When we finished the walk it was time for some dinner,
 
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Ben grilled some tasty chicken (everyone else had fish).

It was nice to have a dinner altogether, and Ilaria was really glad that she got to see Francesca while she was still in the US (they're moving to Rome soon).
 
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On our way out of town, we had one last tourist attraction to see -- the biggest tourist attraction in Minnesota Mall of America.
 
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The main reason we went there
 
IKEA Minnesota
was to stop by IKEA and pick up some loot for our new apartment in St. Louis.
 
Scion XD blue
We arrived too early (IKEA didn't open for another hour or so),
 
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so we went into the largest mall of america (with 520 stores!).
 
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The mall is really impractically large. Like Americans with their SUVs, we make things big because we can. But really, a mall that is so large that you can find the same store twice is pretty stupid.
 
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But it killed time while we waited for IKEA to open.
 
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The strangest part of the mall trip was this gal here in a wedding dress all by herself.
 
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Folks kept stopping by to talk with her
 
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but I couldn't figure out what was going on.
 
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Finally IKEA opened up.
 
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IKEA has enough stuff inside that it kept me pretty occupied for 30 minutes or so. But then I began to really get bored and push Ilaria to hurry up.
 
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We checked out
 
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with a lot of nice stuff for our apartment.
 
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And we hit the road.
 
wind turbine Iowa
Alternative energy is alive and spreading on the farmlands of Iowa.
 
wind power Iowa
It's a little hard to drive by the miles of windmills
 
windmill Iowa
because their slow constant motion is hypnotizing.
 
red barn Iowa
Ilaria worked really hard to take a couple farm
 
farm Iowa
pictures.
 
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Driving over 1100 miles in a short weekend was a nice way to break in our new Scion XD.
 
minneapolis skyline
It was a fun little trip to see Elissa, Ben, Francesca, and Ben. And we also gained a new appreciation for this nice little city out in Minnesota.