Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 17, 2012

Saint Paul: Discoveries in fun ways


— By Christine Tibbetts

CNHI News Service

Research is fine but couple it with actors to grasp some science in fun ways on a holiday in Minnesota.

That’s what happens in Saint Paul at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Fun is good, and abundantly available here, while information spews out easily.

“Real Pirates” is the blockbuster show right now, continuing through Labor Day. Might catch it elsewhere, but only in Saint Paul will 15 professional actors who studied the pirate ship research engage you in the stories.

Whydah is the name of slave ship that became a pirate ship. Facts documented by National Geographic.

“Love life until you run out of money,” is the advice one pirate-clad actor advised me. Startled I was at first.

“Fair winds and a following sea” is the wish with which to greet people, another theater-pirate said, as I read the museum exhibit displays.

This museum is on the banks of the Mississippi River; its side door gives access to one of America’s 397 National Parks.

Saint Paul is definitely a metropolitan mecca, and also the entry to 72 miles of National Park trails, wooded bluffs, and riverbanks.

Curious I thought. Easy friendly, with sophisticated cuisine and entertainment. Maybe that’s why I could overnight on the river in a repurposed towboat.

The Covington Inn was built in 1949 to tow barges on the mighty river; now she lulls people to sleep in four guest rooms as other towboats push the barges with grain, soybeans, corn and wheat.

Sixty semi tractor-trailer trucks needed for the same load. Aboard the Covington, I climbed a spiral metal staircase to my quarters — four windows to the river and city skyline views.

Narrow door to a broad, gracious deck, furnished with lounges and sit-straight chairs at tables. Comfort and big city/river views.

Bring a book, bottle of wine, intention to enjoy. This is an exceptional space.

The breakfast chef/innkeeper Liz Miller at the Covington Inn filled my plate with thick French toast overflowing with berries and whipped cream.

Beer tourists ate at the next table in the small salon, delighted they’d booked a place 15 minutes walking distance of city center with craft beer microbreweries in abundance.

Harriet Island is the Inn’s Saint Paul location, more a peninsula. Loaded with walkers, baby stroller pushes, bikers, families and singles.

Gave me the sense this is a city for living and visiting by people who appreciate outside time and stretching.

Maybe that’s why the Science Museum Big Back Yard is so popular -- view from the upstairs exhibition spaces, access from city sidewalks via a broad stairway.

The museum building meanders along the Mississippi River, not a straight line but sloping space so river views are surprising.

Saint Paul is the northernmost port; drive five hours or so to walk across the trickling headwaters.

Inside, science sometimes unfolds on the big IMAX screen. Staff of more than 100 here, Senior Vice President Mike Day told me. Really?

“We’re one of seven science centers collaborating to build exhibitions and films,” he said.

Maybe a good traveling goal would be visiting each of them: Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Charlotte and San Diego.

I really liked the notion of being in the midst of a science design center. Action happens here as much as display.

One atrium multi-story lobby holds what Day says is the world’s largest seismograph, measuring volcano activity worldwide.

I thought it was sculpture. And I thought Saint Paul stands tall as a destination.


Christine Tibbetts is a travel columnist for CNHI News Service. Contact her at