Classic Italian Eating in NE Minneapolis

Another in a series of small business profiles for Mill City Times; this time about eating genuine Italian in our northern city.


Geno’s Restaurant NE, you have to look hard to find it.


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Imported French Fashion in the Minneapolis North Loop

The latest from my Mill City Times writings: Imported French Fashion in the Minneapolis North Loop:

Read about French fashion imports; good photos too!

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House of Talents Showcases African Artisans

For the last several weeks, it has been my pleasure to write small business profiles that appear in Mill City Times, an online newspaper in Minneapolis in downtown neighborhoods on both sides of the Mississippi River. Here is the latest piece on Kate Herzog and her special shop, House of Talents:

Article by Merle Minda

House of Talents showcases African artisans

Tucked away on the Sixth Floor of the Traffic Zone Arts Building in the North Loop is House of Talents, founded in 2009 by the charismatic Kate Herzog to help artisans in her home country of Ghana and nearby developing countries. Kate is herself from Ghana and came to the U.S. years ago with her husband whom she met when he was in the Peace Corps. Long-established in Minneapolis and with three grown sons, Kate has dedicated herself to making a difference for people in her home country.

Kate Herzog, founder and owner of House of Talents

“In the villages lots of people want to work with me; I hope to help them see possibilities for themselves,” says Kate. “We started with baskets thinking that they would sell well here, and we’ve grown from there!”

And so she has – the House of Talents’ showroom is glorious with color, gorgeous woven baskets, textiles from Mali, exquisite pillows and hand-made drums – and that’s just for starters! Even the drums come with their own hand-sewn original and colorful fabric covers. One of the more unusual fabrics is something called Bogolan, a so-called mud-cloth resulting in truly unusual designs suitable for bedspreads, a sofa or wall-hanging.

Partial view of House of Talents showroomPartial view of House of Talents showroom

Vibrant colors everywhere - House of TalentsVibrant colors everywhere

It is amazing to think how Kate put this together. She visits these villages often and also helps increase access to healthcare, food and financial independence…now providing income to over 1,000 Ghanaian women in the basket weaver communities alone. Kate nurtures her artisans into adjusting their creations for the American buyer in terms of colors and shapes, types of clothing and basket usefulness. For example, bike baskets were a totally new idea in Ghana, especially making the holes for the leather strap holders. “No one knew how to weave holes in Ghana,” laughs Kate.

Kate meeting with artisan villagers in Ghana

Kate herself is an incredibly warm woman, greeting me with a hug and a broad smile, and walking me to my car later with the one pillow I just could not leave without purchasing.

Kate taught herself to read at age 10 and earned an education largely through her own determination. She has several university degrees including an MBA in economics from St. Thomas University.

“I was determined to find a way to help; no one wants to be poor and this work helps our communities increase education, health and financial independence.” Kate is even now expanding to provide books and libraries in villages as well. The grasses from which the baskets are woven grow in plentiful supply near the villages, so it is by using easily available materials and their own ingenuity that this wide range of African products are created.

If you are looking for a gift or something special for your home, go to House of Talents. Kate says she wants “to elevate your mood and bring a happy smile to your face.” An easy task at this creative, wonderful and beautiful space.

House of Talents is located in the Traffic Zone Arts Building at 250 3rd Avenue N, Suite 615 (there is an elevator!) with street parking and a nearby House of Talents lot. They are open Wednesday – Saturday, 11AM – 6PM.

– – – – – – – –

About Merle Minda

Journalist and free-lance writer Merle Minda writes about travel, business, people profiles and other subjects for a number of national and regional publications, including Delta SKY, Mpls/St. Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Business, Star Tribune, Twin Cities Statement, Minnesota Monthly, and now Mill City Times. She can be reached at or on the web.



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The Foundry Home Goods in Minneapolis North Loop!

Just a quick note: I have begun a series of small business profiles located in and around the Mississippi River and in the Minneapolis North Loop near the river. Here is a link to the first one; let me know what you think.


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Morocco Calls.

At the tanneries

Once there, you can never forget. Our trip to Morocco, staying with the Ambassador and his wife in Rabat at the time, then traveling around the country by car remains so very fresh in my mind. Leaving Rabat, we drove north to Tangier, stopping at little restaurants recommended by the Ambassador. Then spent one night there before driving down through the middle of the country to Fez. Fez is completely medieval in the Medina — almost as it was nine centuries ago. Fascinating and very beautiful.
A couple of nights there and then we drove to Marrakesh — which we loved. Another beautiful old Medina, fabulous shopping, riads (guest houses) some beautiful hotels and oozing with charm. The huge main square, Jemaa el Fna, comes alive in the late afternoon with everything from snake charmers to musicians to steaming braziers cooking meats, tagines, and couscous. Oranges on huge carts with the sweetest juice that you cannot resist.) People dressed colorfully — especially the women — in long cloaks and headscarves to match.

For shopping, head to the Medina inside the walls of the old city — look for lanterns made of tin, embroidered tunics, baskets, shoes with pointed toes, and much, much more. The making of these items is almost more interesting than the final product.

We took one side trip to the seacoast town of Essouira, a site of a gigantic world music festival each year. Along the way stopped at a women’s cooperative making Argan oil – now very popular in the States for skin and hair. But when you see these women, on the floor, grinding away at the Argan nuts to create the oil, you have an idea of what it takes to make it happen. All of these women are either widowed or abandoned, and this job is of critical importance to them. We also had lunch at a beautiful old Kasbah along the way, Kasbah Tamadot – owned by a sister of the Richard Branson family, it is an exquisite hotel. You can even choose a Berber tent for your hotel room.

We brought home a beautiful rug, some tea glasses (for the ubiquitous mint tea that is served everywhere), some musical instruments and a few other odds and ends. But mostly we brought home memories of the colors, the sounds, the smells of Morocco – which are unmatched. I would head back in a second.

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Romantic Places — Beyond Valentine’s Day

At Chez Julien in Paris

At Chez Julien in Paris

Romance is nice year ’round, not just for Valentine’s Day. As a long-time married partner, I urge you to take time to put romantic moments, places and vacations in your life. And they don’t have to be the most expensive spots in town — it’s all about ambience, atmosphere and the right partner! Some of my favorite romantic places are:

  • In Paris, I love a small restaurant near the Seine, Chez Julien,,  just off the Pont Louis Philippe. This is a small and charming bistro with wonderful food. Tucked into a corner with your beloved, a glass of champagne and gleaming candlelight — it can’t be beat for romance.
  • In Sydney, almost anyplace that overlooks the Harbour and the Sydney Opera House will do. I like Quai Restaurant,; overlooking Harbour Bridge. Interesting food and a fabulous view. The night we were there, the Bridge was lit up with fireworks for some reason. We loved it.
  • In Derbyshire, England — on the Chatsworth estate actually, sits a small, lovely hotel called The Cavendish,…/hotels…/the-cavendish; after the family name of the family who have been Dukes of Devonshire at Chatsworth for several centuries. The Cavendish is small and intimate, with a truly wonderful dining room. You might also take tea overlooking the grounds with a few cows and sheep to keep you company.
  • In the Umbria region of Italy — in my favorite of many small towns is Todi — close to Orvieto and not far from the wonders of Assisi. Todi is filled with historical wonders and just off the main square is Ristorante Umbria, Tucked into a stone corner, the interior of the restaurant is small and cozy, with green walls and an open fireplace. Just ahead is a large outdoor porch overlooking the plains of Umbria, with castles dotting the landscape below you. Here you should order fettuccini with truffles — you will never regret it. Also wonderful lamb chops cooked over the open fireplace. Great service with waiters who remember you from year to year.
  • Sticking with Italy, in Venice try Da Fiori, One of the best restaurants in Venice but not uppity about it — again, small and intimate, extraordinary food in a charming setting.
  • In Marrakech: Kasbah Tamadot,; a real Kasbah just outside of the city. Here you can even stay in a Berber tent — a fabulous setting. Take a mule ride into the nearby Berber villages, or just settle down by the pool and relax.
  • Favorite restaurant in Marrakech: Dar Moha,, set in a beautiful Riad, (Moroccan house). Tables are set around the interior garden pool, rose petals drift on your tablecloth and your meal is accompanied by the soft strumming and drumming of the Gnawa musicians — this is romance at its peak. Your four-course Moroccan meal begins with Moroccan salad — about 20 delectable little dishes to nibble on, then the traditional Moroccan soup, followed by a tagine of perhaps meat, fruit and vegetables, followed by a huge couscous with vegetables and then a fabulous dessert. You roll out definitely in a romantic stupor.
  • One more in Paris,  the Bar at Le Meurice Hotel , right on the Rue de Rivoli, across from and a little past the Louvre; Settle yourself in this bar, order a champagne kir and try to look mysterious. Your drink comes in a very tall glass accompanied by a little tray of yummy appetizers. In fact, you can make lunch out of this if your timing is right.
  • More to say but am running out of space. By now you can see that I like intimate, even small places, with gleaming candlelight and brass fittings, good food and drink. Big, bigger and biggest does not appeal to me. I like looking across the table at my darling mate and maybe a discreet cuddle too. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Posted in Independent Travel, Travel, Travel i France, Travel in Europe, Travel in France, Travel in Italy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Responses

I Discovered Meryl Streep!

merylstreepAt least, I thought I did. Here’s the story. Time was when I would take a theater trip to New York City several times each year. I would plan my arrival for Wednesday in time for a Wednesday matinee. I would then see plays (both Broadway and off-Broadway,) Wednesday evening, Thursday evening, Friday evening, a Saturday matinee and Saturday evening. If I could get a late enough flight on Sunday, I would also pop for a Sunday matinee, making it seven performances in 5 days.

On one of these marathon theater-gorging trips in 1977, I found myself with time to spare and no ticket for Sunday afternoon. Brunching with a friend that morning, I asked her what I should see for the Sunday matinee. And she said, “You know, the Yale School of Drama brought their production of Kurt Weill/Berthold Brecht’s “Happy End,” to the Chelsea Theater Center and it’s now moved to Broadway; see that.”

 A few hours later I found myself in a 7th row center seat at the Martin Beck Theater. I wasn’t terribly familiar with the show – a sort of dark, moody piece with fabulous music. All during the performance I kept noticing one young woman with a rather amazing presence and gorgeous singing voice. She had short blonde curls all over her head. Later in the show she took over front stage right to sing Weill’s lament, “Surabaya Johnny.” It was so spectacular that I thought to myself “who is she?”

I remember clearly looking down in my program to see who was playing Hallelujah Lil and reading her name: Meryl Streep. Since my own name is Merle, it was easy to remember. I thought to myself, “She is going to be a star!” I discovered that she had finished her graduate work at Yale two years earlier, and had already starred in “The Cherry Orchard” in NYC before this production and in several pieces for the New York Shakespeare Theater Festival. But somehow, outside of the intimate New York theater circle, she was still fairly unknown. She had already been nominated for several awards and earned a Drama Desk Award nomination for her “Happy End” performance.

I flew home sure I had made a discovery – and so I had. One year later she did the film “The Deer Hunter” and the rest is history – “Kramer Versus Kramer”, “Sophie’s Choice”, The Iron Lady”, “Out of Africa”, “Julie and Julia”, “The Devil Wears Prada’, and so many others. And this year, yet another Academy Award nomination for “August: Osage County.”

So, can I pick ‘em? Yes, I surely can. Many, many congratulations to Meryl Streep again for another amazing performance. We’ll be watching the Oscars to see if she earns another one!

Posted in Academy Awards, Berthold Brecht, Broadway, Devil Wears Prada, Julie & Julia, Kramer Versus Kramer, Kurt Weill, Meryl Streep, Movies, New York Theater, Oscar nominations, Oscars, Uncategorized, Visiting New York | 1 Response

Rental Car Blues

We visited the home, now a museum, of celebre writer/libertine George Sand.

We visited the home, now a museum, of celebre feminist writer/libertine George Sand.

The Rental Car That Wasn’t There – Twice!!

My favorite travel columnist/trouble-shooter, Christopher Elliott,, says that “people assume that a reservation number means you have a reservation – and that is not necessarily true!” I learned this the hard way a few months ago – twice – once in deep France and again unexpectedly, in Los Angeles.

I consider myself a highly experienced traveller. I almost always make my own reservations, confirming once or even twice before departure. I am good at maneuvering travel options on the Web and have never had problems making my own reservations.

Here’s the story. I was traveling to a small town in the Eastern Loire district in France to attend a French immersion language school for a week. I had been there before and knew the drill. The town, Sancerre, is tiny – only 2,000 inhabitants. No car rentals or train station there.

I flew to Paris with my husband, took the afternoon train at Gare de Bercy direct to a nearby small town, Cosne-sur-Loire (pop. 12,000). My car rental for an automatic vehicle at Cosne was to begin the following week, with a route and reservations to various chateaus and hotels, all of which required a car to get there. I rented from Citer, which is National Car Rental in France, but my confirmation came back from AutoEurope. A little confusing but with both AutoEurope and Citer/National reservation numbers on my confirmation receipt, I was confident. I checked both online and with two personal phone calls before leaving.

On Friday a week later, I called the local office of Citer to confirm the rental for pick up the next morning. Well, guess what? According to the local Citer rental office – no automatic car reservation, no car reservation AT ALL even though the numbers of this paid reservation were in the system. Suddenly, locally, they couldn’t see it, even though they were totally on line. And this is all in French! After several phone calls with the same result, I called AutoEurope in France. They had my reservation, checked with Citer and re-assured me that the car would be there as promised – the automatic I had specified, reserved and paid for.

Next not-so-big surprise, when I arrived at Citer the next morning, the same thing – no reservation, no automatique, no car. It didn’t matter that I had my confirmation in my hand, they would not recognize it. “I told you this yesterday” said the same woman, “but you came here anyway.” So, all in my fledgling French, I negotiated a brand-new rental, for a car with a manual 5-gear European shift, talked her into the fact that I could drive it (it had been 30 years, but it came back to me!) and off we went.
Later, AutoEurope wrote me a big apology and totally refunded me for the second rental – hurray for them. Chris Elliott says I was lucky, with a smaller company I might have just gotten a “sorry” and left it at that. “Things happen with computers sometimes”, says Chris. “In this case, your reservation somehow never filtered down to that small, local office.” Luckily, we still were able to achieve our driving tour into this remote area of France.
And then, a few weeks after our return, we had rented a large-sized SUV from Hertz in Los Angeles in order to drive together with our children and grandchildren in one car to a beach vacation about two hours south. We specified our wish to pick up the SUV in a city Hertz location as opposed to the airport. And again, what happened? No such vehicle was waiting for us at Hertz, despite the confirmed and reconfirmed, paid reservation. We waited while a car was found at another location, brought to where we were, cleaned inside and out (it was filthy!) and finally got on our way, several hours later. Later, I negotiated a paltry $60.00 refund for our trouble.
So, what to do? Do as I did, pay in advance, confirm and reconfirm, plus confirm with the local vendor. And then,  cross your fingers. Don’t count on what might be a misguided belief in computers!

Posted in Car rental, Independent Travel, Travel, Travel i France, Travel in Europe, Travel in France, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iconic Holiday Excursions Around the World

A Personal Concierge Makes it All The More Joyful

Holiday in St. Barts

Guest blog courtesy of Time & Place, vacation rental providers.

I count on my concierges to create a holiday experience beyond the guest’s imagination.

Broomfield, Colorado (PRWEB) November 07, 2013

In time for the holidays, Time & Place announces it is booking iconic holiday excursions in winter wonderlands like Vail, Colorado, tropical oases like St. Barts and in other destinations around the world for people who want to take advantage of vacation home rentals but who don’t want to forego the personalized services of a concierge. Time & Place’s penchant for taking care of the details allows guests to be carefree and to relax and enjoy an otherwise somewhat stressful holiday season. Concierges are feeling festive as they plan holiday favorites for guests – and because they are local experts, travellers enjoy classic and sophisticated regional favorites that a tourist wouldn’t otherwise know about.

“I count on my concierges to create a holiday experience beyond the guest’s imagination and expectations,” said Mitch Willey, founder of Time & Place. “Time & Place concierges leverage their contacts and intel to connect guests with the best their destinations have to offer.”

Time & Place concierge holiday recommendations include:

  •     Have a signature fragrance blended at a specialty shop in Nantucket
  •     In Paris, the twinkling Christmas lights of the Eiffel Tower; the beloved lighting ceremony on the Champs Elysees at Thanksgiving time; holiday music concerts in Paris churches — Notre Dame is a favorite; after-hours private shopping at Le Bon Marche, Printemps and Galleries Lafayette; dazzling ice-skating rinks such as at the Hotel de Ville; or the famous Christmas market in Strasburg.
  •     Greet carollers with black cake and punch from the beautiful tropical home in La Samanna in St. Martin.
  •     In Buenos Aires, tour through festively decorated neighborhoods and San Telmo markets; and guidance on art, antiques and other auction treasures – even have them mailed home.
  •     A St Barts holiday shopping spree with a personal shopper and someone to help carry treasures among the glamour of this Caribbean wonderland.
  •     In Vail, Colorado, leave holiday shopping and decorating behind for an exhilarating ride through the trees on a zip line then into a heated gondola to enjoy the remarkable mountain vistas.
  •     In California, a great view aboard a private yacht of the show-stopping historic Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, or the old world charm of a Venetian gondola as it cruises the enchanting canals and waterways of Naples Island.

But whether guests are trying to escape it all, or fit in some last minute shopping, Time & Place personal concierges will ensure the vacation is tailored and uninterrupted by the demands of outside life. Vacationers often leave with the most-cherished and perfect holiday gift—incredible shared memories with their loved ones.

NOTE:  For the past twelve years, Time & Place has provided luxury vacation rentals across Europe and the Americas. Guests enjoy elegant properties without dues or membership. Our concierges deliver exclusive access and ultimate experiences. For discerning travellers, Time & Place provides a unique vacation experience,

Added note from Merle: Carefree and fancy-free. That’s how we want our vacations to be, especially at holiday time. Having a personal concierge at your beck and call, no matter where you are, is just a wonderful perk and plus for any vacation. Check it out!

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Do’s and Don’ts of Travel Insurance!

All aboard; but you need more than a life preserver in case of an accident!

            If we needed a reminder, this is it. 89-year old Dodge Melkonian and his wife Jill, 65, of Clearwater, FL, were cruising along the coast of southern Turkey with Azamara Cruises when Dodge fell at night in his cabin and broke his hip.  Considering their age and the adventurous nature of the cruise, the couple had wisely purchased travel insurance in advance, BUT they purchased the insurance offered by the cruise line.

I have said it before and I am saying it again: NEVER, NEVER, NEVER BUY YOUR TRAVEL INSURANCE FROM YOUR CRUISE LINE, YOUR TOUR PROVIDER OR EVEN YOUR AIRLINE. Yes, the insurance is cheaper through these providers, but it lacks the key coverage’s you need! That’s why it is cheaper.

So what happened to the Melkonians? The cruise line (which, in this case, was Royal Caribbean, owner of Azamara) did exactly what the extent of their insurance coverage required: they transported the couple to the nearest on-land hospital which was a small town on the southern Turkish coast. According to Jill, the hospital was small, dirty and totally inadequate. No one spoke English. No one seemed able to discover what was ailing Dodge, and no pain medication was provided. Additionally there were restrictions for Jill to visit her husband as, even though she is a wife, she is also a woman.

Desperate, Jill called her travel agents in the U.S. who were able to contact one of their own tour guides somewhere nearby in Turkey. This man arrived, spoke English, and arranged for Dodge to be transferred to the American hospital in Istanbul. But – more problems – they took him there in some kind of ambulance – which was a 7-hour drive away. He finally got to Istanbul, having been in pain for the whole drive, and got the medical care he needed.

So what was wrong here? The Melkonians’ travel insurance, purchased from their cruise line, must not have included medical evacuation/repatriation or travel/accident sickness expenses. Even in Istanbul, their expenses were piling up at $10,000 per day. And they still had to get home to Florida. If they would have had medical evacuation insurance coverage, Dodge would have been airlifted right from the ship to Istanbul, and none of this suffering would have taken place.

Fortunately, Dodge, even though he is 89, is a feisty guy in robust good health. He and Jill are world-travellers and have been on 30 cruises. Interestingly, this cruise was free because their last cruise with Azamara resulted in a fire on the ship – all passengers received a free cruise, and this was it. So continued bad luck was with them.

Now, after world-wide publicity and outrage, Royal Caribbean, while first making inane statements about how what they did was appropriate, finally recognized that their actions in this emergency were totally inadequate, coverage or not, and stepped up to the plate to pay all expenses including transportation home. Who knows who else has suffered with this minimal coverage?

Here’s a contrast: My husband Roland and I were on a short trip to Bangkok and Singapore when my husband noticed his vision was diminishing in one eye.  As it became more serious, we called our eye doctor in Minneapolis from Singapore. He gave us the name of an eye practice he was familiar with in Singapore and said it sounded like Roland’s retina was detaching. He would need immediate surgery. We called the practice in the middle of the night and a doctor called us back immediately. He asked us to be in his office (which was connected to the hospital) at 8AM, and also said “do not eat or drink anything from now on.” In the morning, Dr. Yeoh confirmed the diagnosis and said Roland’s retina was 95% detached. As they whisked him away into the hospital, the nurse told me the operation and hospital would cost $10,000 Singapore dollars. “How do you wish to pay for this?” she asked.

I immediately called the emergency number of my independent travel insurance (Travel Guard.) Within minutes, a ‘letter of assignment’ was faxed to both the medical practice and the hospital, taking responsibility for all charges. My husband had successful surgery, spending another few days in the hospital. We extended our hotel stay and changed our return flights. I kept all receipts including meals, taxi fares to/from the hospital for me, hotel nights, air fare change fees, even laundry. We walked out of the hospital four days later having paid nothing; and Travel Guard paid me back for every expense receipt I submitted.

Recently we were on a cruise ourselves, in the Mediterranean near Malta, when an ill passenger was airlifted at night, by helicopter from the deck of the ship to the hospital in Malta. It was tricky to line up both the slightly moving ship and the hovering helicopter, but they did it. It took our ship another 24 hours to get to Malta, by which time the passenger was recovering from open heart surgery.

So, please take these suggestions to heart. Three good independent travel insurance resources are Travel Guard,; Travelex,, and Allianz Global Assistance (formerly Access America),  American Express also offers independent travel insurance.

On our most recent trip, our basic Travelex policy included up to $500,000 for medical evacuation/repatriation; $50,000 for accident/sickness medical expenses and then the usual other coverage’s, trip cancellation at 100%, trip delay, baggage loss, etc.

This is what you need, especially on trips out of the country. Do it; you will never be sorry – accidents or illness can happen to anyone, anywhere.

Posted in Cruising, Independent Travel, Travel, Travel Insurance, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Responses