It’s also a signal that you’re about to witness the most spectacular fireworks display of your life.

With a massive whoosh, a kaleidoscope of colour explodes life into the night sky, sending cascading streams of magical starbursts down – each one bigger, brighter and louder than the previous – proving that there really is no better place to be on the 4th of July than here, in the US of A.

It’s made all the more special when one is lucky enough to savour this spectacle in one of the first European settlements in the Midwest which gifted us such artistic luminaries as F Scott Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan and of course, his Purple Highness – Prince.

Now with daily Aer Lingus flights from Dublin – which have the added advantage of US preclearance saving hours at immigration on the far side – the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-Saint Paul is a mere nine-hour hop away.

That journey, spent in business class, felt like 90 minutes as pampering is taken to a new level – from a glass of bubbly on arrival to the scrumptious menu, to the lie-flat beds. Sheer heaven.

The water cannon salute to mark the inaugural flight was greeted with rapturous applause, and giddy excitement swept through the cabin as the first batch of curious travellers disembarked.

A five-minute drive from the airport, the four-star Hyatt Regency Bloomington would be our base for the next few days. A couple of cocktails and some local delicacies (lamb and fennel flat bread and beer battered cheese curls) proved a perfect nightcap before a sound sleep.

Totally invigorated, this culture vulture is eager to explore, and the first stop is the Minnesota History Centre to see among others, the special exhibit First Avenue: Stories of Minnesota’s Mainroom.

Paying homage to the legendary music venue where Purple Rain was recorded, it’s literally wall-to-wall rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia, including the 1980s-era office of long-time manager Steve McClellan and his booking diary where you’ll find none other than U2 pencilled in for April 9, 1981.

An eclectic mix of artists have played there, including Chubby Checker, Wilson Picket, Motorhead the Ramones, Duran Duran and The Black Eyed Peas, to name but a few.

We have pictures taken at the iconic wall of fame where hundreds of silver stars adorn the stage entrance with only one gold – reserved for, you guessed it – Prince.

All rocked out, our weary party is in need of some light refreshment and where better than Surly Brewing – the largest and most popular beer maker in the state.

After a brief free tour of the brewhouse, fermentation cellar, and packaging hall, it’s time to sample the delights of the 25 to 35 ales and lagers on offer while tucking into the fab local dishes like skillet cornbread (too sweet for my liking) and Mediterranean kebab with avocado cous cous and mint yogurt.

Time to up the tempo again and as dusk falls we don our glad rags for a night at the glorious Guthrie theatre – founded in 1963 by Irishman Sir Tyrone Guthrie.

The spectacular venue in downtown Minneapolis (opened in 2006) enjoys panoramic views of the Mississippi River – where one can sip Champagne before curtain-up – and is home to three auditoriums and audience capacity of nearly 2,000.

Our theatrical treat is the stage version of the Marlon Brando/Jean Simmons/Frank Sinatra musical gem Guys and Dolls – detailing the colourful lives of gangsters, gamblers and one complicated romantic engagement.

Tunes like Luck Be A Lady and, more appropriately, Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat, still ring in my ears when the following day we venture to Harriet Island Park to soak up the beautiful scenery synonymous with water here (Minnesota even boasts a ‘10,000 lakes’ slogan on its car licence plates) and the Twin Cities is bisected by the aforementioned Old Man River.

And what better way to meander through history than on a traditional paddle boat while enjoying a margarita and if you are lucky enough, you may spot a bald eagle, black bear or even a moose.

If you really want to get up close and personal, you can hire a kayak or in our case, a good old pedalo and head out on to lake Bde Maka Ska (also known as Lake Calhoun), the largest lake in Minnesota.

It’s also surrounded by a city park and circled by bike and walking trails and for the really adventurous you can even try out log rolling – yes, like the real-life lumberjacks.

Staying on the riverfront, a trip to the Mill City Museum is well worth doing to learn how the Twin Cities became the flour-milling capital of the world when the flagship factory of the Washburn-Crosby Co was completed in 1880.

Climb aboard the giant elevator to travel through eight levels of the building and back through time, as you experience the sights and sounds of the workers and machines that made Minneapolis famous. Historic scenes of the old mill flash up as the voices of the former workers share their stories. Dramatic use of lighting, sound and special effects bring to life the powerful, noisy and often dangerous process of transforming grain into flour.

The tour finishes on the Rooftop Observation Deck where you’ll be treated to the most magnificent views of St Anthony Falls, the Ruin Courtyard and a bird’s-eye view of the historic Stone Arch Bridge and Mill Ruins Park.

A short drive away, another must is the Walker Arts Centre which has on display 13,000 contemporary art pieces including sculptures, books, drawings, paintings, photographs and prints.

The adjacent Sculpture Garden is home to 40 iconic works spread over 11 acres, including the Spoonbridge and Cherry display by Claes Oldenburg and his wife, Coosje van Bruggen, which takes centre stage.

Famished by all that sightseeing, it is time for a gastronomic treat at St Paul’s best French restaurant, Barbette, where the art adorning the walls match the masterpiece dishes on the brunch menu.

The whipped brie and herbs omelette on toast is to die for and the salads a sensation – especially frisee aux lardons with poached eggs, crispy bacon and sherry vinaigrette.

All those extra calories are needed for what can only be described as a retail endurance test at the Mall Of America – the biggest complex in the US. Boasting 520 shops over four floors, you can buy everything from bargain basement clobber to designer jewellery (there’s even a Mercedes Benz showroom at the entrance) and the biggest lure of all – clothes and shoes are tax free.

It’s also home to Nickelodeon Universe, the largest indoor theme park in the world spanning seven acres and includes a proper roller coaster and fun rides on the ground floor. The kids can meet their favourite characters too from Spongebob to Dora to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Our favourite ride is the awesome FlyOver America – a spectacular 4-D flight simulator that scoops you up on a breathtaking aerial tour of the US, taking in the famous landmarks like the Grand Canyon, Times Square, Washington Monument and the Golden Gate Bridge. Feel the wind in your hair, the mist on your face and even the smell of the Rockies as the clever technology triggers sensors as you soar.

If you have time, the Sea Life Aquarium in the basement is another great experience and a chance to get face-to-face with sharks, sea turtles, jellyfish and seahorses, but the feeding of the stingrays is the most wonderful encounter of all. Children shriek in excitement as the cheekier ones lap the outer wall of the tank, waving their wings over the top, looking for treats. They are royally rewarded and so are we.

But my regal treat came in the guise of the music maestro himself (Prince) and the astonishing museum he created to celebrate his own genius – almost as if he knew he’d die at a young age. Paisley Park is Prince’s private estate and production complex and fans have a unique opportunity to explore where he created and produced some of his greatest work, including songs from Sign O’ The Times, Graffiti Bridge and Emancipation.

Visitors will see artefacts from Prince’s personal archives, including iconic concert wardrobe, awards, musical instruments, artwork, and the motorcycles from the movie Purple Rain.

Best of all though, you’ll get the chance to record your vocals over a Prince song in the very same Studio B where countless hits were made. I even played ping pong while I waited… with a purple ball. Obviously.


Take Two: Top attractions

Mall of America

Mall of America


Being the biggest in the US, this gargantuan retail mecca is home to no fewer than 520 shops from bargain basement to top designers. It’s also home to Nickelodeon Universe theme park – spanning seven acres.


Juicy Lucy burgers

Jucy Lucy Burgers


A local delicacy and a must for all foodies, the Juicy Lucy is a burger like no other with a myriad cheese fillings oozing from the succulent patty. Shamrock’s Pub in downtown St Paul is legendary for these tasty treats.


Getting  there

Aer Lingus commenced its 16th transatlantic route, flying daily to Minneapolis-St Paul direct from Dublin.

■ Fares start from €219 each-way when booked as a return trip. Flying from Dublin, Aer Lingus guests can experience the benefits of US preclearance before stepping on board their flight which avoids any lengthy queues upon arrival and ensures a speedy exit Stateside.

■ To book your trip, visit

■ Aer Lingus guests will enjoy complimentary meals and soft drinks on board, along with access to latest inflight entertainment, boasting blockbuster movies, box sets, music and more.






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