Rochester, Minnesota(?!)

Sometimes life tosses you unanticipated travel plans — a detour to a place you hadn’t planned to explore. Life’s curve? Some health issues that were misdiagnosed back home. The place? Rochester, Minnesota, home of Mayo Clinic.

From what we’ve seen, Mayo Clinic IS Rochester, Minnesota. Forty-one thousand of Rochester’s 117,000 residents work for Mayo Clinic. Over 600,000 patients from around the world are treated here each year. If you include campuses in Florida and Arizona, Mayo Clinic treats 1.4 million patients annually! Rochester has become the world’s #1 destination for those seeking answers, options and hope.

Mayo Clinic rises out of a southern Minnesota valley, surrounded by rolling hills and farmland. Its history is interesting.

In 1883, a tornado ripped through Rochester killing 24 people, injuring 100 and destroying 150 buildings. The Sisters of Saint Francis and Dr. W.W. Mayo and his sons cared for the injured. One of the nuns who was teaching in Rochester lead the charge for a permanent medical facility and approached Dr. Mayo with a deal he couldn’t refuse. If he and his sons would serve as the medical staff, the nuns would figure out a way to build a hospital.

This collaboration led to the opening of St. Mary’s Hospital in 1889. Other doctors joined the Mayos, and by 1929, a staff of 386 physicians, formed the first “group medical practice” stating:

“The cooperation and combined wisdom of peers is greater than any individual.”

Ten blocks east of the St. Mary’s campus is Mayo’s sprawling downtown complex, which includes 30+ buildings and the Mayo Clinic Hospital Methodist campus. These buildings are a destination in themselves. The lobbies rival those in 5-star hotels. Waiting areas — even those on the lower floors — are flooded with natural light. Original works of art line the walls and ceilings, providing a beautiful and interesting distraction.

In the Rochester Mayo world, everything revolves around patient wellness and comfort. Minnesota weather can be brutal — hot summers and bitter cold winters — but have no fear. Patients buildings and parking garages are connected by a well-marked underground “subway” system of brightly lit hallways.

In addition, the Mayo buildings and subway are connected to downtown restaurants, shops and hotels via skywalks.

Countless hotels circle both campuses and patients receive a “Mayo discount.” This is our fourth trip here — one one-night, 2 three night and now for seven nights. It’s an easy four-hour drive from Milwaukee and once here, we can park and leave the car. If a hotel isn’t connected, there is a complimentary shuttle to main Mayo buildings.

For this weeklong visit, we were offered and accepted free lodging at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge. Rooms are offered to patients with stays of three or more nights. After managing events for the Ronald MacDonald House, it feels weird to be on the patient/caregiver side of things —- and we are very thankful!

Downtown Rochester is walkable and clean. The Zumbro Riverwalk is lovely, as are the pretty little neighborhoods surrounding Mayo. We’ve discovered some good restaurants (Thai Pop, Crave, desserts from Mezza 9) and there is no shortage of coffee shops (fave: Cafe Steam on Broadway). The shopping has yet to impress.

Rochester has more than 3500 acres of park land and more than 85 miles of paved trails. Quarry Hill Nature Center was a welcome respite from the hotel room.

So, besides Mayo Clinic, what else is Rochester known for?

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Rochester is known as home to IBM. Operations began here in 1956 with 174 employees. Today, over 4,000 people work in this 3.6 million square feet IBM-owned and leased facility (equivalent to about 78 football fields!). The building was designed by Eero Saarinen, who utilized blue panels inspired by the Minnesota sky, as well as IBM’s nickname of “Big Blue.”

And, there’s this . . .

Yes, for many, the most iconic sight in Rochester, Minnesota is the Ear of Corn Water Tower. The tower is 151 feet tall and was built in 1931 as a nod to one of two main vegetables processed at a local cannery.

Not impressed yet? OK, then let’s get back to Mayo. Over the years, many famous celebrities have been treated there.

Ernest Hemingway came to Mayo suffering from depression. The Dalai Lama continues to visit Mayo for check-ups and often speaks in the area. George and Barbara Bush each received new hips here.

Helen Keller had her gall bladder removed at Mayo. Lou Gehrig came to Rochester in 1939 when he was experiencing muscle weakness and was subsequently diagnosed with ALS.

And now, the latest celebrity to be treated . . .

Our own Frank.

Bozeman, Montana Wedding!

Nick and Kim’s family and friends came together to celebrate their big day in early August. Frank and I are thrilled to welcome Kim into our family. To say it was the highlight of the year is an understatement. The couple have a wonderful group of friends from around the country (and world) and all the thoughtful details made for a truly personal and very beautiful celebration of love.

Riding the Pandemic Rollercoaster

Going Down . . .

I should have found some wood to knock on when I penned my July 2021 post, “As the world begins to open up, Frank and I will carefully venture back out, chronicling our adventures in our next chapter, Waltzing Wanderers 5.

July-August, 2021: Armed with a second vaccine dose, Frank and I gingerly, and then more confidently, rejoin society — outings and visits with family and friends, cooking/dinner parties, a belated wedding celebration, a building get-together, even a weeklong trip to New York City.

Trip to New York City, September 2021

Going Up . . .

Fall 2021: End of summer, end of party. The Delta variant results in a substantial spike in Covid cases and deaths. Wisconsin faces its largest wave of patients requiring intensive care since 2020 as millions of residents remain unvaccinated.

In Washington DC, “695,000 Flags—and Counting” memorializes the Americans who have died of Covid-19. Worldwide deaths number 4.8 million. (September 30, 2021)

A vaccine booster and the continuous barrage of misinformation broaden the country’s politicized chasm between vaxxed/unvaxxed and masked/unmasked. Public events take place but many now come with a caveat: No mask? No proof of vaccination? No entrance.

After going virtual for a year, “Open Doors Milwaukee” is open for business — as long as you’re vaxxed and masked.
Interlochen School for the Arts (Traverse City, MI) re-opened their campus for public performances — as long as audience members were masked and vaxxed. Cousin Faye and I took the ferry across Lake Michigan to see Mary Rose’s daughter Zara perform.

The unvaccinated make up the majority of Delta’s severely ill patients and deaths but there are also some “breakthrough” cases among the vaccinated. As infection numbers climb, many who are vaxxed return to more mindful habits. Potential activities are vetted based on risk to themselves and others.

I was super excited to have access to “Field of Dreams” tickets after the once-in-lifetime baseball game was cancelled in 2020. But then we carefully considered the risk of being around so many people in the midst of a pandemic. Sorry, no.
The Summer Olympics (cancelled in 2020) are belatedly held in Tokyo sans spectators.

Schools, businesses and international borders open and close based on infection count fluctuation. Everyone wants the pandemic to be over but, ironically, masking and vaxxing mandates continue to be vehemently challenged.

Keeping it small

The holidays presented their own dilemma. In 2020, there wasn’t an option — no in-person holiday get-togethers. This year wasn’t as clear-cut based on the availability of vaccinations and test kits and countless self-proclaimed experts. The yearning to spend time with loved ones and honor family traditions, however, had to be weighed against the risk of exposure to an extremely contagious variant. Our personal choice was to stick with small gatherings of vaxxed family and friends.

We were overjoyed to have Nick and Andy come back for Thanksgiving along with their ladies.
Christmas morning had Frank and I home alone. I taped Midnight Mass and was shocked to see all the empty pews. We did TV mass and had a virtual visit with Nick and Andy before heading over to Mom and Dad’s for a dinner.

Groundhog Day

On March 10th, Frank and I mark two years in what seems like a never-ending loop of “Groundhog Day.” Aside from those two quick trips to Chattanooga and NYC, we’ve pretty much remained here in Milwaukee.

The pandemic froze our travel plans and fostered nesting in our cozy apartment overlooking Lake Michigan. We’ve created a home and have decided to keep it as a base when we return to travel. In a few ways, life is getting back to some sense of normalcy. Frank is swimming at the JCC and attends the less crowded weekday masses — and we do make a point to catch Sunday TV mass when we know the reader!

And down again?

Once again, positive test numbers and covid-related deaths seem to be in decline. Dare we hope we are nearing the end? Much of the news, including concert and festival announcements make it sound like that’s the case.

And the Busalacchis definitely have something to look forward to later this year!

Fingers are crossed! In the meantime, I will continue to write, play Wordle, research our family history and map out future adventures! Stay well.

“Start spreading the word, we’re leaving today . . .”

. . . We’re off to be a part of it — New York, New York!

These days, Frank and I get as exhilarated for a mini-getaway as we once did for our six-month adventures. It’s extra special when these trips involve time with the kids. Other than the delightful May road trip to see Nick and Kim in Chattanooga, pandemic concerns have kept us grounded for over a year and a half. Vaxxed and masked, we now feel comfortable enough to fly — to New York City to visit Andy and Crystal!

Traveling during COVID

Masks are required in the airport and on airplanes.

Once the Covid epicenter of the United States, New York officials and businesses are doing all they can to move the city forward despite the evolving, contagious virus variants.

Proof of vaccination with an ID is a requirement for indoor dining, as well as for admittance to museums and theaters. Masks are required for everyone — regardless of vax status — on public transportation (subway, cabs, Ubers) and inside most businesses. In addition, free vaccination and pop-up Covid testing sites are conveniently located all over the city.

Many restaurants feature outdoor dining options but vaccinations are still required.

9/11 Anniversary

Our trip coincided with the 20th anniversary of September 11th. The mood over the weekend was somber and reflective. A morning service at the 9/11 Memorial was cordoned off and reserved for families and political VIPs. Everyone else lined the streets on the periphery. We couldn’t see anything but heads bowed and tears flowed as bells rang out, commemorating the moments when the planes hit the individual towers. The plaza re-opened to the public mid-afternoon and was busy throughout the week. There were various tributes throughout the city, as well.

Tribute in Light is a commemorative public art installation, first presented six months after 9/11 and then every year thereafter — from dusk to dawn — on the night of September 11. It has become an iconic symbol that both honors those killed and celebrates the unbreakable spirit of New York.

Assembled on the roof of the Battery Parking Garage south of the 9/11 Memorial, the twin beams reach up four miles into the sky. They are comprised of eighty-eight 7,000-watt xenon lightbulbs positioned into two 48-foot squares, echoing the shape and orientation of the Twin Towers. The installation can also be viewed from a 60-mile radius around lower Manhattan. (

One World Trade Center

One World Trade Center (also known as One World Trade, One WTC, and formerly Freedom Tower) is the main building of the rebuilt World Trade Center complex.
— It is the tallest building in the United States, as well as in the Western Hemisphere. It is also the sixth-tallest in the world.
— With its spire, the building reaches a total height of 1,776 feet (a nod to the year the Declaration of Independence was signed).
— There are 103 floors and the top floor is numbered 104 (no floor 13).
— The new World Trade Center complex will eventually include five high-rise office buildings.

And the most interesting fact?

Andy’s business, B Media, is on the 85th floor of One World Trade — what a view!

“I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps . . .”

Andy and Crystal are just getting settled in to their new home in Chelsea but they made us feel welcome and comfortable.

“These vagabond shoes, they’re longing to stray, right through the very heart of it, New York, New York.”

While they worked, Frank and I had fun exploring their neighborhood and beyond. 

I have been to NY three times and it’s always for just 2-3 days it’s always been cold. The week’s weather was perfect and Frank and I really got around. This trip gave me a chance to get my bearings and familiarize myself with the various areas of Manhattan.

“If I can make it there, I’ll make it practically anywhere, it’s (thanks) to you New York, New York.”

Chattanooga: More than a Choo Choo

On the road again! Covid kept us home for a year+ but now we’re vaccinated and ready to roll — albeit a short car trip. Nick and Kim were working remotely from their Santa Monica home when they decided to move to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Why Chattanooga? Evidently, the city has become a magnet for young people. The area is known for its endless outdoor activities due to its proximity to the Appalachians and the Tennessee River. “Nooga” has a nice arts district, boasts super fast internet (nickname is “Gig City”) and it’s relatively affordable. The population is just under 200,000.

My previous experience with the city was driving through countless times on our way to Florida. I was excited to get a closer look and found it to be a fun, colorful city. Knowing this will surely be the first of many visits, we saved the big must-sees (i.e. Lookout Mountain, the Aquarium, Ruby Falls) for future trips and blog posts.

But first, the train

The Chattanooga Choo Choo was a major link between the northern and southern United States. It began operating in 1880 and was notable as the first train in the country to provide non-stop service. The original railroad station dates to 1909. It was also a famous Glen Miller song . . .

Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?
Track twenty nine, boy you can gimme a shine
I can afford to board a Chattanooga Choo Choo
I’ve got my fare and just a trifle to spare
You leave the Pennsylvania station ’bout a quarter to four
Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore
Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer
Than to have your ham ‘n’ eggs in Carolina
When you hear the whistle blowin’ eight to the bar
Then you know that Tennessee is not very far
Shovel all the coal in, gotta keep it rollin’
Woo, woo, Chattanooga, there you are
There’s gonna be a certain party at the station
Satin and lace, I used to call funny face
She’s gonna cry until I tell her that I’ll never roam


Hunter Museum

The highlight of the Arts District is the Hunter Museum, which features American Art from the 1700s through present day. Three buildings — the original 1905 mansion, a 1970’s Brutalist addition and the iconic zinc-clad 21st century waterfront building — and the outdoor sculpture gardens house the museum’s various collections and special exhibits.

Artsy Chattanooga

And the best part of Chattanooga?

Seeing Nick and Kim create their new life here!