Monday, July 9, 2012

St. Louis, Missouri!




OK---not a vacation for me. This is my "home". But it really is a pretty neat vacation city. Lots of history and lots of free activities!


Just a little info to start with:
The city of St. Louis was founded in 1764 by Pierre Lacl├Ęde and Auguste Chouteau, and after the Louisiana Purchase, it became a major port on the Mississippi River.  Much of the area is a fertile and gently rolling prairie that features low hills and broad, shallow valleys. Both the Mississippi River and the Missouri River have cut large valleys with wide flood plains.  With a Metropolitan Statistical Area  population of 2,812,896 it is the 18th-largest MSA in the country and has a total area of 66.2 square miles. 

Summers are hot and humid with the humidity often making the heat index feel well above 100°F. Fall is mild with lower humidity and intermittent bouts of heavy rainfall. The first snow flurries usually coming in late November. Winters are cold with periodic snow and sleet and temperatures often below freezing, however thaws are usually frequent. Spring brings frequent thunderstorms and mild temperatures.

On to some of the sites of St. Louis:

Anheuser-Busch Brewery!  Now Anheuser-Busch InBev, it operates 12 breweries in the US and 18 in other countries and is headquartered in St. Louis.  It's been around since the mid 1800's and I believe the company will be around awhile longer!  They still have tours here and they're pretty impressive.  The place is CLEAN.  And at the end of the tour, you get to sample some of the goods.





One of my favorite places to go during all seasons of the year is the Missouri Botanical Gardens. Founded in 1859, the 79-acre Missouri Botanical Garden is the nation's oldest botanical garden in continuous operation and an oasis in the city of St. Louis. Today, 153 years after opening, the Garden is a National Historic Landmark and a center for science, conservation, education and horticultural display. Parking is free and admission is only $4 for residents and $8 (I think) for non-residents.  I often buy a membership here and not only enjoy all the seasons here at our garden, but get to go to many of it's reciprocal gardens in other states free, too.

It has a very impressive and rather large Japanese Gardens complete with a large pond with large koi fish, zig-zag bridge as well as a couple other bridges, and lots of flora.
It's also known for it's Climatron which houses a tropical rainforest. Outside of the Climatron are some reflective pools with lillies and Chihuli glass ornaments floating in them.  Although the Gardens aren't usually open at night, they do make some exceptions.
Fall in the gardens----
 Winter in the gardens----
A Japanese Festival is held here over Labor Day weekend and it's very hard to find parking then. It's a huge event with an extra fee, but well worth checking out if you can stand the crowds.

There are lots of other areas within the gardens beside the Japanese Gardens and the Climatron. Here is the Venetian garden near the lighthouse overlook and hedge maze. There are also a couple very beautiful rose gardens, Temperate building, childrens garden, test garden, boxwood garden, chinese garden, restaurant, gift shop, theatre room, as well as Shaws home with guided tours for an additional fee.

They even have several Chahuli glass pieces throughout the garden.

There are even things to see here in winter, such as the annual train show and orchid show for a small extra fee.



During the summer, they have free concerts in the park every Wed. night.  It's quite popular.  People bring in tables and chairs as well as every type of food imaginable and park themselves all over the garden.  The speaker system throughout the gardens makes it possible to hear the music even if you can't see the performers.
There are even fun things in the gardens for kids.

Since 1996, the Garden has collaborated with the Chinese Culture Education and Services Foundation to produce an event to celebrate Chinese culture.  We especially enjoy the Lantern Festival during this celebration.










In 2013 they added another event to the gardens---Garden Glow.  It ran for 2 or 3 months around x-mas and was another very successful extra fee event.




Another of our Gems of St. Louis is Forest Park. It officially opened to the public on June 24, 1876 and is one of the largest urban parks in the United States. At 1,293 acres, it is approximately 500 acres larger than Central Park in New York. Within the park is a world class zoo, golf courses, fishing ponds and fish hatchery, ice rink, tennis courts, bike paths, gardens, ponds, museums, and much much more---most of which are free.  At the entrance to the park from Hampton avenue there's this interesting sculpture.

This use to be the planetarium in Forest Park. Now it's connected to the Science Center, via a walkway over Highway 40, and acts as a museum, of sorts, for air travel throughout the ages.

Across I-64 and connected by a walkway over the highway to the "planetarium", is the Science Center.  It has over 750 exhibits and is over 300,000 square feet.  It is among the largest of its type in the country.  According to the Association of Science and Technology Centers, it is one of the top 5 science centers in the United States. The first building, the Planetarium, opened in 1963. In 1991, a major expansion increased the size of the facility seven-fold, adding a main building and Omnimax theater across Interstate 64 from the Planetarium.  Admission to the Science Center is free, although there is a fee for parking by the main building (not by the planetarium) and for special exhibits and the Omnimax shows. 
One of the permanent exhibits is the life like dinosaurs.
They also have special exhibits from time to time, such as the very popular Star Trek exhibit.  It was interesting seeing the Trekkies show up in costume!


Every Sept. there's the Great Balloon Race in Forest Park. This is the night before the race. It's become another crowd pleaser when they light the balloons for the Balloon Glow.


They haven't had it by any of the pools in quite awhile. It's still a neat scene, but not quite the same without the reflections.


Forest Park, here's another of it's attractions---the Jewel Box. Basically a huge green house of beautiful florals even in the middle of winter. Admission is only $1.   Even the outside landscaping at the Jewel Box is beautiful.

A short walk from the Jewel Box is a Korean War Memorial.
I love just walking around the park in early Spring when flowers spring to life again.

One of the museums in Forest Park is the Art Museum.

Some interesting artwork in the museum

Along with a  free exhibits, they're always offering special traveling exhibits for a small fee--like this Van Gogh exhibit.

The St. Louis Zoo in Forest Park is rightfully recognized as a leading zoo in animal management, research, conservation, and education. Admission is free although there is a fee for the train, childrens zoo and a few of the special shows. It's 90 acres is home to 24,000 exotic animals, many of them rare and endangered.   They are constantly renovating the habitats and making it a much better place for the animals to live.
The not yet built 40,000-square-foot McDonnell Polar Bear Point will more than double the zoo’s previous polar bear habitat, which closed in 2009 after the last St. Louis polar bear died.  The new habitat is projected to open in 2015 and have a 22 ' viewing window, an Arctic cave room, a 50,000 gallon saltwater pool.    Here's the previous habitat.
 The Primate House was renovated in 1977.   The original Spanish-style architecture of the 1929 structure was preserved, but the animal enclosures were completely redesigned. The traditional barred cages lining the walls were updated to large exhibits with colorful murals, rock formations, branches, ropes and live plants.  They even created extensive outdoor areas for the apes to hang out in. 
 Sea Lion Sound is it's newest large renovation and combines the popular Sea Lion Basin and Sea Lion Show in a 1.5-acre spectacular new exhibit right in the heart of the Zoo.  There's even a 35 foot long underwater viewing tunnel where visitors can see the sea lions swimming around.
 Big Cat Country takes the form of a large wheel. Three large open yards, almost one-third of an acre each, have trees and shrubs, boulders and a pool. The center yard has a 27-foot-high waterfall. There are four smaller yards that provide excellent viewing or photographing of the climbing cats.  This photo with the chain link fence doesn't show off the impressive realistic looking big cat habitat.

For a few weeks around Halloween, they even sponsor "Boo at the Zoo" in the evenings for a fee.  No candy handed out to the kids, but it is a pretty spooky place then.
Here at Post-Dispatch Lake you can rent a paddle boat just outside of the Boathouse Restaurant.  Paddling around the lake is a great way to work off a great lunch from the restaurant.
Another picture of the art museum as seen from the paddle boats in the Grand Basin.
Looking down towards the Great Basin from the Art Museum.
  Another interesting area in Forest Park is the World's Fair Pavilian on Government Hill.  It was built in 1909 with proceeds from the 1904 World's Fair and is an open air shelter used for meetings and receptions. 
A view from the top of Government Hill by the World's Fair Pavilian.
 America's oldest and largest outdoor musical theater, simply know as The Muny, is also in Forest Park.  Construction on it began in 1917 and was built in 49 days.  It's orchestra pit holds 200 musicians and the amphitheater seats 11,000 people---1,500 of which are given away for free on a first come first serve basis every performance.  Currently they show 7 shows here during the summer.   It can get very hot in the evenings here, but they do have large fans mounted above to move air around.

Another interesting museum in Forest Park is the Missouri History Museum.  It, too, is free except for special exhibits and is a great place to also get help with genealogical research. 

During early and late summer, they even have concerts on the front lawn ---called Twilight Tuesdays.  Local bands, but very good ones, like Dogs of Society-a Tribute to Elton John--are the free entertainment.  We saw them in 2014 and they were "brilliant".
The new craze in 2014 is all the food trucks, so where there are a lot of people hanging out outdoors, there are now food trucks, like here by the Twilight Tuesday concert.

There are also miles of biking and walking paths throughout the park.

Relatively new to the city of St. Louis is the Citygarden. It is located in downtown St. Louis, between 8th Street to the east and 10th Street to the west, and Chestnut Street to the north and Market Street to the south and is also free.
One of the 24 pieces of sculptures within the Citygarden.
Another Citygarden sculpture.
Also downtown near the baseball stadium is Kenner Plaza.

During Cardinal season many rallies are held at Kenner Plaza.
They even color the fountain during special occasions, like our Cardinals' frequent trips to the post-season.
Another view of Kenner Plaza from farther west on the Plaza.


The Plaza makes for an interesting place to shoot wedding pictures, too.

St Louis has the best sports fans! Here's where our beloved Cardinals play their home games--the new Busch Stadium as seen from the outside.

And the inside.
Back downtown is where the Gateway Arch National Park is. The grounds around the Arch have great views of the city to the West and the Mississippi River to the East.
The memorial site includes a 91-acre park along the Mississippi River. Here is one of the many walkways within the park.
The Arch was built between 1963 and 1965 and stands 630 feet tall and 630 feet wide at its base. Underneath the Arch is a visitor center, entered from a descending outdoor ramp starting at either base. Within the center is the Museum of Westward Expansion with exhibits on the history of the St. Louis riverfront.
There are even speakers in the museum.
  A unique tram ride takes visitors to the top of the Arch for an interesting view of the city. Wandering around the grounds and the museum are free, but the tram ride has a fee of $10/adult or $5/child and the theatre shows are $4 and $2 respectively.  But the tram is definately not for the claustrophobic!
The grounds around the Arch are beautiful, too.
 Another interesting way to view the city scape is by a replica steamboat cruise.

There is a road that runs along the Missouri River at the base of these Arch steps, but we frequently have periods of high flooding. Usually not as bad as shown here in the floods of 1993, but enough that there are flood walls that have to be closed often. Note the flags in the water--that's the other side of the road.  The pedestrians are standing about half way up the steps from the road.  That's quite a bit of flooding!



This is a view of the city from the windows in the top of the Arch before the old Busch stadium was torn down and the new Busch stadium was built. To the left of the stadium is Highway 40/64. The new stadium comes just to the north of the highway. At the bottom right of the picture is the old courthouse with Kenner plaza behind it. The new court house sits a few blocks west.
It was interesting going to the games while the new stadium was being built and seeing it engulfing the old stadium.  Half of the old stadium grounds are now part of the new stadium.  The other half is now a parking lot.  (now in 2014 they finally have Ball Park Village built by the new stadium instead of the parking lot.  I haven't been over to see it yet.)
Another popular place near down town is St. Louis Union Station.  It is  a National Historic Landmark and was a passenger train terminal. Once the world's largest and busiest train station, it was converted in the early 1980s into a luxury hotel, shopping center, and entertainment complex.
Inside the St. Louis Union Station Hotel.  Today, the Grand Hall continues to awe visitors as the a lobby and lounge area.
Near Union Station is the old City Hall  building.  As St. Louis expanded, the city hall was moved further west of downtown to its present location in 1904. St. Louis City Hall, still in use, was designed in the  Renaissance Revival style reminiscent of the Hotel de Ville in Paris, France.

St. Louis is also home to the St. Louis RAm's whose home field is the Edward Jones dome.

 Although they have had a tough few years lately, most of us fondly remember the "Greatest Show on Turf" back when Warner was our quarterback.
We also fondly remember several "Big Mac" seasons with Mark McGwire.
In 1938, the Soldier's Memorial Military Museum opened in downtown St. Louis. This is another free gem.
Just west and north of the city is the eclectic Delmar Loop.  It is an entertainment, cultural and restaurant district in University City and the western edge of St. Louis.  In 2007, the American Planning Association named the Delmar Loop "One of the 10 Great Streets in America."  The Loop is the home of the St. Louis Walk of Fame, a series of brass plaques embedded in the sidewalk along Delmar Boulevard commemorating famous St. Louisans such as Chuck Berry, Miles Davis and Tina Turner, actor John Goodman, and bridge-builder James Eades.   But it has had it's troubles with bunches of youths getting out of control.  

 The Varsity Theater and the Tivoli showed first-run movies.  Opening in 1924, the Tivoli  is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
 The Pageant on The Loop, is St. Louis's premier midsize concert hall. It hosts touring national acts in pop, indie rock, hip-hop, jazz, blues, and more---and is very busy.
 For the record crowd, Vintage Vinyl is the place to go for thousands of new and used LPs.  It's also where my daughter met her future husband---a wonderful encounter that was!
Although we do like to go to The Loop for the wide variety of great restaurants and entertainment, it has had it's troubles when groups of youths in extraordinary numbers sometimes congregating there and getting into mischief.  Keep aware if you go here and don't go if "kids" are congregating.



In St. Louis's west county, Faust Park has the Butterfly House. Admission is $6 (or free with the Missouri Botanical Garden membership), but it's a great place to spend a cold winter day.
 The site includes an outdoor butterfly garden and two large sculptures by St. Louis sculptor Robert Cassilly.
Some of the many species of butterflies in the Butterfly house.


Also in Faust park is a building with the St. Louis carousel in it.   Built around 1920 by the Dentzel Company of Philadelphia, the carousel is composed of more than 60 exquisitely hand-carved horses and deer. The carousel was a fixture at the St. Louis Highlands amusement park on Oakland Avenue near Forest Park. The amusement park burned down in 1963, but the carousel was rescued and later purchased by Howard C. Ohlendorf who donated it to St. Louis County.  Now it's housed here and for a small fee it can be riden.

Faust park is also home to Faust Village.  It preserves the area's architecture and history. The village consists of four homes and multiple other structures including a schoolhouse, carriage house, blacksmith shop, along with period gardens. Spanning a period from 1840 to 1888, the Village illustrates differences in lifestyle resulting from both technological developments and special needs. The Historic Village is open on the last two weekends in May, June and July when historical reenactors in period costume provide tours and a variety of demonstrations. The buildings can be viewed from the outside using a free self-guided tour booklet available at the Seed Visitor Center.

Another lesser known museum in St. Louis's west county is the Museum of Transportation. Admission is $6. Here there are a lot of trains, cars, and other vehicles. Hasn't been too crowded the couple times I've been there.

More of the many trains at the Museum of Transportation.

A rather unusual park on the out skirts of St. Louis is Laumeier Sculpture Park.  Most of the sculptures are contemporary.  The building shown here is also a museum, although it's closed right now (Oct. 2013) for renovations.



???!!!!

About 30 minutes out of St. Louis is 6-Flags over Mid-America. Even if you're not a theme park fan you gotta love the landscaping.


If you're a roller coaster fan, there are several coasters at 6-Flags.

South county is home to Grant's Farm, the 281 acre ancestral home of the Busch family. The Farm is home to more than 900 animals representing more than 100 different species. Ulysses S. Grant actually founded and farmed a portion of the 281 acres in the 1850's. This attraction is also free.  There is a free trolley ride that takes you on sort of a safari ride through the grounds where elk, buffalo, zebra, deer and antelope, (and other animals) play.


Along with the animals roaming freely that you can see from the trolley, they have animals you can get close to.  They even have a small amphitheater where they have cute animal shows.

There are stables on property where many of the Clydesdales are kept.  This time there was even a baby one for us to see.  Across from the "farm" is a museum and large pastures where the Clydesdales are allowed to roam when they aren't in stables.

We also have our share of casinos.  Here are just a couple of them.
With more than 2000 slot machines, 55 table games and a dedicated poker room, there's something for everybody at Lumiere Place down town by the arch (that's the arch reflection in the glass).

Up in north west county (St. Charles), there's the Ameristar.  This picture was taken from a bike trail I frequent on the other side of the Missouri River.  Very near this casino is Harrah's Casinos at Riverport.
Believe it or not, we even have several wineries just outside of St. Louis county.
Another attraction a short distance from St. Louis is Crystal City Underground.  It's about 30 minutes south of St. Louis and is one of Missouri's many mines.  Once a silica mine for making glass, Crystal City Underground is about a square mile in size.  Now it's being used as a convention and recreational facility.  Volleyball and disc golf are a couple of the sports played there. There's also a play ground called Treasure Hunters where kids can dig for treasures.   There's even a 150 acre lake in there, too, formed by artesian water.  We went here to take the barge ride in the lake.  It was neat tour and a nice break from our summer temperatures.
 Would probably be a nice place to play volleyball.  At about 55 degrees, wouldn't have to worry about getting too hot!
 From the barge heading back to the dock.
 The barge we took the 35-45 minute tour on.  It even had a propane heater lamp for those who needed a little warming.


You can't come to St. Louis without checking out a few of their gastronomic landmarks! 

Ted Drewes has been selling frozen custard and Christmas trees since 1931.  They're so good they've received offers to franchise, but they say they never will because franchising could lead to mediocrity.

 Gus' Pretzel is a pretzel bakery that opened in 1920 and is still going strong.   From pretzel sticks, to twists, to endz, to cinnamon-sugar or garlic-butter, to ones stuffed with bratwurst, salsiccia or hot dogs, to sandwiches made from pretzels instead of bread---they're hard to pass up.


Soulard Farmers Market is open year round, Wed. - Sat.  It got it's start in 1779 and is still going strong.  They feature locally grown and shipped in goods such as produce, meats, cheeses, spices, flowers, baked goods, ... .  There's even a pet shop and severl eateries on the market.


 If you love Italian food, there's a neighborhood teeming with great Italian restaurants and markets known simply as The Hill.  Italiam immigrants settled in the area, including Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola, Sr.  Soon restaurants and other Italian businesses sprouted up in the area.  One of our favorite restaurants here is Cunetto's.  Their Bistecca Soto is delizioso!

Another interesting ST. Louis restuarant in the Bevo Mill.  It was designed in the style of Dutch and German windmills and was built in 1916.  Unfortunately it's had a tough time staying open lately, but it is open for Sunday Brunch now.
Sunday brunch at the Bevo Mill.
Another landmark of St. Louis is the Crown Candy Kitchen, although expect to have to wait to get in---notice the line on the right and this was on a day when it was over 105 degrees!  They've been featured on the travel channel or food channel for their milk shakes and BLTs, but everything there is great.  And, yes, they do make homemade candy, too.

A fast food place that has gotten an interesting reputation in the mid west for it's little burgers and their steamed somewhat soggy buns is White Castle.  Everyone should try at least one!

I figure I have a pretty good start on my St. Louis blog.  I'll try to update it from time to time.

Just over the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers north of the city is another landmark eatery that everyone in St. Louis knows about---Fast Eddie's.  In 1921 Anheuser Busch opened a bar in Alton, Illinois. About ten years later, Busch had to sell the tavern due to a change in the statutes, which prohibited breweries from owning drinking establishments. In 1981,Eddie Sholar (alias Fast Eddie) purchased the bar became known as Fast Eddies Bon-Air.  In the twenty plus years that Fast Eddie has owned Bon-Air, it has quadrupled in size going from 80 chairs to over 400 chairs.  They even have live music on weekends. A food bar serves an assortment of grilled burgers, shish-kabobs, bratwurst and boiled shrimp all sold at the same low prices as when they were added nineteen years ago---which is quite a buy! (no doggie bags permitted, though).



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