Christmas in St. Louis

December 2014 (so says Captain Obvious)

St. Louis, Missouri. One of those cities that I have heard about but never had a reason to visit until just recently. Kathy is from St. Louis and her family still lives there. After spending Thanksgiving at the beach we agreed to spend Christmas in her home town. Oh, geez, time to meet the parents!

Kathy’s birthday is a couple of days before Christmas and also happened to be the day we flew from Austin to St. Louis. After arriving in her hometown we were greeted by sister #1 at the airport. We were whisked off to meet her parents at a St. Louis Bread Company location, where we enjoyed a lovely meal. And that evening we went to a very nice brewery to celebrate Kathy’s birthday with her best friend who was in town for the holidays. The trip was off to a very nice start!

Christmas Eve found me working away at a St. Louis Bread Company location as well as a local Starbucks. I had to work. Kathy didn’t. So she did the social thing as I slaved away. The sacrifices one makes! 😉

Christmas Eve dinner was spent at Kathy’s parents with only her immediate family in attendance. I met sister #2 then and enjoyed getting to know the entire family. I managed to contain my nervousness and feel that I fit in pretty well.

Christmas dinner was at an Aunt and Uncle’s house with the entire extended family in presence. This annual tradition rotates between houses and this apparently was a banner year for attendance. I was a bit overwhelmed to say the least, but managed to hang in there and spent some time getting to know her dad, brother in law, and siblings.

Forest Park

Forest Park is a rather large (1371 acres) park that is a St. Louis landmark. Housing the St. Louis Zoo, several museums, and the site of the 1904 World’s Fair and the 1904 Summer Olympics. There was also a whole bunch of other neat stuff contained there. So in the quest to introduce me to her city, Kathy wanted to make sure I got the grand tour of the park.

So we jogged (which means I tried to keep up with Kathy and was sometimes successful) around the park, hitting some of the landmarks. Let me tell you, that place is huge! Just to put it into perspective, it is 40% larger than New York’s Central Park which I have visited and thought that place was rather large.

Dinosaurs in forest park. Oh my!

Dinosaurs in Forest Park. Oh my!

We didn’t spend nearly enough time in Forest Park to see anything in detail, but it was a great introduction to the facility.

Old Chain of Rocks Bridge

I have a habit of checking out what there is to do in an area via the TripAdvisor app. Seems like a logical thing to do when I am unfamiliar with an area. One of the things I discovered in the St. Louis Area is the Chain of Rocks Bridge which was part of Route 66. An active vehicle bridge crossing the Mississippi River from 1929 to 1970, it languished for years until finally being turned into a pedestrian and biking bridge with the 1998 lease to a local trails group.

The Chain of Rocks Bridge has a very unique feature. It has a 22 degree bend in the middle which is there to allow the bridge to be over more stable bedrock its entire length, and to appease riverboat men who feared it would impede navigation. Whatever reason the bend is there, it certainly makes for a unique experience.

We jogged and walked the mile bridge, starting at the Illinois side, crossing over to Missouri, and back again. Along the way there is Route 66 memorabilia that was interesting to check out. But more interesting were the two old water intake towers for St. Louis city water. The living/working quarters were designed to look like castles, which makes for interesting viewing in the middle of the Mississippi River.

North St. Louis

On the way back from the Chain of Rocks Bridge en route to our next destination, I was following Google Maps and turned off the freeway into what turned out to be North St. Louis. Kathy was a bit alarmed at my choice of routes and for good reason. Turns out North St. Louis is not the best parts of town for white folk to be cruising through, but what an eye-opening experience it was.

It is one thing to see rundown parts of town on TV and it is a whole other thing to experience them in person. There would be stretches of abandoned homes and businesses and then a little oasis of what appeared to be a pretty nice neighborhood. It was sad and depressing. Now I see how something like Ferguson can happen. And then as quickly as we were in it, we drove out of it. Literally one block you are in the ‘hood and the next block you are driving past condos with Range Rovers parked out front. Very surreal.

Bob Kramer’s Marionnettes

The destination that caused us to take the tour of North St. Louis was Bob Kramer’s Marionnettes, which is a holiday tradition for Kathy’s family. Definitely geared towards the not yet old enough to drink or even go the park alone crowd, it was very interesting to see the marionettes in action.

We were given a brief demonstration of how marionettes are made and then it was on with the show. It was neat to see the little ones being brought up on stage to interact with the performers.  Overall a good time was had by both young and young at heart.

Gateway Arch

What would a trip be to St. Louis without a trip to the Gateway Arch? Built as a monument to the westward expansion of the US (yeah, cause looking at it screams that), the arch is the world’s tallest, as well as being the holder of several other impressive stats.

Kathy and I visited the Gateway Arch with one of her sisters, her brother in law, and a niece. We explored the underground museum which is part of the National Expansion Memorial run by the National Parks Service, as well as checked out the various relief carvings spanning the walls. Loved the carvings!

The trip to the top is not for the claustrophobic. The journey starts several stories below either leg of the arch where you enter a five-seat cylinder that is part of an eight cylinder chain. With just a small window on one end to view what little of the inside of the arch that you can see, you are rocked and jostled during the four minute ride to the top and again in the three minute ride to the bottom. It was a very cool ride!

Once at the top you can spend as much time as you wish on the observation deck, 630 feet up in the air. You can lean out over a shelf to peer out small (7” x 27”) windows lining either side (16 per side) of the observation deck giving you great views of St. Louis to one side and the Mississippi River and Illinois to the other side.

While I don’t normally go for all the touristy attractions, this is one that I am glad I saw. Even if I do have a small fear of heights.

Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum, Creve Coeur Airport

Anyone that has been reading my blog for more than 2 minutes knows that I am a sucker for an aviation museum. Kathy was wanting to spend some girl time with one of her sisters on the last day of our trip so I (once again) checked my TripAdvisor app (honest, they aren’t sponsoring this blog, but maybe they should be) to see if there was one last thing I should see in the St. Louis area. Sure enough, I found the Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum at the Creve Couer Airport.

The museums primary (but not exclusive) focus is on the Golden Age of Flight, which is between the years of roughly 1920 to 1939. The museum has four hangars full of aircraft, many of them built in the area and there are a whole bunch of beauties!

It was well worth the drive and the $10 to see some amazing antique aircraft.

Food

One of the joy’s of traveling to a new area is the opportunity to check out regional cuisine. Most of the time I look for great little local places that will give me the flavor of the region. Sometimes I end up eating, um, not so well. This was the case in St. Louis where the regional cuisine helped me add on a few pounds.

I went to the aforementioned St. Louis Bread Company a couple of times. Of course, in the rest of the country, this is known as Panera Bread. However, in a convoluted way that only corporate buyouts can take, St. Louis Bread Company was bought out by another company that greatly increased sales at St. Louis Bread Company locations, renamed the company Panera Bread, and is now has locations in 45 states. However, the locations in the St. Louis area still go by the name St. Louis Bread Company, yet they really are Panera Bread stores. Confused yet?

St. Louis was my first (an most likely last) White Castle experience. Not sure how I got talked into it, but I had the “pleasure” of eating a couple of White Castle (they are on the small side) burgers. Can’t say as that was the most memorable food experience I have ever had.

Imo’s Pizza is another St. Louis institution that apparently I needed to experience. Um, yeah, OK, not sure how much more of this regional food I can take before I gain 40 pounds. It was good pizza. Definitely not great. Not feeling the urge to visit again (though I am sure I will be talked into it sometime in the future).

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard is one St. Louis institution I could get behind cause they produce some VERY tasty frozen custard. Located on a stretch of old Route 66, Ted Drewes has been around since 1929 and is one of those iconic places one must visit. Just be prepared to run a 10k afterwards to work off the calories.

Strangely enough we didn’t get any barbecue even though it certainly exists there.

St. Louis. A city I never had on my bucket list, but one I am glad Kathy took me to. It is actually a neat place to visit and I look forward to returning for round two of exploring, and eating

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