St Louis, MO - Nov 16-17
Nov 17, 2011
|November 16, 2011
We got up around 8:30 and after packing and having a quick breakfast at the hotel we hit the road for St. Louis. The drive was just over 3 hours and there seemed to be lots of trucks on the road today and every one wanted to pass another truck. It certainly slowed the traffic down a bit but we made it to St Louis about lunchtime. We also found petrol for under $3 a gallon for the first time!;
We drove directly to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery and found out what times there tours were and found that we had about 45 minutes until the next one. We found a bar called Tuckers for lunch and there we were able to try the local Schlafly Beers. Elizabeth tried the Kolsch and I tried the pale ale. I got a really good burger with pepper jack cheese & Elizabeth tried one of the local specialities, toasted ravioli. This is literally meat ravioli, lightly coated and fried and covered in marinara sauce. They weren’t my thing but Elizabeth enjoyed them!
We were just able to catch the start of the brewery tour, joining it right at the introduction. There were plenty of your Bud loving Americans on the tour although I found it hard to take it seriously when they kept talking about their amazing flavour beer. We got to see their wonderful Clydesdale horses and some of the Dalmatians they had on site. The brewery had some chandeliers from the 1904 World’s Fair and the old buildings were really interesting, much more so than the thought of a free sample of Bud Light! Some of the buildings were art deco style and the glazed tiles decorating them were really cool, including some of Bevo the fox! We got to go inside the packaging plant and it was unbelievable watching the sheer volume of cans and bottles whizzing around. The walk on the tour was not very far but we still had to take a trolley ride back to the tasting room. We were surprised by the range of beers on offer and we actually got to try two new beers. The first was the Shock Top Belgian White but despite the Belgian influence it was still quite tasteless. The second sample we had was an Amber Bock and this was even worse and just had no taste. We might as well have been drinking water. There were lots of cool souvenirs at the gift shop including some old steins but I settled for a smaller glass. The souvenirs were way more impressive than the beers but we didn’t want to buy too much given we don’t even like Budweiser!
We drove to our hotel which was a bit of a splurge for us and was really central in St Louis. In fact, it was so central we had a view of the Gateway Arch from our window. After a few days of being on the road and feeling like we were non-stop I took a nap before we went to the hotel bar for the free drinks and food that they offered each night. We were allowed to get 3 drinks each and we went for gin & tonics. The food was quite decent too and I was able to get a couple of baked potatoes with chilli and Elizabeth had some nachos and a hot dog! We decided to have a quick walk around outside to get some views and pictures of the arch at night. It was so close that it didn’t take us too long to stroll around the park and we were soon back in the room. We’d found out that one of the clubs here hosts a Chuck Berry performance once a month and that he was due to play tomorrow night but of course by the time we looked it had completely sold out. This was even worse when we noticed that one of our friends on Facebook was going and we weren’t!
November 17, 2011
We got up around 8:30 and had breakfast in the hotel. They had a decent selection for breakfast but it was really busy at the hotel. The hotel was obviously setup for conferences and there were plenty of people getting in the way with name badges on!
We walked out to see the St Louis Rams football stadium and on the way we passed by the Old Courthouse, which we actually had great views of from our hotel room. It was here that the Dred Scott case was tried about the legality of slavery. The football stadium is inside a dome and from the outside we couldn’t tell it was any kind of stadium, looking more like a large advertising board for various beers, banks and insurance companies amongst other things. We walked to the St Louis Cardinals baseball stadium after that and there we saw a large board showcasing their 10 World Series wins. It hadn’t been updated for their 11th win which came just this year against the Texas Rangers. It was a cool old stadium and even though I don’t like baseball it was quite impressive.
From there we looped back around and headed to the arch. We’d read that it was open at 10am but when we got there it had obviously opened earlier but thankfully it wasn’t busy as we were definitely out of season! We took some pictures outside of the amazing structure and then went inside and bought our tickets. We got a combo ticket which included a film about the building of the arch as well as a ride up to the viewing tower. The arch is 630feet tall and is a monument to the western expansion across the United States. The Gateway Arch was originally designed by a Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel in 1947. Construction began on February 12, 1963 and ended on October 28, 1965, costing US$13 million. The monument opened to the public on June 10, 1967. The arch was amazingly completed on time, within budget and without any loss of life. The original plans had expected 13 workers would die during construction! The arch is made up of loads of steel triangles which are all slightly angled so as to meet in the middle. The original design was only 590ft but this had to be adjusted so that the arch would be completely stable and self-supporting. The huge stainless steel triangles were manufactured in Pittsburgh and transported here to be put into place. We watched as the triangular blocks with stainless steel plates were hoisted up into position and were amazed to see so many of the workers. They worked with no safety equipment and there was footage of them just standing half off of the arch, looking down over the edge and climbing around like it was on the floor. As the arch got higher they had to brace it to stop it collapsing on itself until it was completed. To lift the pieces into place they had to have moveable cranes on platforms which moved up and down tracks on the arch and as the arch got higher, the crane on the platform moved with it. The final piece was put into place on October 28, 1965 and actually had to be put in place quicker than they’d thought. The gap for the remaining piece was actually getting smaller as the arch heated up during the day and expanded, something the engineers hadn’t expected to be quite so drastic. The “gap” closed by a few inches and the construction workers had to spray cold water on the lower arch to try and prevent too much movement. Even so, the arch had to be pulled apart a little by a hydraulic jack for the last piece to be inserted. The arch was finally completed.
The ride to the top of the arch, to visit the viewing deck, was in a small egg-shaped capsule. It was designed for five people but even with just Elizabeth and I in there it seemed a bit of a squeeze! Given Elizabeth’s propensity to feeling a little claustrophobic of late we were glad that the 4 minute tram ride up to the observation deck was pretty quick. At the top there were little viewing windows and it was surprising how sloped the area was – I’d expected it to be flatter at the very crest of the arch. Along one side, you could see the courthouse, football dome and baseball stadium and along the other was the river and bridges which lead across the state border to Illinois which looked really industrial. It was a lovely clear day, really bright and sunny, but it was still pretty cold. Getting the tram back down, our little pod was full and especially so as one of the ladies was quite large. The guy sat opposite me was really claustrophobic and although he chatted a bit on the way down he mostly kept his head tucked down into his jacket. As we got to the end he apologized for being rude and said he was getting out first! We didn’t mind and thought it was quite funny but at least he’d not let his fear stop him from travelling to see the viewing area.
At the bottom we walked around the shops underneath the arch and bought a retro-style magnet. We decided to skip the museum there as neither of us were really interested in it and instead headed down to Union Station. Along the way we passed by several parks full of sculptures and the Christmas decorations were already going up.
Union Station is a National Historic Landmark and was built in 1894 with the design modeled after Carcassonne in France. It was the largest and busiest passenger rail terminal in the world at one point and was featured in the film “Meet Me In St Louis” featuring Judy Garland. The grand hall of the station was really cool and had a gold leaf ceiling, light green décor, Romanesque arches and a 65ft high barrel vaulted ceiling. There was even a whispering gallery and Tiffany stained glass windows depicting three women representing St. Louis, New York & San Francisco which were the three main rail terminals in the US. It was funny how New York and San Francisco looked longingly at St Louis as this was the biggest station! It was also here that Harry Truman held up the newspaper which showed Dewey beating him in the presidential election, a headline that turned out to be very wrong and became infamous. We walked around the shops and went outside to Hard Rock Café and got our now obligatory magnet.
By this point we were hungry and so we walked back towards the hotel where we had spotted a pizza place called Imo’s which is known locally for its St Louis style pizza. St Louis style pizza is a flat cracker crust with a sweet red pizza sauce and a blend of cheeses – provolone, Swiss and cheddar. We got a pepperoni, onion & green pepper one and it was really good and it was certainly a bit different to regular pizza.
Back at the hotel we jumped in the car and drove to White Haven and Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site. We watched a short film about the place and Grant’s connection to it. It was originally his wife’s childhood home and he’d visited here when he was at college with her brother. Colonel Dent, her father, considered himself a southern gentleman and created the name colonel for himself even though there aren’t any records of him serving in the army. He owned slaves and as Grant didn’t believe in having slaves it often led to disagreements. This was obviously interesting for Grant’s wife, Julia, as she had grown up believing that slaves were OK but eventually sided with her husband
The park ranger took us to the main house, White Haven, which was painted green. The colour was based on color samples found from when Grant owned the house, which he’d bought from his father in law intending to retire here after his presidency. After retiring from the army to spend time with his family, Grant farmed here for a few years and actually worked alongside the slaves and even hired “freed” workers to help him. It is also rumoured that the one slave he did have he allowed to go free when he sold the farm. He could have sold the slave to someone else but his distaste of having a slave in the first place meant he preferred to allow the man his freedom.
Inside, the house had lovely large rooms but unfortunately there was no original furniture as it was all lost in a fire. The rooms we saw included the main parlor where Grant courted Julia, the dining room, the sitting room and an indoor kitchen which was added by Grant. Around the back of the property we saw the “slave door” which was not as finished or as nice as the main entrance and was around the back of the house to remind them of their status. We also saw the outdoor kitchen, laundry room, ice house and chicken coop. Inside the old horse stables was a museum which talked about Grant’s love affair with Julia, how distraught she was after his death (she didn’t even attend his funeral), Colonel Dent’s fixation with white top hats (until they became associated with gamblers and he stopped wearing them!) and the scandals which occurred during Grant’s presidency. This included such things as being overly “loyal” to friends although he soon found out he was being taken advantage of. To ensure his family had wealth after his death he had written his memoirs and there was a copy of a book here were people had subscribed to the book before it had even been completed!
The area next to Grant’s old house was owned by Anheuser-Busch and there were a load of Clydesdale horses in the paddock by the road. We hadn’t planned on driving past this way but on telling the lady at the Grant visitor centre that we were going for frozen custard she recommended a place not too far from here and we were headed straight there! The place was called Ted Drewes and was literally a roadside building, right on the old Route 66, and there was quite a queue waiting for the tasty treats. I ordered a Cardinal Sin – vanilla frozen custard, cherries and chunky chocolate sauce – and Elizabeth had the Apple Pie – vanilla frozen custard, whipped cream and bits of apple pie. Both were really delicious although the small rather than the large serving might have been enough for us!
We drove a bit along Route 66 before turning back towards the city. The sun was going down as we drove back and so I decided to cross the river and try and get some pictures of the sun setting behind the arch. Just over the bridge, in to Illinois, we were able to park in the middle of an industrial area and ignore the “No Trespassing” signs by the railway line to get some great views of the arch and watch the sun set. It was really cool to see the sun reflecting off the shiny surface of the arch and the colours were really bright tonight. Once we got back to the hotel I popped out to take some more pictures quickly before the light disappeared and Elizabeth headed straight for the room. We hung out in the room for a bit before heading down to the bar for our free gin and tonics and food. The food wasn’t as good tonight but I wasn’t too hungry after lunch and so was satisfied with a hot dog and a baked potato. Elizabeth had a bit more as there was mac & cheese there for her plus she liked the sound of the broccoli and cheese soup which didn’t sound so good to me! After dinner we just lazed around and managed to sort out a place to have Thanksgiving dinner for when we get to Nashville.