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Archive for August, 2013

            Continuing on with my series on cities, St Louis is another Midwestern city with so much to offer.    I think sometimes my travelers get tired of me saying “the rivers were the roads.”  But it is oh so true, especially in the case of this city known as the “Gateway To The West.”
            St. Louis began as a trading post in 1764.  Why?  Wait…let me digress.  The Mound Builders (who I talked about with Memphis) were actually here from the 800s to 1400s.  But in the 1700s, the French came right up the Mississippi River from New Orleans.  Although both the French and Spanish governed the area, the town became part of the U.S. in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.  That is when the rivers became a very important aspect of this area.
            Imagine in 1803 when Louis and Clark set out on their journey.  No one knew what lay west beyond the Mississippi.  They took the Ohio River going by Louisville to the Mississippi.  Then when they reached that river, they went north.  Just past St. Louis flows the Missouri River, and the rest as they say “was history.”
            Then in the later 1800s, German and Italian immigrants settled in large numbers, including Adolphus Busch who married Anheuser’s daughter and joined his father-in-law’s brewery as a salesman.  Eventually he became president and co-founder of what became known as Budweiser.
            One of the best known areas in St. Louis is the Hill.  We actually went to dinner there on tour once and ate at a wonderful Italian restaurant.  The Art Museum and Science Center can also be found in this area and the fire hydrants are painted the colors of Italy’s flag.  Noted for the Italian grocery stores, bakeries and restaurants, it was also home to two baseball giants—Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola.
            In the downtown is Busch Stadium where the Cardinals play, historic Union Station with a Hyatt hotel and specialty shops and restaurant, the old courthouse where the Dred Scott decision was decided—could a slave owner take his slave to a free state and still own the slave: (YES), and the old Cathedral.
         When anyone thinks of St. Louis, they immediately think of the Arch. But there is so much more there.  The whole area is called the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.  Why Jefferson?  He sent Lewis and Clark on their journey.  There was a national competition in 1947-48 and Eero Saarinen’s 630 foot stainless steel arch was chosen as a monument to the spirit of the western pioneers.  Construction was started in 1963 and completed in Oct 1965 at a $15 million cost.  The foundations are sunk 60 feet and built to withstand earthquakes (the New Madrid fault is just down the road) and it can sway up to one inch in a 20 mph wind.  It is built to sway 18 inches so high winds don’t bother it.   Although I always have some passengers who won’t go up even when the wind isn’t blowing.
            The Museum of Western Expansion is located underneath and it is self guided and free although there are Park Rangers there to answer questions.  There is an extensive collection of Native American artifacts and an overview of Lewis & Clark’s journey west.  There is also an IMAX theater but the big draw is the tram ride to the top.  11,000 people can ride to the top in a 14 hour day.  There are 16 tram cars that hold 5 people and you watch the inside concrete walls as you go to the top.  Once there you can look out some small windows over the entire city.  You feel a little sway when you first get out of the pods, but the trip up to the top is definitely worth it.
            Another must to visit is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.  We actually had a guide which really helped to understand what we were seeing inside the church.  Construction began in 1907 and was completed in 1914.  But the inside with very intricate mosaics took 75 years to finish in many different red and gold colors.  Over 20 artists worked on the mosaics that tell Biblical stories from the Old and New Testament.
            An interesting fact about the city is how important education was to the people living there.  In the 1870’s, the first continuous public kindergarten opened.  And both St Louis University (Catholic) and Washington University, which has had many Nobel prize winners, are located here.
            I have only touched on some of the things to see and do in St. Louis.  You could spend a few days here and not be bored.  But what would you expect from a city where a doctor in 1890 invented peanut butter by mashing peanuts and at the world’s fair in 1904 the ice cream cone was invented (the owner of the stand ran out of dishes & borrowed a nearby vendor’s waffles) and also ice tea was first served.
            Give St. Louis a try.  If you go in summer, you might catch a baseball game while eating a hot dog and drinking a Budweiser.
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