Monday, July 29, 2013

Getaway to St. Louis

My summer vacation is quickly coming to an end.  I consider this my last full week of freedom as next week I will ease into the academic routine by cleaning up syllabi and revising a few assignments.  The following week teachers will report to school and I am sure to have several meetings scheduled here and there.  Then the 2013/2014 school year will begin on Wednesday, August 21.

So, as a final celebration my husband and I took a long weekend trip to St. Louis.  It is an easy four hour drive across I-70, which allows us to feel as though we truly get away without feeling as though we spend the entire time in the car.  We first discovered the value of a St. Louis vacation three years ago as we were looking for an inexpensive way to celebrate our anniversary.  Since that time, we try to return at least once a year.  I thought I might share some of our favorite spots for any of you who may wish to visit this "Gateway to the West" some day.

While we did not visit the St. Louis Zoo this time, it is definitely at the top of my "must see" list.  The zoo is free to the public, although the convenient parking lot does charge $15 per car (an expense that we gladly pay as the alternative, on-the-street parking, is nothing short of a nightmare.  We did discover that a Trolley system runs throughout Forest Park, which allows unlimited rides for $2.00 - a fee that we will take advantage of the next time we are in town).

The zoo is easy to navigate and most animals are housed in a "natural habitat" environment.  My favorite exhibit is the Penguin igloo... where the tuxedoed birds are allowed to strut their stuff to the merriment of onlookers.   A close second favorite, however, is the Prairie Dog exhibit, where the furry rodents are constantly scurrying from burrow to burrow playing hide-and-go-seek with one another.  This year the zoo opened a new Sea Lion exhibit that I am sure will become my new "favorite" attraction.

The next time we visit the area, I think we will plan a full day's itinerary in the Forest Park complex.  From the zoo we will probably catch the trolley and enjoy a lovely lunch at the Boathouse Restaurant which is situated in a serene setting next to the lake where pedal boats may be rented for a leisurely ride on the water.  After lunch (I think the salmon BLT sounds quite yummy...) we will once again catch the trolley and take it to the St. Louis Art Museum, which is also free to the public and houses quite an impressive collection.  However, I am most anxious to visit next spring when the Impressionist France:  Visions of Nation from Le Gray to Monet will be showing.

This particular trip we visited several sights for the first time.  One of the highlights was to see a baseball game at Busch Stadium.  Let me tell you.... Cardinals' fans take their baseball seriously!  Hundreds of people in a sea of red were waiting outside the gates at 3:30 for a 6:10 game.  So after a quick walk around the stadium we went inside to watch the opposing team, the Philadelphia Phillies, batting practice.  We could not have asked for more perfect weather:  sunny, slight breeze, and a high of 84 degrees (in the middle of July?!).  And as an added bonus... It was Christmas in July at the ball game which meant Christmas carols were played between each inning and a festive spirit was everywhere.  I happen to enjoy baseball, so I have a feeling we will be going to at least one Cards game a year from now on.

I also saw the Gateway Arch for the first time and it is truly stunning.  Located deep in the heart of the city but on the water's edge, the arch was quite spectacular set against the bright blue sky.  We did not venture to the top, but we did take a one-hour river boat cruise aboard the paddleboat, Tom Sawyer, that took us about thirty minutes north on the Old Mississippi and then back again.  It was another fantastic weather day and the boat ride was the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning.

Instead of the zoo, we decided to visit Grant's Farm this trip.  This 280-acre farm, located in the middle of a bustling metropolitan suburb, was the home to Ulysses S Grant and is now home to the World famous Clydesdale horses as well as many other species of wild animals.  There is no cost of admission, but parking is $12 per car.  There is a required tram ride that takes you through the safari-like setting of the outskirts of the land where the large animals roam free, and then it lets you off in the interior where petting zoo animals reside as well as other interesting creatures such as the wallaby, lemurs, peacocks, and my favorite, the American Bald Eagle.  While I would say this is definitely an attraction that is worth a visit, especially for young children, I would also say that once is enough.

But the true highlight of our visits to St. Louis is the opportunity to go back in time ... and visit the Little Italy of the midwest.  Fondly known as The Hill.... this approximately six square block area is as close to the "old country" as we have seen since living on the east coast.  Pride in their Italian heritage is evident at every corner where the fire hydrants are painted in the familiar green, white, and red of the national flag.  The small row houses, which consist of a modest 2-3 bedrooms, kitchen, living room, bathroom, and front porch ... are well maintained with an individual personality reflecting its owners: some have beautiful flowers blooming in hanging baskets, others have decorative bird baths, and most have some statue of the Virgin Mary.

There are numerous restaurants that offer authentic Italian cuisine in comfortable, unpretentious surroundings; and there are two Italian delicatessens (Viviano and Sons and  DiGregorio's Market) where we go to stock up on essential ingredients such as cans of olive oil, shaved parmesan cheese, and anchovy paste.  The last stop of every visit is the Missouri Baking company.... a rather domestic name for the most authentic Italian cookies and pastries found anywhere.  While cannolis and panettones can be found at most any Italian bakery, this small establishment also offers such unique items as sfogliatelles and traditional Italian cookies which are sold by the pound:  the heavier cookies (such as biscotti) are on the bottom shelf and should first be selected to go in the one pound box, with each row of cookies being a little less heavy and more delicate to place on top.  This always provides us with a tasty snack for the four hour trip back home.

1 comment:

  1. My brother recently moved from St. Louis (actually St. Charles) to Denver after living in St. Louis for 20 or so years.

    I went back to visit him only once during that time, to attend the wedding of one of his daughters. He took us to Hannibal and some other areas. We saw the arch, but I didn't know about Little Italy. I wish I had. I'd love to check out some of that Italian food and pastries.