Monday, June 18, 2012

A Missouri Vacation With Kids: St. Louis

I would suggest:

Let your dear husband drive the five or so hours through the Illinois farmlands, since you are going to be parenting solo this week after he takes the train back to Chicago on Sunday night. 

Catch a thrilling glimpse of the arch from the east side of the river just before a landfill obscures your view. Gawk again as you cross one of the bridge spanning the Mississippi. The immensity and the perfection of the shape are best appreciated close up, but you can't beat this first look on the edge of the city.

Find the Boathouse Forest Park restaurant from suggestions online and sigh with contentment because sipping iced tea at the edge of a lagoon in the middle of acres of parkland that hosted the 1904 World's Fair where the first glass of iced tea ever was served is just what you need after hours in the car. Love the tilapia Reuben. Get your daughter a local Fitz's root beer and make her day.

Stay at the Chase Park Plaza, from dear friend Gretchen's recommendation. Know this was the place for us from the moment you spied Sammy Davis Jr. (one of dear husband's favs) on the website. Enjoy their pool and the idea of their movie theater, although we will wait to see "Polka-dot-polka-dot-polka-dot-Afro!" on a less jam-packed weekend.

Learn that the official name of the Arch and its environs is the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, although Thomas Jefferson never set foot in St. Louis and this mouthful has about enough resonance as "The Willis Tower."

Make reservations online and get to the Arch early in the day. The lines grow odiously long and there is much to see: the visitor's center has two theaters and a museum and plenty of exhibits about the Finnish architect Eero Saarinen. Try and fail to say his name without thinking of The Lord of the Rings. Marvel at the genius of the man who married massiveness and simplicity to create grace and inspiration; grieve that he died of cancer before seeing his masterpiece completed.

Find yourself underground in the dark bunker that houses the Western Expansion museum, staring at an ax-hewn handcart with wooden wheels and freak at the contrast of its rough form with the sleek modernity arching 630 feet overhead. Link the effort to build the marvel of this structure with the pioneers' arduous journey to the West. Feel the perfect symbolism for the soaring ambition that kept those pioneers taking one dusty step after another.

 Five people fit inside!

Delight in the 1960's version of cutting edge modernity: the round yellow elevator capsules with atmospheric lighting that clank and clink their way to the top.

Feel a bit claustrophobic in the narrow room at the top but gape at the 30 mile view through the tiny windows. Shiver when you learn those windows are necessarily small because over 500 pounds of pressure was needed to jack apart the two legs of the arch to fit in the final triangular piece at the top and larger windows would shatter.

 Back down on the ground, stare and stare and walk and stare at the beauty from every angle, at the curves against the sky, at the surreal curved shadow on the lawn, at the amazing play of light on the stainless steel, at the beautiful angles of the triangular walls. Lay down on the pavement at the base and put your feet on the wall to feel the sensation of walking up a silver road into the sky.

Take a boat ride on the Mississippi and a bike ride along its banks.

"It's wiggly!" said Nora of the City Museum's suspended Slinky, spooking her vertiginous momma.

Find the City Museum and spend, like hours, freaking out over this special and amazing place until you figure out after wandering room after bizarro room of pinball game collections and decorated turtle tanks and multi-floored slides and hidey holes that it's not really a museum after all, but an art installation built of architectural artifacts found within the city limits and repurposed for active play. Recall Gaudi and the Watts Towers and Wisconsin's freak show House on the Rock.

Kiss Daddy goodbye at the train station and luck into the City Diner just by driving around. Scarf up a really good vegetarian eggs Bennie with some of the fantastic housemade salsa. Giggle at the Barbie collection displayed in the hall (complete with Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds Barbie and Punk Rock Barbie) and wish the Matchbook slotcar racing set in the window sill had newer batteries. Vow to come back soon to this great river city.

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