Sunday, 8 May 2016

Gateway to the West

Today was our first full day in St. Louis, Missouri after a mammoth 22 hours on the go yesterday including a flight from Manchester to JFK, a transfer from JFK to Newark and then onwards to St. Louis with a pickup in Chicago. We had the pick of plane seats on the first leg, but after Chicago the flight was full. It's such a short flight from St. Louis to Chicago that I barely had time to drink my coffee! Fortunately the flight was generally smooth and we arrived at our hotel just after 10pm. We had a gas station supper due to the late hour (read: chicken burger and poptarts) from the gas station next to the hotel, following which I crashed into bed and was asleep in what felt like milliseconds.

View of the garden from our hotel room.
We woke the next morning to have breakfast in the hotel which was pretty decent (I got fairly excited by the waffle iron) and then decided to head downtown to see some old haunts. First up was Union Station, a former railway station turned shopping mall, which unfortunately has now closed for renovations and will be 'opening soon'. Nonetheless I had a pleasant time feeding the fish in the pond outside for 25c from a vending machine. I also discovered out the back of the 'station' some US railroad wagons which my Dad said he'd seen in 1999 when he first came here, but definitely didn't show me when he brought us here in '02.
Restaurant outside Union Station.
Next up we got back on the metro from Union Station to 8th and Pine which is the stop for the Gateway Arch, a humongous 630ft steel arch erected in honour of Jefferson's role in the westward expansion of the US in the 19th century. It's as wide as it is tall and dominates the skyline over the river Mississippi. It is a beautiful thing to behold and never fails to take my breath away.
First sighting of the arch from Union Station, downtown.
Unfortunately there are building works going on around the base of the arch at the  moment, so it is less than scenic on the ground. Still, it should look great when finished and with most eyes faced skyward it doesn't matter too much. You can still go up it, but the underground museum where you enter the cars which take you to the top is temporarily placed in the Old Courthouse, which you now pass through on the way to the arch.
The Old Courthouse.
The Old Courthouse was as such our first port of call, and is an amazing building in itself. The building is (or was) as the name suggests and, and is dominated in the middle by a tall dome with ornate columns on the balustrades of the second and third floors overlooking the rest of the building. It's possible to climb up to these and the sensation is quite thrilling and dizzying. It really is a beautiful building and I plan to return before the end of the trip.
On approach to the Gateway Arch.
The gift shop had a great range of books, models of the arch, DVDs and other things and didn't seem to suffer from the same fate as others being full of nothing but tatty tourist junk - even the t-shirts were nice! I bought a nice metallic bookmark of the arch and a reprinted newspaper print detailing the completion of the arch in 1965 - amazingly, it celebrated it's 50th anniversary last year. I also got some saltwater taffy!! Fruit flavoured candies at 10c a pop which are just delicious. As with many things about the US I heard about these from an episode of Friends - don't judge me too much!!
One of the steel legs of the Gateway Arch.
OK enough about the arch. We were trying to take today steady so as not to overdo it after our long day yesterday. We headed over to Laclede's landing, one of the more historic cobbled districts of St. Louis. It's very compact and has lost a lot of the antique shops it once had. Still, it's narrow tree lined streets make a nice change from the more built up parts of St. Louis. We had food at the Morgan Street brewery, complete and with a pint of locally brewed black lager (delicious) and, in my case at least, a blue cheese burger with bacon and fried mash balls - hey, it's our first day in America!
One of the cobbled streets in Laclede's landing.
Afterward we headed back to the hotel which took a while as we just missed a connecting bus from the transport interchange at North Hanley station. On the metro train back we bumped into a woman who had been chatting to us with her friends on the train into town for a baseball game - The Cardinals lost. Little did we expect that on the train back we would be engulfed by the returning fans! The games are really well attended, and seem very popular with older residents even more than the young! They were a cheerful crowd though and didn't seem to be like hooligans at all, unlike many football fans in the UK. Time for bed now, as today suddenly feels longer than it has been. Here's to another day of exploration tomorrow!

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