Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Saga Continues...A week in St Louis MO (Updated Dec 23, 2015)

Warning: This is a L-O-N-G post with lots of photos

So, we spent the rest of the weekend in that gorgeous and restful place, Mark Twain State Park, and Monday morning hitched up our poor little car and drove to St Louis.  I'd called ahead and found Bommarito Honda and had a 2pm appointment.  We arrived an hour early which was not a problem.  Steve, our service manager, took pity on me as I described my propensity for avoiding a bunch of small stupid mistakes in favor of committing colossal ones and asked if we'd called our insurance company.  I hadn't even thought of that but assured him I would.  He promised to call later.  We rented a car and drove to our campground in downtown St Louis.  Much like arriving in our campground in Minneapolis after a month in state parks and wilderness, this was a change after 2 weeks in treed parks out in nature.  St Louis RV Park is a virtual parking lot surrounded with some trees and a fence, with a middle school behind it, a police station next to it, busy streets on 2 sides and a large storage facility on the 4th.  And it's great.  The owner provides her customers with maps of St Louis including handwritten notes and suggestions of places to see.  She even gave me a list of parks she suggested outside of Eminence, MO which would be our next stop. She is available at all times.  The laundry and bathrooms are immaculate and other than the sirens one hears when in a city, it is relatively quiet.  The weather while we were in St Louis was all over the place.  But, one morning, as I stepped from the MoHo at the (literal) crack of dawn the sky was amazing.  It would be like this for 2 days before our last 3 which were cloudy and sublime.

What drew my attention first was the brilliant "cotton candy" cloud.  Then, as the sun began to rise about the horizon...
the entire sky lit up with brilliance. And when I turned to the west the smattering of clouds were trying their hardest to light up.

We got settled but were quite convinced Cadbury's nose would be out of joint since his bushes and leaves were gone.  Not so, he spent his time in the middle of the asphalt surveying the scene.  (I think he thought he was back in Northport where he could most commonly be found lying in the MIDDLE of our street, where he'd get up for cars driving by and then resettle where he preferred to be.)  I most assuredly did not feel like cooking dinner-or more correctly figuring out what to cook the day we arrived, so we found an excellent Middle Eastern place, Medina Grill, a few blocks away.  Shawarma (meat shaved off a huge chunk that rotates in front of a flame, and mixed with pickled vegetables and a garlic tahini sauce, wrapped in flat bread) was the specialty of the house and their Original Palestine Shawarma was just like the ones I first had in Lebanon.  The three brothers who own it are 2nd generation American sons of Palestinian immigrants who learned to cook from "mother, grandmother...and father." And they learned very well. The food was delicious!

Phoenix had an appointment to be groomed and to see the vet on Wednesday, so Tuesday I went out and did grocery shopping. When I came back, we decided to go to the Cathedral Basilica of St Louis.  Phenomenal and beautiful are such paltry words at times. It is first and foremost a church, a cathedral and a sacred place for Catholics.  It was designated a basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1999 but it is also  the largest mosaic collection in the world with 41.5 MILLION glasstesserae pieces in more than 7,000 colors! They cover 83,000 square feet/7700 square meters.  I gaped in awe and could not get enough pictures to convey how unbelievable this place is.  I also made a major gaff.  Seeing a tour group up behind the altar I assumed they had walked through that area, so I opened the gate and started walking up.  It was then I notices the ropes and the fact that the group was BEHIND them.  I turned to go out and as I did was approached by a very angry docent who told me he should force me to leave at that moment.  I apologized and he asked me how I'd entered the area.  I said I'd opened the gate.  He looked at me as if I am some type of imbecile but he allowed me to stay and I, duly chastened, completed my tour.  We did see later in the small comprehensive museum in the basement, that rather than artists lying on their backs, as Michelangelo did while painting the Sistine Chapel, the mosaics were created on  smaller "sheets" and then glued into place as the cement was laid down.  Still an amazing work of art and dedication.

Rather than labeling each picture I'll just put them up.  I have to admit that I have at times questioned the money that goes into building some of the world's great houses of worship, but very often my awe and appreciation is of the incredible artistry and talent that goes into them.  This Cathedral has the largest collection of mosaics in the world: 41.5 MILLION pieces in 7,o00 colors.  It is awe inspiring and beautiful.  Started in 1907it wasn't actually completed until 1988 (although consecrated in 1926) and it became a Basilica in 1999 when Saint John Paul II visited.  

None of the scenes in any of these photos is painted.  They are all done in mosaic tiles.

The next two photos are from the museum located in the Cathedral basement.

A card with sample colors labeled with their numbers.  Each tile was catalogued.

The designs were all done first in watercolor, then created in mosaic on large sheets that were then carefully laid into place

Later on, as Don was napping, I heard the beat of multiple drums.  I grabbed my camera, Phoenix and her leash and took off, walk-dancing in time to the beat down the street in search of the sound.  And there I found it-right behind us.  A group of teens-boys on drums and girls with flags performing in the middle of the parking lot of the school behind us.  The band leader was cajoling and encouraging and losing her patience at times as they repeated each number until she felt they had it right.  The girls twirled the flags with precision in time to the beat and I was mesmerized.  I didn't get too near the young kids who were also watching as some of them seemed wary of Phoenix but as I was leaving I stopped to talk to one of the women.  She told me that this is an audio-visual arts middle school and that these kids-12 and 13 years old, perform each Tuesday and Thursday.  They were phenomenal and I left with a huge smile and feeling better than I had in days.  Which was good because Steve called with bad news: we'd need a new engine AND transmission but they were looking for used ones to keep our cost down and hoped to have them by Friday so we could get back on the road.  Yep, I do mistakes big time!

Carr Lane Visual and Performing Arts Middle School

 The flag troupe was excellent and they were completely enjoying themselves.  They exuded joy...and talent.

The band leader was phenomenal!
We dropped Phoenix off for her appointment in the morning, went off to do some shopping at Costco and have lunch and then returned to pick her up where she was seeing the vet.  I'd called the pet hospital a number of times rescheduling both her grooming appointment and vet "drop off" as our plans "changed." She looked beautiful and clean so we walked over to the pet hospital-located within the same store-and were told they were closed.  This week was NOT the time to tell me that something I'd verified at least 4 times had changed and I finally asked to speak to the manager.  The manager did not come out but the vet did and after a perfunctory exam, while I described what I thought was allergies causing her eyes to water and "goop," announced that he thought she had "dry eye" a condition he assured me "could not wait" until January when we'll be in FL so we rescheduled for the following day to have her seen and the chance to wrack up some more bills.  Would this ever stop???

The bright side to Phoenix spending the day at the vet was that we would not have to leave her in the car or the MoHo and could take the trolley around and do some sightseeing.  By 10am we were on our way to our first stop-City Museum the most awesome and incredible place I have been in in a long time!! Seriously, it is, when you first look it,  an amusement park.  On the roof of the building, 6 stories up, sits a ferris wheel, three heavy wire climbing structures a HUGE slide and a school bus handing over the roof line.  But then, you enter.  From the ticket booth to virtually every inch of space this place is "repurposed" buildings.  Facades from old school buildings, corbels and other architectural elements from buildings that have been torn down, old ornamental shapes that are now slides and play structures; huge murals and columns with mosaic designs. Collections of items taken from buildings, old businesses and everything from thimbles to huge cement forms. To be honest there is too much to list but I will say that it is a Must Go place if you are ever near St Louis and between the ages of 5 and 95. Seriously.  It is cacophonous, and huge, and on a summer day maybe hot but it is worth it to see what a city has done with the stuff that would otherwise have been trashed and thrown in landfill...and which serves to give the next generation a glimpse of the past.  Here is a conversation I overheard between 2, maybe, 9 year old boys.  They were trying to figure out how to make the train (which is actually controlled by one of the workers there and is big enough for kids to ride in) move when they saw a huge Wurlitzer organ behind glass: "Hey look at this! What is it?"  "I don't know.  Hey there is a thing here about it."  "Wow!  It's from 1924!  Whoa, hey it plays." Then they ran off to find the train.

City Museum
Photos cannot begin to convey the experience of City Museum.  You cannot hear the sounds of children's voices-all ages from toddlers to teens-the cacophony of laughter of young and old alike as parents try slides and climbing structures with their kids and the sheer massiveness of this collection.  City Museum is one of the best answers to what to do with historical buildings and architectural and industrial objects that would otherwise go to the landfill.  From the first floor to the roof we turned virtually every corner with "Wow, look at this!"  the best part was seeing teens-in groups or with their parents, excitedly exploring and exclaiming with each find.  Any visit to St Louis is worth a trip to this incredible place.

From the moment you arrive at the gates (a long serpent) you know this is a special place...

Ticket Booth

The creative and beautiful ways architectural structures


even broken bits

from businesses and schools

and churches were re-used.

There is a hall with the architecture of Emilie and Sullivan

Then there is the insect room which has walls covered with collections

a room with clay marbles...

doorknobs of every shape and material.

There is an Odditaurium with everything from jukeboxes to a huge pair of men's underwear

and there is this tremendous pencil that stretches from one side of the room to the other and is a climbing structure

The floors are not ignored and many are covered with mosaics

This is the staircase leading from the second to the main floor.  Each of the spindles (plumbing pipes) is hand painted

And then there is the roof!  It is accessed by an elevator from the main floor and what drew me here in the first place.  As we were driving back to the campground the second day I saw this airplane and a school bus hanging over the edge of the roof.  There are the plane, a construction crane,

wire structures of every shape and size...

the school bus, which literally extends half its length over the edge of the roof,

and a working ferris wheel.

And of course there are views in every direction

But one of the things that most made me appreciate the creator of this space was this whirlygig.  It was installed on the outside of the elevator which had a glass window facing a wall.  As we ascended the air made it spin.  Small children were fascinated and the big ones were laughing at my excitement.

It was lunch time by the time we left so we caught the trolley (for $2 you can ride all day around then entire downtown area) and got off at a Peruvian restaurant-in honor of our Peruvian daughter in law. We had delicious lunches and then set off walking.  
The Downtown Trolley

Elegant bike stand

A street with older buildings

around the corner from a modern plaza

A building with a trompe l'oeil facade

There was so much renovation and beautification going on but this building was one of the most impressive.  Formerly a public elementary school and long abandoned it has been renovated into affordable housing for seniors.

We stopped in the renovated Old Post Office with its mix of old and new architecture and displays

We could have hopped on the trolley but at each corner we saw something else we wanted to look at more closely and soon we were behind the Old Courthouse where we would buy tickets to go up in the Arch.  We stopped first in the Welcome Center and had a nice conversation with the woman in there.  The NY Mets Major League pennant win the night before reminded her to take down the Cards sign but she said "It's time for the Rams sign" and up it went. (For my overseas friends: The NY Mets and the St Louis Cardinals AKA Cards, are baseball teams.  The Mets had won the Major League pennant placing them in a spot to play the upcoming winners of the American League's pennant in the "World" series for baseball.  The Rams are the St Louis football team.  And now you know about as much as I know about these things, too.)

So, we proceeded to the Old Courthouse and once again I was in awe.  Yet another of the old buildings where the decoration and the grandeur were paramount and the ceiling-a dome-soared above us with three levels of balconies and paintings on every surface.  There were 4 small museums off the rotunda which we quickly toured as we made our way toward the walkway to the Arch.  

Memorial to Dred and Harriet Scott outside the Old State House

The area is being completely renovated so there are fences and construction pathways as one crosses the street and walks down to the Arch.. The area is called the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and while it is our history I find it a bit uncomfortable memorializing what would become a tragedy for the lands native peoples.  As with most National Park Service places though the displays were well done and comprehensive though I think the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper,Wyoming does a much more balance presentation of what this process meant for all involved.  In any case, we walked around the construction and into the reception area where we stood waiting for little pods that would carry us up in the enclosed arch to the top.  From there we could look out the small windows to expansive views in all directions.  It's pretty cool being that high up and not in a plane or a building.  On the way, we rode with a couple who asked where we were from and it turns out they spend every Christmas on St Croix.  Small world.

The Arch
and views from the top

After the Arch we were both getting tired of walking so we hopped the trolley back to the closest point to our campground and then walked the 10 minutes back before I then had to get in the car and go pick up Phoenix. Long story short-she did NOT have dry eye but we have light wallet, she does have allergies and an ear infection but she was happy to see me and really happy when we got back to the MoHo which made me happy because it means she is starting to recognize it as home.

As I write this, we still have 2 days left in St Louis BUT we will have our car tomorrow.  Steve called today and they have it running well and quietly, both forward and backward and except for the idle control, which still needs to be done, the work is finished.  He said they have had a team of techs working on it and when the techs there heard our story some of them would come help while on a break from another job because they know what it's like to be on the road and stuck.  There are good and kind people in so many places! USAA Insurance sent an appraiser and will be making a decision about how much, if anything, is covered.  Since it is not "normal" wear and tear there is a chance something will be but at this point we are feeling significantly poorer and planning the next stages for places where we can take advantage of our "old" age and pay half price rates.

I'd only originally scheduled 3 days on St Louis thinking we'd see the Arch and that was it.  Sure there would be museums but hey, they are everywhere.  Little did I know that there would be the Basilica and City Museum and so many interesting and wonderful places. So, we'll "tourist" a bit more this weekend, hopefully seeing the Clydesdale horses and maybe another museum but on Monday morning we'll hit the road again...either west to the Ozarks or south along the Mississippi. Having had to stay in St Louis turned out to be wonderful.


We got the car back and it runs beautifully! On the weekend we visited Grant Farm and saw the Clydesdale Horses and the Farm. Once a stroll around and through the stables is done there is a small tram ride that winds through the property. Other than the log cabin, Hardscrabble, the other houses are not visible but a menagerie of animals roam the land. Originally part of the land owned by U.S. Grant's father in law and then Grant himself and where he built Hardscrabble, this portion would be bought in 1903 by August A. Busch, Sr., of Anhueser-Busch fame and would become their family home. One of the points of interest was the fence which was built with 2,563 rifle barrels that August A. Busch purchased from an armory in downtown St. Louis that was shutting down.
For a detailed but fascinating look at the history of this piece of land see THIS

Gravois Creek with fall colors
Hardscrabble Cabin (about 1 mile from its original location)

In the Tiergarten area there are displays of animals.  Well laid out it is not like zoos (which I don't like) where the animals appear to be depressed.  


Camels are not always rude and this one was quite a character, posing for the camera and turning her head from side to side until she lifted it and looked right down her nose at me

An East African Crowned Crane taking a rest
This kangaroo put on a show that lasted a good 15 min. where he batted, bounced and flipped on and over his ball.  Kids were giggling like crazy and I heard a number of guffaws from adults. But the kanga was having the most fun.

There were 2 rescued bald eagles, both of which had been injured and could no longer fly.

Outside the Gift Shop is a carousel that was put in in 2009 and had a variety of animals to ride including the White Rabbit.

From the commercial enterprise we crossed road to the smaller part of the original property which is a National Historic Site, White Haven, the house that the Grants tried to make a profitable farm but ultimately lost. After a succession of private owners the house came to the National Park Service and since 2005 has had an interpretive center which is excellent. I gained an appreciation for this president about whom I had known little. Historical accounts about U.S. Grant differ but some of what he did- appointing the first Native Person to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs and pushing for passage of the 15th amendment- was undone dramatically by later more "revered" presidents. Because all of the Grant's furniture was lost this house, different from others of past presidents, has no furniture but the tour through it is still worthwhile, especially the part that was uncovered during the NPS renovation-a back door entry for the slaves. Grant's father in law was a slave owner and ardent supporter, whereas Grant was not and his own father was an abolitionist.

Barn built by U.S Grant that still stands

We also visited the St Louis Art Museum on our last day in town. Housed in the 1904 World's Fair pavilion we had to rush through a bit faster than I would have liked but I did have to see Degas's Little Dancer. What is nice is that much of their collection is searchable online (if you're interested, scroll to the bottom of the page to the search bar). Especially good were their collections from Africa and the Native Peoples of the Americas.
The grounds in front of the museum, including the HUGE statue of King Louis, were beautiful, especially with the burgeoning fall colors.