A Midwestern/Southern Mix

Trip Start Sep 02, 2013
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Trip End Sep 26, 2013


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Flag of United States  , Missouri
Thursday, September 12, 2013

We slept in a little bit today, as the previous day's driving had done its best to wear us out completely.  However, once up, at around 9 am, we rifled through cheap breakfast foods and set to the task of viewing Citygarden and the Gateway Arch on the waterfront of the Mississippi River.  Expecting another tourist attraction puffed up with self-importance, and wielding a plastic facade, we were very very pleasantly surprised with the completeness of vision that is the Gateway Arch.  Not only is the structure amazing, but its corresponding park is too.  Throw in a rather remarkable old courthouse dedicated to the Dred Scott case, and you have a perfectly-executed monument--one that shows modernity and history; gesture and narrative.  We learned while visiting the monument that the architect of the project, Eero Saarinen, had made a career out of futuristic design, and when a public contest was held to design the Jefferson National Expansion museum monument, Saarinen's proposal won.  The space-age technology and materials used by Saarinen allowed the arch to become the tallest structure in Saint Louis, and gave the impression of passing into the western wilderness of the early 19th century by way of some bizarre, futuristic structure.  Altogether, the place is incredible to look at--with a huge park and an underground museum dedicated to national progress and expansion.  A place that easily could have been sunk by hyper-patriotic mumbo jumbo instead transcends all of the pretense to create an image that kind of defies description...a documentary film made about the same time the Arch was completed, "A Monument to the Dream" is supposed to do it justice.  For now, we just have the photos...

After the Arch, it seemed that Saint Louis, which had at first appeared a provincial backwater on first glance, was taking a new shape.  Invigorated at our morning's experience, we grabbed some crab chowder for lunch, and made our way to the car in order to tour the further-flung neighborhoods to the west.  First, we took a small trip on Saint Louis' subway (Subway!  In Saint Louis!  Seriously!).  It is impressive to see that Saint Louis will fight to make its own way in the world as evidenced by megaprojects everywhere; the Arch, the Subway, and various other sites throughout the city.  Re-emerging on 8th Street, we walked back to the hotel, retrieved the car from the parking garage, and ventured west...

We made a trip to the enormous Forest Park, which houses a zoo, an art museum, a boat house, and massive visitors' pavilion.  The park was mostly recreational, and not built for passive visits, so we stopped at a few places of interest, and headed out into the Center West End neighborhood to poke around.  There, we made a pretty fortunate find--the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.  This is such an incredible place because about 70% of the MASSIVE interior consists of insanely beautiful artwork with glass mosaic tiles covering nearly every surface.  No religious feeling is necessary to appreciate the place--it is a total work of art, and as usual with large places of worship, it completely gives the impression of entering another world.  While such cathedrals do little to dilute the arguments about the catholic church having too much money, this one can certainly push such considerations to the side by offering a level of craftsmanship and deep personal experience unrivaled by all but the absolute best examples from Western Europe.  Really, it is in its own league.


Unfortunately, after the Basilica, things kind of deteriorated.  We returned to the hotel for some exercise and a swim (the pool was situated in the center of a panopticon of hotel room windows and about four feet deep).  No harm there, really, but we also headed down to an area called Laclede Landing.  It was the kind of half-baked Mardi-Gras by way of Epcot Center "cultural area" that charges high prices for low content and attracts the local weirdos.  After a meal of oddly aggressive service and frozen pasta and vegetables, we decided the night was kind of snuffed out.  

All in all, it can be said that Saint Louis has an incredible range of quality and character.  The city is famous for frozen custard, astronomical crime rates, its dying legacy as a city of national importance, its envy-inducing public parks and monuments, as well as some of the kindest and some of the most insufferable people we've met yet.  Who knows--the luck of the draw seems an apt metaphor in a city famously financed throughout history (at least in part) by river-going gambling boats on the muddy Mississippi.  A mixed bag--but one with some strong lasting impressions.  A strong showing in some departments, perhaps a second run will yield more consistent results.  Tomorrow, 12 hours of driving to Tulsa...  

   

 
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Comments

Mom/Carole/CeCe! on

Hi Mike and Pavel,

In the year 2000 I attended a Nursing Conference in St. Louis and fell in love
with the city's beautiful parks, monuments, ZOO, Botanical Gardens, huge Koi, and the fabulous Union Station - one of the best visions of a time past was a presentation of hand-written letters to the St.Louis Tribune (?) to form a history of the many people who traveled through from west coast to east coast during World War II.

pavelmichaelusa
pavelmichaelusa on

In retrospect, we might have judged the city a bit harshly. It did also seem that things had probably been going downhill for some time--perhaps since the market crash in 2009? Anyway--there was still more to explore, and it is more than possible that those places would have changed the final assessment.

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