Monday, September 19, 2016

Meet Me in St Louis, Louis

The kid and I just got back from a long weekend in St. Louis. It was our first visit to the city.  We journeyed there (8-hour drive) to spend time with my sister and her family. They drove up from Oklahoma for a dirt bike race. My brother-in-law and my nephews compete in such things.

The kid and I left town on Thursday evening. I wanted to leave earlier but had to wait for her to be done with show choir rehearsal. Other than stopping for a quick dinner at Noodles and to get some gas in the middle of nowhere, we basically drove straight through.  We arrived at our hotel room at about 10:15 and quickly tucked ourselves in for the night. Well, not before fighting over the TV for a bit, because you know how I love watching tween shows over and over.

On Friday morning, we got up and made plans to drive into the city (we were about an hour and half away from St. Louis). The kid had breakfast at the hotel, but I was holding out for something better. It was pouring rain when we hit the road. We were supposed to meet my sister and her family for breakfast but she sent me a text to say they were running late. So, I quickly formulated a Plan B. I found a spot called SweetArt that features vegan/vegetarian food. I had a dish called Banh Mi. I need to start cooking with sriracha, I think. It was so good. We also got some desserts to go. I bought cupcakes for my sister and my kid, and I picked up a fudge brownie for myself. I ate that brownie later that day and it seriously made all of my dreams come true. I see that they actually ship the damn things and I am seriously considering it. I have gotten pretty good at certain vegan cookies but brownies? Not so much.

We still had time to kill after breakfast, so we decided to visit the Gateway Arch. I hadn't planned to visit it but hey, when in Rome and all. I won't even tell you how long I drove around just trying to get close to the bleeping thing. There was construction everywhere. I finally pulled into a pre-pay parking lot and asked the nice toothless man to take pity on me. He collected my cash and then told me how to get tickets for the arch, which direction to walk, etc (it was about a 15-minute walk, which was totally acceptable to me at that point).

I have to admit that I knew very little about the arch other than 1) it exists and 2) it's in St. Louis. I didn't even know you could go up in the thing until my friend Kathy mentioned it the day before. I wondered how an elevator would work with the whole curve thing (maybe it's like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the elevator can just go in any direction?) I quickly realized that there was a more practical answer: trams. There are something like 16 trams (small pods seating five people each) that take visitors up and down the legs of the arch. Don't go if you are claustrophobic. Just trust me on this one.

We took photos at the top and then went right back down. We got some fun shots, despite the rain. Now we can say that we went to St. Louis and indeed we saw the arch. It's kind of funny to me that people have bothered to leave bad Google reviews about the arch. "Oh, John from Cleveland does not approve of the arch. Better tear it down ASAP."

After leaving the arch, we made the trek back to our car and then headed over to the City Museum. We heard this was a good place to let kids get their ya-ya's out. We were supposed to meet my sister and her family there. They were still running a little bit late and had some parking challenges but they joined us at around 2:00. Can I just tell you how happy I was to see my wee baby sister? I love my sisters beyond measure and jump at any chance to see them. After hugs were exchanged (I was slightly hesitant to hug my brother-in-law because he is just getting over the chicken pox  . . . which is no joking matter in adults - he ended up in the emergency room last week), the four kids ran off to explore.  I'm not sure how to describe the City Museum except to say that it's like a children's museum but much wilder. There are a gazillion things to climb in, over, and around.

Once the kids were all sweaty and at least two of them were bleeding, we decided to head out.  We had made plans to stay at the same hotel in Festus, which is just south of the city. My sister and I had fun talking about our upcoming stay in Festus, Misery. After getting checked in, we headed back out into the rain for dinner at a nearby restaurant. My sister and I were able to get some pasta with vegetables (in a marinara sauce) and the kids all ordered meals that they barely ate. I was glad to see I'm not the only person throwing away money on kids' meals at restaurants.

After dinner, we all went swimming (except my brother-in-law, because of his cooties and all). It was great to see my kid having so much fun with her cousins. We all live so far apart that these get-togethers are very few and far between. Later, we hung out in our hotel room for a bit and had some snacks while the kids took turns shoving each other off the bed.

On Saturday morning, we headed down to Park Hills.  The races were scheduled for the next day at St. Joe's State Park. I offered to take one of my nephews in my car while my sister and her family drove their truck down. Also, they had to make a stop so I opted to drive down separately vs. following them. Big mistake. It turned out that despite what the event flyer had stated, the event was not being held at the main park. It was being held at an area called The Mines which, as far as I could tell, is fully imaginary. I couldn't seem to find it on Google, on my Garmin GPS, or on Apple maps. I got so lost.  I was frustrated beyond belief. I actually started to think it might just be easiest to adopt my nephew and simply head back home.

I found it eventually, though. I'm still not even sure how. Lots of people were arriving for the race(s) and were setting up to camp overnight. My kid and I were just hanging out for the day, though. We had to leave the next morning to drive back home. I had to be at a mandatory choir meeting at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday so I knew I had no choice but to get up early and just get it done.

We had a fun afternoon at the race site. The kids dug in the dirt. It was nice to spend more time with my sister. I learned a tiny bit about dirt bike racing. My brother-in-law and the boys were not competing this time around. It was their first national race so he just signed up to work as a volunteer instead. The kids started fighting at one point so I took one of my nephews for a walk around the grounds. We decided to see how many different state license plates we could find. A surprising number of people traveled pretty darned far for this thing: Georgia, Florida, California, Virginia, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Oklahoma.

Finally, at about 6:00, I knew we'd better head out so that we could check into our hotel room and get ready for the long drive the next day. I was sorry to say good-bye to my sister, though. I miss her already. I did sneak in one more "big city" meal before checking into the hotel. We ate at a hip place called Tree House. It was so hip, in fact, that I had to hold the votive from the table up to the menu so that I could read it. You know you're getting old when a dimly-lit restaurant and microscopic print combine to do you in. Anyway, I squinted at the menu long enough to select wild mushroom ravioli, which was excellent. I didn't even try to read the wine menu - I just asked for a glass of Malbec.

After an unventful evening at the hotel, we hit the road early Sunday morning. The drive home was uneventful. I listened to the first season of Serial to occupy my brain. I made it to that meeting at 4:01, so . . . yay me.

Here are some photos from the trip:

Yes, I took a photo of a quote I saw inside a bathroom.

I miss you, brownies. XOXO

The same face on two different people.

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