Greetings! We pick up where we left off last week – In St. Louis, Missouri. Then we travel to …
After the Cardinals game I walked across the street to one of St. Louis' newest and most luxurious hotels: the Westin St. Louis. Because it’s so nice and across the street from Busch Stadium, many visiting pro teams stay here (the Mets were in the house the same night I was). The players love to stay here because of the location, 24-hour restaurant and the state-of-the-art gym. This brand-new hotel is in a former 19th-century Cupples Station warehouse, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They did a marvelous job with the renovation, mixing old and new. There are 255 guest rooms, and I was upgraded to the club level in one of their sweet suites. My room was so big that I could’ve hosted the Mets' post-game party. I had a living room, dining room, 2 bathrooms (the master had a tub and a separate shower), a heavenly king-size bed, and a desk to work on my laptop using $9.95 Wi-Fi for 24 hours. In the morning I skipped the club room’s free continental breakfast and went right to the good stuff: the hotel’s Clark Street Bar& Grill. At the open kitchen I was able to watch the master chefs whip up my French toast stuffed with peanut butter and bananas -- boy, was that good (and fattening!). I’m so glad they don’t serve that dish in a 25 mile radius of where I live. Westin St. Louis, 811 Spruce Street, St. Louis; tel.: 314-621-2000.
After breakfast I was off to the Missouri Botanical garden. Founded in 1859, it’s one of the oldest botanical institutions in the country, and a National Historic Landmark. There are 79 acres of beautiful horticultural display, including a 14-acre Japanese strolling garden, rose garden, and a Climatron conservatory that made me feel like I was in Hawaii, with its palm trees and waterfalls. We took a $3, 25-minute hop-on, hop-off narrated tram tour that went so slowly, the guide walked alongside with a wireless microphone. Admission: $7 for ages 13 - 64; $5 for 65 and over. St. Louis City/County residents: $3 for ages 13-64; $1.50 for 65 and over. And it’s free for members, and children 12 and under. Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Blvd., St. Louis; tel.: 314-377-9400.
Walking around the Botanical Gardens on a hot sticky day made for a perfect excuse to take a ride on the St. Louis stretch of Old Route 66. We hit one of the city’s most famous landmarks: Ted Drewes. Ted Drewe’s has been making delicious and unique frozen custard since 1929. Folks can order the vanilla custards in cones, sundaes or as "concretes." These signature treats are shakes so thick you can turn them upside down, and they don't fall out of the cup. You can choose from many different toppings and flavors. I had what Elvis would’ve ordered: the "All Shook Up Concrete" (peanut butter cookie and bananas). You know it was good! Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, 6726 Chippewa, St. Louis; tel.: 314-481-2124.
CATHEDERAL BASILICA OF SAINT LOUIS
A good place to stop after Ted Drewe’s sinful dessert is the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. From the outside this Romanesque style church doesn’t look like anything special, but wait until you step inside. Wow! Its Byzantine-style interior is amazing, with a collection of 41.5 million pieces of glass tesserae covering 83,000 square feet. It’s the largest mosaic collection in the world! There are over 7,000 colors (I didn’t know that many existed), and was created by 20 different artists who took 76 years to complete it (1912-1988). This place is so special that Pope John Paull II visited in 1999. Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, 4431 Lindell Blvd., St Louis; tel.: 314-373 8200.
St. Louisians can never complain there is nothing to do in their city. That’s because they have Forest Park, which sits in the heart of St. Louis and at 1,371 acres is one of the largest urban parks in the country. Central Park in New York is "only" 843 acres. Forest Park became famous in 1904 when it hosted the World's Fair, and drew over 19 million visitors from around the world. There were 15 main palaces built for the Fair, but only one (now the Saint Louis Art Museum) was constructed as a permanent building. More than 10 million visitors come each year to relax, play sports (including golf and tennis), horseback, ride or Rollerblade along the bike path, or rent boats from the boat house. There are also many excellent educational and cultural opportunities, including the Science Center, Art Museum, Muny (Municipal Theatre), much more -- and most are free! According to the St. Louis CVC, St. Louis has more free world-class attractions that any U.S. city except Washington, DC.
THE SAINT LOUIS ZOO
The Saint Louis Zoo is also located in the park. When I learned it was free I figured it would be pretty lame, but boy was I wrong! It’s in a state-of-the-art biopark that is home to over 9,200 animals. Many are exotic or endangered. There are polar bears, grizzlies, penguins, elephants, cheetahs, hyenas, apes, giraffes -- more than 800 species! The zoo is open all year, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (in the summer until 8 p.m.). Saint Louis Zoo, One Government Dr., St. Louis; tel.: 314-781-0900.
THE MISSOURI HISTORY MUSEUM
Another free place I visited in the park was the Missouri History Museum (don't forget, I was a history major). It’s located in the Jefferson Memorial Building, and the collections include artifacts and decorative items from St. Louis' colonial days to the present. My favorites were the Lewis and Clark exhibit, and items from Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic "Spirit of St. Louis" flight (including a replica of his plane). The History Museum is open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (8 p.m. Tuesdays). The Missouri History Museum, 225 S. Skinker Blvd., St. Louis; tel: 314-746-4499.
Mary (my tour guide) knew how much I love chocolate, so on the way to our last stop she took me to a decadent St. Louis chocolate store. When I walked in I felt like I was in France. That’s because the Bissinger family began creating their fine delicacies in Paris in the 17th century. Bissinger's confections were once enjoyed by King Louis XIV (Interestingly, the city of St. Louis is named after Louis IX of France. He would have loved them too.) There were all kinds of goodies, like chocolate-covered blackberries loaded with flavor and juice. Like a fool, instead of popping the little treat in my mouth I took a bite. The juices splattered all over me. Bissinger's, 4742 McPherson, St. Louis; tel.: 800-325-8881.
THE LOOP & BLUEBERRY HILL
I ended my visit with a bang. The Loop is a vibrant six-block area of more than 120 shops, 40 ethnic and American restaurants, galleries and live entertainment. Visitors feel like they're walking down Hollywood Boulevard, because St. Louis has its very own Walk of Fame. As it should -- the city is (or was) home to many celebrities like Tennessee Williams, T.S. Eliot, Redd Foxx, Vincent Price, John Goodman, Yogi Berra and Chuck Berry. The most popular place to dine and watch live musical acts (Chuck Berry plays one Wednesday a month) is at Blueberry Hill. It's is packed with Americana and rock 'n' roll memorabilia, and has won many awards, including The World’s Best Juke Box (over 140,000 songs!). Owner Joe Edwards not only made the juke box, but he is credited with the whole revitalization of this area. He started the St. Louis Walk of Fame and owns many popular places, including his newest attractions: Pin-Up Bowl (a retro-style bowling alley) and The Pageant (a state-of-the-art concert club). Blueberry Hill, 6504 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis; tel.: 314-727-4444.
DID YOU KNOW?
St. Louis is within a day's drive of one-third of the U.S. population. Major highways converging at St. Louis include fabled Route 66, I-64, I-70, I-55, I-44.
The cheapest way to the airport (other than getting a ride from a friend) is the Metro, which goes right to the terminal and costs $3.25 each way. I flew United Airlines back to LAX (via Denver). Flight time STL-DEN is 1:48, DEN-LAX 2 hours. American Airlines offers the only nonstops to LAX, but they fly MD 80’s which are not my favorite plane. I prefer connecting to taking an MD80. I was in L.A. to attend my friend Kevin’s monthly Real Estate Club, then packed for a two week trip.
My first stop was a travel conference in Niagara Falls. There are no nonstops from L.A. to Buffalo (the closest airport to Niagara Falls), so I took the cheapest carrier at the time. That was Continental which I found on Orbitz using our JohnnyJet.com flight search (test it out to see how great it is). I had to change planes in Cleveland and fly an hour on a regional jet. From there it was a 30-minute drive to Niagara Falls, USA. Niagara Falls Canada is on the other side, but we’ll get to that next week -- as well as our international red eye flight to…
Here’s a 1-minute Johnny Jet video of my St. Louis trip. Below are the two St. Louis videos from last week. With high-speed the video takes about a minute to load; with dial-up, about three weeks.
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