St Louis, Part II

13 Jan

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After a peaceful night’s sleep and a good breakfast we were off to the “City Museum” on North Street. We arrived shortly after it opened and the parking lot was already getting crowded. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect; a good friend of ours told us it was this really cool place and we should check it out. We walked in the door and suddenly several of our senses were stimulated; first there was the shrill of children screaming, not in the near death way, but the I’m having a blast tone, everywhere I looked there was something going on, and there was an extraordinary amount of bright colors, I thought I smelled pizza coming from somewhere too…..We found our way to the ticket counter, purchased 2 tickets and placed the paper bands on our wrists, now what?

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There was an amazing stairway with dozens of multi-colored spindles on our left, we ascended it to the next floor. In the center of the room was a giant “hamster wheel” where a father and his two sons were running to make it spin, one of the walls was made up of what looked like a thousand old safe deposit boxes, and a giant vault room too. By now you are probably asking what is this place? Here’s what I have learned: City Museum is a 600,000 sq ft building that is the former International Shoe Company. Classically trained sculptor Bob Cassilly purchased the vacant building, he and a crew of 20 artists have turned it into what they call a combination of  “children’s playground, fun house, surrealistic pavilion and architectural marvel”.  The interior is made up of objects found in the city of St Louis itself; old chimneys, salvaged bridges, 2 abandoned airplanes, construction cranes, tons of tile, and refrigeration coil from Anhueser-Busch are a few examples. It’s absolutely INSANE, in the best possible way!

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Back to the first floor to get our bearings. The entire floor is made up of one giant mosaic, it’s so large it even climbs up the walls. The ceiling looks as if thousands of icicles are dangling from above. There is a large tree house in the room where small children would randomly shoot out of some sort of slide through the middle of the tree out onto the floor. Up in the branches (so to speak) full grown adults were walking through metal passageways, twisting and turning to accommodate the shape. A huge tank housed  bunches of turtles sitting on pieces of logs, sunning themselves under the warmth of the lights.  We walked a little more and found ourselves kind of behind-the-scenes in a cave area, an unexpected glass chandelier hung from the ceiling. Pushing forward we had entered the “enchanted cave” system so to speak, artificial lighting in different colors help guide visitors through the labyrinth.   I could easily spot the regulars as they brought their own mini-maglites. At one point we found ourselves in what seemed to be the central cave, everywhere we looked there seemed to be some pre-historic beast built into the concrete staring back at us.  On the third floor we discovered the Wurlitzer Pipe Organ, as the organ plays the sound resonates throughout the caves.

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The caves are built within the shoe factory’s tunnel system, they seem to go on forever, there are wide open spaces and narrow (very narrow) passages. There is no shortage of stairs either! Shoe shafts run through the center of the museum, you can climb the stairs up to the 10th floor and then slide down a 10-story spiral slide, the speed you will travel depends on your size, small children go pretty fast, adults…not so much, it sure was fun. We wandered around some more, I discovered where the smell of pizza came from; there’s a food court on the mezzanine level. On the lower level is a log cabin that is both a restaurant and a bar, you really could spend the whole day here.

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“MonstroCity” is located outdoors, yes, it’s as crazy as it sounds. The warmth of the day beckoned us to go outside and play.  Here  it’s all about climbing; 2 Saber 40 aircraft fuselages, a fire engine, a castle turret, a cupola and 4 foot wide Slinkies all invite you to scoot, duck, bend, climb, and crawl your way through them. Now mind you this takes you up pretty high, at one point I was in this tube made of wire that is welded together, wrapping my fingers around it like I was climbing a fence, taking turns moving my hands and feet skyward when I looked around and thought “what am I doing?”. I yelled ahead to Kris to reminded him where I keep my Blue Cross Card and forged ahead. Not all spaces are big enough for all persons, so I would advise you to always look ahead when deciding which direction to go. We climbed and climbed heading to the tallest platform that led to another slide that would take us back to ground level, it wasn’t so easy though….if it wasn’t for Kris pulling me up through a hole by my belt loops I may still be dangling there….but alas I made it! We waited in line for our turn to go down the slide, this one you had to lay back as to not hit your head, and it was fast! In the blink of an eye we were back to where we came in several hours before. City Museum is awesome, colorful, unexpected, industrial and spooky FUN!!

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After all that it was time to eat. Back to the Central West End, we had seen a lot of inviting places the day before. The neighborhood is definitely upscale; stately mansions line the streets, trendy restaurants and shops make up the business district, hipsters and professionals gather at coffee shops and bars. Euclid was quite active, so we had to watch closely for a parking space, got one. Just so happens it was directly across from a place called Sub Zero, ok so it’s a Vodka bar, but they had a neon sign that said sushi, good enough for us, actually, it was very good. We were seated at a high top table, our waitress arrived with menus for food and drink, turns out they are known for having the largest Vodka selection in the US, too bad I’m not a Vodka drinker. Kris decided to give one a whirl, he asked our waitress to choose; she brought him a house infused Vodka that he really enjoyed. The place is really cool inside, the vintage ceiling is painted white, accenting the blue and black decor. The bar faces shelves and shelves of back lit vodka bottles. We ordered a miso soup that was delicious, veggie potstickers, quite good, and sushi. The sushi was nice and fresh and everything tasted great.

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Central West End runs along the edge of Forest Park, which was where we were going next. At 1,371 acres Forest Park is one of the largest urban parks in the US. In 1904 the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition (World’s Fair) was held in Forest Park and drew more than 19 million visitors from around the world.  The park is home to the St Louis Art Museum, Science Center, Zoo, Jewel Box Greenhouse, History Museum and Muny Theatre. We didn’t have time to do them all so we just chose three. The Jewel Box is an Art Deco greenhouse built in 1936 using funds from the WPA. Renovated in 2002 to be used as an event venue the place is gorgeous! Except for the entryway it is completely made of glass. Lush gardens line the perimeter of the space, towards the back a display of palm trees give the room a tropical feel. To celebrate the holidays red, white and pink poinsettias line the edges of the plantings, it is festive and beautiful. I imagine many weddings take place here.

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On the northern edge of the park you’ll find the Missouri History Museum, along with rotating exhibits there are three permanent exhibits. The Charles Lindbergh section is really interesting, (he was actually born in Detroit) having made the first solo flight across the Atlantic, displays take you through his life and adventures. Seeking St Louis follows the history of the city from it’s founding in 1764 forward. My favorite section was the 1904 World’s Fair….Can you tell this had a huge impact on the city? They have all kinds of things from the fair; posters, mementos, but the photos are the best! It is unbelievable what they did back then from elaborate displays to entire buildings, fountains, landscapes, incredible. Did I mention the 16 ton statue of Thomas Jefferson? It is really worth seeing.

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The St Louis Art Museum was originally called the Palace of the Arts, it was the only permanent structure built for the World’s Fair. The exterior of the building is quite elaborate, there is no mistaking this is an important building. Tall Corinthian columns flank the entry doors, six individual figures stand atop the roof in line with the columns. Inside all of the focus is on the art itself, arched doorways separate the galleries. The museum is known for its Oceanic art, Chinese Bronzes, Pre-Columbian Art, and 20th Century German Art. Admission is free for each of the museums we visited, it was nice to see so many people in them. The Art Museum sits on an elevated area of land in Forest Park; in front of is a huge statue of French King Louis IX. The statue and the building overlook the Grand Basin, basically it is large reflecting pool with a series of eight fountains. As you probably have guessed, it was built for the World’s Fair and was a main gathering place for visitors. At night they light up the fountains, it is just stunning! As part of their promise to restore Forest Park after the World’s Fair, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Committee built the World’s Fair Pavilion in 1910 as a sort of thank you gift. It has since been converted into an outdoor rental venue and is also a great place for viewing and taking photos.

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It was a full day of discovery and adventure in St Louis. We headed back to the hotel for some dinner and relaxation, after all, tomorrow was another day.

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