By Surbhi Gogia
The city of St. Louis has always grabbed attention for its very successful baseball team of Cardinals. However, this major US port built along the western bank of the Mississippi river is home to a lot more tourist attractions and wonderful expeditions that many are unaware of. For what was supposed to be just a small family reunion of three cousins from different parts of the world, joining in St. Louis, Missouri, turned out to be the most amazing, fun-filled vacation of the decade for my family in and around this historic city of US. Our vacation was on a roller coaster for a week. Quite literally, since it gave us a chance to see one of America’s tallest, fastest and wackiest spinning roller coasters.
One of the three cousins’ family, that calls St. Louis their home for more than two decades, invited my family from Vancouver and the other from Singapore, to spend a week at their place. After brazing a cold, gloomy and pretty much rainy June in Vancouver, St. Louis welcomed us with a humid weather and a warm reception from our hosts. We landed with a perception that the day would just pass in relaxing and staying indoors since we had a red eye flight with two small kids and the weather forecast was not very promising for the rest of the day — rain and a thunderstorm. But St Louis rain is unlike Vancouver. It does not stick around for hours and days like a glue. Some small scattered episodes of showers lasting for less than 10 minutes and St Louis skies are clear again.
The magic began with Magic House
We started our trip to the city in the afternoon with the visit to a place called The Magic House — a not-for-profit children’s museum. Very unlike a standard museum, this one does not have still exhibits for onlookers. It features hundreds of interactive, participatory exhibits designed to pique curiosity, spark imagination and critical thinking in children. Spread over 5000 sq foot area, the Victorian style house belonged to the historic family of St Louis which eventually was converted into a place for children by two volunteer ladies in 1979.
After paying a nominal entry fee of $11 through a small door, we entered into the world of unlimited fun. It was like entering multiple indoor kids play centres ever witnessed under one roof and with only one ticket. The layout of the place is not evenly spread out. The visitors have to run their mental abilities to walk through the maze-like layout to discover the exhibits. Just at the entry, there is a display of unique musical instruments like harp, xylophone etc built oversized for the kids to try their hands on music. This exhibit tries to invoke creative spirits right at the beginning.
As you move forward, you find a fort room full of everyday stuff like bed sheets, blankets, plastic sheets, chairs for the kids to put their creativity and engineering skills to the test as they transform an enormous pile of everyday items into the ultimate fort. Outside this room, the visitors notice a huge wall-size portrait made from 1000’s of assembled colorful crayons. The hallway then leads you to another level called Children’s village a pretend community where kids use tools to service a car, climb a ladder to a treehouse, stock grocery store shelves, serve pizza in a restaurant, weigh babies and the nursery and catch a fish in just for kids. The math path involves you into intriguing number games on a giant calculator, colorful 3-D geometric shapes, investigate patterns and explore puzzles as you wind your way along the Path.
The art studio and the future play were the sections where we spent most of our hours, after visiting other exciting sections. As the name suggests the art studio has different rooms fully loaded with art stuff that you can use without any fee. We painted, made craft with hundreds of craft materials, sew on a real sewing machine. We also tried our hands on creating unique sculptures out of recycled materials. In future play section children used technology to see their creativity in action. You can pick up already sketched sheets of your favourite vehicle like truck, fire engine, school bus, police car — anything that you see on roads and in the sky, paint it the way you want to. Then you take it to a 3-D printer that will convert your drawing into a 3-D image and then you can see that image in action on a big screen.
The exhibit engaged us so much that we forgot, we were not residents of this city but visitors and had other places to visit.
The Gateway Arch
After scanning the roads of St. Louis’s huge downtown, the famous baseball Busch Stadium, we hit the bank of west bank of the Mississippi River. There stood a giant structure of steel — the Gateway Arch. It is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (now known as Gateway Arch National Park) — a memorial to Thomas Jefferson’s role in opening the West and to Dred Scott who sued for his freedom in the Old Courthouse. One of the most important cases ever tried in the United States was heard in St. Louis’ Old Courthouse. The Supreme Court decided the case in 1857, and hastened the start of the Civil War.
In 1948, a nationwide design competition determined what shape the Memorial would take, and in 1963, construction began on architect Eero Saarinen’s design for a stainless steel arch. The Gateway Arch stands as a symbol of national identity and an iconic example of mid-century modern design. The most interesting feature of this arch is that the height and width measure same ie 630 feet. We took the tram to go right on top of the arch from inside of over 43,000 tons of concrete and steel structure. The small narrow tram took us at the top and we had a panorama view of the city. It was almost time to go back. Since we were way past the time people would usually stay in downtown and around the area. Unlike many waterfront cities, this city’s downtown becomes deserted as soon as the offices are closed between 5 and 6 PM on regular days. The main reason being, the downtown situated at the bank of Mississippi river faces city of East St Louis, Illinois, just across the river which is perhaps known as the crime city of US.
While the important tourist attractions include the Museum of Westward Expansion, the St. Louis Cathedral and the Anheuser-Busch factory tour we focused more on what city offered for the whole family especially kids. The next day was the day of the St. Louis zoo — rated one of the best free attractions in US and the nation’s leading zoological park. Yes you heard it right. The zoo is one of the many free attractions that the city has to offer. Spread across 90 acres of land the zoo is clearly divided in 6 different zones. If Historic Hill zone is home to birds, snakes, reptiles, otters, swans; the Red Rocks zone houses lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, and pumas in Big Cat Country; zebras, giraffes, bantengs, babirusas, gazelles etc. A walk on The Wild side let us see grizzly bears, penguins and puffins, flamingos (seasonal), a polar bear, prairie dogs, red pandas, orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas and more. For much younger kids there is a small zoo within this bigger zoo. My kids got a chance to feed the farm animals pet them and spend some quality time without being scared of the large animals.
We were tired physically by the time we finished our zoo adventure. But the spirit to explore more was still afresh which pushed us to enter the next amazing attraction of the city ie The Art Museum situated just 5 minutes away from the zoo. It houses approximately 34,000 objects in its permanent collection from virtually every culture and time period from African, America, European, Pacific art including paintings and sculpture. We were lucky to witness special exhibit of Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds. It displayed the story of two lost cities of ancient Egypt submerged under the Mediterranean Sea for over a thousand years. More than 200 of these authentic artifacts, including three colossal 16-foot sculptures of a pharaoh, a queen, and a god were on display.We at
We ate heart out
Once done with satisfying our touristic senses of exploring, it was time to treat our guts with some of city’s unique food like deep fried toasted ravioli and frozen custard. Eating this sweet delight was like eating a dessert where extra-rich, dense gelato and soft serve ever had joined forces. It was then time to head home and get ready for the next adventure, next morning which was Branson. A four hour drive from St Louis, we were unaware that a touristic town with unlimited entertainment was waiting for us. It all seemed just a little too good to be true out there… in a place that a few could pinpoint on a globe.