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St. Louis, Missouri
April 7, 2017 - April 9, 2017

A Fun Place to be a Tourist

I am loving this goal that Traci has for herself to run a half-marathon in all 50 states and on all 7 continents. She has set no time limit for achieving this goal. More than anything, we enjoy the opportunity to be tourists - especially in places where we have never been. One of Traci's running clubs, the National Black Marathoners Association, was doing their annual get-together weekend. This time, they chose St. Louis, Missouri where they would participate in the Go! St. Louis Marathon events. This turned out to be a very nice weekend of spending time with friends, checking another state off Traci's list, and being tourists.

We had a bit of a mystery going into this weekend. Neither one of us believed we had ever visited St. Louis before but somehow we already had a St. Louis refrigerator magnet in our collection. We never did figure out how we got the magnet.

arriving at the St. Louis Lambert Airport

 

We had an early morning 2-hour flight from Washington Dulles Airport to St. Louis Lambert Airport. From there we took a 45-minute ride on the MetroLink train ($2.50/person) to downtown. We emerged from the subway station to the streets of St. Louis and immediately went into tourist mode. During the 2-block walk to our hotel, we read signs aloud with wonderment: "Sugarfire Smokehouse BBQ", "the National Blues Museum", ...

Even though the running club had blocked rooms at the Crowne Plaza St. Louis Downtown Hotel, Traci and I were staying at the Marriott St. Louis Grand that first night because we had a free Marriott stay that was about to expire. We would move to the Crowne Plaza the next day.

After checking into the Marriott, it was time for us to venture out to find some lunch. The Sugarfire Smokehouse BBQ restaurant we passed on our way to the hotel seemed like a great place to satisfy our hunger - and it did. Traci and I shared a 3-meat/2-sides meal that included beef brisket, smoked turkey, and spare ribs. During our lunch, Traci was checking social media to find out when some of her running friends would be arriving. Unfortunately, storms in the southern U.S. the previous day had wreaked havoc on the airline schedules causing delays and cancelled flights throughout the U.S.. Several of her friends were stuck in airports throughout the country.

Meanwhile, we needed to find out how to get to the runners expo so that Traci could pick up her required race packets to participate in the 5K run on Saturday morning and the half-marathon on Sunday morning. The expo would take place at Chaifetz Arena. We already knew from looking at Google Maps and from talking to the concierge at our hotel that the arena was not in walking distance and that the metro does not go there. Therefore, Traci came up with the brilliant idea to walk to the Crowne Plaza where most of the running club was staying. Maybe someone had a car or would be willing to share the cost of taking a taxi or Uber. We needed to walk only a few blocks to get the Crowne Plaza from the Sugarfire restaurant. It was during this walk that I got my first glimpse of the famous St. Louis Gateway Arch. The Crowne Plaza was situated across from it.

St. Louis Gateway Arch

 

As soon as we walked into the lobby of the Crowne Plaza, we ran into people we recognized from the running club. It wasn't long before word had spread that there were complimentary shuttles between the GO! St. Louis host hotels and the runners expo. One of these host hotels happened to be in walking distance from the Crowne Plaza so off we went. Traci and I, along with three other women from the club, walked to the hotel and caught the shuttle to the arena for packet pick-up. We were the only passengers in the van. During the ride, the friendly young lady who drove the van gave us some restaurant recommendations. There were two near the Chaifetz Arena that sounded good. She highly recommended Pappy’s if we had a barbeque craving. She said we should go early because they sometimes run out of food and have to close early. Judging by the line coming out of the door when we rode by, I could understand why. The other restaurant that piqued our interests was Sweetie Pies soul food restaurant mainly because of the reality show “Welcome to Sweetie Pies”. I have never watched the show but I had at least heard of it. Our driver’s only recommendation about that restaurant was to try to avoid going on Sundays because it gets really crowded. Traci and I kept our driver’s restaurant suggestions in mind for maybe a later time. We were still full from our lunch at Sugarfire.

After Traci picked up her race packet from the expo and chatted with a few of her running friends, we caught a shuttle back downtown. This time Traci and I were the only passengers on the van. We had a different friendly driver. He was a traveler like Traci and me so we enjoyed trading stories of the different countries we have visited. He also made some suggestions on what we could see during our visit. I found it interesting that on more than one occasion when someone found out we were visitors to St. Louis, they would excitedly tell us "You could go to a game!" as in a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game. I found this to be peculiar because it was so different from the way I think. If someone from out of town was coming to visit me, inviting them to see my hometown professional sports team play would not be the first suggestion I would offer. But this is why I love to travel. It exposes me to different points of view and different cultures. Traci and I are not big baseball fans so we did not make plans to attend a game.

We were dropped off at the hotel where we originally caught the shuttle. Traci and I then hurried to the Lumiere Place Casino in hopes of catching the 4 PM St. Louis Fun Trolley Tour. We managed to make it there on foot by 3:45 but things did not go as planned. I broke my travel rule regarding relying on company web sites for times and pricing information. You should always call or email to confirm these details. I did not do that this time. I could have sworn I read that the trolley tours operate daily at 10 AM, 12 PM, 2 PM, and 4 PM. The lady at the ticket counter told us that there is no 4 PM shuttle until their summer schedule. Darn! We would have to try again the next day at one of the other tour times offered. The lady recommended that we arrive no later than 30 minutes before the tour because they sometimes sell out. She said we could buy advanced tickets but we could not commit to a time since Traci had the 5K and other running events the next day.

Since our trolley plan fell through, we walked towards the Gateway Arch. I knew we would not be able to ride the tram to the top because it was closed for renovations. However, the welcome center at the base of the Arch was still available. We viewed the "Monument to the Dream Movie" in the welcome center theater. The film showed historical footage of the Arch's construction in 1965 and talked about the engineering challenges that had to be overcome. As an engineer, I found the 30-minute film to be fascinating. Traci, on the other hand, was sound asleep as soon as the lights were dimmed in the theater.

Although Traci and I had different assessments of the film, we were unanimous in our assessment of the fudge we bought in the gift shop. We were allowed to taste the different types until we settled on the salted caramel fudge drizzled with caramel sauce. Woo hoo! That was the best fudge I have ever tasted.

fudge for sale at the Gateway Arch Welcome Center

 

From the Arch, it was a short walk to the Crowne Plaza where the running club's meet-and-greet took place. Even though I am not a runner, I enjoy going to these events with Traci because the people you meet are so inspiring. Many of them are crazy about travel like Traci and me. They are also goal-oriented. All this leads to some great travel and running stories. There are people who have run marathons on every continent and in all 50 states of the U.S. just as Traci aspires to do. There are others who have run ultra-marathons (more than 26.2 miles) across deserts. Some have run at the North Pole. There was even one of Traci's friends who ran a marathon on all 7 continents in seven days this year! She would sleep on the plane, wake up on a different continent, run a marathon...wash, rinse, and repeat. We spent about 4 hours at the meet-and-greet before walking a few blocks back to our hotel. It was an interesting walk back to the Marriott because a Comic Con convention was also happening that weekend. There were people walking the streets in some very interesting costumes - video game characters, super heroes, etc...

Saturday morning, we had to make our way to Forest Park before 8 AM so that Traci could run the GO! Saint Louis 5K. Forest Park prides itself as being larger than New York's Central Park. We were able to take the MetroLink there. It was a chilly morning - especially if you were a spectator like me. Traci and several of her running friends ran the race and all seemed to have a good time.

Traci enjoying the GO! Saint Louis 5K Run

 

After the race, we took the MetroLink back to the Marriott where we got cleaned up and checked out. We rolled our luggage to the Crowne Plaza where we would check in later that day when our room became available. In the meantime, we dropped of our luggage with the concierge and then walked to the Lumiere Place Casino so that we could catch the noon St. Louis Fun Trolley Tour. It cost us $22 per person. A guide drove us around the city for 90 minutes pointing out attractions, providing anecdotes, and making recommendations. There were no stops on this tour. We spent quite a bit of time in Forest Park thanks to a traffic jam. It was around that time that I started to dose off. I guess getting up early to get to the 5K run that morning was starting to catch up to me. I eventually woke up just as our guide was pointing out the beautiful Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. I thought the St. Louis Fun Trolley was nice relaxing introduction and orientation to the city.

 

At the conclusion of the trolley tour, I asked our driver how to get to the Scott Joplin House from the Lumiere Place Casino. She mentioned the attraction during the tour but we did not ride by it. Being someone who has enjoyed playing the piano most of my life, I knew I had to make the pilgrimage to the former home of this great composer before we left St. Louis. In what was becoming a recurring theme that weekend, the driver told us the house was not in walking distance nor does the metro go there nor is there a simple bus route to get there. Therefore, we used Uber.

Scott Joplin is known as the "The King of Ragtime". He wrote some of his most famous rags such as The Entertainer and Maple Leaf Rag while living in St. Louis between from 1900 to 1903. He and his wife Belle lived on the second floor of this flat on Delmar Boulevard. Traci and I were the only visitors at the time. A very knowledgeable guide showed us a 15-minute film about Scott Joplin and then took us upstairs to see the living quarters. None of the items in the home were owned by the Joplins. What we saw was an interpretation of a typical flat during that time period. Our guide was outstanding. This musicologist was a wealth of information about not only Scott Joplin but music in general. I played a lot of Scott Joplin's music as a young piano student. The opportunity for me to talk with someone so knowledgeable of the music I loved to play was a wonderful experience. I learned a lot of surprising information about Scott Joplin that day such as how much he traveled during his lifetime and how much of a businessman he was despite being a black man during the time of Jim Crow. Although none of the furniture or other items in the home are authentic, you can have an authentic experience in the Scott Joplin House. Our guide took us to a room containing two upright pianos. One of the pianos was a player piano. Our guide played a piano roll that was recorded by Scott Joplin himself. We could watch the keys move and listen to Maple Leaf Rag as played by the composer in the early 1900's! If you can't tell by now, I loved my visit to the Scott Joplin House. I even tickled the ivories a little myself. Unfortunately, it has been several years since I played any ragtime but it was fun anyway. I really got my music geek on by talking music details with our guide.

Scott Joplin House

 

Scott Joplin

 

player piano recording of Scott Joplin

 

Uh oh! Sounds like someone is a little rusty

 

After leaving the Scott Joplin House, Traci and I walked down the street to a gas station to get something to eat. Gas stations are not normally our choice for cuisine but Traci and I had been on the go since we woke up early that morning. It was now going on 3 PM and we had not eaten yet. We were supposed to be attending the running club banquet at 6 PM but I did not think I could hold out that long. Therefore, I settled for some rather dry chicken strips and potato wedges. We Uber'ed it from the gas station back to the Crowne Plaza.

By the time we arrived at the Crowne Plaza, our room was ready. Since we arrived in St. Louis the previous day, other members of the running club had been telling Traci and me about their dissatisfaction with their rooms at the Crowne Plaza. When we entered our room, I initially thought Traci and I had gotten lucky. We had a spacious room with a nice view of the Gateway Arch. We unpacked the clothes we planned to wear to the banquet. I opened the closet to find that there were no hangers. No problem, we'll just call the front desk to ask for them and some extra towels since Traci will need them after running the half-marathon the next day. The receptionist said that someone would bring us what we requested. Meanwhile, our room was colder than we preferred. Despite adjusting the knob on the AC/heating unit, the temperature did not change and there was no way that I could find to turn off the fan. I had to make another call to the front desk. The receptionist informed me that I could not adjust the temperature. She would have to send someone up. To make a long story short, no one ever came to our room during our entire stay even after repeated calls to the front desk. Traci made a complaint when we checked out. Continue...

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