I’ve been engrossed in the dozen projects around our new home, moving, and visits from kids and grandkids. I’m ALMOST ready to settle in to writing my column every week and working on the house in between.
But a friend/editor at the Oklahoman offered me a press trip to St. Louis and I LOVE St. Louis. I lived here for a year when I was a Jr. in high school. It’s an old city, rich in culture and interest and diverse history.
If you’ve never heard of a press tour, its when a P.R. company contracts with a state or community to bring press/travel writers into their venue. In this case the state of Missouri sponsored the tour, highlighting St. Louis, St. Charles and St. Genevieve.
I started off right away testing their hospitality. I explained that I couldn’t go if I had to travel or work Sunday. They quickly said, “No problem. Come Monday instead.” Then I asked if I could bring Jeff who is the photographer. (Nothing is as much fun without him, especially travel.) “Sure, we’d love to have him.”
So here we are in this delightful place. The River City Hotel welcomed us with a posh room, basket-fulls of gifts, a chocolate sculpture, a box of chocolates, and even a storybook. The bed is incredibly comfortable and that’s important for a couple of old codgers.
Yesterday we joined the rest of the media tour in St. Charles. It’s a 250 year old town that boasts of being the jumping off place for Lewis and Clark. It’s built on the Missouri River and still has sweeping views of the river. There are over a hundred quaint shops on the main street. We lived here a year and I never got to see St. Charles. The interesting thing about St. Charles is that they are restoring lots of old buildings but they are also wooing startup business with affordable office space and support. It’s so smart. If they rely only on tourists they’re vulnerable to economic slowdowns that could shut down a town. But they’re diversifying the economy and it’s cool. Some of the offices are in a huge old post office. They even showed me the spy holes in the attic that they used to use to monitor potential mail thieves.
The barbeque dinner in the old waterworks building was tasty with generous portions. The meat was all nice and moist and the sweet potato casserole was YUMMY! At the end of the meal they brought some french fries we hadn’t asked for, but they were so delicious, I half wished I wasn’t already full to bursting.
Today we got an interesting tour of the St. Louis Basilica Cathedral. The mosiacs were enough to astonish even us seasoned travelers, fresh from our vacation including dozens of elaborate churches in Rome, including the Vatican itself. Some of the mosaics are by Tiffany of glass fame, (You’ve heard of Tiffany lamps,). There are 41 1/2 million tiles on 83000 square feet of mosaics. You have to see it to believe it. The church is open to tours every day except during funerals or weddings.
Next we got to go through the St. Louis art museum in Forest Park. It’s a great museum with a little bit of everything. There are plenty of big-league artists from the Renaissance and earlier, all the way up to modernists. Lots of what we saw was familiar from our trip to Europe a couple months ago. It feels good to be less ignorant than formerly. I was sorry that we didn’t get to see the “self-taught artist” Americana exhibit. I think that was an error made by the volunteers. They didn’t realize what VIP’s we were!
This painting is about 16 feet long and 7 feet high. Monet loved to paint the water lilies from his backyard pond.
It’s so fun to rub shoulders with the other journalists. For the most part, their an interesting, entertaining group and almost all have been travel writing much longer than I have. They share tips and give helpful insights. I like interesting stories and there are lots and lots of those.
They had hardcover books on our chairs about Monet, since they have one of his major works in the museum. The Panorama restaurant in the museum was tasty ( I had the Grilled Chicken Waldorf Salad) if a bit pricey for my plebeian wallet. (Not that we had to pay, but the prices were on the menu.
The food tour of the Hill, (Italian Section) was really fun. We at St. Louis style Pizza, beef sandwiches, cured meats, toasted ravioli, cannolis, Italian bread, Olive salad, and of course gelato. The thing I loved was that the neighborhood isn’t a glossy tourist attraction. There are the 100 year-old homes, still occupied, tidy gardens, friendly businesses. But locals are going about their day and here and there you still catch snatches of Italian. Our guide from Eat St. Louis (owner, Pete Manzo) explained that the neighborhood fathers have informally tried to protect the neighborhood culture. If you’re not Italian, you can shop and eat and enjoy their corner of the city, but don’t try to buy real estate. I’d never done a food and culture tour today and it was tons of fun. I’m going to seek them out in the future. This is only Pete’s third season in business and the first year, he personally led 700 tours at $40. a person. He recently hired a couple more guides.
I thought we were stuffed by the time we were done with the tour, but they took us straight to the Ameristar Hotel, King Cat restaurant. The food was served like tapas, on small plates and tiny individual servings, but everything was delicious. They served the BEST sea bass with a tomato marmalade in the world. SO DELICIOUS. Even the oysters were delightful. (Because they tasted like cheese and not oysters!) The canolis they served for dessert were the best I’ve ever tasted and Jeff and I accidentally ate a coffee bean from the tiramisu garnish. We didn’t recognize what it was until later. The beef was fantastic too. They have a new chef that has a delightful touch.
We were tired when we got back to our room. But the surprises were not over. There was a little treasure chest full of fresh, homemade cookies and a carafe of milk in the fridge. . .and a hard bound recipe book called Stone Soup Cottage.
Tomorrow we’re going to St. Genevieve. I’m sure that more delights and overeating await us. For now, Jeff’s watching the all star game and I’m in my jammies, catching up just a bit on my blog.
Pete from “Eat St. Louis” told us at the beginning of the tour that we had his dream job. I’m beginning to think that I have my dream job. Traveling and being feted and fed like a celebrity is growing on me! (yes, very literally in the ‘fed’ department!)
This is a side of St. Louis and the region that I haven’t seen, and it’s so FUN. Jeff loves to plan really special vacations and this is all right up there. My part of the deal is that I have three weeks to turn in my story to the Oklahoman.
You know, I really like my life!