Grafton IL / St. Louis MO

28 September 2014

Grafton is nice, we’ve really enjoyed our stay here. One great thing is the wi-fi, we’ve both been able to catch up on our internet surfing.

On Sunday we got up and out the door at 8 AM to head to St. Louis. Traffic was light and it was a pretty easy drive. I was unable to find Spray 9 cleaner yesterday, so we would try again today. It turns out that car guys like it, and the first auto parts place that we stopped had it.

We also stopped at a local doughnut stop for a quick breakfast snack. I really like cinnamon rolls, and they had a doughnut that was layers of dough and cinnamon rather than a spiral. I think this has become my new favorite.

First stop in St. Louis was the Botanical Gardens. It’s a huge place, bigger than Longwood Gardens. We picked out the places we wanted to see. We both wanted to see the Japanese and Chinese gardens, and of course they were at the farthest corner. Two tram tickets later and we were on our way!

The Japanese garden is around a small lake that has a stream with a three level waterfall filling it. Around the edges are planting with the white sands that have been raked into designs and patterns. It is very tranquil, we both sat on a bench for a few moments taking it all in.

At the far end is a bridge that has feed for the koi. It was fun to feed them and to watch the ducks zoom in to grab the feed. Some of the fish are fat and lazy, they come to the surface and open their mouths so you can toss the food into it. Sometimes it works, but I watched one duck stick their beak into the mouth and snatch the food away. We circumnavigated the pond, stopping often to get great pictures.

The Chinese garden is set in the woods and has a winding path through it. It was also very tranquil and it was nice to be in the shade for awhile. Lots of pretty sculptures in little nooks of the landscape. There were also a number of benches that you could sit and admire.

Next door was a boxwood garden like you would find in England. Perfectly trimmed boxwood around a stone path. There is a gazebo at one end, I can imagine sitting there enjoying a meal with friends.

We took the tram to the next stop, Henry Shaw’s restored County Residence. Shaw was the founder and creator of the gardens in the mid 1800′s. We toured the house and the Victorian style gardens around it. One of them is a maze, the hedges are about 5′ tall, high enough for a parent to see over, but still blocking the view of children. There was one family playing chase in the maze, it reminded me of a time the kids and I did a corn maze and got totally lost.

There is an observation tower in the corner where we could watch the maze activities and also see the designs in the other gardens. One of my favorites was the Pincushion Gardens. About 4 feet across they were intricate designs all done with succulent plants. Very pretty and very ornate, I’m hoping Susan’s pictures come out.

We walked over to the “Climatron”. It is the first geodesic dome to be used as a conservatory. It was designed using Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic system. It houses all of their tropical plants and we wound our way through it admiring the collection. Outside of the dome is a long reflecting pool that has glass sculptures by Chihuly. They are long flame like globes, that reflect in the water.

In our wanderings we also pass through two rose gardens. Not a lot was in bloom since it was late in the season, but Susan was thrilled with the ones that were. I can imagine in the spring it is a pretty stunning display.

We passed through the Linnean House on the way out. It’s the oldest orangery, a building to overwinter citrus plants, west of the Mississippi. It has high arched ceilings with glass panels on the roof to be able to collect massive amounts of sunlight.

We hopped back in our car and drove cross town to Pappy’s Smokehouse, one of the top BBQ places in St. Louis. We got in line about 12:30 at the back entrance of the door. Pretty soon we were inside the building in another line that snaked down a back hallway. Then we got to a doorway that led into the restaurant, and yet another line. It’s clear that Pappy’s has taken a page from the Disney crowd control playbook. But, like Disney, the lines did keep moving.

At the counter we ordered our lunches and a full slab of ribs to go for later on. We easily found seats and within minutes a waitress was bringing our food out to us. The entire time from car to food was about an hour.

But the food was great. Susan had the beef brisket and burnt ends. The brisket was tender and had the great smoked flavor we were looking for. The burnt ends were juicy and crispy, the caramelized sauces were wonderful. I also had the ends but my other side was smoked chicken. I had a combination of white and dark meat, the smoke flavor was all through the meat. The sides were great, it was a wonderful lunch (and dinners to come!)

Back to the car to go to the famous St. Louis Arch. It was good that we had a GPS, because there was a ton of construction work along the east side of St. Louis. They are in the process of revamping and rebuilding the entire park area. After lots of twists and turns and a four block ride down a cobblestone street we arrived at the Arch.

I had been to the Arch before, but time had eroded the memories of how tall it really was. It’s simple design soaring into the sky is truly amazing. With almost no crowd, we were soon lined up to take the ride up. This part I did remember, small cramped cages/pods that barely held 5 people. The ride feels like a Ferris wheel, you sweep up and around from below the base up into the legs and then into the top. We got out and took the last 3 dozen steps to the observation area.

We stared out the tiny windows on both the East and West sides taking in the vistas. From the top you can see 40 miles on a clear day. We took pictures and one of the Park Rangers was nice enough to take a picture of both of us.

Down in the base we watched a movie about Lewis and Clark and their expedition up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and across the Rockies to the west coast. Time had again eroded memories from High School History class. Since it was an Imax movie, the scenery was breathtaking. I can’t imagine making a trip like that. While the Loop is pretty cool, we are never more than a mile away from civilization.

The other movie was about the construction of the Arch in the 1960′s. What an engineering feat! They had limited computers back then (early mainframe days) and the drawings were hand done. They showed the construction of the “slices” that were bolted together and then filled with concrete to add extra stiffness. It was impressive that the legs could support themselves up to the 500′ level when they were able to put a bridge across to help with the loads. At the top the two ends met exactly on line, remember this is a time well before laser sights and distance measurements. The movie shows the use of transits and 100′ measurement tapes.

There is also a museum in the base that talks about Lewis and Clark and life of the early explorers and settlers.

Back to the car to the second most important place of the day, “Ted Drewes Frozen Custard”, to get a “concrete”. A concrete is frozen custard that has some additional item (like Oreo Cookies) mixed in. But unlike ice cream the resulting concoction is hard, you can turn it upside down and it will stay in the cup.

Back across town to Ted’s. To find it closed for the season. Oh Noes!! Susan to the rescue, she knew there was more than one. A call to the second one to find that they were open until 11.

A 20 minute drive later (actually 40 minutes since we did a quick grocery stop) we were there. It’s about twice the size of our local Brewster’s with a huge crowd of people outside. I lucked out and found a spot. Unlike Brewster’s they had 8 lines going and we soon were back in the car with our concretes. I drove while Susan dived into her “Turtle” a concrete with hot fudge, caramel, and pecans. About 10 minutes later we stopped for gas and switched drivers, and I ate my simpler chocolate with fudge and Oreo cookies. They were very good and made the perfect end to the day.

We boarded the Quo Vadimus at 8:30 PM. A longer day that we had planned but one of the best sightseeing days we’ve had, but we both had fun.