I think the greatest compliment you can pay a city is looking at real estate listings after you visit.
I paid St. Louis this compliment, even though, to be clear, I’m never moving again. But we really enjoyed St. Louis and barely scratched the surface of things to do there during our three day visit (also, real estate prices there seem very reasonable). So even though we won’t be buying a house, we’ll be sure to make a return trip as soon as we can. Particularly since I feel like we spent half of our time there trying to actually make it up into the arch. But more on that later.
We stayed at the St. Louis West/Route 66 KOA (more on that in a separate post). Owing to our stop at Lincoln Boyhood Memorial and a couple of other issues (again, stories for another post), we didn’t make it here until about 7:30 on Monday evening, so there wasn’t time for anything other than hooking up and scrambling around to find somewhere to get take-out before we went to bed. We also got online and bought tickets to go up in the arch the next evening. (That’s some foreshadowing for you).
The next morning we were ready to head out, though, and we picked the Museum of Transportation as our first destination. The cool thing about St. Louis is that there are a million things to do for free there; it’s like a midwestern Washington, DC. And yet we kept going to the places that DO cost money for some reason. Two reasons, in the case of the Museum of Transportation, actually: it’s a little west of St. Louis proper, so it was closer to our campground than a lot of places we could have gone. And we have a special affection for train museums after visiting the Railroad Museum in Savannah last year.
While it’s not free, the Museum of Transportation is reasonably priced, at $8 for adults and $5 for kids 3-12. You can also buy a wristband for $5 for unlimited train rides. We bought those for me, Gus, and Abe, but the older kids and Dave passed on them.
There’s a lot to see here. Like the big model train:
And the train table in the little cafe area, which is where Abe spent more time than anywhere else. There were airplane seats next to it to sit in. He spent a lot of time in those, too:
The aforementioned miniature train was fun; it goes in a loop around the property twice. It was super cold and windy, though, so we weren’t tempted to do it more than once despite our unlimited ride wristbands:
There’s a building with a lot of train memorabilia and whatnot. Like these dishes. I kind of have a thing for railroad china:
You could pretend to send telegraphs:
There was also a building full of vintage cars and some exhibits paying tribute to St. Louis’s Route 66 history. The museum saved part of this historic motel when the rest of it was torn down:
Awhile back Dave had a loaner car while his car was having some work done, and it happened to be a Mustang convertible. He got very attached to the Mustang, even though he admitted to feeling a little sheepish about how much he liked it. For reference, Dave’s regular car is a 95 Toyota Camry which he intends to drive forever, if possible. So we made him pose for this picture, over his strong protests:
But the main attraction is the trains. Lots and lots of trains. We spent quite a while wandering around in the yard full of old train cars, then walked over to a covered pavilion where we could see….more trains. Some of them you could go in and some not. There are signs all over telling you more about what you’re looking at, if you’re interested in, like, learning and all that sort of thing. At some point in here, Abe had a gigantic meltdown (reminding us, as he did quite a bit on this trip, that we need to get better about keeping bedtime to its regular time when we travel). Dave took him back to play with the train table even more while we finished looking at trains, trains, trains, trains, trains.
Phew! By the time we’d seen approximately 800 trains, we were ready to head back to the campground for lunch and a break before it was time to drive into the city for our trip up the arch.
The Gateway Arch is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial; it was built more than 50 years ago and is the tallest monument in the country, at 630 feet tall. And, even though it’s an utterly terrifying prospect, you can actually ride a little tram all the way up to the top of the arch. And, I hear, it usually doesn’t collapse while you’re up there.
The whole area around the arch is under construction right now; they’re redoing the museum that goes along with the memorial and all the land surrounding it. The brochure we looked at assures it’s going to be quite lovely when they’re finished. But for us, it meant we were worried leading up to the trip that we wouldn’t be able to go up in the arch at all. The museum is closed for the renovation and, as I understand it, trips to the top of the arch were suspended for awhile until just a few days before our visit.
But they were back in business on this day, and we had our tickets already bought. Now. I’m going to talk more about what’s actually involved in visiting the arch in another post, because what happened this time is….we didn’t get to go up. We walked over to the arch and got in line. Even though I am terrified of heights and figured there was pretty much only a fifty percent chance of getting through this experience alive, I was going to actually go up in this thing. For the children:
So we got in this line. And waited. And waited. The line didn’t move. No one was coming out of the exit. I’d say we waited there without moving for a good twenty minutes (which was getting to be a problem because we had plans to meet my St. Louis-dwelling cousin + family at their house for dinner that evening. Which I have no pictures of, but, Alix and Amy, if you’re reading–thanks so much for having us for dinner: we had a great time!)
Eventually, people started trickling out of the exit. A group of guys in their late teens or early twenties walked by on their way out and announced to all of us line-waiters that they’d had to shut down the arch because someone got their arm caught in the elevator. We believed and hoped they were kidding.
A few minutes after this, an arch employee came out to make a more official announcement. They were closing early, she told us, because of a “minor mechanical problem.” I assume, since I never heard about this on the news, that the minor mechanical problem didn’t actually involve anyone losing a limb. But, at any rate, this meant our arch attempt for the evening was a failure and we would need to try again another day.
Dave and Ari went to wait in a very long line for refunds (eventually, someone came out to say that people who’d bought tickets online didn’t need to wait and could call for refunds instead. We did that the next day, and it went quickly and smoothly). Meanwhile, I went back to the Old Courthouse nearby to wait with the other kids.
Milo, usually our most cheerful and easygoing traveler/kid, was about as disappointed as I’ve ever seen him, despite my assurances that we’d make sure to make it back another day:
To add insult to injury, I thought we’d pass the time waiting for Dave to get back by working on the kids’ Junior Ranger books in the Old Courthouse….but it was nearly 5, and they kicked us back out as soon as we walked in the door. So we went outside and huddled on the steps in the cold, staring forlornly at the mechanically impaired arch.
I will leave you there, with this sad end to our first day of touring. Don’t worry; it gets better!