St Louis – an arch, a paddle boat, a famous river and a catholic church

Still recovering from the fun I’d had in Daytona Beach, it was now time to explore St Louis in Missouri, a city that lies on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River and one that often appears in various Vampire books.  Thankfully, I just experienced the city and no vampires.

One of the main attractions in St Louis is its magnificent arch towering above the buildings and standing guard over the Mississippi River. You can see it for absolutely miles around.  It is currently the most visited tourist attraction in the world – a staggering 4 million people visit it each year!

My first view of the arch driving over the bridge going into St Louis.

At first I thought it looked odd – a bright, shiny metal structure in front of normal office blocks and buildings but after seeing it a few times, I grew to appreciate its beauty, the simple structure and its meaning – The Gateway to the West. It was built as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States.  It is 192m high and is the tallest man-made monument in the United States. It took around 2.5 years to build and was completed in October 1965 and opened to the public in June 1967.

The Arch viewed from the Mississippi River

The two legs of the arch were built separately and a big ceremony was held when the two legs came to meet in the middle.  Unfortunately, the builders had to spray the two ends with water because the material had expanded so much in the heat that the final piece wouldn’t fit.  After some ‘encouraging’ with a hydraulic jack and lots of cold water, the two legs were finally joined and history was made.

Before I learnt more about the arch, I decided I had to stand in the famous Mississippi river. I’ve read and heard so much about this mighty river and was really honoured to see it.  However, when I saw the colour of it and heard that there are so many toxins in it that you are limited to the amount of fish you can eat from it, I decided that standing in it was not an option and opted instead to merely stick my toe in it. So there, I’ve ‘been in’ the Mississippi River.

Dipping my toe into the mighty, albeit mucky, Mississippi River

Now time to head up to see the famous arch in all its shiny glory.

Looking up at the arch from the car park on the banks of the Mississippi

Standing at the base of one of the legs/arms of the Arch. You can only see about 1/3 of the width in this photo.

Going inside, I got my ticket and headed over to the queue to head up the arch.

While waiting, a thought occurred to me… How do you get an elevator up something that curves?  The answer is a tram of little cabins that slowly click and adjust, like a ferris wheel, all the way to the top so that you always remain upright (which is a good thing).

This didn’t become a problem until I saw how big (or really, how SMALL) the cabins were. 5 People are expected to sit inside – you can’t stand or move around. Believe me, I didn’t know my palms could produce so much sweat and 4 minutes is an awfully long time when you’re feeling frightened.

Courtesty of Wikipedia – the inside of the tram. You can clearly see the 5 seats. There is a small window on the door.

Eventually at the top, I entered a small viewing platform 20m long by 2m wide.  With already sweaty palms and now faced with a very small area 192m high and children running around jumping up and down, it all proved a bit too much for my nerves.  After some hasty photos of the view, I boarded my tram for the slightly quicker journey of 3 minutes back down to the ground.

The view of the Mississippi from the top of the Arch. (Picture taken in haste with sweaty palms)

Unfortunately the gift shop didn’t sell whiskey and I had to settle for a pepsi to calm my nerves.

The attached “Museum of Westward Expansion” inside the base of the Arch was very interesting.  Horses, buffalo and deer exhibits along with wigwams, wagons and all sorts of interesting artefacts were displayed in a curved area split into different time periods.  You could skip to certain years or simply walk along and review history as it went. Interesting for someone who has no clue about American history.

Uhm – Colleen, there’s a buffalo behind you…. (Museum of Westward Expansion)

A quick visit to the old courthouse which is known as one of St Louis’s most prominent architectural landmarks.  It was the scene of the Dred Scott case, the first african american who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom. It was also where Virginia Minor’s case for a woman’s right to vote came to trial (and failed).

The Old Courthouse of St Louis as seen from the top of the Arch

Because it was less than a week away from American Independence Day (4th July), the inside of the courthouse was filled with patriotic flags and banners.

4 Floors of patriotism in the Old Courthouse

You are able to enter various courtrooms and there are 2 small museums on the ground floor.  You probably wouldn’t need more than 30 minutes in here in total but it’s an interesting visit.

Now it was time for the paddle boat ride along the Mississippi.  I was so excited for this. It made me think of old movies and ladies with pretty dresses with 100’s of petticoats and lace umbrellas.

On the paddle boat ready for the ride. No dresses or lace umbrellas in sight.

The view of the arch from the paddle boat mooring is quite spectacular.  Because you are lower than the base and looking up, it can feel quite overpowering – like it isn’t just standing there making its statement but shouting it out for the world to hear.

The Arch of St Louis, Missouri on the banks of the Mississippi River.

I originally took a seat on the top deck mistakenly thinking there would be a breeze blowing but after 20 minutes feeling like the blazing sun was trying to burn a layer off my skin, I headed indoors, grateful for the air conditioner and cooler seats.  The captain gave us all sorts of interesting information about the river and after an hour, we had returned to base.

Next on the list was the Catholic Cathedral Basilica of St Louis. It is the official seat of the arch bishop of St Louis and was designated a basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1997. The inside of this incredible building is decorated in tiny coloured (but mainly gold) mosaic.  The atmosphere inside was typical of churches and cathedrals, quiet and anechoic.  It was simply beautiful – I could have sat and just looked at it for hours.

The beautiful mosaic interior of the Catholic Basilica of St Louis

The breathtaking interior – all made from mosaic

The mosaics were only ‘installed’ in 1912 and was completed as late as 1988.  They collectively contain 41.5 million glass mosaic pieces in more than 7,000 colors. Covering 83,000 square feet (7,700 m2), it is reputedly one of the largest mosaic collections in the world. Pretty impressive…

So that concluded my first day of exploring St Louis. I was excited, satisfied and very, very hot.  36C is very hot to be spending the day outside.  Next on my list, the Art Museum, State Museum and City Museum.  So excited to tell you all about the City Museum – it was quite simply the BEST museum I have EVER visited.

Until next time…

The Gateway Arch
Entry into the arch is free but there is a charge to travel to the top. Prices vary depending on if you buy the tickets at the arch itself or online.  If you combine tickets with other attractions such as the paddle boats and bike hire, you can get better deals. Tickets start at $10.

Paddle Boat Rides
Daily One-hour Cruises
Adults (age 16 and up): $14
Children (ages 3 to 15): $8
Children under age 3: Free
Skylight dinner cruises are also available starting from $42.

Old Courthouse
Free entry

Catholic Cathedral Basilica of St Louis
Free entry

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