Last year, I wished that I could spend more time and St Louis, and this year, my wish was granted.
My two days of hanging out with my first host Christa and riding a bicycle to the zoo by myself were fine fun and memorable, but getting to spend the last day with Sean, a Saint Louis native, was a much deeper look into the history and underbelly of the area.
Christa drove me to drop off my things at Kiley and Sean’s in the early afternoon. Christa and Julia had agreed to host me for two nights over a month ago, but since they had another visitor on the way, they couldn’t host me until my motorcycle was fixed, so I reached out to Kiley and Sean on couchsurfing.com, and they told me they could host me for 2 days, but had another bicyclist expected on Monday so I would have to be demoted to the actual couch.
Christa took me to Forest Park for the 50th anniversary of the hot air balloon races. Due to the wind, the race was slow to start, but we watched about four rise before we were ready to go. She dropped me off at Kiley and Sean’s, and Sean and I walked to Sister Cities Cajun for a beer while Kiley finished her studying (she’s on track to be an eye doctor and studies all the time). She joined us for po boys, and after walking her home, Sean and I walked to Cherokee Avenue and went to the Fortune Teller Bar for another beer.
Sean left at 7:00 a.m. this morning for coffee with a friend. I didn’t get out of bed until 8:00, shortly after Kiley. Sean had inflated the tires on their third bicycle, and since they bicycle nearly everywhere, we rode to meet him for a coffee.
After, we rode downtown, where Cardinals fans were gathering for the afternoon game, and Kiley took the train to school for a study day while Sean and I rode to the Arch, which I was surprised to learn was only built in 1963. I was also surprised by Sean’s thoughts on the Arch, which he appreciates for its uniqueness and economic tourist draw (and that it is the only Urban National Park in the country), yet he mourns the loss of so many buildings that were sacrificed to make room for the 670 foot (as wide as it is tall) Gateway to the West, as well as all of the other urban development in St Louis.
While Christa’s tour took me near the arch and down the Delmar divide, a road that has historically segregated the light and minority neighborhoods, Sean’s tour was a bit more exhaustive.
After bicycling back to his house under the first bridge to cross the Mississippi River and past the flood wall, which featured a seemingly endless stretch of art (mostly bubble words) as part of the annual Paint Lewis festival, we took the car for a longer tour.
Often called Brick City, every home in St Louis is made of brick, and most of them were made in the 1800s. Well many look quite similar, not a single one is identical to the one beside it, each of them adorned with cornices, gables, and other architectural terms I don’t know about. But the mansions of the Central West End are just stunning.
Beyond the great houses for the living, St Louis is also known for where it keeps the dead. There are two historical cemeteries that neighbor one another. The Bellefontaine Cemetery is 314 acres and contains ornate markers, obelisks, crypts, and mausoleums as remembrances of prominent Protestants like the Anheuser, Busch, and Lemp families (many of whom famously and tragically committed suicide). Across the street, is the 470 acres of more meager markers to remember the less affluent Catholics, like Dred Scott.
The tour also included a stop at the Catholic Basilica. Neither of us is catholic, but Sean had never been, and he was as blown away as I was.
Built from 1907 to 1914, the installation of the 83,000 square foot mosaic (the largest in the world outside of Russia) that adorns the ceiling began in 1912 and was finished in 1988. It is made of 41.5 million pieces of glass tile in over 7000 colors. Say what you will about the Catholic Church and it’s ridiculous infatuation with the ornate and shiny, but it is an incredible site to behold.
I also found it interesting that they had such a simple collection box for the less fortunate.
I still have a couple more nights here until my motorcycle is fixed. It shortens the amount of time I will be able to spend and the rest of Missouri and Kansas, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.