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Out and About in St. Louis, Missouri

Enjoying a Train Ride to a Great City by the Great River

Originally published on www.OnTheFox.com by Northern Sky Designs, LLC.

Meet Me in St. Louis is the story of a four sisters (staring Judy Garland and June Lockhart, among others) in suburban St. Louis of 1903, a city on the verge of hosting the arrival of the 1904 World's Fair. One of the greatest musicals ever made, it is a subject better-suited for another article. In the meantime, rather than meeting me there, why don't you — at least for the time being — join me on a very brief excursion to St. Louis that we took just this past weekend? It was great fun and a trip worth repeating.

It all started because of an upcoming anniversary and we knew that we wouldn't have all that much time to go someplace far away. I have been known to drive long distances for great dinners and other special affairs, but this time, I would let someone else do the driving. We had both been wanting for some time to take advantage of the low fare offerings from Amtrak between Chicago and St. Louis, and the combination seemed too good to take a pass on. Round-trip tickets from Chicago were a mere $46 each. Even at 30 miles per gallon, gas alone would have cost close to $60 had we made the trip by automobile, so I figured that it was a deal that I just couldn't resist.

We had decided to take an early Saturday morning train from Geneva to Chicago in order to catch the 9:25 train to St. Louis. From the Ogilvie Transportation Center, Union Station (where we needed to go to catch the train to St. Louis) was a short 5-minute walk. We had purchased our tickets online in advance, so all we needed to do was access one of the handy computer stations to get our printed tickets. I was surprised at the number of people who boarded the train. I guess I shouldn't have been, considering the train makes stops at Bloomington-Normal (great for the many students who attend Illinois State) and Springfield, as well as a dozen or so other places along the way. After a brief stay in the waiting area, we were called for boarding. After showing our ID's and signed tickets to the security folks at the gate, we climbed aboard, stowed our luggage in the spacious overhead racks and headed for reserved coach seating in a car just behind a lounge car.

The seats are very large and very comfortable and I was way ready to do some relaxing. The train eased out of Union Station and headed south, first cutting through the industrial areas south of Chicago and then heading south and west, stopping at Summit and then Joliet. After that point, the open flatness of the Illinois prairie started to reveal its beauty as we headed to Dwight and then Pontiac, Bloomington and Lincoln before arriving at Springfield. Springfield, you may recall, was the destination of an earlier excursion to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Dana-Thomas House there. A marvelous piece of architecture, it is a must see, whether you are a Wright fanatic or not. By the way, in the event that you may be interested, during his lifetime, Frank Lloyd Wright built 532 homes, museums, and office buildings; more than 400 of these still stand. Two of these can be found in St. Louis: the Russell W. M. Kraus House in Kirkwood (a suburb just west of St. Louis) and the Theodore A. Pappas House in Town and Country — another suburb a bit farther to the west. We wouldn't have the time on this trip, but we do plan to return to St. Louis on another occasion to see those homes.

Interestingly, as we rolled on through and past the endless fields of corn and beans of the central part of the state, I also noticed that we were paralleling an old — no, a very old road that, at times, disappeared for about 50 yards and then reappeared. My suspicions were suddenly confirmed as an old green state route marker indicated that the road I had been watching was indeed the Historic Route 66 that runs from Lake Shore Drive in Chicago all the way to Los Angeles. I now had a new excursion on which to embark, but that is a story for a different day. For now, I simply smiled and allowed the old highway to call my name and beckon me to take my car next time.

I figured that it was time to begin the celebration, so I made my way to the lounge car and was greeted by not only a very nice young lady who was running the concessions, but also by an incredible choice of snacks, sandwiches and beverages. There were also small tables where folks could relax and imbibe or sip soda as the miles sped past. I decided that some potato chips and smoked almonds would accompany two Bloody Marys perfectly, thank you very much. We sipped our drinks and enjoyed the comfort of the car as we continued to roll effortlessly south and west, stopping at Carlinville and Alton before finally slowing as we crossed the Mississippi River and easing to a stop in St. Louis. It was a beautifully clear autumn day and the arch was shimmering in all of its glory — another site to see and stop that you simply have to make when you go to St. Louis.

We exited the train and decided to walk the half-dozen or so blocks — past the Blues Hockey Stadium — to the Hyatt Regency Hotel located in the giant and beautifully renovated Union Station. We were amazed at the throngs of people out and about that day, enjoying the unusually warm and sunny October afternoon. After checking in, we joined them and strolled a few of the blocks ourselves. If we only had a few more hours or even better, another day, we would have walked the mile or so back down to the riverfront and browsed the numerous shops and checked out the many fine dining venues there beneath the arch. But this trip was mostly about discovery so that we could return when we had more time.

There were a number of tempting locations that we had considered for dinner that evening — several within walking distance and several more within range of a short taxi ride. Our choice was to remain at the hotel and have dinner at the Station Grille Restaurant where we could "Indulge in Contemporary American gastronomic delights prepared on an open grill in this handsome downtown St. Louis restaurant." And what an excellent choice it was. Rather than a full dinner, I talked my wife into having a number of the appetizers along with some wine. (She was as yet unaware of the champagne, strawberries and chocolate dipping sauce waiting in our room for dessert). Starting with a tasty Caesar Salad (with fresh Parmesan, Spanish white anchovies and warm garlic croutons), we sampled three very excellent items from a wonderful menu: Sesame Seared Tuna with Daikon slaw, "Cigars" of ground lamb with Moroccan spices (and lots of garlic) and Diver Scallops. We took our time eating the tasty morsels, enjoying some buttery Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay as we discussed the day's journey and toasted to many more.

After dinner we strolled through the cavernous Grand Hall Lounge, which serves as the Hyatt's main lobby and lounge. Incredibly and intricately restored and complete with magnificent stained glass windows, intricate carvings, and gold leaf ornamentation, the Grand Hall truly reflects the opulence once enjoyed in an era long past. As advertised on the hotel's website, it is: "One of St. Louis' most romantic destinations." We also took a long walk through the rest of the beautifully restored Union Station, complete with restaurants, shops and lots of sights to see. We headed back to our room and enjoyed the late night dessert I mentioned earlier. It was the perfect ending to a day that seemed all too short.

Morning light brought another gorgeous day, and we opted to take our time and walk back to the train, enjoying the brisk morning air in a very lively and friendly city. The train was about twenty minutes late, but it was not the commuter that we had taken on the way down. It was coming from San Antonio, Texas and had encountered a slight delay from a freight train. I didn't mind. I knew that our train — the Texas Eagle — was like one we had once taken to California: much bigger and even more comfortable seating on the upper level. There was also a dining car and an observation car, and I was ready for the enjoyable trip back home.

All too soon we were back in the Windy City, heading back to the Ogilvie Transportation Center and the train back to the suburbs. Another delay or two on the way back to Chicago caused us to miss our scheduled train and we ended up riding home with a huge crowd from Soldier Field. Unfortunately the home team had lost and the train was pretty quiet. Like everyone else, I was sad about the loss… but I was still smiling from ear to ear after a very quick but very fun weekend. If you are one of those people who doesn't mind slowing down a bit, taking your time and enjoying a train ride, the one to St. Louis is worthy of your serious consideration. I would highly recommend it. But take at least a couple of days and enjoy the multitude of things that the great city by the Great River has to offer.