25 June 2006

Trip Log, Day 1; St. Louis

Note: This is this first post in a series. You can find the complete series index here.

Travel days on vacation always seem like such a waste to me. I travel for a living, so I usually get PAID to fly. Burning a vacation day to fly seems proposterous to me. My preference would have been to fly out after work and arrive in the late evening at my destination. Since I take two summer trips with one buddy of mine, we are each responsible for travel arrangements for one trip. I had no say in this one, so we flew out in the morning! Fortunately, it was a first-class flight into STL, which arrived around 1 pm.

Vacation meal #1 was burned on airline food. I had a lovely, overly salted, turkey sandwich on a croissant. Accompanying the sandwich was a salad with not-quite-wilted lettuce, and a bag of walnut cookies. I am glad that I don't ever see those cookies in the supermarket, because I like them a lot. Most of the products from Old Colony are pretty good (on the return flight, I had one variety that I had never seen -- Chocolate Mint), and if they were readily available locally, I am afraid I would buy a bag every trip to the grocery store. And, even though they are very reasonably priced online, I don't think that I need 100 bags of cookies lying around the house.

Rental car pickup and hotel check-in were quick and smooth. I used Hotwire for this trip, as opposed to my favored Hertz because the Hotwire cost was almost 1/3 the charge for the Hertz rental. Now, I love Hertz, but not that much.

After a quick change at the hotel, we drove off to check out the world famous St. Louis Zoo. The St. Louis Zoo flourished under the care of Marlin Perkins, of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom fame. The St. Louis Zoo was one of the first zoos to eliminate the old-style cage system, and provide more of a free-roaming environment for it's animals. Best of all, for all you penny pinchers out there, the place is absolutely free. They do charge $9 to park a car there, but you can load up as many as you like in the ol' family truckster and head out for a good day at the zoo.

I have become a fan of good zoos over the years. As much as I love to travel, I haven't been outside North America since a trip to Europe in the eighth grade. For me, zoos are a way to see some of nature that I would not otherwise be able to inside this region of the world.

Every time I go to the zoo, I never fail to see something that I had not ever seen before. This trip was no exception. I happen to think that lemurs are among the coolest of the mammals, and so I always make it a point to check out the monkeys, orangutans, and other primates, which are housed together at most zoos. The St. Louis zoo recently added a new species of lemur, which may well be one of the coolest animals I have ever seen, the sifaka. Native to Madagascar, it was only recently discovered how to care for these animals in captivity.

I also want to check out how they have my favorite animals cared for -- the penguins. The St. Louis Zoo had an excellent penguin and puffin exhibit, and on the day we went, many different species were roaming about and making quite a bit of noise.

Due to the layout of the exhibits, you do quite a bit of walking at this zoo. It makes for a decent bump in the heart rate (for a while, it seems like everything is uphill). Needless to say, after about three hours, I was exhausted.

Dinner on the first night was burgers at Blueberry Hill. Traveling with someone who has lived in STL previously, I got quite a bit of historical background on this area...unfortunately, not many pictures! While the burger was fabulous, what I was most pleased with was the Shiner Bock on draft. Whenever I travel to Texas, Shiner is THE beer of choice, and I can even get in bottles from the local Publix. My understanding, though, was that Shiner beer is only available on draft in Texas. A pleasant surprise, to say the least.

The specialty burger here is the Cheddar Burger. It is 7 oz. of beef slathered with spreadable cheddar cheese. I am not usually a big fan of any kind of cheese spread, but this gooey cheese added a unique flavor to the burger. At our table, one burger was ordered medium and one medium rare -- and there was a discernable difference in the two. The fries were tasty, but I was subsequently told to order the onion rings instead. If you are in the STL area for the first time, I would add this place to my musts. They have live music (Chuck Berry still plays here once a month!), dart room, pinball, displays of toy and sports memorabilia, and GREAT food. You can find them in the Loop on Delmar.

The last stop of the day was the ultimate St. Louis institution -- Ted Drewes for frozen custard. I read in one of those cheesy tourist books how St. Louis is famous for two things -- one made of steel (The Arch) and the other made of concrete (the name for Ted Drewe's blended custard concoction). This was my second visit to Ted Drewe's, and I recalled that during my last visit I had an apple pie concrete. For the uninitiated, this is vanilla custard blended with a hunk of fresh apple pie -- similar to a DQ Blizzard, but with quality ingredients! The server turns the dish upside down to show just how thick (kind of like....concrete!) this treat is. For some reason, they serve your custard with a spoon AND a straw -- but, I have never seen anyone eat their concrete with a straw.

However, after perusing the menu thoroughly, I did not see apple pie on the menu. I understand that the menu rotates somewhat periodically, but I was bummed. One of the folks I was with suggested that I ask for it, as they sometimes have stuff that is not on the menu. Good call...and moments later, I was chowing down on my apple pie concrete!

An exhausting first day of vacation done. Good sleep was the next order of business.

For anyone interested, I will post a few more pictures from the zoo below the fold.

My favorite bad ass lookin' penguin!

We caught this polar bear at feeding time. Here he is mauling a fish!

The insectarium at the St. Louis Zoo is wonderful, including a large collection of butterflies.

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