Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Road Trip: Missoura (Cross County Road Trip Ep. 4)

We rejoin our travelers as they depart from the state of Tennessee and continue their journey out west. Missed the last episode? Click here to read it!

Back on the road, quickly find ourselves leaving Tennessee and entering Kentucky. The weather continued to be unpredictable and lashed out with bouts of heavy rain as we headed north on I-65 through the rolling hills. Our journey today would take us further west, but before we hit St. Louis, we wanted to squeeze in a quick visit to one of places every car nut should find the opportunity to see: the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY.

The museum, which is located right near the factory where all Corvettes are produced, houses one of the most extensive collections of Corvettes
in the country and includes everything from prototypes, classics, and current models. There are also several fully decked out race versions that have competed at LeMans, in ALMS, and other sports car racing series where the cars were dominant in their performance class. The massive concrete structure is also home to the now infamous Corvette swallowing sinkhole that devoured several cars earlier this year, including at least one virtually irreplaceable collector car that was on loan to them from a customer's private collection. For any fan of racing, car design, and American sports cars, there are few places that feel as complete and thorough in its admiration for a single vehicle as these hallowed grounds.

Since we were on a schedule, we did not get to spend too much time there, but we did use the opportunity to explore the whole museum as well as dodge the rains that had been drenching us all afternoon long. By the time we stepped back outside, the skies had cleared, though the ground was still quite wet. We jumped back in the car and hit the road once again. This time, driving through four different states, the sun blinding us as we faced westward, we crossed the Illinois-Missouri border at just past 8PM to arrive at our hotel that was within blocks of the Gateway Arch. This was to be our first real hotel stay during the trip and it felt good to stay somewhere and not have to worry about cleaning up afterwards.

The next morning, we picked up our bikes from the hotel's bell closest, where they had kindly stored them for us, and set out to see the shiny stainless steel structure peaking through the buildings. St. Louis, unlike Atlanta, was significantly less hilly and offered an extensive network of bike trails that not only covered the most well-known tourist attractions, but also crossed the Mississippi River at points into Illinois. Throughout our stay, we were able to make extensive use of the bike trails that connected us from our downtown location to various locations around the city.

When we finally got to the Arch (construction had cut off the most direct access), it was impressive to finally see the structure up close. From a distance, one simply does not get a clear sense of the sheer grandeur that the Arch exudes, but up close and being able to lay a hand on the cold steel and see it from beneath, there is something truly grandiose about it. We spent a fair amount of time, looking for distinct angles and framing unique images, taking our time to appreciate the engineering that went into its creation. It's location along the Mississippi River juxtaposes two symbols of America's glory days: an ode to the exploration and expansion of the West and the waterway that helped to make that expansion possible.

Satisfied with the dozens of photographs we had shot, we hopped back on the bikes and headed for the Cherokee-Lemp Historic District. Along the way, the yeasty scent of brewing beer filled our nostrils as we passed by Budweiser's brewing operation, located just outside of downtown St. Louis.
However, it would not be the only brewery we would pass. As we arrived in the historic district, the towering husk of the Lemp Brewery stood above us, a reminder of the glory days when St. Louis was a much larger and much more bustling city. On this Sunday, the streets just a few miles outside of downtown were nearly totally silent and only a few couples, likely tourists like us, were ambling down the street.

The Cherokee-Lemp historic district is known for its collection of antique and vintage shops. Carrying everything from vinyl records, to old-school stoves, to actual vintage clothing, the street should have been a bustling hotbed for the local hipster population. Instead, we found ourselves nearly the only patrons in just about every store we walked into. The collections were sometimes extraordinary eclectic and the shop owners as eccentric, or sometimes more so, than the things they collected. One bright spot was a cool little coffee shop called The Mud House, which served some unique takes on some classic beverages.

Our evening in St. Louis would be rounded out by a long bike-ride along the bank of the Mississippi and sitting down to a nice dinner with friends. Returning to the hotel for the evening, we relaxed and enjoyed a restful night's sleep.

The next morning, we went in search of Park Avenue Coffee, purveyors of what we had read were the broadest variety of gooey butter cakes in the St. Louis area. We arrived to find a display case filled with options, ranging from the classic version, coated in powdered sugar, to the cinnamon roll, loaded with icing, to the red velvet. We were feeling almost a bit overwhelmed with all the choices, but selected an original and one other to taste. Each rich serving was a gooey mass of sugary goodness, melting away in the mouth and leaving behind a delightful flavor that lingered on the taste buds. Diabetes be damned, we promptly finished both pieces.

Our dose of sugary goodness fueling our bodies, we walked around downtown for a bit and then decided to visit the Missouri Botanical Garden on our way out of the city. Since we were a bit short on time, we did the quick tram tour, which showed us several of the key features of this outstandingly assembled and maintained garden. Artwork from famed glass sculptor Dale Chihuly is present throughout and several impressive structures, including the Climatron geodesic dome, dot the grounds. While our time there was short, we were impressed with how beautifully assembled and curated each of the gardens were and how painstakingly well maintained the grounds are. If there is one place you must see when passing through St. Louis, this might be more worth the trip than even the more famous Gateway Arch.

With dinner plans on the other side of the state, we bid farewell to the lovely city of St. Louis and steered the TSX towards Kansas City on Missouri's western border. The drive was uneventful as we enjoyed some enlightening podcasts from NPR's Planet Money and This American Life. With traffic barely registering above a slight nuisance, we arrived in Kansas City with plenty of time for a great dinner of Kansas City BBQ with family as we recounted our adventures so far. With the evening drawing to a close, we prepared our stuff and got a good night's rest as our longest driving day of the entire trip lay ahead of us in the morning.

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