This post has been long coming, only because I did so much in St. Louis. I had the trip to visit and have fun with my family planned since March, when I got an amazing ticket deal from Frontier Airlines the day I photographed their press event announcing new flight service through Dulles. Unfortunately I had to head to St. Louis a week early when my grandmother suddenly passed away. And while this was a very sad reason to head to St. Louis, it did mean I'd enjoy an extra week with family.
DC → STL
Since I had to leave a week before my originally scheduled flight, I drove, watching Autumn take hold of the Eastern half of the country.
Arrival in STL
I've seen it before, but never really knew much about it. A few years ago there was an electrical malfunction that caused the wings to flap backwards.
This was a wonderful suite to relax in each evening.
Also, this photo sums up about half the entire trip. #NotTheGiants
So the lesson I (re)learned this trip was that when your cousins have kids, your devices will never have battery unless you are vigilant. Geez; and I thought I killed iPhone / iPad batteries - all my cousins once removed did was play games and take selfies; Goat Simulator, Flight Simulator, and Racing Simulator were the largest battery offenders.
Of course I was guilt of a few myself... but you have to admit this is a good one. A lot of friends thought this was a T-Shirt design at first glance (I can't really blame them; that would be an AWESOME shirt!). I've been told the cat's eyes match mine :-)
Obviously I made a kitty friend while in town... or maybe it was just my GMU hoodie, or anything warm for that matter.
Both Ryan and Alex are now learning "violin" - it's actually viola, but I call it a violin just to mess with them.
A Note on Ferguson
The Ferguson protests and riots were still taking place while there, so despite how many people asked me if I was going to get photos in Ferguson, I chose where I went carefully, meaning I avoided Ferguson and anywhere the protests carried into. There were at least two related fatal shooting incidents, plus Michael Brown's autopsy was leaked, during my two weeks in St. Louis, only reigniting the tensions back to a level not seen in over a month.
The suburbs of St. Louis I always stay in with family are your average, quiet, American suburbia neighborhoods with stripmalls and Starbucks on the corner. Downtown St. Louis certainly does have a number of rough areas similar to Southeast DC and PG County, however Ferguson isn't quite like the perception given in mainstream news - for a DMV equivalent, think of Ferguson as an area similar to Manassas or Annandale - possibly a little rough in spots due to lower average SES, but not "bad" like Southeast or PG County - those areas are your East St. Louis, which is a wasteland of drugs and prostitution across the river in Illinois. These are all areas I've been, but thoroughly avoided during this trip. I am not about to inject myself into a tense, now heavily monitored street dispute for the sake of a few personally (although not historically) insignificant photos.
Politics, disputes, and the various associate implications aside, I had no business injecting myself into the Ferguson situation, and would have only been contributing to the problems by doing so, even despite my strong feelings in the matters of free, uncensored, and minimally biased press coverage. There are some fantastic photojournalists with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch embedded with both the police and protestors; their coverage has been top-notch. If I were a paid photojournalist associated with a news agency such as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, then I would gladly, and safely, do my job to deliver captivating imagery of the story... but that is not who I am, so I remained safely distant and left the reporting to those industry professionals.
Historic Downtown St. Charles
Every time I visit St. Louis, I try to do something new and interesting. Visit a museum, explore a new part of town. This time I explored an area I didn't even know existed - Historic Downtown St. Charles.
Historic Downtown St. Charles is on the Western bank of the Missouri River, just West of Lambert - St. Louis International Airport. With cobblestone streets and gas street lamps, this old town area is chock-full of boutique, handcrafted, and fair-trade shoppes, reminiscent of Annapolis, Old Town Alexandria, and Leesburg. The historic Main Street, with its pubs and antique stores, runs parallel to the old train racks which is now the Katy Trail; a biking and running trail almost identical to the Eastern Seaboard's W&OD Trail. More on the Katy Trail later.
The entire old town joins together for a massive December-long Christmas festival, which I plan on attending at night when I visit again this Christmas. The result of this is a number of year-round Christmas stores.
Running off the thoughts of coffee, not far away I found my newest favorite shop. Figuero's has a selection of 140 varieties of coffee, and over 500 hot sauces! It's almost enough to make me forgive their unfortunate use of an apostrophe in their storefront; who is Coffee Tea, and why do they have an espresso bar?
We hardly explored any, but the antique shops are where my heart lives.
Soon it was time for lunch and more exploring.
From what I'm told, Historic Downtown St. Charles is a popular wedding venue, between the central gazebo and various historic inns; this just further reminds me of Old Town Annapolis, waterfront included.
Before calling it a day, I got my picture with Daniel Boone, and a St. Louis 250th Birthday Cake... and said Hi to a store's parakeet.
Finally, before leaving, I spotted a Superformance GT40, being driven by the owner of Fast Lane Classic Cars. Unfortunately due to time right then, I was not able to come visit and check out his nearby shop and 300 other classics, exotics, and customs, despite his cordial invitation.
Later that evening I got this picture with my cousin, Patrick, and Grandma's Bichon-Frisé, Sidney.
Illinois Hunting Grounds
The next day I went with my Uncle Ron to his deer hunting grounds two hours away in Illinois to help him install a new, safer deer stand. Most of our drive North followed the Missouri River. My cousin once removed Alex also came along for his first visit to Ron's friend's farm.
Following the Missouri River promised beautiful open space with a towering wall of fog snaking across the landscape along with every bend.
Alex fell asleep in the car fast, on my GMU hoodie - I think he's actually a cat. I just enjoyed my coffee.
Also, I found the Giant Boob Nipple Gun from Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back; it's in Illinois, FYI.
When we arrived at the farm, we offloaded the ATV and head through the cornfields to Ron's current stand. Ron led on foot as I drove the ATV with Alex and the trailer in tow to the site.
Once on site, we began dismantling the old, very small stand, and assembled Ron's new, sturdier tree stand. Ron only hunts with crossbows; he used to build, sell, and hunt with custom compound bows.
The stand went up without any issue. After driving back up, Ron let Alex try out the ATV; you knew he'd wanted to all day.
Before heading back, we stopped inside the cabin to check out some of their collective trophies and photos.
Unfortunately, on the way back, we had a trailer tire disintegrate on us - we didn't even feel it; other motorists pointed it out to us, and we pulled off to replace it. Good thing Ron keeps a fresh spare. Keep this in mind; it will come up again later...
St. Louis Zoo
Another attraction I had never visited, much to the surprise of everyone on both sides of my family, is the St. Louis Zoo. Honestly I have nothing to compare it to, because the last time I went to the Smithsonian National Zoo, I was in middle school. I hardly remember it, beyond the zebras and the meerkats.
The St. Louis Zoo was large and informative. I didn't even get to explore all the exhibits; some were closed for renovation, and others were just so large we had to breeze through to see the rest of the zoo.
The zoo was gearing up for the first night of Boo at the Zoo; we didn't stick around for it, but all the decorations were up and operating.
For the zoo photos, I'm just going to let you enjoy the pictures without breaking the post up for individual species names, as it's beyond the scope. If you follow me on Flickr, I have captioned each photo with the species, if you really are curious.
I will also preface this by saying that the longest lens I brought to St. Louis was my 85mm f/1.2; definitely NOT the lens of choice for a zoo visit. I intend to go check out the Smithsonian National Zoo with my 70-200mm f/2.8 + 2X Extender, since I haven't been in forever.
At the chimpanzee exhibit, the two babies came out of the brush holding hands, walking in unison like soldiers, carrying canvas sacks. There was a collective "AWWWWWW!!!!!!"
St. Louis Cars And Coffee: Highlights
The next morning, I woke up early to check out a Cars and Coffee I had been invited to by some great people on Oppositelock.
I am only including a few highlights below; if you want to see the full set which I already blogged, go check it out!
Hikes and Parks
Later that day I went hiking a bit with my cousin and her kids.
Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park
The next day, I took a trip to Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park on my own.
I enjoy biking. I always have, although I don't own a bike, which kinda sucks. Ron is an avid biker, riding 30+ miles on the Katy Trail every day. The Katy Trail is a 240 mile trail spanning most of Missouri, following what was once the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad. The Katy Trail is very similar to Virginia's 45 mile W&OD Trail.
Remember that flat trailer tire from a few days before? The joke became that Ron is bad luck - we had the flat a few days prior, and then when he and I met up again to bike 30 miles, my bike got a flat rear with 10 miles to go. After 5 miles of start and stop and re-inflate and slime and restarting, the tire finally held air again... but my legs were dead from the extra effort of riding on a flat, only compounded by riding a bike a size too small for me, adjusted as best possible.
I didn't bring my camera; I shot a few photos on my iPhone using my sunglasses as a polarizer.
St. Peters Athletic Association: St. Louis Athletics
It was my cousin once removed's final baseball game of the season, and I promised him I'd go watch. His team went on to win the game in a landslide 12-4.
After the game happened to be a team photo... which I of course got snagged for when the rest of the parents found out I'm a pro (NOT complaining - don't take it that way). Not only did I get the standard team photo on home plate, but I also snagged a super cute photo of the team huddled up. So awesome!
STL → IAD
All good things must come to an end, and my two weeks in St. Louis was over. With a little late night help from PJ, who was stealing my socks the entire trip, I packed my bag for a sunrise flight back to IAD.
My original intent for the trip, besides visiting with family during a season I'd never visited St. Louis during, was also to try out Frontier Airlines and see if it was a good choice for affordable airfare. I got my flight for just $50 (with an additional $50 charged for one carry-on and one checked bag); this is a far cry from the $500 spent on United Express - the only other carrier flying direct from IAD or DCA to STL. Southwest does fly from BWI to STL, but come on now... I'm loyal to "my airport(s)."
Just has he has in the past, Ron picked me up dark and early to drop me at Lambert - St. Louis International Airport. On the drive over, I told him if my plane blows a tire upon landing, I'm blaming HIM. He chuckled and wished me farewell until Christmas.
Although it was designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the Japanese-American architect who designed New York's original World Trade Center, Lambert's Main Terminal interior always makes me think I'm in a smaller, circus-tent-like version of Eero Saarinen's Dulles Main Terminal Building. I'm 90% sure it's the ceiling material and method of uplighting.
After security, I had breakfast at Schlafly St. Louis Brewery. Good breakfast; horrid coffee, despite the good presentation.
My flight boarded at sunset, and taxied soon after.
And away we went, in our A319. The exterior had the new livery, but the interior was beat like a used charter bus. For a 1.5hr flight it's perfectly fine though.
In case you were wondering, this was my view for most of the flight.
It wasn't long before I spotted a wonderful airport at which to land.
As we arrived at Dulles in my first crosswind landing ever, my trip drew to a close. I had a lovely time in St. Louis, as I always do, and will only be back again soon!
Stay tuned for a final piece I am still working on, which is a review of the 2015 Dodge Dart SXT rental car I had for two weeks.