Everyone needs to ride a train at least once, even if it is only between Kansas City and St. Louis. We found a three day stretch of time that daughter Mary, and her children Nora and Warren are off work and out of school. We head east. The comfy, reclining, lots of legroom seats in Amtrak’s Business Class surprises us.
We leave the Kansas City Union Station on time. Soon gold and green fields are whizzing by shining in the sunlight. We zoom across Missouri and we hear the whistle blow in each small town. The muddy Missouri River flows parallel to the tracks for a long stretch. We search herons along the banks, but only one is spotted.
We grab a cab to the St. Louis Zoo after a rapid check-in at the hotel. Everyone else in town has the same idea. A beautiful fall day, a Saturday afternoon and a free zoo generate a mile long traffic-jam. Finally, we arrive and embark on the quest for our target animals.
The bulk of white fur known as a polar bear is our top priority. There hs is in the back right corner of a spacious, natural setting of rocks, trees and water. Mostly he keeps his back to the crowd. A periodic disdainful shake of his head helps him see if we are all still there.
We finally have to decide what to see, and what to miss. The zoo has 5,000 animals from 700 species on 90 acres, organized into five zones. The Wild Zone includes the polar and other bears, penguins and puffins. The Humboldt Penguins congregate around their Keeper doling out fish like candy thrown at a parade. Their squawking sounds like dying calves. The energetic puffins splash and flip water celebrating the fun we are all having.
In the River’s Edge zone we follow the hippos as they swim around their great pond. They swim gracefully but lumber awkwardly when on land. The cheetah, asleep under f tree, is too far away to see well. On to the elephants who live in a great space and ignore the gaping crowd of people. Asian elephants in this zoo are smaller than their African counterparts, but seen up close, still command great respect. As they ramble by in groups, their close social bonds are apparent as we can see.
Each step through the zones emerged us into another wonder zone.
A quick swirl around the gift shop, a cab ride back to the hotel and we have time to shower and change before our date on a riverboat dinner cruise. The picturesque walk over to the Mississippi River gives us time to pause under the 630 foot tall Gateway Arch. We ooh and ahh at the golden glow of the setting sun on the metal above us.
An old-fashioned riverboat awaits us as we descend to the dock. Our assigned table near the bandstand affords us a ringside seat. The musician’s straw hats, box ties and instruments, banjo and piano, but out old-time music like the riverboats of yore. I could name most of the songs, but Warren comments, “That’s not my kind of music.”
On the deck after dinner the full moon and refreshing breeze gently blows as we slip through the waters of the Mississippi River.
The next morning our walk to Gateway Arch Riverfront Park includes the four-minute tram ride to the Gateway Arch Observation Area at the top of the Arch. Posters, pictures and articles about life in the 1800’s in the south leg of the Arch intrigue us. It is fascinating to imagine the many settlers streaming west across the Mississippi River to launch a new life of the future.
The St. Louis Museum plunges us into total unexpectedness. Every child, whether you or old, should visit this Museum. It is a place where imagination runs wild; a new surprise awaits around each corner. It houses four stories of an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion an architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects.
We had not heard of this museum until the day before our trip. Each moment in the Museum spiraled us to new levels of our imagination. The children returned again and again to explore the Enchanged Caves, which were advertised as “painted in mystery and textured with intrigue.” I sat in a wide hallway totally engaged in reading vintage opera posters, while they explored the caves.
Another favorite spot, the Baby Bob Ball Pit lured all ages into a sea of thousands of bouncing balls. Screams of laughter rose as a hurled ball connected with an intended target.
Quiet settled over the four of us on the return Amtrak journey across Missouri. We disappeared into our own thoughts and memories. The adventure had uncovered unexpected sights, sounds and smells. Now we returned to the routine of daily life, a little richer with new images floating in our heads.
On this trip, wonder had claimed us as unexpected marvels burst forth around every corner. What began as an idea for a train ride had changed into three enrapturing days.