Recently Ray, Leah, Heather, her daughters Annabelle and Violet, and I traveled to Saint Louis, MO, for a mini-vacation. I had been up the Saint Louis arch, but my family never had, and I wanted them to have the exciting opportunity. This trip was also Heather’s birthday treat.

Leah, Beth and Ray Jones at arch, St Louis

So we packed up two cars and headed out on a Friday afternoon after Heather got off work. (Ray was off work that day and the next). Saint Louis is about 293 miles away (4 hours 46 minutes) from Kansas City. (NOTE: In good weather!)

We have been in a severe drought here in Missouri. It hadn’t rained in months. The grass was withered and yellow, and the leaves on the trees had died. But the week of our trip to Saint Louis, of course Hurricane Isaac hit the U.S., causing flooding in Louisiana, but bringing much-needed rain relief to the mid-west.

All the way to Saint Louis, it rained cats and dogs. I couldn’t believe it! Now God answers my prayers for rain, I thought.

Raining cats and dogs on way to St. Louis

Our daughter Heather is nearly as perfect child as a parent can have, but she has one bad habit: a lead foot. She’s also like me, a take-charge personality (i.e., she is a control freak!).

As we started out on the highway, she immediately called us on the cell phone: “I want to be in front,” she said. “Why?” I asked petulantly (I was driving). “I just do. I’d like to lead,” she said. “Whatever,” I said and hung up.

I had just told Ray a few minutes before that Heather was going to try to get ahead of us. She has to drive fast, she wants to be in charge, and she is very competitive, wanting to “beat” others first. I didn’t want us to drive fast because of the rain. A couple of times I called Heather and yelled, “SLOW DOWN! This is not a race and we have kids in the car!” Heather doesn’t drive 85 mph, but let’s just say she loosely interprets the speed limit as a suggestion, rather than as a law.

We stopped half-way for dinner at a Chinese restaurant, where they had a buffet. Outside the restaurant there were beautiful yellow rose bushes. Roses are my favorite flower, especially long-stemmed red roses. But these roses reminded me of the movie Sweet Dreams that I’ve watched over and over again – the life story of country singer Patsy Cline, who died tragically in an airplane crash in the prime of her career.

In the movie, Patsy talked a lot about her dream to be a famous country singer, to raise her kids right, and to have a beautiful house with yellow roses planted in the yard. “Please, mama, help me to get my house with the yellow roses!” she shouted when her mother refused to go on television as her “talent scout” to help Patsy’s public exposure, because her mama would not lie (she was her mom, not a talent scout!). In the Chinese restaurant, I mimicked what Patsy said to Ray: “Please help me to get my house with the yellow roses!”

Yellow roses at Chinese restaurant

Below is our granddaughter Violet trying to eat with chopsticks for the first time.

Violet trying chopsticks

Her sister Annabelle tried the chopsticks too, but preferred using them as drum sticks to play a fast beat on the table.

Annabelle’s “drum” sticks

At the restaurant, Ray entertained himself by trying to make a fish in the aquarium turn over with his fingers. He had trained a calico cat we used to have, Sierra, to do this. She would roll over on her side when he would snap his fingers.

Ray training fish

I’m sure the fish was wondering what strange creature Ray’s finger was.

Fish watching Ray’s finger

Since we left home in the late afternoon, we arrived in Saint Louis close to 10 p.m. After we ate dinner, I was leading driving, but the closer we got to Saint Louis, Heather went around me to be in front again. Ray kept making jokes about it: “Go, Beth! You can’t let Heather beat you to Saint Louis! Pass her!”

Since I was still concerned about driving fast in the rain, especially with Leah in our car and Annabelle and Violet in Heather’s car (I wouldn’t go over 60 or 65 mph), I let Heather win. Otherwise, she would have sped up to be in front. Winning made Heather happy. Oh well, I want my kids to be happy! (Maybe next time, it won’t rain and I can beat her there!)

I had booked our reservations online to get a discount price for our mini-vacation. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Riverfront Hotel At the Arch, which was just a few minutes’ walk from the arch. I highly recommend this hotel for your stay in Saint Louis. The accommodations were nice. Below is a picture of the hotel room that Heather, Leah, Annabelle, and Violet stayed in.

Heather’s and girls’ room at Saint Louis hotel

The room Ray and I stayed in had a balcony which gave a beautiful view of the city and of the Mississippi River, especially at night.

City of St Louis at night

Even though we’d had dinner earlier, Ray was still hungry when we arrived in Saint Louis. Heather and the girls went to their room to go to sleep. First Ray and I went downstairs to the lobby and had some drinks, talking. The city was alive, unlike the small town of Butler, where we live, which shuts everything down between 6 and 9 p.m. It was raining softly outside and it looked beautiful through the glass patio doors.

Rain outside glass windows, St Louis, MO

In the lobby I saw a guy wearing a funny t-shirt. Ray and I talked with him and found out his name was Donivan. The t-shirt had a picture of a groom and a bride, and underneath it was the caption, “THE END.” He said his cousin had given it to him for his bachelor party prior to his wedding as a joke present. He insisted that he really loved his bride and couldn’t wait to marry her. I had to get a picture of it for my blog.

The End funny t-shirt

Ray ordered an anchovy and pepperoni pizza at midnight, which we ate in our room and spent some much needed “alone time” together. 🙂

Anchovy pizza in St Louis

Then we watched half of a movie on his Kindle Fire, Where The Heart Is, about a pregnant 17-year-old girl being abandoned by her boyfriend and she begins living in a Walmart at night. She keeps tabs on how much she owes Walmart for everything she’s using (chocolate milk, food, sleeping bag, etc.). She has the baby in the Walmart, becoming an instant celebrity in the media. Eventually she becomes a photographer and marries the man who rescued her when she had her baby in Walmart. They marry in the Walmart. Ray rarely watches “chic flics” with me, so I considered this an achievement for our marriage. (He prefers sci-fi or action movies where things are exploding, there’s some serious weapons with men shooting, stabbing, or somehow killing each other, and people are in high speed chases.)

Ray and I had hoped to wake up the next morning, enjoying a hot cup of coffee together in a quiet room, enjoying the balcony view. Bright and early, though, Annabelle and Violet ran a few doors down the hall, pounding on our hotel door. “Nana! Papa! We want to see the balcony!”

So of course, everyone had to get a picture on the balcony. Leah was excited to use her new Nikon camera that we bought her for her high school graduation.

Annabelle, Leah, and Violet on balcony

Here is sweet, beautiful Leah on the balcony. You can see the Mississippi River and the city in the background.

Leah on balcony in St Louis

Here is beautiful Heather and her two precious girls, Violet and Annabelle, on the balcony.

Violet, Heather & Annabelle on balcony, St Louis

Ray and I also took our picture on the balcony. This is a rare photo of Ray SMILING in a picture!  Ray hates taking pics, because when he was in elementary school, a cruel school photographer told him,  “Don’t smile when you take your picture, kid. It looks stupid.” So you will almost never see Ray smiling in pics. I’m glad he’s smiling. He looks GREAT smiling!

Me and Ray on balcony, St Louis

After we ate the breakfast we’d brought of fresh fruit, blueberry bagels and blueberry cream cheese (the hotel does not provide breakfast, unfortunately), we walked to the arch, just a few minutes’ away. Here is Ray leading us to the arch.

Ray leading, St Louis arch

Heather previously had warned me that Annabelle was going to freak out when she saw the arch and refuse to go up it (a fear of heights). That is exactly what happened. As soon as Annabelle saw how big and tall the arch was, she immediately began SCREAMING in  panic.

We finally calmed her down on the sidewalk, but it started up again just before we went up the tram to the top. Ray had what we call in the south “a good talkin’ to” Annabelle, explaining this was her mommy’s birthday treat – didn’t she want mommy to be happy for her birthday? I think the only thing that really calmed Annabelle down was the souvenir of a toy arch in the gift shop. Violet opted for a more elegant souvenir – a tiny replica of the arch inside crystal glass. Leah the artist bought beautiful, vibrantly-colored coasters which had a picture of the arch on them. Heather bought a keychain with a picture of the arch, which had three different colors on it, representing her, Annabelle, and Violet. The trip – a mini-vacation – was mine and Ray’s souvenir! (I did get a postcard for me and my sister Maria.)

The arch is enormous, standing at 630 feet tall. It is the tallest man-made monument in the U.S. It is called the “Gateway to the West,” built as a monument to the westward expansion of the U.S. Construction began in February 1963 and ended October 1965, costing $13 million U.S. Dollars at the time.

Arch, Saint Louis, MO

We bought tickets for the “Journey to the Top.”  There is a limited number of people in each capsule, so we had to split up. Ray suggested I go with Heather to help her with calming down Annabelle who was still scared.

Below you see the tiny door to the capsule to the tram that goes up to the top of the arch. It takes about four minutes to go up, and about three minutes to come down. The ride isn’t very fast, but it is a little bumpy.

Heather and Leah are both a little scared of heights, but they did great. So did Violet, who is younger than Annabelle. I distracted Annabelle during the ride by giving her mints and talking to her about details of the arch. I am so proud of all of them for going up the arch! It’s a great way to conquer your fear of heights (or claustrophobia as the capsule is small!).

Door to tram at arch, St Louis

Heather and Violet inside the tram

Heather and Violet inside tram, arch

Heather and Annabelle inside the tram

Annabelle and Heather inside tram, arch

Here are Leah and Ray at the top of the arch! Leah loved it and enjoyed taking pics of the great view with her new camera. You can see the tiny windows they have at the top for you to look out at the city of Saint Louis.

Leah and Ray at top of arch

Here are Heather, Violet, Ray and Leah at the top of the arch

Heather, Ray, and Leah at top of arch

Here I am at the top of the arch. I felt so happy; I love traveling, going new places and doing fun, new things!

Beth Jones, top of arch, St. Louis

Here’s a view of Saint Louis from the top of the arch. You can see the Historic Old Courthouse, the site of the famous Dred Scott lawsuit, fighting for his and his wife’s freedom from slavery. (He won the case.)

Historic Old Courthouse- site of Dred Scott case, top of arch

Here is a shot of the Mississippi River from the top of the arch. Pretty cool, huh?

Mississippi River, view from top of St Louis arch

View of the city from top of the arch. You can see the football stadium in the background of this pic. I love the skyscraper buildings!

View of Saint Louis from top of arch

Annabelle and Violet loved the top of the arch! They enjoyed looking out the little windows and seeing the great view of the city.

Here are me and Leah when we came down the arch in the tram.

Me and Leah in tram, arch, St Louis

After we visited the arch, we went to The Hill, a quaint Italian section in Saint Louis. I loved it here, and could’ve stayed for several hours, walking around. We ate at an Italian restaurant that one of Heather’s friends recommended called Zia’s. It is the best Italian food I’ve ever eaten. Leah and I had fettucine alfredo, Heather had the special (a pasta dish with chicken), Ray had spaghetti carbonara, and the girls shared spaghetti and meatballs. The restaurant was extremely crowded, but had a nice atmosphere and wonderful service.

First they served us warm bread, which you can dip in oil and parmesan cheese.

Bread with oil, Zia’s Italian Restaurant

The salad that Ray, Heather and I ordered was a meal in itself!

Salad at Zia’s Italian Restaurant

 

Below is a pic of the delicious fettucine alfredo that Leah and I both ordered. Mmmm, delicious!

Fettucine alfredo at Zia’s Italian Restaurant

Annabelle and Violet loved their spaghetti and meatballs!

Spaghetti and meatballs at Zia’s

After we ate, the girls wanted to go to the bakery and get a “snack.” There are several in the area, but this particular one was very crowded. They had everything from doughnuts and cakes to baklava.

Now we needed to decide what to do, that was either free or reasonably priced! We opted to go to the Saint Louis zoo. It is free, but they do charge for special exhibits like feeding and touching the stingrays. They have huge rocks at the entrance, that Annabelle and Violet loved climbing on.

After we went in, we were rained out, but at least we got a few good pics. Violet didn’t care about the rain; she just sang and danced in it!  Is it time for you to start singing in the rain? 🙂

Saint Louis zoo entrance

Here is one of the staff members feeding the penguins.

Staff feeding penguins at St Louis zoo

Here was one of the cute prairie dogs. Leah really liked these.

Prairie dog at St Louis zoo

This was a strange looking creature called a sloth bear, with very long, front claws.

Sloth bear at St Louis zoo

Overall, it was a FUN family trip. Heather felt loved and blessed for hers and Annabelle’s birthdays. God provided all we needed for this trip, and we had a great time. I’m so thankful God provided for us to go.

Our daughter Heather

What has been one of your favorite family trips? Share in the comments below.

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