Bon Ton Roulet

A couple of months ago, we gave Mandy a present: A plain white envelope. Inside was the receipt for her ‘ticket’ to participate in the Bon Ton Roulet, a seven-day supported bike tour around the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. It’s her first trip in that direction, and more importantly, it’s her first trip out of state without parents.


We dropped her off at the train station for a late-evening departure on Thursday. She was to travel with our friend Kathy, as well as with a couple of other women cyclists from the Little Rock area. We sat with them for a bit but left before the midnight train arrived. Mandy had really been looking forward to even this part of the trip – she was by far the youngest in the group, but as the only one who had traveled on Amtrak, she was ready to provide a tour of the facilities! They sent texts from the train: they’d arrived in St. Louis a bit late, they’d left the train in Chicago, they’d used my notes to find stuff to do during their layover, they’d boarded their new train for Syracuse. Continue reading “Bon Ton Roulet”

Meet me in St. Louis

Our first anniversary, but what to do? We only had a weekend; no time to to on a long trip. We didn’t want to camp; there’s not much special about something we do all the time. We don’t like bars and live music, so a trip to Memphis didn’t sound appealing; we aren’t old, so we didn’t want to go to Branson. The romantic cabins at Arkansas’ state parks are either ratty or exorbitantly expensive, or both. The solution?

St Louis-1858

A two-night, one-day Amtrak trip to St. Louis! We got on the train about midnight on Friday; as a surprise Bryan upgraded our seats to the tiny “roomette” hoping that we could get some sleep. We did, sort of, and woke up in the suburbs of St. Louis, looking out at the river as the train rolled along. We just had time for a dining-car breakfast before our station.

St Louis-1881

First stop: the Arch. Bryan had never seen it, and he needed to. We arrived before the doors opened and rode the first tram to the top. Bryan was entertained by the tiny capsules we rode inside and we both really enjoyed looking out over the city.

St Louis-1915

You can see the arch’s shadow in this photo, taken from the little observation area at the top of the arch. Bryan sent a photo to a couple of friends, from 620 feet above the park, and I called his grandmother. We enjoyed listening to other people — the little kids who oohed and aahed over the tiny cars and people below, and the middle aged men who complained and couldn’t ride down fast enough. We also saw the film about the arch’s construction and went through the museum and gift shops. Our advice: get there early. By the time we left, the visitors center was completely packed.

St Louis-1948

Just across the street is an old courthouse, also part of the national park though not really connected to the arch in any way I could understand. It’s an impressive building nonetheless with an interesting architectural and legal history, and featured a temporary exhibit of platinum prints, a group of photos taken by a man who floated from somewhere in Tennessee down to the Mississippi and then to the gulf.

St Louis-1951

I like Imo’s Pizza, a St. Louis-specific pie made with very thin crust, and after listening to Dewayne talk about it for all these years, Bryan wanted to try it. I hadn’t brought a map or an address but I knew there was an Imo’s on fourth street just south of the interstate. We took off walking toward it, to Bryan’s dismay; the neighborhood got worse and worse and he trailed along behind me, complaining all the way that we were lost and would meet a terrible end. When we finally arrived (it was EXACTLY where I said it would be) he refused to cross the street to go inside. He began quoting Bob Osburn’s opinion that Imo’s wasn’t food at all, but spoiled pizza sauce on a cracker, and began walking the other way.

St Louis-1957

While in St. Louis we made good use of their excellent MetroLink light rail. Here’s the station near the north edge of the park with the Arch.

St Louis-1960

We rode the MetroLink to the old Union Station, now converted to a mall. It’s still on the register of historic places, and is an interesting mix of old and new. We walked from Union Station to a microbrewery Bob Osburn had recommended, which I might add was in no better a neighborhood; we actually walked right past a tree with homeless people camped under it. But fortunately for Bryan, the beer was excellent and the soup was even better, so I stopped complaining about my foiled attempts to eat pizza for lunch.

St Louis-1974

From Shlafly’s, the microbrewery, we walked back to Union Station and rode out to Forest Park, where there are a number of nice museums and an excellent zoo. It was a hot day and we only had half an afternoon to see the zoo, so we chose our priorities: I wanted to see the elephants and Bryan was curious about the giant bird cages. We rode back to Union Station and walked to the Amtrak station, where we changed into fresh clothes before boarding the train for Little Rock about nine pm. We arrived home in the wee hours of the morning, another great trip in our journal.