The Travel Angel strikes again
Trip Start Aug 26, 2005
125Trip End May 26, 2008
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It’s happened on countless occasions now and I'm really starting to think that there's someone looking out for me. It was only last night, in Chicago, where I sat with 2 other Aussies and we were talking about how occasionally you get stuck and question what you’re doing here, then someone, something, a force or some kind of angel seems to be looking over us and helps us out of these troubling situations. I’ve said it a few times now on this blog, how things just seem to have the strangest way of working out. Just when you’re out of luck, something happens and turns a potentially dangerous, upsetting, disappointing or otherwise awkward situation around and next thing you know, you’re eating pork chops and apple sauce in someone’s house.
We spoke for hours last night about the situations we get stuck in and think all is lost, and I’ve just turned the most confusing and frustrating situation around in the best way possible. It went a little like this:
I woke at 5am this morning in downtown Chicago, donned the thermals and ran onto the cold, windy streets. Headed for the Greyhound bus station, I walked for 30 minutes with my massive backpack and arrived - frozen at the station. I bought my ticket to St Louis - 6 hours south and got on the 6am bus.
The Greyhound stopped a few times on the way as we drove past grassy snow covered flatlands as far as the eye could see. It was so incredibly barren. There was nothing to break the horizon of flat dull windswept grasses. I arrived in St Louis, on schedule and worked out where I was and with the help of a few nice locals I was on my way. I don’t take cabs, they are too easy and way too expensive. I had to walk a long long way through downtown St Louis and past the famous St Louis Arch towards Huckleberry Fin Backpackers Hostel. The only hostel in town. I checked the net and confirmed the hostel was open this time of year and I was assured that it would be ready to take me in, so I set off through the cold streets.
I had only walked a few blocks when a car pulled up and saw me walking in circles with a map in my hands. The driver rolled down his window and asked if I wanted a lift. Driving the car was a 40 something, white haired, big bellied guy called Robin. Sure, I’d love a lift. Back in the day Robin was a backpacker himself and had travelled through Europe and Asia. We swapped travel stories as we drove the long long long way out of town and arrived at the hostel. Damn it was a long way and I was going to walk here! Ouch! Lucky Robin showed up. The hostel looked a little suspicious. It was boarded up, the windows were covered and it was very dark and abandoned looking. I used Robins phone to try to call the hostel, and couldn't get through. At the back of the hostel, posted on a window was a horrible note which read 'Closed until March 1st' Oh NO!
I had heard many reports about this hostel, people love it and only recently I met someone who just came from here. I couldn’t understand! Robyn waited and offered me his phone as I got the Lonely Planet out and I called a few other places. They were all charging around $120USD per night, way out of my league. Robyn could be of no more assistance. I was on my own now. I thanked him for his help and he gave me his number, just in case I got stuck.
I thanked Robin for his help and sat myself in a local bar to figure out what to do. A few beers went down and I struck up a conversation with a few locals. They suggested a few places to try nearby. So I strapped my bag on and swayed around the frozen streets. If the places weren't closed for the season, they wanted over a hundred for the night. I begged and pleaded at the reception but they refused to lower their prices and let me stay.
I passed a local real estate and popped my head in to ask if they had any idea what I could do. It was getting late and I was getting frustrated. They let me in and gave me access to the Internet, where I found nothing but 5 star Hotels. It wasn’t what I wanted and I thanked them and left, with my head down, planning on heading right back to the greyhound station where I had started and heading on to my next destination - Nashville. Without seeing any of St Louis. It would be a long cold walk.
If these people hadn't been kind enough so far, it was just about to get better. I had walked back and forward past a Mexican Restaurant a few times, looking for a place to stay. As I was walking down the snow covered streets, a guy called out ' hey, buddy, you need somewhere to stay?' I was a bit suspicious at first, but this guy invited me into his Mexican restaurant and served me up a great big dish of nachos and refused to take any cash. I sat and ate and told him my story about the closed hostel and the expensive 5 star hotels.
He said he had a place round the corner and offered me a room for the night. I couldn’t say no. The next thing he did was amazing. He was stuck at work until later that night. He gave me the keys to his house and pointed at a big apartment block. Go to the top floor, take the room on the left. Make yourself at home. I will be in later with some Mexican for you. And that was it.
Just as I was planning on another sleepless night and a long bus ride, I'm here, in this great big apartment watching Seinfeld - the heating is blaring and I’ve got a whole room to myself. What a life! There are some nice people out there after all.
In other news, St Louis, apart from being brain freezing cold and completely deserted, and as I learned a few days later, it is the world’s most dangerous city – according to the FBI. Besides the imminent danger, St Louis does have a few relatively good attractions. the most notable and famous of which, (and this is a tough decision) I'm tossing up between the Budweiser Brewery and the St Louis Arch, and I'm going to start with the Brewery:
The Anheuser Busch Brewery
The official home of the 2 biggest selling beers in the world; Budweiser and Bud Light, and news to me a whopping 60 types of alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages.
Budweiser dominates the US beer market, taking a 50% share in beer sales. In 1920, prohibition began in the USA and lasted 3 years, making it illegal to brew any alcoholic beverage. While almost every brewery in the USA shut shop, Anheuser Busch managed to stay afloat by making the following during that period:
Ice cream, barley malt syrup, ginger ale, root beer, chocolate and grape-flavored beverage, corn syrup, truck and bus bodies, refrigerated cabinets, baker's yeast and de-alcholized Budweiser.
I toured the Brewery, visiting the Clydesdale’s (They have 500 of them through the USA) and the various facilities through the brewery. Finally ending up in their bar, where I got 2 free beers. woohooo, free beer! I stayed so long, that I merged into the next tour group and got another 2 free beers and learnt a very important fact: The reason that the Brewery is located in St Louis is because they have the purest water supply of the USA.
The St Louis Arch is a huge metal structure, towering 192 metres tall, and strangely enough 192 metres wide. Designed to give an optical illusion and perception that it’s much higher than wider.
Officially called the Gateway Arch, it was constructed in 1965 and is the tallest structure in the St Louis area. No building is allowed to be higher than the arch. Underneath the arch is the museum of Westward expansion. A brilliant (and free) museum dedicated to telling the story of occupation of Central USA.
It’s a strange structure and has attracted its fair share of attention from thrill seekers: In 1980 Kenneth Sawyers tried to parachute onto the span of the Gateway Arch. He planned to jump off the top of the arch and land on the ground below. Instead, he slipped and slid all the way down one lone side of the arch to his death.
The pilot, Richard Skurat, had his pilot certificate suspended for 90 days when he flew under the arch. Over the years eleven light aircraft have been successfully piloted beneath the arch.
In 1984, David Adcock of Houston Texas began to scale the arch by suctions cups on his hands and feet, but he was talked out of continuing after having climbed only 20 feet. The next day he successfully scaled the 21-story Equitable Building in downtown St. Louis.
In 1992 it was rumoured that John C. Vincent from New Orleans unsuccessfully scaled the outside of the Arch with suction cups during the night, and completed a Base jump off the top. No evidence was present to support his claim however, it was speculated by Rangers at the Arch that Vincent was lowered from a helicopter onto the top of the Arch, where he parachuted off. He spent three months in jail for the stunt.
At the nearby Planetarium, you can use Microsoft's flight Sim, to fly through the arch. Like everything in the USA, they make a big statement about it being illegal, before directing us towards the arch.
I love going to the Zoo. Especially all these Zoo's in the USA because they are all FREE! I have a new love of animals after spending 2 months living with them in Bolivia. The first thing I do in these cities is search out the Zoo. The St Louis Zoo, they tell me is the best in the USA. It beats the Central Park Zoo (the animation Madagascar) in New York and the San Diego Zoo (as featured on Anchorman - the legend of Ron Burgandy). I have come to the USA at a bad time of year. It’s cold, and windy and covered in snow. So most of the animals were hibernating. Well, not really hibernating, but they had been removed from their enclosures and taken to a warm room somewhere. They did however have a Siberian tiger on display. The poor thing was growling and grumbling and pacing circles around his small snow covered enclosure. The highlight of the zoo was, yes, you guessed it, the PUMAS! Two beautiful Jungle Pumas, lying on top of each other trying to keep warm. I growled at them. They picked up their ears and that about it. I said hi and we parted ways.
I spent 4 nights in St Louis and didn't get shot at once! Steve was very generous and kind and showed me around few local bars, full of hillbillies and hicks and pathetic drunken locals. A monstrous guy was passed out in the corner of one bar. Two insanely drunk trailer trash girls stumbled around the place screaming and giggling, kissing as many drunks as they could, I got hit on by some gay businessman and 2 locals asked me where Sydney was. I said Australia and they said, 'ahh y'all got them Kangaurooous bout there don't ya?’ I told them we have a few other things too and they didn't seem too interested.
Next stop – Nashville