Monthly Archives: April 2014

Moonrise in St. Louis


“… people who are passionate about travel tend to have open minds and really good stories,” says Meghan McEwen on her blog Design Tripper. Travel writer McEwen looks for “quirky family-owned inns and neighborhood-oriented hotels” that are different from the Holiday Inn to feature on DT.   She started it 4 years ago to give such places some buzz.  It’s a fun, informative blog.

But I notice that Missouri isn’t in her queue.  Yet.  Last summer Ruth & I stayed in a hotel in St. Louis that I believe Meghan would love, Moonrise. Built in 2009, Moonrise at 6177 Delmar is next to the popular live-show Pageant Theater.  When there’s something on at the Pageant, parking around Moonrise can be difficult, and the human and automotive traffic becomes, well, let’s call it lively.  In other words, the entire area probably won’t get settled and quiet until after midnight.  For some, like us, this adds to the fun.  For others, those who seek out private resorts with designer golf courses, this might not be your kind of place.

Joe Edwards is the brains and money behind Moonrise.  You’re likely to see him at some point during your stay.  He has worked hard to rejuvenate the Loop District that now claims Moonrise and some historic St. Louis landmarks like the Tivoli Theater, Blueberry Hill made famous by Chuck Berry, Vintage Vinyl, etc.  Make no mistake, though.   Moonrise is near urban blocks that cry out for renewal, and the Loop is the-opposite-of-lively during the day.  However, new living quarters for Washington University students are rising in the next block and Moonrise is near some excellent St. Louis attractions–SLAM, the Zoo made famous by Marlon Perkins, the Chase-Park Plaza, etc.   There are good restaurants in nearby Clayton and close to the hotel.  Moonrise has its own dining spots, including Eclipse. We enjoyed it because it experiments and shows potential.

As you’ve probably already figured out, this boutique hotel’s theme is the moon.  When we were in St. Louis again this year, we returned, asked for, and stayed in the same room, Moonstruck.   The first time we checked in and saw it, I wrote in my diary, “It’s an A.”  Here is an example of its art to illustrate.



One website calls Moonrise “the anti-chain”.   That’s accurate.   It welcomes and gifts pets.  Each room sports technology docking stations. The open, rooftop Terrace Bar affords fine views of St. Louis.  The staff is unusually welcoming and friendly.  The Moonrise is, indeed, a place for passionate travel people with open minds.   It’s almost guaranteed you’ll leave with some new travel stories, Meghan McEwan.



Boathouse Honors Lewis and Clark


St. Charles is the oldest city on the Missouri River.  Established in 1769 only 5 years after St. Louis was founded on the Mississippi, St. Charles’ most important date in American history was May 21, 1804.  On that day Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and almost 40 men left from here on an 8,000 mile, 2 year, 4 month, and ten-day expedition to the Pacific Ocean and back.

William Clark joined the Corps of Discovery in St. Charles on May 16 while final preparations were being made.  An important member of the expedition joined in St. Charles–Pierre Cruzatte, whose mother was a member of the Omaha tribe.  Pierre knew the river well and played the fiddle. When the Corps encountered the dangerous Teton Sioux, Pierre was able to both act as interpreter and prevent bloodshed.  His worst day occurred on their way back to Missouri when he accidentally shot Meriwether Lewis in the ass.  Pierre had poor eyesight and, while hunting, mistook Lewis for an elk.

I learned this in the Lewis & Clark Boathouse and Nature Center in St. Charles, Missouri.  Established in 1985, this riverside attraction’s glory days were during the bicentennial celebration of the Expedition from 2003 to 2006.  Under a museum dedicated mostly to Lewis and Clark, the boathouse contains full-scale replicas of the keelboat, red and white pirogues, and 2 canoes used during the reenactment of the expedition.  The larger boats made it all the way to Great Falls, Montana.  Unfortunately, I had to stare at them through a locked gate.

Today, the Boathouse struggles a bit to keep the memory of both the expedition and the bicentennial alive.  Like the Perot in Dallas, it relies a lot on school field trips for patronage.  Unlike the Perot, this museum primarily has only one subject–Lewis and Clark.  On the day we were there, Ruth and I shared the exhibits with a group of enthusiastic students from Emanuel Lutheran School.   The museum is really set up for them with artifacts like the bullboat pictured above at their eye-level, lots of taxidermied animals and birds, a great diorama of the expedition, etc. along with traditional arrowheads, examples of pioneer architecture, medicines common on the frontier. etc.

At one point Ruth came over to borrow my book to take notes about Sacagawea.  Like Pierre Cruzatte, she was critical to the success and safety of the Expedition.  She helped them get horses from the Shoshoni and gathered plants and herbs for food and medicine.   But more importantly, she was a peace symbol.  When tetchy tribes saw her toting a baby, they knew that this was not a war party they were encountering.

If, like Lewis and Clark, your travels take you to St. Charles on the now tamed Missouri River, you’ll benefit from a visit to the Boathouse like the Emanuel Lutheran students did.


The Very Interactive Perot Museum


DSC01688Thanks to Ross Perot’s 5 adult children, a science museum named in Dad’s honor opened in Dallas 2 years ago.  Following their $50 million gift, The Perot Museum of Nature and Science replaced the Science Place Building and Planetarium, which closed.  The Dallas Museum of Natural History became Perot’s 2nd campus.  Conveniently located just across the Woodall Rodgers Freeway at 2201 North Field Street, it’s a magnet for families, field trips, and Ruth and me.

Ross Perot started Electronic Data Systems in 1962.  A true technology pioneer, EDS provided computer related operations to businesses and went global.  Perot ran for President as an independent candidate in 1992 and received almost 20 million votes, 18.9% of those cast.  Four years later he ran again and received 8%.  In 2012 he was worth about $3.5 billion and he and his wife Margot had 16 grandchildren.  Because of their parents’ $50 million gift, a multi-story story concrete cube rose adjacent to downtown Dallas, and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science opened in December, 2012. called the museum wacky and Perot “a little nuts”.   I call the museum welcomed and Perot “an accidental philanthropist”.

When we visited, Ruth and I were surrounded by children the entire time. Typically, some were jumping around and learning nothing while others were fascinated and engaged.  One apparently young reviewer on Yelp said, “I haven’t been to many museums, but this one really sets the record!”  He went on to advise, “Just watch out for security, they really look tough.” This indirectly explains why this and museum is needed and why I call Perot a philanthropist for giving his name to this endeavor and probably offering a lot of ideas.  About those tough security guards, I was 5 minutes into Expanding Universe Hall when I heard a young girl ask a tough security guy if the astronaut suit floating above one display contained a real person.   He looked at me; I looked at him and said to her, “No, but that’s a really good idea.”  His face said thanks and she ran away smiling.

Like any other museum of this type, Perot if full of good intentions some of which don’t work especially well.  In my opinion, the food service sucks and few children are going to read much, pay attention to, or comprehend a lot of the displays…”most galaxies are bundled into progressively larger groups, clusters, and superclusters”….”all cells share some basic features, including a gel-like cytoplasm surrounded by a membrane”….    Yawn. Poke. Chase.   However, I saw many children stopping in mid-run to check out a dinosaur or touching an antler or staring directly into the cold eyes of a leopard.  For I-haven’t-been-to-many-museums, it was surely a fine beginning.

Ross has 4 levels, 11 permanent exhibit halls, a digital theater, a Robot Arena, a maze, an earthquake shake with a very long line of patient families waiting to scream together, a very crowded Sports Run, etc.  I especially liked the Lyda Hill Gems and Minerals Hall, Wild Texas, and the Rose Hall of Birds.  Did you know that the white-winged crossbill only eats pine cone seeds?

The Perot offers once-a-month museum sleepovers for ages 6-12.  “Snore and explore!” it exalts.  I’ll bet they’re popular, fun, and smell like pizza.  Well done, Ross Perot and family.



From Canada to Kyoto


My best source of information about where to go is other travelers.

Many years ago I talked to John who had just taken a train across Canada. He loved the experience and said he had only one regret.  The train stopped briefly in Penticton, British Columbia, and he was impressed with this town. However, he was only there a short time and didn’t have time to explore. He swore he’d go back but never did.   The next summer Ruth and I went to Penticton and visited the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, Summerland Ornamental Gardens, the wineries of The Okanagan just north of town. etc.   This trip led to a total exploration of the East and West Kootenays over a period of 3 years.  If you want a great place to vacation, head for either.  Or both.

My brother-in-law Don raved about New Mexico’s Canyon de Chelly near Chinle.  A haunting, spiritual place, Chelly (pronounced shay) is a Spanglish corruption of the Navajo word Tseyi, which means, appropriately enough, rock canyon.  There are actually two canyons, which form an enormous Y. We were told that we had to hire a guide to descend.  But at White House overlook we discovered an exception to the stay-out-of-the-canyon rule. Eight hundred feet below, we could see in miniature an 800 year old cliff dwelling.  There was a path down to it, the only one visitors could take without a guide.  It cost us about two hours and a little sweat, but the 550 foot drop wasn’t particularly strenuous and it was also a sensational way to experience Canyon de Chelly’s sheer red sandstone walls, which keep changing from pink and beige and salmon to red and black as the day advanced.  Must go back.

Recently someone asked for my favorite destination.  Heretofore, the answer had always been Budapest, Hungary.  But this time I had a different and unexpected answer–Istanbul.  Ruth and I were there only briefly last year, but we literally fell in love with this city.  Jane, an Australian friend and world traveler, told us long ago it was her favorite.  When we told her we were going, she sent a letter listing the places that “you absolutely must visit”.  We made it to 6 of the 7 and especially liked The Spice Bazaar and Suleymaniye Mosque.  Topkapi Palace was closed on the only day we could visit, Tuesday.   At the end of the letter Jane admitted, “Sorry to be so long-winded but I have a passion for Turkey.”

After seeing glorious Dead Horse Point State Park because Diane told us to go there instead of Canyonlands National Park, I went to its Visitor Center and asked the rangers which other Utah State Park was a must.  They said, practically in unison, Goblin Valley.  Dead Horse Point overlooks a canyon so scenic that movie companies use it as a stand-in for the grand one. Thelma and Louises’ drive into the abyss was filmed at Dead Horse. Goblin Valley near Green River is described as “strange and colorful” in my Utah State Parks Field Guide.  We’ll be there in July, 2015.

I have a Japanese friend named Mac.  When he heard I wanted to go to Tokyo, he told me to go to Kyoto instead.  We’re on our way there next month because I agree with Edward Young.  He said, “Procrastination is the thief of time.”


The Driehaus Mansion/Museum


Chicago fund manager Richard H. Driehaus has reportedly given away about $100 million.   Part of it has gone to restore the Samuel M. Nickerson mansion at 40 East Erie Street in the Streeterville neighborhood about 5 blocks from Chicago’s landmark Water Tower.  Driehaus bought it to showcase his decorative arts collection that contains a significant number of Tiffany treasures.

Driehaus first discovered the Nickerson House in 1994.  It’s a miracle that it and the Ransom Cable mansion diagonally across the street, which now serves as offices for Driehaus’ financial firm, survived the march of the high-rises.  In 1994 the Nickerson home was occupied by the R.H. Love Galleries. Driehaus went there with a friend, interior designer Reuben Harper, to see a marble bust he was thinking of buying.  Harper wisely advised him, “Richard, don’t buy the bust.  Buy the building.”

In 2003 Driehaus did just that and kicked off a 5 year restoration project. Because the American College of Surgeons occupied it from about 1919 until 1965, it was rather well-preserved and opened as the Driehaus Museum on a limited basis in 2008.  It didn’t become a major, 5 Compass Chicago tourist attraction until 2011.

Nickerson made his fortune selling alcohol to the Union Army during the Civil War, and after it he became a banker.  Construction of his Chicago house began in 1879, 8 years after the Great Fire.  When completed in 1883 at a cost of $450,000, it was this city’s largest private residence.  In 1900 Lucius Fisher bought it for $75,000 (not a misprint) and hired a Prairie School architect to extensively redesign it.  When Fisher died 16 years later, prominent Chicagoans with names like McCormick and Wrigley bought it. Three years later it was deeded to the American College of Surgeons.  Every time it sold, the Nickerson changed hands totally furnished, preserving much of it Gilded Age splendor.  The term Gilded Age, by the way, was coined by Mark Twain in a co-written satirical novel.

Ruth & I have been through a lot of historic homes.  The Nickerson, now the Driehaus Museum, is among the very best.  It must be seen to be believed with rooms, halls, and staircases so opulent that they elicit appreciative gasps.  The English Renaissance library sports ebonized cherrywood bookcases, visitors look up to see art glass domes and digitally reproduced ceilings, the  white oak dining table is original to the house, etc.

After touring its 2 exquisite floors, I asked one of the enthusiastic hosts stationed throughout to answer questions where the servants lived.  As she led me to their quarters, which aren’t necessarily on the house tour, she told me that there were 11 live-ins.  Their rooms and halls were so reminiscent of Downton Abbey that I had an idea that I passed along to the staff.  In Season 3 of Downton the Countess of Grantham’s mother swans in to do battle with the Dowager Countess played by Maggie Smith.  If a series was to be built around Shirley MacLaine’s outspoken American character, Martha Levinson, the Driehaus would be the ideal place to film it.