Saturday, April 28, 2012

Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum

I'm spending Saturday night sorting pictures on my hard drive. WOO PARTAY! It seems impossible that I would "forget" to blog something, but adventures are a high priority and writing time tends to get pushed aside in favor of more adventures (and home improvement). Sure enough, the first folder I opened contained more pictures from Pontiac, IL. You may remember the Livingston County War Museum from six months back. The Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum shares the old fire station with them.

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The first thing we learned, from the welcome sign in a dozen languages and the guest book signed by some Swedes right before us, is that Route 66 is HUGE in other countries. This blows my mind. Obviously, I am very nostalgic when it comes to roadside attractions spawned by the Mother Road. I've always wanted to do a Route 66 road trip, before it's too late for it to have any real appeal. I just have a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that people from other countries are so obsessed with it that they plan their OWN vacations - international vacations - to check out the remnants of an American highway. I guess it's similar to the American obsession with Japanese pop culture.

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These are some awesome murals painted on the building behind the museum. This is just part of the series. I'm guessing it's part of the Walldog Mural Museum, which I only just learned about on Pontiac's tourism website.

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This is the Bob Waldmire School Bus Road Yacht. It wasn't open when we were there, but it's apparently pretty impressive inside. On our next trip to Chicago we will have to stop in Pontiac again, because they ALSO added a vintage car museum in the last year.

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The museum itself is case after case of memorabilia collected from businesses and attractions all along Route 66, organized by region, so it's a virtual road trip you can do in an hour or so.

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The extensive Steak N Shake collection made me laugh, because you know it was not hard to collect up an item here and there from a few dozen people, but how did someone steal a booth?

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 Kidding, of course. On the table is a sign that says that these booths were from the ORIGINAL Steak N Shake in Normal, IL and were saved by Chester Henry for future museum display. Nice foresight, Chester!

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You can see an old Steak N Shake diner from my neighborhood and read more about the history here.

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This is a fun one. Can you guess what this is? I'll give you a hint: If you are a parent of small children, you might recognize "him".

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Yes, it is Fillmore from Cars! Otherwise known as Bob Waldmire's 1972 VW Microbus, the inspiration for Fillmore. Bob was an artist and Route 66 enthusiast who died in 2009. The School Bus Road Yacht also belonged to him.

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One more: It's an M from a Meramec Caverns barn sign! This is on the way up to the second floor, where there are tons and tons of pictures of various Route 66 restoration projects around the country and a photojournalism exhibit. Really neat stuff, but doesn't translate well to "blog". So next time you are driving to Chicago and see those giant billboards for Pontiac, believe me when I say it's worth a little detour! And stop at Cafe Fontana for a caprese grilled cheese sandwich!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Chicken & Waffles at Goody Goody Diner

I posted last week on the Facebook page about the 100 Foods to Eat Before You Die list and how I was baffled and confounded by Chicken & Waffles. I ate a bug for this blog, and yet I couldn't tick off Chicken & Waffles, because why would I ever order that when there are Biscuits & Gravy?

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I'd heard of Chicken & Waffles before, but didn't understand the popularity. I like my fried chicken cold, and will even buy Popeyes, put it in the fridge, and eat it the next day. The only fried chicken hype I've ever bought into is Lemp Mansion, which I recommend constantly but haven't eaten in a year and a half. I am also ambivalent about waffles because I own a waffle iron. My diner breakfast of choice 99.5% of the time is a bacon & cheese omelet and biscuits & gravy.

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But give me a list and I am compelled to check things off. Chicken & Waffles was taunting me, saying, "You could check this off TODAY and then you would have 67/100." Still, since I knew I was skeptical of the entire concept, I had to have THE BEST Chicken & Waffles in town. Enter Goody Goody Diner, located at 5900 Natural Bridge Rd.  An unscientific estimate of their Yelp reviews show 90% of reviewers mentioned the Chicken & Waffles. Nay, RAVED about the Chicken & Waffles.

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The Goody Goody Diner has been around since 1948, and in the same family for the last 60 years. This was my first visit. Here's what I have to say about Chicken & Waffles: if you are a Chicken & Waffles fan, I bet this will be the best Chicken & Waffles you've ever had. The fried chicken is delicious (even hot) and the waffle was perfectly fluffy. I still don't get the fuss, but I am sold on the Goody Goody Diner. This is an old school neighborhood diner that you don't usually find in a city these days, with great service and patrons visiting between tables. It is definitely worth the wait in line!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The New Cheshire!

Oh my goodness, what happened to March? It went by in a flash! We have been so busy lately, and have so much coming up in the next couple months between wedding planning and house renovations, that we scheduled ourselves a mental health weekend last weekend. We had a Living Social Escapes deal for The Cheshire that we had been saving for just this purpose.

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I never had a chance to stay at the old hotel, or even to go to the Fox & Hound Tavern, so I have no point of comparison for this blog entry, other than hearing that the old hotel was kind of run down and in need of an update. There was also a bit of a *winkwinknudgenudge* quality to it, as it was well known for its fantasy suites.

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That's the first question everyone asked when we said we were going to The Cheshire this weekend. "Did they keep the fantasy suites?" The answer is no, not in the way you remember. The new fantasy suites are much more nerd-classy. We'll get to that in a moment.

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The Cheshire is design as an English inn, and as I understand it, they kept a lot of the historic details that people remember and love, while updating all the public spaces and rooms. Now it's a charming boutique hotel with all the updated amenities people expect. The ATM in the phone booth is a fantastic example. Love it!

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The public spaces are incredible. I could easily spend an entire vacation at this hotel, especially in the summer when the pool is open. Above is the coffee and tea area, which is available 24 hours a day, and has both china teacups and mugs, or to-go cups. Very nice touch. Across from that (not pictured) is the breakfast bar area, where they have a hot item (breakfast burritos when we were there) plus cereal and fruit and a very nice selection of beverages.

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All the public spaces are GORGEOUS. Tons of antique furniture everywhere, even up and down the hallways. Plenty of areas to sit around and socialize or curl up with a book and a cup of tea.

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Speaking of books, this is where it gets nerd-classy. EVERY ROOM in the hotel has an authors name on the door, and you get a bookmark when you check in with the name of your room on it. We were in the Sir Walter Scott Ivanhoe suite, and there were two copies of Ivanhoe in our room. *swoon*

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That's not our room, but an awesome example of the entrance to some of the suites. We were in a mini-suite, which had a sitting area with a couch, desk, and flat screen tv, and a separate bedroom with another large television.

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The bed was a little too soft for my taste, but my favorite hotel bed ever was the platform beds in Thailand that were like sleeping on a padded board. Most people won't turn down a pillowtop for a night. They were great for being lazy, and the pillows were EXCELLENT.

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We did think it was odd that there was only one robe, but appreciated the theme throughout. The bathroom was great because it had plenty of natural light. We were on the Clayton side of the building and one whole wall was windows, with the option for shutters in the bathroom and blackout curtains in the other rooms. There is also a mini fridge, and they also have free bottled water in the rooms. Again, though, one bottle. Why not assume two people are staying in a suite?

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That's the view from our room looking down on the patio. In the evening, we had dinner at Fox & Hound Tavern. The grass fed beef bacon cheeseburgers are so amazing that we inhaled them before we even thought of taking a picture. Definite thumbs up on the food. After dinner we retired to the patio.

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The patio fire was not lit that night, but our lovely waitress tipped us off to the gas firepit next to the pool. Holy moly. One, that patio furniture is amazingly comfortable. Two, I want an outdoor gas fireplace now. We stayed there for several hours and made lots of new friends with people visiting St Louis.

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The best part of staying at a hotel in your own town? You don't have to spend the next day traveling. We checked out at the very last minute and then ran some errands and went home. Brilliant! So if you live in St Louis or are visiting, definitely check out the Cheshire. I'll be saving up my pennies for a night in the poolside king suite this summer.

PS - Please continue to share last week's post about White Nose Syndrome in Missouri bats! It's really important! Thank you!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Save the Bats!

I hate that my first post in a month is about something so serious, but we got some very distressing news in Missouri today: our first confirmed cases of White Nose Syndrome in Missouri caves. I've mentioned this in past blogs about caves, and we were hoping that it wouldn't make it this far, but it seems we won't be so lucky.

If this is the first you've heard of White Nose Syndrome, here's a quick tutorial: WSN gets its name from the white fungus that appears on the nose and wings of infected bats. The infection makes it difficult for bats to hibernate, which means they will wake up in the winter when there aren't many bugs around. Not hibernating through winter, when there is no food, means that they deplete their fat reserves and eventually starve to death.

Now, I'm no spelunker, I'm just a cave tourist. I love show caves with electricity and no special equipment required and I love them so much that I'm getting married at Bridal Cave next year. Missouri has more than 6,500 caves, MANY of them open for public exploration and tours, but as White Nose Syndrome spreads, many caves with bat populations (including show caves) are in danger of being shut down. WNS is transmitted from bat to bat, but it is also suspected that humans can spread it by not properly cleaning all their clothing and equipment between caves. The only way we have to slow the spread of the fungus is to close the infected caves to nonessential humans, and for EVERY spelunker to properly clean all of their equipment after visiting a cave.

I know a lot of people are scared of bats, or at least creeped out by them, but bats are a really important part of our ecosystem. Their guano provides nutrients to other organisms living in caves, bats themselves are a food source for predators like hawks, and they eat more than half their weight in insects every night! WSN has already killed 7 million bats in the northeastern United States and Canada, and the estimated mortality rate for the little brown bat, a major bat population of Missouri, is 90%. NINETY PERCENT. People, this is devastating. You hate mosquitoes more than you are creeped out by bats, right? You want to know what you can do to help!

Lots of people have asked me that today, and I have an answer of sorts. There's really not much that us average, non-biologist people can do. However, the National Speleological Society has a White Nose Syndrome Rapid Response Fund. This is the best way you can save the bats. You can donate securely at this link and specify that you want your donation to go to WSN Rapid Response Fund. Please, share this link with your friends. Our only hope is that scientists can get a handle on this disease.