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Entries in history (2)

Tuesday
Feb152011

A Go West Getaway to St. Louis, Missouri

So, why would someone who lives in the Chicago area want to visit St. Louis? St. Louis has professional baseball, hockey and football teams, an exciting children’s museum, an amazing botanic garden, a world-class zoo and tons of delicious Italian restaurants -- but Chicago possess all those things, too.

The Arch and the Old Courthouse. Photo by Frank Peters on Flickr.Of course, I could point out that St. Louis’ baseball team actually has winning seasons most of the time, but ... Hey! That’s just a good-natured joke from a Cardinals fan.

St. Louis is definitely worth a visit, however, for any family looking for an easy getaway, located about a five-hour drive from the Fox Valley. Many of the attractions are inexpensive, and while public transit is very limited, with a car you can get from downtown to its near suburbs in less than 20 minutes outside of rush hour.

WHAT TO SEE:

St. Louis is located on the Mississippi River just south of where it meets up with the Missouri River. It was founded by French traders in 1764, about 70-some years before the city of Chicago was incorporated. Its position as the “Gateway to the West” lends it a different sort of history than the brawny, blue-collar tales of Chicago.

Its most famous feature, of course, is the Gateway Arch, which is located in downtown in a park called the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, part of the National Park Service. In addition to the arch, this area includes paved paths overlooking the river and a building called the “Old Courthouse,” where slave Dred Scott unsuccessfully sued for his freedom. 

Once you see the Arch, you’ll likely want to board a tram for a trip top of this 630-foot stainless steel monument during your stay. But so does everyone else visiting St. Louis, so this one requires some advanced planning. I was at the visitor’s center (located underneath the arch) on a dreary weekday in mid-May at 11 a.m. and the next available tram ticket wasn’t until after 3 p.m. Tickets often sell out. So either plan to stop at the visitor’s center very early in the day, very early in your stay, to buy your timed-entry tickets. Or buy them ahead of time via phone (877-982-1410) or on the web at gatewayarch.com. You’ll have to pass through a security check-point for going up in the Arch, always a fun proposition with kids, so make sure to allow plenty of time before your tram time if you have pre-purchased tickets.

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Sunday
Jul042010

A weekend in Springfield, the city that Lincoln loved

With the recent celebrations to mark the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, all things Abe are all the rage. But I’ve always been a big fan of our 16th president, which is a good thing, since I grew up just outside Springfield, Ill. Many of my grade-school classmates used to roll their eyes at yet another Lincoln-centric field trip. But all that history makes Illinois’ capital city a wonderful spot for an economical and family-friendly weekend getaway.
 
Jenna Fischer Lincoln SpringfieldYou can pose with the Lincolns like "The Office" actress Jenna Fischer.The Abraham Lincoln National Library and Museum (212 North Sixth St., 800-610-2094) has attracted more than 1 million visitors since the dedication of its museum portion in 2005. Billed as the first “experience museum” of its kind, it has technological innovations that should wow even the most jaded of tweens. Make plans to spend at least three hours there, and don’t forget the camera: You’ll want a portrait of your family posing with the life-sized replicas of the Lincolns in front of the White House. (It would make for a great holiday card!) If you are bringing a stroller, an umbrella version would be best -- this place can get crowded, and some of the spaces are a bit narrow. Afterward, cross Sixth Street to treat yourself to ice cream or a chocolate at a local institution, Peases’s Fine Candies & Salted Nuts (Sixth and Washington streets, 217-241-3091).
 
In my opinion, nothing beats walking in Lincoln’s steps in the only home he ever owned. It's been meticulously restored to its 1860 appearance, and some of the furniture inside actually was used by the Lincolns. Now called the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, you’ll want to stop at the Visitor Center at 426 South Seventh Street soon after your arrival in town to collect your (free!) timed tickets to tour the home in the company of a National Park Service ranger. The Park Service advises visitors to arrive as early in the day as possible to receive the tour tickets. While the last tour begins at 4:30 p.m., all the tickets will likely be snapped up before then on busy days. 

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