Thursday, July 19, 2012

Indy 500 and St Louis stainless steel.

Indianapolis and St Louis.

A quick four hour Greyhound ride south from Chicago, an hour time difference and we were there!
I arrived in mid afternoon and had a quick walk around town first. I saw the huge Lucas Oils stadium, where the Indianapolis Colts NFL team play before finding myself at a much more sedate and small place just around the corner. The Victory Stadium and home to the Minor League Baseball team - The Indians. There was a game going on and so I sat and watched for a while through the fence. I saw three innings and apart from one hit, nothing happened. Imagine watching cricket and in 40 minutes there are just 20 balls, one run and nothing else. Admittedly the crowd was enjoying the lovely sunny afternoon, with picnics and ice creams, so it’s not a bad way to be!

Down at the ball game

The momon trail

Looks like just 5 days to me!?

After a bus to the Hostel I was surprised to find that a music festival was occurring in the back garden. There was a cover charge of $10 and the 25 or so people who had paid to attend seemed to be enjoying the noise that the group of people in the makeshift stage were making. To me it was shit, but then I have no musical knowledge. I put my stuff in and went for a wander around finding a trail called The Monon Trail, that has been built from an old railway track and leads a couple of miles north to a little village called Broad Ripple. The trail was a nice way to get away from the hustle and bustle of busy roads and Broad Ripple is a lovely little place, wit quaint shops, cafes and pubs as well as a few arty galleries and potters shops. I spent a nice hour or two wandering around the park and the village centre, even passing a McDonalds with a Grand Piano inside, before going back home to the Hostel just as the music festival finished at 9pm and the hordes of music lovers (about 12 of them) made their way home.

Day number two in Indianapolis and what to do!? Hmm. Indianapolis!? Ring any bells? Indy 500 maybe!? Yep, just a 20 minute bus ride away is one of the most famous and spectacular race tracks in the world. The Indianapolis Speedway – more commonly known as The Brickyard, as just after being built, the track was improved by adding 3,200,000 bricks and creating a flatter better racing surface. The brick are now nearly all covered by tarmac, less for a 1 yard wide strip, which marks the finish line on the straight.

The place is huge – you could fit the whole of Wimbledon, Wembley, The Coliseum in Rome and The entire Vatican City within the boundaries of the Brickyard. It can hold nearly half a million people when the most famous race, ‘The Indy 500’, is on. I took a bus tour around the track and we stopped to look at the start finish line of bricks as well as the winner’s podium and media centres with fantastic views over the track. The bus only went 30mph, compared to the 200mph+ that the Indy cars drive around here, but it was still a great experience. I would love to come back to see a big race here sometime. I also had a while to look around the museum which houses a lot of the old cars that won the race as well as the famous old trophy that bears a likeness of each winners head on it. Weird, but true! A really cool place to visit and I will try to watch the Indy 500 next year.
In the Indy museum

A lotus

The Indy 500 trophy

Back in town and I had a couple of hours wandering around looking at Indianapolis city centre. It’s a small city, but has a lovely downtown, with a really clean and mellow canal running straight through the middle of it. So I spent a good while down there, just relaxing and trying to keep cool. The weather over here has just been stupid for the last few days. It’s been 39 degrees today, but the burning sun makes it feel even hotter. It’s the same for the next two days – up to 102degrees Fahrenheit, so I’m glad to be on an air-conditioned bus for most of tomorrow!! 

The famous start and finish line of Bricks


At the start line

The bus, as usual was fine, but when I arrived in St Louis, it was even hotter than in Indianapolis. I wandered the mile or so to my accommodation and loved the fact that the air-conditioning was on when I got there.

St Louis (pronounced with the ‘S’ sounding – so its ‘Saint Lou – is’, is famous for one main thing – The humongous stainless steel ‘Gateway Arch’, that towers over the Mississippi River and marks the start of the route towards the West, taken by the early Americans in the 1800’s. Its real name is the ‘Jefferson National Expansion Memorial’. Jefferson had two of his best men – called Lewis and Clark (Not the two from Superman) venture westwards from here, taking over two years in undeveloped and unexplored lands to reach the Pacific and return as heroes. Underneath the memorial there is a film showing their impressive and moving story as well as a movie about the building of the Arch itself. I sat and watched both movies and loved then both, before I headed up the arch itself.
At the arch

At the top after travelling up in....

...this tiny 'Tram'...which actually looks like....

..this.... its tiny!!

Evening view

and another

Yep, you can actually go to the top of the arch. The top, at 192metres high, gives you a great view over the Mississippi and downtown St Louis. But getting up there is the fun part. You are taken up there in what they call a ‘Tram’. The tram though is actually only about 5 foot high, round and sits 5 people at a squeeze. It is like being inside an industrial drier and is probably smaller than one. Eight of these trams are connected to a steel pulley system and are pulled up the angled legs of the arch right to the top, where you come out into a 6 foot high, arched corridor, with tiny windows to look through. I loved it!! It’s much better than the bland viewing floor of the Sears (Wills) Tower in Chicago! I stayed up there a while before finally coming back down in the tumble drier and taking too many photos from the park at the bottom of the arch.

The arch is stunning and changes constantly as you walk around it and the light shines off different parts of the massive stainless steel walls. It’s very simple, but beautiful and well worth the visit to come and see it, although I still have all day tomorrow to have a look around town and see more of St Louis.   

The view down over the Mississippi the evening

I decided on an early start- really early – I was out and around town by just after 7am. There was hardly anyone around and it was also reasonably cool, so I saw the downtown area and mainly the City Garden, with its cool, quaint and ridiculous sculptures, before I headed on over to Busch Stadium – the baseball field – for a tour of the ground at 9am.
This was a good tour, led by ‘Jay’, a 50 year fan of the St Louis Cardinals. We visited the press box for an awesome view and were told a lot of the history of the ground and the team, before finally ending up having a look around the pitch itself and the home dugout. The ground is excellent, with great views over the city from centre-field as well as brilliant facilities and views of the game itself. It was an interesting tour and very well led by Jay and so I decided that if I need a Baseball team to support, it will be the St Louis Cardinals.

Jumped again in the morning

By now it was starting to get hot and so I headed on back to my room and a mellow afternoon in the air-con and by the small, but cold indoor pool. I will go back out later on. 

A head!

Something to do with Pinnochio!?

Red thing

In Busch stadium - ballpark

Cool view.

I did go back out – to see Gateway Geyser – A huge fountain on the other side of the Mississippi, in Illinois, and is supposed to be the 2nd largest fountain in the world. However, after a 40 minute walk in the baking heat, I arrived to see the fountain start at 6pm. It only spurted the water about 100 feet. It turns out that if the wind is over 4mph, the fountain is turned down. Bugar. It’s still pretty fountain and a nice afternoon out though. I took a wander around on the way back to my room and found a weird little industrial type park, built from old steel parts from a nearly factory. It’s a cool little rundown area, which unfortunately has fallen into disrepair. There is also a really strange bridge with a face underneath staring at you as you pass. The place is weird and un-nerving, but also really cool and it’s just a shame that it isn’t on any tourist sites for people to visit, although it does get passed by with a riverfront bike trail. 
The Gateway Geyser fountain

Weird park...

..another view.
A face under a bridge....!?

That was it for St Louis. A small city, but well placed and with a lot to look at, but it’s just too hot during the day at the moment to spend too much time wandering around. I think I will have to add it as another place for me to come back to sometime for a day or two and see a little bit more.


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