I have always wanted to take an Amtrak trip. It was on my bucket list last year and was carried over to this year because I just couldn’t get to it. So, when the opportunity arose to not only take an Amtrak trip to St. Louis, but to do it on a series of old Pullman Cars, I jumped on it. I was so excited about the experience, that I showed up at Union Station way early (as per usual) and waited alone for a while before I found the group.
It was a Friday morning, and the station was bustling with commuters that I had to fight through to find the group of writers, photographers and St. Louis experts I’d be traveling with. I found them in the Grand Hall, from which we walked down to the tracks to find our train. It was easy to spot, with its sleek silver design, its domed top, and the fact that it was clearly from a much classier era of train travel. As we dropped off our bags and climbed aboard via the platform on the back, I had to take a moment. It was gorgeous inside, and we had three whole Pullman cars to ourselves.
The one we boarded had a glass dome top you could sit in and watch the scenery speed by. The cars were built in 1948 and acquired by St. Louis’s Union Station (I know… it’s one of the many parallels between Chicago & St. Louis). As we pulled out of the station, a few of us stood on the back platform, watching Chicago get farther and farther away. It was a beautiful view, and the sun came out of the clouds just as we got up to speed.
They had laid out a beautiful continental breakfast for us in the middle car, including pastries and fruit and candied bacon, which was catered by the Union Station Hotel’s Executive Chef. I spent most of my time in the domed car, because it was just so good. Riding in it was exactly how you would expect it to be if you romanticize train travel (like me!). Most of my fellow riders sat there with me, and we talked about books and movies and what we’d do in St. Louis as we all stared out the windows. It was amazing how pretty Southern Illinois can be when filtered by a train window.
Lunch was also served in the middle car, and consisted of sandwiches, salad and chips, which I enjoyed while sitting at the built in bar before moving on to the next car to drool over the amazing selection of petit fours and truffles.
Directly after lunch, we had a beer tasting with the aptly named Beer Tony from Ballpark Village (the huge complex across the street from Busch Stadium). They had placed little plates of cheese, prosciutto, and bar mix and little baskets of homemade soft pretzels (with a delicious mustard, beer and cheese filling) on the tables in the dome car while we were at lunch, as if we needed more food (we ate it anyways).
Tony took us through five different local beers, including Urban Chestnut Schnickelfritz (light and wheaty), Schlafly Coconut Cream Ale (not my favorite), Four Hands City Wide Pale Ale (yum), O’Fallon 5 Day IPA (so good), and Schlafly Oatmeal Stout (made up for the coconut beer), while describing each to us. It was really fun and a great way to pass the time. However, it may have been poor timing to have a beer tasting right before a history of St. Louis presentation. I think we all were fighting to keep our eyes open. Not because it wasn’t interesting, but because of the beer, and the sun, and the gentle rocking of the train. We began our arrival into St. Louis shortly after, and everyone jumped up and scrambled to take photos of the approaching skyline.
(I was so, so happy that we got to take this particular train to St. Louis, but I also fully understand that not everyone can do this. However, if you have the time and resources, you are able to rent the Pullman Cars for parties or private trips. That information is here).
We took a bus to the hotel from the train station. The buildings were quite pretty in downtown St. Louis; the prettiest one, which was stone with an orange roof and looked like a castle, happened to be our hotel: The St. Louis Union Station Hotel. It was just stunning, and that was just the outside. The inside was even better, breathtaking, even. We entered through the Grand Hall, and we couldn’t have timed it any better. As soon as we walked into the lobby and set our bags down, their nightly/hourly light show began.
The lights dimmed and the music started as the lights began to trace the intricate pattern of the ceiling and walls and create new shapes. It would be a unique experience as long as you didn’t sit in the lobby for hours, as the show happens every hour on the hour after 5pm until 11pm. After the show, we were instructed to head up to our rooms to freshen up and meet back in the lobby in an hour. My room was gorgeous, with hardwood floors and pale blue and silver and white curtains and bedding.
The bathroom was lovely, with a stand up shower and huge vanity. There was a delightful little welcome box of St. Louis-themed treats on the bed, which I would break into later. I sat down for a minute and then it was time to head back down. They had laid out a lovely buffet of hors d’oeuvres for us, including bone marrow, crab Rangoon, beet salad and other delicacies.
We also had an open bar, from which I ordered a glass of Chardonnay that cost more than what I usually spend on a bottle of wine back home. It was worth it. We sat and chit-chatted and enjoyed the food (good, but could have been warmer) before heading to Forest Park for an al fresco performance of Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale”. We arrived early enough to take a stroll through the park before the play, and it’s a good thing too, because the park was amazing.
It contains their Zoo, History Museum, Art Museum, a golf course, and much more. We soon took our seats near the stage (there is also lawn seating, where many people enjoyed picnic dinners during the play). I truly enjoyed the play, but halfway through the first act, hunger took over and a couple of us walked over to the concession stands to get some wine and a hot dog. The hot dog was not so delicious, but the wine was surprisingly good, so we doubled down on that and went back to our seats with a second glass.
Though the play was very good and the acting far better than any outdoor production I’ve ever seen, it was also quite long. We didn’t get back to the hotel until 11pm, and by that time we were so, so hungry. I, along with a couple of people from the group, decided to have a couple of cocktails in the hotel bar and hopefully some bar snacks. Unfortunately for us, the kitchen was closed, but they did offer to have some food delivered for us from a selection of nearby restaurants. We decided that would take too long, so we sat and drank and complained about how hungry we were for about as long as delivery would take, and then went up to our rooms. I fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow and dreamed of Chicago– style hot dogs and cupcakes.
To be continued…
**A HUGE thank you to the wonderful people at Explore St. Louis, LHM, and DCI for having us and for being such wonderful hosts!**