COVID TRAVEL DIARIES: ST. LOUIS, KANSAS CITY and then some

Unfortunately our drive thru Missouri and Kansas coincided with the big freeze of February 2021.  While most of our friends were hiding under their blankets or hanging out on Florida beaches we were entertaining ourselves by short ventures in and out of our car trying to stay worm.  I don’t think I ever experienced negative Fahrenheit temperatures before this trip.

But it is what it is and we still had to find local attractions. We started at the St. Louis Art Museum. One must buy time stamped tickets due to Covid. https://www.slam.org. It is a nice and spacious museum with a decent collection of European art but for some reason is overwhelmed by German artists, especially Max Beckmann who got an entire large room more than any other artist there. The special exhibit Storm of Progress is also about Germany and frankly I didn’t connect to it. https://www.slam.org/exhibitions/storm-of-progress-german-art-after-1800-from-the-saint-louis-art-museum/

Another lovely place to visit is the Chess Museum/Chess Hall of Fame. They had a Keith Haring exhibit on the first two floors that was absolutely lovely and the Hall of Fame is on the third floor. https://worldchesshof.org, free entrance

Unfortunately the highly recommended Pulitzer Foundation was closed.

Chess Museum

For our one night in St. Louis we stayed at the Angad Art Hotel, a lovely whimsical place part hotel part museum part musical performance space (obviously closed now). Every room is decorated in a different color.  I chose navy blue and the room was great. Another bonus is a roof top bar where we completely took advantage of their happy hour. A friend was telling us that there are places with live music around but we were seriously drunk by 8pm and happy not to venture out into the extreme cold. https://www.angadartshotel.com/

Hotel Lobby
Hotel Lobby

As I was told by a native Missourian, a must eat food when in St. Louis is actually not BBQ but toasted ravioli. For that treat we drove to the Italian neighborhood, the Hill, and got a steaming fresh order of them at Mama Toscana, a small family operation famous for that dish. One order is huge and indeed is a treat but I could feel gaining pounds simultaneously with my consumption thereof. https://mamatoscano.com/

Finally, we couldn’t leave without taking some pictures by the Arch, even though it was brutally cold.

Next was Kansas City where we stayed for two nights and frankly so far on this trip this was the place where I felt the most unsafe Covid wise.

On one hand it was nice that so many entertainment venues were open and after a year in isolation we couldn’t resist going out. But in hindsight we probably took unnecessary risks. While the staff everywhere was wearing masks the patrons didn’t look like they care about social distancing. We however, obviously kept our masks on and sanitized incessantly.

Kansas City is sprawled around between various neighborhoods and don’t forget that part of the city is actually in Kansas and not Missouri. Since most downtowns now are pretty much abandoned we began staying in the suburbs with better choice of good hotel deals and free parking. Therefore we did stay in the Missouri part in a comfortable Hilton Garden Inn 5 minutes drive from downtown.

We visited the Atkins – Nelson Museum of Art, a very interesting building and a very good collection of modern and contemporary art, a decent collection of 19th century European art as well and a large sculpture garden. Again, one must buy time stamped tickets ahead of time. https://www.nelson-atkins.org/

Sculpture Garden

Another must see place is the American Jazz Museum, having interactive exhibits where you can listen to recordings of the greatest jazz musicians and get some, also interactive, lessons on jazz music.  I was really impressed with their Covid procedures; they gave us gloves and ear covers so we can listen to music by earphones. The museum is located in the former African American neighborhood called 18th and Vine, and they showed a good film on the life of the neighborhood before and during the civil rights movement. https://americanjazzmuseum.org/

For jazz and live music we went to several clubs. The first was the Phoenix Club downtown. This was the one that we didn’t feel very safe and left after one hour having a quick bite and a drink. They also have Jazz Brunch which we decided to skip. https://www.thephoenixkc.com/

The other ones are located at the Jazz neighborhood of 18th and Vine near the Jazz Museum. We went to the Kansas City Jack House Saturday happy hour, 5-7; cheap strong drinks; great atmosphere, well dressed people and the music was more R&B then Jazz. The crowd was 100 percent African American and there was a lot of dancing going on.  The next place down the street was Soiree Steak and Oyster House, also having live music. You can sit at the bar or have dinner at the main dining room. We had drinks. https://www.soireekc.com/

Another famous venue is the Mutual Musicians Foundation, but they start paying at 1 am, because historically this is where musicians would come to play after their paying gigs.  There was no way we would last till 1 am after the earlier happy hour and additional drinks, so we had to miss it. www.mutualmusicianslive.com/

  You cannot leave Kansas City without having its famous BBQ but a task of choosing one out of numerous was very hard. I read several blogs and articles and we ended up at Arthur Bryant’s. I don’t know about others but this was probably the right choice, the line to order was quiet long and while waiting we could study photos of different famous people ordering the food including Barak Obama.  We had only meat, two orders of baby back ribs and one order of a completely new item to me – burnt ends. Those are actually roasted ends of some beef parts, apparently a Kansas City specialty and a very good dish. https://www.arthurbryantsbbq.com/

A neighborhood worth visiting is the Plaza. It’s an upscale shopping area build in colonial Mexican style and apparently one must do a self guided walking tour of the Plaza checking out various sculptures, fountains and murals, including notable Fountain of Neptune and a mural of a bullfighter.  We tried but after 3 minutes we couldn’t feel our hands and toes and had to call it.

Neptune fountain

From there we continued west to Colorado crossing the entire state of Kansas. On the way a must stop is the Brown v. Board of Education Historical Site, belonging to the National Park Service. Unfortunately the building was closed but we did take some pictures.

Further west we stopped in Selena for Valentine’s day lunch at Martinelli’s Little Italy, a nice family style Italian restaurant, and slept at Hays that served together with its surroundings as a background for a movie Paper Moon.

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