Saturday, November 26, 2011


John Dalton had done a great deal of traveling, staying in numerous hotels, motels, and just about any type of accommodations. Having been told about the nasty sides of rooms, he really wasn’t up to bringing his own set of disinfectants. Another major annoyance was forgetting important items, such as toiletries and then with time being an issue having to walk a few blocks to get them, if the hotel didn’t have an overpriced “gift shop”.

Then, of course there is the service. The hotel is too busy or not enough staff to truly tend to your needs like that shirt that you want to use again but requiring a bit of laundering. The hotel can send it out, but time is of the essence, again. Oh, sure, you can bring it all on the airplane and have to pay the extra costs of checking your luggage.

John got the perfect job as the General Manager of Hotel Ignacio in St. Louis; a boutique hotel with 49 guest rooms and two suites. Here he could create the smoke-free, and pretty much germ-free hotel of his dreams while sharing it with the public.

Hotel Ignacio resides at 3411 Olive in the midst of St. Louis’ Grand Center Arts & Entertainment District and across the street from Saint Louis University. This would determine the décor of the rooms and hallways with a gallery of sorts for contemporary works of art from Saint Louis University’s vast collection as well as themes of the guest rooms: Fine Art, Performing Arts, Architecture, and Music.

I checked in at a desk of young smiling faces more than eager to be of assistance: Emily Sieb, Shannon Thomas and Assistant Manager Nick Palank were just some of the staff of mostly Saint Louis University students or graduate students. My room “card” was handed to me while asked if I needed help with my luggage. There is no bell stand here, so someone from behind the desk will be of aid. I didn’t have as much to tote as I did when I left. A box of various fruit was for the taking with a sign that asked if you would sample and comment on this local area produce.

Off the elevator to find that there was no “slot” on my door. It was a circular sensor just above the doorknob. Touch it with the key card or wave it a few inches away and the door unlocks. Not only does this help if you’re imbibed, it’s knowing that the bathroom is so near and yet so far, if you get the drift.

After placing my luggage in the room, I looked around to see what appeared to be a framed mirror on the wall. It was a plasma tv. Having chosen the décor of Performing Arts, there were paintings depicting ballerinas. Having traveled myself numerous times I hear about certain things to check for, as in the bathroom which appeared to be quite clean. I noticed that glasses on the shelf wondering if they really clean them. No spots, or smudges. Well, that’s good. Hey, wait! The day of the week is etched into it. Coincidence? Day of the week was correct the next day, too.

A very large digital clock turned out to be an ipad type of instrument called an Avaya media hub used by one of only six hotels in the country. Touch the screen and get the weather, stock quotes, local attractions as well as “frequently requested items”. My curiosity got to me as I expected the minimum “freebies”. The first to take me back was, Socks (regular and knee high). Socks? They’ll give you socks? The long list went on to include: undies (men’s), pantyhose, cough drops, tweezers, bug spray, lint remover, chapstick and mints. Perhaps you want a refrigerator in your room and a sleep machine. I certainly needed both.

I needed to call a local restaurant, not having the phone number. This system becomes a speakerphone, so you just have to touch the “make a phone call” app and dial out. I called the front desk to get the phone number. Not only did the person retrieve it, but dialed the number.

Sitting on the bed I continued to view some other amenities. You can borrow a bicycle or “3-wheel taxi”, exercise in a fitness room. Oops! I needed to check my email. Back to the lobby to a business center at no charge. Just off the elevator was a table with coffee and espresso as well as a rack with various newspapers.

The lobby leads into the “living room” complete with a fireplace and couches. Beyond that was a cafe. I ate bagels and lox while perusing my itinerary.

Going back to my room I noticed a ledge that had two musical instruments with an opening above it. Behind the opening were three adjoining bathrooms. The ledge was the back of the sinks.

Day one of my itinerary, I woke up the next morning having had a much needed rest, giving credit to the sleep machine. I was sleeping on a Tempur-Pedic mattress! Hotel Ignacio is the only hotel in Missouri to feature this. Comfy pillows. Were they filled with down, foam? How about recycled plastic bottles! Bamboo sheets and towels, too.

Could it get any better? I wanted to get some clothes laundered, not sent to the cleaners. I called the front desk to inquire. “Just bring it to us and we’ll have it back for you in about 3 hours”. There is no charge for the service. I later returned to my room to find a shirt and pants hung up in the closet, the rest folded in the laundry bag.

Now, picture this. The airline lost your luggage. More than likely it will be delivered to you within 48 hours. However, here you are with just the clothes on your back! Not only will they provide the toiletries, whatever you are wearing can be laundered for the next day! Slippers, loaned robe and underwear in a pinch! Knowing about all of the above, you can spend a week bringing only a carry-on.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Lunch Time! We're back to Downtown Alton to chow down at State Street Market. The entrance opens to the market itself with European-style fresh gourmet food & home goods market and selling imported wines & beers, home & garden gifts & décor. Go passed the market itself into the restaurant for local food and home style cooking. My host ordered the soup and salad. The soup was a tomato basil. I ordered a wild mushroom soup and turkey panini. Warm and friendly place and good food.

Now for some history. Sites along the new Lincoln & Civil War Legacy Trail led by historian Len Adams. Sites included: Lincoln-Douglas Square, Lovejoy Monument, Confederate Monument, Ryder Building and Trumbull House.

Afterward we stopped to see a statue of Robert Wadlow, the tallest man in history standing at 8 feet 11.1 inches. Standing next to it you can see just how short you are compared to him as well as a replica of his chair.

Now we are on the road to experience the scenic byway, better known as the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway, a really beautiful drive. On the way out town we stopped to see the legendary Piasa (pronounced Pie-a-saw) Bird, a Native American dragon depicted in one of two murals painted by Native Americans on bluffs (cliffsides) above the Mississippi River.

On to the Village of Elsah to see the campus at Principia College, a National Historic Landmark and only Christian Science college in the world. Then to Grafton for a scenic tour of the Mississippi & Illinois Rivers from the Tara Point Inn.

Back on the byway through Grafton en route to Pere Marquette State Park, the largest state park in Illinois. It features 22 cabins and 50 guest rooms in a secluded environment.

Back to Grafton to check out the Grafton Winery and Brewhaus. I later indulged in their apple wine that was truly flavorful and not heavy on the alcoholic content. They have a restaurant upstairs as well as a bar/restaurant on the downstairs level. Good place for local entertainment as well.

Dinner was the ending to my Alton days as we dined at Mississippi Half Step in Grafton. Chef/owner Jim Newton uses local food when possible. It's a basic, steaks, chops, pasta bill of fare. I had an appetizer of the stuffed mushrooms using button mushroom filled with homemade crab, tomato and green onion cream cheese.

I chose a strip steak for my entree with a baked sweet potato and asparagus. They have several sauces to go with your steak. Although I did try one of them, I found that the steak, cooked perfectly and full of flavor, did not require it to be more than simply grilled.

Bye, bye Alton. We're on our way to St. Louis


This first night, we dined at Gentelin's on Broadway owned and operated by Sarah and Ryan Gentelin (the chef). This restaurant is a fine dining genre with a beautiful view of the Clark Bridge, which is lit up at night to define the multitude of cables.

So what did we sample from their eclectic menu? An appetizer described the Toasted Wild Mushroom Ravioli as, "House made ravioli stuffed with wild mushrooms, wilted spinach and boursin cheese. Served crisp with a drizzle of white truffle oil, parmesan cheese and fresh herbs." Had to taste this one! I love wild mushrooms and didn't expect two large ravioli's...I guess you have to make them bigger than the usual to put that amount of "stuff".

The soup of the day was one with smoked pork and veggies. You won't find soup listed on their online menu as they make two soups each day; one meat and one vegetable.

I would have had a regular salad until I saw this one. "Goat Cheese – Panko breadcrumb and herb encrusted goat cheese tokens served with mixed greens tossed with spiced walnuts, poached pears, and dried cranberries in white balsamic vinaigrette. Garnished with cracked pepper and sea-salt crackers" on the bill of fare. What a great combo and quite tasty, too.

Entree choice was the half roasted duck, slightly smoked with a savoy cabbage and bacon potato puree in a light natural jus with fresh asparagus. Umm Umm good!

One of my group had the Black Bean Cakes served over a southwestern cilantro and roasted red pepper sauce with house made guacamole, fire roasted corn relish, drizzled with chipoltle sour cream and garnished with tempura fried avocados and crisp tortilla strips. I tasted. Pretty good for no meat.

We left room for dessert. It's off the present menu but...give me chocolate. Chocolate and Chambord mousse in a chocolate cup and a brownie topped with vanilla bean ice cream.

The next morning we were out for a Segway Tour for a view of the river starting at the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center. This particular operation comes out of St. Louis' Science Center where an equipped truck is hauled to the segway site. It's mostly bicycle path. I would have taken the entire tour but it is difficult for me to stand for such a long period of time. I'm getting out of shape the more I age. Besides, the tour also goes into downtown Alton and I had already took in the area.

Having experienced the Lewis & Clark Trial tour a few years ago, it was the Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower that hadn't been built. The structure allows you to see the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers from platforms at 50, 100 and 150 feet. Between a tour guide and signs you can learn about the history of nearby Hartford, the Industrial Revolution, Lewis & Clark and the scenic byway. Yes, they have an elevator.

Monday, November 21, 2011


It was September 27, 2011 when I landed at the St. Louis airport. The first part of my trip was spending two days in Alton, Illinois, about 25 miles away from St. Louis, Missouri.

I first checked into my hotel, a Holiday Inn (Lewis & Clark Trail Site), noticing that the lobby was one big atrium. It was nice to see that it differed from other Holiday Inns. I always like to find out as to whether a hotel has laundry facilities as the trip would continue on to St. Louis. No! And just happened to be located around the bend from my convenient.

Off to lunch at My Just Desserts in Downtown Alton. They are famous for their homemade pies and 1/2 pound chicken salad sandwiches. Owner Ann Badasch had was not there when we ate, but left me a cook book, which did not divulge the secret to the chicken salad. I had the chicken salad sandwich and a slice of the cherry/almond pie. As it turned out, Esther and Eunice showed up.

Just across the Clark Bridge is an escape to nature; the Riverlands Migratory Bird SanctuAuduary, the only Audubon Center in the Midwest and located right on the Mississippi River.They were just completing the Audubon Center at the Riverlands, where you can sit and watch the birds and find loads of information. I would love to see the trumpeter swans. They have trails but I'm not up for hiking.

We then made a stop on Small Pox Island, the site of the Lincoln-Shields Duel and the final resting place for soldiers and citizens who succumbed to small pox during the Civil War Era.

Alton is known for hauntings, so I got my first taste at the notorious Alton Prison, where I met Len Adams, who conducts these tours. What you get to see is what was left of the prison.

We later went to the Enos Apartments, to see the tunnels that were part of the Underground Railroad. The tunnel was actually located just below the sidewalk. This way the sounds of walking about would cover up the sounds below.