Swooning Over the Saint Louis Zoo

There is no admission fee for visiting the Saint Louis Zoo. There are extra fees for experiences such as feeding the Galapagos tortoises. Even though I did not pay to feed them, I got to watch from very close by.

I found watching the people visiting the Saint Louis Zoo almost as fascinating as the animals. There were Amish families in their traditional garb, families with multiple strollers, and lots of different parenting styles. This zoo is ranked in the top five zoos in America, and rightfully so. It really is a marvel.

There is so much to see and do at this zoo. It doesn’t advertise itself as a botanical garden, but it is also beautifully landscaped. There is plenty of signage and I still found myself getting lost looking for giraffes. I thought I’d spend an hour walking around and several hours later I was hiking back up to the south entrance without seeing it all. I so wished I had my grandson with me.

They have enough space to house Asian elephants.

I enjoyed my visit to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden so much that I decided to also visit the Saint Louis Zoo. It won out over other options in part because it had good reviews on Trip Advisor and because it was so close to my Hampton Inn in Forest Park.

IMG_8519One of the features of the Saint Louis Zoo is how close you can experience many of the zoo residents. This hyena was just one of the animals that I felt I could reach out and touch. This experience was most thrilling with my favorite penguins. By the way, if you do break the rules and try to pet the penguins, remember they bite with their VERY sharp beaks. And even more harmful than feeding them our food, is sharing our germs.

There is no admission fee for the zoo thanks to the taxpayers of St. Louis; however, the closest parking lots do charge $15 a car. While a family can divide that by 4 or 6, I was driving alone. I also needed to save time because I had a long day of driving to Pella, IA via Hannibal, MO, so I decided to make the donation for convenient parking. They have various options for saving money, especially with kids. For example the Adventure Pass for $12.95 includes the Zooline Railroad, the Children’s Zoo, Conservation Carousel and more. If you are a traveling with children and you park on the street, and bring your own sandwiches, you can make a big day of it for little more than the cost of the Adventure Pass.

Instead of eating from the Hampton Inn breakfast buffet, I walked next door to Comet Coffee to enjoy one of the tastiest bear claw pastries I’ve eaten in a while. Little did I know that I was going to see real bear claws on two grizzly bears later that same morning.


San Francisco Hilton Blues

I am a Hilton Honors member so it pains me to use my points and have such a rocky start to my stay. I drove up to the front of the Hilton near Union Square and the Bellman accepted my bags. Then I walked across a giant ugly lobby doing a great imitation of 1970s SFO to a 4 person deep line at the HHonors counter–a large group of airline employees queued with one woman handling all the requests at 10:30 p.m. I had checked in on-line but that apparently does not speed the process. I actually do not know what the advantage this option is to me.

20151207_230507Then I had to drive around the block to the parking garage in Tower 3 and spent 20 minutes winding my way up to the 10th level to park. Then find my way back to Tower 2 through the Lobby Level, then go up to level 14 to my room.  By now it is 11:00 p.m.

As I enter my room the phone is ringing but the light next to the door does little to illuminate the interior. However, I am in a room equipped for the hearing impaired so a bright light is flashing in tandem with every ring of my phone and it is blinding. I fumble to turn on the light and the switch on the side nearest the door does not work. I simultaneously try to answer the phone and neither of the 2 lines connects me. I call the front desk because I suspect it was the Bellman calling. The first attempt lands me on hold hell. In the second attempt the front desk clerk says he will check and call me back. “No, no I will wait on hold! I do not want to experience that light flashing in my face again.” It was that disorienting.

While I wait for the Bellman to bring up my bags I grab a glass and collect some tap water. There seems to be a film on the water, so I rinse the glass and try again. The water is almost milky white. I show the Bellman when he arrives and he agrees that it is strange. He offers to send up some water and I decline since I want to go to bed. There are two bottles of water, which I generally prefer not to use for ecological reasons, but tonight I am thankful to have as a back up. I send him off with a glass of water to show his supervisor.

I lose the back to my earring down the sink and I take out the plug and I can see the back of the earring but cannot reach it. This is not on Hilton Hotel–it is just how my night is going. My other back to my earring also falls onto the carpet and this draws attention to how old and worn the furnishings are–circa 1980. The beds look naked. I always thought the Hilton chain had a pecking order: Hampton Inn, then Garden Inns, and so on to the top HILTON. Alas all of the Hampton Inns I have stayed from San Diego to Des Moines have been more elegantly appointed than this hotel.

Finally I decide at least I can watch the Tonight Show since I am rarely up this late. Hah! Either the television or the remote is broken. I called the desk and again demurred at the idea of someone coming up right now to fix it. I wanted to get in my jammies and get in bed.

I can hear two men having a conversation next door and there is consistent traffic noise even on the 14th floor. I thought I was so clever using my points for a 2 night stay while I am in San Francisco for training. This is an inauspicious beginning.

#Pieperfest14: Bridges of Madison County

The Roseman Bridge starred in the movie Bridges of Madison County.
The Roseman Bridge starred in the movie Bridges of Madison County.

Truth be told, I never read the book or saw the movie, Bridges of Madison County. Auntie J saw the movie and she was keen to see the covered bridge featured in the film. The Roseman bridge outside Winterset was only about 30 minutes from Stuart.

Photo not by Robert.
One of three bridges we visited in Madison County.

After breakfast we drove over to Winterset and with some difficulty, we found the Roseman covered bridge. It looks like a covered bridge. The gift shop opened while we were there and we had another lovely, warm conversation with the Iowa man running the shop.

He told us we could find an authentic Mexican place in town on the square, and Northside Café (featured in the film). He also gave us good advice on getting to Waukee and getting around the washed out part of the Highway 169.

This kind of certainty comes but once in a lifetime. –Robert (Clint Eastwood)
This kind of certainty comes but once in a lifetime. –Robert (Clint Eastwood)

We finished our walk around the square. There was an intriguing textile store that sold yarn but everything was closed up tight on Sunday.

We drove into Winterset and parked on the square to walk around. We decided since we were going to eat a big dinner and we ate a late breakfast we would just try a piece of pie at the Northside Café. The town boasts a pie festival so we thought the café might offer pie. We both tried the peach pie and it was the worst pie we have eaten, ever. Mushy crust and canned peaches. It did not have any flavor. Not sure if the peanut butter or cherry pie might have been better. My bad for ordering peach pie when the leaves are turning on the trees.

Cafe featured in Bridges of Madison County
Don’t order the pie at Northside Cafe.

On the way out of town we drove across the Cedar bridge and looked at the Hogback bridge. I am glad they have kept them in good repair, although they are more the focal point for local parks than for transportation.

We drove on to Waukee for our last big feast with the cousins. Cousin Annette’s house is a very cool old Victorian style house in “town”. The men watched football, the women fixed food and visited, and the children tried to catch wild kittens.

Cousin Annette's home
Cousin Annette’s home

At the end of the evening we all gathered around the dining room table telling stories and the din of multiple stories and laughter was quite intense. Jeanette and I laughed when we compared it to our quiet gatherings in Petaluma, California. We loved it.

Cousin David graciously drove us back to our Hampton Inn in West Des Moines as our adventure was drawing to a close.

Oldest to youngest Pieper Cousins
Oldest to youngest Pieper Cousins (of those present)