Sunday, September 7, 2014

Behind the Scenes at Ballpark Village & Busch Stadium in St. Louis

While I was in St. Louis with Mom, we drove by the new Ballpark Village across from Busch Stadium. It looked like a place I needed to explore and I made arrangements for a trip back before I had even left.

It was very easy for me to decide when to make my visit to Ballpark Village and Busch Stadium. As a lifelong New York Mets fan,

I picked a date when the Mets would be playing St. Louis. To make it even more interesting, I brought along my friend Amy – a Cardinals fan.

We were running a little late so we quickly checked into the Drury Inn & Suites Convention Center and grabbed a cab to Busch Stadium. It was close to 100 degrees and the temperature was climbing so we were happy for an excuse not to walk.

Our private tour of the Stadium began at the Third Base entrance we learned about the old and the new, the history of the original stadium and Anheuser Busch, as well as the construction of this new venue that opened in 2006.

We loved being able to get into the stadium before the game. We were able to watch some of the players warm up and even climb into the Cardinals dugout.

Amy and I also toured all the suites in Busch Stadium, each of which offers different amenities. It was certainly a day when the air conditioning would be appreciated by anyone who had suite access.

Before we left we even were able to go up to the Broadcast Booth to get a good look at how the announcers see the game.

We headed across the street and had a snack and drinks at the Budweiser Brew House before we met Andrew Hagene, Director of Marketing and Entertainment.

Andrew took us for a tour of Ballpark Village and the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum. Since it was just hours before a home game, the place was buzzing with excitement.

Fox Midwest Live is the center of Ballpark Village, where everyone gathers to watch the giant sports screen, while enjoying food and drink. It has a 100 foot retractable glass roof so it is available all year long beyond the baseball season. (The venue has already had a number of live performances.)

We were thankful for the roof on this blistering day.

We went upstairs and saw some of the other options at this entertainment complex: PBR, which has a mechanical bull; Howl at the Moon, a dueling piano bar; Tengo Sed, a Mexican restaurant with live entertainment; and the Skybox.

Next, we took a tour of the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame. Despite the fact that the Cardinals are not my team, I really enjoyed their museum. It’s actually a good history of baseball – and beer.

You can watch the game right across the street at the Cardinals Nation AT&T Rooftop or Budweiser Brew House rooftop. I was amazed at how close the field seemed and look forward to trying the experience someday, but we headed back to the stadium to watch the game.

A pedestrian walkway between the Village and the Stadium is constantly filled with fans during the games, but it didn’t take us long to walk through and find our seats.

Our seats had access to the Redbird Club, which offered lots of food and drinks for sale. We were also thankful for the opportunity to step inside to watch the game in the air conditioning whenever we wanted.

The view from the ballpark in St. Louis is one that can’t be missed. You can see the Gateway Arch and a huge Budweiser sign that certainly means more in this city than anywhere else in the world.

Although I have not had much time to follow the Mets this year, my loyalty is still there and I was close enough to recognize David Wright, whose number my daughter has been wearing for years.

Obviously, the bars are built for beer lovers here. While Amy enjoyed the brews, I tested out the wine and a Mud Slide, both of which I felt weren’t worth the price. I would suggest non-beer drinkers go straight for the mixed drinks and leave the cocktail concoctions for another place.

The food selection at Busch Stadium is enough to please anyone, from game day favorites such as hot dogs and soft pretzels, to barbecue, Polish Sausage, Mexican, and turkey legs.

Before we left, I couldn’t resist what one fan told me was “the best bargain at the ballpark,” a frozen custard cone to cool me off before I faced the heat.  It was also my ode to defeat as the Mets had fallen to the Cardinals, much to the pleasure of the local crowd.

We finished the night at Howl at the Moon in Ballpark Village. The music was not only good, it was a lot of fun as the audience got to choose the songs played. Everyone was singing along

I would definitely return there for the entertainment as well as the cocktails, which were as simple as the 100 calorie Skinny Tea (Firefly Skinny Tea Vodka and Peach Schnapps), and as interesting as Disco Lemonade (Bacardi Wolf Berry Rum, SKYY Vodka Wild Strawberry, Blue Curacao, Sour Mix, and lemon-lime soda).

After breakfast at the Drury Inn, we headed back to Champaign, already planning next year’s St. Louis trip for a Mets vs. Cardinals game – which, of course, the Mets are going to win. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Viking River Cruise Ends in Style with Budapest

It had been quite a week on the Viking River Cruise through the Danube. My friend Tracy and I had been discovering places Christmas Markets and visiting places we had never been. There was only one more to go – Budapest, Hungary.  It was the largest capital city on the Danube and one of the most known.

As had been the case with our other stops, the Viking Cruise line included all tours and there was a bus waiting to take us to the Buda district. Along the way our guide Nicholas told us about the city which is referred to as the “Jewel of the Danube.”

We learned about the part this area played in World War II, and how it is now a tourist destination with a large zoo, public thermal baths, an amusement park, and large hotels.

The bus let us off in the Buda Castle District. It was a bit chilly outside, but we braved the cold for a walking tour. The Square was amazing and each building was filled with history.  Tracy and I enjoyed looking around the area. 

Before we left the Castle District we stopped to take a good look at the National Monument, dedicating the area as a World Heritage site.

We also made a stop at St. Stephens Church and it was as beautiful on the inside as it was on the outside.

After the tour, we had some free time to walk through the shops and pick up some of the local crafts. Tracy and I also stopped at a café for some hot chocolate and Linzer tarts.

We got back on the bus for the rest of the tour, which would take us to Pest, the more modern part of Budapest. This area included museums, government buildings, recreational facilities and Christmas Markets. 

We also passed the Jewish Quarter which was home to the largest synagogue in Europe, as well as the Jewish Museum, and the Holocaust Memorial.

The Christmas Markets in Budapest were filled with baked strudel, enormous pretzels, dried fruit, candy, pottery, gingerbread, bratwurst, and local delicacies such as goose legs and pig knuckles.

The smells coming from the market were amazing, but we had a special meal waiting for us on the ship so we just enjoyed what would be our final Glὕhwein.

Back on the ship, I had Beef Goulash for lunch. It was served over barley instead of noodles like it is in the U.S. It was delicious.  

We rested up and then we returned to the market for a bit in the evening.

When we returned, there was a farewell cocktail party before we headed to dinner.

Our last dinner with Viking was a great one. It started with a tasty Roasted Eggplant and Garlic Soup, followed by an Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb with a red wine glaze and a goat cheese pesto.

It was served with a medley of artichoke, zucchini, and beans, and was as good as it sounds.

Before Long it was time to board the bus to Budapest airport and head home.
Dessert was a Hungarian Crepe with chocolate sauce, nuts, and raisins, along with a champagne sorbet and a small scoop of chocolate ice cream.

For my final breakfast, I chose a bit of cake, cheese, fruit, and yogurt from the buffet, a very typical European breakfast for me. The only thing different were the potato pancakes we had requested from the chef a few days before and he made them again for our final meal.

Tracy and I waved farewell to the Viking Embla and an incredible European adventure.

*Christmas in August? Yes! I was running a bit behind and I decided to just save my Viking River Christmas Market Cruise report until July. After all it’s a perfect time to start thinking about booking one of your own while the prices are low!