Thursday, June 30, 2011

Keith Urban Concert

Last night, we attended the Keith Urban concert here in St. Louis.  This is just one of the many 18 wheelers parked outside the Scottrade Center for the show.

Tony and Paul

We had a chance to hang out with Paul who is currently on the road with Keith Urban.  It's always great to see an old friend up here!

Jake Owens

I wasn't sure who he was, but I did finally recognize one of his songs towards the end.

Great seats for Keith Urban!

I've never seen anything close to the lighting display that Keith Urban had for his stage.  Normally, there are one or two guys up on the risers several feet above the floor working the lights.  No, there were like six for this show.  It was pretty interesting watching them climb up there!

Even more impressive were the roller coaster light displays.  If you see the silver tracks that go all along the back of the stage, that was all tracks for lights there were on rollers.  There was a second, smaller track above the stage.  It was basically like watching motorized lights on a roller coaster.  Very cool stuff.

He had a small stage set up out in the middle of the floor where he played a few songs.  There was also a microphone set up in the arena seats where he played a couple of songs, and even gave away a guitar.

One of the most entertaining parts of the show was when he sang "Kiss a Girl."  He brought up 3 girls and a guy to sing the chorus.  The poor guy hardly knew even of the words, but he was very fond of the beer that he brought up with him!  After those four sang, he grabbed a little boy who was maybe 6 and holding a guitar to come up on stage and sing with him.  It was adorable!

I had to include a picture of the light up guitar!  It even changed colors a few times throughout the song.  The guitar playing for his show was just incredible!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Boat Ride on an Underground Lake

Our Saturday explorations once again brought us to about an hour south of St. Louis.  This time, we visited Bonne Terre Mine.  The mine was once the largest lead ore in the world.

Now, it is most famous for the Billion Gallon Lake.  Bonne Terre Mine operated from the 1800s to 1960 when it was abandoned and the pumps that kept spring water out of the caves turned off.  Today, it is known as the Billion Gallon Lake with depths up to 120 feet.  It first became famous in the 1980's when Jacques-Yves Cousteau filmed a feature there.  He was supposed to visit for two days, but fell in love and stayed for seven days.  Since then, the mine has been featured in countless travel and news stories.

Prior to getting to the dock area, we took a 40 minute walking tour.  After walking down 68 stairs (yes, we got to walk back up them later), we entered the mines.  The walking tour takes you through the first and second levels of the three level mine along the "Old Mule Trail."  Along the way, our tour guide told a few stories about the mules that once worked in the mine.  I'll spare you the details because it was pretty sad!  During the tour, we saw what is known as the Huge Pillar Room, Grand Canyon, Trout Pond, Underground Flower Gardens, Calcite Falls, and abandoned mining tools and the old rail system for the mines.

The Underground Flower Gardens is an actual garden that is planted in one of the first rooms of the mine.  It is maintained by the Bonne Terre Garden Society.

They lowered this boat through one of the old elevator shafts several years ago.  To be honest, I was a little concerned about the condition of it!

Billion Gallon Lake

Our 20 minute boat ride on the world's largest subterranean lake was quite an experience!  I was shocked by how crystal clear the water was.  During the boat ride, we saw an old elevator, submerged (and perfectly preserved) ore carts, wrapped pillars (had been mined too much so they were wrapped to keep them from collapsing), and the old wooden catwalks suspended 50-100 feet above the lake.  Our tour guide told us a story about how the miners were all fine with the height until electricity was brought down into the mine.  Before that, they couldn't actually see how high up in the air they were above the rock floor.  During the first week with electricity, an extremely large number of miners quit because they couldn't stand being up that high!

We happened to get there in time for the first tour at 9:30 a.m.  Turns out, that's the best time to visit!  Bonne Terre Mine also operates as the world's largest fresh water dive resort.  Seriously, you can go scuba diving beneath the earth!  If you are there for the first tour, you can actually see the divers enter the water as pictured above.  The twenty-four dive trails are laid through out the lake.  The lake stays a constant temperature of 58 degrees, so it's definitely a little chilly!

A few of the things said about Bonne Terre Mine -

Top 100 Greatest American Adventures by National Geographic

History Channel's Weird U.S. show

Featured in the History Channel's program Life After People

This is actually a good lead in for my story about Miss Bonnie.  Once we completed our boat ride, we began our 10 minute walk back to the stairs in order to exit the mine.  There is a small area next to the dock that is known as Trout Lake.  Ten years ago, the owners of the mine decided to add 14 trout fish to the lake.  13 of them quickly died since there is no oxygen in the lake.  Seriously - none.  No plant life at all lives in the lake.  One fish was able to adapt and survive in the water.  Since there is nothing else living in the water, there is no food for Miss Bonnie.  The tour guides pitch in with part of their tip money to purchase worms to feed her on their tours.  It was pretty funny.  Our tour guide just shined his light into the water, and she immediately swam out from wherever she was!  She definitely knows that it is feeding time as she stayed right there until we left.

Somewhat of a sad part of the story is that she is known to follow the scuba divers.  She often swims over the air tubes, so they figure that is her way of getting some oxygen.

Calcite Falls

Clearly, this sign is a fake, but the mine did indeed boast a pretty impressive safety record.  During all of its years of operations, only 28 men died - 2% of the total number of men that worked in the mine.

I am really glad that we went.  It was definitely a once in a lifetime type experience, but I have to say, it's kinda creepy!

I thought that I would include this.  Back in 2007, Red Bull sponsored the first ever below ground wake boarding competition at Bonne Terre Mine.  This is a video from the event.  I can't even imagine doing all of those tricks between those large rock pillars!

The Muny Goes Blonde

Summer in St. Louis means one thing - it's time to buy your Muny tickets!  At $10 a piece, it's really hard to pass up seeing Broadway quality shows in such an amazing venue.  Last year, we attended our first Muny production by going to see Beauty and the BeastSince I talk a lot about the history of the Muny in the linked blog post, I'll skip that part.

We could not have picked a more perfect evening to attend the show.  Last Friday, the high was only 73 degrees here in St. Louis.  By show time at 8:15 p.m., the temperatures were already in the 60's with a bright, clear blue sky.  So much more pleasant than the miserable heat last year when we attended!  Thank goodness because the place was packed!  Also, it was a very female heavy crowd.  I stopped counting the number of blonde girls in pink dresses that I saw in the crowd!  Then again, what other color would you wear to see Elle Woods?

The production itself was absolutely fantastic.  The musical isn't exactly like the movie, but pretty close.  There are a few characters added, a few left out, etc.  Tony said that he actually enjoyed the musical more than the movie.  Probably the most memorable part of the show is the performance of "There!  Right There!" better known as "Is he gay?  Or European?"

This season is actually a big deal for The Muny.  Executive Producer Paul Blake is retiring after this season from the position that he's held for the past 22 years.  Blake is best known for returning the theater to its roots.  Before he arrived, The Muny had started booking touring shows which he immediately stopped.  Under his direction, The Muny once again began staging its own productions.  They have now developed a very loyal group of actors, designers, and directors that return every year despite the grueling schedule.  The Muny has only 11 days to fully mount and rehearse each of the seven shows that they do during the season.  Each show has a one week run before they move on to the next one.

Here is a link that The Muny posted on YouTube from opening night -

Sunday, June 26, 2011

H2O II Tour - Blake Shelton and Brad Paisley

Sometimes you have to be a little spontaneous in life.  That includes deciding two and half hours before a concert start time that you want to attend!  The decision making process is definitely aided by learning that the remaining tickets have been discounted.

Jerrod Niemann was the opening act.  I actually wasn't sure who he was until he started singing "Lover, Lover"  He was really good!

This was our first time visiting the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater which opened in 1991 about 35 minutes outside of St. Louis.  It's a really neat outdoor venue with lots of activities before concerts including slip and slide.  Every concert needs a good slip and slide!  The venue seats 7,000 with lawn seating for an additional 13,000.  St. Louis is a great city for concerts.  This is the mid-size venue for tours.  They even allow you to bring in your own food as long as it is in soft sided cooler.

It's best known for two incidents.  Shortly after opening, Axl Rose sparked the Riverport Riot during a Guns N' Roses concert.  Several people were injured after the crowd broke into a riot when Alx Rose jumped into the crowd and tackled a fan that was angering him.  The band was banned from ever playing again in St. Louis.  

In July of 2010, Kings of Leon left the stage after only three songs because they were getting pooped on by pigeons.  After receiving a lot of bad press from the incident, the band refunded fans their money and scheduled another concert for September.  Tickets were free for those who had purchased tickets to the July show and only $10 for others.

Blake Shelton!!!

I love him.  I know that Brad Paisley is the bigger artist, but Blake was by far my favorite part of the concert.  I just love his songs.

We had dead center seats towards the back.  Pretty nice for last minute tickets!

Brad Paisley intro

He basically had a new guitar for every song.  This was one of my favorites because it glittered!

He played a few songs out on the catwalk that goes into the crowd.

There was a lot of digital media and other special effects used for Brad Paisley's show.

Blake Shelton came back out to sing a few songs with Brad Paisley.

All in all, we had a really great time at the show!

At the beginning of his set, Blake Shelton told a lot of family stories and even sang some of the songs that the rest of his family loved.  This is him singing Bobby Brown in honor of his sister.  Loved it!  

I'm currently obsessed with this song.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Amazing Chaumette Winery Take Two

I'm cheating a little bit and putting one of the beautiful sunset photos first!

After surviving the trek back down the mountain from Charleville, we definitely needed the simple relaxation of Chaumette!  As we were getting ready to leave from Charleville, we noticed a car just getting ready to pull out.  We all ran across the parking lot and jumped into our car.  Turns out, you're much less worried about a head on collision when you follow a safe distance behind another vehicle! 

Since Tony had left the little airplane as part of the tip the weekend before, everyone there recognized us when we walked in with Jean.  We were quickly seated out on the porch, and were even able to get the same waitress.  When it came time to leave, Tony made her a ring with the tip money.  She was wearing it when we left!

Since I've already talked so much about Chaumette, I thought that I'd tell you a little about the Missouri wine industry as a whole.  Over 160 years ago, Missouri became the nation's first wine country.  Prohibition nearly killed the wineries here, but they have been rebuilding since the 1960's.  Currently, more than 1,500 acres of grapes are planted hear in Missouri which produce nearly one million gallons of wine annually.  The industry employs more than 6,000 people each year, and brings in approximately 812,000 tourists each year.  Last year, it is estimated that Missouri wine country alone brought in $202.8 million dollars in tourism.  People like their wine!

Since we were once again visiting on a Sunday, it was a set menu for their Sunday Family Dinners.  We enjoyed the following menu:

Charred Tomato Cream (soup)
Farmer's Salad greens with simple vinaigrette, and Radish 
Grapevine Smoked and Grilled Chicken Breast
Potato Suffle
Carrots and Chaumette Garden Herbs
Spring Snow Peas with Pink Peppercorn butter

I know that I raved about it in the previous post, but their chef is just incredible.  The food is soooooo good!!! 

We arrived about an hour later than the previous Sunday, so we were able to see a sunset out at Chaumette.  

Pepper just laid by our table for a bit, but Norton was very demanding!  He kept forcing my arm away until he could lay his head in my lap.  It was adorable, but a little difficult to eat without him getting my food!

As you can see, the sunset was incredibly beautiful.  After dessert, we headed back to real life in the city.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Seviers vs. The Road to Charleville Vineyard & Microbrewery and Saline Creek

I've been looking forward to writing this post for the past two weeks, so I am very excited to finally bring our Saline Creek adventure to our readers!

After leaving Sand Creek, we planned to travel the 25 minutes to our next stop of Charleville Vineyward Winery and Microbrewery.  For this trip, we were equipped with our GPS, three cell phones that all have GPS capabilities, and printed Google map directions just in case we had trouble getting a signal.  A 25 minute drive should be simple, right?  No.  As you are reading this, please keep in mind that the GPS, 3 cell phones, AND Google map directions all had exactly the same instructions.

For the most part, the roads throughout this part of Missouri wine country are pretty remote.  As we started our drive towards Charleville, it wasn't a big surprise to not see other cars around.  We did notice that we were really getting into the actual mountain area.  For the most part, it's just hills in this area.  Tony even stopped the car and hopped out to take a few pictures of the beautiful countryside.

Our next hint that something was amiss was when the road went to a one lane gravel road.  We probably should have turned around at that point, but the maps all agreed that we were on the right path.  We REALLY should have turned around when we got to the point where the road had grass growing in it, but I digress.  I wish that we had thought to get a picture of that part of the road.  For a few miles, we continued along this one lane dirt road filled with grass.

By this time, we are all starting to think that it's been quite a while since we've seen any sign of civilization.  This is pretty much our view in all directions.  Tony makes the mistake of commenting that all we need to do now is cross a creek...

Not two minutes later, we arrive at a small part of Saline Creek.  There is no bridge over the creek, but the water is extremely shallow through here.    I'm not even sure that the water would have reached my ankles if I were standing in it.  Again, the actual maps on the various GPS devices were still showing that we were on the right road.  At this point, you would have thought that common sense would have kicked in and turned our car around.  Alas, that didn't happen until we were actually driving THROUGH the creek bed!  Definitely not one of our finer moments.  If you are familiar with the 'Bu, you know that she's not really equipped for driving in rocky terrain like this!  It was definitely a very scary experience.  By this time, we had all noticed that we had zero cell signal between the three of us.  Had something happened to our tires, we would have had a long walk ahead of us to find help!  Our supplies inside the car consisted of three bottles of wine and a bottle of champagne!

So, we cross the creek and all breathe a sign of relief only to find that the road that we've been following on the map just disappears.  Seriously, our barely there dirt road that we've been following just turns into a field.  We do see another dirt path, but it's not matching up with the map that we are seeing on the GPS.  Common sense finally arrives, and Tony turns the car around in the field which brings about another problem.  We have to cross the creek again.  The trip back across was even more scary than the initial crossing.  Luckily, the 'Bu made it with no damage!  She was just a little dusty from her efforts.

Upon arriving back to civilization aka where we can get cell signal, I called the winery to get better directions since clearly the GPS and Google maps had failed us!  Turns out that the winery is only a few miles up the road from our favorite winery Chaumette.  There may have been a few curse words muttered after hearing that.

We quickly learned that we were only a few miles away, so we arrived at Chaumette less than ten minutes later.  We should have just stopped there and called Charleville a bust.  Instead, we kept driving the two miles past Chaumette to the turn off for Charleville.  As soon as we make the turn off of the main road, we end up on a dirt road again.  Another sign that we should have just forgotten about Charleville!  By this time, it was a matter of principle.  We simply were not going home without making it to Charleville!  At first, it wasn't too bad.  We were on a two lane dirt road winding up the hills with a much deeper part of the Saline Creek next to us.  We even saw the construction of a bridge over part of the creek!  Imagine that - using a bridge to cross water in a vehicle!

Our relief was short lived as the road quickly narrowed down to only one lane.  This was much worse than before since we were now on a very steep, winding road through the forest.  I can't tell you how happy we all were not to meet another vehicle!  I really am not sure what you are supposed to do if another car is coming down at the same time, but apparently they make it work.

Charleville Vineyard Winery and Microbrewery!

We finally made it!  This was a very welcomed sign after a particularly steep, curvy part of the road!  Tony came close to kissing the gravel parking lot once after he got out of the car.  He quickly ran inside in search of  a drink.  My nerves were shot just being a passenger in the car, so I can't imagine how he felt as the driver!

This place is remote.  I mean - really remote.  Much more remote than any of the other vineyards that we've visited.  It was quickly decided that we would take lots of pictures since this would probably be our one and only trip here! 

The winery and tasting house portion of the property is pictured above.  


The family brews an assortment of beers including ales, lagers, and seasonal beers.  Their IPA and Half-Wit Wheat recently placed first and third in a microbrew festival held in Forest Park.  I'm not a beer fan, so I'll stop now before I embarrass myself!

In 2004, the family relocated this historic 1800's log cabin from its original location in St. Mary, MO to the property.  It took 16 months to relocate and restore the cabin.  Once it was complete, it was opened as a two room bed and breakfast in September of 2005.  

View of the cabin from the front.

It was named Bruckerhoff Cabin after the two brothers Willie and Glen Bruckerhoff who gave the cabin where they were born to Charleville Vineyards.

A musician was just finishing up as we arrived on the property.  By the time that we made it outside, he had already packed up.  All of the outdoor pictures were taken from our table on the deck area.

There were several dogs and children running around the large field.  It was a great open field, but it did have quite a steep slant to it that provided a little degree of difficult for the kids playing soccer!

Tony and Jean enjoyed a tasting here while I stuck to water.  Most vineyards charge $5 for their tastings, but their tasting is free.  Jean joked that they had to to get people to travel up that road!  Tony sampled their Chambourcin, Angelique Guyon, and a sweet dessert wine.  He rated the dessert wine the highest with a seven out of ten.

Beautiful view of the vineyards.

I will say that the view here rivals that of Chaumette.  This rustic, country property sits high atop a hill, overlooking a panoramic view of the valley.  There are also several hiking trails that you can enjoy while visiting, but it isn't enough to make me want to return!

In closing, if you ever decide to visit Charleville Vineyward, make sure you only do so in a four wheel drive vehicle!

Sand Creek Winery - Home of the Wine Margarita

Our next stop on the Route de Vin was Sand Creek Vineyard.  This is the newest of the wineries in the area, and is family owned like most others.  It was established in 2002, but the tasting room did not open until October of 2008.  The outdoor patio is very large and comes complete with a few fire pits for those colder evenings during the winter months.  For the summer, there are fans under the veranda.

It's located less than a tenth of a mile down the road from Twin Oaks, so it should have been easy to find.  Unfortunately, we missed their very well hidden sign and drove a few miles out of the way.  When we did find the turn off, it takes you a dirt road up the hill and into dense forest.

The large double doors lead into the tasting room which is filled with a large, stone bar.  All of the furniture inside is over-sized so that various groups can sit together.  The ceilings are also extremely high and contain an impressive cupola.

Along with our wine tasting, we also tried a wine margarita.  This was something that none of us had ever heard of before!  With four different flavors available, there was something for everyone's taste.  Jean and I each ordered a small one to try after our tasting - it was delicious!  Mine was a little sweeter and a tad stronger than a regular margarita.  Apparently they are easy to make at home as well.  Just combine your margarita mix with your favorite wine and blend!

For our actual wine tasting, we tried the Dry Chardonel, Late Harvest Chardonel, Becky's Blush, and the Plank Road Red.  All of them were above average wines, but the Chardonel was probably my favorite.  I loved the green apples and apricot flavors.  It's definitely a great summer wine.  Becky's Blush and Plank Road Red are their two most popular offerings.

While we were standing at the bar doing our tastings, we got to talking to the owner.  We told him that Tony and I are originally from South Louisiana.  He pointed out the memorabilia that had been signed by the guys on Axe Men during a recent visit.  A good friend of his builds boats for them, so he stopped by with them while they were in town picking up a new boat.  He also pulled out a bottle of a special wine that isn't on the tasting menu so that Tony and Jean could sample.  I'm not a fan of red wine, so I passed.  It was the Chambourcin pictured above.  He had produced this wine several years ago, but just opened the barrel of it a few weeks ago.  It only made six cases and it is a one time deal.  Both of them absolutely died over the taste.  Tony said that it is hands down the best wine that he's ever had!

After tasting it, it was decided that they would purchase a bottle to share over dinner at our house one night.  A few minutes after the first bottle was purchased, it was decided that a second one was definitely needed!  Tony and Jean did enjoy one bottle of it this past Monday evening, and declared it just as good as their first tasting. Tony cooked a lovely chicken and red sauce pasta dish while we enjoyed some quality reality TV show watching time!  

I found it highly entertaining that the owner autographed both bottles.

View from our seats on the deck.

This was located in a heavily wooded area, so I was a little surprised not to see any deer or elk that populate the area.  Maybe next time!  Also, for the second winery in a row, we saw little children running around.  I have to admit that before seeing it at Twin Oaks, it had never occurred to me that some people might bring their kids with them to the winery.  Apparently it is a quite popular around here.  The kids run around the grounds while the adults enjoy wine and snacks on the deck.  Who knew that a winery could be a family activity...

Next up - The adventure of Charleville Winery and Saline Creek!