Romanticize a St. Louis summer all you want. There's always a flip side to the coin. The crowd roars at Busch Stadium — another one in the win column! — but then you spend what feels like eternity (or a particularly bad game of Frogger) trying to get out of the gridlock. The Fourth of July celebration gets into full swing — yay, Foghat or Better Than Ezra or whatever! Yay, foods on sticks! — but then you encounter the harsh inevitability of sharing a Porta-Potty with several ZIP codes' worth of revelers.
Yeah, it's time to get out for a little while.
Survival Tip No. 1: Master the Art of Time-Travel
Modern life is a beautiful thing. Who would've thought we could amass entire libraries on tiny tablets? And talk with faraway friends face-to-face, through computer screens? The 21st century is sweet, sweet, sweet. But also: stressful. Being constantly connected means you have no excuse to take a few hours off of work or to ignore that "high-priority" e-mail. Sometimes, you want to hop in a time machine and zip back to a simpler time. We haven't quite mastered that technology, but no worries: The lovely river town of Hannibal provides all the fun of time-travel with none of the annoying complications (like making sure your mom and dad fall in love so that you can exist).
As the boyhood home of Mark Twain, Hannibal enjoys an exalted position in American lore. Explore the town and relive a simpler time at Tom Sawyer Days, held between July 4 and July 7. When the town of Hannibal celebrates Tom Sawyer, there's no half-stepping. You, too, can go all in by participating in the National Fence Painting Championships (or, in the spirit of Tom Sawyer, goad someone else into painting your fence for you) and by cheering on your favorite amphibian in the frog-jumping competition. Bring your running shoes and your eating pants: There's a 5K race as well as plenty of food vendors. Embrace your inner child as you ooh and ahh over the spectacular fireworks display the night of July 4. (Where better to celebrate American independence, after all, than in the hometown of one of our country's greatest icons?)
Hannibal is about a 120-mile drive from the Gateway City, so you may want to turn the daytrip into a weekend getaway. Continue your trek through time by booking a room at Lula Belle's Bed & Breakfast, which dates back to the early 1900s. Originally operated as a brothel, Lula Belle's (111 Bird Street, Hannibal; 573-221-6662 or www.lulabelles.com) now stands as an elegant B&B with a fabulous on-site restaurant. And, yes, there are still a few fun winks and nudges that allude to its original incarnation — large beds, heart-shaped whirlpool tubs and rooms with names like "Angel of Delight." Proprietors Mike and Pam Ginsberg, who have been recognized nationally for their hospitality and their generosity in the community, serve up a full breakfast each morning.
Survival Tip No. 2: Go Underground
No, you don't need a fake identity or a collection of convincing wig-and-glasses combos. To go underground this summer, all you need to do is — you know, go underground. Head beneath the earth's surface. Say ta-ta to terra firma in order to explore what lies beneath. Missouri boasts one seriously bitchin' cave system (we have more than 6,000 surveyed caves in all), and what better time for cool climes than when it's scorching above ground?
When the kids launch into their summertime refrain ("I'm bo-o-ored"/"there's nothing to do"/"the sun is melting my toys"), combat their ennui with a trip to Meramec Caverns (www.americascave.com or 573-468-2283). These wow-worthy caverns, nestled beneath the Meramec Valley, are among the largest in the nation. Well-lit pathways and super-knowledgeable rangers make this a safe and enjoyable adventure for everyone in the family. See beautiful formations, learn about the caverns' seven-story underground mansion and uncover plenty of cool history (like the fact that none other than Jesse James used Meramec Caverns as a hideout). In addition to the sweet caves, the surrounding area offers rafting, canoeing and a zipline.
Mizzou fans who spend most of their time on Columbia's surface (the perfect place to procure Shakespeare's pizza, so who can blame them, but we digress) might be surprised to learn what's underneath it. There's a huge cave system below Rock Bridge Memorial State Park (mostateparks.com or 573-449-7402), not far from Columbia. Explore Connor's Cave and the awesomely named Devil's Icebox. (But not to worry — the "Devil's Icebox" is more like the "Devil's Mighty Fine AC"; pleasant, cool breezes flow throughout the cave.) Check out the underground stream and amazing limestone rock formations, and keep an eye out for the cave's winged inhabitants — endangered gray bats call the Devil's Icebox their home.