There are a lot of people that love their hometowns. I can’t really say I am one of those people. Saint Charles, Missouri is a quaint suburb about 30 minutes away from the center of Saint Louis. I have often viewed it as a rut I can’t escape. I can’t exactly pinpoint where that mentality came from, but it has stuck with me for most of my life.
It might be because my parents didn’t grow up in a 100 mile radius of Saint Louis. Having parents that didn’t understand the appeal of Imo’s pizza or instill a love of baseball that rivals a devout Catholic’s love of God may have created some cultural barriers.
Maybe my childhood obsession with Beauty and the Beast has something to do with it. It wouldn’t surprise me if I had unintentionally brainwashed myself into believing I led a provincial life after watching Belle sing about it over one hundred times. Then again, it might also have something to do with the ‘flyover state’ label stamped across a majority of the Midwest in big bold hypothetical letters.
Whatever it was, I have never thought much of Saint Charles or its neighboring city of Saint Louis. So, it came to me as quite a surprise, in 2015, when I desperately wanted to introduce the friends I had made abroad to my hometown. I didn’t talk Missouri up by any means while I was with them, but after we came home from our European adventure, all I wanted to do was show them where I came from.
Luckily for me, I had the opportunity to introduce one of those very friends and her boyfriend to Missouri at the start of August. It was a visit that lasted less than 48 hours, so I had to choose what I showed them wisely.
For those of you not from Saint Louis — or its neighboring towns– you need to understand one thing: Saint Louisians are a very proud people. They’re proud of their sports, they’re proud of their landmarks and history– their even proud of their food. Having grown up in Saint Charles, this pride has had an influence on my life and I knew I needed to give my friend and her boyfriend a full-blown STL experience.
I started with the food. Since we are just 30 minutes outside of the city limits, Saint Charles’ local cuisine is synonymous with STL’s. I took them to Bradden’s, a restaurant in Downtown Saint Charles that features two Saint Louis staples on their menu: toasted ravioli and gooey butter cake.
Toasted ravioli, lovingly referred to as T-ravs by the locals, are deep-fried meat raviolis (if someone gives you cheese-filled, they’re doing it wrong) dusted with parmesan cheese and served with marinara for dipping. In high school, I worked for a high-end catering company in Saint Louis. It always baffled me how the Saint Louis elite would have toasted raviolis as one of their wedding hors d’oeuvres without fail. I kind of get it now. No one else in the United States was genius enough to throw raviolis in a deep fryer, so we need to show it off to all of our out-of-state family and friends as often as we can.
Gooey butter cake is an overly indulgent dessert that will change your life. I can’t talk it up enough. The four main ingredients are butter (hence the name), vanilla cake mix, cream cheese, and powdered sugar. This majestic, artery-clogging masterpiece is something to behold. To prove my point, the consensus was that while toasted raviolis are fantastic, my friend and her boyfriend would come back for the gooey butter cake every time. Here’s a recipe in case you want to give it a try.
To finish out our time in Saint Charles, I made sure we got a picture in front of the town’s gigantic statue of Lewis and Clark, marking off a historical landmark before even entering Saint Louis. Saint Charles and Saint Louis pride themselves in being the gateway to the Midwest and the starting point of the Lewis and Clark expedition. This statue is Saint Charles monument to that very event. It seemed fitting that my friend requested to go to the top of the Arch, Saint Louis’ monument for the expedition, the next day.
I haven’t been to the top of the Arch since I was a kid, so going up again felt like a new experience all together. The funniest part had to be my friend’s confusion with how you actually get to the top. She was convinced we would fall off the other side.
Essentially, you and five other people cram yourselves into a compact orb that combines the sensibility of an elevator and the whimsy of a ferris wheel. Each leg of the Arch has an eight-car tram inside, so you don’t have to worry about falling off. There isn’t much at the top: a spread of six or so windows on each side and enough space for people to shimmy from one end to the other so they can get back down. On a windy day, the Arch might sway slightly, but that’s about as exciting as it gets. Looking down on the city that is so iconically marked with a massive arch at its center while you’re inside of it is probably the strangest part.
I took them to my favorite park in the city after that: Forest Park. Forest Park is filled with museums and attractions that make Saint Louis more than just a baseball town. A major plus is that a majority of the attractions are free. I decided to take them to the Missouri History Museum because it is far and above my favorite. They always have unique and interactive exhibits and again, most of them are free. While we were there, the museum was featuring an exhibit on the African American Freedom Struggle in Saint Louis. Not only did I learn something new about my city along with my friends, but it was also extremely prevalent to today’s social climate. If you have a chance to stop by, I more than suggest it.
From there, we parted ways, my friend and her boyfriend continuing on their journey while I went home. As we said our see-you-laters (I don’t do goodbyes), my friend stopped me and said, “I never knew there was so much to do in Missouri. We’re going to have to come back sometime soon.” As I drove back to my house, I realized how much I took my hometown for granted. By putting myself into the shoes of my friend and her boyfriend, I was able to find the beauty in a place that I often saw as mundane. Sometimes you have to act like an outsider before you can really see all that a place has to offer.
Their visit, and my contemplative drive home, are and always will be the inspiration that sparked Fernweh Follies. I don’t want to just write about trips to new places. I want to rediscover my own little corner of the world as well. I’m ready to see what makes each location special, whether it’s 1,000 miles away or 10 minutes down the road. So, here’s to all of my future adventures and here’s to finally understanding what it means to be proud of being from the Lou.