Have you heard the term “nesting”, when pregnant women go into a state of flux preparing for arrival of baby? I’ve heard of stories where an expectant mum is on their hands and knees scrubbing the shower tiles with a toothbrush at 39 weeks. Well, I too was nesting to the extreme. We just purchased a house with six weeks until due date and I was a mad pregnant woman filling it with brand spanking new things, making it a mission to have everything in it’s place before the arrival of our son. I had thought Brisbane was where we would be putting down our roots. Turns out that wasn’t the case.
Three months later and at the same frantic pace, we had packed up our material possessions and were heading to St Louis, Missouri, USA, for my husband’s work.
We arrived in St Louis in 2010, in the middle of the coldest winters the city had experienced in decades. In our first few weeks, there were blizzards, snow days, and ice storms. As an Aussie operating on celsius, it was hard to grasp how cold it was each day, although there was much talk of being below freezing – way too cold for me.
So, here I was in chilly and grey St Louis with baby Liam, feeling very sorry for myself. My first thought was, « Get me out of here! » Knowing an escape back to Australia was not an option, I had to make St Louis work for my little family.
Making it work
How do you make St Louis work? Let’s face it, St Louis, often dubbed the Flyover city (as you fly over it to somewhere else in the States), isn’t the most attractive city. Arriving at Lambert International Airport feels like you’ve flown back into the early 80’s. Everything looks a little tired. That’s the same with the city itself. Sure, it has it’s famous Arch, which on it’s own is quite impressive. It’s just located in a sleepy, run-down city along a muddy river front.
I’m not sure what it is with St Louis, but it’s lacking a certain something that makes a city lovable. There’s no hum of cosmopolitan life, like in New York or Chicago. Nor does it have a glamourous edge like LA, or a food and art scene like San Fran. St Louis is also notorious for being amongst America’s Top 10 Most Dangerous Cities (often coming in at number 1 or 2). All of this makes St Louis very hard to love.
Armed with a positive attitude, my plan was just to keep busy, to go out and do as much as I could do and fill my days up with as many activities as I could possibly find. I haven’t been gifted with many natural abilities in this world. I am terribly uncoordinated, I am close to being a dwarf and extremely short sighted. But I can talk, thanks to a strong gene running on my mum’s side.
My plan of attack was to talk to anyone within earshot, in hopes that someone would want to hang out with me. Having Liam as my partner-in-crime really helped. Being a mum is an instant ice-breaker. It doesn’t matter if you are from the other side of the world, as a mother you instantly belong to a club where you can relate to and experience the same roller coaster of emotions that comes with raising kids anywhere.
Without a special group of “moms” I met in St Louis, I would’ve just likened the two-year stint there to a prison sentence and would have been counting the days until we returned home.
However, together with our new friends, Liam and I were able to explore St Louis and build so many great memories, living there in the middle of America.
Ten things that make St Louis great:
1. The people – experience genuine Midwest hospitality
St Louisans are salt of the earth people, with the warmest hearts. Apparently you aren’t genuinely St Louisan unless you have lived there all your life. So, I will generalize and say that all the Americans I met living in St Louis also have the warmest of warm hearts.
On our first meeting, Liam’s instructor at Gymboree passed me her daughter’s phone number so I could connect with her. She also invited us to her home for Thanksgiving dinner. This wasn’t just lip service either, she genuinely meant it, as we had no other place to celebrate. When I caught up with her daughter, she said her mother has always had random people over for dinner. That’s just the way it was.
When I took the driver’s test to get my US driver’s license, the tester – sensing my nerves – started up a conversation. This was very helpful, as I managed to drive on the other side of the road without hitting anything. By the end of the test, she handed me her telephone number and asked me over to a family gathering. She said she didn’t have much, but we were welcome to share what she did have.
Then there are the moms, inviting us over for playdates, dinners and BBQs. Not knowing, that for us Aussies, something as simple as a backyard Halloween party in the suburbs is a unique and wonderful American experience.
2. Great for kids
I have met people from St Louis that moved away and returned after having children. St Louis offers some very good schools and I felt the health professionals were excellent. This coupled with great kids activities made St Louis an easy place to raise children. Some fun places to go in St Louis with kids include many with FREE entry such as the St Louis Zoo, Science Center, National History Museum and St Louis Purina farms. For a small fee there’s also Grants Farms, Missouri Botanical Gardens, City Museum and the many cool farms for seasonal apple, strawberry and pumpkin picking. There is actually a lot to do and Liam and I filled our days checking out places around St Louis. See my post; The best things to do in St Louis with kids for more detailed recommendations.
3. Affordable St Louis
St Louis has a low cost of living compared to its US counterparts and other cities around the world. For instance, gas (petrol) at the time was just under $3 USD per gallon (3.78 litres). That equates to 85 cents (AUD) cents per litre. The same affordability applied to household items, cost of homes, cost of cars, groceries and electronics.
What’s not to love about making the dollar go a little further!
St Louis is home to Budweiser. The brewery is housed in a great historic building located in pretty surroundings, complete with their own resident Clydesdales. They offer free guided tours and at the end of it you get to sample two free beers. Every time we had visitors – we headed here. At one point, Liam and I could’ve lead the tour.
It’s not just Budweiser that makes this city synonymous with beer. St Louis is truly a beer drinking city with plenty of micro breweries and brew pubs to choose from; Schlafly, Morgan Street Brewery, Six Row Brewing to name a few. All these brew pubs and breweries are very kid-friendly places where you can often grab a bite and listen to some local entertainment.
5. The St Louis Cardinals
St Louis loves its baseball and rightfully so – the Cardinals are really good. They even won a World Series Championship whilst we were in town. The atmosphere was electric and we were swept up with the euphoria. If you are visiting during baseball season, check out a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium. It’s easy to take little kids too as there’s enough to keep them entertained even though it is a long game. Well worth the experience. (The same can’t be said for the football team, however.)
6. St Louis, Americana
Australia is very spoilt with great food and a large variety of it. So, comparably St Louis food is not as good. Although, there are some great restaurants in St Louis, the list is quite small. What St Louis does very well is serve traditional American fare. Think, ribs, hot dogs, buffalo wings, ice cream, hamburgers and milkshakes. If you want to experience authentic America, St Louis is the place to be. I have noted some places to try in my post The best things to do in St Louis with kids.
7. Feel unique and special – a celebrity of sorts
You can count the number of Australians living in St Louis on your hand. If there was an Aussie nearby, you were bound to meet them eventually. So, my husband Shane turned out to be a bit of a novelty. Putting on a stronger Aussie accent to amuse the locals, he would be able to score better seats at an ice hockey match, an extra round of beers, or a free coffee just by dropping a “G’day”.
8. Anywhere in 15-20 minutes
Though there is a peak hour in St Louis, it’s really nothing compared to back home in Australia. I commuted to the CBD of Brisbane from a suburb 27km (17 miles) away and during peak hour it took well over an hour. Horrendous stop-start traffic. In St Louis, the same distance would take 20 minutes. Everything you needed was 15-20 minutes away. Meeting for a play date ? No worries, I’m 15 minutes away.
9. The Fall
There’s always something special living in a country that has four seasons. In St Louis it can be bitterly cold during the winter, beautiful in the spring with the trees and shrubs coming back to life (giving you hay fever like you wouldn’t believe!), hot and humid in the summer, and picture perfect in the fall, a season when St Louis truly shines. In the fall, the weather has started to cool down and the many gorgeous trees with their leaves turning colour, with spectacular and vibrant oranges and reds, yet the days are still long enough to enjoy them during an afternoon stroll.
10. The neighborhoods
There are so many cool little neighborhoods in St Louis, all relatively close to each other.
There’s The Hill, an Italian neighborhood where there are Italian food shops, bakeries, trattorias and coffee shops, and South Grand, just down the road from Tower Grove Park, offering Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Moroccan, Ethiopian, Lebanese and Persian cuisine as well as bars and international shops.
There’s the Central West End with coffee shops, vodka bars, posh restaurants, cigar bars and boutique shops, and Soulard, where all the buildings are made with red bricks, similar to the Budweiser brewery nearby. This is where the pubs, bars and live music can be found.
There’s also Kirkwood and Webster Groves, where each home seems to house families straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and Dog Town, an Irish community where they throw a great St Pat’s day bash.
Then there’s North St Louis, I don’t know much about it, only that it’s seedy and you might get shot. These are just some of the diverse neighborhoods that make up St Louis, MO. Each neighborhood brings different personalities to the table and great opportunities for exploring.
I have such fond memories of living in St Louis and have come to love the place, from its freakish cold winters spent scraping ice off your windshield to the stinking hot and humid summers where a beach was nowhere to be seen. I learnt quite quickly that the state of Missouri located in the country’s mid-west is completely land locked!
There really is a lot going for St Louis, you just have to dig a little deeper to find it.
In loving memoryBrooke Hirsch
Written in loving memory of Brooke Hirsch, wife to Matt Hirsch and mom to three beautiful daughters Olivia, Madison and Emme (Liam’s friend). Brooke was an example of why we simply love St Louis. A mom of insatiable positivity and genuine kindness whom made my little family feel welcomed and at home. I am forever grateful to have met her.
Make a pledge to beat brain cancer funding research and helping families affected.