OH-IO

Vacation (n): an extended period of recreation, especially one spent away from home or in traveling

Recreation and traveling – two of my deepest passions. This week was devoted to both, starting in Ohio and progressing gradually to my ultimate destination in Toronto, Ontario. Along the way, I explored sights familiar and new, indulged in fantastic food, reunited with old friends, and watched some baseball (of course).

Dayton is not exactly what comes to mind when one thinks of a vacation. It’s not exotic, it’s not flashy, heck, it’s not even the hub of southwest Ohio. But it is a solid American city with a strong history and military tradition, as well as a minor league baseball team that has sold out its stadium for over 1,200 consecutive games.

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Hotel views

My only night in Dayton was spent primarily at the park, where the homestanding Dragons knocked off the West Michigan Whitecaps in front of another capacity crowd. After the game I walked into a neighborhood bar in the Oregon Historic District and had a pizza burger with mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce for days, and the most delicious bun and sautéed onions. That’s not important, though.

What is important is the retired couple I sat next to and had the most incredible conversation with for the entire game. They’re originally from Alabama but moved to Dayton in the late 1980s. He is a prostate cancer survivor who now rides 50 miles a day on his bike, and he and his wife now travel the country in pursuit of the things that truly matter. They offered to buy me a beer two minutes after we met, insisted I eat some of their peanuts, and handed me a 50-50 raffle ticket hoping I’d win.

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Fifth Third Field, home of the Dayton Dragons

These were the kindest, most down-to-earth people you can imagine. Her support during his battle with cancer has united them so strongly, and she encourages him to take part in various bike events, including one from California to Florida and another along the Natchez Trace Trail in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. They were both so passionate about life and spending a few hours with them inspired me a great deal.

I spent the next morning walking around a pleasantly surprising downtown and checking out the University of Dayton, a mid-sized Catholic institution that is probably most known across the country for its basketball success. Visiting college campuses in the summer can be misleading; without a student presence things appear too quiet and it is hard to gauge what life at that school might be like. UD’s campus is compact but very pretty, and I enjoyed some reflective time in the chapel before heading up the road to Columbus.

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UD’s Chapel of the Immaculate Conception

As the largest city in Ohio and the third-most populous state capital in the country (fun facts!), Columbus was a natural next stop. As a huge Michigan Wolverines fan, though, I’ve always been negatively biased towards Columbus as it is the home of Ohio State University, a school that I despise. Buckeyes fans refuse to acknowledge Michigan by name; even while touring the Statehouse the guide referred to Michigan as “that state up north”, and Michigan fans refer to Ohio State as “Ohio” or “that school down south.” It is the most historic rivalry in college football, known simply as “The Game.” We won’t get into who has been more successful in recent years, but this year’s contest is in Ann Arbor so I’m optimistic.

While in Columbus I did walk around OSU’s campus; with over 45,000 undergraduates alone it is, as one would expect, sprawling. Unlike at Dayton earlier on this beautiful day Ohio State was buzzing with student activity. Architecturally the buildings have been constructed in different styles, but the traditional center of campus is the Oval. Expansions throughout the years have made the university a thriving community unto itself. A sizable percentage of the population I saw was international, but there were also athletes and traditional students on campus. You couldn’t help feeling as if you’d just be an anonymous number as a student there, particularly in your classes, but as a major athletic and academic power nationally Ohio State is undoubtedly a premier institution.

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Ohio State’s University Hall

That’s more than enough about the Buckeyes, however. I also walked around the Statehouse; unlike the vast majority of state capitol buildings, Ohio’s Greek Revival structure is not inspired by the architecture of the United States Capitol. It is in the heart of downtown Columbus, and the juxtaposition of a smaller edifice with beautiful gardens and green space amongst a jungle of skyscrapers and office buildings was very refreshing, as well as aesthetically successful.

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North Bank Park in Columbus

It was another evening at the park, as the Rochester Red Wings came into town and defeated the Clippers in front of nearly 9,000 fans. Huntington Park is also urban in setting, part of an arena district that features several other venues for live events as well as commercial and residential development. The stadium looks out onto the Columbus skyline, which can be viewed most prominently from North Bank Park overlooking the Scioto River.

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Huntington Park, home of the Columbus Clippers

I finished the night in Short North, Columbus’ trendiest neighborhood. Lively bars, restaurants, art galleries, coffee houses, and colorful murals can be found up and down Short North, and I relished the mac and cheese with bacon and spicy honey and the cornbread at Double Comfort.

The next morning I continued heading northeast, first stopping at Cuyahoga Valley National Park just outside of Akron. Cuyahoga Valley is a recent addition to the 59 national parks in the United States, only gaining that status in 2000. It follows the Cuyahoga River and the historic route of the Ohio & Erie Canal and is intended to preserve the rural landscape in what became a very industrialized and urban region in the 20th century. The park is best known for Brandywine Falls, an 86-foot high waterfall, and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, a passenger train that follows rails originally laid down around 1880, features dining cars, and takes patrons on seasonal journeys like the Polar Express, Ales on Rails, and Grape Escape.

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11 national parks down, 48 to go!

The park is best suited for bikers; there is not a plethora of interesting hikes and the river is not ideal for canoeing and kayaking. It was certainly not my favorite national park experience, but nature is nature and it was nice to start the morning with some fresh air.

Just up the road from Cuyahoga Valley National Park is Cleveland, where I stopped briefly at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and stared out in wonder at Lake Erie for the first time since graduating from Mercyhurst University in 2011. Lake Erie is the shallowest and the fourth-largest of the five Great Lakes, but as anyone who has been on any of their shores can attest, it’s like looking out into the ocean – the most brilliant blue water stretching out to the horizon as far as the eye can see. On average, water spends 2.6 years in Lake Erie before flowing past Buffalo, over Niagara Falls, and into Lake Ontario.

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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland
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The Land

Mercyhurst, Niagara Falls, and Lake Ontario were all on the agenda for later that afternoon, before capping the night near City Hall in Toronto. More on those adventures in my next post!

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My Old Kentucky Home

It’s not Lou-e-ville, it’s Lou-uh-vull.

I found that out very quickly during this weekend’s roadtrip, which took me to Kentucky and Ohio. Four cities + three baseball games + two friends = one happy camper.

Frankfort

One of the best decisions I made all weekend was to avoid major highways on the 340-mile drive from my apartment in Blacksburg to Frankfort, the state capital of Kentucky. No traffic, no exit signs, no monotony. Only gorgeous countryside through the farms, hills, and mountains of southwest Virginia and eastern Kentucky. Charming small towns that have been bypassed since the creation of the Interstate Highway System are delightful to visit. While my time in Pikeville, Mount Sterling, and Georgetown was short, my morning was made by walking around colorful Main Streets, witnessing architecturally stunning county courthouses, and experiencing life quite literally in the slow lane.

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Main Street, Mt. Sterling, KY

My personal quest to visit all 50 state capitol buildings in the United States is going well — I’m at 30 now. I’d been to Frankfort at the end of a spring break roadtrip last year, but it was on the way to my end destination Friday night so I stopped in again. Construction was completed on the current capitol in 1909, and it was done in the Beaux-Arts style that was very common in the US around the turn of the century. The rotunda is dominated by a statue of Abraham Lincoln, who is probably better known as a resident of Illinois but is also claimed by Kentucky, where he spent the first seven years of his life. The Governor’s Mansion is right next door to the capitol, built in the same French Neoclassical style with a beautiful garden out front.

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Interior of the Kentucky State Capitol

Lexington

A scenic drive through horse country took me from Frankfort to Lexington, the home of the University of Kentucky and the second-largest city in the Commonwealth. The campus is sprawling, which is unsurprising given an enrollment that exceeds 30,000 undergraduates and grad students. That large campus and a 100-degree summer afternoon made for some uncomfortable walking — my sweat was sweating. Compared to other major universities I’ve visited lately, UK’s campus was relatively disappointing in terms of its attractiveness and charm. Everybody knows Kentucky for its basketball program, which is a perennial national championship contender, but the fact that Rupp Arena, the world’s largest basketball-specific arena, is (way) off-campus would also have been a turn-off for me as a student.

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Main Building at the University of Kentucky

Lexington itself was not a disappointment, though. A thriving restaurant and bar scene downtown made the dinner hour quite lively, and a few blocks away neighborhoods of elegant Victorian-era homes gave the city some additional character.

I concluded my time in Lexington at a baseball game (of course) where I was on the verge of witnessing history as the Lexington Legends’ starting pitcher had a no-hitter going through the sixth inning. He was pulled for a reliever, though, who promptly served up a long home run to the first Columbia Fireflies hitter he faced. Womp womp.

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Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Lexington Legends

Louisville

No-hitter over, I headed westward to Louisville. This was homebase for Friday and Saturday night, and I was very excited about this portion of my trip. One of the numerous advantages of studying abroad is having friends scattered across the country, and I was graciously hosted by Anna and Katherine, who I had never met in person but had talked to for several years as they are friends of another Anna I studied with during my time in London.

Friday night brought some of the most captivating people-watching I’ve ever done. We first went to a pool party that we’d heard about and knew would be well-attended, but weren’t sure what the crowd would be like. Suffice it to say that if you didn’t have multiple tattoos, you were in the minority. Some interesting bathing suit choices for guys and girls, some fascinating hair styles, and some questionable activities going on in the pool. We left after an hour and got all kinds of fried food at a local bar. Mozzarella sticks and chicken tenders are never a mistake at 1 AM.

Saturday brought more delicious food and drink, which were essential since the heat index and humidity were stratospheric. Higher than Creed in 1999. Higher than Wiz Khalifa and Snoop on a good day. We started off at Silver Dollar, where I got chilaquiles verdes — tortilla chips with salsa verde, queso cotija, over-easy eggs, sour cream, and shredded chicken. Brunch nachos, basically. From there we moved to another neighborhood bar, where a peaches and cream wheat beer and iced sprinkle doughnut were partnered with competitive Candy Land and Scrabble games. A rum-infused blue raspberry slushie was the perfect way to fight off the afternoon heat at Feast, yet another local establishment. We went separate ways Saturday night, as I went to a Louisville Bats game before joining some other new friends at an Irish bar.

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Love blossoming at Silver Dollar

I was impressed with the different neighborhoods in town, particularly the St. James-Belgravia Historic District within Old Louisville and some of the surrounding blocks a short distance off campus from the University of Louisville. Late 19th-century houses that more closely resemble castles and chateaus mark these residential areas, which maintain their pedestrian-friendly traditions (at least during daylight hours) and provide a nice contrast to a downtown currently in the midst of major construction projects, both expansions and renovations.

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St. James Court Fountain

Cincinnati

Sunday morning came quickly, and after not getting to bed until 4 AM I was thankful for a short drive to Cincinnati. It was my first visit to the Queen City, and I got my steps in for the day by walking back and forth across two bridges over the Ohio River that connect Northern Kentucky to Cincinnati.

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The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge was the longest of its kind when it was completed in 1866

Gushing fountains and flowers of every color fill the riverfront parks on the Ohio side of the river, just outside Great American Ball Park with a great view of the Cincinnati skyline. I was thrilled to go to my first Major League Baseball game this season as the homestanding Reds easily defeated the Miami Marlins in front of over 20,000 fans. What started as a dreary, rainy day improved steadily as the game went on, and I headed back to Virginia under blue skies and warm sunshine.

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Hello, Cincy!
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Reds get the W!

The blog goes international in August! After another quick stop in Ohio — Columbus and Cuyahoga Valley National Park this time — I’ll be Canada-bound. A wedding in Toronto should make for some memorable adventures, eh? Can’t wait to get back on the road!