Friday, August 24, 2012

Cincinnati and Louisville

I only spent a few hours in Cincinnati. That was enough.

Actually, I do wish I’d had more time there but on a different day. Cincinnati is home to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center which I did see but only from the outside. It’s closed on Sundays which is when I happened to be passing through.  I hadn’t really thought about the city's strategic location just across the Ohio River from Kentucky (well, except for the airport which is in Kentucky) but Cincinnati was an important part of the Underground Railroad. Next trip I’ll do the whole museum thing, whenever that happens.

What with the center being near the river and all, there are some bridges nearby. I think the most famous is probably this one:

If you notice a resemblance to the Brooklyn Bridge, good eye! Both were designed by Roebling; this one actually bears his name. I walked about halfway across. It would’ve been fun to walk the whole things but I had a few reasons for not bothering: it was hot out, the pedestrian walkway was pretty deserted (as was most of downtown), and there were other things to do.

Cincinnati apparently has a great art museum. It seemed a little tough to actually get there so I didn’t go. Again, next trip. I did go to the Taft Museum, a smaller museum downtown in the former home of some people who were sort of related to the president somehow. I'm trying a new thing where if I don't remember the facts, I either make them up or leave them out. Less work and I'm more inclined to finish posts in a timely manner. Hence the lack of Taft Family Tree.

After all that bridge and museum activity, I was ready for dinner. As you may not know and I sure didn’t, Cincinnati’s famous and perhaps favorite city dish is chili. Their chili is not chili as I know it: thicker than soup, made with beans. Chili in Cincinnati is basically meat and spices served over spaghetti (yes, you read that right). I’m okay with rice, in a bowl with a few crackers is fine, I’ve even done chili on a jacket potato in England. But spaghetti? That just seems weird. I noticed it also typically has cheese which I’ll concede is fairly normal in my world though not for me. I've read that there's also some ordering system with numbers corresponding to stuff in or on the chili... it's a thing, let's just go with it.

Anyway, I figured there was no harm in trying the stuff. Thus began a scavenger hunt across the city of Cincinnati for an open chili restaurant. These days, chain restaurants are a pretty common thing. According to my Don’t Die Before You’ve Done This book, there are a few big chili places: I knew about Skyline and Gold Star. The book neglected to mention that Skylines tend to be closed on Sundays. I saw two, maybe three downtown, totally closed. By then I was on a mission. Aided only by my GPS, I traversed the city in search of an open chili restaurant.

Miles later, I almost literally stumbled across a Gold Star in a run-down strip mall. What the hell? I thought, and headed inside. I ordered chili "two ways" which is basically meat/sauce and spaghetti. I have to admit, I wasn't terribly impressed. Not my thing though the pictures looked delicious.

The waitress was really surprised to hear I was from New York; she didn't hear an accent and I decided it wouldn't be polite to tell her I could hear hers. I got similar reactions all over the country, actually, along with the New York=New York City thing. I always enjoyed hearing "Where in New York?" over "Say something New York! (and what I really want to hear is fuggedaboutit)".

As far as Louisville is concerned, I really didn’t see that much of it. I unfortunately got there kind of late on a Sunday when things tended to be closed. I’ve heard tell of a great museum there but of course didn’t see it. I did get to see a large, wax Colonel Sanders but I couldn’t get too close. Sadly, because that thing was awesome. That dude’s everywhere in Louisville. I also got to see the giant Louisville Slugger (that’s a baseball bat for the unaware) outside their factory.

Through a window hence the sucky quality

I found downtown Louisville very pretty with interesting architecture and lots of flowers. It wasn’t very crowded though, and as it was getting late, I didn’t really linger. Instead, I continued to Indiana where I stopped for the night just a few miles from Santa Claus.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hocking Hills

Gorges, caves, waterfalls. These are all words that typically come to mind when one thinks of Ohio. Right? Well, around Hocking Hills State Park, perhaps. I first read about Hocking Hills in one of those 10 Gazillion Places to Visit Before You Kick the Bucket: Flat States Edition* books. The book said I should go, so I did.
Hocking Hills is about 50 miles southeast of Columbus, off the Interstate, in a gorge-ous part of the state.  The caves basically are recesses with overhangs, amazingly called recess caves, not deep, labyrinthine, underground caves. They’re still cool, though, Old Man Cave in particular. That one’s special because an Old Man actually lived there, hence the name. There’s a plaque in his honor and everything.  Old Man Cave is a short hike from the Visitor Center, down along the side of the gorge. 

From that point, there are a few trail options; I chose the loop around Lower Falls and back to the Visitor Center. The trail winds along the gorge passing little caves with drips that can’t really be called waterfalls, much as I’d like to. While Lower Falls itself is pretty, the best part is the aquamarine water (that looks doubly redundant even though it isn’t) in the pool at the falls’ base.

For me, the hike back up was the hardest part. The trail included a rickety staircase, the kind where you can see in between each step with a steep drop-off into the gorge just a couple of feet away. What can I say, I’m a really big baby. Fortunately, a nice woman reassured me on the “hike” and let me borrow her walking stick, that was greatly appreciated. Her dog didn't like the staircase either, just for the record.

After the hike around Old Man Cave, I visited the most famous and popular waterfall in the park: Cedar Falls.

The hike down was easy; the path winds along the gorge, shaded by trees, following the stream. The trail is a loop and the way back wasn’t quite so easy: it looked like a bridge had collapsed or washed out or something so the stream had to be forded. Luckily it was shallow though I think technically visitors aren’t supposed to go in the water at all. Oh, well. Also, one area included a very narrow but thankfully short passageway between massive rocks. Not exactly a claustrophobic’s dream but the rest of the trail was easy.

Hocking Hills more than kind of reminds me of the Woodruff Nature Center in New York, a place I wrote a little about once. Although my trips to both places were on hot days, the parks were shady and filled with running water, and felt relatively cool. Both places also have waterfalls and unusual caves and feel almost hidden from the rest of the world.

Ohio was one of the few states I passed through twice on my road trip; Hocking Hills was definitely the highlight of the state so totally worth a visit.

Next up: Cincinnati to Louisville

*This is not an actual book. As far as I know.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Happy Bastille Day!

Have a picture of France in honor of Bastille Day even though it's no longer July 14 in France:

Ah, Paris

While we're at it, have a few more:

All favorite places of mine. The ones you don't recognize are Hyeres, the Mediterranean from St. Tropez, and Nice Roman ruins.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Trip: Day Two

I know, I haven’t updated in ages. Since that first day of my trip, I’ve completed the trip, moved (mostly), and begun my new job. For the most part, these activities have kept me really busy or too tired to bother posting. Well, except for my three day exile in Holbrook, Arizona when I was too depressed. More on that later.
I’ve decided kind of to post about my trip in order with a few exceptions, this post being one of them. The highlight of my second trip day was, as I expected it would be, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in southwestern Pennsylvania. Fallingwater deserves its own post so I’ll get back to that. Meanwhile, here’s the rest of that day.

As I mentioned previously, I spent the first night of my trip in Johnstown, PA which I had never heard of but probably should have. Johnstown is famous for its devastating floods; there have been a few but the most famous was back towards the end of the 19th century, 1889 I think. That flood was a huge disaster and I learned all about it at the Johnstown Flood Museum. It was more tragic than it probably needed to be: the flood was essentially caused by a burst dam and a ton of rain that didn't exactly help matters. The dam was crap, hadn't been maintained, and at the point of its bursting, existed to maintain a man-made lake as part of a hunting club for rich people from Pittsburgh (think for a minute and you'll have an idea who belonged). Although the dam was in bad condition and changes to the lake made its collapse worse, the whole thing was basically declared an act of god or something like that and victims lost fights to recover damages. Also more than 2,000 people died so basically it sucked a whole lot. Although I did go to the flood museum and stuff (and could therefore provide more information on it), I decided to focus on happy things when possible. Always look on the bright side of life, that's what I say. Anyway.

Johnstown’s other claim to fame is that it’s home to the world’s steepest inclined plane which looks like this:

As you can maybe see, cars are sort of attached and raised while staying parallel to the ground. It is possible to ride up the plane but I didn’t do it, either because my intel said it didn’t open until noon or because I’m a big baby or both. Your pick. (Hint: the actual answer is both and PS my intel was faulty). Instead, I headed out of Johnstown towards Fallingwater. At this point, let’s fast forward a few hours.

So there I was in the Fallingwater gift shop, thunder was booming, lightning flashing, and buckets of rain were pouring down. The clock was ticking and I’d covered no distance at all. With that in mind, I decided to skip Kentuck Knob, the other FLW home just a few miles from Fallingwater. I’ll get there someday, probably the day I lay siege to Fallingwater and claim it as my own.

Once the rain let up, I decided to head south to the National Road for the rest of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. I passed through Ohiopyle State Park along the way.  Ohiopyle boasts a river and waterfall with the same name, tough rafting (I didn’t), and some other stuff I skipped. Like ice cream. Why did I skip the ice cream? Ohiopyle Falls is powerful but not all that high. I made a movie:

I have no idea if this works or not... if it does, check out my nonexistent movie-making skills!

With the mist from the rain, the river was really beautiful. I’ve read that nearby Cucumber Falls is more impressive or at least prettier though not as powerful. I considered a visit because I love both waterfalls and cucumbers but I decided against it because it was getting late, it was still raining, and the access was via dirt road. I also don’t know how far from the road the waterfall is. I’d love more information on the place. After all, once I live in Fallingwater the park will be my neighbor!

For anyone who likes road trips, is a good site to know. I actually don’t love some details of the site like the tiny, virtually detailless maps of the various byways and lack of information on access points. I wish they’d work with Google or Mapquest or something to make finding and driving the byways easier. Still, the site is helpful. I’m a fan of being off the Interstate when possible; you see more and more interesting places, stopping is easier, roads are often very scenic, and there may be history or mystique which, in my own humble opinion, the Interstate tends to lack. One such fascinating byway is the National Road. I decided to drive a portion of it because it went due west, access was near Fallingwater, I’d heard of it, and it’s historic and pretty scenic. Interesting sites include this reproduction toll booth, a reminder of the road’s past as a toll road:

                                                          That's a toll booth? No EZPass I guess

and the occasional Madonna of the Trail:

There's one in every state the road goes through and they're about pioneer spirit or something. This is West Virginia's.

I also encountered the steepest posted grade of the entire trip: 13%. Yes, in Pennsylvania. I figure other roads may have been steeper but not accessible to trucks or something and grades weren’t posted. Also, this road was straight, not like all those awful switchbacks I faced out west. That downward slope led me to West Virginia, my third state of the trip.

Sorry West Virginia, I wasn’t impressed. I got there later than I had intended so things that may have been interesting were closed. I did walk around Oglebay Park which is on a hill above Wheeling. There are several museums there (all were closed) and the grounds are very pretty so it was a worthwhile stop.

Wheeling is famous as the “birthplace” of West Virginia which occurred somewhere downtown and I may have a picture somewhere. Honestly though, Wheeling at 7:00 on a Saturday night was not a happening place so I didn't stay long.

Next time I’ll try to hit the New River Gorge since that’s supposed to be really beautiful. This time, I just continued west. My day ended in Ohio where I decided to make a major change to my trip: I’d go south first. Thus ended trip day two.

Friday, May 4, 2012

My Great American Road Trip

Okay, so it's been ages since I've posted anything. What can I say? Travel rut. I have a bunch of half-written posts that I'm temporarily abandoning for the following stunning announcement.

For many years, I've wanted to drive cross-country. Meaning the United States as, for example, a drive cross-Monaco or cross-Liechtenstein would be a simpler, less daunting endeavor. But no, I want to drive across the United States. After thinking about it and sort of kind of planning for years, I'm finally doing it. Right now I have an odd month of free time which has just become go out and see America time.

As I write this I'm in Johnstown, Pennsylvania which I think there's a good chance you've never heard of. Neither had I. Today was mostly a driving day to really cover some distance before my first planned stop: the Frank Lloyd Wright home Falling Water which I've wanted to visit for ages. I'm going tomorrow.

My destined-to-fail plan is to briefly summarize when I can and either eventually or as I go (not likely) write real posts on things that are awesome. So here's today.

I drove a lot.

Okay, more detail than that. I drove across a large portion of Pennsylvania. Now, I've actually spent a lot of time in PA but the vast majority of that time has been spent near Philadelphia. My drive today was mostly rural and pretty. I visited the Endless Mountains (I imagine that name with some kind of flourish or spoken in a whispery voice or something) and got to see Altoona which, for some reason, I've always been weirdly curious about. Thanks to the wonderfulness of Roadside America, the bizarre highlight of the day was this monument thingy:

This is in the small town of Lilly, PA and it commemorates the time they drove the KKK out.

The other reason I actually stopped in Lilly and nearby Gallitzin was to see the trains which are apparently kind of a big deal 'round these parts. Gallitzin is famous for its tunnels which were instrumental in getting trains across the Alleghenies. I vaguely remember reading something about trains and tunnels and Pennsylvania but it could totally be unrelated to what I saw today. I tried to stop at a train related National Historic Site but although the sign said "Open til sunset" or something, the visitors center said "Open til five" and everything was closed and locked. I probably still could've walked around and stuff but there was a gate into the park and I really didn't want to get locked in.

Instead, I went to see the famous tunnels. I missed seeing the museum (of course...) since that closed at five but I'm just gonna say it probably wouldn't have been too fascinating so whatever. I was hoping to see a train but figured with my luck that I'd miss out. But wouldn't ya know it, I wasn't there five minutes before very loud rumbling announced the arrival of one very long freight train through the tunnel. I actually got to see one in each direction! (Seriously, I see trains all the time. Why was this so important?) For whatever reason, it was pretty thrilling. So here's a picture:

Today's slight regret is that I really didn't get any rural mountainous scenery pictures. There weren't good places to pull over, plus most of the driving was on limited-access highways and pulling over would've been illegal anyway. The views weren't really spectacular or really dramatic but they were often very nice.

So there it is, my first day on the road. Up tomorrow: Falling Water, West Virginia (never actually spent time there!), and Ohio. Probably.