I’ve wanted a cat for a really long time. I’ve also wanted to travel for my whole life. I also have been planning on finding a weekend to visit Cincinnati for quite a while. In an unusual sequence of events, I adopted a cat the weekend before I was planning to visit Cincinnati and make Ohio my 24th state. So, I only had about 24 hours for this trip considering I couldn’t possibly leave this face behind for longer than that.
Day 1: Food Festival & Exploring Downtown
We got up early (early for us, on a Saturday), played with the cat for an hour, and headed northwest. From our home in Nashville, it was about a four-hour drive through Kentucky to Queen City. By the time we actually left, stopped for food and gas, got stuck in some traffic, and lost an hour due to the time difference, we arrived at 4 pm EDT.
Fun Fact: Cincinnati is called “Queen City” because it was affectionately referred to as “Queen Of The West” when, over 200 years ago, Americans started pushing west past the Ohio River.
We checked in at the Quality Inn & Suites on W 8th Ave, just South of downtown. I blame my last-minute reservation for this choice because just $30 more would’ve gotten us a four-star hotel in the heart of downtown, but hey, mistakes were made. The hotel was more run-down than I expected. Our non-smoking room reeked of smoke and the hallways had a distinct pee smell. The elevators stopped moving AFTER the doors opened, and the screens didn’t display the right floors. I also probably wouldn’t have walked outside the hotel after dark, but I think that’s true for anywhere outside of any major city. I wouldn’t do it in Nashville, either.
We were lucky in that Memorial Day weekend brought us to Cincinnati, because “Taste,” or “Taste Of Cincinnati,” was happening. Taste is a three-day, five-block international food festival in which all the international restaurants of Queen City (there are a lot) set up tents, booths, and trucks and serve dishes on the cheap. Taste is free to walk into, and then you can pay individually for anything from a $4 taco to a $5 Jamaican pasta dish to an $8 Margarita.
It’s a fun time, but those five blocks were jam-packed with people all night. There weren’t long lines for food at all; we didn’t wait more than ten seconds, but we had to push through crowds of people and strollers to get to the tent we wanted to order from. Apparently, the event gets bigger every year (with nearly half a million people attending in the past few years), so that may be a problem that they rectify for next year.
Once we had eaten our fill, we explored a bit more of downtown Cincinnati. We headed towards Vine St., one of the larger roads. We chose to forgo the dessert selections at Taste and went in search of ice cream instead. We also chose to pass the more popular Graeter’s Ice Cream and went for the smaller, hipster-esque ice cream shop on Vine St., Hello Honey. They are a true Cincinnati brand with their own fresh and unique flavors. They even give you the option to add toasted marshmallows as a topping, but I’m on a diet so I naturally went with a heaping portion of “Honey Vanilla,” which was delicious. Corey, my boyfriend and new best travel companion, went with banana pudding instead, which turned out to be a great choice as he got a phenomenal dessert with ice cream included.
We walked from Hello Honey to the Ohio River. Smale Riverfront Park is incredible in many ways. If you face one way, you’ll see a couple beautiful, old bridges and what parts of the city are on the other side of the river, and if you get near the water and turn around, you’ll see the skyline of what you just walked through. You’ll also see giant chess and checkers boards on the floor, beautiful fountains, playgrounds, and a giant organ where you can step on the keys and feel like you’re at FAO Schwartz or on the set of Big.
Parking near the park is not nearly as bad as we were anticipating. Living in Nashville, we were accustomed to $25 parking or more. In Cincinnati, we paid $10 around 5 pm and it lasted us through the night. We were able to spend three or four hours downtown without having to pay more or move the car. Everything we wanted to see was close by and cheap. We made the good choice to park near the riverfront and walk to Taste, that way we ended our night near our car. Just like in any other city, you don’t want to end up walking through alleyways and down streets that you don’t know well after dark.
Day 2: Cincinnati Zoo
We managed to get ourselves up and ready around 9:30 am EDT, had coffee at the hotel, and got to the Cincinnati Zoo just after they opened. I know zoos are not the best way to see new cities, I know elephants and lions shouldn’t be kept in small exhibits, and I know there are a lot of other things we could’ve done. However, I was made aware of a couple things before we left for our trip. 1) Several different animals had recently had babies in Cincinnati (couldn’t miss that), and 2) It had been exactly a year since Harambe the gorilla was shot at the Cincinnati Zoo. Honestly, I’m surprised we didn’t see animal rights activists protesting or anything like that.
The zoo gave us an overall pleasant experience – not too crowded, mostly easy to navigate, we filled up on perfectly soft pretzels and Dippin’ Dots, and we complained to each other about the lack of space in all of the animal’s enclosures (especially the elephants, but I’m an eleAmbassador (volunteer) for The Elephant Sanctuary In Tennessee).
The gorilla exhibit is actually under construction right now, due to reopen soon with upgraded safety measures (apparently it didn’t actually meet regulations when the three-year-old that lead to Harambe’s death fell into it). In front of the exhibit, however, you can find a sculpture of a gorilla with a baby gorilla on its back that guests have turned into a Harambe memorial by leaving flowers and candles on and near it.
By the time we were ready to leave the zoo, it was 1 pm, and we needed to head back home to see our kitten!
I wish we had time to check out the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center or the American Sign Museum, but I’m hoping those are things I may get to check out another day. At least now I’ve experienced a bit of Ohio, and I’m almost halfway to my goal.