Saturday, September 14, 2013

Midwestern Fun

Columbus, Ohio

You don't always have to travel to exotic locales for a good time.  And, huge cities like Chicago can sometimes feel just too big to take in when you've only got a short time to travel.  Don't discount smaller cities like Columbus, Ohio.  Located in a very centralized location, this spot has all the fun of a bigger city with a small-town feel.  If you have a weekend to spend, look no further.  Columbus, the second largest city in Ohio, feels much smaller and it doesn't take long to get a feel for things.  Home to Ohio State University and the state's capital, Columbus also has some delicious eats, some great museums and some fantastic shopping. The skyline is beautiful and a meandering river walk downtown makes this a fun spot.  The outer suburbs have a lot to offer as well.  Did I say a weekend to see it all?  Now that I think about, a full month probably wouldn't be enough time to see all that Columbus has to offer!

Things to See and Do:

  • Franklin Park Conservatory:  No trip to Columbus is complete without stopping here.  This Columbus icon has been a hallmark of the city since 1895.  If you're thinking 'conservatory' means just a bunch of're right.  But, you couldn't be more wrong.  Franklin Park has a large collection of plants inside and beautiful gardens outside.  A visitor could spend an entire afternoon just wandering around looking at everything.  However, if you're the kind to stop and smell the roses, give yourself more than an afternoon.  Franklin Park also has a butterfly exhibit where you can stand and be surrounded by the light flutterings of wings, from butterflies found all around the world.  Truly, a unique experience!  Franklin Park is also home to the largest collection of Dale Chihuly art found in any conservatory in America.  If you're planning on staying for the day, make sure to eat lunch at the Garden Cafe.  The sandwiches and entrees feature fresh herbs and there can be no more beautiful surroundings.  For more information, visit Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
  • Topiary Garden in Old Deaf School Park:  This garden feature has to be seen to be believed and is a treat for both garden-lovers and art-lovers.  The Old Deaf School Park is an oasis located downtown and is a perfect spot for an afternoon picnic or a stroll.  This 7-acre park is home to more than 220 trees and has a Topiary Garden modeled after the 1887 painting Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat.  Columbus native James Mason reinterpreted the painting in topiary and truly made the canvas turn into a 3D, 360-degree landscape miracle.  The twelve-foot tall figures all made of different varieties of yew and a bronze example of the painting is on display so you can visualize exactly what the landscaper was trying to portray.  For more information, visit Topiary Park
  • If you are a literary lover, then you'll know that Columbus was the home to author James Thurber and the James Thurber House is a must see.  Thurber House is on the outskirts of Ohio State University campus and is on the National Registry of Historic Places.  The house is a living museum and is kept much of the way it would have looked when Thurber was living there as a young boy.  The upstairs, though, has offices in some of the rooms and, rather than detract from the ambiance, seeing people working on literary activities in the bedrooms seemed too delightful to me.  I would imagine Thurber would have approved.  The tour is free is you guide yourself and $4 for a tour guide.  What makes the home so unique is its nightlife!  During the summer, the House hosts author nights where listeners can bring a lawn chair or a blanket and eat a catered dinner while listening to authors read from their works.  The House also hosts a resident author, who lives on the top floor.  The House is truly a living museum where children, aspiring writers and lovers of literature can flock and enjoy activities year round.  For more information, visit Thurber House.
  • Columbus practically drips with culture and fun.  One place that was full of both was the Columbus Museum of Art.  From my old favorites like Cezanne, Gaugin and Monet to modern photography that is just too difficult to describe, this museum has a little bit of everything.  When I went, there was a special exhibition of European puppetry.  While I would never have considered myself a puppet fan, I was entranced by the exhibition which was just as much an antique show as pieces of art.  There are revolving exhibits constantly.  And, the docents there are amazing.  They are so friendly and knowledgeable and in practically every room.  There are also interactive exhibits which were so fun and an entire children's area where art is being created and touched and talked about.  For more information, visit Columbus Museum of Art.
  • No trip to Columbus is complete without walking through the German part of the city, commonly known as German Village.  While the food is amazing, my favorite store was The Book Loft of German Village.  "Loft" makes it sound kind of small and quaint.  Think again!  The independent bookstore is located within several Civil War-era buildings that houses more than 30 rooms  of books, all with different themes.  For a book girl like me, it was pure heaven and definitely my idea of a great thing to do.  I spent hours in there, just wandering around looking at old and new books, many of which are hard to find anywhere else.  For more information, visit The Book Loft of German Village.

Places to Eat:

  • I try very hard to stay away from chain stores when I travel.  Mom and Pops make food way better than a chain where everything usually just tastes the same as another chain.  Sometimes, though, I make exceptions if the food is that good.  At Cantina Laredo, the food IS that good.  And, so is the atmosphere.  The restaurant is beautiful and conveniently located at Polaris Mall.  What really sets is apart is the wait staff.  The food servers are so friendly.  One even sat down at our table for about 15 minutes, telling us funny stories about living in Mexico and then moving to Columbus where his first job was to work a snow shovel.  My favorite part, besides the margaritas, was the guacamole which is prepared right at your table.  For more information, visit Cantina Laredo.
  • Schmidt's Restaurant and Banquet Haus has been around a long time--through 5 family generations and open since 1886.  With all that time on their hands, they weren't just out enjoying life.  Oh, no!  They were in the kitchen perfecting the art of German cuisine.  Located in German Village, this Columbus institution is a must do.  Everything we ate was amazing--the pretzel nuggets, the sauerkraut-bratwurst balls, the schnitzel, the strudel.  I could keep going on and on--but I won't because then you'll know how much I ate!  Embarrassing!  Plan enough time for a long walk around town after the meal.  You can't escape without putting on a pound or two.  But, it's so worth it.  For more information, visit Schmidt's Restaurant and Banquet Haus.
  • To continue the gastric tour, we next stopped at an Italian restaurant in nearby Worthingotn, Ohio, which had been strongly recommended by some friends.  Open since 1978, VillaNova is a truly authentic Italian meal.  The inside of the place is something to see--clocks and collections and assortments of stuff (no better word to describe it) line every inch of wall space.  As soon as the food comes out, though, you'll forget all about what's hanging on the wall and just concentrate on what's sitting at the table.  We were lucky enough to be there on the night the special was the 'Tour of Italy'.  We had fried cheese ravioli, lasagna, spaghetti, meatballs and the gnocchi.  It was so good, every last bite.  Is it wrong of me to say I feel a little sad because I couldn't try EVERYTHING on the menu?  This restaurant was worth the drive to Columbus alone.  For more information, visit VillaNova Ristorante Pizza Bar.