TOP 10 THINGS I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT THE ‘QUEEN CITY’
(Like, for instance, that it is called the ‘Queen City’)
Let’s kick off this Cincinnati series with a list and a confession.
Although I like to think of myself as quite the travel maven, until a few weeks ago I was scandalously uninformed as to the many delights contained within this fascinating river city. Back in my touring-with-Russ-and-the-band days, I’m sure they performed in Cincy a time or six, but I’ve never had the chance (or taken the time) to really get to know the place. That oversight is even more criminal when you consider that it is less than a 5 hour drive from Nashville, which is very do-able for a weekend getaway.
I recently had the opportunity to spend several days on what amounted to an extended blind date with the city of Cincinnati—and quite frankly, I am smitten.
I was included in a travel media trip hosted by the Cincinnati USA Regional Tourism Network, joining two travel writers from Colorado, Ron Stern (aka “The Global Gumshoe”) and Cameron Martindale, as well as local writers Becky Lindhart and Jeff Waddle. We all had way more fun than is probably professionally allowed, mainly because our guides/wranglers were so very passionate and knowledgable about their city. Our itinerary was designed to introduce us to all sides of Cincinnati and come away with an overall ‘feel’ for the region, which it most definitely did.
There will be many more details and recommendations in the posts to come, but here are the Top 10 things about Cincy that I didn’t know when I got there:
#10: Every time you turn around, you’re in Kentucky.
Cincinnati is nestled on the banks of the Ohio River, and Kentucky is directly right smack dab across the water. A stone’s throw, almost. This is probably not a startling revelation to most of you, but geography has never been my strong suit. There are five lovely bridges that connect downtown Cincinnati to the Kentucky towns of Covington and Newport, and during my stay we crossed back and forth several times a day, which was just a wee bit confusing. I spent a lot of time saying, “OK, so now we’re in…?” The locals just merge the whole area together and call it the ‘greater Cincinnati REGION.’ (I personally think ‘Kencinnati’ is catchier, but nobody asked me.) This interesting fusion of Midwestern urban center with small Southern river towns is just one of the unique features of this captivating city.
**Cincy from the Kentucky side
**Kentucky from the Cincy side
#9: The Reds Are A Religion.
Now, I grew up in Arkansas the home of rabid Razorback fanatics, so I totally get that whole team loyalty thing, but Cincinnatians take it to a whole ‘nother level! They are very enthusiastic about their NFL Bengals, too but it seems that the Reds have a special place in their hearts. Cincy has built them a gorgeous stadium, the Great American Ball Park, perched proudly in the heart of downtown. Even if you are not really a big baseball fan (that would be me), watching the Reds play on their home field is an experience to remember, and I would HIGHLY recommend it. As fate would have it, my first-ever Reds game happened to be the one in which they beat the L.A. Dodgers to clinch the 2012 Central Division Championship– so I got to witness 42,000 red-clad people collectively lose their dang minds. Here’s a quick clip of The Moment! (I didn’t take this video, but I feel sure my camera work would have been even shakier.)
Video courtesy of NunzioCorb.
**My view of the game
#8: They have gargoyles.
Cincinnati (on the Kentucky side) is home to one of the most massively elaborate, gloriously gothic cathedrals in the entire country– St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption. One of only 35 designated ‘minor’ basilicas in the U.S., (the only four ‘major’ basilicas in the world are all in Rome) it has everything you’d ever want in a big honkin’ cathedral: stained glass windows, flying buttresses, mosaic murals, 81-ft. ceilings, marble statues, giant pipe organ… Basically, it’s only one hunchbacked bellringer away from rivaling Paris’ Notre Dame. This magnificently serene cathedral is an unforgettable site that should be included on any tour of Cincinnati– and the 26 Italian carved gargoyles crouched on the roof and peering down at the church grounds are the icing on the cake.
**This is only a small section of the interior.
**Each one of the 26 is different–but I like this guy’s attitude.
Photo courtesy of wojohawn photostream
#7: Trying to describe Cincinnati’s art scene can lead to superlative overload.
Vibrant, thriving, diverse, innovative, classical– I’m telling you, there is a cultural explosion going on in this city! From highbrow galleries to funky street festivals, no creative, artistic stone is left unturned. Whether you want to hear a symphony, see a Broadway play, catch your favorite singer on tour, or spend an evening at the ballet, they’ve totally got you covered. They even hosted the World Choir Games, for crying out loud. One interesting thing that sets the Cincinnati scene apart is the emphasis they place on photographic art. FotoFocus is a cutting edge organization that is responsible for bringing renowned photographers and world-class exhibits to town, as well as raising the level of awareness and appreciation for all lens-based art. They have some really fabulous exhibits going on right now– in fact Russ and I are planning a weekend Cincy trip next month just to see them!
**The historic Music Hall, home of the Cincinnati Symphony, built in 1878 and undergoing a massive renovation– isn’t it gorgeous?
**See what I mean? Art is everywhere in this city!
#6: Cincinnati runs on beer.
Seriously– they may or may not put it in the water supply. This city has a long, proud history of producing high quality German lagers, bocks and ales. Today you cannot swing a bratwurst in this town without hitting a brewery, microbrewery or local craft brewery. Cincinnatians have very educated, discerning palates where beer is concerned and they’re quite passionate in their opinions on which brew is the best. (Personally, I took a liking to Hudepohl.) Even if you’re a tee-totaler, you’ll probably still enjoy checking out one of the brewery tours complete with historic beer tunnels that still run underneath the city. There’s even a new documentary coming out called “The Cincinnati Beer Story,”– here’s the trailer, just to give you a little taste! (‘Little taste’– see how I did that?!)
#5: It’s a city of neighborhoods.
Cincinnati is made up of 52 neighborhoods, each with a distinctly different personality. The town is full of historical importance and every neighborhood seems to have its own charming backstory. I wasn’t there long enough to sample all of them, but I did get to hit a few highlights. We walked through the revitalized areas of Over The Rhine, strolled the streets of MainStrasse Village, drove around trendy Mount Adams and was invited to dinner at a beautiful home in Hyde Park. Cincinnatians take great pride in their neighborhoods, and walking tours of the most popular ones are readily available. You’ll find out lots of things you didn’t know about the area… For example, who knew that innocent, friendly little Newport was once a vice-filled gambling mecca?
**Historic MainStrasse Village
**Detail of a building in the Over The Rhine neighborhood– or OTR, as the locals call it.
#4: Going to Findlay Market at least once during your stay should be required by law.
Located in Cincinnati’s aforementioned Over the Rhine neighborhood, this hidden gem is absolutely one of the most charming indoor/outdoor farmer’s markets I have ever seen. Operating out of its original 1852 iron-framed building, the indoor market with about 24 permanent vendors is open six days a week year-round. From April-November on Thursdays-Sundays, the outdoor seasonal stalls are spilling over with colorful flowers, produce and crafts. Locals in the know consider Findlay Market as much a gathering place as a commercial enterprise, and the food offerings are as authentic and diverse as the customers–where else can you get Vietnamese pho, local organic cheeses, handmade earrings, bubble tea, fresh pasta, organic dog food and real Belgian waffles all at the same place? Throw in some hipster street performers and a salty caramel gelato and you’ve got all the makings of a near-perfect day.
#3: “Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati” is not a typo. Neither is “The Running Of The Wieners.”
Cincinnatti’s proud German heritage is on full display every fall when they throw the largest celebration of its kind in North America. In fact, it’s the second largest Oktoberfest in the world– only Munich, Germany does it any bigger. Over half a million people show up ready to get their oompah-pah on, and a six block area of Fifth Street is turned into one giant party. More than 800 barrels of beer are consumed city-wide, but I would like to point out that it was a surprisingly orderly crowd and no one threw up on my shoes even once. German polka music and the smell of sausages and strudel fill the air, with an alpenhorn concert and the world’s largest chicken dance thrown in for good measure. The kick-off event is The Annual Running Of The Wieners race– you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a collection of wienie dogs of every shape, size and color imaginable all dressed in hot dog costumes running full tilt boogie down a makeshift racetrack with their equally colorful owners jumping up and down at the finish line waving doggie snacks and squeaky toys. I’m getting a little misty just thinking about it… So, if you can make it to Cincinnati during September in time for the festivities? DO IT.
**This right here? Was almost worth the trip all by itself.
#2: Cincinnati is a museum wonk’s paradise.
I have a real thing about museums, and apparently so does Cincinnati. I honestly had no idea the city had such a treasure trove of world-class museums, or that they were housed in such beautiful buildings. The Cincinnati Museum Center, a non-stuffy must-see, is located in the former Union Terminal, an art deco masterpiece that is now home to three different museums: The Cincinnati History Museum, the Duke Energy Children’s Museum and the Museum of Natural History and Science. I visited another beauty, the Taft Museum of Art, which is housed in an 1820 villa in the heart of downtown. Their permanent collection includes European old master paintings, Limoge enamels and beautiful murals on the walls of the gallery. There’s also the Cincinnati Art Museum, and perhaps the most important and informative museum, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Do yourself a favor, and check out at least one!
**The fabulous art deco Cincinnati Museum Center.
**The gracious Taft Museum
Photo courtesy of thad Flickr photostream
**An exhibit at the Underground Railroad National Freedom Center
Photo courtesy of CAA Photography Flickr photostream
And the #1 Thing I Did Not Know About the ‘Queen City’ Before I Visited?
SKYLINE CHILI IS MAGIC!!!
Apparently it is made of baby kisses and fairy dust and rainbows and unicorns. (Also some Greek spices, a pinch of cinnamon and oddly enough, a bit of dark chocolate. I am not even kidding.) It is highly addictive and you may find yourself dreaming about it long after you have returned home from your fabulous trip to Cincinnati, and then you will spend more time than you are willing to admit searching the internet for a reasonable facsimile recipe and finally you will have to resort to going to Krogers and getting the frozen Skyline Chili Spaghetti which actually isn’t bad, but is NOT the same as sitting in that lovely little Skyline place on Ludlow and weeping from the sheer wondrous perfection of THIS:
**sound of angels singing**
(Ready to take a trip to Cincy yet…?)
OK, I really want to hear from you–
Have you been? Did you love it? What did you see? Any other museum wonks out there? If you’ve never been, what did you just read that appeals to you the most? Any questions about anything in particular…?
Disclosure: My travel expenses, accommodations and meals were provided for me by the Cincinnati USA Regional Tourism Network– but as always, my opinions are my own.