Tag Archives: Cincinnati

CINCINNATI: Back in Time….

17 Feb

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It’s our last day in Cincy; we’ve still got a list of things to do. No trip to the Queen City is complete without a visit to the Cincinnati Museum Center, formerly Union Terminal. Everything about this building is amazing from architecture and history to its present-day use as a museum. Work started on the building in August of 1929, completed March 31, 1933 it is one of the last great train stations built and one of the finest examples of the Art Deco style. When it opened it was served by seven railroads; designed to accommodate 17,000 passengers and 216 trains a day, it was a transfer point for soldiers during WWII, Amtrak still runs a train from the station. Union Terminal cost $41 million to build including the land and readjustment of railroad facilities, the complex and rail yards take up 287 acres with 94 miles of track.

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  The Jeep is parked and we approach the building on foot; no matter how many times we come here, I am still awed by the magnificence of the structure, so grand, elegant, sophisticated. The clock is mounted front and center, two bas reliefs flank the rotunda, one represents transportation, the other commerce. In 1932, Maxfield Keck and his team stood on scaffolding and carved the figures directly into the limestone exterior, it took several months. Inside, the rotunda’s interior dome spans 180 ft with a height of 106 feet, it’s stunning! A series of murals depict the heritage of the US and Cincy. German artist Winold Reiss is responsible for the design of the murals; glass mosiac tiles, roughly the size of a nickle were pressed into a colored-plaster background. Glass tiles were ideal, the colors are brilliant, they will not fade and are easy to clean and maintain, especially important back in the days when smoking in public was the norm, not to mention the smut and smoke from the trains. Reiss also had input to the color scheme of the rotunda dome, a rainbow of yellows and golds, as well as the terrazzo floor patterns.

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A sign guides us to Tower A, we’ve never been, so we’re excited to check it out; a ride on an elevator, a few steps up and we’re in. This my friends, is the control tower, the train director would sit at his desk, look at the control panel and determine the path of travel of each train through the terminal, lever men would align the switches down at the track level to keep all trains moving safely. The original control panel hangs on the back wall, it’s huge, it has been rewired and is programmed to show how it looked back when Tower A was in full operation, amazing. Showcases are filled with memorabilia from the glory days of train travel, silverware, china, menus and photographs. Parents rest on old train station seats as youngsters ring the (very loud) train bell, bookshelves are cramped with volumes on the history of trains, lanterns and traffic lights hang above. Standing on the viewing platform we see the Queensgate Yard to the right, every day a CSX train brings orange juice from Florida to the Tropicana plant just north of Cincinnati. Straight out is the CUT yard, rows of tracks are filled with freight cars, the Amtrak passenger train uses the platform just below the Tower. Off to the left is the Ohio River and many bridges including the Norfolk Southern Bridge, that route runs from Cincy to Chattanooga. The Control Tower is also the home of the Cincinnati Railroad Club who funded the renovation of Tower A, thanks guys!

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Back on the main floor we enter the Museum of Science and Natural History. An exhibit honors the memory of Ohio native Neil Armstrong, the display includes a moonrock collected during his Apollo 11 mission in which he became the first man to set foot on the moon, along with a replica of his spacesuit and tools. As we proceed further we find ourselves in a re-creation of real caves found in Ohio and Kentucky, covering two levels and 500 feet of dark, narrow passages. Floors and walls are textured, it’s chilly and a little damp, walkways open into chambers filled with stalactites and stalagmites, there’s an underground stream and a waterfall, they even have a bat colony. Next thing you know we’ve traveled back roughly 19,000 years in the Ohio Valley into the ice age and pre-historic worlds. There are dinosaur skeletons, fossils and casts, we walk through a re-created glacier with its Caribbean blue light eerily lighting our way, we follow the ice age trail to the stream table all rocky and uneven. Here the land is barren but for a few trees, wolves roam the landscape, more dinosaurs lurk about.

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Back in the Rotunda we ramble through the building a little more, because of the crowds they have opened several dining room spaces usually reserved for private meetings and events. French artist Pierre Bourdelle is responsible for decorative ceiling designs in the dining rooms and hall, the formal dining room’s ceiling mural is a map of Cincinnati bounded on the edges with all forms of transportation and landmarks of the city. Bourdelle’s artwork consumes 5,496 sq ft of the building, his largest commission. Back in the day, public buildings were always designed to impress, local history and landmarks were often used in decorative ways, a means of connecting people and their community. Union Terminal is an architectural treasure, in November 2014 residents of Hamilton County passed a millage to provide funding for renovations of Union Terminal to keep it functional, now that’s money well spent. 

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For dinner we are crossing the Ohio River into Covington Kentucky and the MainStrasse Village neighborhood to Dee Felice. On the corner of Main and 6th Streets stands the 18th century orange brick building that began life as a pharmacy. Inside, the ornate tin ceiling, black and white marble tile floor and old-fashioned details remain. Long-time Jazz drummer and band leader Emidio De Felice opened the restaurant/Jazz club back in 1984, today his wife and daughter carry on the tradition of serving up live Jazz and Cajun food. We arrive to a nearly full house, musicians are perched on the stage behind the open bar playing Sweet Lorraine. After a quick scan of the menu we place our order, the music continues, many of our Jazz favorites are played. The Pasta Dante arrives; blackened strips of chicken over peppers, onions and linguine sauteed in white wine and topped with feta cheese, it’s delicious! We sip on cocktails, the music comes to an end, time to go.

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It’s still early, we walk Main Street the length of downtown, buildings are distinctly southern in style, narrow fronts, deep in length–shotgun style. With elevated front doors, some have ornate cornices, others leaded glass, they’re snuggled close together. Restaurants and taverns are doing a good business, the neighborhood was originally German, the 6-block district still retains its charm. Kris drives the car over to the riverfront, this is one of our favorite places to walk.  The Kentucky side of the Ohio River was relatively shallow compared to the Ohio side, making it unusable as a public landing for boats and steamships; instead beautiful mansions were built overlooking the waterway. Today a series of parks and pathways line the riverside affording visitors a  view of the best of both worlds, the vibrant city skyline of Cincinnati and the picturesque charm and grandeur of Covington. Until next time…….. 

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More Cincinnati; Findlay Market, Cincy Museum Center,Pompilio’s

22 Jun

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Ohio’s oldest market,Findlay Market was first on our agenda for the day. Located in the Over-The-Rhine historic district it is buzzing with activity.The indoor market has about two dozen merchants, narrow aisle-ways guide you past the usual market fare; meats, cheeses, fish and produce along with specialty stalls like gelato, fudge and spices. I saw a few people walking around drinking something that was a clear green with lots of ice so I had to ask, Grass Lemonade! I found the sushi place that makes it and bought one to try, not bad, and really quite refreshing. Try the Belgian Waffles….I will say no more…….. The outdoor vendors are along the street and under a pavilion, it seemed like most of Cincinnati was at the market that day; crowds of people  carrying environmentally friendly bags filled to the top with good stuff. Artists display their wares, businesses fill the colorful historic buildings lining the market and music is in the air. Samples are abundant; jalapeno bread, sunflower sprouts, cheese, and the BEST cookies I have ever eaten in my life, seriously. She calls herself the Cookie Fairy, she must be because I have never tasted a cookie so moist, so tender, so, well, delicious anywhere. I tried samples of every flavor she had there, it was really impossible to choose, so I made Kris decide! We picked up a bag of the Birthday Cake Cookies, it was the right choice.

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The Cincinnati Museum Center is just a short drive from the market and was next our list. Originally built as the Union Terminal passenger railroad station, it was completed in 1933 at a total cost of $41.5 million…Wow! The building is spectacular, it is designed in signature Art Deco style. Step inside to view the rotunda, painted bright yellow, gold and orange it features the largest semi-dome in the western hemisphere measuring 180 ft wide and 106 ft high. Brightly colored mosaics tell Cincinatti’s history, Rookwood Pottery tiles decorate the cafe, there isn’t a nook or cranny that isn’t beautiful in this structure. The building houses the Cincinnati History Museum, Museum of Natural History and Science, an Omni Max Theater, the Cincy Historical Society Library and the Duke Energy Children’s Museum. Recently named one of the top 50 architecturally significant buildings in America this is one place in the city that you must visit. It is so visually stimulating you don’t know where to look first, after all the times we’ve been here I am still in awe. The museums are top notch, but to be honest with you I’d come here just to see the place. To our delight the outdoor fountain was working, it really completes the picture of what it must have been like in its heyday to pull up to the station to take a train to some far away place like Chicago or New York. Free Rotunda Tours are available, and I highly recommend taking one.

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Cincinnati is built on hills, plateaus and bluffs which provide gorgeous vistas. Our lunch plan was to go over to Hyde Park get a carry-out from Carl’s Deli and take it to Ault Park for a picnic. The weather had other plans, we ate inside instead. The only sandwich we have ever had there is the #6, a crab artichoke salad served on  a Croissant which is then grilled and served warm. The croissant is crispy on the outside, flaky inside and that crab salad is so flavorful! With that and a few sides we were all set.  The rain had let up, so we made it up to Ault Park after all  for some post lunch viewing pleasure .

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After some R&R back at the Bed and Breakfast we headed out to Cincinnati Gardens to watch our hometown Detroit Derby Girls take on the Cincinnati Black Sheep. It was an extremely exciting bout, much to the dismay of the Cincy fans, Detroit prevailed with a score of 155 to 110. Cincinnati is a great place to catch a Derby; great teams, a knowledgeable enthusiastic crowd and an awesome vintage venue!  Now for some dinner….

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We zipped back over the Ohio River into Newport Ky for a good Italian meal at Pompilio’s.  We seem to have a hard time finding restaurants that serve dinner after 10pm in Cincy, that’s not a problem here. The Italian Sampler Plate will satisfy your taste-buds with it’s variety of Italian classics. This is the good stuff; homemade meatballs, Italian sausage, and ravioli blanketed in a delectable red sauce. They make an awesome Antipasto salad too. The decor is charming and traditional, the bar area looks as if it hasn’t changed a bit since opening in 1933. Besides the mouth-watering food, the restaurant is also famous from the movie Rainman. The infamous  “toothpick” scene was filmed here in 1988.

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Across the Licking River back into CovingtonKY we stopped in for a nightcap and a little music at Dee Felice. Dee Felice was opened in 1984 by longtime Jazz drummer and band leader Dee Felice. Decorated in New Orleans style with it’s marble floor, decorative tin ceiling, and dark wood, it is the place to go for the best live Jazz in the greater Cincinnati area.  The house band here is outstanding, located on a long narrow platform behind the bar the musicians play side by side across the length, the baby grand piano the endcap.  Jazz lovers sit at the bar tapping their feet in rhythm making eye contact with the other patrons as if to say “isn’t this incredible?” And it is!

Road trip; Detroit to Cincinnati. Springfield, Yellow Springs, Clifton Gorge

20 Jun

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Our weekend destination was Cincinnati Ohio with a few stops along the way. We took I- 75 into Toledo, then followed the Scenic Maumee River to 235 South. Kris has a knack for taking the route less traveled from place to place, to him the ride should be as enjoyable as the destination. 235 is easy traveling, not a lot of traffic, plenty of curves, and pretty scenery, no cities to pass through here, only tiny hamlets and an abundance of farmland. At Bellefontaine we got on 68 and took it into Springfield Ohio.

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Springfield Ohio is located about mid-state and shares a similar history with Detroit. Route 40, a Historic National Road that began in Maryland near the Capitol, ended in Sprinfield for about 10 years before continuing westward. This made it very attractive to industrialists; from 1916 to 1926 10 automobile companies operated here. International Harvester was the leading employer building farm machinery and later trucks. The list of items produced here is staggering. Like many cities it has suffered as manufacturing continued to go overseas. Springfield is definitely a place worth visiting, remnants of the grandeur of days gone buy still remain in magnificent public buildings and grand homes. Wittenberg University, one of the most highly rated liberal arts universities in the nation can be found here. Frank Lloyd Wright’s only Prarie style home in the state of Ohio, the Westcott house, resides here as well and is open for tours. Be sure and visit the Heritage Center of Clark County, the architecture alone is worth the stop! Built in 1890 in the Romanesque style it was the original City Hall and Marketplace, oh what it must have been like to buy carrots and tomatoes in such surroundings! Exhibits were impressive; a 1920 Westcott Motor Car,  an old iron cannon, a horse drawn Champion Reaper, and several vintage International vehicles including a lumber truck and a Fire Truck. Signs from many of the local manufacturers hang from the ceiling emphasizing the prestige of this once industrial giant.The museum was much larger and even more interesting that we anticipated. Time to hit the road and find some lunch.

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Continuing south along 68 ,Yellow Springs, a tiny town of only 1.9 sq miles was our next stop. Founded in 1825 by a group of families  looking to create a Utopian community, part of that feeling still lingers, you might even say it has a hippie vibe.This is a haven for the Arts, galleries line the main thoroughfare along with cafes, modest sized shops and a cinema. Color coded trash cans dot the sidewalk urging you to sort and recycle your trash, words like local and organic are found on signs throughout town. Many restaurants offer outdoor seating overlooking Xenia Ave. Current Cuisine is a gourmet Deli we have eaten at many times, and did so again. There is a large selection of ready made food to choose from, everything looks appealing, so it’s hard to choose. A deli sandwich, salad, and an empanada did the trick for us. We took a stroll through town wandering in and out of shops enjoying the colorful mix of people you are bound to encounter while visiting. The Little Miami Bike Trail comes through Yellow Springs making it a welcomed stop for bicyclists.

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We veered off of 68 and went a short distance east on 343 to Clifton Gorge a state nature preserve. Also a regular stop for us when in this neck of the woods, it is a great way to stretch our legs and get some fresh air and exercise after being in the car for a prolonged time. Clifton Gorge is a spectacular example of post-glacial canyon cutting, sounds impressive doesn’t it? It is! The mile long scenic Gorge  trail takes you alongside the Little Miami Scenic River, showing off waterfalls and rapids along the way. Completely surrounded by multiple hues of green of the local flora everywhere you look is a photograph in waiting. Be sure and wear proper footwear as the trail can be slick, you will also traverse some rocky terrain and multiple steps cut into the stone. If you have the time and are feeling adventurous cross the footbridge and continue through John Bryan State Park, at the second footbridge cut back over and follow the original Pittsburgh-Cincinnati Stage Coach Route back. This is a 269 acre preserve that protects one of the most remarkable dolomite and limestone gorges in Ohio.

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Time had slipped away too quickly as usual, we got into Cincinnati, checked into our room located in the Northside district, then to Covington Ky for a (really) late dinner. We can always depend on Chez Nora for late night food and live music. The evening was warm with a slight breeze that beckoned us to dine on the rooftop. A view of the Cincinnati skyline, city lights shining against the night sky accompanied by good food, good music and good company. Goodnight.

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