Midwest Tourists

Fall seems to be passing by in a rush of color, but before all the leaves have fallen from the trees, a recap of our Labor Day summer sendoff is long overdue. We eagerly embarked on our second, but no less eventful, road trip of 2020, this time making it to a new city and visiting friends from Belgium along the way. With a wedding in Indianapolis over the long weekend, we set out in full tourist mode a few days early to make time for stops in Chicago and Cincinnati.

With the first, and shortest, leg of the trip behind us, we had a whole day ahead to explore Chicago from a respectable social distance. After checking-in at our very empty downtown hotel, we headed out for a hefty serving of pizza at Giordano’s. It had been a few years since either of us had sized up slices of Chicago deep-dish pizza and even we were surprised that sharing a small ended up being more than enough.

Despite the heat of midday and full stomachs, we opted to walk off lunch in Grant Park on our way to the Shedd Aquarium. We arrived just after 2 PM, our reserved entry time, and were able to enjoy the exhibits crowd-free.

A couple of personal favorites were the active beluga whales and neighboring mom and baby dolphin. The calf was only a couple days old – young enough that they didn’t yet know if it was female or male – and stuck close to its fast-moving mother. To cap off the visit, we stopped by the Stingray Touch outdoor pool where I hesitantly dipped my hand in the water and waited for the sleek animals to glide underneath. It took a few tries, but my persistence was rewarded when one slid by and I was able to briefly graze its top.

These little jellyfish were quite captivating

That evening we met Thomas and Ashley for dinner while watching the Bucks suffer a maddening last second defeat. Our spirits were lifted slightly the next morning when we were able to get out on a morning run to Millennium Park. To encourage social distancing and mask wearing, there was a monitored entrance into the park and the Bean was blocked off, but we still made a quick photo stop.

The Bean… from a distance

With Chicago behind us and five hours of flat road and plenty of farm fields ahead, I settled in as my designated road trip driver navigated us in the direction of Cincinnati. A break for lunch at the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe afforded us the opportunity to brush up on American history while dining on our Cousins Subs box lunches we had carried across two states.

Returning to the road, the rather uneventful drive continued until we neared the Indiana border with Ohio and Kentucky and flat fields gradually rose to become rolling, tree-covered hills. The anticipation of nearing a new city kept me awake in the passenger seat as we descended into the downtown on the north bank of the Ohio River and watched the city spread out on hills ahead of us. My gaze was immediately drawn to the eye-catching bright blue expanse of suspended metal spanning the river and connecting Ohio with its neighbor to the south. I noticed that it resembled another iconic US landmark known for connecting two bustling boroughs.

John A. Roebling and his Cincinnati suspension bridge, a precursor to the Brooklyn Bridge

After getting settled into our hotel in Covington, Kentucky and finding we weren’t the only guests around this time, we met our friends for an outdoor patio dinner at Ripple Wine Bar. We were thrilled to be welcomed to town by Rob and Natalie who we hadn’t seen in almost a year after they had moved back to the US and sadly no longer lived a few blocks away from us in Brussels. We caught up on life post-Belgium and laid out the plans for a full day of touring kicking off the following morning. Rob even offered to lace up his tour guide shoes early and escort us on a morning run through Devou Park. We didn’t regret taking him up on the offer as it resulted in us taking in Cincinnati’s seven hills and eight bridges from an expansive overlook that we otherwise would not have known about.

A sweeping skyline view of Cincinnati

Our walking tour commenced later that morning just steps from our hotel on the Kentucky side of the Ohio river. While Rob and Natalie imparted their Cincinnati knowledge, we strolled past several of the bronze statues of area historical figures along Covington’s riverfront. When it was time to explore Cincinnati proper, we crossed the pedestrian only Purple People Bridge to Sawyer Point and were greeted by statues paying homage to the city. The larger of the two is of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, a dictator in the early Roman Republic and the city’s namesake. The smaller, more comical statue is of a winged pig in Roman gladiator attire – an homage to Cincinnatus and representative of the city’s other nick name, Porkopolis. As residents of the Dairy State who have seen our fair share of colorful cow sculptures over the years, we could appreciate the sentiments.

The reward for having made it into Cincinnati was a delicious lunch and beverages at Taste of Belgium, which only seemed fitting given it was Brussels that brought us together in the first place. Our city tour continued with a walk across the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge that, when it opened on December 1, 1866, was the longest suspension bridge in the world at 1,057 feet. The title was passed on less than 20 years later to another of Roebling’s famous designs – the Brooklyn Bridge.

The eye-catching bright blue expanse of suspended metal spanning the river and connecting Ohio to Kentucky

Our walk concluded back in Covington, but we were just getting started on our “taste of Cincinnati” as we headed to the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, named as such for its large population of German immigrants who settled the area in the mid-19th century. Our first stop was Graeter’s for their famous black raspberry chocolate chip ice cream. Afterwards we settled in at a table on the spacious rooftop of Rhinegeist Brewery and Dan and I finally learned to play the card game Euchre.

A win for Team Dan & Natalie entails a celebratory “milking the cow”

An early dinner was in the cards for us that night (see what I did there) on account of us wanting to cheer on our Bucks in their third playoff game. But after another bad loss by the Bucks, the only thing I want to remember about that night was the amazing fried chicken, hushpuppies, spoonbread, and mac and cheese we devoured at The Eagle restaurant.

On my run the next morning I retraced our steps from Rob and Natalie’s city tour before we loaded the car up and set off for our final destination on the trip, but not before checking off the a final item on my Cincinnati Bucket List. I was surprised by just how many people also had chili on their mind when we stopped at Skyline Chili just outside the city. Even more surprising was just how much shredded cheddar cheese comes with the 3-way dish. For those unfamiliar with this Cincinnati staple, it is comprised of a “secret-recipe” chili served over spaghetti, and topped with a mound of cheese, beans, and or onion. I like my chili on the chunky side but am inspired to start serving it over noodles after trying Skyline.

After this hearty lunch I napped most of the way through Indiana where, upon arrival at out hotel, we were able to regroup for a few hours before heading to downtown Indianapolis for dinner and then meeting up with the other Wisconsinites in town for Mei and Gavin’s wedding.

Before the wedding and brief rain showers on Sunday I went for a run in a nearby greenspace and was pleasantly surprised by the tranquility of Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve, especially given its proximity to the airport. The rain clouds cleared and the sun greeted us as we made our way to our seats at Daniel’s Vineyard for a beautiful outdoor ceremony adjacent to the vines.

An evening at Daniel’s Vineyard in McCordsville, Indiana

After a celebratory evening the night before, it was time to commence our drive back to Wisconsin. It’s hard to beat a road trip filled with good food and friends, and even better when that road trip ends with a stop at Culver’s for good ole Wisconsin cheese curds!

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