Continuing our trek south for the winter, our next stop after Cleveland was Cincinnati. En route, we stopped by the Ohio Reformatory, which is the famous prison from the movie Shawshank Redemption, and has been featured in other films as well. Usually you are able to tour this architecturally beautiful prison, however, they are currently decorated to the max for Halloween and are only open at night for their Blood Prison event...a haunting experience. Since horror isn't really our thing, we decide to just admire the prison from the road. If you are a big Shawshank fan, there is a local tour you can do to see several of the scenes from the movie.
We continue south and change our route to take us through Dayton. Dayton is famous for aviation and there are several points of interests dedicated to the Wright Brothers, who were from Dayton. We only stopped by one park, which ended up being named after them, but was really a poorly maintained Veteran's Memorial Park. There was a good view of the river and the city from that point, but the park was quite disappointing.
A hidden Gem near Cincinnati, in Loveland, is the Castle La Roche. Upon arriving, we meet some of "Knights of the Golden Trail". They are working on the castle and cannot seem to get the aerial lift they rented started. Nicole, having a lot of experience working with lifts in our window cleaning business, decides to take a look. After only a few minutes, it's up and running. It will go up and down, but it still won't move forward and back. She spent an hour troubleshooting it with the Knights, but was unable to get it to move and suggests they call the rental company because it needs repair. We begin our self-guided tour of the castle. The castle isn't massive in size or fancy, but the story behind it is awesome. To summarize, Harry D. Andrews built the castle over the course of 51 years, by himself! He used stones that he collected from river that runs through the property. He worked on it until he died at the age of 91. He had no heirs, so when he was younger, he knighted several boys from the Sunday School that he taught. He called them them the Knights of the Golden Trail because they had to agree to live by the 10 commandments, and they had to agree to help maintain the castle and share it with others. He created a 501C and left the property to them, and they continue to run it today. People can be knighted by volunteering their time. Nicole was almost knighted for her help with the lift, and though she wasn't, they all said that we were, by far, the most helpful visitors they have EVER had! The full story of Harry and this castle is pretty impressive and you can read it HERE if you want to learn more.
Another hidden gem we stopped at was the Lucky Cat Museum. If you've ever seen those fat cats waving their paw up, that is a Chinese Lucky Cat. This museum is located in the Essex Art Studio and is a personal collection of Lucky Cats figurines as well as a variety of other Lucky Cat items. The studio is free, though a small donation to look around is always a great gesture. We spoke to the owner of the collection and learned about how she came to own so many and where she gets them from. One rare slot machine that she had always wanted was found in the basement of someone's house and went up for sale, right in Cincinnati! Talk about lucky!!! The museum only takes about 15-30 minutes to walk through, but it's unique and some of the items are interactive, like the coin boxes and slot machines. Toni loves the lucky cat so this museum was a great find for us.
We did swing by the famous Findlay Market, which is listed on the National Registry for Historic Places, and is Ohio's oldest continuous market. It was later in the day, but many of the vendors must have closed up early so we did strike out there, but we made up for it by trying some local favorites. We went to Skyline Chili, which has a unique flavor that has made it a staple in Cincinnati for decades. There is much debate about whether theirs is the best or Gold Star Chili, which we didn't get to try. You will have to try them both and decide for yourself! There is no debating that Graeter's Ice Cream is another great staple here. They are known for their Raspberry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, which Nicole tried, but they offer several flavors, including seasonal flavors like the Stout & Chocolate Pretzel that Toni tried. Both were outstanding, and the chocolate chips are really small chunks of their dark chocolate, which were absolutely divine!
We had heard some great things about the Cincinnati zoo, and we had some extra time, so we decided to check it out. We love animals and enjoy spending time at zoos. (Money Saving Travel Tip: Most zoos offer affordable memberships that give you reciprocity at other zoos. Often it's 50% or 100% off at other zoos!) The zoo is pretty large and has a wide variety of animals. It was a Trick or Treat day there so we saw lots of kids and even some parents dressed up, and many of the animals were given pumpkins. We saw several animals, mostly small mammals, that we haven't seen before, so it was fun to learn about them. We saw an Andean Bear with his head in his pumpkin, getting every last seed out of it. They also have Sigfried and Roy's White Tigers there and 3 Bengal cubs as well...all were beautiful! Fiona, the baby hippo, has taken the Internet by storm. We were able to get a glimpse of her while she out as well. Overall, we feel that the Cincinnati Zoo is worth visiting. Make sure you plan on at least 4 hours so you can see it all!
Cincinnati sits along the Ohio River and has a beautiful green area near the river. The Bengal's and Red's stadiums are right by the river as well, making that area a great place to explore. There are 3 bridges near the river front park, and all bridges lead to Kentucky. The John A Roebling Suspension Bridge is a stunning blue bridge that connects with Covington, KY. We were able to walk across the bridge to Kentucky in about 15 minutes. There are wonderful views of Cincinnati from the bridge and it is definitely worth the walk. The park has porch swings all along it, as well as fun activities for kids and adults alike. Play a giant pipe piano by walking on keys, hop aboard a flying pig, play on the playground or in the fountains, or just walk along the river and enjoy the views. There is an indoor carousel, and thanks to Marcy, who we met on the bridge, you can take the street car and/or trolley around and get a good feel of the city, which we did. Of course there are plenty of places to eat and shop in the area as well. We walked to Fountain Square where they are currently building a skating rink for more winter entertainment in the city.
Overall, we were very impressed with Cincinnati, and to be honest, quite surprised. Most people probably don't think of Cincinnati when they think of cities to explore, and we honestly thought we would have a hard time finding enough to do. There is plenty to do there to fill a long weekend getaway, and the River Front area is nice place for a romantic walk. You can even hop a cruise down the river on a paddle boat! The Queen City has plenty to offer travel enthusiasts!