A Travellerspoint blog

5 Surprising Guests to the Hot Springs in Arkansas

ARKANSAS - PART II

sunny 50 °F

The Hot Springs in Arkansas have been attracting an unusual cast of characters for centuries. This naturally flowing, super-heated water has been used through the generations for a variety of reasons making Hot Springs, Arkansas a hangout for an unusual cast of characters. Below is a list of 5 visitors that you may not expect to visit this national park in the middle of Arkansas.

Visitor 1 — Native Americans

Even before this area was discovered by explorers and settled by Europeans, the Native Americans were lounging in the hot streams flowing out of the mountain. Ever since the hot springs were found, people have been using them for therapeutic and medicinal purposes. The water that comes out of the springs fell as rain 4,000 years ago and seeped deeper and deeper into ground beneath the mountains. The water is naturally heated by pressure and earth's temperature before eventually being pushed back up through unique rock formations. And this is not just a little amount of water, we are talking 750,000 gallons of water a day!

Here is a view of the Ouachita Mountains and one of the naturally flowing hot springs that goes through the city (notice the steam!).

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Visitor 2 — The Sick

I guess sick people will try anything to get better! In the 1800s people believed that hot water would treat skin and blood diseases. Listen to some of these bizarre treatments that people endured:

  • Alternating between lounging in a 150° F hot spring pool to produce perspiration (which was thought to be an effective way to fight disease) and a cold-water stream. While sitting in the hot spring, people also drank the hot water.
  • Sitting in a wooden cabin built over the streams to breathe in the steam to treat respiratory illnesses for hours at a time
  • Enclosing oneself in a "vapor cabinet" (a box that you sat in that secured tightly around the neck) that heated up to 130° F

Eventually the government stepped in and limited some of the more crazy therapies by limiting baths to 20 minutes and showers to 90 seconds (but this may have been to conserve water since the park was becoming more and more popular). The average prescription for hot water therapy was a 3 week session, but people could stay for years.

Today there are still 2 bathhouses that still offer therapies. There are also water fountains throughout the park where you can drink the hot spring water. I drank from one of the fountains, and it tasted good (except it was hot!). They also have taps where you can fill up containers with the mineral water. I saw several cars lined up filling 5 gallon containers full of water.

Here is a picture of a vapor cabinet, a therapy shower and bath, and drinking from the water fountain.

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Visitor 3 — Major League Baseball

Starting in 1886, Major League Baseball teams starting their spring training in warmer climates. When the Chicago White Stockings chose Hot Springs as their training location, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Browns (Cardinals), Philadelphia Phillies, Brooklyn Dodgers, and New York Highlanders (Yankees) soon followed. Most teams continued this practice through the 1920s, and some continued to send pitchers/catchers through the 1940s. Babe Ruth was one of the many baseball players that loved visiting the hot springs.

Hot Springs was rising in popularity not only with Major League Baseball, but also with the general population. Hot Springs grew and grew, and the bathhouses became much more organized. The national park staff enclosed the streams beneath a street, and Bathhouse Row was created. 9 Bathhouses still sit on Bathhouse Row that runs along the Central Avenue. The park also collected, cooled, and distributed the hot spring water so that the individual bath houses didn't have to collect and cool their own water.

Here are some pictures of me and Jason out front of the bathhouses, a view from the walkway that lines the back of Bathhouse Row, and a view of the underground hot spring.

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Visitor 4 — Gangsters (including Al Capone)

Professional Athletes and the Sick weren't the only ones attracted to the therapeutic hot springs, criminals also flocked to Hot Springs. As far back as the 1880s, gangs were paying police to collect gambling debts. By 1920, ten full sized casino houses (along with smaller venues) and a dog/horse track could be found in Hot Springs. The Hot Springs was reported as a favored retreat by Al Capone.

The lavish lifestyles of professional athletes and gangsters eventually found their way into the bath houses. Everything in the bath houses was made of marble, statues decorated the individual rooms, and ornate stained glass decorated the ceilings. I thought it was very impressive, and invoked an image of Roman Bathhouses where the wealthy would hang out.

It wasn't until the late 1960s that the gambling was forcefully shut down (although there is still a racetrack).

Here are some pictures from the male bathroom (notice the naked women on the ceiling).

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Visitor 5 — Armed Services (Army & Navy)

During World War II, the army considered 20 cities as a redeployment area before selecting Hot Springs. Soldiers were granted a 21-day furlough in the city and received discounted rates at the bathhouses. Soldiers received physical and dental treatment before being deployed. In 1944, the army had taken over most of the hotels since the Army and Navy Hospital couldn't house all the soldiers.

The Army and Navy Hospital still sits behind Bathhouse Row and looks over the town of Hot Springs.

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Visitor 6 — Me and Jason!

We enjoyed our trip to Hot Springs, but it would have been nice to have a little more time so we could have experienced the bath services firsthand!

Posted by Mike.Flynn 01/24/2012 08:39 Archived in USA Tagged mountains museum national_park Comments (0)

President Clinton and Little Rock — Woo Pig Sooie!

STATE 29 - ARKANSAS

overcast 50 °F

I'm visiting the final state in the South to see the 42nd President of the U.S. and to try and find a razorback. I'm off to Arkansas!

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Upon arriving in Little Rock, Jason and I started exploring the city at the "little rock." The city was named for a small rock outcropping that served as a landmark while traveling up the Arkansas river and was commonly used as a crossing point to get over the river. "Little rock" wasn't really anything to see, but there was a nice waterfront trail that led to some informative signs about the city. While I read the signs, Jason studied the Native American carvings.

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The waterfront tourist signs and statues were only able to keep our attention briefly, another sign had caught our eye. We saw our first sign of a razorback in the area! The trail took us over the river which offered a nice view of downtown (you can see some of the hotels, like the brick Peabody, and a couple of the taller buildings).

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After crossing the river into North Little Rock, it didn't take long for us to find the razorback. It was huge! In fact, it was over 300 ft long and weighed over 1,500 tons! As you probably guessed, this wasn't the same razorback as the University of Arkansas mascot. In fact, this razorback wasn't even alive. This razorback was the USS Razorback, a submarine built and deployed in the Pacific during World War II. Despite finding its final resting place in Arkansas, the Razorback was named after a species of whale, not a hog. Before boarding the ship, Jason and I played with some of its weapons.

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While I read the memorial for the submarine veterans, Jason sat in one of the deck guns and pretended to shoot enemy aircraft. Both of us were eager to head below deck.

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It was tight moving around in the sub. The ceilings were low and had plenty of objects that could knock your head. The first room we entered was the very rear of the ship which contained bunks and torpedoes. Our guide told us that the bunks always had someone sleeping in them (as soon as someone woke up, they switched places with someone on a different shift). Some of the bunks were under the torpedoes, only allowing about 8 inches of space. I couldn't imagine sleeping pressed against a torpedo as the ship bounced through the water!

Moving from section to section, we had to crawl through the bulkheads (yet another place you could bump your head). The next section we entered contained the controls for steering the submarine. It would be weird to have to drive a ship like this without being able to see (the periscope was in a totally different section of the boat!). There was only 8 people in our tour group, and we barely fit into any space. The typical crew was 80 sailors, but they could have up to 145 on the boat!

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You may have noticed that the controls and signs in the sub are in a foreign language. In 1970 the sub was sold to Turkey, who then used it for another 30 years.

We kept moving forward in the boat, passing the engineering room with the engines (which you can kind of see in the back of the picture of the guide). The sub was diesel powered, which meant that it had to stay near the surface to supply the engines with fresh air. The ship also contained tons and tons of lead batteries to power its systems when it went into a deep dive. Let me put this into perspective, as a sailor you slept in a room with 20 other guys hanging 16 inches above and below you with 2 locomotive-size diesel engines producing deafening noise, running in a metal tube that captured leaking exhaust, producing copious amounts of heat, and are sitting on top of tons of lead batteries. Oh, and everyone is smoking to pass the time. Who is ready to serve on a submarine?

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The guide is holding the emblem of the submarine that contained its kill record and rescue record (I forget how to actually interpret the symbols). We moved out of engineering and onto the bridge. We could look out of the periscope, look at maps, and see the communication equipment. There still wasn't much space, but it looked like a much better work environment than engineering. After walking through another set of bunks we entered the kitchen.

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The best part of living on the sub was the food. Two full time cooks were on staff and cooked nearly all day. The sailors ate very well, and rotated in and out of the small kitchen. There were pictures of the crew in the kitchen, and again I was surprised at the number of people smoking. You would think that fresh air would be at a premium on the boat, especially in the kitchen. We left the kitchen and walked through the captain's quarters and finally into the front torpedo section. This section was similar to the rear torpedo section, except the front had twice as many torpedoes and launching tubes.

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We left the sub and gulped down the fresh air. I had only been on the sub for about an hour, but it felt great to be back above deck. Jason and I had casually decided to take the tour, but it ended up being an incredible experience (granted we are two engineers that enjoy learning about this stuff).

Leaving the sub at the edge of the river, we walked back across the bridge to checkout the rest of downtown. The downtown area was easily walkable, and a lot of people were moving around (I think due to the boat show in the convention center). Several bars and restaurants lined the main drag, but our next destination was the Old State House Museum.

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The museum was interesting and had a lot of information about the people who settled in the area. Several exhibits explored the civil rights and how the Civil War affected the area. The most interesting exhibits had a lot of artifacts from the Civil War. The exhibit also detailed the veterans of the civil war, and how Little Rock hosted some type of Confederate Convention in the mid 20th century. Firstly, I was shocked that cities still held conventions for the Civil War 70 years after it ended (there were pictures of how the town went all out for the event). Secondly, I was astounded that still living veterans attending these events! The last Civil War veteran died in the 1950s. The last widow of a Civil War vet died in 2004!

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We left the museum and headed to grab a bite to eat. We passed the Peabody just before the traditional March of the Ducks and decided to "duck" in and watch. I had seen the ducks at the Memphis Peabody hotel, but Jason had never experienced it before. And you haven't lived until you see a herd of people stand around to watch ducks ride an elevator!

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For those that don't know, the Peabody hotel keeps several live ducks in the fountain in its lobby. Every morning the ducks come down from their rooftop enclosure via the elevator and jump in the fountain. Every evening, the ducks do this in the reverse. Each "march" brings in a crowd of people. A PA announcement came over the hotel speakers letting us know the marching of the ducks was getting ready to begin. The "duck conductor" gave us a well rehearsed speech on the history of the duck march, and then coerced the ducks to walk the red carpet to the elevator.

So far I had learned that Arkansawyers seem to enjoy mentioning the Razorbacks at every opportunity, holding festivals to celebrate the Confederacy history, and watching ducks. But we hadn't seen or heard much of their favorite son, Ex-governor and US President Bill Clinton, until now.

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Jason and I decided to get a quick view of the rest of downtown by riding the tram. The tram pretty much retraced the areas we had already been, but it was nice to get off our feet for a little bit. The best part of the ride was talking to the tram conductor. He was a true ambassador to Arkansas, discussing policies of Walmart (which is headquartered in Arkansas), mentioned the Razorbacks, tried to convince that we should always buy "Made In America" products, and talked about Bill Clinton at length. Despite a staunch republican, this tram conductor spoke of Clinton as if he could turn lead to gold. For the rest of our time in Arkansas, this would be a reoccurring theme. Here is a picture of our tram going over the river with downtown in the background.

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That night, each bar seemed to have some reference to Bill Clinton. We also happened to catch our second razorback sighting.

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The next morning we set off to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library (which was really just a museum to all things Bill Clinton). The bottom floor had display after display demonstrating Clinton's successes in gun protection, job creation, balancing the budget, etc. The displays were very nicely done, but each made it seem like our nation was on the verge of collapsing before he took the top office. And not a single display mentioned Monica Lewinsky or his impeachment. We moved on to some of the other floors to escape the Clinton dogma.

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The next floor described the life of Clinton. Clinton's childhood and college years were pretty inspiring. Clinton was portrayed as always having an interest in politics and being active in the community while still finding time to follow his passion of music. A picture of Hilary and Bill in college was particularly amusing, Bill was sporting a full beard and shaggy hair while Hilary had on "John Lennon" sunglasses. Here is a picture of Bill in high school in his band uniform and one of him with the Razorback pig call.

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The top floor of the museum was the most interesting. The top floor contained a gallery of all the gifts Bill Clinton received from countries around the world when he was president. Some of the things were just bizarre. The coolest rooms were the recreation of the Oval Office when Clinton occupied it and the Cabinet Room. Each president can decorate the Oval Office however they see fit, and most put knick-knacks or items of personal significance in the room. Clinton displayed busts of the presidents that he particularly admired and a collection of pins from across the 50 states.

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The recreation of the room is exact, down to the carpet and the presidential seal on the ceiling.

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The cabinet room allowed us to see where each member of the cabinet sat during their meetings. I took a picture in the Commander in Chief's chair!

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Our Little Rock trip was a success. We saw a Razorback, we learned something new about Arkansas, and we got to know our 42nd President on a more personal level. We are leaving the city now and heading to the Hot Springs for some rest and relaxation!

Posted by Mike.Flynn 01/23/2012 06:04 Archived in USA Tagged museum historical Comments (0)

Racing Around Indy

STATE 28 - INDIANA

overcast 45 °F

Indianapolis is a great city. I had planned on traveling up to Indy to take part in the Superbowl festivities, but an even bigger event popped up—Brian is getting married! Megan, Greg, and I drove up to Indianapolis to visit with 4 awesome cousins and watch Brian tie the knot!

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Last time I was in Indianapolis, my cousins took me all over the city. We went to a Pacers game (Indianapolis NBA Team), a Colts game (Indianapolis NFL Team), and even an Ice game (Indianapolis Minor League Hockey)! Despite all that, this trip to Indy would prove to be even more hectic.

One sports complex that I didn't get to see on my last trip was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400. On our first day back in Indianapolis, we headed over to see the track and the Hall of Fame Museum.

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We first went into the Hall of Fame Museum. The largest portion of the museum was a collection of cars that had won or participated in the Indy 500 or Brickyard 400. NASCAR cars, IndyCars (open wheeled race cars), funny cars, motorcycles, and land-speed record vehicles were just some of the vehicles located in the show room (some from the early 1900s). Memorabilia and timing equipment lined the walls. A trophy case showed medals and trophies from past races.

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The museum was interesting (especially how they used to keep track of race times using mechanical equipment), but the best part of visiting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was driving around the track! Unfortunately we couldn't take our own car, or even drive ourselves, but we did get to ride the full 2.5 miles around the track.

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As you can see we were in a bus traveling about 30 miles per hour. Indycars travel around the same loop at around 230 mph, which is a lap every 40 seconds (it took us over 5 minutes for a single lap)! Even at our much slower pace, driving down the straightaway towards the finish line was exciting. The stands towered over the racetrack and I pictured them being filled with screaming fans. This picture shows us getting read to cross the finish line (you can barely see the famous Pagoda on the left).

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The Indianapolis Motor Speedway race track used to be made entirely from bricks (hence the nickname Brickyard). Early races were different than they are today, as each car carried two participants, one driver and one mechanic. We learned at the Ford Museum in Dearborn that Henry Ford raced some of his first cars at the Indy 500. Over time, sections of the bumpy brick were paved over with smoother asphalt. In fact, only 3 feet of the original 2.5 miles of brick are still exposed which is located at the finish line.

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My cousins have crazy stories about attending the Indy 500 and about how the entire area around the race track is a giant party on race weekend (my uncle had to have his spleen removed after being hit by a motorcycle in college). The parking lots were empty on the cold, rainy, winter afternoon, but we decided to get the party started and head downtown to check out the Indianapolis night life.

We stopped to eat at Steak-n-Shake, a diner that serves the "original steakburger". People in Indianapolis are crazy for Steak-n-Shake (which is headquartered there). The burger was delicious, but my milkshake was even better.

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Indianapolis is relatively flat (just like Chicago), so it easy to see the sights while driving around, like Lucas Oil Stadium (where the Colts play and home of the 2012 Superbowl). Indianapolis was also a planned city, which means all the streets were laid out in a grid, and in a city as huge as Indy, you get stopped at plenty of stoplights that give you ample time to take in these sights.

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We had a blast in downtown (the bars don't close until 3 in Indianapolis!), but unfortunately I didn't bring my camera out with me. I also forgot my camera to Brian's wedding, which was a beautiful ceremony in the Indianapolis Historical Center. Since it was a military ceremony, Brian and Courtney walked through the Arch of Sabres (a cool thing to see). Unfortunately I will have to trust my memory with the images of these events instead of saving them here!

Our final day in Indianapolis was New Year's Eve. It was also the first game between the Ohio State (ranked #2 in the country) and Indiana
basketball teams. Despite a million things to do before the party that night, we all took a long break to watch Hoosier basketball. Just like back home in North Carolina, basketball is king in Indiana. The Hoosier fans were intense and passionate, and later they were ecstatic when the Hoosiers won!

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That night, fueled from the adrenaline of the big basketball win, we had a blast at the New Year's party. Power hour, beer pong, minute-to-win-it challenges, and flip cup kept the party lively. This Indy experience was unique to New Years 2012, it's unlikely you'd be able to repeat it (although I'm sure my cousins would love to try!).

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In craziness only rivaled by the Indy 500 party, a royal rumble broke out (I guess that's what happens when you have a wrestling coach, former wrestlers, and plenty of others fortified by alcohol in close proximity). Even Megan got in on the action. Thankfully everyone's spleen remained intact.

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Our trip to Indy was a lot of fun, the trip home was not. It was tough to resist the temptation drive the 11 hour trip back home at an IndyCar speed of 230mph!

Posted by Mike.Flynn 01/01/2012 10:54 Archived in USA Tagged museum professional_sports Comments (0)

Columbus, Ohio

OHIO - PART II

sunny 30 °F

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Columbus is The Ohio State University. Maybe it is the number of times I have heard players emphasize the "The" when announcing their school on Monday Night Football. Regardless of the reason, it was our first stop when driving into Columbus.

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It reminded me a little of NC State, probably due to the color red that was everywhere. Students were on winter break when we arrived, so we didn't see many people walking around campus. I wanted to see the football stadium since it is one of the largest in the nation (Megan was more interested in finding a buckeye). The football stadium isn't the only large part to this campus, Ohio State has the third largest campus in the country. It took us a while to walk down to the football stadium.

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The stadium was pretty large, but the cool part was the river that passed right by the stadium. Across the river you could see the basketball arena. We rested our legs by leaning over the bridge and watching logs get trapped against the supports of the bridge.

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On the other side of the football stadium was a courtyard that had been planted with rows of buckeye trees. Apparently the first 22 were planted in a football formation, but all the others honored the top football players that had played at Ohio State. I took a picture of Megan looking for buckeyes that may still be remaining on the ground.

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We made our way back through campus to grab a quick bite to eat. The only restaurant that looked open was Wendy's, and they had the Bengals game on TV! I never get to watch the Bengals live in Raleigh, so we took our time with our bowls of chili to watch the game.

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Before the sun went down, we wanted to check out another section of town called German Village. As the name would suggest, German Village was originally settled by German immigrants. This area of town still has streets made of brick (with a trough in the middle for horse whiz and snow runoff). All the homes used traditional Christmas decorations. German Village was pretty, but the look comes with a steep price. A medium sized house was listed for over a million dollars!

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German Village has some traditional shops and restaurants as well. One restaurant in particular had caught Megan's eye on The Food Network's Man vs. Food for its Sausage Autobahn, an all-you-can-eat sausage buffet. German food mean German beer, so was I all for it. We stopped for dinner at Schmidt's Sausage Haus.

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Schmidt's was packed! Luckily we didn't have to wait for a table since we only had 2 people, but we got shot some dirty looks when we bypassed everyone in line upon checking in. After a quick glance at the menu, we both decided on the Sausage Autobahn. Schmidt's makes 4 types of homemade sausage along with a large variety of other traditional German foods, and it all looked delicious (I hadn't seen German food this good since we were in Sheboygan). While I took my time trying to get a little of everything, Megan took off at 100 mph down the Sausage Autobahn.

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After multiple returns to the buffet, I couldn't even look at another sausage. Unfortunately for me, Schmidt's has another delicious tradition—giant creme puffs. These creme puffs took two hands to eat and were jam packed with different flavors of creme, and they were fantastic!

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We ordered one extra creme puff as a gift for our Couch Surfing host in Columbus. We left Schmidts (slowly since we were so stuffed) and headed back through downtown. Our host for the night, Tom, wanted to meet us at a local bar near his house. Just like James (our Cleveland host), Tom was easy to talk to and had a ton of stories to tell us about Columbus. I talked to Tom about life in Raleigh and Cincinnati while Megan slowly drifted into a sausage-induced coma. After a couple of beers, we headed back to the house and crashed for the night. Tom was such a great host that he went late to work the next morning to take us out to breakfast at a diner around the corner from his house.

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The real reason for our trip to Michigan/Ohio was the Columbus Zoo. Megan knew that I absolutely love zoos and discovered that the Columbus Zoo is one of the highest rated zoos in the world (largely because of the work of director "Jungle Jack" Hanna). When Southwest offered $100 tickets to Columbus (I guess people don't like flying north in the middle of winter), it sounded like an awesome opportunity. We said goodbye to Tom and made our way to the zoo.

Despite the zoo's popularity, it was empty on Monday morning (I'm sure the sub 30s temperature didn't help either). We had the zoo to ourselves. Unfortunately, many of the outdoor exhibits were closed for the season, so we had to observe the animals in their inside enclosures.

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The zoo was pretty large, but it didn't seem too much larger than some of the other zoos I had visited. What made the Columbus Zoo so nice was the extensive detail put into all the enclosures. The aquariums were stunning and enormous. The reptile house and bat house were made to accommodate large groups of people. The manatee enclosure made me feel like I was standing on a dock in Florida.

Some of the more active animals were the gorillas and bonobos (a primate that looks similar to a chimpanzee). We were able to stand right next to the gorillas (they were eye level and only separated by a pane of glass). Two younger gorillas wrestled on the ground while the large male occasionally broke up the fighting. He also gave Megan a look when she sat down next to him!

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The bonobos had just been fed when we walked by their enclosure, so they were very active. Their enclosure looked like an elementary school playground, filled with slides and monkey bars. It was astonishing to see how quickly and easily they climbed around the enclosure (sometimes scaling the walls using only the tiny bolts that secured the glass). One bonobo was playing with a spinning seat by throwing objects into the seat and spinning it around until they went flying out. Even the baby was playing around by going up and down the slide.

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We wandered through the Australian animals, the African animals, and the South American animals, but about half of these exhibits were closed or could only view the animals indoors. The real action was in the North America section which had all of its outdoor exhibits still open.

We saw a wolverine lounging in a hole, bald eagles eating mice, and an arctic fox chewing on its enclosure. These animals were all very active, moving around their enclosures and playing.

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There are too many animals to even try to name all the ones we saw. Deer, bison, reindeer, wolves, foxes, antelope, goats, pigs—the list goes on and on. Megan did her best to look Canadian by posing with a moose holding her Tim Horton's coffee.

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The bears were some of the scarier exhibits. The polar bear was big, but it was nothing compared to the grizzlies that were sleeping up against the glass. These things were gigantic! After seeing these guys, maybe I should have been a little more nervous on our early morning hike in Glacier National Park!

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We spent nearly 6 hours walking around the zoo, and that's with no lines and some of the exhibits closed. I'm sure Megan was getting tired of me spouting off my ancient Ranger Rick knowledge (for those that don't remember Ranger Rick, it was a kid's animal magazine). Despite our tired legs and Megan's tired ears, we enthusiastically entered the last animal house. We had saved a special treat for last, the elephants (there was a baby elephant).

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I could have spent another whole day at the zoo, but we had to leave. Our flight back to Raleigh was leaving in a couple of hours. Sausages and animals, I don't know if I could have asked for more.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 12/12/2011 12:30 Archived in USA Tagged animals beer colleges local_food Comments (0)

Cleveland, Ohio

STATE 27 - OHIO

sunny 30 °F

After seeing Lake Michigan while walking around Chicago and drinking beer in Milwaukee, I was eager to see my second Great Lake, Lake Erie! Megan and I are off to Cleveland!

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I kept going to Cleveland a secret. My family in Cincinnati and friends in Pittsburgh would give me grief about making a special trip to see Cleveland. Cincinnatians and Pittsburghers see little reason to visit Cleveland, whether the reason comes from basic city pride or from their hatred of rival sports teams. Personally, it felt weird that I lived in Ohio and still return to the state multiple times a year, but had never ventured outside the southwest corner of the state where Cincinnati is located. It was time to see whether all the anti-Cleveland bias was warranted.

Being wintertime, it was dark as we drove into the city. I was surprised that Cleveland didn't have a larger skyline, it seemed like only a couple of tall buildings stood by themselves. The traffic was light, and it wasn't too difficult to find street parking downtown. For several years now, Flintosh, my next door neighbor, has tasked me with transporting beer from a Cleveland brewery (purchased in Pittsburgh) back to Raleigh. Great Lakes Brewing Company makes a seasonal Christmas Ale, a strong and spicy beer that is absolutely delicious. Our first stop was the Great Lakes Brewing Company for a couple of pints.

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We arrived just in time to watch Indiana take on top ranked Kentucky, and it is hard to beat drinking beer while watching college basketball. The bar was lively, and soon it was standing room only. After sampling several of the brewery's beers, we had to leave to meet our "host" for the evening.

One of the challenges Megan and I face when traveling is getting the "authentic experience". I read the entries on WikiTravel and other people's travel blogs, I do research on TripAdvisor, and sometimes I can find relevant articles in my travel magazines. I like museums, but only when they talk about topics unique to the city or state. I steer clear of touristy destinations, like shopping or high-scale dining, or even worse, the dreaded tourist trap. I want to experience the city like a resident does; local food, local beer, and local activities. On this trip, Megan and I are trying something totally new—Couch Surfing.

The idea behind couch surfing is that you connect with a local resident by sleeping on their couch (or extra bed if they have one). Your host can help you plan activities or take you around town if they are available. You don't have to sleep on someone's couch to get travel tips, as CouchSurfing.org offers forums and groups to gain extra information. Megan was not sold on the idea of staying in a stranger's house, but she agreed to at least try it out.

Our host wanted to meet us at a local favorite in Cleveland, Melt Bar & Grill. Upon arriving at the restaurant, we met James and waited for a table to become available. I had pleaded with Megan to act cool and stop freaking out, and I could see her start to settle down once she had met James. The beers consumed at the brewery were starting to catch up with my bladder, and I had to visit the little men's room. Upon my return, I learned that I left Megan alone too soon. She confessed immediately, "I blew it! I told James I was glad he wasn't a serial killer!"

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As you can see, James is a really just a nice guy willing to take time on a Saturday night to hang out with travelers to his city. Melt was an awesome suggestion, as everything on their menu is a variation of a grilled cheese. Megan opted for the mac-n-cheese grilled cheese (shown below), while I got the massive Italian with 5 kinds of meat.

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We hung for a while at the restaurant before heading back to James's place. We crashed, woke up, said goodbye to our (non serial killer) host and went downtown to finally see Lake Erie!

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The water at Lake Erie looked totally different than the water in Lake Michigan. The water in Lake Michigan looked refreshing, whereas the water here looked murky. We were also right next to the port, and I have never seen water at a port or marina that looked inviting.

We walked along the waterfront to see the Cleveland Browns Stadium and the Rock-n-Roll hall of fame (check out Megan rocking out in front of the museum).

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I guess now I can say that I have been to Cleveland, and the experience was better than I expected (although I'll admit that my expectations for Cleveland were set pretty low). Megan and I toyed with the idea of checking out some of the other sights around the city, but decided we'd rather move on to Columbus and check out Ohio's capital (yet another city in Ohio that I had never visited). So long Cleveland, don't tell my friends and family I was here!

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 12/11/2011 13:52 Archived in USA Tagged brewery local_food Comments (0)

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