Knoxville (my hometown) is four hours away from Cincinnati. I’ve always heard people saying what a great place Cincinnati is. But I never did more than drive through (and that not often) until Labor Day weekend two years ago.
We had a particular reason for visiting that weekend–we wanted to see a very special exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center. We bought our tickets just about as soon as we heard about this exhibit and it was every bit as thrilling as we expected.
Since we were in the museum, we decided to take a peek at another exhibit, which turned out to be even more of a thrill for this English major.
After the Museum, we decided to do a little sightseeing.
All of the above photos were taken in Fountain Square. The fountain itself is a Cincinnati icon, and is well-known to anyone who ever watched the opening credits of WKRP in Cincinnati (which was why John wanted to go there). Anyway, it is a beautiful landmark.
Whenever we visit a new place, we try to go to the Cathedral if there is one. Cincinnati has a beautiful one, Saint Peter in Chains.
Just across the street from the Cathedral is this magnificent edifice, the Plum Street Temple, one of only two Jewish temples of this style in the country and reminiscent of those destroyed in the Holocaust.
As you can see, we had a really full day. As was the next one, when we visited the Cincinnati Zoo, the second-oldest zoo in the United States and one of the best in the country.
Like cathedrals, we make it a point to visit zoos wherever we go. And we take them seriously, trying to make sure we see every exhibit. We saw every animal in this enormous zoo, and it took us EIGHT HOURS. The photos below represent only a very small sample.
And that was the end of our short but very busy visit to Cincinnati. Have you ever been there?
Growing up in Tennessee, New York City was to me the epitome of everything frightening about Up North: crime, noise, crowds, and unfriendly people. Two stops in the Port Authority bus terminal while in college confirmed all my worse fears. I had very little desire to see more of the place.
John had several friends in college who were New York natives, plus he grew up in Baltimore, which is only five hours away, so he had been to the city several times and rightly thought I was silly. He thought taking the kids there for Fall Break last year would be a great idea–they very much wanted to go–and he was right.
Typically, I took about a million pictures, and that is what most of this post will consist of, with some travel tips and deep thoughts sprinkled throughout. 🙂
Travel tip #1: Have friends in New York who let you stay with them for free. 🙂
Mandi, Sameer, and their three kids live in this beautiful home in an historic Brooklyn neighborhood and they were the most welcoming and generous hosts ever. Mandi is John’s stepsister’s daughter which I guess makes her my step-niece by marriage, but she just says we are cousins which is a lot easier and more accurately reflects our actual relationship. We had fun spending time with them and we could not have been more comfortable.
We could have taken the subway, which was right around the corner, but we blew all the money we saved on lodging by Ubering everywhere instead because we are wimps. Our very first Uber driver spoke only Chinese and did not know how to get to the ferry for the Statue of Liberty, which we all agreed should be our first destination. We made it though!
Travel tip #2: Allow each traveler to pick a couple of must-visit attractions, since there is no way to see everything in one trip. The Statue was one we all agreed on.
Travel tip #3: City Pass. We bought these in advance and it guaranteed us tickets to all the things we most wanted to see and saved us money and time in lines.
There is a park where you wait for the ferry, and this sculpture of immigrants to to the United States is prominently displayed there, a visual reminder of the “tired and poor . . . huddled masses . . . and wretched refuse” welcomed for so long by Lady Liberty.
We were grateful for no rain as we approached the island, but sad that visibility was not that great.
Y’all, I may have gone a little crazy taking pictures of the Statue, but you know what? I don’t care. I could have stayed there with her all day. This was by far the most meaningful part of our whole vacation to me. We didn’t book early enough to get to go inside the Statue, but we listened to the audio tour, explored the gift shop, had lunch, and walked everywhere we could. I might have cried a little, thinking about what Lady Liberty stands for and how far our country seems to have strayed from those ideals. I did not want to leave.
Finally we said good-bye and boarded the ferry for our next stop, Ellis Island. If I had known there was so much to see there, I might have left the Statue sooner. There was room upon room of exhibits, full of information about the history of the Island and the people who were processed there on their journey to America.
We took one last trip on the ferry back to where we began, and got a good look at the monument below to American soldiers who died in the Atlantic during the Second World War.
It was getting late and we wanted to squeeze a few for sights in before heading back to Brooklyn, which leads to Travel Tip #4: Visit sites in the same general location on the same day. I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but it requires figuring out where things are in advance if you are in an unfamiliar place. The walking directions that Siri provided were helpful in getting us quickly to our last stops of the day, one specifically requested by William and one by Lorelei.
Here is what William wanted to see, and you can tell how happy it made him!
Lorelei wanted to visit the graveyard of Trinity Church to see the grave of Alexander Hamilton, since she was (and nearly a year later remains) obsessed with the musical Hamilton. Sadly, the churchyard was locked for the evening, but we still got a decent view.
And after that we headed back to Brooklyn to rest up for the next day’s adventures!
We spent the majority of our second day at NYC at Ground Zero. And yet I did not take nearly as many pictures as I did the other days. There is something about the 9/11 Museum that demands reverence and attention. It’s a place I wanted to fully immerse myself in rather than stand outside of and evaluate. Most of the images below were probably taken within the first hour we were there, then I stopped until we were at the outside portion of the memorial.
The flowers indicate a birthday. We were especially moved that unborn children were commemorated.
The new World Trade Center building, Freedom Tower, is impressive:
We didn’t go up to the observatory, though–we had different skyscraper plans, as you will see. We ended day two with dinner in a neighborhood Italian place in Brooklyn.
Bright and early the next morning we got up, ate, and went outside to wait for our Uber. We had a long day ahead of us.
The Natural History Museum was our first stop. We spent several hours there. It wore me out. I don’t know why but as much as I enjoy them I find museums exhausting.
I am just going to dump a lot of pictures below as I believe they will speak for themselves.
As you can see, we spent most of our time with the dinosaurs. I have just a few more pictures of some other things we saw:
We walked to our next stop, which was less than a mile away. We didn’t have time to walk through Central Park but at least we caught a glimpse:
Here’s another famous landmark we happened to pass and were excited to see, which I will admit we all recognized because of Moonstruck, my favorite movie of all time:
Our actual destination was the Church of Saint Paul the Apostle. This is the Mother Church for the Missionary Society of Saint Paul the Apostle, otherwise known as the Paulist Fathers, the priests who have staffed my parish church since I was a very little girl. Our former pastor, Father Joe Ciccone, who baptized Lorelei, was the pastor at Saint Paul at the time, although we had slight hopes of seeing him given that it was after five when we arrived.
We took some time to wander around and pray inside the church. Travel Tip #5, for Catholics anyway, if there’s a cathedral or other notable church where you are vacationing, spend some time there. It will be beautiful and it’s free!
While the kids and I were wandering around, John made a call and discovered that the office was still open so we decided to go around the corner and see if Father Joe was still around.
He was! We had a short visit with him–the reason he was still there was that he had a dinner engagement nearby–and then we proceeded to our next BIG event!
I won’t lie–the crowd was big and the lines were long, although our City Pass helped. But it was worth it!
Wow, that was a long day. We got home late and exhausted, but we still pressed forward the next morning with more big adventures in store.
Our first stop on our last full day in New York was by William’s request. William has favorites of many things, and that includes a favorite building, the Chrysler Building. For many years he has talked about what a beautiful building it is, and we had promised we would make sure to include it in our trip. The evening before he had already seen it all lighted up from afar as we stood on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, but he wanted to see it up close.
Just see how happy he is!
Unfortunately you can no longer go upstairs in the building unless you have legitimate business there, so we had to content ourselves with spending time in the lobby.
We thought we were humoring William, but the truth is that we were grateful for his obsession because it truly is a beautiful building and we were all glad we got to see it.
You know a person could spend days in here, right? So we knew we would have to choose where to concentrate our efforts deliberately.
William wanted to see the Egyptian displays, and they were close at hand, so we started there.
Lorelei and I wanted to see paintings. William did not want to leave Egypt. So we left him there with John and headed upstairs.
Lorelei was especially interested in seeing the Van Gogh collection.
I cannot express what it is like to be absolutely surrounded by fabulous and famous works of art. In every direction were works that were very familiar to us.
We were especially excited to see the painting below, a replica of which hangs on our family room wall!
At one point, Lorelei and I sat down in a random room just to rest and when we got up to leave we realized we had been sitting in a room full of priceless Picasso paintings without even noticing!
Having accomplished our main goal, we headed back downstairs to reunite with John and William, get a snack in the museum restaurant, and view some of the medieval collection.
Most of this collection had religious significance of course and we were mesmerized both by that and by the age of some of the pieces which were over 1000 years old.
Then it was sadly time to go back to Brooklyn and pack up to leave the next morning.
John had one final surprise for me. We made a detour to Queens as we left the next morning and stopped to take a picture of this:
This is the Castorini home in the movie Moonstruck which as I have already mentioned is my favorite film of all time and which also holds special memories for us as we saw it on our first “dating anniversary” in February 1988.
We drove home by way of Baltimore. John and the kids spent time with his mother while I was fortunate enough to attend a Catholic blogging conference nearby. It was a magnificent trip and I cannot believe it was already a year ago!
A quick look at the summer fun the Shollys had in June . . .
The first week of the month, Emily and Lorelei were in Nashville, which made for a very quiet house. Things got lively mid-week, when Jake and Jessica dropped in for a day to leave their dog, Homer, with us while they went to Bonnaroo. We had Homer, an energetic young German shepherd, for over a week.
So as soon as Emily and Lorelei returned we started taking the dogs to the park daily. We made it more fun by trying a second dog park nearby, this one with a pond.
The weekend after Homer left was Father’s Day. We all went to Mass, of course, and stopped at McKay’s Used Books on the way home. We let John choose the agenda, and ended up going to Texas Roadhouse later in the evening.
The following Wednesday was our much anticipated visit to the Chattanooga Zoo, which I highly recommend. It’s compact–you can see the whole thing in two hours, but packed full of interesting animals, including some–jaguars, an anteater, coyotes, and more–that we had never seen in a zoo before. And then we treated ourselves to Waffle House on the way home.
Honestly, since then our summer has pretty much looked like this:
And as far as all my ambitious home improvement projects, aside from getting some more pictures hung up (which is actually a pretty big deal) I’ve spent whatever energy I have on the yard, using my new battery-operated weedeater to try to carve some order out of the backyard, some portions of which are almost as tall as I am.
John and I started June with a trip and we are starting July with one as well–our very first cruise, in honor of our upcoming 30th anniversary. Watch my instagram for pictures! Once again Emily will be in charge of providing summer fun for the kids, but I still have a few things planned for when we return.
I sure do, both because it was fun and because it seems like it happened a few weeks ago instead of a year ago. But if you think I am getting ready to tell you how I am getting ready to do it all again you’d be wrong.
We are going to have some fun this summer, but not quite as often. And this summer the kids are going to help me more with what I find fun, which is getting the house in shape.
So there won’t be enough going on to justify a weekly blog post, but I’ll pop in from time to time to share this summer’s adventures, starting today.
Summer break started with a bang, with our traditional last-day-of-school ice cream cones:
Which was followed by super-Catholic way to start vacation, venerating the heart of Saint Jean Vianney:
On Sunday after Mass we had a graduation party to attend which happened to be near the zoo so we dropped the kids there for their first solo trip! We had a family cookout for Memorial Day, complemented by strawberries Emily grew and Lorelei (mostly) harvested:
The next day we had a fun cousin adventure, including introducing Leo and Ella to the lake:
And being introduced ourselves to Hoskins Drug Store, which has a lunch counter that hasn’t changed since the 1930s:
Emily was responsible for summer fun over the next few days, since John and I were in Washington, DC for my college reunion (about which more later, most likely). She managed another trip to the zoo, daily visits to the dog park, and the new Godzilla movie. Right after we returned she and Lorelei left for a week in Nashville and things have been pretty boring around here without them. John and I are pretending William is an only child. We took him to the Korean restaurant one night and this evening we are going back to the Godzilla movie!
And under the category of getting the house organized, we have spent an hour cleaning William’s room (more must be done), cleaned and organized one half of the front porch (the dirtier half!), installed two garden hoses and mounts for them, and accomplished a couple of long-overdue projects in the basement.
And I’ve got more planned on both the fun and the organization fronts. If you find any of this remotely interesting, watch this space for semi-regular updates.
School started yesterday. Our summer is over even though there is a month and a half left in the season!
There wasn’t a whole lot of time for fun in our last week. It was actually a pretty typical week from one of our other summers–I worked every day and the kids stared at screens. But that was the ONLY week that was true this summer so I’m calling it a win.
There was a lot to do, as there always is when school is about to start, like haircuts:
And although I bought supplies online, we still spent most of Saturday shopping because Lorelei needed new clothes.
I promised everyone a trip to the lake in the afternoon, though, and I delivered on that promise.
On Monday, we had our last big adventure. I have no pictures to commemorate it, but we wore ourselves out spending maybe three hours at an enormous antique mall. The kids thoroughly enjoyed it and each got to bring home a few items.
On Tuesday, we went for ice cream just once more as a last day of vacation treat.
And then on Wednesday school began. No way would William let me photograph him on such an occasion. You can see how thrilled Lorelei is to have to go back to regular school.
Thanks for following along on our summer adventures. Knowing I was going to be blogging about them helped motivate me to continue, and continuing gave me something regular to write about, so it was a great idea all around and I will plan to repeat it next year.
It was the second to last full week of summer break, and my pace was slowing, but we still had some fun times!
On Tuesday we had breakfast at Nick and J’s, a former Waffle House now locally owned and serving breakfast and lunch, with the most enormous pancakes I have ever seen. William ate two entire orders of French Toast.
We followed up breakfast with our very first visit to Plumb Creek Park, which is a five minute walk from our house, that is if there were any safe way to walk there. Y’all, I’ve known they were building this park eventually since we moved in, which was seven years ago, so I was super excited to finally get to walk around there. The walking trails are not quite finished but I foresee this as a great exercise spot when it gets cooler.
On Thursday I kept a promise made two weeks ago when we stumbled across Bull Run Park, and took the kids swimming there. I highly recommend it. It’s not crowded. it’s shady, and the water temperature is comfortable. I found it soothing and peaceful. But we are buying water shoes before we return because Lorelei cut her foot on something. It’s not a swimming pool, y’all.
Friday we left town for a long-planned trip to Nashville, which is about three hours west of us. The trip had a dual purpose. First, to visit my sister and her family, and for the kids to see her house; and second, to go the Nashville Zoo. Both parts of the trip were successful.
We visited on Friday and went to the zoo Saturday morning. Someday I will write a whole post about the zoo and share more pictures, but the short version is that we were there for about five hours, and it was delightful, with lots of shade, happy animals in lovely habitats, and more opportunities for interacting with the animals than is typical in our experience. William declared it one of his favorite zoos.
Last week I fell far short of my promised one-fun-thing-per-day promise. I had a good excuse, though–I went to Nashville from Wednesday until Saturday to visit my sister. Emily kindly provided some entertainment for her siblings in my stead, taking them blueberry picking. And John took them to a “magnificent” (according to William) Asian restaurant to dine while I was gone.
But we did have one big adventure on Tuesday, one that did not turn out at all as I had planned!
We lived in South Knoxville when the big kids were little, and every Wednesday morning for years I used to take them to breakfast at Shoney’s. Shoney’s was a big favorite for our family back then because we didn’t have a lot of money, we had a lot of mouths to feed, and kids ate free at the buffet!
So just about every summer since then we make a point to head south to that same Shoney’s to recreate some of that long ago summer fun. Usually there’s a waitress or two there who still remembers us from back in the day (not this time, sadly).
That’s what the plan was on Tuesday, to be followed by a quick trip to the Fort Dickerson Overlook, perhaps a short walk on a trail, and visits to Scottish Pike Park and the new Suttree Landing Park that William and Lorelei have never seen.
Most of that will have to wait until another day, as you will see!
After a big breakfast, we drove up to Fort Dickerson Park and went to admire the view from the overlook. I will never forget the first time I saw this view, about 25 years ago. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing–it was like I was in some enchanted faraway land instead of about a mile from downtown Knoxville.
Now, I’ve been to Fort Dickerson many times, but this time I saw something new–a trail just to the left of the overlook.
And that’s when I had a bright idea. Why don’t we explore it, I said. Let’s just see where it goes, I said. We can always turn around and come back.
So we braved the kudzu and started to walk.
And we walked. And we walked. And we sort of committed. Eventually it was clear that we were walking right around the lake. I figured we’d end up at the bottom (I’ve taken a trail that goes there from a different parking lot) and then surely there would be a way back on the other side.
Sure enough, after a fairly easy walk we ended up exactly where I thought, and we started hunting for that other trail. At first things seemed to go fairly well, and we made our way along the opposite side of the lake, heading in exactly the direction we were supposed to.
Until, that is, we ended up at a very dead end, standing right on the bank of the lake with a sheer cliff several hundred feet tall in front of us.
So we doubled back to where we had taken what was clearly the wrong fork and kept walking, only to eventually realize the trail we were on did nothing but circle us back–after a long time, I might add–to an area close to where it began.
By now we had come to realize that there WAS no trail on the other side. We had two choices for how to get back to the car–take the trail we’d come down to begin with, or leave the park and go by road.
Did I mention that it was about a million degrees by now? (Well, at least 90 anyway.) And we didn’t bring water. We were tired, exhausted, and dehydrated as we made our way to the parking lot and thence to Chapman Highway, which if you are not local I need to explain is NOT the kind of road you really want to walk on.
Fortunately, there is a sidewalk–on the wrong side, naturally–and we were able to find a safe way to cross the highway. We trudged doggedly up the hill and then crossed back over to the park entrance and finally made it to the car. Y’all, we had walked FOUR MILES.
We drove straight to Weigel’s and bought Icees and much water, which I actually poured right on my head. I apologized A LOT for my poor leadership skills. But it was an adventure! Read more of our summer adventures below! Why We Can’t Have a 70s Summer and What We Are Doing Instead The Summer Fun Continues . . . More Summer Fun Summer Fun Update Summer Fun: Vacation That 70s Summer In Which I Grow Lazy Exploring History
Y’all, it is HOT. And our access to a swimming pool is gone. It is hard to want to leave the air conditioning to have summer adventures, but we managed three days of fun this week.
I couldn’t get it together till Wednesday, when we had to leave the house for an appointment anyway. Immediately thereafter, we drove downtown to visit Blount Mansion.
I vividly remember my own first encounter with this bit of Tennessee history as part of a seventh grade field trip–I was unimpressed and thought it wasn’t much of a mansion at all! This time I was absolutely enthralled with such details as panes of glass installed in 1792–the first glass windows in town–and still there to be looked through over 200 years later, and the desk on which the Tennessee Constitution was signed, and William Blount’s very own fancy shoe buckles still in their original box.
Our guide did a great job of bringing history to life for us. We spent close to two hours in the museum, the house, and the gardens, and Lorelei was NOT bored which she had come expecting to be.
Thursday we went out for ice cream for the third time this summer. (Did I mention it was hot?) Lorelei and I enjoyed it but William did not like how fast the ice cream melted in the heat (we were very messy by the end!).
Friday was really exciting. Last week William had a follow-up appointment with his oral surgeon in Oak Ridge. There was a traffic jam along our usual route back over the Clinch River to Knoxville, and Siri routed us a way I had never seen before. Along this lovely country road we spied signs for an historic cabin and cemetery, and we passed right by a park. On Friday, I told the kids we were having an adventure and we drove back to explore these places.
We discovered that Bull Run Park has a swimming area and made plans to go back and enjoy it!
Next we headed to the David Hall Cabin, and were conducted on an informative tour of this two-hundred-year old cabin and a couple more by the one of the owners, whose wife’s father was raised in it. The Baumgartners live behind the cabins on four of the original 50 acres. We thanked Mr. Baumgartner for all he and his family continue to do to preserve this history for us to enjoy and learn from!
I’ll admit it–it is harder to have fun all the time than you might think. Honestly, I really, really like sitting at my desk having uninterrupted time to get work done. Leaving the house is stressful, and sandwiching fun in between not only work but also family business like medical appointments (two this week) is not easy.
So this week I outsourced some of the fun to John, and therefore this post will be short on pictures even though the week was not short on fun!
On Monday evening, John took the kids to see The Incredibles 2. John and the kids all love movies, me not so much, so that’s been “his thing” since the big kids were little.
Tuesday I took the kids and Emily out to breakfast at Maple Street Biscuit Company, a newish place that I had been passing daily while picking up William at school and had been dying to try. If there’s one where you are, you should go. Only William was not a fan, because the waffles had infinitesimally tiny bacon pieces in them which he admitted he could not taste but had to remove one by one anyway.
Wednesday was the Fourth of July (I’m sure that is not news to you). We had a cookout at our house with my family. We had planned to go downtown for the symphony and fireworks show afterwards but it was like a million degrees so instead we took William’s suggestion (actually his demand) and watched Independence Day, which is definitely one of my top ten favorite movies of all time. Bonus: everyone in our neighborhood was shooting off fireworks like crazy and we could see them through our windows without leaving the television or the air conditioning.
Thursday was the big event of the week, planned for some time since I had bought a Groupon for it months ago–a visit to Rainforest Adventures, which is an hour’s drive away in Sevierville.
Things I liked: it was mostly inside and air-conditioned, we could see the animals up close and they seemed very happy and well-cared for.
Thing I did NOT like: The overwhelming stench of animal urine that greeted us the moment we walked in the gift shop and literally made me feel ill throughout the two hours we were there.
Here are a few highlights:
Our fun summer continued last week with a little less creativity needed on my part, since we were on our actual vacation!
We traveled to Beech Mountain, North Carolina, to stay at a timeshare provided by my oldest friend and her family. We had a wonderful time and I took so many beautiful pictures that I would love to devote a longer post to it, but this is not that post! Instead, in keeping with what I’ve been doing, I’ll hit the high points and show a couple of pictures of each day’s special activity.
The kids and I (John was still working) drove up Friday afternoon. It’s three hours from Knoxville, most of it through beautiful scenery. John arrived at midnight and our friends the following day. Saturday was for sleeping in and relaxing.
On Sunday we took a short hike, and were rewarded with close-up deer and a beautiful view at the top.
Later in the afternoon we went down to nearby Banner Elk, looked around a bit, and celebrated Father’s Day with dinner out (and had a close encounter with another wild animal!).
Monday we drove to Boone and did a little browsing in some of the interesting shops there.
After lunch we visited Mystery Hill, a tourist attraction involving a mysterious “vortex” that causes people’s apparent height to change, water to run uphill, and some other fun effects. The complex also contained a Native American museum, a restored 1800s home, and a fairly impressive dinosaur museum.
Tuesday was another quiet day, with only a visit to the local general store, because we were waiting for Emily to arrive. The kids were more than ready to hit the road again on Wednesday, when we visited Linville Caverns and then took a hike to Linville Falls, just on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
After our walk, we stopped at a quaint roadside antique shop/dessert parlor.
Thursday brought the event the kids had been most excited about–Grandfather Mountain. I can’t recommend this attraction enough. The animal habitats allow you to get very close to some animals who were formerly native to the area. We were particularly excited about the cougars.
We enjoyed the museum, some fudge, and a nature hike before driving to the top of the mountain.
And the views up there defy description–especially those from the far side of the Mile-High Swinging Bridge.
Checkout was Friday morning, and Emily and the kids and I went a little out of the way home to visit Creation Kingdom Zoo just over the Virginia state line in Gate City. I had discovered its existence earlier this summer while researching nearby zoos. We spent a happy two hours there feeding some animals and seeing some that were new to our experience. William was especially excited about the spotted hyenas.
We got back to Knoxville in the early evening and have spent most of the time since recovering from the vacation! I plan to take it easy this week–if the kids will allow it.