Posted in: Animal Sightings, Exploring Ohio, Sightseeing

Cincinnati Zoo

It has been years since we have been to the zoo. Ben and I decided to have a date day at the zoo. It was a nice sunny day, so although it was a little crowded, we enjoyed walking around. If you have never been to the Cincinnati Zoo before, you should know that it is hilly, so I always feel I get a nice walk/workout in while there.

Cincinnati Zoo Date Day, Zoo Map (click to enlarge)

The main thing we wanted to see was Roo Valley, which was a new exhibit since we had last been there. There was a little bit of a line, but it moved relatively quickly. When you get up to the exhibit, you are placed into a holding pen (we jokingly called it the Human Exhibit for the kangaroos). The zookeeper gives a few safety items and then you can walk into the kangaroo exhibit! There is no touching allowed, but you are walking through their exhibit. There are nine kangaroos at the zoo, although we only saw about five.

Roo Valley (click to enlarge)

There is a blue penguin exhibit also attached to Roo Valley, although it was closed while we were there.

The zoo also has wallabies, but they were not easily seen while we were there. You can book a private experience with the wallabies where you may be able to touch them and give them a snack. How cool would that be?!

We saw the tortoises (also a new to us exhibit), giraffes and the rest of the Africa exhibit, and of course Fiona and the other hippos.

Zoo Animals (click to enlarge)

I want to go back with the kids over the summer. It’s been just as long for them seeing the zoo and I think they will get a kick out of seeing the new exhibits. Nick will love the tortoises and Roo Valley has a climbing course, the Kanga Klimb, opening up that I think both of them will love.

Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Hiking, Museums & Tours, School, Sightseeing

Off To Prison: Exploring the Ohio State Reformatory

Ben and I had both seen the movie Shawshank Redemption many years ago. (Who hasn’t at this point?) With our post-trip adventure spirit of wanting to see new things, we decided to finally see the Ohio State Reformatory (aka the OSR). What do the two have in common? Parts of Shawshank were filmed at the OSR. The Ohio State Reformatory closed in 1990, after a lawsuit filed by prisoners citing conditions and overcrowding.

The prison does not have all of the outbuildings anymore, but the main building is still standing. The architecture is amazing and gives an imposing castle-like appearance.

(Ohio State Reformatory (OSR) Exterior Images: click to enlarge)
(OSR Interior Images, Tour Details, Handcuff queue barrier: click to enlarge)
(OSR Interior Images: click to enlarge)

There are two wings to the prison: East Block and West Block. The East Block was the second cell block built and holds the record for being the “largest free-standing steel cell block“. The West Block was built first and is made with concrete. This part of the prison was supposedly better for temperature control (concrete as an insulator, versus metal heats up in the summer).

EAST BLOCK IMAGES:

(East Cell Block Images, East Cell Block Showers, Mail Station: click to enlarge)
(East Block Cells, Library, Spiral Staircase: click to enlarge)
(East Block Cells: click to enlarge)

WEST BLOCK IMAGES:

(Room Between East and West Blocks, West Block Images, Solitary Confinement Rooms: click to enlarge)
(West Block Cells: click to enlarge)
(West Block Showers, Walkway, 1896 Prisoner List: click to enlarge)

You begin the tour on the upper floors of the East Block Cells. If you get vertigo, do not look down over the railings!

During our walk through the East Block, we went through a corridor. The building was built so symmetrically that when there is sunlight coming through the windows and the room doors are open, an X forms on the floor. We were there on a cloudy, rainy day, but were lucky enough that the sun peaked through enough that we could see the X.

(Symmetric Building, X in Sunlight: click to enlarge)
(Chapel, Elevator: click to enlarge)

You will eventually make it to the Guard Room on the upper floors. It sits between the East and West blocks. I almost wish we were able to start the tour here. It gives you a good overview of both sides of the prison. This room has been restored with large glass windows for viewing both cell blocks and is available for event rental.

(Guard Room Images: click to enlarge)

One of the main differences between the movie and the prison was the cell layout. The movie had the cells looking at each other, but the prison actually had the cells facing the outer walls/windows. The shower rooms were horrible. Although the movie shows them all standing next to each other in the shower room, our audio tour stated that in the East Block shower room, the prisoners would hang up their towels and would then have one minute to walk down the line of showerheads, washing as they went, single file. They got showers once a week! (FUN NOTE: During the shower scene in the movie, there was no hot water. They used dry ice to create steam and they were all washing in cold water.)

Walking The East Block Shower

The interior of the prison is striking. Not necessarily for good reasons. The common areas, where visitors would arrive and the offices are more decorative; detailed wood door and window frames, tiled floors, decorative staircase (looks like carved wood, but is actually painted metal). The cell blocks are six levels high, facing the outer walls/windows. The doors are very small. If you were a bigger person, it would not be comfortable getting in and out of the cells. The cells are also small for two people. Some of them were designed originally for 1 person occupancy, but later had two people per room (the room size did not change).

It’s a little haunting walking through, even in the daytime. The lighting is dim, especially on a rainy day like we had. There are several layers of paint peeling off the walls, bars, cells, etc. The building sat empty for many years, and maintenance has been done on the building, and the administration rooms. The rest of the building is in various states, so I would recommend wearing flat, closed-toe shoes. There were several areas of puddles or debris on the floor. The building was constructed in the late 1800s, with its first prisoners admitted in 1896. I am sure there is still lead paint and asbestos contained in the building. There were spots where windows were missing or broken, letting the weather into the building. The cell blocks are not really heated or air-conditioned, although the museum/store/ticket area is temperature-controlled, so dress for the weather.

The museum area had some interesting items, including several different types of shanks and souvenirs people could buy about the prison/prisoners (including postcards of death row inmates).

(Museum Images: click to enlarge)
(Museum Images, Souvenirs, Prisoner Woodworking Items: click to enlarge)
(Shawshank Redemption Movie Items: click to enlarge)
(Round Rooms, Tiny Doors: click to enlarge)

Shawshank Redemption may be the most popular movie shot at the prison, but there have been several other movies that have been filmed at this location. There have even been some music videos!

(Small Cell Door Width, Lil Wayne Music Video Cell: click to enlarge)

There are several different types of tours available: self-guided, self-guided with an audio wand rental, tour guide, Shawshank, ghost, etc. I would definitely recommend renting an audio wand. It was $5/wand. The volume is not very loud and you hold it next to your ear, so you may be able to get 1 wand per 2 people if you place your heads close together, but it is worth it to rent them for your whole group. There are a few signs around, mostly markers for the audio tour that have extremely limited information on them. You will miss out on a lot of information if you do not have an audio wand or go with a tour group. I think it would make the experience a lot less enjoyable. Even if you are not a ghost believer, I think going on a ghost tour at night would be extremely freaky. The atmosphere of the prison is haunting during the day, but without sunlight, it would be scary (even just for tripping hazards).

TIPS:

  • Wear closed toed shoes.
  • Dress for the weather.
  • Rent the Audio Wand for the self guided tour!
  • Be aware. Although not currently a prison, there is an active prison located behind it. You will know where because on the windows that face the active prison there are “pictures taken out these windows is prohibited” signs.

DETAILS:

  • WHERE: 100 Reformatory Rd, Mansfield, OH 44905
  • HOURS: Daily 11:00 am to 4:00 pm
  • COSTS: $25+ (adult tickets). Please check website for pricing for children/adults/seniors and different tours offered.
  • PARKING: Yes 
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1.5 hours+
  • COVID RESTRICTIONS: N/A
  • Details correct at time of posting, please double check before you go.
Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Museums & Tours, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing

William Howard Taft National Historic Site

The boys were off school for President’s Day, so we decided to head to the William Howard Taft National Historic Site.

I double-checked the park’s hours before we left, but when we got there, we were told the house was closing in 10 minutes for a staff meeting and wouldn’t be open until later that morning/early afternoon. We rushed through the house and then spent time in the Visitor Center.

(Click to enlarge)

Nick got his Junior Ranger Badge. They had a neat package for the kids: a bag with the Junior Ranger program booklet, a pencil, a Junior Ranger badge sticker, and a William Howard Taft sticker. Once the booklet was completed, he turned it in to be sworn in and receive the plastic Junior Ranger badge.

(click to enlarge)

It was neat to see, especially since there is no admission fee for this Historic Site. I think we will go back again when we can spend more time in the house though and really read through everything.

(click to enlarge)

DETAILS:

  • WHERE: 2038 Auburn Ave, Cincinnati OH 45219 
  • HOURS: Grounds open sunrise to sunset. House/Visitor Center open daily 8:30am-4:30pm. (Some limited hours/holiday closures)
  • COSTS: Free
  • PARKING: Yes (small sized lot)
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 30 minutes+
  • COVID RESTRICTIONS: Masks Optional (as of March 2022)
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Museums & Tours, Sightseeing

Taft Museum of Art

Ben enjoys art museums, so we decided to check out one that we had not been to since we were kids, the Taft Museum of Art. Currently (February 2022), the house is under renovation and is not available to go through. Part of the collection has been moved to the connected Fifth Third Gallery. The rest of the collection was temporarily displayed at Union Terminal (aka the Cincinnati Museum Center, which is also a great place to visit). The house is set to reopen in June 2022, with the art collection restored to being showcased in the house.

(click to enlarge)

The museum is now offering free admission for their bicentennial, although a $10 donation is suggested. When we went in February, there were timed entries and you could reserve your spot online.

(click to enlarge)

The exhibits now have expanded information plaques, which we found very interesting. Since the collection is smaller right now, as not everything would fit in the event space, we were done in about an hour. They had several neat pieces, and we learned a few new things from the plaques.

(click to enlarge)

There is a small cafe and gift shop located there as well. During the warmer months, there is a great outdoor garden patio.

(click to enlarge)

We plan on going back after the house reopens. I’m sure it will be amazing with all the pieces back in place!

NOTE: There is a parking garage on the grounds, which is free with admission. When we went, there was some construction going on, so it was confusing to see the entrance. Coming from Pike Street, you want to stay to the left and turn left into the drive (looks like an alley) next to the house. Do NOT follow the road to the right, or you will have to drive around the block again.

DETAILS:

  • WHERE:  316 Pike Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202
  • HOURS: Friday 11am-4pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am-5pm (Through 5/21/22. Check website in May for updated hours.)
  • COSTS: Free/Currently a $10 donation is suggested (through 5/21/22). Normally admission is around $18.
  • PARKING: Yes (in garage on property–free, or city street parking/garages/lots–normally paid)
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1 hour+
  • COVID RESTRICTIONS: Need to show proof of vaccination ages 12+ or negative test, timed entry (2/2022)
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Food, Hiking, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

Jungle Jim’s Market

Anyone who lives near Cincinnati has heard of Jungle Jim’s. It is a grocery store. Now, if you are not from the area, you may be wondering asking “Sarah, why do I care about a grocery store?” The answer is that it is not just a grocery store. It is definitely an experience. If you are passing through or new to the area, please stop to check it out. I would recommend at least an hour or two, and if possible to go on a weekday. The weekends tend to get pretty crowded.

What makes Jungle Jim’s so unique? It is crazily decorated and offers food from around the world. It is home to the famous port-a-potty restrooms (Don’t worry, it’s just the door. The bathrooms are actually big and clean. (YouTube Video.).

There are two locations: Eastgate and Fairfield (both in Ohio). Both locations have the port-a-potty- bathrooms and the Jungle Jim’s movie that show how the store began (NOTE: as of February 2022, the Eastgate location still had the movie playing, but the Fairfield location had the movie room closed). Both locations offer an amazing variety of foods to discover. (Ben loves the winesap apples Jungle Jim’s carries. It is by far his favorite apple. The kids love finding new “weird” snacks to try.) However, each one is decorated differently (mostly because these are one-of-a-kind items). My personal favorite is the original location at Fairfield. Why? I think it has more things to see and to explore.

Eastgate has similar offerings of the Big Cheese, international food items, a big fish counter, and a large candy section. There are some larger decorations at the Eastgate location including an old beehive amusement park ride and a small Airstream RV. If we are just going to go for a quick grocery run, we might go to Eastgate.

(click to enlarge)

Fairfield has a monorail system installed along the side and front of the store. The cars are stationed amid a large snake-guarded building (located on the right side of the building when facing the front). Inside the store, you will find a large ship in the seafood department, a singing Elvis bear in the candy area, and a Robin Hood treasure-filled forest scene in the English food section where I like to pick up tea and Hobnob’s. They offer cooking classes and different tasting events. There is also a pressed penny machine there.

(click to enlarge)

Tours are also available for a fee and are by appointment only. We have not done one yet, but it does look fun! There is also a weekly podcast that broadcasts on Wednesdays.

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

NOTE: Although both locations have very large parking lots, there is not really designated RV parking.

Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Museums & Tours, School, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

National Museum Of The United States Air Force

The Air Force Museum is located in Dayton, Ohio. It is also attached to an active military/Air Force base, The Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

(click to enlarge)

Entrance to the museum is free, as is the parking. There are also free docent-led tours at set times during the day. There are options to buy extras like the simulation ride and VR experience. The museum is huge. It is spread out through 4 large hangers (all connected) and covers 19 acres (per their website). You will get your steps in for sure. We were there for 3 hours and rushed through it.

(click to enlarge)

The buildings begin at the museum entrance and start with the history of flight and early planes. You walk through a hallway dedicated to the Holocaust to the World War II exhibits. The second building contains Korean War and Southeast Asia. Building 3 is dedicated to the Cold War. Walking past a group of large missiles, you will enter building 4 where Research and Development and the Presidential planes are located. We were able to walk through several previous presidents’ planes, including JFK’s Air Force One.

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

The way there were able to fit all these planes in the building is pretty darn amazing. Some of these planes are incredibly large and it must have been like trying to put together a 3D puzzle.

(click to enlarge)

It is a lot of reading, with a few kid stations throughout. Some of the more interactive exhibits were closed (COVID, I believe). I would definitely say this is a museum for older kids or at least ones who really enjoy looking at planes. There is not a lot for the younger kids to do, so they may get bored quickly. The museum is spread across 4 buildings/hangers, so it is a lot of walking. There are seats scattered throughout the buildings so that you can rest. Each building also has its own bathroom.

(click to enlarge)

The cafe is located on the second floor, but it was closed when we were there. The gift shop has a wide range of items. We found small postcards for $0.10 and large ones for $0.25.

DETAILS:

  • WHERE: 1100 Spaatz Street, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH 45433
  • HOURS: 9:00 am-5:00 pm, M-U
  • COSTS: Free (simulation and VR cost extra)
  • PARKING: Yes
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 3+ hours
  • COVID RESTRICTIONS: Masks required (as of March 2022)
  • Details correct at time of posting, please double check before you go.
Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Museums & Tours, School, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

da Vinci Hands-On Exhibit: Machines In Motion

The boys and I went to the Air Force Museum (aka National Museum of the US Air Force) when they were off of school. The museum was getting a new exhibit ready to open; the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci. The best part was that it was going to be interactive and hands-on! (Click here for details.) The museum and this special exhibit are both free. The da Vinic exhibit runs through 5/8/22. Next week’s post will be about the rest of the Air Force Museum!

(click to enlarge)

We went back to the museum with Ben to see the da Vinci exhibit. It was newly opened, so we got there right when the museum opened and went straight back to the exhibit (in Building 4). There were a lot of different exhibits, almost all of them were ones we could interact with. A couple of the inventions were locked, but you could ask one of the museum staff/volunteers to demonstrate them for you.

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

I think the designers and builders of these inventions did a great job. There were placards describing each item and what it was meant for. I think even younger kids would enjoy this exhibit, although they would need help with the pieces and supervision so they didn’t get any fingers pinched in the gears.

I think one of the coolest pieces was the tank, although it must have been extremely heavy.

(click to enlarge)

VIDEO: da Vinci Machines In Motion

DETAILS:

  • WHERE: 1100 Spaatz Street, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH 45433 (Dayton, OH area)
  • HOURS: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, daily
  • COSTS: Free
  • PARKING: Yes (free)
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1+ hour
  • COVID RESTRICTIONS: Masks required (as of 3/2/22)
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.

Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Hiking, Sightseeing

Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park

The boys and I went to Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park in Hamilton, Ohio a couple of years ago over summer break. Ben had never been, so he and I went last month to explore. Now, it is winter in Ohio and it was a windy cold day. We didn’t get to explore quite as much as we wanted due to icey spots and the cold wind. I would definitely recommend going in the Spring/Summer/Fall for the most enjoyment. They do have several really neat pieces! There are a few walking trails in the park as well, although we have not explored them yet.

After entering the park, follow the drive to the visitor center building where you can pay for your admission and rent a golf cart (they call them art carts) if desired. You can walk or drive around the park. There are parking spaces close to many of the sculptures.

(click to enlarge)

DETAILS:

  • WHERE: 1763 Hamilton Cleves Road Hamilton, OH 45013
  • HOURS: Park hours Sunday to Saturday 9:00am to 5:00pm. Museum Monday to Sunday 12:00pm to 5:00pm.
  • COSTS: $8/adults, $3/children (6-12). Optional golf cart rental $20/first hour (then $15/hour).
  • PARKING: Yes
  • BATHROOM: Yes (portalets are the only available ones in winter)
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-3 hours
  • COVID RESTRICTIONS: n/a
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Museums & Tours, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

The Lucky Cat Museum

On our quest to find new and interesting things in our area to see, we found the Lucky Cat Museum, in the Clifton area. It is one woman’s personal collection of lucky cats. She has been an avid collector for years and has a large variety of Japanese Lucky Cats. The museum is free, although donations are welcome. There is also a gift shop where you can buy your own lucky cat themed items, ranging from postcards to lucky cats.

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

One of my favorite pieces was a disco ball cat. The poor cat has been broken 3 times! The cat had been loaned out and broken. Micha glued it back together, painted it, and then covered it in the disco ball mirrors. The medallion and coins were left bare. The second time the cat broke, the medallion and coins were repaired and covered in mirrors and crystals. The last time it broke, the cat was glued together, filled with expanding foam, and the mirrors replaced.

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

There were a few interactive pieces as well, including the slot machines (tokens provided).

VIDEO: Walking Through The Lucky Cat Museum

DETAILS:

  • WHERE: Essex Studios (2511 Essex Place #150, Cincinnati, OH 45206) 
  • HOURS: By appointment only
  • COSTS: Free, donations accepted
  • PARKING: Yes
  • BATHROOM: Yes, in the building but not in the museum
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 45 minutes (time allowed per appointment)
  • COVID RESTRICTIONS: Masks, only 6 people per visit
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Food, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

Golden Lamb and Black Horse Tavern

After visiting the Harmon Museum, we walked across the street to the Golden Lamb to have lunch. Ben and I had both been there pre-kids. It is a really neat old hotel. The attached restaurant had undergone a renovation since we had last been there, so we decided to try the Black Horse Tavern. The restaurant had a nice fireplace, although we didn’t get to sit near it.

click to enlarge

They had the Christmas decorations up still (1/8/22), and it was fun seeing all the little sheep and lamb ornaments on the trees. We decided to try a few different items and share amongst ourselves. We ordered the Sauerkraut Balls, Bacon Jelly and Biscuits, Golden Lamb Farms Platter, Cheese Curds, and a bowl of the Shaker Chicken & Spaetzle soup.

It’s hard to go wrong with cheese curds and there are very few soups that Will doesn’t like. We liked the pickles from the platter and the sauerkraut balls were surprisingly delicious.

VIDEO: Quick Walk Through of the Black Horse Tavern/Golden Lamb

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Cincinnati Zoo Date Day, Zoo Map (click to enlarge)
Roo Valley (click to enlarge)
Zoo Animals (click to enlarge)
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