Team Wiley originated in Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s my hometown, and was Will’s home for a few years, though he’s from the Athens area, where Ohio University is located. Over the holidays, we bounce back and forth around Ohio, fondly known as “the heart of it all” due to its endearing shape. We’re fiercely proud Ohioans and have made a habit of playing tourist when we come home, hitting all our favorite spots and finding new things that have changed or sprung up, but also making three hour treks from one place to another too.
One mandatory stop every time we’re home is Jungle Jim’s, the international grocery store around the corner from my parents. It started as a small fruit stand, but it’s since expanded into a foodie haven, complete with it’s own cheese and olive bars, expansive coffee and beer selections, and an array of animatronic figures that sing and dance, because why not? We made two beer runs while we were home, and we left both times with too much cheese (just kidding, there’s no such thing), some local deli meats and sweet treats, and international goodies. We even saw Jim himself! He was dressed as Willy Wonka on this particular pre-Christmas occasion, though our cashier informed us that he has a wide variety of costume options!
For the second year in a row, we also hit up Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens for the Festival of Lights. You know that adorable hippo, Fiona? That little international sensation? This is her home! Unfortunately, Fiona was asleep already, so we missed out on the Fiona viewing. This was extra disappointing since everyone else in the world is all about her, and I personally feel like I had more of a claim on her, being from Cincinnati and all. But that’s just my take on things.
Every year, they do an impressive, award-winning display, so the family went back again this year to visit the reptile and bird houses, since most of the outdoor animals weren’t out and about. But, ethics and zoo protests aside, the lights were beautiful, the hot chocolate was hot and served with “cheer” (aka Schnapps), and the family time was even cozier and much more needed.
And all hometown reunions aren’t complete without a good outing with friends. Colorado is known for its beer culture, but Cincinnati is right up there too. This time around, we went to Taft’s Ale House, which I found from Googling “Cincinnati brewery” and finding out that one of my friends lived right near it. I was originally attracted by the logo — a silhouette of President Taft in his infamous bathtub, which he did not get stuck in seeing as it was made precisely to avoid this debacle. One of our more portly leaders, the White House had to order a specially made tub to accommodate Ohio’s finest, and it was this logo that brought some of my closest high school friends back together for a night of catching up, plotting hopeful future reunions and adventures in the months to come. The beer was especially tasty, and my only regret is that we didn’t dig in to the food, which I’ve heard is also superb.
ATHENS and SOUTHEASTERN OHIO
We’ve spent a good amount of time with Will’s family in southeastern Ohio, a little ways outside outside of Athens. We spent our first stint with Will’s parents before Christmas, making our rounds to some of my favorite shops on Court Street, the main thoroughfare near OU’s campus, to finish our Christmas shopping. We paid visits to our favorite coffee shop, Donkey Coffee, and picked up Will’s weekly comic releases from the Wizard’s Guild. (Does a better comic shop name exist??) We made a quick pitstop for a photo op at the College Gate. This gate borders the original OU campus where each graduating class poses in graduation gowns with friends. The trees and green space behind it, Campus Green, is great for lounging though we didn’t stop here considering the below-freezing temperatures we’re experiencing at the moment. Maybe when we get back and the weather in warmer.
One of my favorite places in Athens, however, is The Ridges. Will’s family has a history with the once-upon-a-time asylum, with his grandma having been a nurse from the late 1960s through the 1990s, his mom working in administration before he and his brother were born, and his dad doing maintenance and tending to the current buildings for so many years. The institution was established near the turn of the century, in 1874 as one of the major state institutions and remains perched on top of the hill overlooking campus. Though most of it is no longer used due to need for remodeling — too much asbestos, lead paint, and such, as old buildings go — parts are a museum and there’s a new observatory too. In its heyday, patients lounged around the nearby lake, mingling with townsfolk along the banks, for those who had the privilege of roaming the grounds and coming back. Will’s showed me these photos, depicting a time when women could be committed with nothing more than their husband’s (or father’s, brother’s, insert-male-relationship-here, etc.) word. So, many of the women were in fact perfectly sane. Still, patients with significant difficulties were committed too, including many patients that Will’s grandma fought. She told us with pride about the ones she broke up and was actively in. Don’t worry — she won most of them, she said!
Among these real-life horror stories are the many ghost stories that have been circulating for centuries. When you Google “The Ridges,” one of the suggested searches provides “stain” as the next word. Allow me to explain.
Margaret was a patient from long ago who wandered into the attic and was accidentally locked in. With a window overlooking the courtyard, it’s not quite known how she didn’t signal for help. She passed away in that tower, but wasn’t found until much later, with her clothes folded neatly by the window leaving her naked. Since she’d been left so long on her own, her body began to decompose, leaving a relatively well-defined body stain on the floor where she passed, hence the suggestion. Gruesome, sad stuff.
Will regaled me with more tales as we drove, pointing out the different wings and identifying the old TB ward. We walked through the grounds, and Will told me about the many unmarked graves. Most in the yard we walked had only a number, identifying the patient, but with no real identification system aside from the asylum’s records. More recently, the community — or more specifically, Friends of Athens Asylum Cemeteries — has banded together to track down relatives of the unmarked graves to replace the numbered stones with proper headstones, bringing peace and closure to a still-standing monument to some dark bits of our collective past.
While neither of us are from the state capital, we’ve both managed to spend a good amount of time in Columbus between friends, family, and our sporting events over the years. These days, a few cousins and my sister call the place home so we made a quick pit stop on the way to Cincinnati from Will’s family.
A trip to Ohio isn’t complete without a visit to The Book Loft. This bookstore is THIRTY-TWO rooms! A converted old house, every wall is lined with shelves, and there are more tables and shelves in the center. More impressively, books are affordable, they have Out of Print clothes and book-related gifts, and and and…it’s basically nerd nirvana. Nerd-vana, if you will. Located in German Village, close to downtown, you could spend hours in this glorious maze and spend your life savings, and it would be perfectly justified. But that could be because, aside from travel, this is a brief picture of our spending habits:
With that, folks, I’ll spare you the rest of the details about primping and priming for our trip — at least until the next post. We leave in a mere four days (*gasp*), and there’s lots to do, including the drive back to Cincinnati, exchanging currency and packing for real, my BFF/cousin’s wedding on Saturday, New Year’s Eve which is also Mom’s birthday on Sunday, and departing on Monday. So you see, we’ve got a few things on the to-do list.
Wish us luck, friends, and have a Happy New Year!!