As I said, my musical exploits were the bookends on a brief trip K and I took to celebrate the XXth anniversary of her birth. To do so, there was really only one place, full of exotic splendor and excitement, we could go - Columbus, Ohio!
Let me explain.
When trying to figure out where to go for K's birthday, I looked around to see if anything exciting was happening in any of the nearby burghs. Someplace, preferably, (a) within easy driving distance, and (b) with a pet friendly hotel, so that Maia might join us. Turns out, Columbus fit the bill quite well. The motivating factor was Cirque du Soleil pulling into town for a couple week run. Tickets in hand (thanks to the very friendly Ticketmaster service folks for bailing me out after I couldn't read a calendar), we packed up the dog and made the long journey across the Ohio River.
There are two kinds of vacations, you know. One kind is the regimented "we've got plans and must keep them" vacation, while the other is the "what, we have to do something?" vacation. This trip was the latter - heck the only obligations we had over several days were seeing Cirque du Soleil and getting a massage. It was definitely a "low impact" kind of trip. Maia certainly got into the spirit:
Even when she thinks she's being tough:
All that was wonderful from a rest and relaxation standpoint, but kind of makes for boring blog fodder. For example, our first day there we just wandered around a couple of neat neighborhoods downtown, dining and window shopping. We did discover a fabulous discount book store called The Book Loft, which has 32 rooms (in two connected houses, I think) crammed with books. Hey, they had a Japaneses manga retelling the legend of Robert Johnson - how cool is that? Yes, of course I bought it.
As for dining, we did make a pair of discoveries. When we arrived in town, we tried to locate a local BBQ joint recommended by the hotel literature. Guided to the right location by the GPS-powered navigator in K's new phone, we found it had gone out of business. Luckily, we stumbled on an outpost of City BBQ, which was a more than satisfactory replacement. Excellent, actually, in a "this is way too much food, but it's so good I can't stop cramming it in my mouth" sort of fashion. I highly recommend it. Speaking of recommendation, I'd do the same for Basi, a tiny Italian place downtown that was really tasty.
But when it comes to tasty in Columbus, nothing compares to the city's ice cream industry. K has an ice cream problem (like I have a buying CDs at prog fests problem) and we ended up seeking it out every day we were in town. That first night, we happened across Graeter's, which bills itself as the oldest continuously operating ice cream place in the country (founded in 1870, alas, in Cincinnati). They specialize in hand-packed traditional flavors. The results are ultra thick and ultra tasty. But the best in town? Maybe not.
The toughest competition comes from Jeni's, a local chain that specializes in artisanal ice creams. By that, I mean if your kid only eats vanilla, look elsewhere. Queen City Cayenne (chocolate with cinnamon and cayenne pepper)? Oh, yes, please - I love to need a cold glass of water after eating a scoop! Thai Chili? Indeed. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. It is seriously distinctive and seriously good stuff.
Which is better? It depends on your mood, I suppose. I'd be happy to continue to savor the evidence for both sides!
All that being said, it wasn't all sleep and food. One day, we managed to get down to the Franklin Park Conservatory, a set of greenhouses and gardens:
That's the main greenhouse of the building, which was built in 1895. Before that, the area was home to a fairground where, among other things, Sherman gave his "War is Hell" speech in 1880.
As with the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, the Franklin is home to a number of glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly (some of which were actually at the Phipps, we're pretty sure). Even though the idea was familiar, it can still be spectacular:
Here's K, caught unawares (you can tell 'cause she didn't have time to take her glasses off!), in front of a boat full of twisted glass:
But the real stars for me were the butterflies hanging around in the tropical section, a couple of which I managed to catch:
There's even some big metal thingies outside:
And what of Cirque du Soleil? It was a lot of fun. I'd never seen it before (K had seen one long ago in a parking lot!) so wasn't quite sure what to expect. The show we saw, Saltimbanco, is one of the older ones (although it has been repurposed from big top to arena) and is typical, I suppose.
If you've never seen one, it's kind of hard to describe. There's a "story" or "theme" to the show, but all the songs are in French, so good luck figuring out what it is. Not that it matters. The result it what I imagine a late night TV variety show would look (and sound) like if Salvador Dali was running things. That is to say surreal, entertaining, and occasionally awe inspiring. Major positive points for a live band plopped right on stage to watch during the proceedings (dressed as clowns, natch').
And as if that wasn't enough, there was very nearly a fight right in front of us! As I returned from the restroom during intermission, there were huddles of people looking disgruntled. K explained how some drunken idiot had been . . . well, a drunken idiot during the first half of the show. Once confronted by a neighbor, he got hostile and, eventually, ejected. Yeah, OK, it was in a hockey arena, but who expected something like that?!?
Overall, it was a nice little trip with, of course, the loveliest of company. And really really good ice cream.