Monday, August 5, 2013

A Town And Country Vacation: Part One

Hello! We were on vacation last week, hitting various points east ranging from large cities to small cities to villages. Thus, I'll divide my blog posts into two sections, town and country. 

Today's entry will be the "town" portion of our trip. I didn't get a chance to take a lot of pictures due to time constraints on the days we were in urban areas, but I'll show off the photos I have and will discuss what we saw and did. 

Pittsburgh: only had one full day there, a Sunday; we arrived Saturday evening and left Monday morning. The day's plans hadn't been firmed up, so we decided that morning to visit The Strip. Didn't quite know what to expect other than a number of eateries there have been touted by enthusiastic folks over at 

The Strip turned out to be a commercial district with open-air markets, ethnic grocery stores, restaurants and retail establishments. It's an old part of town, so the main street of this area and the sidewalks are both quite narrow. This made it hard to navigate the area both by car and on foot, but we did our best (we parked a few blocks away in a parking lot). 

Ate lunch here:

This is Peppi's, a small local chain. A decent sandwich in an old building; some of the seating looked to be old church pews. Perhaps these had been in the church-turned-bar across the street (the Altar Bar). The counter guy was busy, so I didn't ask him about the pews.

Due to the packed sidewalks I'd already mentioned, I didn't get a chance to take more pictures along The Strip, even though the scene was plenty colorful. We went in and out of a few shops, including - to me - the drool-worthy kitchenware store In The Kitchen. I saw a number of things I would love to have, but managed to keep my wallet shut. I did open my wallet at Penzey's Spices next door. Yes, I know we have a Penzey's in Grand Rapids, but we don't seem to get there. 

Also saw a nice pottery shop, Penn Ave Pottery. Really pretty inside and not super expensive either. 

If it hadn't been so crowded, I would have wanted to check out the Italian, Mideastern and Asian grocery stores in The Strip. I am a fan of ethnic grocery stores. Probably best that we stayed out of them - I might have gotten frustrated over not being able to buy things that wouldn't have held up well while traveling.

On the way back to our car, I took a photo of this:

The Senator John Heinz History Center. Although I'm sure that this is a fine museum, it was the Heinz catsup bottle sign that caught my eye!

We drove around some after that; bridges and hills abound in Pittsburgh and I would have gotten hopelessly lost. But my husband is truly gifted when it comes to navigating; in no time at all he'll be driving around in a city as if he'd lived there his whole life (he has been to Pittsburgh three times before, but hadn't previously driven around some of the sections we visited this day). 

Tried to get my husband and our daughter interested in checking out the Duquesne Incline but that was a no-go. Oh well, I guess there can always be another time - after all, the incline has been around over 130 years by now. I guess it's not going anywhere!

Since we'd arrived in the area on a Saturday and left on Monday, that gave us two nights of viewing local TV news. It didn't take me long to discover that Pittsburgh is one of the sports-craziest towns I've ever been to, especially in regards to the Steelers. It just so happened that NFL training camps opened that Saturday, so we were treated to film footage of fans eagerly rushing into the Steelers training camp in Latrobe to watch their team. Then after the Saturday night news, the same TV station (KDKA) hosted a Steelers trivia show - now in its 10th season. We didn't watch all of it, but saw that the format consisted of three teams of three people each, answering questions about the Steelers. One of the teams wore matching shirts with wide stripes; that made them look like members of a chain gang! But the moderator introduced them as doctors from Johnstown. 

We're used to the Sunday night sports shows that recap the week's sporting events, but on KDKA, this time slot was filled by a show in which three local sports media guys debated issues - you guessed it, talk of the Steelers dominated. You'd barely know that the local baseball team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, had a very important series starting the next day. But such is the hold the Steelers have on the area!

Cincinnati: this was a quick visit on our way home. Checked into the Embassy Suites in suburban Blue Ash. We'd stayed there before, so we knew to expect these:

Some Embassy Suites have a lagoon-like feature in their atriums, with tropical plants, waterfalls and koi. This one, however, also has turtles; we counted six during this visit. 

During our first stay, I asked one of the desk clerks if the turtles ever got loose; there isn't much to keep them in place. He replied that during their mating season, they do tend to roam more and sometimes will end up out in the hallways. 

During this visit, I told the desk clerks that we'd thought of their hotel earlier in the year while watching The Tonight Show's Headlines segment. At one point, Jay Leno showed a classified ad someone had sent in to him. The ad read:

"Healthy one pound turtle needs ride to Cincinnati".

Jay Leno found this hilarious and we did too - the thought of a turtle needing a ride somewhere struck us as funny in a bizarre way, and I said the turtle must have been needing a ride to the Embassy Suites in Blue Ash!

The desk clerks I repeated this tidbit to found it funny as well - but then one of them went on to say that the hotel lobby was going to have a major renovation soon. The lagoon is going to come out - more seating and another restroom will go in its place. No more turtles! Bummer! The clerk said she was planning to take one of them home for her son to have as a pet. 

We ate Cincinnati-style chili at nearby Blue Ash Chili, but judging from what I saw on others' plates, the double-decker sandwiches looked awesome. This appeared to be a very popular local hangout; a good meal choice if you're in that area. 

I only ate half of my dinner; that way I could justify the turtle sundae I got at Graeter's after that. Grater's is an area chain known for its ice cream and baked goods. Very rich but worth the calories!

Cincinnati was just an overnight stay, but before heading north to return home we stopped here:

Jungle Jim's, Fairfield OH. To say that Jungle Jim's is a grocery store is like saying that the White House is where one family lives. According to its website, Jungle Jim's has over 200,000 square feet of shopping space. And although one can stop in to pick up just a gallon of milk or a dozen eggs - there is a regular grocery section - the full name of the establishment is Jungle Jim's International Market. 

I first piqued my husband's interest in Jungle Jim's several years ago when I told him the store had a big wine selection. Now that he focuses more on microbrewed beers, on this visit he wheeled his shopping cart over to the large beer section to pick up some cartons. 

Meanwhile, I took another shopping cart and headed over to the international market portion of the store. It's divided by countries, with Asian and Latin American groceries having the most shelf space. There is a decent-sized natural foods area too.

I grabbed soba noodles, a bottle of hot sauce and some extra-virgin olive oil that was on sale. But if I had wanted to, I could have purchased kangaroo meat, jams and honeys from around the country, cheeses and butters from all over the world, and more. I didn't even go into the small rooms along one wall that house foods from various European countries - just not enough time. But Jungle Jim's is definitely worth a stop, even for a short visit!

Indianapolis - we just stopped to eat lunch at BD's Mongolian Barbeque. This chain, which began in Michigan, is quite fun to eat at if it's not crowded (we had a late lunch, so it wasn't). If you've not eaten at one of these places, here's how it works: you get to choose from a buffet-like line-up of various meats, seafoods, vegetarian-type proteins, vegetables, sauces and seasonings. You put everything in a bowl and then your selections are cooked to order on a huge grill right in front of you. If you don't like how your meal ends up tasting, you only have yourself to blame!

There is plenty of nice shopping and of course other places to eat in this section of Indianapolis, but after our meal we were on our way home. 

Heard a bit of "country in the city" advertising, though - the nearby Indiana State Fair had just begun and so there were several commercials for it on the radio station we were listening to in the car. In 2001, while still residents of the Hoosier State, we had gone to this state fair. Even my city-bred husband had enjoyed it. 

Perhaps fittingly, other than driving through the bottleneck known as Kokomo, Indiana, the majority of the rest of our route was through peaceful countryside. And the countryside is what I'll be talking about in my next blog post!

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