A few weekends ago, Jim and I took a quick trip to Cincinnati, Ohio. We were itching for a little adventure in our lives, and Cincinnati is about as far away as we could get financially, for such a short amount of time. A taste of Cincinnati it truly was, in every sense of the word. In just two days, we weren’t able to see or do nearly everything that we wanted to, but what we did was enough to bring home stories and memories.
The city reminded me of Pittsburgh in many ways, so I kind of loved it. It is right on the edge of the wide Ohio River – the same river, in fact, that flows right from Pittsburgh. Along the river is a pretty lineup of parks, benches, steps, bridges and restaurants with terraces looking out over the water and straight into Kentucky. Just like in Pittsburgh, big tour boats, tiny motor boats, barges and everything in between make their way past the city skyline.
The feel of downtown Cincinnati was also familiar – tall buildings pressing over the streets, huddled together as if there were no more space left in the world, but still able to carve out a few picturesque squares with fountains and room to catch your breath.
The city seemed quieter than Pittsburgh, though. There seemed to be fewer people there, although that can’t possibly be the case since there was a Comic Expo at the convention center, the alleged second largest Oktoberfest in the world, some kind of 5K run, and a Bengals game all crowded into the same weekend. But it was nice nonetheless – it seemed relaxing and refreshing almost, to be literally in the middle of downtown Cincinnati and not feel as if the speed of the city is passing you by, like you’re missing out on something somewhere.
Our reasons for taking the 4 1/2 hour trip to Cincy for the weekend were threefold. First, Jim was determined to go to the Comic Expo to meet several key players from The Lord of the Rings. Secondly, we found out later that Cincinnati is host to one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in the world, second only to the original in Munich. And thirdly, we just love to get away and have some adventures in a new city.
While Jim walked over to the Comic Expo, suited up in his LOTR t-shirt and hoisting his axe for Gimli to sign, I took the scenic route to the nearest Starbucks so I could write. As much as I love a delicious pumpkin spice latte on a fall morning, I had been hoping to find a cuter, cozier coffee shop, but in the limited time I had to myself, I was not prepared to walk any further to find one.
Our afternoon of Oktoberfest-ing consisted of beer, brats, and more beer (what else?) while wandering aimlessly through the crowds and wishing we were wearing traditional German garb. (We found several dresses and lederhosen at the end of the night on sale for about $250 and changed our minds.)
For the weekend celebration, they had closed off about six blocks of a downtown street, right outside the door of our hotel as it happened. Located on the side streets were seven different stages featuring German musicians, bands, choirs, and dancers, with big tents and plenty of seating for beer-drinkers to take a load off. In between the tents and bier-gartens was the magic. Tables upon tables of German food, kegs upon kegs of Oktoberfest beer. Schnitzel and pretzels and pastries, brats, mets, and wurst. Sam Adams and Rivertowne, Beck’s and Hudepohl and Kentucky Ale, all represented.
People in groups of three, four and five just strolled down the street, steins in hand, talking and laughing and drinking, before finding the next tent to refill. We took our time walking past the tents, choosing very carefully which vendors we should go back to for lunch and dinner. We waited in line at the Sam Adams’ blind beer-tasting tent so we could win ourselves a couple fedoras and feel festive.
Mid-afternoon, we took a break from the festivities and walked over to the Taft Museum of Art for a bit of Cincinnati culture. The collection of artwork in the museum had been assembled by Anna and Charles Taft, the half brother of William Howard Taft. After the chaos of Oktoberfest, the heavy silence of the museum was a welcome respite. We slowly wandered the rooms of the old home-turned-museum and marveled at the colors, the precision and the beauty of each piece.
A couple hours later we were right back to drinking beer.
As we ate dinner and sipped another Oktoberfest, we listened to a rowdy rendition of the chicken dance and a few more traditional German ditties. We then made our way over the the German restaurant along the river, Moerlein Lager House, where we tasted some of their own brews and had a few snacks. We discovered their Oktoberfest tent at the end of the night – long tables and benches crowded around a music stage – and yes, more beer. This tent was closer to what I pictured the real Oktoberfest might look like and I kind of wish we’d found it earlier.
For as short as the weekend was, it was perfect. Warm, sunny, and whispering a hint of fall in the cool breeze while we took in all we could of the sights and sounds of Zinzinnati Oktoberfest. Only one thing left to say – Prost!