Travels: Louisville KY

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When I think of our little 2015 family vacation to Louisville, Kentucky, I think of firsts. This was the first time that my Dad’s extended family had gone on a vacation when my sister, cousins and I were adults (and all of us bringing along significant others). Our last big family vacation was to Disney World and Brittney and I were in elementary school. This was also the first time Kenneth and I had gone on a trip together as a married couple, outside of Ohio, since our honeymoon. This was also the first time we were gathering together, around the holidays, since my grandmother, Ruby, had passed away.

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We actually didn’t celebrate Christmas with my Dad’s side of the family in 2014. We weren’t ready to celebrate without her. My grandma was as vibrant as her name, Ruby. She made a family gathering feel festive. She was always down for a game of cards, dominoes or one of the board games we liked to play (Taboo and Pictionary were my picks, as long as Brittney was on my team so we could win!). She was colorful, a real character, she could be loud and she didn’t mince words (she and my grandpa on my mom’s side of the family liked to “argue” over who was more proud of their grandkids), but she was real. Ruby in full color.

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I think that’s why when I think of our trip to Louisville it’s always gray. It was a gray, overcast and rainy weekend, so that’s definitely part of it… but I think it was gray because it was our first time really getting together without Grandma there. We had a good time on the trip, but it was definitely one that she would have made more fun and festive.

I plan to visit Louisville again, probably in summer so I can see the city at its brightest and most colorful!

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We did a lot of dining on this trip, which is personally one of my favorite things about vacations. You have to eat out. Technically you could plan ahead and pack a lot of your food, especially on trips where you drive to your destination, as we did. But for the most part, trying out new restaurants is a big part of vacationing, even on weekend trips.

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We dined at the Troll Pub Under the Bridge, an underground restaurant full of trolls where we had lunch in the hidden bookcase room! My assistant, Cam (actually, my sister’s boyfriend), demonstrated how the bookcase swings open to reveal two tables with booth seating. The Troll Pub offers pretty standard but delicious pub fare and has a unique atmosphere. The music selection was a nice mix of indie and alternative music. I’d check it out again!

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We spent a few hours exploring the Kentucky Science Center. This science museum got its start as the “cabinet of curiosities” in Kentucky’s Public Library System in 1871. Today it’s one of the region’s leading centers for informal science education! Within the three levels of interactive exhibits, we explored human health and the body, natural science, chemistry, physics, and weather.

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At the entrance to the Kentucky Science Center – is a giant parabolic reflector. It reminded me of a giant mosaic of mirrors. You can see a mini version of this in your car’s headlights (it’s nowhere near as cool, though).

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We split up a few times throughout the center and I lost track of everyone a couple of times taking photos. We had fun watching my cousin’s kids play with the interactive children’s components and Kenneth and I took a few selfies with the two polar bears on display.

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Aiden had an absolute blast in the tornado simulator!

For dinner, we enjoyed authentic Louisville cuisine at Dish On Market. This popular, locally owned restaurant is in downtown Louisville and was a short walk from our hotel. Housed in the building where the old restaurant, Delta, once stood for decades, Dish On Market is the winner of several Leo Awards. In 2014 the restaurant won the Readers Choice, Best Burger, Best Bourbon List (they have 70 different Bourbons!), Best All You Can Eat Brunch, Best Bloody Mary and was a finalist in the Best Breakfast category.

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The restaurant has a clean, rustic atmosphere. Hardwood floors compliment the wood bar and red brick walls. We enjoyed supper on the second floor, overlooking diners sitting in booths in the room opposite the bar. Everything was delicious – everyone ordered something a little different, seafood, Cuban-style black bean soup, fresh salads, and sandwiches. It was at Dish On Market that I discovered that I really enjoy grits, which are usually made gluten-free.

Our food was fantastic and we had really great service! I will definitely keep Dish on Market on my list of go-to restaurants for the next time we’re in Louisville! If you go, I highly recommend the country peach tea – it’s made with Benchmark peach bourbon, sweet tea, and lemon.

Since we were in Louisville at the end of the 2014 winter holidays, we were able to catch the last weekend of the Louisville MEGA Cavern’s Lights Under Louisville. This Christmas light show features 17 miles of underground passages, 850+ Christmas light displays, 2,000,000+ points of light and festive Christmas music. The driving tour lasts about 30 minutes and is the only underground light show of its kind.

Louisville MEGA Cavern, which was mined between the 1930s and 1970s, also offers a rentable underground event space, and an underground zip line course, tram tour, bike park and ropes challenge course. The entire cavern spans approximately 100 acres and stays at a steady 58°F year round.

It was a fun experience! The light displays featured classic Christmas songs and characters like Santa and his reindeer, Christmas carolers and ice skaters, as well as modern winter themes, like Disney’s movie Frozen. I enjoyed trying to take photos of the lights as our vehicle slowly rolled through the cavern. I’ve never taken photos of Christmas lights while moving before, it was definitely a challenge and resulted in some rather trippy photos. 

North End Cafe was the last restaurant we dined at before splitting into two separate groups and returning home. Kenneth and I went with my parents, my sister, Brittney and her boyfriend, Cam, to check out the Kentucky Derby Museum. My aunt, uncle, cousins and their spouses and children visited the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.

North End Cafe was a great way to end our mini vacation in Louisville. Opening in the spring of 2003, it’s a relatively new restaurant and features locally sourced produce, some of which they grow themselves on their multi-acre farm in Simpsonville, Kentucky. The menu features lots of healthy dishes, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options as well as standard American breakfast and lunch items.

The cafe reminded me a lot of one of my favorite restaurants in Columbus, Northstar Café, which also focuses on local, healthy ingredients and has vegetarian/vegan and gluten-free options. Breakfast is my favorite meal and not many restaurants have gluten-free options beyond eggs, needless to say, I was pretty stoked. 🙂

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We had so many delicious breakfast foods – including gluten-free almond pancakes with warm honey and a dollop of whipped cream. Everything was fantastic and we had a great time at North End Cafe! The restaurant has a nice laid back atmosphere with plenty of natural light from the large windows. I loved the exposed brick and gorgeous paintings displayed. The next time we’re in Louisville, I definitely want to dine here again, if only so I can get those pancakes again!Happy Smilies Edible/Food Smilies

After enjoying our breakfast at North End Cafe, we explored a very eclectic and full backyard just up the road from the restaurant. It’s a private residence, owned by Jerry Lotz. He calls his collection Jerry’s Junk and this property is one of five houses in the neighborhood full of junk. It made for some interesting photos!

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Our last big stop of our Kentucky mini-cation was to the Kentucky Derby Museum. The museum was opened in 1985 to preserve the history of the Kentucky Derby. The museum is located on the grounds of Churchill Downs, which is where the Kentucky Derby is held annually on the first Saturday in May. The museum has two floors of exhibit space, including a 360-degree theater playing The Greatest Race. Many of the exhibits are interactive: we were able to place bets, ride in a simulated race and play with horse-inspired games and toys. We also went on a guided tour of  Churchill Downs, learning the history of the Kentucky Derby and hearing stories about the talented horses that won the derby and the jockeys who rode them.

Horses have a special place in my family on my dad’s side. My dad and Aunt Deedy grew up with horses and showed them at the Miami County Fair. My dad even brought his pony, Sugar Babe, with him when he married my mom. My dad and Sugar Babe were the same age and I’m one of the few people I know (who didn’t grow up on a farm) who can say I had a pony when I was growing up!

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My dad was the most excited to visit Churchill Downs and the museum, but we all had a great time!

Ramsi’s Cafe on the World was one of the restaurants I found and requested we visit specifically when I found out we would be going to Louisville. The website for Ramis’s Cafe describes its cuisine as “global comfort food.”

This is the food your Grandmother might have cooked for you if your grandmother was from Egypt or North Africa or Spain or Alabama. 

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Half of the menu is advertised as being vegetarian, which even though I’m no longer a vegetarian, I still enjoy vegetarian fare. My mom is a vegetarian, so I also want to make sure she can eat more than a salad when we go out! Thirty percent of the menu is vegan and many dishes are available gluten-free. Ramsi’s Cafe also serves local produce, eggs, and chicken from their own farm, Raising Hope Organic Farm.

A huge menu with diverse international flavors, gluten-free and vegetarian options with locally grown ingredients? I had to eat at this restaurant! And my family was happy to comply. 🙂

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Having enjoyed a large breakfast earlier that day at North End Cafe we arrived at Ramsi’s at the odd time of afternoon that is well past lunch but not quite time for dinner. We essentially had the restaurant to ourselves, which I only attribute to the odd hour we chose to eat, not a reflection of the popularity of the restaurant. Everything we had was delicious and I loved the restaurant’s laid back and eclectic decor.

My notes for that day describe our food as “Amaaazing.” Going from memory, I can confidently say that I will be eating again at Ramsi’s Cafe on the World the next time I am in Louisville. My only regret is finding yet another delicious restaurant that is not down the street from where I live, looking at these photos and thinking about what we ate has had my stomach growling for the past hour thinking about fried plantains and gluten-free sandwiches. 🙂

While were only in Louisville for the weekend, I definitely feel like we made some lasting memories and have a new city to visit when we need to get away from the business of our everyday lives.

Have you ever been to Louisville? What are your favorite spots to visit? Share in the comments below – I’ll need new places to check out the next time I’m there!

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Score a Chance to See Dreamworks HOME Early!

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HOME, the adorable looking movie from the creators of the How to Train Your Dragon films and The Croods, hits theaters Friday, March 27th. The movie follows the journey of human girl named Tip and a misfit alien named Oh (and Tip’s adorable cat) as they become friends and go on a series of adventures. The film looks like a perfect family night movie and is rated PG.

This Ohio Life readers in Cincinnati and Columbus have a chance to win passes to see HOME early on Tuesday March 24th. Passes are limited and seating is first-come, first-served and not guaranteed. It’s recommended that you arrive early to increase your chance of entry.

Get the details below!

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Cincinnati

Join the comedic adventures of a girl and her loveable misfit from another planet! Enter HERE for your chance to win passes for HOME on Tuesday, March 24 at AMC Newport on the Levee theatre!

 

Columbus

Join the comedic adventures of a girl and her loveable misfit from another planet! Enter HERE for your chance to win passes for HOME on Tuesday, March 24 at AMC Lennox Town Center theatre!

Newport Aquarium – Photoblog

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My husband, Kenneth, and I are getting as much as we can out of our Newport Aquarium membership! This past weekend we went to the aquarium to see the Weeki Wachee Mermaids before checking out Books on the Banks. If you haven’t been to the Newport Aquarium yet, first click here to read my blog post about it, then go check it out in person! It’s a wonderful place to learn about aquatic life and it’s fun (you can pet real, live sharks too!).

During this visit I took a lot of fishy portraits, saw one of the Weeki Wachee mermaids swimming in the Coral Reef exhibit (she was so graceful!), petted several sharks and checked out the aquarium’s brand new #SharkWall!

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I think these guys are upside-down catfish! About half of the fish were swimming upside down when we saw them.
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“Fishy Portrait” #1: The Concerned Citizen
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“Fishy Portrait” #2: The Sad + Stripy
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“Fishy Portrait” #3: He’s Electric!
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“Fishy Portrait” #4: Lazy Saturday
"Fishy Portrait" #5: No Photos, Please (a series)
“Fishy Portrait” #5: No Photos, Please (a series)
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“Fishy Portrait” #6: Turtle Recall
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Weeki Wachee mermaid in the Coral Reef tank!
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There were a ton of kids and their parents at the aquarium to see the live mermaids.
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My favorite part of visiting the aquarium: petting the sharks!
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My new favorite mural in the area: #SharkWall
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The wall features the following animals: an alligator, Amazon fish, spider crabs, jellyfish, penguins, a turtle, a shark and shark rays.
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The mural is almost 33 feet tall and 50 feet long!

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ohio-120x120 Newport Aquarium

Address: One Aquarium Way Newport, Kentucky 41071

Phone Number: 1-800-406-3474

Hours: Open daily 10 am – 6pm. Extended summer hours are 9am – 6pm from May 23rd to August 30th.

Admission: Under 2 – Free. Ages 2-12 – $15. Ages 13+ – $23.

Social Media: BlogFacebookPinterest, Twitter

Weeki Wachee Mermaids

Address: Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, 6131 Commercial Way Spring Hill Florida 34606

Phone Number: 352-592-5656

Social Media: FacebookPinterest , Twitter, YouTube

ArtWorks

Address: 20 E. Central Parkway Cincinnati, Ohio 45202

Phone Number: 513-333-0388

Social Media: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest , Twitter

Newport Aquarium – Northern Kentucky

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The Newport Aquarium, while technically located in Kentucky, is only a short 7 minute drive from downtown Cincinnati. Opened in May 1999, the aquarium features thousands of animals from around the globe in 1,000,000 gallons of water! In the aquarium there are 70 exhibits, 14 galleries and five seamless acrylic tunnels that allow a nearly 360° viewing experience of underwater life. Many different aquatic animals call the Newport Aquarium home, including alligators, corals, crabs, fresh and saltwater fish, frogs, warm and cold climate penguins, rays, sea stars, sharks, shark rays, toads, tortoises, turtles and urchins.

The first time I visited the Newport Aquarium was with my family shortly after it opened in 1999. I mostly remember the cute antics of my then three year old cousin, Emily, but I know we all had fun. Kenneth also visited the aquarium as a kid and was excited when our move to the Cincinnati area brought us closer. We’re only thirty minutes away so we bought a membership earlier this summer and plan to visit often.

There are so many amazing and beautiful creatures at the aquarium! One of my favorite exhibits is Bizarre and Beautiful. Here you can see lovely lined seahorses, Mississippi paddlefish with their strange paddle shaped snouts, beautiful sea anemones and gigantic Japanese spider crabs (if spiders make you uncomfortable, skip these guys – they really look like giant spiders). I loved how the sea anemones undulated in the slight current of their tank. They looked like a field of underwater flowers, blowing in a light breeze – so beautiful!

My favorite creatures in Bizarre and Beautiful are the spotted garden eels. Another name for the spotted garden eel is lazy gob, which seems appropriate. As they sway in the ocean current like blades of seagrass, the eels open their mouths and face the current to catch whatever zooplankton and other small animals float their way. They can live in colonies of up to 1,000 individuals, just waiting for a good meal to drift by! In case of danger, the eels burrow tail first into the sand. As we checked out the two eels closest to the glass, they slowly sunk deeper into their burrows, keeping their large yellow eyes fixed on my camera.

Crocodiles and alligators have always made me nervous. It’s probably a defense mechanism because my feet instantly become rooted to the ground at the sight of a full-grown croc or alligator at the zoo. We’ve actually skipped visiting the alligator at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium on several occasions just because of how ill at ease they make me feel. My alligator anxiety might also stem from all those years spent watching The Crocodile Hunter get into gnarly situations with crocs and other reptiles as a kid (R.I.P. Steve Irwin). Whatever it is, I was not excited to check out Gator Alley. Then I saw the young Morelet’s crocodile and African dwarf crocodile. Neither of these crocs at the Newport Aquarium are full grown – they were actually really cute. Mighty Mike on the other hand, is a gigantic, fully grown 14 foot long and 800 pound alligator. He’s huge! He still made me nervous, but since we have a membership at the aquarium, I have time to work on my alligator anxiety. I’ll also get to meet Snowball and Snowflake, two albino American alligators who just moved back to the aquarium a week ago.

The Frog Bog is an adorable exhibit at the Newport Aquarium! The walls are bright and cheerfully painted with large, colorful wildflowers. This exhibit is home to 20 different species of exotic frogs and has a lot of hands on activities and a play area for kids. I even found a gnome in an aquarium that was waiting for its resident amphibian to return!

Turtle Canyon, formerly the Rainforest exhibit, is the newest addition to the aquarium. The exhibit is now home to 14 different species of turtles from three continents! Included in the exhibit are both the largest and smallest tortoise species in the world: the Galápagos tortoise (named Bravo) and the Egyptian tortoise. One of the little Egyptian tortoises was very active, I watched him walk from one end of the tank to the other twice, in a relatively short period of time. This tortoise is critically endangered, mostly due to habitat loss and the illegal pet trade.

The Coral Reef acrylic tunnel was beautiful! In addition to gorgeous, brightly colored fish and “smiling” cownose rays, we also saw divers! The two divers in the aquarium took breaks from wiping down the glass to wave at visitors.

The Jellyfish Gallery is the largest jellyfish exhibit in the Midwest. The room is dark and oddly relaxing, given that some jellyfish stings can cause severe pain and even death. In one of the tall column shaped tanks jellyfish are back-lit in bright red and gently float counterclockwise while mesmerized visitors watch. My favorites were the upside-down jellyfish, they look like a cross between a sea anemone and a mushroom. Some species of crab will carry this species of jelly on their back, using the stinging cells secreted in mucus by the jelly as protection!

At the Kroger Penguin Palooza we watched a short program about penguins. An aquarium presenter, smartly dressed to resemble a rockhopper penguin, led the presentation with the help of two animated penguins. The presentation was geared toward a young audience, but it was cute (and educational)! I’d love to come back for the Penguin Encounters experience and hang out with the African penguins that live at the aquarium – they’re such fascinating birds!

I loved getting to check out the touch pools at the aquarium! We were able to touch live animals in three areas: the Tide Pool in Shore Gallery, Turtle Corral in Turtle Canyon and the touch pool in Shark Central. All of the touch pools require guests to use the official two-finger touch technique, but that’s the only requirement to touch these amazing animals. In the Tide Pool I touched a sea star and a sea urchin. The sea star had a unique texture, it felt a little rubbery and a little like a gel shoe insert. The starfish I touched moved slightly, I hope I didn’t startle it! The sea urchin was, not surprisingly, sharp and spiky.

I was so excited to check out the touch pool in Shark Central. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with an odd collection of animals, mainly bears, bats, big cats, camels and sharks. Before visiting the aquarium this summer, I had only ever pet one of the animals on my list of childhood favorites (a brown bat that was in a nature program when I was volunteering at a nature center). I can now check “shark” off my list! I petted a pyjama shark (also known as a striped catshark!). The pyjama shark I petted slightly lifted its head when my fingers grazed its forehead. It’s skin was slightly slippery and a little rough, like sandpaper. Other species in the Shark Central tank included: the dark shyshark, horn shark, lesser guitarfishPort Jackson shark and the puffadder shyshark. The name “shyshark” comes from the sharks’ habit of curling into a ball and covering its eyes with its tail when threatened (it’s to make themselves harder to swallow, but it also makes them adorable!).

All of these sharks appear to be nocturnal bottom dwellers and are relatively harmless to humans (the caption on a photo of a horn shark on Wikipedia even describes them as “innocuous towards humans”). The entire time we were at the touch tank, only two sharks were active, one was swimming slow laps in the tank and another was attempting to lay an egg on the rough rocks in a corner of the tank. Most of the sharks were napping, one was even sleeping on its back! I would have spent most of my time just in Shark Central, petting the sharks… but Kenneth wanted to check out the rest of the aquarium (the water was also really really cold in the touch tank!).

Another of my favorite parts of the aquarium is the Shark Tunnel. It’s one of the last exhibits you walk through and on your way out of the aquarium you pass over the tank and get a bird’s-eye view of the sharks (it’s one of the largest open air tank displays in the US!). As we walked through the tunnel, we saw sharks, shark rays and stingrays swimming above us, next to us and even below us in some areas where the walkway is also made of the thick, clear acrylic found throughout the aquarium. The species in Shark Tunnel include: blacktip reef sharks, honeycomb whiprays, sandbar sharks, sand tiger sharks, southern stingrays, whitetip reef sharks and zebra sharks. Of all the amazing sharks and rays in the tank, I was most interested in the shark rays, animals I had never heard of before this recent visit. Shark rays are ray species and are considered vulnerable in the wild due to numerous threats including habitat loss and degradation, fishing and coral bleaching. They do fairly well in captivity and the Newport Aquarium has started the world’s first captive breeding program of shark rays. Right now four shark rays live at the aquarium and are named Sweet Pea, Scooter, Sunshine and Spike.

I expect we will be back soon to explore the aquarium again (and to pet sea stars and sharks!). It’s a great indoor entertainment and education option for the sultry hot summer days of Ohio!

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ohio-120x120 Newport Aquarium

Address: One Aquarium Way Newport, Kentucky 41071

Phone Number: 1-800-406-3474

Hours: Open daily 10 am – 6pm. Extended summer hours are 9am – 6pm from May 23rd to August 30th.

Admission: Under 2 – Free. Ages 2-12 – $15. Ages 13+ – $23.

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