My latest VISIONS Across America travels took me along a familiar route (I-80 to I-74 to I-70 east) but to suprisingly unexplored territory: Indianapolis, Ind.; Columbus, Ohio; and Wheeling and Morgantown, W.V.
I’ve been through these towns before, even stayed the night here and there, but I was always en route to other places. It was fun to immerse myself in these cities if only for a little while.
Indianapolis is a great city if you’re a sports fan. The NCAA headquarters is located there (with its Hall of Champions), along with the Indianapolis Colts football team and Indiana Pacers basketball team – plus the obvious Indianapolis 500, the world’s largest single-day spectator sporting event. If, like me, you’re not a sports fan, the city may hold somewhat less appeal.
I found the downtown architecture a little disappointing, and the highly touted Canal Walk (pictured above) pretty ho-hum. I searched for a restaurant in the downtown area and found mostly chains – most of which seemed to cater to sports fans. I did end up finding Napolese, an artisanal pizzeria, where I got a lovely, simple margherita pizza topped with arugula. What I really wanted was a glass of prosecco to go with it and time to linger, but unfortunately I was working.
I did visit the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which was very good, and there are a number of other non-sports-related museums in the city, including the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, the Indiana State Museum, and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. There’s also the Indianapolis Zoo, which is rated one of the nation’s top 10 zoos. And, if you go, don’t miss the Soldiers & Sailors Monument (above) located downtown Indianapolis in Monument Circle. Find a complete list of top Indianapolis attractions here.
Who knew Columbus, Ohio, was so cool? In addition to Columbus being the home of The Ohio State University – one of this country’s largest institutions of higher education – the city also has a vibrant downtown, cool architecture, wonderful parks, and great restaurants. I happened to be in town during the annual community festival known as ComFest (slogan: “Party with a Purpose”), so I strolled through the food, craft, vintage goods, music, and propaganda tents until I got way too scorched by the afternoon sun and began to feel way too old and un-funky, given the crowd.
I had time to kill between jobs, so I visited the Short North neighborhood just north of downtown, walked briefly through the German Village, took a quick tour of campus (which was much nicer than I expected, what with its terrible logo and uninspired alumni magazine), and sat in a park one evening to watch the ducks.
I have to put in a plug for an Iowa State business in Columbus: Sugardaddy’s Sumptuous Sweeties, co-founded by Mark Ballard, a 1984 Iowa State grad. Mark rolled out the red carpet for us and sent us on our way with the most delicious box of brownies and blondies you can imagine. (When we got back to Iowa, the rental car was covered in brownie crumbs.) I don’t follow such things, but apparently it’s a big deal that Mark’s Tahiti Blonde Sweetie won a throwdown with Bobby Flay on the Food Network. All I know is it tastes really amazing and decadent and it’s a good thing I don’t live in Columbus.
I stayed two nights in the Hawthorn Suites on the north side of town in the Worthington area. I do not recommend this hotel (it was awful), but it turns out it’s actually very close to a really nice stretch of North High Street that I found to be much more suited to my 50-something sensibilities than the grungier, funkier Short North. The first night my traveling buddy and I ate a cheese plate and drank beer on the very civilized front porch of The Worthington Inn. We enjoyed it so much we went back the next night (why mess with a good thing?) and sat on the porch again, but with the added entertainment of a severe thunderstorm complete with hail. We had the best seats in the house if you like a good storm.
The morning we were heading out of Columbus we went back to the same area but ate breakfast a block south of the Worthington Inn at the La Chatelaine French Bakery. The baked goods looked delightful, the waitress greeted us in French, and the bistro menu was great. In the evening, the place even turns into a bar. What more could you want?
I love driving through Wheeling, West Virginia, on I-70 for three reasons: First, it’s just a great-looking, old-fashioned river town. Second, it seems like it’s sort of the entrance to the eastern part of the U.S. Third, and most importantly, the town reminds me of the town in Scuffy the Tugboat, one of my favorite childhood Little Golden Books. Have you read this book? Then you know what I’m talking about. (Isn’t this cute? Scuffy has his own Wikipedia page.) Anyway, besides driving over the main river bridge to view the town, you can also visit the Wheeling Island historic district and walk (yikes!) and drive across the scary old river bridge (above).
Morgantown, West Virginia, has a lot in common with my town of Ames, Iowa. Our universities – Iowa State University and West Virginia University – are roughly the same size with many of the same academic programs. Their beautiful alumni center opened at the same time as ours. The towns are similar in size and have historic downtowns.
The striking difference is the land. While Ames is located in flat, flat, flat central Iowa, Morgantown is in hilly, hilly, hilly West Virginia. The town is situated along the banks of the Monongahela River, and its narrow, winding streets make me shudder to think of ice, snow, and gameday.
I stayed at the Euro-Suites Hotel, which I have to say is one of the very nicest places I’ve ever stayed for the price (under $100 per night). The rooms were huge, clean, and well appointed, and the common spaces were nicely decorated. Even the free breakfast (a concept I’ve come to loathe) was better than most.
Just outside of town we met with an Iowa State alum who runs a 38-acre hobby farm complete with a flock of Coopworth sheep, geese, chickens, peacocks, angora goats (above), a house full of purebred Maine Coon cats (!), and a couple of Great Pyrenees – the polar bear of dog breeds – to guard the sheep. I walked away smelling of wet sheep (did I forget to mention that it was raining?) and covered with cat hair (my own fault, I’ll admit).
I’m back in Iowa for a few weeks now – just in time for the Fourth of July!