Sometimes getting away from home can be as simple as getting out of your home and taking a fresh look at the sights right in your hometown.
It's called taking a "staycation," and in an era of $3.50 per gallon fill-ups, heavy airport security and ever-escalating hotel fees, it's become an attractive option for many Americans who are feeling the wallet crunch.
World Tourism Day is September 27, and Cincinnati seniors are celebrating in surprising ways.
World Tourism Day, a United Nations initiative first observed in 1980, is meant to "foster awareness among the international community of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic value."
The theme for this year's World Tourism Day— "Tourism and Community Development"— highlights the way tourism can create positive change by bringing visibility, capital re-investment and much-needed jobs. And those of us living in Cincinnati have been seeing exactly that kind of change over the past several years in historic neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine (OTR), Newport and Covington— areas that as late as the early 2000s were chronically depressed, overlooked and underappreciated.
All three have experienced a recession-defying building boom through the past decade. With new attractions, new restaurants and revitalized historic sites, they are all certainly staycation worthy.
But among them, Over-the-Rhine's comeback really stands out.
Germany comes to the Midwest.
You're probably familiar with OTR’s backstory: the areas in and around the old Erie Canal spur (over which Central Parkway now lies) were settled in the mid-1800s by a large influx of German immigrants. The highly-polluted canal reminded the immigrants of their homeland's industrialized Rhine River valley, so they took to calling the canal "der Rhein."
The name stuck, and non-German Cincinnatians began referring to the neighborhood, somewhat derogatively, as "Over-the-Rhine." But to the German settlers, the appellation was a badge of cultural honor.
Naturally, breweries and beer gardens were a commonplace sight in OTR at the turn of the twentieth century; at one point, Cincinnati could claim more breweries per capita than any other major American city (with 38 in the OTR neighborhood alone). The advent of Prohibition in the 1920s swept away many of the old operations and the buildings sat, abandoned and decaying, for the better part of 90 years.
The OTR renaissance.
Now, all of that is changing. If you haven't been through downtown's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood lately, now is the time to experience the changes.
Historic Cincinnati brewing labels like Christian Moerlein and Hudepohl have been revived. The reborn Moerlein bought the old Kauffman Brewery and is using it to produce for its new Lager House on the Cincinnati riverfront. And new craft breweries have moved into some of the old buildings, too. Rhinegeist, for example, began operations in 2013 housed in Moerlein's old brew house (built in 1895). For tourists (or staycationers) interested in beer, history, or architecture, Cincinnati Brewery District tours are now conducted by several operators.
Other historical tour opportunities.
The Cincinnati Museum Center offers Heritage Tours of various historic sites in and around the city, including the still-extant tunnels from Cincinnati's abortive subway construction project (although spots are limited and it typically sells out quickly).
A popular tour that is a little less difficult to score is the Museum Center's "Inclines and Overlooks" group (next going on Sunday, October 18), which takes participants to the sites where Cincinnati's incline rail systems used to ferry commuters to downtown from the surrounding steep hilltop neighborhoods, then home again at the end of the day. At their height of use, five separate inclines served the city; the last, in Price Hill, closed down in the late 1940s.
If tours aren't your cup of tea, a nice meal and a walk in Washington Park might.
Over-the-Rhine, especially on Vine Street between Central Parkway and 15th, is a hotbed for foodie cuisine and gourmet offerings. From the new Eagle beer hall and chicken joint (housed in the neighborhood's early 1900s post office building), to high-end coffee and wine bar 1215, your palate will surely be pleased.
Afterwards, you might take a stroll through the recently renovated Washington Park, located at 12th and Race, and experience its gorgeous new gardens. Your grandkids will love the play area and, in these last few warm days, the splash fountains.
Vacation doesn't have to be an ordeal. Try a Cincy staycation this year.
This World Tourism Day, ditch the house and get out and about in your own hometown. It's one of the joys of senior living— retirement frees you up to do all the things you passed up when you were living workaday. There are probably many sights in the Queen City that you have heard about, but never made an effort to go see. There isn't a better time than now!