AAA Great Vacations Expo: Andrew Zimmern, Jack Hanna and travel info galore

Last year I went to a AAA virtual travel show. Although it was very cool indeed, this weekend’s in person travel show opportunity–AAA Great Vacations Expo, is a perfect place to scout out travel options for 2009. The fact that it’s in Columbus makes it a no brainer for me. If you can swing it, come.

First off, Andrew Zimmern is going to be there on Sunday. As a Bizarre Foods fan, it will be a kick to see him in person and hear about his behind the scenes travel experiences.

On Saturday, Jack Hanna will be talking about his work with animals. I’m also interested in hearing what Amy Alipio, the Associate Editor of National Geographic Traveler’s “City Life” department has to say. She’s going to be talking about some of the world’s most interesting destinations.

Also, throughout Saturday, there are several offerings that were developed with kids in mind. In addition to Jack Hanna and his animal friends, the Ohio Wildlife Center and other organizations have kid-friendly activities. Sponge Bob is also making an appearance. Check out the event schedule for details. My son is already chomping to go. Sponge Bob to him is what Andrew Zimmern is to me.

In addition to the talks, I’m looking forward to wandering among the exhibitors. Browsing among tables laden with travel offerings is a chance to wander through possibilities.

As a person who likes to check out model homes and RVs for the voyeuristic pleasure, I imagine this weekend’s travel show will be a chance to peek into the various vacation opportunities. Should we rent a house near a beach in North Carolina–or head to a rafting vacation in West Virginia? What’s close to home? How cheap is luxury?

Although I’m not planning on an Alaskan cruise any time soon, finding out the options from someone who plans such trips is appealing. So is finding out about more adventure travel options or traveling green. Both themes are hot themes this year.

I imagine that going to this travel show will be like trying on different outfits to see which one is the best fit. Although many exhibitors are based in Ohio, several have reaches outside the state. I’m looking for those travel deals that are hard to pass up, as well as the ones I haven’t thought of before. For example, at the virtual show, I found out about a company that specializes in cruises on European rivers. Uniworld Cruises will be among the more than 100 exhibitors. As with many of the exhibitors, booking a vacation this weekend means a discount.

After the weekend, I’ll let you know what tidbits I’ve found out–and what Andrew Zimmern is like in person.

If you are planning on going, the event is at Veterans Memorial from Friday through Sunday. Vets Memorial is located on West Broad St., near COSI, the science museum–also a worthy stop. Make a weekend of it. Check out this post on 10 things there are to do in or near downtown Columbus.

Columbus is number one on a best places list: 10 things to do within walking distance from downtown.

My friend over at Wallet Pop, Tom Barlow has outlined several reasons why Columbus is the number one spot on Forbes list of best places to retire. As he noted, that’s great news for those of us who already live here. It will save moving expenses later in the golden years.

Along with being a great place to retire, I have to say, Columbus is one of the best cities to visit if you are looking for variety whether its edgy or sedate, ethnic or traditional, outdoors or indoors.

Like Tom mentioned, having a car would make a visit easier because COTA, the public transportation system has issues, but even for backpackers, Columbus would be a good few days stop on a cross-country itinerary. There are many places within walking distance of the Greyhound bus station and the main arteries of the city bus.

With the person arriving by bus in mind, if I were heading to Columbus, here are places not to miss, all near the downtown and in a walkable distance. Although, the COTA buses that go along Broad St. and High Street would save time. The interest range covers the arts, history, famous people, science and nature. With the list I’ve given, you’ll be busy.

  • Ohio Statehouse. Because Columbus is the state capital of Ohio, the capitol building has a prominent place downtown. There are free daily tours. The tour is an interesting way to find out about the history of the state and learn about the architecture of the times. Plus, it really is a gorgeous building. The statehouse lawn is used for concerts, art exhibits, rallies and Civil War reenactments.
  • Across from the Statehouse is the Verne Riffe Center where the Ohio Arts’ Council’s, Riffe Center Gallery and the Studios in the Riffe Center Theatre Complex are located. The gallery offers creative and unusual exhibits on a rotating basis and the theatre complex offers a variety of performances ranging from modern dance to children’s’ theater to experimental type plays.
  • Columbus Museum of Art. This museum has exhibits that change regularly. The most recent is Objects of Wonder from the Ohio State University. Of the permanent collection, artwork is consistently rotated. (Eat lunch here.)
  • Franklin Park Conservatory. An elegant greenhouse that adds lush greenery and vibrant color to life any time of the year. The houses around the conservatory are grand, although a couple of blocks off you’re in territory that shows what happens when people with money head for the suburbs. The gift shop is superb. Each night, the glass Palm House is illuminated by a light show installation by artist James Terrell.
  • King Arts Complex offers exhibits and performances that highlight African American contributions to the arts. There is an important mural called Middle Passage that was created to evoke the feeling of being on a slave ship. The mural was painted in a connecting passage between two sections of the center.
  • Ohio Theatre, Palace Theatre and Southern Theatre, offer a theatre trifecta of historic gorgeous buildings built during the time period when ornamentation and rich fabrics were key. Between them, you can see the top notch performances. In this past year, I’ve seen The Lion King, Avenue Q, the Columbus Symphony, the Nutcracker Ballet, David Sedaris, John Prine, Ralph Stanely and the Stanely Brothers, and Promusica, among others. Each theatre and others can be accessed through CAPA,Columbus.
  • Topiary Garden in back of the Main Library (Columbus’s library system is number 1 in the U.S. as well.) In addition to the lovely flower beds, bushes are trimmed to represent Seraut’s painting “In the Park.” Stop in the Main Library for coffee and a cookie at the snack bar. The library is a gorgeous, stately building–one of my favorites.
  • James Thurber’s house. James Thurber, the humorist who penned “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” grew up in Columbus. Now his house is a museum as well as a literary center that hosts several author readings year round.
  • Kelton House. Another house museum. This Victorian house was inhabited by members of the same family for 125 years and was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
  • BOMA (Bar of Modern Art) Here’s a place to finish of the evening. Originally a statuesque Methodist church, the original stained glass windows and building details have been adapted for dancing, music, art and fine food.

One place you might stay if you have some cool cash, is the Westin Great Southern Hotel. Connected to the Southern Theatre, this is where Thurber hung out in the bar.

For extensive information about other parts of Columbus and more things to do, head to Experience Columbus, the city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Of course, there’s more to do. I haven’t even touched on places away from downtown except for Franklin Park Conservatory.

The first photo at the beginning of this post by Nutsy Fagan was taken from COSI, the science museum, another worthwhile stop. While you’re walking here, check out the replica of the Santa Maria, Columbus’s ship–Columbus the explorer–where Columbus got its name. How? Why? Not sure.

Remember, these are downtown, I didn’t cover German Village, the Short North, the Brewery District or the Arena District. Those are also close to downtown and within walking distance if you have a good pair of shoes, or hop on COTA.

Travel or home improvement? How about travel to a home and garden show?

When I lived overseas some friends of mine, who also lived overseas, complained that when they were in the U.S. on vacation, they couldn’t relate to what excited people.

For example, one friend said that a friend of hers in the U.S. was excited about getting a new deck. My friend didn’t think that getting a new deck was exciting news. Planning an adventure vacation was exciting, however–unless you are a person who enjoys staying home enjoying a party on your new deck.

I did point out that for people who live overseas, buying items like carpets and unusual furniture can also give one that new things rush and that people like to show off at their parties. She agreed.

Once we moved back to the U.S., I discovered that we were fresh meat when it came to people trying to sell us stuff for home improvement. Let’s just say we have a whole house water improvement system that we have to feed salt, because we lived in two countries where we couldn’t drink the water. I have become more savvy since that purchase. Still, there are always home improvements that loom while we are off traveling.

This is the time of year when, now that vacation fun is fading into the past, the need to nest before winter kicks in begins to build. Somehow, each fall, I’m hooked into some “Let’s spruce up the place” endeavor. A friend who is a handy fellow is doing some plaster repair work today.

Because my friend who was less than impressed with decks has not moved back to the U.S., she is unaware that there are places to go dedicated to decks and other wonders of home improvement. Home and garden shows are a nesting bonanza. This month kicks off a flurry of fall activities geared towards getting people to focus on the place where they live.

At such shows, I’m one of those people who picks up brochures just so I can imagine what a sunroom might look like in the backyard. I won’t actually put a sunroom in the backyard, but the brochures are enticing. I also like to tour model homes and trailers. It’s not like I’d actually like to live in one, but it’s like visiting a movie set where you can imagine another kind of life.

A home and garden show, to a traveler, is a place to fantasize what your house might look like if you were ever home enough to fix it up–or what life would be like if you lived in one place.

Of course, a travel show opens up the possibilities of where you might go if you didn’t need to fix the leaky roof, or felt the draw of energy efficient windows. With some financial juggling, it is possible to take the trips and do home improvements.

The Home and Garden shows listed here are some of the ones I found for September and October.

Although there is an admission price, check local grocery stores or other venues for discount tickets. For example, the Best of Fall Show in Columbus, September 12-14 has free tickets at Krogers.

One thing I noticed about the Columbus show is that there are exhibitors specific to Ohio such as Longaberger baskets, as well as local celebrities. Chances are, if you go to a home and garden show, it’s a way to learn a bit about the state where the show is located. The one in Columbus also has travel related exhibitors which illustrates the fix up the house AND travel lifestyle.

Home and Garden Show in Canada

Toronto Home Show: September 18-21

Here’s a link to a site that lists several others. If you miss the ones this fall, there is always the spring.

Football season: Big Ten football towns. Kick-off weekend things to do with team spirit

Until I moved to Columbus and close to The Ohio State University, I didn’t fully understand football season. Now I do.

If you live in a town with one of the Big Ten Universities, you can’t help but notice when football season starts, even if you are fuzzy on the details of how the game is played. On a Saturday when the Buckeyes are in town, I keep that in mind. Can you say traffic jam?

Still there are advantages of living in a Big Ten town. The team name offers an identity that’s fun to join in, no matter your background. It ties people together. If you live in central Ohio, you’re automatically part of the OSU gang. Put on an OSU T-shirt and people know where you’re from. Even I own a Buckeye T-shirt.

Because this weekend marks the start of the fall football season, here’s a mini guide to the Big Ten teams. If you happen to be traveling through one of these cities or towns this fall, these details may help put you in the football know.

(There are actually 11 Big Ten Universities. For an explanation of what makes a Big Ten, click here.)

These are listed in alphabetical order. Each listing includes places that caught my fancy when I was looking through the Web sites.

1. Indiana University: Bloomington, Indiana: Team name–The Hoosiers- Place to eat on game day: Coaches Bar &Grill . Insider place to see on the campus BESIDES the football stadium: Hoagy Carmichael Room. Carmichael attended the university and his contributions to music are found here. Tailgate Party Location: Hoosier Village

2. The Ohio State University: (OSU): Columbus, Ohio: Team name–The Buckeyes. Place to eat on game day: Buckeye Hall of Fame Cafe. Must see place on the campus BESIDES the football stadium. The Wexner Center for the Arts: Upcoming major attraction: Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms.

3. Michigan State University: East Lansing, Michigan Team name: SpartansPlace to eat on game day: Spartan Sports Den Bar&Grill. Cool Sounding Place that deserves a shout out: Clarence E. Lewis Landscape Arboretum

4. Northwestern University: Evanston, Illinois. Team name: Wildcats. Place to Eat: This page from the Chowhound offers suggestions. Unusual Thing to Do: Paint the Rock that graces the campus.

5. Pennsylvania State University: State College, Pennsylvania. Team name: Nittany Lions Place to eat that’s a town landmark: The Corner Room Not to miss place on campus: The Creamery. Yummy ice-cream and honey butter.

6. Purdue University: West Lafayette, Indiana. Team name: Boilermakers. Thing to do to take in fall colors on campus: Do the Trees of Purdue walking tour.

7. University of Illinois: Urbana, Illinois. Team name: Illini Show your spirit song lyrics. On campus museum that celebrates the world. Spurlock Museum

8. University of Iowa Iowa City, Iowa. Team name: Hawkeyes. Place on campus to show team love: University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame.

9. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Team name: Wolverines Unique way to see the campus. Look for the public art. There is a page with five sections dedicated to outdoor art. I’ve been to Ann Arbor. It’s aesthetically pleasing for sure.

10. University of Minnesota: Twin Cities, Minnesota. Team name: Gophers. Way cool sounding place on campus: Raptor Center. It’s connected with the College of Veterinary Medicine and rehabilitates raptors with the aim to return them to the wild.

11. University of Wisconsin: Madison. Team name: Badgers. Collection on campus after my own heart. Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, one of the largest university textile collections in the United States.

This link lets you know what majors are each university’s specialty.

A water park does well its first year out and Disney is pleased with its earnings

First of all, the water park Zoombezi Bay and Disney have nothing to do with each other, but there is a common element in their stories–their businesses have done swimmingly well this summer.

Zoombezi Bay, a new addition to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium opened on Memorial Day. When I was talking with the associate director last Thursday, he said that they are fiscally ahead of where they had hoped to be and have plans to increase offerings next year. Attendance has been terrific despite their worries that gas prices and the sluggish economy (in Ohio it’s a bit of the pits) may adversely affect the numbers. On the contrary. The thought is that perhaps the “stay-vacation” trend may have swung in the water park’s favor. The weather has also cooperated ever since June’s rainfest ended.

According to this article published in the L.A. Times, Disney resorts and theme parks have not been adversely affected by the economy either. Although, there has been a slight dip in Disneyland’s revenue because of an attendance drop, the numbers have not been as bad as feared. Disney World execs were worried that the number of flights being cut to Orlando would equal a lower attendance, but this had not occurred.

Perhaps Zoombezi Bay and Disney attractions hold what attracts many vacationers. You don’t have to play guesswork when figuring out what you’ll get when you hand over your hard-earned dollars. When the sun is shining, you are usually guaranteed a good time, and in the summer, the sun usually shines. Zoombezi Bay has the added bonus of being new.

(The photo of Zoombezi Bay is from Trip Advisor. Erinslone, the person who posted it, loved the park. Three other commenters were disappointed and frustrated because when they were there the park was incredibly busy. The associate director said more space is being added. I was there Thursday late afternoon and there was plenty of chairs available. My husband was there all day yesterday with our son and neighbor friends. They had a great time.)