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You don’t have to look far for Christmas travel destinations

You don’t have to look far for Christmas travel destinations

COLUMBUS — There wasn’t enough time. That’s what I discovered when my wife, Terry, and I spent two nights in Columbus. We hadn’t allocated enough time to thoroughly explore the few sites we opted to visit.

Trying to hit all the marks on our itinerary, we dashed into the National Veterans Memorial and Museum 45 minutes before closing on Veterans Day. We were staggered by the comprehensive history lesson told through the eyes of those who fought on the front lines.

Even though the museum seems compact, I practically speed-walked in a failed attempt to see it all, pausing at times to snap photos of placards so that I could read them later.

Our tour was arranged by Experience Columbus, an arm of the Greater Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, which wants to promote Christmas in Columbus as a one-tank destination trip. We only had time to breeze through a handful of the possibilities. Here’s the schedule that wore us out as we tried to keep up:

• After a 2 1/2-hour Thursday afternoon drive, we arrived at Addella’s on Oak bar and grill for coffee for Terry and ice water for me. I drooled over menu items such as the garlic bread meatball sub, bourbon barbecue pulled pork biscuit and double crunch tacos, but we quickly were off to the…

l Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, which is decked out for the holidays with huge, colorful displays of Chihuly glass artwork as well as Christmas lights.

“I had no idea that there were so many varieties of plants,” Terry said. “Amazing. Very informative. Beautiful.”

My favorite was the desert area with the varieties of cacti — until we got to the trains. The Paul Busse Garden Railway in the Grand Mallway features 51 botanical structures ranging from the Wild West to European cities to fairy tales. G-scale model trains chug along 1,122 feet of tracks on wooded bridges that passed over our heads and through tree stump tunnels at our feet.

All this was laced with dozens of plants that I couldn’t identify, nor did I care to know what they were, because, you know, trains!

• If we could only return to visit one place in Columbus, it would be to the aforementioned National Veterans Memorial and Museum, which opened in 2018. Terry and I only made it through the first of three floors, and only then by skimming entire sections.

The displays — including artifacts, sketches, photos and video — are laid out in a timeline that follows U.S. military history beginning in 1775 with the American Revolutionary War. The museum focuses on the personal stories of U.S. veterans, helping visitors to feel what they felt. You can even heft some of the equipment they used for a better idea of what it was like.

The lower level includes a recording booth for visiting veterans to share their own experiences. When I return, I want to go downstairs to listen to some of those accounts.

It was a fascinating and humbling visit made all the more meaningful by the fact that we were there on Veterans Day.

• A wonderfully helpful Army veteran named Codie was our server at Wolf’s Ridge Brewing in the Short North section of Columbus.

Terry enjoyed her larger-than-expected order of fish and chips, and I barely made it through my eight-ounce patty WRB burger and garlic fries. But we couldn’t pass up the peanut butter and caramelized banana with lightly flavored bourbon ice cream, chocolate sauce and pecan crumbles.

The wait wasn’t long but if it is, you can watch the goings-on in the brewery below through viewing windows in the corridor between the dining room and the tap room.

Codie sent us back to our room with one of Wolf Ridge’s “at-home experiences,” a package of five oatmeal and cherry cookies (baked fresh daily), paired with a craft winter lager titled “Impish or Admirable?” I don’t drink, so I’ll have to report later on the qualities of the lager after someone more qualified than I am judges it.

• We finally retreated to the spacious and comfortable bed of our seventh-floor room at Canopy by Hilton in the Short North district.

I needed front desk host Mimi to show me how to work the high-tech elevators: hold your card key to the reader until the display beeps; tap your floor number; the display will point to which of the four elevators will take you up; get into your car and don’t punch any buttons, because there are no floor buttons to punch inside the car. If you squeeze into a car someone else has called, you’re stuck going to their floor, not yours.

Pro tip: If you present Mimi with a bouquet of flowers, you’ve made a friend for life.

Furniture in our room included a divan and a bed table. If you want to know what to get me for Christmas, I’ll take the divan and table for my home office. It’s a great place to lounge with one’s laptop.

• Technology stumped me again at The Skillet in German Village. There were no menus.

“This is the wave of the future,” our server said. He pointed at my cellphone. “Just aim your camera over the QR code and the menu will come up on your screen.”

It didn’t. Our sever at this “trendy daytime spot for farm-to-table takes on American fare with a modest yet hip ambiance” directed me to a somewhat complicated process of finding the menu online.

I didn’t get his name — I probably had to scan his badge with my phone or something.

By this time, I was ready to go. I’m glad we persevered instead. Terry said her cheese blintz was “like heaven on a fork.” My chorizo gravy over biscuits and scrambled eggs was fantastic. Don’t bother with the QR code thingy, just order the chorizo gravy over biscuits. It’s worth the navigation.

• Being old people full of breakfast, we got a late start for our Friday morning exploration of German Village, a highlight of any trip to Columbus. Brick buildings and old-style architecture make it a visual treat before you start any shopping.

We made a way-too-brief trip inside The Book Loft, a delicious labyrinth of 32 rooms — yes, 32 — jammed with books. For me, it’s like being a kid in a candy store. If you can’t find the title you want at The Book Loft, you must not be looking hard enough — which is why it bummed me out that I couldn’t find any of the children’s novels that I wrote on the shelves. Next trip.

• At Schmidt’s Sausage Haus in German Village (we’re eating again already?), server Jordan told us that German Village is the place to be over the holiday season. “Everybody down here decorates for Christmas,” she said. And offers sales and entertainment.

Marc, the manager, said he was the new kid. The rest of the staff had been there 10 years or longer. He claims, “I came to eat and they couldn’t get rid of me, so they gave me a job.”

By the time I polished off a great sausage Reuben sandwich with German potato salad, I had to surrender and had my excellent German chocolate cake packed in a to-go box.

• There’s no “Starry Night” or the famous self-portraits, but the Columbus Museum of Art’s new Van Gogh exhibit displays an impressive education on Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh and the contemporaries who influenced him.

“Through Vincent’s Eyes: Van Gogh and His Sources” pulls more than 15 oils, sketches and prints spanning the Post-Impressionist’s career, interspersed with more than 100 works from influences such as Paul Gauguin and Claude Monet. Each work is accompanied by explanations that put things in context, often with quotes from Van Gogh himself on what it meant to him.

Once again, the exhibition closed for the day before we could thoroughly study every work and placard. We need to budget more time for our next trip to Columbus.

• We finished our second day with another reminder that we are too old to be hip or to make the scene.

The Del Mar SoCal Kitchen is a trendy Cameron Mitchell Restaurant in the Short North section of town. We threaded our way through scores of young, stylish enthusiasts into a spacious but packed cruise ship-themed restaurant thumping with club music. I nearly detected the melody line underneath the bass notes.

I relaxed when I heard the bass line for a Fleetwood Mac song from my youth, and when we saw another gray-haired couple be seated. It was our opportunity to savor a $100 meal, something I’ve never done, and I wasn’t about to miss it. The tacos served at the table next to us stoked my appetite with a marvelous grill smell.

My grilled scallops erased thoughts of the tacos. Wow. “They have a good handle on taste and textures,” Terry said.

Welcome to the hip and happening world, oldsters.

• Saturday morning, we set off for La Chatelaine French Bakery and Bistro in the Columbus suburb of Dublin. Any eatery with a fireplace, bookshelves and antique furniture sounds wonderful to me, but La Chatelaine added to the inviting atmosphere with the best French onion soup my wife said she’s ever had. She also ordered a Caesar salad and a prosciutto and cheese sandwich.

I couldn’t pronounce my order — ouefs Benedict — but it was the best-tasting language lesson ever.

• A good deal of the animals at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium had retreated to their indoor quarters. It was a rainy, windy, chilly afternoon and we also retreated to the warm indoor exhibits.

We stood in a glass tunnel while seals and sea lions darted below, above and around us; I petted sting rays, which begged for food with more intensity than my dogs ever did; we hung out with the two gorilla troops; and relaxed in front of enormous tanks of sea life.

As the sun began to set, the millions (about 3 million, to be exact) of Christmas lights lit up the pathways in a sparkling array of colors. They’ll be even more striking when the snow falls. Bundle up.

We capped our zoo visit warming up with the 1914 Grand Carousel with 52 wooden carved horses. According to the Ohio Historical Marker outside the carousel building, the carousel was first installed at Olentangy Park, moved in 1938 to the Scioto Ranch Park (Wyandot Lake), and became the zoo carousel in 2000. Less than 200 of the original 5,000 Grand Carousels manufactured remain.

Christmas lights, hundreds of animals and pieces of history — I love zoos.

• We wrapped up our Columbus stay still in the Bridge Park area in Dublin, where we had hoped to eat at the comfy looking Cap City Fine Diner, but the waiting list was too long. Foiled by time issues once again.

We walked around Bridge Park into a surprising visit to Rebol — surprising because I’m a Wendy’s kind of guy (Dave Thomas founded Wendy’s in Columbus in 1969), and Rebol is a cafe featuring “organic, non-GMO vegan, paleo-friendly and gluten-free options.” The two places aren’t part of the same dining hemisphere.

But my Naan Bol with a naan bread base, rice, grass-fed steak, black bean corn elotes, grilled vegetables, goat cheese, pistachio chimichurri sauce, crispy garlic and sesame seeds is something I want to order again — even if I don’t understand what half the ingredients are. It filled me up without making me feel blah or bloated. Great stuff.

Sitting in padded chairs and watching The Ohio State Buckeyes finish walloping Purdue on a big-screen TV mounted over a fireplace seemed pretty sweet, too.

All too soon, weary, sore but with smiles on our faces, it was time to drive the 160 miles home. To paraphrase Schwarzenegger, whose statue flexes outside the Greater Columbus Convention Center, we’ll be back.

Light shows

The night skies in Columbus will be bright with Christmas lights beginning this week, including:

• Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium start Friday and run through Jan. 2. At 5 p.m. nightly, the 580-plus-acre Zoo is transformed into a winter wonderland covered in more than 3 million LED lights.

• Conservatory Aglow at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens starts Saturday and runs through Jan. 9. From 5 to 9 p.m., stunning outdoor and indoor displays are lit with thousands of holiday lights. Visitor favorites such as the musical light show and life-size Gingerbread House accompany new light displays, while entertainers and musicians perform.

• More than 400,000 lights will bedazzle the Columbus Commons 5 to 10 p.m. nightly from Saturday through Jan. 3. Light displays along the riverfront at the Scioto Mile are a five-minute walk away. The Scioto Mile holiday lights will be on Nov. 25 to Jan. 3.

• The Grand Illumination and tree lighting ceremony at Easton Town Center is 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. Easton will also offer their horse-drawn carriage rides again this year through the illuminated town center Saturday through Dec. 19.

• Historic German Village will be bright with displays throughout the shops, restaurants and historic homes. Village Lights, a community celebration is set for Dec. 5.

• Butch Bando’s Fantasy of Lights, a holiday drive-thru light show, runs from Friday through Jan. 2.

Source: Experience Columbus

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