July 4th fun in Toledo

By Tom Driver

For Fourth of July fun this year, think Toledo.

Time to begin planning for the long Fourth of July holiday weekend and a two hour road trip to Toledo may be the perfect way to celebrate.  Spend Thursday and Friday in Frog Town and still be home in time for the weekend.  The trip centers around a baseball game but includes fireworks, hot dogs at Packo’s, the Imagination Station and a visit to the Toledo Zoo.

Our room at The Park Inn
Our room at The Park Inn

Have you ever been eye to eye with exploding fireworks?  Your family can experience this mesmerizing perspective by booking a room at The Park Inn in downtown Toledo for the night of July 4.  The Park Inn is right across the street from the ballpark and a block west of the Maumee River and Promenade Park.  During check-in request a room on the seventh floor or higher, but there’s still a choice to make.  Ask for a room with a view of centerfield too see the post-game fireworks show explode outside your window.  The display is set off in the middle of Monroe Street, which is the street between the Park Inn and Fifth Third Field.

The view from our room
The view from our room

An extra bonus for choosing a room facing the ballpark is watching the other fireworks displays from around the city off in the distance.  Opt for a room facing Promenade Park and you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the Toledo city fireworks.  In 2012, the city’s show began ten minutes after the display at Fifth Third Field.

Families will want to leave the game before the bottom of the eighth inning in order to walk back to the hotel before the safety barriers are set up.  Another feature of watching fireworks from the hotel room is the multi-pane windows muffle the noise just enough to allow little ones to enjoy the display at a lower volume.

Toledo Imagination Station, a short walk from the hotel
Toledo Imagination Station, a short walk from the hotel

The Imagination Station is only a five-minute walk north on Summit Street from the Park Inn.  Leave Columbus by 10:00 AM Thursday to allow plenty of time to tour the facility before dinner and the game.  The Imagination Station is free to members of COSI but for non-members the admission is $9.50 for Big Kids (13 and over) and $7.50 for kids between 3 and 12 years old.  COSI regulars will recognize a few of the exhibits but the Imagination Station experience is unique and not ‘COSI north’.

The Lower Atrium includes two of the more popular attractions at the Imagination Station, the High Wire Cycle and Boyo.  The Little KIDSPACE exhibits are geared toward younger kids but everyone will find something engaging.  As one tours the five Learning Worlds look for the Hurricane Chamber, the Distorted Gravity Room, the Science Studio and the whole family can help build a freestanding arch.  The Simulator Theater is a 15 seat virtual roller coaster where riders are strapped in to a race car on an electric toy racetrack full of twists, turns, flips, and jumps.


Packo's at the Park a Toledo institution
Packo’s at the Park a Toledo institution

Before the game, take a short walk from the hotel to Packo’s at the Park and sample some Toledo culinary history.  Arriving 90 minutes before first pitch will ensure enough time to enjoy dinner before the game.  Opened in 1932, Packo’s was made famous in 1976 when Corporal Max Klinger, played by native Toledoan Jamie Farr, mentioned Packo’s by name during an episode of M*A*S*H.  The Chili Mac, dumplings smothered in beef chili and cheddar cheese, and Tony Packo Hot Dog Combo is a favorite.

Fifth Third Field, home to the Toledo Mudhens
Fifth Third Field, home to the Toledo Mudhens

The baseball game is between our hometown Columbus Clippers and the Toledo Mudhens on Thursday, July 4 at Fifth Third Field in downtown Toledo; scheduled start is 6:00 PM.  The best part of Fifth Third Field, from the perspective of parents with young children, is the Kid’s Play Area located behind the wall in centerfield.

Kid Play Area at Fifth Third Field
Kid Play Area at Fifth Third Field

With its spongy floor and many features, the large set-up is something one would find in a neighborhood park.  Because of the height of the centerfield wall, the area is shielded from monster home runs and the full summer evening sun.  Everything a family needs, including concession stand and restrooms, is located within a few steps of the adjacent picnic tables.  Anyone can opt to sit at a picnic table instead of their original seat at no extra charge if the game is not sold out.  Keep in mind that while the play area is shaded, the picnic tables are not; bring your sunscreen.

Toledo Zoo entrance
Toledo Zoo entrance

On Friday, allow some time before the drive home to tour the Toledo Zoo.  A membership to the Columbus Zoo provides a 50% discount off admission.  Parking is $6.00.  The train ride African mini-safari is worth the $2.00 per person fee.  Other highlights include TEMBO Trail, the underwater viewing area at the Hippo exhibit, and the Museum of Science (search for the hidden passageway).

Consider a visit to our border city to the north for a fun start your holiday weekend this Fourth of July.  It’s close, it’s easy on the budget and there is something for everyone in the family to enjoy.

If you would like to read how our family personally enjoyed this Fourth of July trip check out our three part series right here.  Toledo, Part 1 – Imagination Station; Toledo, Part 2 -The Mudhens Game and Toledo, Part 3 – The Toledo Zoo.  You can also check out Toledo Expenses and see for yourself how affordable this short vacation can be.

If your family would like to spend this Fourth of July in Toledo, contact Kelly at WT3 Travel Agency to book your vacation today.


Morning at The Wilds

By Tom Driver

Pasture view, previous afternoon

I stepped out onto the deck of our yurt and the breeze immediately sent a chill from the top of my still wet head down the entire length of my spine.  I wore four layers on my torso but it wasn’t enough as each gust passed right through the fabric.  Perhaps I should’ve waited at little longer after my shower to come outside.  After spending the night in a yurt at Nomad Ridge in The Wilds, I wanted to spend as much time observing their unique collection of animals.  There’s no other location in the midwest, certainly not within two hours of our front door, where one can observe Bactrian camels, one-horned Asian rhinos, and Persian onagers before breakfast.  I was hoping to catch another glimpse of the new-born Asian rhino.  The previous afternoon we watched her for a few lucky moments before her parents ushered their infant to the safety of the dense shrubs near the pond.

Yurts on the hillside

The yurts are positioned half way down the side of the ridge and each one has a small north facing deck overlooking a section of The Wilds’ 10,000+ acres of pasture.  The wind, coming from the south, seemed to gain speed as it sloped down the wooded ridge on its way to the rolling hills in front of me.  As the breeze engulfed the back of my head it felt much colder than the mid 40s temperature suggested on the iPhone.  I catch a chill faster than an old woman in a drafty northern Ireland cottage but I’m determined to get in as much animal observation time as possible.

Yurts with private deck

I marveled at the impact a peaceful morning away from the bustle and noise of civilization has on the senses.  I listened but couldn’t decide if the breeze was playing the trees, or if the trees harnessed the wind as it passed through their branches creating the nice steady, rustling rhythm.  The birds, which I thought may have missed the memo about heading south for winter, were layering in a pleasant melody on top of the tree’s rhythm.  As they swam in the pond at the base of Nomad Ridge, several ducks contributed more percussion with some well timed quacks and flapping wings.  Their water take offs and landings for the short flights between the neighboring ponds was a joy for both the eyes and ears.  Not wanting to feel left out, two Trumpeter Swans swam over to help fill in the gaps with some well timed blasts.

The sun had been on the rise for a little over an hour before it reached the gathering of humps situated on the top of the hill which borders the western edge of the pasture.  The brown coats of the Bactrian camels offer a sharp contrast to the thin layer of green grass on the hillside.  The camels could survey the entire pasture from their vantage point on the highest hill in this section of The Wilds.

DSCF0012I moved my binoculars east and counted sixteen Persian onagers standing on the hillside, some enjoying the sun while others stood in shadows of one of the clouds as it moved north.  Two smaller, and I presumed younger, onagers ran back and forth across the hillside in what looked like a child’s game of ‘you can’t catch me’.  I continued to pan over the pasture with my binoculars until I spotted the bulging grey figure grazing at the bottom of the hill near where the onagers had gathered.  After quick adjustment of the lenses my hopes were confirmed, it was a one-horned Asian rhino in search of a morning snack.  The previous afternoon, I learned from one of the guides she and her mate recently become parents to a baby girl.  Since the staff has tried to entice the family to come inside for the winter.  A few minutes later the second adult Asian rhino strolled into my view and I observed both parents purposely position themselves between the Pe’re David deer and a handful of Persian onagers, and the collection of shrubs and trees lining the pond in the middle of this section of pasture.  The baby must be nestled safely away under the dense vegetation.  I hoped she would come out to warm herself in the morning sun but there was no sign of her.

Thankfully, the sun crept closer to my spot along the south ridge but not fast enough for my chilled fingers.  I still felt the cold through my four layers and wished I had a dense winter coat like the camels I was observing in the pasture.  My wife emerged from our yurt wearing the Irish Fisherman’s wool sweater purchased on our trip to the Emerald Isle.  These are the sweaters the fishermen wear during the winter season and, judging by her lack of a reaction to the last breeze, they have a well earned reputation for fighting off the cold.  I should’ve bought one for myself when I had the chance.

The Wilds

The sun had stretched high enough to nearly cover the entire pasture and the fall colors from the trees lining the ridge came into full view.  Oranges, burnt reds, yellows, and fading greens provided a colorful border to the rather bland pastures.  The saving grace being the few trees along the lake shore whose seasonal colors made them stand out like the kid who forgot his uniform on picture day.  The scene – rolling hills, solitary trees, wispy grasses leaning in the breeze, clusters of vegetation, some framing small lakes whiles others stand isolated in green pastures – reminded me more of the landscapes described by Robert Louis Stevenson in his Scottish novels collection than the rural Ohio I remember from camping trips with my family.  Rural Ohio is usually covered in thick woods or cleared farmland.  Unless, of course, there is a substantial amount of coal under the ground.  The land that now provides these endangered species a safe place to live and multiply was obtained decades earlier from AEP as part of a reclamation project.

Fire pit area for use by Nomad Ridge guests

I could have stood there all morning, but my wife was eager to sample the breakfast that came with our overnight stay.  I put down the binoculars and began the 125 step climb from our yurt to the top of Nomad Ridge.  The full 360 degree view of the area, which includes more rolling hills and isolated trees to the east and south, came into our sight line as we finished our ascent.  As the sun continued its climb the few clouds that had shaded the pastures earlier had given way to crisp, blue skies.  The land is not particularly beautiful here, but there is beauty in the peacefulness of the entire setting.

Whether from the energy exerted during the climb or basking in the full sun I was finally shaking off the early morning chill.  I paused for a last look through the binoculars across the pasture.  I saw camels still perched high up on the western hill.  The onagers were milling around about thirty yards east of the camels and a few more Pe’re David deer had wandered into the frame.  Still no glimpse of the baby rhino.  A pickup truck full of rhino grub was parked along the path close to where we all assumed the baby was hidden away.  Unfortunately for the staff, Mom and Dad were more interested in keeping their neighbors a safe distance away from the edge of the pond.  Like all parents enjoying the rare pleasure of a new baby sleeping late, the rhinos appeared motivated to enjoy the peaceful morning as long as possible.  I couldn’t have agreed more.

The art of LEGO

Columbus in LEGO 2LEGO® and the Columbus Museum of Art are two things not normally associated with each other.  Think Outside the Brick is the latest example of how CMA is one of Central Ohio’s premium family friendly destinations but you need to act fast, the exhibit ends January 27.  After touring this show one is likely to come away with an entirely different appreciation for the versatile plastic brick, and have you studying your child’s LEGO® creations a little more closely.

The show includes works from New York-based artist Nathan Sawaya whose has been recognized by both the art world and LEGO® enthusiasts.  For the show at CMA, Sawaya has joined talents with photographer Dean West and the results are captivating.  The viewer is challenged to determine what’s real and what is made out of LEGO®.

Columbus in LEGO

The AFOL portion of the show is equally fascinating.  AFOLs are knows within the LEGO® community as Adult Fans of LEGO® and works from these artists include original LEGO® sculptures, paintings and multimedia dioramas.

The show also features two very large displays focused on the city of Columbus.  The first is a LEGO® replication of many recognizable Columbus landmarks.  In addition to appreciating the sheer scale of the finished product, families can have fun discovering the out-of-place characters included throughout the sprawling display.  See if you can find Batman, Indiana Jones, a witch, and an octopus.

IMG_3265Lastly, Ohio State fans will glow with pride when they gaze upon Paul Janssen’s LEGO® recreation of Ohio Stadium.  Janssen, a Biology Professor at The Ohio State University, will be participating in the museum’s Big Picture lecture this Saturday, January 13.

January 13 is also the last day Lod Mosaic will be on display at the museum.  The next stop for this nearly three hundred square foot discovery is the Louvre in Paris.  Uncovered in Lod, Israel in 1996, this ancient Roman mosaic floor dates back to about 300 AD.

Lod Mosaic
Lod Mosaic


While LEGO® and an ancient Roman mosaic may seem like an odd partnership for the Columbus Museum of Art there are some similarities between the two methods.  Each is based on coordinating and arranging small individual ‘bricks’ specifically selected based on their size, shape and color to create the final work.

Admission and parking are free at the Columbus Museum of Art on Sundays.  Click here for an idea about a not so ordinary downtown restaurant to try after visiting the museum.  

Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace, Columbus’s home for hot dogs

Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace
Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace

My five year old daughter loves Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace.  Whenever our family is looking for a place to eat in downtown Columbus she votes for Dirty Frank’s.  My wife heard about Dirty Frank’s from former co-workers and, after a visit to the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s downtown location, she took our daughter there for lunch.  They both loved it and the next time we were all downtown they talked me into giving it a try.

If you are more than a little apprehensive about trying Dirty Frank’s it’s understandable.  Dirty Frank’s is located at 248 South 4th Street between East Rich Street and East Main Street.  From the restaurant, the Greyhound Terminal is one block north and Franklin University is a block east.  While this isn’t the worst area in downtown Columbus, not even close, it’s not the first place one would normally think about when choosing where to take the family out for a meal.  Because of the location parking can also be an issue and parking on South Fourth Street, or one of the nearby side streets is the best option.  Don’t forget to bring change for the meters.  There is a pay-first parking lot directly across the street.  My family has not had any trouble finding a spot close to the front door but we’ve only gone on weekends or after the evening rush.

The last reason one might be apprehensive about trying Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace is that it’s a restaurant which features hot dogs.  While it’s true some children have survived on a diet consisting only of hot dogs, applesauce and goldfish crackers most adults don’t order hot dogs when they dine out unless you include the ballpark, which I do not.  After all, how much can you do with a hot dog?  Dirty Frank’s proposes one can do quite a lot; their menu offers over 40 variations of ways to top a hot dog.

The Octodog on Mac & Cheese
The Octodog on Mac & Cheese

My daughter loves the Octodog, a hot dog cut in the shape of an octopus and served over Mac and Cheese.  She orders it every time and never fails to clean her plate.  My wife and I have chosen a different dog every time and haven’t been disappointed yet.  Among some we have enjoyed, The Doginator, the Brisket and Slaw Dog and the Slappy Pappy’s Super Sloppy are solid choices.  A favorite for both of us is the Cowgirl Carmen which is a hot dog topped with meat coney sauce, cheddar cheese and crushed fritos.  If members of your party have special dietary needs, Dirty Frank’s provides vegetarian and vegan alternatives for many of their hot dog offerings as well as gluten free buns.

The hot dogs are not served with a side dish and we have discovered one order of tater tots or fries is more than enough for our family to share.  The little one is typically full after the Octodog and Mac and Cheese leaving my wife and I to share the side dish, and one order is more than enough for us.

In addition to the dogs and sides, Dirty Frank’s offers a full bar with an impressive selection of beer and speciality drinks.  If old school, poor college student beer is your preference one can choose from Schlitz, Old Style and PBR.  Prefer to keep your beer local?  Try the Pale Ale from Columbus Brewing Company, the Dortmunder Gold from Great Lakes or, just based on the name alone, the Thirsty Dog Old Leghumper Robust Porter from Akron, Ohio.  This is also one of the few places around town that offers Red Pop and Grape Soda in addition to the usual assortment of soft drinks.

The interior is decorated in what can best be described as ‘80s hair metal chic with Michael Jackson, Hall and Oates and skater influenced accents to provide the proper balance.  The decor has to be seen to be fully appreciated, and anyone alive during the 1980s will definitely appreciate the artwork.

Lastly, a word about the staff and service – excellent.  On each and every visit we have been treated with prompt and courteous attention.  The wait staff has always been respectful, friendly and willing to provide suggestions.  They also serve the kids’ drinks in cups with a lid without needing to be asked which, as any parent will tell you, is very much appreciated.

The only negative about Dirty Franks Hot Dog Palace is the limited seating.  The dining room is very small and fills up quickly during the lunch and dinner rush.  It is not uncommon to see a line going out the door and onto the sidewalk.  However, this is usually not the case during off peak times so, with a little planning and preparation, this inconvenience can be avoided.

The next time you find yourself downtown with the family, skip the chain restaurants and give Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace a try.