In selecting our route from Chicago to Washington, DC, we wanted to add some new High Kick territory. We also try not to backtrack on the same path coming and going, so on the way east we avoided the quickest route through Cleveland and dipped a bit farther south, passing through Columbus, OH and West Virginia. Along with helping us avoid a double helping of Interstate 80, it introduced us to some great new places. Here are a couple highlights from the first two days.
Columbus, Ohio’s German Village neighborhood
When recommending where to eat and drink in Columbus, most websites and people pointed us to the Short North neighborhood. While we enjoyed some great late-night cocktails at Mouton with some fantastic people-watching on High Street, it was another neighborhood that we found the most charming. The German Village was originally settled in the early to mid 19th century and is located just south of downtown. In the 1950’s the area was a slum and threatened by demolition, but locals started a movement to save it and today it is one of the best preserved historic hoods in the country. Before researching our trip, we had no idea it even existed, but that’s part of what makes it so great, it’s not over-hyped or crawling with tourists. While primarily residential feeling, there are lots of little businesses and restaurants tucked in the corners. Most of the streets are brick and the houses are beautifully preserved. Overall it feels more like a European village than part of a sprawling American city of 800,000.
We had read up on a few food options in the neighborhood before arriving and decided that Harvest Pizzeria sounded good. Unique wood-fired pizzas, locally sourced ingredients, sustainable … you know the drill. Right next door the same owners operate a cocktail bar called Curio. We bellied up and enjoyed a couple drinks while waiting for our table at Harvest. Curio had it all, from classic cocktails to inventive creations, awesome decor, fantastic menu design and most importantly, knowledgeable bartenders. There’s something really satisfying about having some great booze and then walking down a charming street that is not full of drunken Ohio State bros, and for that, German Village, you are our best of Columbus pick.
Bridge Walk at the New River Gorge National River
Any good road-tripper has some nerdy things they want to see “just because”. One of mine has been the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia. Some might recognize it from the back of the West Virginia state quarter. Completed in 1977, the bridge carries US Highway 19 across the deep gorge carved by the New River (which counterintuitively, is one of the oldest known rivers in the world). It reduced the time it took to cross the gorge from 45 minutes to 45 seconds. The bridge currently ranks as the longest steel arch span in the western hemisphere and the third highest bridge in the United States. I had thought of the bridge as just a quick stop to snap a couple pictures from a viewpoint, but one day while prowling Google Maps, I randomly came across a business marker labeled “Bridge Walk”. Turns out, this company will take you on a guided bridge tour on the tiny maintenance catwalk underneath the structure. We had to do it. We made advance reservations and upon arrival were fitted with a harness and tether rope and driven to the foot of the bridge.
The whole experience lasted about 3 hours and includes a lot of cool information on the bridge’s engineering and construction, local history and ecology of the New River Gorge National River park it passes through. Guides move along at a leisurely pace, pausing often to allow guests to soak in the views and watch tiny kayaks and rafts run the rapids below. Speaking of below, the catwalk is 851 feet above the river and you’re basically looking straight down through thin air and a few steel beams. Traffic above can be heard rumbling and heavy trucks make the bridge tremble. People with a fear of heights might be freaked out at the thought, but you never feel unsafe. Bridge Walk has a 99.7% completion rate, with only a handful of people ever backing out. Overall a highly entertaining and worthwhile $70 spent on a very unique experience (It is the only such attraction in North America). Another great reminder to always dig a little deeper to find activities along the route of what would have been just another day of driving.