Tag Archives: photography

Fun times at The Wilds

23 Jul

Trivia question: The largest wildlife conservation center in North America, a place where African, Asian, and North American species roam freely on over 9,000 acres, is in what U.S. state?

Did you guess Florida, California, or somewhere with way better weather than middle-of-nowhere Ohio? You’re wrong. The answer is Ohio (middle-of-nowhere Ohio, to be exact).

Last week we drove approximately 3 hours from Cincinnati to visit The Wilds, the largest wildlife conservation center in North America. Though it’s partnered with the Columbus Zoo, there’s nothing zoo-like about it — all the animals roam freely in open pastures. The only way to see them is through scheduled bus tours, which drive you through the pastures for 2 hours like you’re on a safari (or at Jurassic Park). They have open-air buses for the authentic safari experience, but since it was 90+ degrees F (33C) on the day we went, we opted for the “climate-controlled” buses. I put “climate-controlled” in quotation marks because whatever air-conditioning system they had on board did not seem to be working and I was a hot, sweaty mess by the end of the tour. If you want to get up close and personal with the animals (and have $125 burning a hole in your pocket), you can take the Wildside Tour. We first encountered a Wildside truck being surrounded by Persian onagers.

wildside onagers.pngAs we circled back around our bus met the same fate.

persian onagers.pngThey were everywhere! Apparently they were attracted to the bus because the exhaust kept the flies off them. Two of them parked themselves right in front of our bus and would not move.

onagers bus.pngOur driver had to call Animal Management to come and lure them away so we could continue on with the tour.

We got off the bus for a bit to see the parakeets and some other animals.

parakeets the wilds.pngCheetah!

cheetah the wilds.pngThey were feeding the African painted dogs while we were there.

painted dogs the wilds.pngZebra (with a less impressive wiener than the zebra we saw in San Diego. Sorry, it had to be said!)

zebra the wilds.png

zebra close up.pngFrom a distance we saw the ostrich harassing the Wildside Tour, so we knew he was gonna be fun.

ostrich wildside.pngHe kept trying to stick his head in our driver’s little window.ostrich bus.pngostrich funny.pngWe had a great view!

ostrich the wilds.pngHow often do you get to see an ostrich and a giraffe together?giraffe ostrich.png

giraffe the wilds.pngSouthern white rhino

white rhino the wilds.pngScimitar-horned oryx have wicked horns!oryx the wilds.pngThey’re native to North Africa and still thought it was way too hot in Ohio.

Baby scimitar-horned oryx with tiny horns!

oryx babies.png

Almost all my photos were taken from the bus, so you can see how close we were able to get to a lot of the animals. If you ever find yourself in middle-of-nowhere Ohio, I highly recommend a visit to The Wilds. Just maybe not on one of the hottest days of the year.

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Fun times at the Louisville Zoo

5 Jan

The other day we went down to Louisville to visit the zoo (and my brother). I’ve been to the Cincinnati Zoo countless times so it was nice to get my Fitbit steps and animal fix in a new spot. They had a killer gorilla exhibit (more on that later) as well as some animals Cincinnati Zoo doesn’t have, like wallabies and rock hyraxes.

What’s a rock hyrax? This:

rock hyrax.png

I would have bet money it was a rodent, but according to its little informative sign, its closest living relatives are the elephant and manatee. (How?!) Especially when those teeth just scream rodent (and “Phteven”)

stephen with a ph

Sorry, Tuna the Chihuahua-Dachshund mix cracks me up.

We wandered over to the lion exhibit where Marvin Gaye was playing (not really, but it should have been). The male slowly licked the female’s face before trying to — ahem — “jump over her.” She was not having any of it though and he quickly retreated to his rock to pout. Side note: are lions supposed to be that skinny? I guess I haven’t seen many up close since at most zoos they’re sitting far away so you don’t get a good look at them.

lion love.png

The Louisville Zoo is home to a rare white American alligator named King Louie. My camera didn’t feel like focusing on him.

white alligator louisville.png

The zoo is also home to freedom incarnate.

american eagle.png

And actual Louisville cardinals! Although I don’t think this dude is part of the zoo, he was just hanging out by the parrot exhibit.

louisville cardinal zoo.png

This bird inexplicably decided to sit on this other bird.

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This bird has killer neck feathers.

bird cool neck.png

We went on the Wallaroo Walkabout which was full of animals too small to be kangaroos and too big to be wallabies, so they’re called wallaroos (I think).

louisville wallaby.png

Apparently I was confusing wallabies with wombats and was disappointed we didn’t see any of those cute koala-beaver-looking things, but wallabies are still cool too.

cute wallaby.png

We also saw this little bird in the Wallaroo Walkabout. I felt bad for him because he was super pumped to see us but couldn’t come through the fence.

australian bird.png

He spent the whole time banging his beak against the fencing in vain until we left.

aussie bird.png

Over at Gorilla Forest it was Helen the gorilla’s 58th birthday! Helen is the fourth oldest known gorilla in the North American population. We arrived a few hours after her celebration, but judging by the state of the decor, it was a raging party.

gorilla party.png

Like most animals (and children) she seemed most interested in the box her present came in.

louisville gorilla birthday.png

NOM NOM box!

louisville gorilla helen.png

I was really impressed with Gorilla Forest, both with the quality of the exhibit and the amount of gorillas they had. I also like this gorilla throwing shade:

gorilla throwing shade.png

I think somebody is regretting eating so much of Helen’s cake. I sent this photo to my friend and captioned it “How I feel after a month of eating ‘Murican food.”

gorilla regret.png

This random lady there was showing a gorilla photos of gorillas on her phone.

gorilla cell phone.png

I think he found a photo he likes!

gorilla scream.png

I didn’t go into Louisville Zoo with high expectations, but I was impressed. The crowds weren’t bad and most of the animals were out. Any day where I get to see and photograph gorillas and rock hyraxes is a good day in my book.

Manneken-Pis wore a costume! And we also went to Ghent

28 Aug

The other day I was talking to our porter about our trip to Belgium.

“Is it a good place for couples to visit?” he asked.

I told him it was if you like wandering around, exploring historic sites and eating delicious food (which we do), but I’m not sure what he meant. What makes a place good for couples? Plenty of nightclubs? Places to canoodle? Whatever the opposite of family-friendly is? I was puzzled.

So the jury is still out on whether Belgium is good for couples, but it’s definitely good for foodies, beeries and arties (I’m pretty sure I just made those last two words up).

We made Brussels our home base and then took day trips to Ghent and Bruges. We had planned to hit Antwerp too, but Stephen came down with a nasty cold so we decided to take it easy the last day. Plus, there’s probably a limit on how many medieval fairy-tale like towns one can take over the course of 4 days.

Though Brussels makes a good base, it’s two best sights — Manneken-Pis and the Grand Place — can be seen in the span of 10 minutes (20 if you walk slowly and take a lot of photos). Rick Steves says there are two types of people — those who adore Manneken-Pis and those who abhor him. I’ll let you guess which of us is the former. Here’s a hint: I read online that Manneken-Pis wears a costume a couple times a month, and was dying to see one. The first day we were in Brussels I looked up the schedule and saw he’d be dressed the next day, so I made Stephen walk out of our way before our train to Ghent just to see the little squirt dressed like “one of the Buumdroegers.”

manneken pis costume

I still have no idea what a Buumdroeger is (one who “carries the tree during the Meyboom plantation?”), but I had to see Manneken-Pis dressed like one.

manneken pis outfitSuccess! (Though in hindsight, I should have waited for the tall dude to move and gotten a clear shot. I was too excited.)

Then it was on to Ghent. Ghent is the only Belgian city on our itinerary that I didn’t previously visit with my parents two years ago, so I was excited for something new. I had read that it was one of the most beautiful and authentic cities in the world, so expectations were a little high.

ghent belgium

I would say it’s definitely beautiful and authentic in an Amsterdam-meets-Bruges way with slightly less tourists and more free toilets — which is the best, because my two complaints about Bruges are that there are too many tourists and a lack of free toilets. It seems no matter where I travel, I always end up on a quest for a quality toilet, whether that means a free one or a non-squatter.

Besides the free loos, the most well-known sight in Ghent is probably the Ghent altarpiece (the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb) at St. Bavo Cathedral. When I was in high school I did a project on Jan van Eyck and the Ghent Altarpiece. It’s funny, when you’re 14 years old in Kentucky writing about a 15th-century work of art in Belgium, it all seems so far away and other-worldly — high school Renee never imagined she’d ever find herself on a day trip in Ghent, face to face with the world’s most stolen artwork. And yet there I was. Photos were not allowed, so here’s a picture from Google:

ghent altarpiece
Of course a photo doesn’t do it justice. I’m told I have to watch the movie The Monuments Men now since the Ghent altarpiece is in it.

After lunch (mmm… Flemish beef beer stew and fries) we went to see the other side of Ghent’s art scene: Werregarenstraat, or Graffiti Street. According to Rick Steves (I told you, he’s my homeboy), they made graffiti illegal in Ghent except for on this one street so street artists would have an outlet. When I heard “graffiti street” I imagined crude images (remember the Lisbon wiener?) or gang tags, but what we saw was some serious art (and one crude Muppets image). It’s a shame these can be painted over at any time.

ghent graffiti street

ghent graffiti censored

ghent graffiti good

ghent graffiti monkey

ghent muppets

Our last stop in Ghent was Gravensteen castle.

ghent castle

It was built in 1180 and renovated in the 19th century. We did a lot of climbing and walking around looking at the art exhibit and torture devices inside. We also got some nice views.

ghent castle view

ghent view

At one point we were walking along a walkway with no guard or railing and at least a 10-foot drop. I should have taken a photo. My first thought was “Stay to the side and don’t fall.” My second thought was “This would never fly in lawsuit-crazy America.”

In short, Ghent definitely has a lot to offer for couples who enjoy charming architecture, castles, artwork (both old and new), and of course, free loos.

Facts about Lisbon and Portugal

20 Aug

Quick, tell me what you know about Portugal! Here’s my list pre-Lisbon visit:

1. They speak Portuguese there.
2. It’s on the coast of the Iberian Peninsula next to Spain.
3. Christopher Columbus and a bunch of other explorers were from Portugal. Although I just Googled him and apparently Columbus was Italian. I’m a bad American.
4. Cristiano Ronaldo the famous footballer [soccer player] is from Portugal.
5. Nando’s! (Cheeky Nando’s!) Although I just Googled Nando’s and apparently it was founded in South Africa and peri-peri sauce is from Mozambique. Why is it Portugal themed then?!
6. Lisbon is the capital.

That’s basically the knowledge I had of Portugal before we went there. And now I’m happy to report I can add a few facts to my list.

7. Lisbon is super hilly.

As far as I know, Lisbon has great public transportation, but we didn’t use it, because I needed to get Fitbit steps (and also I suppose exploring a city on foot helps you truly see it). We walked from Avenida da Liberdade to Miradouro Sao Pedro de Alcantara to get a nice view of the city. Google Maps said it was a short walk.

lisbon weinerWhat Google Maps did not say was that it was up a very steep hill. (Although I guess I should have inferred a viewpoint would have to be high up…) Most people waited and took the trolley up and down, but most people don’t have Fitbits that track flights of stairs climbed (and hills count as stairs). So we walked up and down.

lisbon trolleyI don’t know if you can spot it in the first photo I posted, but São Jorge Castle is up on a hill in the center of Lisbon. We walked there next (after stopping for ice cream, of course).

lisbon castle

This post is going to be very photo-heavy, so click to read on.

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A post about how I meant to post about meaning to post, plus some roses

12 Jun

Well. I had a whole post typed up about how I was recovering from jetlag quickly despite the fact that I wrote multiple blog posts in my head when I could not fall asleep the other night, so I guess I spoke/wrote/thought too soon. I also wrote that post about hypothetically writing posts a week ago. Whoops. I’ve been back in the UK for over a week now, and yet haven’t managed to sneak a blog post in. I guess I underestimated how much time running, working, grocery shopping, eating and cleaning takes. So I’ll have to go with the abridged version of the post, since the previous one went into way too much detail about Eurovision, and I don’t think most of my American readers care (half the post was about how Americans don’t know what Eurovision is).

When I arrived last Thursday the weather in London was gorgeous, so naturally I had to take a 3-hour nap. Then Stephen and I went for a much-needed run in Regents Park before we settled in to watch the Eurovision final. It aired on May 23, but I didn’t have time to watch it online in the US, plus it just wouldn’t feel right. I downloaded the soundtrack weeks ago and have been listening to it while running. Based solely on good running songs, my favorites were Belarus and Germany. Belarus did not even qualify for the final and Germany got zero points (nought!), so apparently this American knows absolutely nothing about what makes a winning Eurovision song, but I still enjoyed watching all the performances for the songs I had been listening to.

The weather this past week was amazing — 60s with some clouds. I feel like there are two types of people — those who love when it’s 80 and sunny, and those who prefer 64 and cloudy. I am definitely the latter. I was not sad about leaving the 80- and 90-degree days in Cincinnati. London looks like it will be in the 70s this coming week, which shouldn’t be too bad, but I may have to start running earlier so I’m not out there sweating buckets in the afternoon.

Just because this post needs some pics, here are some I took this past week on runs. This first one is what happens when you stop running for a minute and are slightly disoriented and think your finger is the pavement:

serpentine fingerAvenue Gardens in Regents Park, always gorgeous:

avenue gardens regents parkI was happy to see the rose garden in full bloom, as there were only buds in April.

rose garden london rose garden regents park

My month in Cincinnati in photos

2 Jun

The fact that I’ve barely had time to blog means I’ve had a great U.S. visit. I have several blog drafts that I’ve started, ranging from complaining about hot weather and the FedEx guy who didn’t ring the doorbell to a 5K race recap, but I think a photo post might be better.

My visit began with a performance and poetry reading by one of my favorite local bands, Ellery.

Ellery northsideThe next day we had a fancy night downtown with dinner and a play. We went to Jean-Robert’s Table, a “chef-owned eatery serving upscale French fare in an intimate room,” according to Google. I had stuffed my face with Panera only a couple hours before our 5pm dinner reservation, so I wasn’t that hungry and just got this amazing crab salad:

jean robert table saladAnd chocolate mousse, of course!

jean robert table mousseThere was a baby bird in my parents’ backyard:

baby bird backyardI ran a local 5K in under 30 min! My clock time said 27:23, but the race was so small it wasn’t chip-timed, and according to MapMyRun, the course was only 2.99 miles, so I kept running after I crossed the finish line. I’m sure the onlookers thought I was nuts, but I wanted a real 5K time! So I ran 5K in 28:25 according to my phone app. I’m proud of that time considering how hilly the course was. The race was also special because it was on May 16, which would have been Squirt’s golden birthday (16 on the 16th).

5k race time We went to Big Bone Lick State Park to see the baby bison, but they weren’t visible. So we went a little too far into unpaved territory to get a glimpse at them, which warranted a stern talking to by the park ranger. It was worth it though, because we got to see the baby and other pregnant mamas up close and we did not get crushed by giant bison (there was a fence!).

big bone bisonI got to spend a lot of quality time with a dear friend — the very first person I met when my family moved to Kentucky almost 20 years ago. She went on vacation for a week so I took care of her cat. We had a fun time despite my cat allergies (my £5 six-month supply of allergy medicine was one of the best Groupons I’ve ever bought!).

daisy catI saw this vending machine at an Asian buffet restaurant.

playful pandaI kind of regret not getting a Playful Panda, but a photo is probably better.playfun panda vending machineWe went to Florence’s Public Services Night Out, where we got free food and cool water bottles. Apparently the water bottles were not dishwasher-safe though.

florence water bottleOn a rare day when it was not obnoxiously hot and both my parents were off, we went to the zoo. It was teeming with school trips, but we still got to see a lot of aminals (intentional misspelling). The okapi, my mom’s favorite animal, were out!

okapi cincinnati zooSo was the red panda. He’s no giant panda, but he’s still pretty cute.

red panda cincinnati zooI made delicious Amish sugar cookies, as well as several other kinds. I don’t bake much in London, so I take full advantage of my parents’ new kitchen (and their willingness to consume copious amounts of cookies).

amish sugar cookiesWe went to visit my brother in Louisville and went strawberry picking. I may or may not have consumed this monstrosity while still in the field.strawberry freakThis bad boy was not ripe yet.weird strawberryI bought 4 lbs of strawberries all for myself, and ate all of them in less than a week (aside from a small bag that I froze).

hubert farm strawberries

One of the main reasons I wanted to come back in May was because Over the Rhine, my favorite band, was having a barn raising — a concert on their actual property, Nowhere Else, to raise money to restore an old barn into a performing arts center.

otr barn

It was my 18th Over the Rhine show and every bit as magical as I dreamed it would be.otr barn raising I even spotted a swallow on their farm!

otr swallow nesting

I miss running in the Royal Parks, but I recently discovered some nice trails running distance from my parents’ house. Of course I discovered the best one two days before I leave.florence creek

It turns out the Standard American Diet of bottomless chips, sangria, wings, curly fries and ice cream is not conducive to speedy running. But Bruster’s birthday cake ice cream was worth it. brusters ice cream

It’s been good, Cincinnati. But London’s calling.cincinnati ohio river

American vs. British Cadbury Creme Eggs

4 May

One of the reasons I came back to the U.S. now was to see 2 of my favorite local bands in concert. Another was to answer an age-old question: what’s the difference between an American and British Cadbury Creme Egg?

I decided it was my duty to answer this question by having a glass of wine and then stuffing my face with 2 Creme Eggs from 2 different countries — for science.

This year Brits got their collective panties in a bunch because Cadbury changed the recipe of the chocolate covering the Creme Eggs from their signature Dairy Milk chocolate to “standard cocoa mix chocolate.” Unfortunately I do not have an old Dairy Milk Creme Egg to compare.

Though the US and UK products are both labelled “Cadbury Creme Egg,” the British ones are made by Kraft (Kraft acquired Cadbury in 2010) and the American ones are made by Hershey. Their packaging differs in color — the American one is blue, yellow, red and green, while the British one is purple, red and yellow.

US vs UK cadbury eggsWhen I opened them up, they both looked identical. Side note: have Cadbury Eggs gotten smaller over the years, or has my mouth just gotten bigger since I ate them as a kid?

american vs british cadbury eggsNext I cut them open with a knife. It’s a bit warm in Kentucky now (just wait for the blog post where I complain about that!), so both eggs’ fillings seemed softer and runnier than I remember from past eggs. Maybe I should have chilled them pre-experiment (or conducted another experience on chilled eggs. Next time!).

US UK cadbury eggs insideI attempted to do a viscosity test, but the photos did not come out very good. The texture and color of both fillings was quite similar, although the British filling seemed ever so slightly thicker.

First I took a bite of the American egg. It tasted… like a Cadbury creme egg. Because now that I think about, after being in London almost 5 years I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten a legit British Cadbury creme egg. I’ve eaten the mini ones, the McFlurry, and mini creme egg ice cream cones, but never a full-sized egg. I’ve always either been home in Kentucky for Easter or my parents brought me American candy. So it’s no wonder the American one tasted “right.”

I swished my mouth with water and bit into the British egg. And it tasted… different. Like the Creme Egg mini ice cream cones I had devoured a couple weeks ago. To be honest, I could not taste much of a difference between the chocolate on the two, but the filling was definitely different. It’s hard to describe, but the British one tasted more of powdered sugar, while the American one was more high fructose corn syrupy. So let’s compare ingredients and nutrition.

Here is the nutritional info for the American Cadbury Creme Egg from the Hershey website:

US cadbury egg nutritionAnd the British one:

UK cadbury egg nutritionThe first thing that jumped out at me was the calorie difference: 150 for the US vs. 177 for the UK. That’s a pretty big difference for a little egg! The US version also has 20 grams of sugar while the UK’s has 26.5. Perhaps that’s because the UK egg’s first ingredient is sugar. While the American one’s is milk chocolate (side note: how is “chocolate” an ingredient in milk chocolate?), followed shortly by sugar and high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is banned in the UK, so it’s replaced with glucose syrup and inverted sugar syrup. The coloring agents are also interesting — yellow 6 in America vs. paprika extract in the UK. It’s good to know both contain egg whites, so you can pretend your Cadbury Creme Egg has some vague egg health benefits.

Overall, it was hard to decide which one I prefer. The British one had a more “pure” taste, for lack of a better word, because it was stuffed with so much real sugar. If you’re trying to eat “clean” or “real,” you probably shouldn’t eat any Cadbury Eggs, but if you had to, the British ones would be a safer bet. I think the taste of the UK one wins by a small margin, but the American one gets points just because it tastes so much like childhood Easter memories. Delicious, stomach ache-inducing high fructose corn syrupy memories.

And now I need to wait another month (OK, a week… or at least a day) before I can stomach another Creme Egg.

cadbury creme eggs filling