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Trip Report Big 10 Quest #1 - Ohio State

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Big 10 Quest – The Ohio State University – January 28, 2012

On January 21st, a friend who was bringing her studying-abroad daughter’s car home from college commented, “It was really enjoyable to sit in a coffee shop and watch a college town wake up. The streets were empty and it was dark when I got there.”

A lightbulb went off. For some time, I’d had a desire to visit college campuses. However, neither of our children was interested in college visits and we’ve never followed through on my thoughts to go to away football games. How about if, instead, we started a quest to visit all the Big 10 campuses? It would be doable in a year and would be cheaper and easier than planning around football games.

I made a list of the schools and distances from home and then posted a note on Fodor’s asking for ideas on things to see in each town.

With no plans for this weekend, I tossed out the idea of starting right in with a trip to Columbus and The Ohio State University. (DH pointed out that “the” is an official part of their name.) With a drive of 4 ½ hours, we toyed with scenarios of traveling back and forth in a day or making it into an overnight.

In the end, we decided to go back and forth on Saturday. It would save us $100 or so for the hotel and leave the rest of the weekend to relax. Weather reports were iffy and we didn’t decide to go for sure until Saturday morning. Even then, we realized that we might turn back and threw in an overnight bag in case the weather got dicey.

Surprisingly, the roads were clear, there was no snow underfoot, and the skies were sunny. The one concession to January was that it was windy and the wind made it feel colder.

Pre-trip research amounted to my question on fodors and printing a walking tour from Ohio State’s website. Unfortunately, my printer wouldn’t print the map, but at least we had a list of some of the buildings. Before leaving, I threw in the AAA tourbook for Ohio and copied down an address from the Ohio State website to enter into the GPS. On the road, we picked up an Ohio map. That came in handy later in the day.

We arrived near campus a little before one. On the drive in, we saw the stadium and drove through the engineering campus. Blind luck led us to a parking garage next door to the student union ($2 per hour for the first 3, then $1 per hour, then something else).

From here on out, I guess I’ll compare and contrast with the U of I. First of all, the parking garage next to the union was handy even if it would be expensive for everyday use. I am guessing though that it might not even have spaces available on a school day.

We decided to start out in the union. Their union seemed to be a more modern building than ours. The handles of the doorway spelled out OH on one and IO on the next. Pretty cool. As we entered, there was a flatscreen with videos of people welcoming us to the campus. First time through, we saw a football player. Later, we saw someone’s mother. I wondered to myself what the daughter thought about that.

Going inside, the red décor in one of the lounges was a little grating. I’m all for school spirit, but it was a little, shall I say, gaudy.

Going straight ahead, there was an atrium. You could look up and see each floor (think hotel). Or perhaps, pretend you are in the inside of the courtyard of the Undergrad Library. That’s an apt comparison because there were inspirational writings engraved on the walls above our heads.

Fortunately, there was an information desk and we were able to pick up a campus map and a copy of the same tour that I’d tried to print.

We took advantage of a photo opportunity: bench with Bucky (think Ronald McDonald bench at McDonalds).

We were hungry and had a couple of choices. The first was a diner that put me in the mind of Steak n Shake. The second was a food court of sorts where you could pick items from a variety of stations and then pay a cashier. We picked that choice and ended up getting burgers. I had a veggie burger ($4.50) which seemed to actually be a falafel. There was a large variety of topping choices including the unlikely cole slaw. It was good.

Food could be taken into a number of lounges. The one we picked had more flat screens on the wall advertising campus events – trip to Lake Superior for ice climbing anyone?

After we’d assuaged our hunger, we headed off on our walking tour.

Their quad is called an oval. Almost adjoining it is another section similar to our south quad. That area had a large roped off area that will someday be shopping, restaurants and a movie theater.

The walking tour included interesting points of interest about the buildings. One had a geology museum and store, one had a floor that looked like fossils, one was built of 40 types of stone, one had a café showing international news shows, one had a trustee buried in the walls.

The walking tour started with a half-circle around the bottom half of the oval. We started on the top left of the half-circle.

We stopped in the building with the geology museum. The door had a sign showing hours for Monday-Friday only. I tried the door and it was unlocked! We went in briefly thinking maybe it really was open. It wasn’t. There was a sign asking us to excuse their mess since they had had some vandalism. Hmm. Perhaps they should start locking the door. The “store” was actually a counter in one corner where you could buy some rocks. I signed their guest book, but I didn’t give enough information to be traced.

The building with the fossil floor was locked. We were able to go into the building with the café’ with international news shows. The café was closed, but the TVs were showing the news.

One building had Westminster chimes like Altgeld.

Campus lore has it that if students walk hand in hand from a seal on one end of the oval to a statue on the other end in front of the library, they will stay together forever. I picked up a school newspaper and, interestingly, it had a story about this tradition. In early days, graduation was held on the oval and the graduates walked this path. The president had been a minister and anyone who wanted to be married, got back in line and the minister would perform the ceremony.

As we rounded our way to the bottom of the half-circle, we looked for the seal. It wasn’t obvious. DH looked in little areas ringed by bushes while I started asking people. First guy had earphones in and didn’t hear me. Next group included two young women and an older man (father?) and seemed like a likely group. They didn’t know. We kept looking. I was glad that I asked them because as they continued to walk, they came upon the seal and called to us.

Answer to your likely next question is no, we didn’t do the walk. It was cold and it looked like a fair distance. Instead, we went back to our walking tour. Buildings on the right hand side of the half circle were not as interesting and we didn’t go into any. The walking tour would have veered us further to the right – off the oval – into the engineering campus. We decided that our drive through it earlier was good enough. Instead, we heeded on towards the stadium.

On the way, we found their version of IMPE and walked through it. There weren’t very many people walking around campus on a cold Saturday, but lots of people were inside the athletic building. Notable was a café and a stairway which had a large section made so that you might sit on it rather than walk on it.

Going out the far side led us to the stadium. We took some photos and then headed back through “IMPE” again. It had gotten cold enough that I’d put on my second muffler. However, after we turned around away from the wind, it was much better. DH and I wondered why so many of the young people were just wearing hooded sweatshirts or lightweight fleece jackets. It made us feel old.

The next notable building was their library. It’s situated where our auditorium is – on the top side of the oval. The walking tour mentioned the great views from the top floor, so we went inside.

Again, there was a café. We found an elevator and headed up. The top floor had lounge/study areas and indeed had beautiful views of the campus and Columbus. The library was 11 or so stories tall and on each floor, the elevator opened to stacks of books. Its buttons pointed out which part of the collection was on each floor. We decided to stop on a floor that featured the “Great Room.” On our way there, we walked through stacks of journals and stopped for a photo opportunity.

The great room was similar to our grad library. It was full of long, large, tables and students in every chair. However, unlike my last vision of the grad library, everyone had a laptop in front of them even if they were actually studying something like math.

Downstairs, we looked at some displays including one of vintage clothing. We also noticed that on the floor there and in other areas there were plaques of letters. In the back of the library, they seemed like Greek or Hebrew. Here, we noticed one that was a pictograph and another that was our alphabet. I am still wondering if they were all alphabets or something else.

Coming back out of the library, we veered towards the second quad and went by Wonder Lake. We saw a patch of spring flowers blooming under a tree and then went down a stairway to the lake. DH noted that there were Christmas lights along the walkway - it would have been pretty at night. There was an interesting “bubbler” that was attached to the lake. It was a gift of a number of classes. I’m not sure what it would really be called since I’d never seen anything like it before.

Further along this bonus area was a smallish outdoor amphitheater. This was the third informal spot that could be used for presentations. The first was on the stairs of the athletic building. The second was behind it, near the stadium.

At this point, we headed back towards the union and our car. We drove through campustown and then through an interesting residential area near campus. I think it was German town. We discussed whether we wanted to do any shopping, but decided that we could do that nearer home.

We did find the capital building for a requisite photo. Traffic was almost nil, so that made this part of the trip very easy. Earlier, we’d seen a sign for the life-size Santa Maria, so decided to check it out before leaving town. We followed the signs – no dice. Here’s where the Ohio map came in handy. We checked it and tried again. Meanwhile, I checked the tourbook for times and found that it wasn’t open in the winter. We thought we could still at least see it. We followed the signs again and this time knew where to stop even though there wasn’t any sign pointing out that we should. We could see the top of a mast and walked down a pathway to the river where it was docked. It was pretty neat.

As we walked away, DH asked if I’d seen enough of Columbus and, ding-ding-ding, I realized the connection between the Santa Maria and our location.

Fodors people had suggested a couple of restaurants, but we weren’t really hungry yet. We did some math and decided that we could have a late dinner at the Spaghetti Factory in Indianapolis. I’d heard that some Super Bowl festivities were starting already, but thought they might be over. Well, they weren’t. We did drive into and through Indianapolis. It was interesting to see the crowds and the Super Bowl logo – but decided that it was too crowded to try to park. Oh well, we tried and it was kind of fun to see some of the hooplah.

All in all, the trip to The Ohio State University (forgot to say that the street lights were emblazoned with the name, including the “the”) was successful. It was a fun start to a new quest. It was similar to our campus and we may burn out after another three or four. Time will tell.

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