Thursday, July 21, 2011


The official first day of Camp Gonnawanna Patch started early for a couple of kids who have gotten used to staying up until 2 o'clock in the morning.  We were out the door at 9 a.m. and on our way to Newport, Kentucky for the Ride the Ducks amphibious vehicle sightseeing tour.  We were accompanied by Uncle Chester and Grandma, although the latter ended up spending the tour in the Levee's Barnes and Noble.  The Warden, who is trying to keep straight on which outings each person is going, miscalculated and only ordered four tickets, which she discovered this morning shortly before the arrival of Chester and Grandma.  Luckily, since by this time the tour was sold out, seasick-prone Grandma wasn't sure she wanted to venture out on the river anyway.

Foghorn, her beloved pig (Oinkers), Uncle Chester, and the Professor

After depositing Grandma, we found the loading area on 3rd street, in the patio of Toro's bar and restaurant.  It was 9:45 a.m. and we were already melting.  The heat index was supposed to get up to 117 today, with the actual temperature a humid 96 degrees or so.  We hid under the shade of umbrellas until the rest of the tour group arrived.  Much like a restaurant's early bird special, this 10 a.m. discounted tour attracted mostly an older crowd.  Foghorn looked down the way at a group of gray haired ladies and said, "There's a lotta OLD people here."  Later, when we were lining up to embark and the silver ladies were right next to us, Foghorn loudly noted, "This place is full of senior citizens."  She's lucky she didn't end up in the river.

The amphibious vehicle rolls up for loading.

The wonderful Wacky Quackers.
We were the first to enter the boat...bus...boat...amphibious vehicle and Foghorn wanted to sit right up front behind the tour guide.  We then sweltered as everyone else got their pictures taken in front of the vehicle's logo.  (Photos available for purchase after the tour, natch.)   We all then received what I had no doubt would be The Inmates' favorite part of the whole shebang:  The Wacky Quackers.  This combination whistle and kazoo sounded, according to Uncle Chester, like a duck with diarrhea.  The kids loved them, especially The Professor who was seated next to Uncle Chester and gleefully blew it into Chester's ear until she was deaf. 

The tour started on land, immediately taking us over the bridge into Cincinnati and we got the welcome relief of a strong breeze during the crossing.  We were warned by the guide to keep tight hold on loose items, though, as she had seen everything from hair (real and unreal) to a set of false teeth be whipped into the water.  Foghorn kept a tight hold of Oinkers.  We arrived at the public landing, got a history lesson along the way, and then prepared to plunge into the brown water.  She warned that those sitting on the right might get splashed and since we were sitting there, I wasn't thrilled at the thought of the bacteria getting ready to land on my face.  We stayed dry, fortunately.

The Inmates were unusually quiet, even though it was boiling hot on the river portion of the tour and they seemed to be paying little attention to the tour guide.  The guide was knowledgeable and presented everything in a fun, enjoyable way.  Turned out later that The Professor had heard more than we thought, as he wanted to hang around the area until noon to hear the Peace Bell chime.  We had a sing-a-long to Rollin' on a River, although they were playing the Creedence version and not Tina Turner, so I couldn't get up and do my dance (much to the Inmates' relief).  Following about a 15 minute round trip ride up the river and back, passing Great American Ballpark, Paul Brown Stadium, and a big bunch of earth that will someday be the Banks Project, we were back on dry land.  We then road through downtown Cincinnati where we entertained the crowds on the street with our collective duck quacking.  She then got the tour further into the mood by blasting the Village People and those waiting for buses looked at us, mouths agape, as we did the arm movements to Y.M.C.A. while quacking along.

Peace Bell in Newport.
We crossed the river again to Newport and got details of the city's organized crime history, as well as some nicer pieces of information, such as the story of the Peace Bell.  We weren't sorry to get off a rather hot bus, but the tour itself was really fun.  None of us had ever ridden that close to the water level on the river (and I had fears about what the kids might see floating by us).  There was lots of great information, presented in a family-friendly way, and of course the idea of driving right into the river (and not sinking) was a great novelty.

While Uncle Chester retrieved Grandma, Foghorn sat down to drink her juice box, having a little trouble for some reason getting any liquid into her mouth...

We had debated lunch options earlier, as I wanted someplace unique that The Inmates had never been.  Then again, their palates can't take anything more adventurous than a chicken nugget, so my hands were tied.  A friend had suggested a cool sounding grilled cheese and soup place, but The Inmates quickly vetoed this option.  We ended up at The Hofbrauhaus Newport, a quick walk from the Levee.

The original Hofbrauhaus is in Munich, Germany, and we learned that they attempted to give this one some authenticity.  The floors in the room in which we were seated were made of 400 year old barn wood, there was pottery from the 1500s to 1700s on the shelves, and even the tables were imported. Foghorn amused herself while waiting for the food by speaking what she insisted was German.  When asked what she said she replied, "I'm stealing your loot."  We insisted that wasn't necessarily what a German person would say, but she was adament and even edited the picture on her menu to reflect the guy's criminal status

While the menu is full of schnitzel and brats, the three adults opted for a very good turkey and ham hot brown atop a potato pancake.  Luckily they have a kids menu and Foghorn got pizza and The Professor chicken fingers.  We topped it off with one of the best cream puffs I've had in my life, with soft pastry and whipped cream filling, not the usual custard-style filling I get most places.  While I waited for the bill, The Professor rushed outside with the rest of our party just before noon so he could hear the Peace Bell chime.

Uncle Chester, Grandma, The Professor, and Foghorn.
 On a side note, Uncle Chester and Grandma visited the real Hofbrauhaus in Munich on a trip to Germany in the early '90s.  It was memorable not just for the food or the beer, but also for the fact that it was December 7 and Grandma danced with a Japanese man at the restaurant.  Funny old life...

Cincinnati Observatory building, home of Ohio's oldest telescope.

Foghorn, Grandma, and Josh outside the larger 1873 building.
Last on the list today was earning our Space patches through a trip to the Cincinnati Observatory for their Astronomy Thursday Public Program and Telescope Viewing.  Despite getting a telescope for my 15th birthday, I've never actually made it to this century and a half old observatory.  What interested me most and what I thought would be most interesting to The Inmates was getting to look through the oldest telescope in the state of Ohio -- an 11' brass and wood refractor from 1842.

Grandma accompanied The Inmates and me to the 8:30 p.m. program, which began in the smaller of the two buildings.  A very erudite-looking gentleman in a greying beard began his talk on exoplanets and I suddenly felt more stupid than I had in 25 years (going back to about the time I took high school chemistry).  It was so far above my head that I thought I might drool.  Needless to say, The Inmates were even more perplexed and bored, a lethal combination.  The Professor at least behaved himself.  While the presenter was going down the five ways for locating exoplanets, Foghorn kept loudly asking, "How much longer?".  When he was on #4, she asked, so loudly that half the audience turned to look, "What number is he on?!?"  The presenter whipped his head around and said, "Yes, is there a question?"  I blanched and said, "No, no.  She was just talking to me."   I then tried to give her my most withering stare.  After about 40 minutes the presenter declared, "Well, folks, that's all I have."  Foghorn let out a loud and enthusiastic, "Yay!"  Everybody started to applaud the presenter and I can only hope he thought that "yay" was a cheer for a job well done.

The 1842 refracting telescope.

We then moved on to the other observatory building, built in 1873, and housing the "new" telescope from 1904.  We got a historical tour of the building, learning all the background information on the observatory as a whole, as well as the efforts that went into saving the observatory back in 1999.  I was probably preoccupied with having my first child, so I didn't remember hearing that the University of Cincinnati, who owned the buildings and grounds, wanted to sell them off to a developer for high price condos.  People stepped in, formed a non-profit group, renovated, and got National Historic Landmark status for the place.  I'm so glad they did.  It would have been a shame to lose such beautiful buildings with so much history.

The 1904 telescope.

Grandma waited downstairs while we went to the upper floor, the actual observatory where the telescope is set up.  As soon as we started up the stairs we were hit with a wall of hot air.  Turns out they keep the rooms housing the telescopes the same temperature as the air outside.  In this case you were talking high 80s and muggy.  We got an explanation of the 1904, 22 foot long telescope.  We saw how they manually pulled ropes to open the sliver of roof for the telescope to peek through.  They demonstrated the crank used to literally rotate the roof to the appropriate spot and even saw the turn-of-the-century (last century, that is) set of wheeled steps with an "elevator" that was used to lift the astronomer up to the telescope for viewing.  Think wooden, manually driven cherry picker.

One of The Professor's favorites - a replica built from Legos.
Both kids were hot and tired and somewhat bored when we finally exited this building and went back to the first building.  It had finally gotten dark enough for what we had been promised earlier -- a viewing of Saturn through the old telescope.  Foghorn insisted she didn't want to see it, despite my prodding that this was a rare opportunity, and she stayed on a bench with Grandma outside.  The Professor and I were last in the building and thus last to get our chance at the telescope.  (Grandma told me Foghorn kept whining, "They must have died in there.")  It was worth the long wait, however.  I don't know what I was expecting, but what I saw was incredible.  Saturn looked like a small, white sticker in the viewer.  It was as if someone had done a silhouette of the planet, rings and all, then cut it out with an Exacto knife.  I guess I expected the rings to be less visible, gaseous and blurry looking.  Instead it was crisply outlined and we could easily see one of its moon to the upper right.  (The other was supposed to be in the bottom left, but we couldn't see it.)  It was absolutely one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

When we caught up with Grandma, she explained that she told Foghorn that some day she'd be old and she'd look back and say, "I wish I had looked at Saturn when I had the chance."  To which Foghorn snarled, "No, I'll look back and say, 'Boy, was that place boring.'"  The Professor, on the other hand, said the evening was totally worth it just to get to see Saturn.  He then went on to say, "I'd have stayed at the bottom of a well for a week just to get to see that."  Victory!

You might also be interested in:

Camp Gonnawanna

Camp Gonnawanna - The Kickoff

Meet the Inmates -- Foghorn


Nancy Susanna Breen said...

I was glad to hear from Mom that the telescope was so exciting. I'm glad I didn't go, though, because the long talk would have bored me as well. Great job of capturing the day's activities!

Kathie said...

Sounds like a really great day! We'll have to check out the Cincinnati Observatory soon, but we'll try to plan on a cooler day.