Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

Big city, small town feel

I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted as my nose followed the delicious smells around every corner of the North Market in Columbus.

“They have Indian, Italian and hot dogs — all in the market,” said Mary Martineau, director of marketing for the North Market. “Whatever you are craving, you will find it here.”

The early-20th-century building with an arched 44,000-square-foot roof is the third building for Columbus’ oldest public market, which now supports 35 independent vendors selling such wide-ranging products as fresh meats and produce, baked goods, specialty gifts and ethnic meals.

After finally deciding on a gyro shawarma at a Mediterranean vendor, I ate my sandwich at the dining area on the second floor, where I could view the entire market and smell all the fresh food from below.

The market gave a local feel to Columbus and introduced me to some of the many cultures that had melded in the city of 740,000.

“We are the 15th-largest city in the United States,” said Scott Peacock, media relations manager for Experience Columbus. “But we feel smaller than we are, which is good.”

In the morning, I watched wild animals from all over the planet on a tour of the 90-acre Columbus Zoo, home to more than 700 species of animals. Every animal seemed wide awake and active in the early morning; two enormous grizzly bears were splashing each other in their pool.

In another section of the zoo, I visited the animals that zoo director emeritus and television host Jack Hanna uses for animal presentations. Among them were a sloth sleeping in a bucket, a squawking black-footed penguin and two huge cheetahs that looked back at me with only a gate between us.

“This is definitely the highlight of any group package, because you get right up close to the animals,” said Pat Patzer, sales manager at the zoo. “You can see people’s faces light up who have never seen these animals in the wild, much less up close.”

Tackling Terrarium
I dug through the dirt to position my plants just the right way at Easton Town Center’s Smith and Hawken’s terrarium-building activity. Easton Town Center offers 1,300 acres of lifestyle shopping and interactive experiences, such as cooking demonstrations, scrapbook-making tutorials and terrarium building at Smith and Hawken’s gardening store.

“Terrariums were very popular in the ’70s, and now they are back and they are prettier,” said Jennifer, our terrarium instructor. “It’s a nice touch to your house so you can have spring all year round.”

I arranged oxalis and phatonea neatly into my glass jar while listening to an explanation of how to water them and keep them from direct sunlight. Another hands-on experience awaited at the Candle Lab, where I stared at a wall filled with all kinds of scents, including those of the ocean, chocolate and dirt.

“What kind of scents do you like?” asked Steve Weaver, the shop’s owner. “You can make whatever scent you want, from a campfire s’more to a rose garden.”

Although there were 110 different scents, I narrowed it down to strong-smelling flowers. With one bottle each of hyacinth and olive-blossom scents, I took turns pouring droplets of each into the candle until it smelled heavenly.

While I waited for my candle to be finished, I walked next door to House Wine, where I relaxed and enjoyed different samples of local and imported wine.

“The idea is you can come in here and find your own house wine,” said owner Donnie Austin. “It’s geared to people who know what they want and those just getting into wine.”

German Village
A drive south of downtown Columbus led me to the brick streets and brick houses of the German Village. The 1,600 restored buildings originally constructed by German immigrants in the 1800s make up one of the largest privately funded historic districts in the country. I walked some of the 233 acres with an enthusiastic tour guide, who explained how the village was saved from demolition in the 1960s.

“The German Village has much of the same footprint as it did when it was first built,” said Susan Sharrock, office manager for the German Village. “These old slate roofs have been up here since the 1840s and ’50s. Slate is beautiful: It kept the heat in, and it didn’t burn. These people were looking to keep their houses forever.”

By the end of the tour, I knew the history of the area and could identify which houses were Dutch doubles. German song and food completed my tour at Schmidt’s Restaurant and Sausage Haus, where a musician in lederhosen played an accordion as I ate filling German fare.