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afraidIt never occurred to me that I’d love Cincinnati.

I was born on Staten Island, grew up visiting my grandparents in Queens, graduated from a Manhattan college and lived 11 years in Manhattan and Queens. Those experiences molded my definition of a city (read: a place I want to visit). It was only partly about population numbers; instead what made a city to me was a frenetic pace, too much too see and do in one lifetime, and a sense that life just might be better somewhere else quieter, slower, greener.

For many years the only other cities that met my stringent requirements were London and Paris. People would tell me to check out Boston, but while I might nod, inside I was thinking, “Boston? I think not. It’s too small, too clean, too slow.”

Then I visited Sydney and discovered that a city can be clean and peaceful. It can, in fact, be downright beautiful.

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But what I didn’t realize was that I was still biased. Only major metropolitan areas in what I deemed important countries or states in the U.S. qualified as cities. In the U.S. that meant cities along either the Eastern Seaboard or West Coast.

Recently, I sailed on an old-fashioned paddlewheel riverboat, the Queen of the Mississippi. Our itinerary ended in Cincinnati, Ohio. Before arriving, and even after researching places to see while I was there, I dismissed it because it was in Ohio, in the Midwest, and thus (I assumed) provincial and insignificant.

Wow, was I surprised!

I loved how the city was small enough to walk most of it, how it had green parks along the Ohio River, how you could stroll across the “Purple People Bridge” to get to Newport, Kentucky, how the “Great American Ballpark” was right there inside the city, and how there were so many cool things to see and do.

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I didn’t get to explore much of the city — I only had three-quarters of a day there, and I spent most of my time at the Underground Railroad Freedom Center (one of the best museums I’ve ever visited, by the way). But what I saw of the city as I walked along the river’s edge and across the bridge back to my boat beckoned to me. I can’t wait to go back and explore the rest of the city’s museums, wander around its botanical garden and theater district, and even take in a ballgame.

Discovering Cincinnati was both exhilarating (yay, a new place to explore!) and humbling. Though I’m sure my bias will rear its ugly head again in the future, I hope I will be more aware of it and more open-minded on trips to come.

Have you ever pre-judged a place only to discover it was nothing like what you expected?

–written by Dori Saltzman