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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

duct tape super heroWe all know one person who makes the yearly trek to, say, the Philadelphia Folk Festival or Burning Man. They wouldn’t miss the opportunity to pitch their tent in the Schwenksville mud or the Black Rock City dirt. It’s all about the music at Old Pool Farm or the — um — art in the Nevada desert.

However, we can’t quite wrap our heads around the Avon Heritage Duct Tape Festival in Ohio. Duct tape? Sure, it’s great for travel mishaps, such as securing a broken piece of luggage, and we’ve all used it around the house. We’ve even chuckled at the creativity of folks who fashion a wallet or dress out of the sticky stuff. But a three-day festival? Stick me to my seat! There’s even a parade that starts at the high school and ends at the cemetery. We might need a six-inch piece of the stuff to tape our mouths shut so we don’t scream.

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If celebrating duct tape is your thing, the ninth annual Avon Heritage Duct Tape Festival will be held June 15 – 17 in Avon, Ohio, the home of Duck Tape brand duct tape. The Father’s Day weekend event claims to draw more than 40,000 duct tape enthusiasts, likely helped by its lack of admission or parking fees. The first 500 attendees will even receive a free roll. (We’re just a bit concerned how that roll might be used by the end of the day when festival goers get tired and cranky with each other.)

The theme this year is Duck Tape on Safari, so there will surely be liberal use of the company’s zebra- and leopard-patterned tapes on the parade floats and at the crafts table. There will be a free animal show (live animals, sans tape). And to make the festival even more irresistible, an artist will display his duct-tape portraits of Bob Dylan, Mother Teresa and other celebs. We can’t make this stuff up.

If you’re looking to add a few more quirky events to your calendar, consider these equally intriguing festivals. The SuperHero Street Fair is held in San Francisco in August. Just imagine donning your Spider-Man jammies and joining all the other boys and girls in their Batman codpieces and Super Woman bustiers. We certainly hope they secure all rooftop access doors to prevent overzealous leaping of tall buildings in a single bound.

No super powers? Visit the Gilroy Garlic Festival in nearby Gilroy, California, and you’ll be able to repel people in a single breath. Or try another natural repellent by waiting until October for the Alabama Butterbean Festival. Either may come in handy at the Great Texas Mosquito Festival in July.

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How about you? Is there an annual festival you never miss? One you’ve always wanted to attend?

— written by Jodi Thompson