The List: Five 'European' Ohio cities to visit in lieu of a European vacation

Kevin J. Elliott
The final resting place of the "Giants of Seville," Captain Martin Van Buren Bates (7' 9" tall) and his wife, Anna Bates (7' 11" tall), in Mound Hill Cemetery. The tribute to the Captain's service for the Confederacy is a bit problematic, to say the least.

Before the pandemic, my partner and I were in the initial stages of planning a dream vacation to Iceland and Spain. Of course, COVID-19 hit, travel stopped and we’ve now settled on the hopes of taking that trip in 2021. But even if we had followed through with flights and hotel reservations, our leadership’s tepid response to this crisis hasleft American citizens with few places in the world that will allow us free passage.

Should one want to visit Albania, Turkey or Serbia, you’re still in luck, as currently there are no restrictions in travel to those countries. To be fair, there’s a longer list of acceptable destinations — Mexico, the Bahamas, the U.K. — but many of those require a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

Luckily, you don’t have to leave Ohio to visit the great cities of Europe. London is only a 20-minute drive from Columbus, and Dublin just got a new pedestrian bridge. So in lieu of a European vacation this summer, I’ve compiled a short list of Ohio’s “European” cities you can visit without much effort, and without a passport.

Itching for flamenco dancing, Moorish castles and the magic of Spain’s Andalusian region? Well, you won’t find it in Seville, Ohio. But if you’re planning a trip to the Akron or Canton area, it may be worth the extra few miles to visit the Giants of Seville. Mound Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of Seville’s most famous residents, Captain Martin Van Buren Bates (7’ 9” tall) and his wife, Anna Bates (7’ 11” tall), along with their infant child (who was the largest baby born in the country in the late 1800s). The couple were regulars in P.T. Barnum’s sideshows, as well as the traveling Cole Brothers circus. The grave boasts a life-size monument to Anna, but also a tribute to the Captain’s service for the Confederacy (Bates was born and raised in Kentucky). That Seville is still eager to celebrate Captain Bates, despite his loyalty to the South, is a bit problematic to say the least.

nlike its German namesake, Berlin, Ohio, is not a modern metropolis filled with unparalleled energy. Little did I know, though, there is still a ton of energy in the small town that is the tourist center of our state’s Amish country. If you’re looking for a wholesome day out filled with furniture stores, bumpkin art, fresh pork cracklins, trail bologna and tacky gift shops, this is your Disneyland. It’s somewhat insane as you drive through. There are a number of hotels and “resorts,” including one that boasts the Amish Country Theater, if you wish to stay and make it a weekend. There are even daily magic shows at the Catalpa Trading Company (an experience in itself) with the Great Madhrikan. The Friday afternoon I visited, the streets were packed, the restaurants had lines out the door and there were few masks to be found. I was quick to get back in the car and opt for a farm visit at Hershberger’s (complete with roof-roaming goats and a vegetable market) on the outskirts of the madness.

Get Weekend Wanderlust delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter

In the northern Ohio village of Milan, you won’t be dining al fresco or ogling Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” at the Santa Maria convent, as you would in Italy. But you can visit the first home of America’s most famous inventor at the Thomas Edison Birthplace Museum (currently closed because of COVID). Edison’s family settled in the once-thriving canal town in 1847 before moving to his more famous Michigan residence seven years later. Regardless, Milan celebrates that lineage, as several of the antique shops and restaurants in its downtown make reference to Edison. There’s also the engaging Milan Museum, which explores the history of Milan. 

Pronounced “Ver-sales,” and not “Ver-sai” as it is in France, Versailles is a tiny town nestled in the Land of Cross-Tipped Churches — a region in western Ohio that consists of more than 60 historic buildings originally built by the first wave of German Catholic farmers. While there are no palaces to tour, in nearby Maria Stein there’s a massive convent, frequently visited by pilgrims from around the world because of its coveted collection of holy relics. Among the bucolic surroundings, there are also a number of reputable independent breweries dotting the landscape, including Endless Pint Brewing, which sits in Versailles' charming town center, and a personal favorite, Tailspin, which is housed in a rehabbed Coldwater, Ohio, dairy barn. Unfortunately, Versailles’ famous Poultry Days, during which the town serves “world famous” barbecue chicken, have already passed for this season.

Along Route 52, the Ohio River Scenic Byway, in the shadow of a former nuclear power plant, you’ll find Moscow. With a population of 187, it barely registers, and one can’t even explore its few streets on Google Maps, though the discontinued reactor towers in the distance do sort of resemble Red Square. Rumor claims it was platted by French immigrants who were veterans of Napoleon’s siege of the Russian capital. I can’t in good confidence recommend anything of note to do in Moscow proper, but the trip there is a beautiful jaunt adjacent to the Ohio River. It’s also in the heart of Ulysses S. Grant country. In nearby Point Pleasant, you can visit the 18th president’s birthplace (which sat in the center of Columbus’ Goodale Park at one point), and in Georgetown you will find Grant's childhood home and schoolhouse. The ghost town of Utopia is also close by and hides a pretty creepy, underground roadside chapel once used by its cultish founders. But that’s another story for another time.

The birthplace of Ulysses S. Grant in Point Pleasant, Ohio, near the tiny town of Moscow.