Upon first introduction, slate nondescript high-rises, predictable chain stores, overcast gray expanses of boarded up nothingness, I feared Cleveland would, as I somehow expected be a disappointing bore.
“Today for you, it will be more than 70 degrees,” the cabbie declared in broken English as he zipped down a series of deserted coal streets.
I smiled back, hoping Cleveland would give me more to look forward to than lovely weather. It wasn’t looking good.
It turned out the cabbie was right about the weather. After a somewhat disappointing breakfast, the sun came out, and the city transitioned from drear to brilliant blues and greens.
Constructed during a time of immense prosperity due in large part to the industrial boom and its prime location on Lake Erie, Cleveland is a sprawling suburban city seeped in history, the arts, industry, and scientific innovation.
10 am The Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Boulevard
In the heart of Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood, nestled behind a picturesque pond, sits the Cleveland Museum of Art. Before you can make your way to the museum’s doors, you are greeted on the front courtyard by art. Birds bathed in fountains, children splashed in the water at the base of statues, couples cuddled on antique cast iron benches beneath the undulating shade of willows, university students gathered on the steps of the museum with textbooks and novels. The theme of the morning was serenity.
Inside, the museum is divided into three immaculately maintained levels. The focus is primarily centered on European Art. I was taken by the extreme detail in some of the paintings. People and landscapes popped off the canvas. Ohm, my eight month old, was charmed by the stained glass displays. He was all giggles and smiles when it came to the bright colors and intricate designs.
There is a small collection of art and artifacts from Egypt, Asia and Africa and a special Rembrandt exhibit is currently being featured. The Rembrandt collection can be visited for a fee, otherwise the museum is free to the public.
12:00 pm Stroll through Wade Park, 11150 East Boulevard
Outside the doors of the Cleveland Museum of Art sits a Victorian inspired park dotted with fountains and bird-baths. I felt as though I had walked into a Monet painting set in modern times. Ohm and I strolled the manicured walking paths. Butterflies circled our heads as they flitted from flower to flower. Chatty clusters of ducks and geese waddled by our side (one a little too close). In the center of the park you'll find a large irregularly shaped pond. Wade Park would have been the perfect setting for a picnic had I brought a basket and some lunch.
3:00 pm Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, 1100 Rock and Roll Boulevard
We headed downtown, to see the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame next. Cleveland claims to be the birth place of Rock and Roll. For lack of a better simile, The Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame is like a massive Hard Rock Café. Memorabilia covered every possible surface. The museum, which is positioned above Lake Erie, was an interesting blend of history and pop culture. Exhibits were interactive and informative. I learned about Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, the original voice behind rock n’ roll songs like “Hound Dog.”
5:00 pm Self-Guided Walking Tour of Cleveland Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument
Downtown Cleveland has a lot of surprises. Yes, half of the city is, quite deserted, boarded up even, but there are pockets of life. The architecture is simply stunning. The streets are wide and accommodating. Art installations could be found all over the city, from the iconic free stamp, to the Jazz band statues, to the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in public square.
A history nerd, I visited the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ monument which was erected to commemorate the courage of the Union Soldiers and the Cuyahoga County sailors in the War of the Rebellion. At the center of the monument sits a small museum that is free to the public. Above the museum, monument statues dangled lifeless and haunting in their precise detail and realism.
7:00 pm “Come Fly Away” performance at the Palace Theatre in Playhouse Square, 501 Euclid Avenue
My husband, as I’ve mentioned before, is a member of the “Come Fly Away” orchestra (hence our visit to Cleveland to begin with). In Cleveland, the show was featured at the historic and beautifully restored Palace Theatre. Originally a vaudeville theatre and movie house, The Palace now hosts touring shows off the Broadway circuit. Next up “Mamma Mia.”
9:00 pm Dinner on 4th Street
Where do you go for food in Cleveland? That’s a great question. I was lost for breakfast and lunch. I stuck to my usual method of asking locals for suggestions about where to go and what to do and I was met with blank stares and smirks. Nothing and I mean nothing was open. There was a Starbucks and a CVS that sold snacks. The situation was desperate. The majority of the restaurants cater to the 9-5, M-F crowd. If you find yourself in Cleveland on a weekend during the day- good luck! There is one solution to the food problem in Cleveland however 4th street. Fourth street right off of Euclid is home to a score of festive restaurants and bars that open in the late afternoon and evening for dinner, drinks and beyond. We went to Noodle Cat, a trendy Japanese restaurant specializing in you guessed it- noodles. The food was great.
11:00 pm Drinks at Chocolate Bar, 347 Euclid Avenue
I’m a huge chocoholic and I enjoy a good drink, Chocolate Bar was the answer to my evening. I had a mocha crepe for desert and a chocolate martini. My creamy chocolate martini was the perfect end to my day in Cleveland, Ohio.
* * *
Cleveland remains an enigma. A city of the industrial revolution, down on its luck since the 60’s, there is still a presence, a sense of grandeur, and a haunting emptiness. A bit stand-offish, straightforward and user-friendly, Cleveland is a city that is shuffling to re-emerge and re-claim her lost glory. As I’ve said before, Cleveland, I’m rooting for you.