CLEVELAND: Fun & Festive

18 Dec

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We awoke to a chilly November morning; rooftops had a light dusting of snow, downstairs Richard was busy making chocolate waffles for breakfast. Breakfast at Stone Gables is always scrumptious. Saturday was no exception, the waffles and homemade chocolate sauce were sinfully delicious. We had much to see, and new-found energy from the morning dose of sugar and caffeine to do it with. First stop: the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (MOCA) located in the Uptown District. This is one of those new, funky-cool buildings; designed by Farshid Moussavi it is both her first US commission and her first museum. The building is 4 stories, the base is hexagonal and shoots up 60 feet to a square top. The exterior is a mirror-finish black  Rimex stainless steel, you can see yourself as you approach the entrance. The main floor is home to the lobby, cafe and museum store; as you look around the shape of the building is apparent, one of the main features is a gigantic stairway to the upper floors. There are four floors in all and each can be used for either exhibit space or public programs. The museum was bustling with visitors, it’s nice to see people excited about this recently opened venue. We climbed the stairs to check out the exhibits; gallery after gallery we viewed large paintings and sculptures, some life-like, some abstract. Each floor has windows that allow you a glimpse of the city completing the urban feel. The gallery has no permanent collection so the exhibits are never the same, always making you want to come back and see what’s new.

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We were motoring down Martin Luther King Jr drive near University Circle when our attention was drawn to a magnificent church. The door was open and people were going in and out, so we thought we see if we could take a peek. Just inside the door we were greeted by volunteers gathered to put up the Christmas decorations; they invited us in to have a look around, what luck! Eppworth Euclid United Methodist Church was designed by local architect Bertram Goodhue, his design included a towering steeple affectionately known as the “Holy Oil Can”. Built in 1928 is has many of the wonderful features found in churches back in the day; stained glass windows, granite exterior and stunning woodwork. 

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Back in the Jeep we continued down MLK  to the Rockefeller Greenhouse. Built in 1905 it was originally used to grow plants that would later be planted in the city’s parks, still used as a greenhouse it now includes display gardens. I love stopping in at different times of year to see the seasonal displays; I was anticipating rows of pots filled with Poinsettia’s in multiple colors, Christmas decorations and maybe a Cyclamen or two. Instead we found the seasonal beds full of round indentations, the Poinsettia’s waiting patiently in another area to be installed… bummer. Still the greenhouse was quite lovely with its fern grotto, mum display, fountains and a multitude of other greenery. The sun had come out inviting us to stroll the outdoor gardens. A very unique feature to the grounds is the Betty Ott Talking Garden For The Blind. A cement walkway leads through the garden, recorded messages play at certain points describing surrounding flora. A bronze statue of Helen Keller kneeling at a water pump is a main focal point, visitors can even operate the pump. Admission is free, well worth a look.

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Our stomachs reminded us that it was time for lunch, we drove back to Ohio City to eat at Johnny Mango World Cafe and Bar. Anytime we are in Cleveland we stop here for a meal, the food is excellent. As soon as we were seated Kris ordered a lemonade, they make it on the spot with fresh squeezed lemons and just the right amount of sugar. We knew what we were going to have before we even got here: the veggie quesadilla big plate, it comes with happy beans, grain of the day, Yucatan slaw and a grilled banana. The food arrived without delay, we divided it onto two plates and dug in. The quesadilla is loaded with sautéed veggies, the grain today is Jasmine rice and it is cooked perfectly, the Happy Beans are a red variety and quite tasty as was the slaw, the grilled banana is a sweet finish to the meal. Did I mention the fried tofu? Yum! We are just around the corner from the bed and breakfast, so we head back to relax before the evenings activities.

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Rested and ready to go we head downtown, tonight is the tree lighting and Winterfest. As we get closer to the activities the streets become increasingly busier with both automobile and pedestrian traffic. As we look for parking the fireworks show begins, before long we find ourselves standing street side with a wonderful view. The surrounding trees are strung with thousands of lights, high in the night sky fireworks burst into color, the crowd cheers, children laugh and the tiny dog near my feet looks for cover. When the finale has ended we decide to seek warmth in nearby historic buildings, Cleveland’s downtown has fantastic architecture.

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We follow the crowd to Tower City, once Cleveland’s train station, it is now a shopping mall. Fortunately the building has maintained its architectural integrity, it is stunning, ceilings are coffered and highly detailed. The place is packed, so we go over to the historic Renaissance Cleveland Hotel.…wow! Opened in 1918 this place is gorgeous! The lobby is grand and dripping with early 20th century finery, the place was jammed with people so we just got a quick look and moved on.

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Further on, we stopped in at the Arcade on Euclid, if you ever get to Cleveland, this is one place you shouldn’t miss seeing. Once inside we realized a wedding reception was taking place on the first floor, what a fantastic place to have it. Businesses were closed and just a few hotel guests lingered about as we quietly walked around. A beautifully decorated Christmas tree stood at the top of the stairway, lights were dimmed creating an elegant atmosphere. Even in the low light the fine Romanesque details of the building stand out, just stunning.

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We had been walking around downtown for a while now in 21 degree weather, our hands were cold and we were hungry. There’s a great little district on East 4th Street that has lots of restaurants and bars to choose from, so that was our destination.  Like the rest of downtown this district was all dressed up for the holidays, people were milling about coming and going from dinner or a show. We found ourselves in front of Saigon, the thought of Vietnamese food was appealing, so we went in. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the enormous menu we asked our waiter for advice on ordering. He pointed out a few selections, we nodded our heads and that was that. First to arrive was Pho Tai (a sort of soup with rare beef) followed by Ga Xe (lettuce wrapped chicken) and for a main course Bun Xao Chay (vegetarian curry vermicelli). With all the food in front of us, it was clear we had over-ordered, but it sure was fun trying everything! The service was great and each dish tasty and unique.

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Walking back to the car we noticed a shop on the corner of 4th and Euclid called CLE Clothing; it was still open and busy with customers, so we went in to check it out. This is the store for all things Cleveland: t-shirts, hoodies, books, art, you name it. All kinds of goods showing pride in their home town. Appealing to both locals and visitors alike they were doing a brisk business tonight, after all the holiday shopping season had officially begun.

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Like Detroit, Cleveland has seen some tough times, but continues to reinvent and endure, c’mon, take a look.

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