Monday, May 21, 2012

Cleveland, Ohio: A Close-to-Home Birthday

Randy gives me the most wonderful birthday surprises!  You may remember last year's trip to Virginia? This year I expressed a desire to stay closer to home, and he did not disappoint me!

We left home about 9 AM and were at the new Cleveland Aquarium shortly after it opened.  I'd said I'd like to see this new feature of the city, as it now occupies the building that used to house the Great Lakes Brewing Company, where we had enjoyed a meal and drinks with Philip and his friend, Mike Leydig, some years ago.

Instead of going up, now you go 'down' into the Aquarium.  The $23 price for entry seems a big exorbitant, to tell the truth. No AAA discount, no senior discount, no zoo membership other words, NO discounts!  hmmmm.

We saw lots of local fish from Ohio waters and some tropical fish.  There were circular columns holding groups of fish and eels spaced throughout the hallways.  Window displays contained other fish, and we even watched a worker cleaning the claustrophobic enclosure of algae at one window.

The shark tank was very interesting, and the overhead tunnel where sharks floated directly above my head was pretty cool stuff.  In all, we enjoyed seeing the exhibits and the actor, Captain Emo, who welcomed us at the entrance.

That  price of admission, however, seemed even more exorbitant when we left the aquarium one short hour later.  We didn't run through the aquarium, either.  I think they might want to re-think the discount policy.

We walked across the parking lot to Shooters, an older eating and drinking place in The Flats of Cleveland.  They had just opened up, also, but we managed to have a drink in the sunshine on the back patio.

By 12:30 we had arrived in Little Italy on Mayfield favorite area of Cleveland.  We go there periodically throughout each year, and celebrate special days at Guarino's, which is an older restaurant with the loveliest back patio I've ever seen.  With sparrows picking up our crumbs, we've enjoyed my birthday there before, once even in the rain, but generally in sunny weather with flowers and shoes filled with plants adorning the patio. This day I enjoyed the homemade manicotti with a side salad, and Randy thoroughly enjoyed an enormous plate of Fettuccine Alfredo.

My surprise was that my dear friend, Jane, arrived, seemingly out of nowhere, to join us for lunch and then shopping in the little stores and  galleries that continue the Italian theme up and down the streets.  Randy enjoyed sitting on Guarino's patio while Jane and I shopped and talked.

Bidding Jane goodbye, Randy and I enjoyed walking around Little Italy to Corbo's Bakery, where we purchased two cannolis and a couple of cookies.  We carried them up the street to Mia Bella, a restaurant on the corner, and enjoyed them with iced tea and a glass of wine.  We met an interesting young woman from China who was graduating the next day with a degree in piano performance, and a photographer-in-training who had admired my camera as she waited our table. Good conversation and the sun lit up my happy birthday!

Randy had booked a suite at the Hampton Inn in Independence, seven miles south of downtown Cleveland, an area with which we are more familiar. It also had rooms available.  Cleveland was fully-booked this weekend with people rushing into the new Horseshoe Casino, which opened a mere week ago,  a marathon on Sunday morning, several group walks for favorite causes, and a plethora of weddings.  Independence also has free and readily-available parking, and the Hampton Inn's beds are my idea of SOFT.  The manager at this one hosts a before-dinner wine event each night, where crackers, cheese, and wine are served in the lobby.  You know we didn't miss this either of the two nights we were there!

Our dinner Friday night was al fresco, at a local restaurant on Broadview Road in Parma, called Corleone's. Cleveland is known for its ethnic neighborhoods and the food of many nations.   Corleone's followed our Italian theme from the afternoon, where my palate was still hungry for red sauce!  I had hot peppers stuffed with sausage and cheese, and they were delicious. Randy seemed to somehow find room for another Alfredo dish. We watched the sun go down over the patio.

Saturday morning there was no rest for the Birthday Girl, as Randy rushed us off to the Nautica II, a luncheon cruise ship that cruises up and down the Cuyahoga River and then out into Lake Erie, going west and then east to give the cruisers a good view of nearly the entire city of Cleveland.

 We dined inside with another couple, from Pittsburgh, then went "up top" to sit in the sun and see the sights.  This was a very peaceful and enjoyable couple of hours, and we could see anything we were not going to visit  in Cleveland "up close and personal" this trip.

We had been on the Nautica II, some years ago, for the dinner cruise.  Unfortunately, that night, the fog was thick, the weather cold, and a high school class was having its after-prom on the top deck.  The ship could not go out onto the lake due to the weather, so this was far better to actually SEE what was there to see! (I vote for the luncheon event over the dinner one, in other words.)

As we were leaving the ship, the Captain bid us farewell, and told us that he would be performing a wedding ceremony on the top deck of the ship in just one hour. He told us he did this with regularity, and that he would be in his dress whites in the warm afternoon for the occasion.

Randy and I ambled over to Shooters again, (yep, it was still within walking distance...) and after a celebratory drink for my birthday plus day one, we walked back over to visit the Nautica Concert venue which is right next to all of this good stuff.  On the way back to the car, we heard the strains of  Pachalbel Canon, and so we stood below the ship and visually "crashed" the wedding of a young couple. It was complete with attendants and a ring bearer, and the groom was wearing a black cowboy hat, while the bride was all in white lace. (We've visually crashed a couple of weddings at wineries in our time, also.)

Not done yet, we rode up the hill from The Flats to W. 25th Street to the famous West Side Market.  We go there infrequently for a day trips, to load our car with fresh fruits and vegetables, and never get tired of the people, the smells, the crowds, the baked goods, fresh meat, and cheeses that are abundantly available in the middle of Cleveland, three days a week.  We did buy some herbs and garlic, but needed nothing else.

Across the street from the front entrance of the market is the Great Lakes Brewing Company, in its relatively new digs. A front patio was overflowing with people enjoying the gorgeous weather, the brews, and the food.  This short little street was a riot of happy people!  We found a table at The Flying Fig, across the street from the Brewing Company, and were not disappointed a bit.  We enjoyed a Kentucky Light Beer while we watched the waitresses delivering some of the most beautiful food we've ever seen, to nearby guests.  We perused the menu, knowing we could not eat another bite, but mentally devoured several of the artistic creations we saw. (Once home, I googled The Flying Fig, and see that is has rave reviews from most of its patrons, so it is "on the list.")

Following the manager's wine event at our hotel, we dressed for dinner and had a lovely meal at The Aura Bistro in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, which was just across the way from our hotel.  We used to go there every so often, some years ago, and were surprised to see our favorite waitress, Patty, still working there!  She brought me a piece of chocolate cake and personally sang "Happy Birthday" to me before we left for our hotel.

We both slept so comfortably in that Hampton Inn bed!  I've tried to recreate the softness and comfort in our own home, but each time we sleep at a Hampton, I crave more softness............I see another trip to the bedding department in my future!

We were home Sunday afternoon, via lunch at Panerra (Thanks, Jane!) and a short shopping stop in Montrose.

Thank you, Randy, for the wonderful "event gift," my favorite kind!  It will soon be Payback Time!