Every year on Plucky Survivors we look for a theme in our travels; some unifying concept that ties the whole thing together. This year the theme seems to be "Places that are closed on the day we want to visit them." It's not too lofty is it?
The place in question on this particular day was the West Side Market, a 100-plus year old institution with vendors selling everything from fresh produce to fudge. In fact one of the vendors is called Oooooh... FUDGE! How can you resist something like that? Well, unfortunately it resisted us because our plan to visit there first thing Tuesday morning on our way out of town was complicated by the fact that they aren't open on Tuesdays. It was hard to get too annoyed by it since this was due to a long standing tradition. Apparently when the place originally operated they could only get ice to cool their wares on Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays, and Saturdays so it was closed all other days. Since many of the vendors are descendents of the families that originally worked there, the schedule has remained in place. We're suckers for tradition, but it still kind of sucked.
Meanwhile, the other thing that kind of sucked in Cleveland was the weather, at least during the 24 hours or so we were in town. The rain from Monday held into Tuesday and so Rick got wet again when he went out to have breakfast with the Cleveland Visitors Bureau representative that had helped us with this part of our stay. She swore that it was not only usually sunny in Cleveland but that there were also usually rainbows and puppies and sunflowers.
They had breakfast at a cute cafe in the funky Tremont District just west of Downtown called Grumpy's. The menu had a lot of interesting Cajun and Creole influences on traditional fare that all sounded delicious, but in the end Rick went for the fairly safe bet of a Denver omelet. Covered with cheese and full of fresh ham, green peppers, and onions, it was a perfect way to the start the day.
Just a few blocks away was the house made famous by the movie "A Christmas Story," which has now been turned into a museum/attraction. Guess what? Closed on Tuesdays. Yep, but Rick got a couple of pictures anyway including one of the iconic leg lamp, which sits in the window just as you'd expect to be.
After collecting Mary and Steve at the hotel, we all hit the very wet road south into Ohio. Frustrated by a traffic jam, we used the iPhone maps application to get us around it and we thought we were home free. Then it started raining harder and we thought, uh-oh, the weather gods are trying to tell us something as they have in the past (link to that page). Sure enough, the road that we wanted to be on crossed the road we were on but you couldn't get from one to the other so we wound up going significantly further than we thought we were going to. We finally straightened ourselves out and got on the right track just as the rain started to let up. Weird, huh?
Our first official stop of the day (since everything else was closed) was in tiny Cambridge, Ohio at the Degenhart Museum, the primary focus of which is glass and paperweights since the Degenhart family has been making same for years. It's obviously one of those labor of love places, filled with display cases that showcase a fairly extensive collection of different types of glass from carnival to milk to blue to beer (as in steins) both delicate and substantial (as in paperweights). Regarding the latter, they were much more creative than we had imagined they'd be, with various images, amorphous shapes and colors, and other objects imbedded inside. Not really our taste, specifically, but definitely interesting.
Of note was the note from President Roosevelt's office turning down the offer of glass gear shift knobs for FDR and Eleanor's cars. They very politely said that the cars didn't belong to the President and therefore customizing them with gearshifts emblazoned with Truman's name on them probably wasn't appropriate.
They need a little bit more context and history rather than just shelves of stuff but it's a quaint space, worth fifteen minutes and the dollar it takes to get in if you happen to be whizzing by on the nearby interstate and need a break.
Onward to the edge of Ohio in Bellaire and another offbeat museum, this one dedicated to Toys and Plastic Bricks. Note that the official title does not have the word LEGO in it, even though that's what it is mostly filled with. We're not sure if the details are confidential but just know that there are lawyers and copyright and all kinds of negotiations and in the end it all worked out.
Housed in a former elementary school, it's a ramshackle affair, feeling more like you're visiting an obsessive hoarders hideaway than an actual attraction, but it's impossible to deny the awesomeness of the art - yes we're going to call it art - on display here. That people can create such intricate shapes out of little, lockable, multi-colored bricks is pretty amazing - from full-sized action figures like Spider Man and Darth Vader to battle scenes to replicas of buildings and entire cities. The collection fills a dozen former classrooms on all three floors so there's a lot to look at, but here, just as with the paperweight museum, we would've preferred some information to go with what we were seeing. The knowledgeable staff can answer just about any question you may have but having some information placards would be nice.
We derive endless enjoyment out of hobbies turned subculture and LEGO is no exception. Apparently there's an organization AFOL as in Adult Fans of LEGO who we gather trade tips on making a replica of the Mona Lisa or restoring old artwork, necessary because while one LEGO doesn't weight very much, 15,000 do and gravity can take its toll over the years.
In addition to the displays, they also have the world's largest LEGO picture, which covers the entire floor of the former gymnasium, a gift shop with a lot of circulation items, and a children's play area where kids can construct their own toys and have them put on display in the museum.
We had lunch at the blast from the past diner Riga's Restaurant also in Bellaire where Steve had the house specialty sandwich, Slim Jim (ham, cheese, thousand island dressing on house made "Greek" bread then grilled). It worked very well. We only wish Rick's meatloaf sandwich did also. That's enough about that. Mary's roast pork dressing and gravy was nostalgic comfort food.
Next we dashed to Pittsburgh to try to get to things before the closed for a change. There's an unexpectedly dramatic approach to the city, wherein one drives through a tunnel and is suddenly confronted by the whole of Pittsburgh. All cities should announce themselves this way.
St. Anthony's church was built in the late 1800's by a local priest who had spent considerable time and money collecting relics of saints in Europe. Relics, by the way, are either bits of a saint's body - don't worry it's usually not gruesome, it's usually just a bone chip or lock of hair - or a portion of an article belonging to a holy person or, least desirable, something a holy person has touched. These saintly souvenirs are housed in reliquaries that range from a simple locket sized gold-frame to an elaborate and large and intricate model of a church. Saint Anthony's holds some 7,000 relics from at least 5,000 saints (the nun giving the tour catalogued them not that long ago and said there were many saints she had never heard of) making this the largest collection outside the Vatican. They are housed in a chapel built especially to display them - it's a floor to ceiling exhibition of Catholic weirdness.
There's a little bit of everything. They have the skulls of Saint George and Ursula; a number of pieces of the true cross; a piece of the table from the last supper; a piece of the Virgin Mary's veil; and more. And what's more, they've got letters of authenticity for all these objects! And we're not the slightest bit dubious about any of it!
The chapel itself holds life sized, anatomically, hand carved wooden statues of the stations of the cross plus a few other statues of Christian martyrs. If you're lucky and Sister Margaret gives you a tour, you'll get to hear her say... "And so they slit his throat" more than once.
Speaking of Catholics, local boy made good Andy Warhol was an observant one himself and so he would find the transition from holy relics to his relics, a logical one indeed. The Warhol Museum occupies seven floors of an old Pittsburgh building and it satisfied most, if not all, of our issues with other museums on this trip. There's an introduction gallery on the first floor that sets you up to understand the rest of the museum. Warhol's career is divided into different themes - movies, nightclubbing, music production, graphic work, and the like - and each of these is laid out in a sensible, if not ingenious, manner. We were particularly struck by the decision to house album covers designed by Warhol in freestanding double sided glass so you can see both sides of the record and not just the front cover.
Also striking was the room showing his enormous skull paintings, itself towering and massive so that a visitor is dwarfed by it all, which gives a whole extra dimension to the theme of mortality explored in the paintings.
Warhol buff Mary was delighted to find the trunk on which Edie Sedgwick perched in the movie "Vinyl" and all of us were smitten with the room displaying "Silver Clouds," mylar pillows that float gently around the gallery. A visitor becomes part of the exhibit: their reactions to the pillows - touch them immediately or just move gracefully between them - again as much a part of the art as the clouds themselves.
Each gallery has different music relating to the contents and for a refreshing change, the playlist is posted on the wall. Again this demonstrates the kind of practical thought we found missing in some of our previous stops.
Note that the museum will likely constantly evolve. Not just because Warhol left behind an enormous body of work, but because he was a pack rat who stuffed 613 cardboard boxes full of all kinds of crap like posters, pictures, magazines, receipts - you name it. The foundation is only now able to open and catalogue the contents. Who knows what will emerge. We figure we'll want to come back and see it.
Our rest stop for the night was the Parador Inn, a B&B housed in a magnificent Victorian mansion. It's been meticulously restored but the current owner, a Pittsburgh native, felt that every B&B in a similar structure does a Victorian theme so he was going to put his own twist on it by adding Caribbean elements. This gimmick is probably not strong enough to really distinguish the property but we were wildly amused by the various details it produced such as stuffed sea creatures on the beds, Jamaican music playing downstairs, and the "beach" out back.
Rooms vary in size. Large ones are very large indeed and all strikingly decorated - bold Caribbean colors mixed with Victorian period details. The owner makes a full hot breakfast in the morning; we had a vanilla yogurt parfait, a slightly spicy spinach quiche, bacon, and homemade orange bread and were quite satisfied.
Obviously staying in such an establishment means trading a sleek streamlined bathroom for one a little bit more creaky, but it does make for a refreshing change of pace from a standard generic hotel room and the amenities are comparable. And the location on the North Shore is terrific - just a few blocks from the stadiums, a new casino (yes, Rick went), the National Aviary, and more. If you do decide to go give resident black labs Razor and RJ a hug.
On our Parador host's advice, we went across the river (we're not sure which one, there are several) and took the incline funicular to admire Pittsburgh at night. It's smashing but more on that in a moment.
We opted to have dinner at the old-school Georgetown Inn and ended up at a table right at a nearly floor-to-ceiling glass window overlooking said view. Spread out before us was the spot where two rivers converge to make a third and all sorts of twinkly lights and landmark buildings dotting the various shores. We could've looked at it for hours.
But of course we also have to look down at our plates. We were happy to discover that an entree price included soup and salad, a meager but fine serving of Muenster cheese and sesame crackers, a loaf of bread, and your choice of potato or broccoli. Mary and Steve shared a big thick piece of prime rib and Yorkshire pudding, which was very good and Rick had the filet, which was excellent. Like we said, old school, but again it's what we used to think of as fancy occasion dining when we were kids and we're not only still fond of it, but it's becoming increasingly hard to find.
In short, we were exceedingly happy with our evening and are smitten with the city. Yes, another place we will put on the infamous list of places we want to go back to.
NOTE: There are more pictures, keep scrolling!