Friday, May 25, 2012

Cleveland - Day One

Our quick trip to Cleveland started early and as usual we parked at Park Shuttle and Fly in East Boston.  Our flight was at 9:40 and we arrived at the airport handily, as there was not much traffic at all on this Friday before a holiday weekend.  The shuttle dropped us at Terminal A and after we breezed through security, I immediately noticed that our flight was posted absolutely no where.  It was as if it didn't exist, except that I knew that it did, as it was still appearing on the Massport webpage and my United app on my iPhone.  United flights to Cleveland before it and after it were posted on all the airport monitors, just not ours.

So to gate A9 we went, and we found a few other like-minded travelers who were also wondering where our flight was.  I took matters into my own hands and found the soul United employee in the terminal who pointed me back to the gate and told me to wait there.  Eventually the flight appeared on the monitors and all was well.

Our plane was small, only 19 rows total and with overhead bins so small that my normally legal-sized carry-on did not fit in it.  It was the first time I gate checked a bag, but all turned out well with that.  After a slightly delayed departure, we arrived in Cleveland just about on-time.  We summoned a cab at the cab concierge window and it was a flat $34 into the city.

We stayed at the Wyndham Playhouse Square, which is in the theater district.  What was most noticeable was the utter post-apocalypse desolation everywhere we went.  The area, and indeed most of the rest of the city we traveled through, was completely lacking of people as if it was 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning.  Where on earth was everyone?  It was mid-day Friday and we couldn't bump into anyone else if we tried.  Very strange feeling.

We dropped our bags at the hotel, which I'd found on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website.  The Rock Hall offers several packages through nearby hotels which include room, breakfast, parking and admission to the Hall.  With taxes, our room was $168, which is a steal if you consider the admission to the Hall alone is $22 a person.

Just up from our hotel, on the still-deserted street, was a Starbucks and a few restaurants, which were open, but seemed not to be serving guests, they were so empty.  We ate at Bricco, an Italian restaurant.  Appetizers of fried pickles, a shared pizza and a martini each came to $50 including tip.  Already we were appreciating how cheap it is to eat and drink in this city.

Back at our hotel, we grabbed a cab to the Cleveland Museum of Art.  This is where we befriended Bob the cab driver.  Bob was surprised that we came all this way to see the museum and Rock Hall, and he gave us a slow paced (both in speech and miles covered) tour of the area.  "This used to be a steel mill..." seemed to be a familiar line.  But even up near Case Western Reserve and the Cleveland Clinic, two non-museum draws to the city, we were hard pressed to find traffic or pedestrians.  Is this a big city or what?  It seemed near impossible to prove.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is in the midst of expansion and renovation, however, it is still an impressive setting with a formidable collection.  There were very few "big names" we couldn't find here, including Goya, El Greco, Velazquez, Caravaggio, Monet, Degas, Renoir...the list goes on.  This museum rates miles above Atlanta and Philly, both of which I've visited in the last 8 months and was less than impressed with.

The draw for us here was the Rembrandt in America exhibition, which showcased 50 paintings, 30 of which have been officially attributed to Rembrandt.  The other 30 are either confirmed to have been painted by his school, workshop, followers or the like.  It is always a learning experience to see a lot of paintings by one artist in one place at a time, because it allows me to see what makes a Rembrandt a Rembrandt, for example.  This exhibition made me realize the detail that Rembrandt would work the muscular structure around the eyes.  By the end of the exhibit, I could practically call out a Rembrandt from 30 paces away, just by looking at the eyes.  The museum also explained fairly well the difference between attributions, such as "follower of" (someone painted it after the artist is dead) and "workshop of" (done in the same location as where the artist painted, and he may or may not have had a hand in the work).  So I learned a lot from this one...worth the trip alone.  In addition, we saw the exhibit of Rembrandt drawings that had come from the Morgan Library in New York, as well as a wonderful video documentary on how this exhibition came together.  We were blissfully OD'ing on Rembrandt!

Bob the cabbie had given us his cell phone number because he said cabs are hard to come by in this city and is he ever right.  Skeptically we called Bob and he answered.  Within 10 minutes he was back to pick us up and drive us to dinner.  Otherwise, I'm not sure how we'd have gotten back to the hotel or to dinner, as public transportation seemed quite limited.

We opted to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe, for lack of planning and being able to find anything better.  My pre-trip research didn't reveal anything that really called out to me and we were going to the Hard Rock anyway for our souvenir buying.  Economically, this was a huge deal...the prices here were lower than home as well, and a meal that would have probably cost $130 at home was $90 including a tip (this included buying the wait staff we had befriended a round of drinks, too!)  But even the Hard Rock, which normally has a crowd, if not a line to get in, was practically empty.  I was baffled.

Pouring rain greeted us as we left the restaurant, so we ran to a nearby hotel and jumped in a cab.  Early to bed as we were both beat.

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