Friday, September 25, 2015

Cleveland Botanical Gardens. Cleveland Museum of Natural History & Cuyahoga Valley National Park

We woke at our usual 5 am time this morning and caught up on emails and other tasks before we started our day.  We grabbed some cereal and fruit from the breakfast area of the Days Inn and checked out.  Although the motel was plain, it was in a very good location and at $50 per night was quite a bargain.  
Many of the museums in Cleveland are within a few blocks of each other over near Case Western Reserve University.  We decided to start our days at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens.  Parking in a premium in the area but visitors can park in the garage at the botanical garden for half price ($6) with paid admission.  We paid the $11 each admission to access the huge area.  We started in the two story glasshouse where there are many tropical plants from jungle and arid tropical regions.  Inside the glasshouse are a variety of brightly colored tropical birds and butterflies.  Trays of fruit were out for the fruit eating birds as well as the butterflies.
We really liked the many cacti, kalanchoe and other desert plants that are indigenous to the desert regions of southwest Madagascar.  The butterflies were spectacular.  We were especially impressed with the Blue Morphos that are beautiful in flight but fold their wings to expose only the drab undersides when resting.  When we were in Bleize several years ago we spent a lot of time chasing them and trying get a good snapshot.  We had the same problem in the glasshouse.  The morphos tended to stay in the least accessible areas making them difficult to photograph.  We were, however, able to get some photos of many of the smaller butterflies.
Upstairs in the glasshouse were many colors and varieties of orchids, vines, heliconia and other tropical plants.  Most plants were well marked with identification tags and information about the plants’ uses and unique characteristics.  There was a stream running through the glasshouse with an attractive waterfall.  There were also tortoises and chameleons loose among the plants.
From the glasshouse, we walked outside to the many themed gardens, starting in the herb garden. Like the plants in the glasshouse, everything outside was clearly labeled and maintained.  The herb and medicinal plants were arranged in attractive plantings with stone and decorative concrete paths.  We also went through the woodland garden, rose garden, topiaries and the perennial garden.  When we were in the kitchen garden we saw a family with a young woman in a Xavier sweatshirt.  Turns out that she is an occupational therapy graduate student there.  We told her about Sarah being an alumnus and that she still maintains her connection to the Xavier’s OT department.  She may well meet Sarah through a class or internship.
After leaving the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, we walked across a small urban park to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.  I stopped along the way to purchase a hot dog from a street vendor’s cart and arrived at the museum.  With our Cincinnati Museum Center membership, our admission was free, saving us $28.  We started by walking through a collection of beautiful landscape photographs from some iconic locations around the world.  Photos from Grand Canyon, Denali, Norwegian fjords and South American rain forests.  The images were stunning in their colors and composition.
From there, we walked through the dinosaur exhibits.  They had a number of skeletons and interactive displays to give visitors a view of the diversity of dinosaur life across the world but especially in Northern Ohio.  I especially enjoyed a life sized model of a 60 foot long sauropod that had video projected on it to show how the respiratory, circulatory, digestive and reproductive systems may have functioned.  Using the projected video, the model appeared to move as the dinosaur breathed, moved blood through arteries, ate and produced eggs.  A good narration provided a lot of information on how the internal anatomy of herbivorous dinosaurs may have functioned.
We walked through the geology sections to learn more of the history of the area from the formation of the North American continent to the glaciation that shaped the Great Lakes.  There were a number of displays that show the diversity of minerals both as ores and as finished products.  We also enjoyed the display of fluorescent minerals.  Large cases around the geology area held polished egg shaped samples of minerals from around the world.
Nice displays on the area’s Native Americans gave views into the life of indigenous people in Ohio dating back as far as 10,000 years.  A replica of a burial mound showed how the same burial mounds were used by multiple cultures over the course of thousands of years.  They have artifacts from many Native American cultures even those who are not from the area that is now Ohio.
As we were leaving the Museum of Natural History we went to the outside area to see some of the plants and animals in the small courtyard.  They have two river otters in a pond area where they were romping and playing.  A small copse across from the pond had two coyotes that were relaxing and a pair of red foxes.  We sat on a bench for a while and watched the otters play then went to the car to start back toward home. 
Rather than going home on the highway we decided to come back through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  When Ian and Emily were in the area a few months ago they said that they enjoyed stopping in the park for a visit.  It was interesting to learn about the canal system that was built in the area to connect the Great Lakes to the Ohio/Mississippi River system.  However, by the mid 1800s the proliferation of railroads made the canals all but obsolete.  Many canals, locks, mills and other vestiges of the canal system remain in Ohio.  We visited a couple of nearby geocaches and walked out to Brandywine Falls in the park then drove on to Akron where the National Parked ended. 
We picked up I-77 near Akron and drove through heavy traffic down through Canton.  That was not surprising since we were there at rush hour.  We made it to Cambridge, Ohio by around 7 pm and stopped at Bob Evans for dinner then drove home by 10:30.
This was another very enjoyable short trip for us.  We benefitted from the tips from Ian & Emily who had been there recently.  We consulted the AA Tourbooks and got restaurant advice from TripAdvisor. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Cleveland Zoo

As with every other day, we awoke a little after 5 am but it was nice to stay in bed for a bit and just be lazy.  After watching all we could stand of the morning “news” shows, we walked down to breakfast at the Days Inn Cleveland Airport.  Since we were paying only $50 for a room with a king sized bed, we didn’t have terribly high expectations for breakfast.  However, there were several types of cold cereal, the ubiquitous waffle maker, some mini omelets and an assortment of breads for toasting.
After breakfast, we came back to the room to catch up on emails and plan for the day.  We were only 20 minutes from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo so we didn’t want to leave much before 9:20 since the zoo opens at 10 am.  Like yesterday, the weather was unparalleled today.  It was perfect for being out at a zoo.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the light breeze felt great in the mid-70s temperatures. 
The zoo wasn’t crowded at all when we arrived and we got right in.  Our Cincinnati Zoo membership got us in for half price so admission for the two of us was only $13 and parking was free. 
We were impressed with the size of the zoo that has a nice collection.  The Australia exhibit was especially good with several species of kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and other displays.  They have a great elephant exhibit with a number of animals in a large open area.  They have a number of primates and big cats in open enclosures.  We also liked the giraffes where there were at least six adults and some young.  Visitors could pay a few dollars to get lettuce leaves to feed to the adult giraffes.  Mary was happy that there are red pandas at the Cleveland Zoo.
We were also impressed with the botanical displays in the zoo.  It was obvious that many of the plants are brought in for the cold Cleveland winter.  There are a number of sedum and other succulents that are winter hardy.  Many of the late summer flowers were blooming this week. We stayed at the zoo until around 2 pm then walked over to the Rain Forest area which is included in our admission but has a separate facility next to the zoo.
The Rain Forest building is a large geodesic dome that has two main floors.  There many tropical species that were clearly labeled.  In addition to the rain forest plants, there are a few animals on display that are indigenous to the rain forest regions.  We especially liked the sloths and tree porcupines.  We stayed at the Rain Forest for a little over an hour and left for our motel around 3 pm.  Since we had skipped lunch, we ate some of the snacks that we had packed.  Most of these were Trader Joe’s items from my Christmas stocking last year.  We enjoyed munching on the figs and dried jackfruit on the drive back.
Mary had called her cousin, Kim, who lives in the Cleveland area and arranged to meet up for a bit this afternoon.  We had iced tea with Kim and her husband, Gene, at the Bob Evan’s near the motel.  It was nice seeing them.  Kim is the cousin who is closest to Mary’s age.  We had a really great time seeing them and catching up.  We promised to get with them soon for a longer visit.
This evening, we went to dinner at Campus Grille next to Baldwin-Wallace University in Berea, OH.  We had checked TripAdvisor and Campus Grille had excellent reviews for their Cuban food.  Since they were only 2 miles from our motel and we love Cuban food, we gave it a try.  The restaurant is very small with only about 8 tables inside and another 4 or so outside.  The staff there greeted us warmly and made sure we were happy with our meals.  I had chicken empanadas which had very moist chicken inside the masa flour shells with a generous amount of annatto added.  Mary ordered the Cuban sandwich, her favorite every time we go to a Cuban restaurant.  Her sandwich had a couple of slices of ham and a huge portion of some excellent roast pork and Swiss cheese.  The kicker that we have never had on a Cuban sandwich was the horseradish mustard.  The whole sandwich was toasted in a sandwich press.  The pork was falling apart and the juices dripped from the sandwich.  We had an exchange of entrees.  I gave her one of my two empanadas and she gave me half of her sandwich.  We were both happy with our meals.  We shared an order of tostones (fried plantains) that came in a large aluminum plate.  Most of the tostones came back to the motel with us.  Our bill was less than $20 for both meals.
Tomorrow we plan to go to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and perhaps the nearby Cleveland Botanical Gardens.  After we have seen all we want to see in this area we will drive back home since we have obligations over the weekend.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Since we are programed to wake early even if we are on vacation, we were out the door today early and on the road by 7 am.  The route to Cleveland couldn’t be easier, we went straight up I-79 for five hours and we were there!  Along the way we passed some interesting towns that have a history with the canal system or in the early settlement of the region.  When we come this way again we plan to stop along the way and visit more.
Elvis' gold suit
We were in the parking lot next to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before noon and had the sandwiches and snacks that we had packed for our lunch.  Parking seemed a little high at $10 for the day but we wanted to be sure that we were in a safe place.  Later we saw parking for $7-8 but we were pleased with where we were.  We had purchased our tickets online which was a little more expensive than buying them at the door but we didn’t want to have to wait in a line.  However, when we arrived we saw that there really was no line and we could have easily bought the tickets there.  We still think it is a good idea to buy tickets in advance.
Jimi Hendrix' suit
We had been wanting to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a number of years but there always seemed to be something going on that prevented it.  We were really happy to be able to go this year.  We took a lot of time at the displays and exhibits.  The first displays were on the 2015 inductees then there were cases of artifacts and displays that are generally organized by genre or era of music.  We spent a lot of time in the early period with the displays from blues, jazz, rockabilly and other rock and roll influences.  We also enjoyed the displays on the early rock icons like Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke and Little Richard.  We spent the most time in the sections devoted to the rock of the 1960s and 70s.  There were cases for Motown, San Francisco and LA music that we enjoyed a lot.  This was the music of our high school and college years.
Ringo Starr's drum kit
Scattered through the museum were screens showing biographies or documentaries of notable groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones or of trends in music like the Memphis sound.  There were also a number of touch screen kiosks with things like One Hit Wonders and Songs and Most Influenced Rock.  We stopped at each of these and enjoyed reading the information.  At a theater area there was an hour long presentation of all inductees since 1986, the first year of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  The movie provided a sample of many of the performers’ music as well as photos or video.  Some of the inductees were producers or writers and were shown still images. 
Mary on the cover of Rolling Stone
We found that we didn’t agree with all of the inductees since many seemed to either have only a few hits or didn’t have a major influence on the direction of the music.  However, groups that were hugely popular in the 1970s like The Doobie Brothers, Steve Miller Band and Chicago were not in the Hall of Fame.  We just couldn’t understand how The Stooges (not Moe, Larry and Curly) were in but not Michael McDonald or John Denver.
We finished our visit on the top two floors of the museum which are for the traveling exhibits which is now the photography of Herb Ritts.  He photographed many of the best known rock artists for magazine covers like Rolling Stone and others.  He also did album covers and posters.  His most frequent subjects are Madonna, Tina Turner and David Bowie, however, he had many photos of Elton John, Bob Dylan, James Taylor and many, many others.
It was after 5 pm by the time we had completed our visit.  We could have spent more time there but we saw most of what we had come to see.  We passed quickly through exhibits on music genre that do not especially interest us.  There were some great items on display like one of Ringo Starr’s drum kits and guitars owned by Mother Maybelle Carter, Les Paul, Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger.  There were also displays of George Harrison’s grade school swimming certificate and Jim Morrison’s Cub Scout uniform that were of less interest to us.  Although some bands that would be considered “Southern Rock”, like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd were inducted in the Hall of Fame, there were no displays for that genre.
Since we didn’t want to drive to the Days Inn Cleveland Airport at rush hour, we walked along the lake shore for a bit after leaving the museum.  The GPS guided us for the 20 minute drive to the motel and although traffic was heavy, it moved well and we arrived without incident.  After checking in to the motel, we did a search for highly rated restaurants nearby and came up with an Italian place called Bucci’s.  It was only a quarter mile from our motel.  I was getting all ready for some chicken Parmesan with Gary Bucci but we learned that this location has closed.  The next highest rated was Maya Mexican Restaurant with is about 2 miles away.  When we arrived, the restaurant was busy but we didn’t have to wait for a table.  Mary had a beef tips enchilada and burrito combo and I had chili rellenos which were good but had too much melted white cheese.  Everything was tasty but not much different than we get at any local Mexican restaurant.  Since we had eaten a small lunch and had built up a hunger, we had no trouble enjoying the meal.  We have had Mayan food and this place definitely did not offer Mayan cuisine but was more of a typical Mexican restaurant.  It was neither especially good nor bad but the service and prices were good and we were satisfied with our meals.

We came back to the motel and crashed with responding to the day’s emails then reading a little before bed time.  We plan to visit the Cleveland Zoo on Thursday and are especially excited about the rain forest exhibit.