Traveling with four people is hard when things don’t go as planned. If it’s just Paul and me, we’ll seek shelter in a library or hotel when hit with a series of cold, rainy days. But for a few days, we were traveling with my parents and, just like when they visited us in Chicago, I wanted to keep them entertained. It was like they were on my home turf, and I wanted them to have a good time.
We started out on the Erie Islands, but we quickly did all there was to do in a few chilly, April days. So we decided to spend our last day together on the mainland, in Cleveland, OH. Our destination was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but when we arrived, we found a line stretching through the rain around the entire building. We forgot to do our research – it was free day at the Hall of Fame, and an induction ceremony was being held later that night. Thousands of rock fans had shown up, hoping for a glimpse of Slash. Oops.
Not wanting to spend the entire day in line (in the rain), we brainstormed about what else we knew about Cleveland…and Paul and I remembered that Great Lakes Brewing Company is based in Cleveland. So we headed over to the Ohio City neighborhood, ready to taste some beers and drown our Hall of Fame sorrows…only to find about a hundred others had already had the same idea, crowding the pub and buying up all the brewery tour tickets for the day. Oops.
Two strikes — now what? We retreated to a nearby bar for some bloody marys and some Google-assisted strategizing. Our bartender wasn’t too much help, claiming that he didn’t get out much, but we had noticed something interesting as we walked over to Great Lakes — the West Side Market.
The West Side Market isn’t a farmer’s market – it’s more like the best grocery store you’ve ever found. The produce isn’t all local, but the vendors are local, and everything is fresh. Nothing like this exists in Chicago. There’s no single place where you can find your choice of fresh meats (even rabbit), seafood, fruits, veggies, spices, pastries, pierogies, popcorn, cannolis (filled to order), cheese, pasta, cookies, bread, ice cream, flowers, and on and on and on. It’s completely overwhelming. I was stumbling around like a drunk, dazed by the sights and smells. On a Saturday, it was so crowded that everyone was stumbling into one another; all capacity for regular movement was lost in the saturation of the senses.
All I wanted to do was pick up a few bags of supplies, then head home to my kitchen and cook up a tasty dinner for friends. These were the first real pangs of sadness and envy I’ve had about something we’ve given up – a kitchen, a fridge, a sink. I wasn’t even hungry enough to sample the many made-to-order foods available.
The market is observing its centennial this year, and the city has planned lots of events to celebrate. You’ve got to go to the West Side Market. When you do go to the market, go on an empty stomach, preferably after a 24 hour fast. If you’re visiting from out-of-town, find a motel with a kitchenette and pick up supplies to cook a big dinner or brunch. And if you’re a local Clevelander, you’d better shop at the market! You’ve got something really special – take advantage of it.
After the market’s sensory overload, we decided to check out Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery for a little grounding. The monument to President Garfield is the highlight of the cemetery, which is as big and beautiful as a city park. Garfield is the only president whose casket is on full display, but sadly for him, he must spend eternity in the basement, amid the sounds and smells of the restrooms.
And what should be right next to the cemetery on Mayfield Road but Cleveland’s little Italy, a stretch of delicious restaurants and shops and a perfect place to find dinner and a bottle of wine.
Previously I’ve only seen Cleveland from I-90, where the highlight is the giant turn in the road by the lake. While the start of our trip to Cleveland was rocky, the West Side Market won me over to the Cleveland side. I like it here.