Davie School Inn Illinois Bed and Breakfast

Staying Overnight at School

Davie School Inn Illinois Bed and Breakfast

I was the dork who LOVED school. Other kids at least put up the pretense of being too cool for school, but I was unabashedly eager to go learn. It was my favourite place, at least in the early grades. I would even ask for homework, but the teachers told me they weren’t allowed to assign any until I was older. Though I don’t recall specifically fantasizing about having a sleepover at school, it would have been my idea of paradise then.

My first impulse upon setting foot in The Davie School Inn was the intense desire to move in, permanently. It would be quite doable. The unbelievably spacious suites in this bed and breakfast are comprised of classrooms, several of which are larger than the average one-bedroom apartment in Toronto.

Davie School Inn Green Room kitchenette

Gary and Andrea Dahmer transformed the 1910 Davie School building in Anna, Illinois into a one-of-a-kind boutique inn that has been their labour of love since 2002. The Davie School Inn now has 11 individually Davie School Inn Green Room Chalkboarddecorated suites that each have their own theme and flair. The inn retains the character and atmosphere of the school — every suite has an original slate blackboard and bookcase — but has been carefully renovated to add just the right amount of modern conveniences. Kitchenettes have sprung from where pupils might have hung their coats, while luxurious spa bathrooms blend right into the woodwork (including the gloriously distressed original hardwood floors.) Some of the furnishings are original,  such as teacher’s desks, while others are lovingly collected antiques. Many beds are topped with handmade quilts which create an endearing homeyness.

Davie School inn Green Room drawer detail

I stayed in the Green Room, where I could have invited at least a dozen of my closest friends and still had loads of room in this massive suite — I really should shut up about the size of the place already, but I can’t get over it. It would be ideal for a family stay, or getaway with friends, as it sleeps five. The room gave rise to a number of fun scenarios in my mind, such as a writers’ retreat, hen party, or craft weekend — so much potential there that it seemed wasted on little old me.

Green Room Davie School inn

Nevertheless I was determined to luxuriate in the space and amenities as much as possible in the short time I had there. My favourite feature was the wall of slate chalkboards and, even though we arrived late (hence the poorly lit photos) and hit the road early the next morning, I made sure to set aside some time for doodling.

Davie School Inn Chalkboard fun

Our group was spread across several suites, but we congregated for a convivial breakfast in my room. Gary arrived at precisely the appointed time with a scrumptious frittata straight from the oven, roast potatoes, fresh fruit salad, toast, and juice, which were laid out on the desk which is now a dining table.

Davie School Inn green room breakfast

All that remained to be done before departing Davie School Inn far too soon, was an impromptu doodle party.

Blackboard fun Davie School Inn


Acknowledgements and disclosure: Many thanks to Andrea and Gary Dahmer for their friendly hospitality and providing a complimentary stay for the purposes of this review. This was part of a trip organized by Enjoy Illinois. My doodling buddies were Matt and Caro. All views expressed in this review are my own (I really did love it to bits.)

Finding the Mother Lode of Sweet Treats on Last Chance Gulch

How can you not want to take a stroll down Last Chance Gulch on a warm and breezy summer evening? How can you not want to at any time, really, because is Last Chance Gulch not the best street name ever? It is the beyond-bucolic main drag of Helena, Montana’s historic downtown, and the name derives from the fact Helena’s founders were planning to move on if they didn’t find gold in their last-ditch effort at prospecting. Luckily they hit pay dirt and the rest his history.

Helena Montana Last Chance Gulch

When I arrived in Montana’s capital just before sunset I hastily checked in at the Holiday Inn, jettisoned my bags and set out on foot with one mission in mind. Yes I wanted to soak up the history, and get a feel for the place on this lovely pedestrianized thoroughfare, but foremost in my mind was procuring an ice cream cone.

Helena Montana Big Dipper exterior

I’d read about The Big Dipper in my pre-trip googlings and knew it to be a local institution, selling homemade ice cream since 1995. Luckily I didn’t have far to go and I knew that I getting close when I spotted the queue that wended its way out the door. This gave me time to choose from among the twenty or so luscious flavours.

Big Dipper ice cream Helena Montana serving cone

When I reached the counter, I was confident in my choice: Mocha Chip. I took my prize out into the night and enjoyed it during my twilight wander back to the hotel. Lo and behold I found myself back there the following evening, sampling a Huckleberry cone, the region’s quintessential flavour.

Helena Montana Last Chance Gulch ice cream

In my world, sugar enhances almost any experience. So, when I asked Kal Poole, the Managing Director of the Grandstreet Theater, about his favourite establishment on Last Chance Gulch, and he enthusiastically described The Parrot Confectionery (with a hint of reverie giving rise to the suspicion I was dealing with a fellow addict,)  I instantly knew that first-hand “research” was in order.

Parrot Confectionery chocolates Helena Montana

AParrot Confectionery chocolate case Helena Montana substantial display case full of all sorts of confections, obscured by a congregation of eager customers, greets visitors entering The Parrot. Patiently hovering in the background as the customers were served, I spied one tantalizing treat after another from the huge array of candies and chocolates made in-house, and the visually stimulating jars of vibrant penny candy lining the surface of the candy counter. When I reached the front, the crowd had thinned and I confessed to the friendly gal behind the counter that this was my first time and I was overwhelmed by choice. I explained that I might never again have a chance to return and therefore the angst of deciding what to get weighed heavily on me. I broke the ice by introducing myself and requesting permission to take photos.

Candies Parrot Confectionery Helena Montana

This obviously wasn’t Amanda’s first confectionery indecision rodeo, and we chatted about my general preferences, deciding that I would forgo penny candy and focus on the goodies made at The Parrot. Emphasis would be put on Turkish Delight because it’s unusual and a favourite of mine, while mints would have to wait and take a gamble on my returning to Helena someday. Chocolate is mandatory. Because chocolate. After this meeting of the minds I surrendered the sweets selection duties to Amanda while I indulged my shutterbug proclivities.

Helena Montana Parrot Confectionary soda fountain
A Helena haunt since 1922, The Parrot is also a vintage soda fountain and lunch counter, serving the full gamut of sodas, phosphates, shakes, malts, and sundaes, as well as secret-recipe Parrot Chili (though the formula is confidential, rest assured it contains no actual parrots) that is highly sought after.

Parrot Confectionery Amanda turkish delight Helena MontanaHaving presented me with my expertly chosen selection of sweets, Amanda had one more surprise in store. Perhaps because of my obvious and charming (at least I like to think so) enthusiasm, she encouraged me to go take a look in the back room of the shop where the candy is made!

At this point I will wrap up the commentary and let the photos transport you to the sugary wonderland that the Parrot Confectionery’s kitchen. As their tagline states, it “Talks for Itself!”


Acknowledgements and Disclosure: Thanks, obviously, to Amanda at The Parrot for her help and kindness, and to Mike Mergenthaler for treating me to huckleberry ice cream. This trip was hosted by the Helena CVB.

Helena GeoTour geocache 5

Geocaching Tour of Helena

How do I tell the world about something that’s supposed to be a secret? I’m not talking matter-of-national-security secret, more like no-spoilers, keep-the-muggles-River Song Spoilersout secret. (No Mom, I won’t end up like Edward Snowden.)

Geocaching is not exactly a secret and, luckily, the first rule of of Geocaching is not You Do Not Talk About Geocaching. This fun hybrid of treasure hunting and orienteering has been popular for years and is truly a worldwide phenomenon.

In fact, it is so not a secret that I suspect many of you are already familiar with Geocaching, and I will refrain from banging on at length about what it is.  There are loads of resources online, but here’s a brief synopsis for the uninitiated:  Participants use GPS coordinates to locate caches that have been hidden by other geocachers. A cache typically has a log book where you record your find, and might also contain trade goods (you are free to take an item if you replace it with something else) and trackable items such as travel bugs and geocoins that travel from cache to cache. Finds are also logged online on the Geocaching website, which has grown into an enormous global community.

The fact that Helena, Montana has a GeoTour is also not a secret, but is something I would like to make much more widely known. The trick is, how do I tell you about it without revealing information that will give away the locations of the caches, and thus spoil your fun?

As is often the case, the answer turns out to be to post more embarrassing pictures of myself on the Internet. After cropping out as much identifying information as possible from my boatload of photos, what you get is a series of semi-undignified shots of me geocaching and having fun exploring Montana’s capital. Enjoy!

Did I mention there’s a prize? The wonderful historic sites, natural spaces, architectural gems, tasty treats, and ample local character that you get to enjoy on the tour are their own reward, but the icing on the cake is the handmade, limited-edition geocoin that you can earn for doing the Helena GeoTour. These handsome trackables are made of clay and depict Helena’s historic fire tower, Guardian of the Gulch.


The organizers of the Helena GeoTour helpfully provide a passport listing all 38 of the geocaches that form the tour. So, all you need to do is record the passwords from the geocaches on it, and if you find at least 25 geocaches you take your passport to the Birds & Beasleys gift shop on South Last Chance Gulch (is that an epic street name or what?) to claim your lovely geocoin. The geocoins were handmade by ceramic artists at the Archie Bray Foundation and are only available while supplies last, but as of this writing there are still some left for Geocachers to earn.

It is also well worth noting that local businesses are enthusiastic about the Helena GeoTour and several area hotels offer special discounts and packages for geocachers visiting Helena, Montana. Current offers are listed on the Helena GeoTour webpage.

So yeah, the GeoTour is great fun. It’s killing me not to be about to tell you more about it, but you’ll just have to go to Montana and experience it for yourself!


Acknowledgements and disclosure: Huge thanks to Heidi O’Brien and Mike Mergenthaler for taking me out geocaching in Helena and helping me capture all of the aforementioned goofy photos. This trip was hosted by the Helena CVB.

Pacific Science Center butterfly wall

That Time I Had a Butterfly Land on My Face

It was a spur-of-the-moment excursion brought on by my stubborn, completist streak. I only had an hour before we had to leave for the airport, but I had used every coupon but one in my Seattle CityPASS. The last remaining coupon was for Pacific Science Center, which was less than a block from our hotel.

Pacific Science Center Seattle exterior

Owing to my status as an insomniac, I was ready to go bright and early, so rather than obnoxiously waiting around for Jane to get ready, I decided to leave her be and flit across to the science centre and see what I could see in the time I had available. Ironically, there was an exhibit on Sleep that I found visually interesting, if not all that informative. I raced through the planetary exhibit that looked cool but was mainly aimed at children. Somewhere along my path I passed a maze full of naked mole rats. What I had in my sights, and was racing around to find, was the Butterfly exhibit, where they have a room full of living butterflies.

Pacific Science Center butterfly wall

Pacific Science Center what do butterflies eatI soon found the Tropical Butterfly House, and after being checked over by the attendant, I was allowed to enter. There were butterflies soaring all over the place. This isn’t my first butterfly rodeo and, as expected, the room had feeding stations where the butterflies landed to enjoy some sugary nectar. They would also land on the branches of the trees and plants. Occasionally they might land on a person’s shoulder or their sleeve. I took a load of really terrible pictures because I was in too much of a hurry.

Pacific Science Center butterfly jacketWhile I was gingerly shooting selfies of the butterfly that had landed on my jacket, it startled me by leaping off my jacket landing on my eyebrow and latching onto it for dear life! Luckily I already had the camera in position to snap a photo, as I doubt I would have had the presence of mind to do so. Why? Because it feels really weird to have a butterfly gripping your eyebrow hairs as though its life depended on it.

An employee noticed my odd demeanor, and clued in to what has transpiring. “Oh my God! I’ve never seen them do that!” She exclaimed. Standing there with the main attraction attached to my face, I realized that I was out of time and had to get back to the hotel urgently. The butterfly lingered a moment or two longer, then released its grip and flew away.

Steph butterfly face Pacific Science Center

I similarly flew back to the hotel. I stopped long enough for the attendant to check that I wasn’t smuggling any butterflies out, or rather than none were stowing away, on my person, and then I sprinted back in a frenzy. I arrived to find Jane waiting in the lobby for our airport shuttle to arrive.

Boy, did I ever have a story to tell her…


Disclosure and acknowledgements: Many thanks to CityPASS for providing me with my Seattle coupon book. Thanks also to Jane for putting up with my nonsense.

Blackbeard pirate festival hatmaker

Foto Friday: The Loyal Hatmaker

Like most festivals, vendors display their wares at the Blackbeard Pirate Festival in Hampton, Virginia.  As a bonafide hat person I was immediately drawn to this hatmaker’s display. While her impressive creations were out of my reach, I came away with a heartwarming tale.

Blackbeard hatmaker

There used to be some debate about whether to exhibit her hats at the Blackbeard festival. There are only so many weekends in the festival season and lots of different events for exhibitors to choose from. But now you can rely on seeing this magnificent millinery in Hampton every year, thanks to a natural disaster.

An unwelcome guest crashed the party at the 2012 Blackbeard Pirate Festival. A sizeable tornado ripped through the Hampton waterfront at the height of the festival. Thankfully no one was hurt, but in an instant thousands of dollars worth of hats and other inventory were scattered across the entire waterfront.

What on earth would make a vendor unfailingly loyal to an event hit by disaster? Well, Hampton rose to the occasion. Nearly all of the merchandise was found and retrieved.  Locals and festivalgoers alike pitched in to hunt for goods the vendors had lost and much of the inventory was recovered. Boaters at the marina later turned in items found on their vessels and took steps to return them to their rightful owners.

So, that is why you will always have the chance to buy a historically inspired handmade leather hat at the Blackbeard Pirate Festival.

Blackbeard Pirate Festival hats


Disclosure and Acknowledgements: On this trip I was hosted by the Hampton Convention and Visitors Bureau. Many thanks Ryan Downey for being our indispensable go-to guy during our stay.

Robert Wadlow Worlds Tallest Man

Foto Friday: The World’s Tallest Man

Alton, Illinois boasts an interesting claim to fame. Not only is it the Most Haunted Town in America and birthplace of Miles Davis, it was also home to the World’s Tallest Man.

Robert Wadlow Worlds Tallest Man

Robert Pershing Wadlow was born in Alton and is the tallest man ever known to have lived. One of the town’s most popular landmarks is a life-sized statue in his honour that stands in a park opposite the Alton History & Art Museum (which sports the intriguingly ominous tagline “History outlives those who would destroy it.”)

Having an abnormality of the pituitary gland, Robert Wadlow never stopped growing. By the age of four he was already taller than I am! Just before his death from an infected blister at age 22, Robert was measured at a hair taller than 8 feet, 11 inches.

His world record as the tallest man still stands today, in part because medical science has since developed treatments for such conditions.

A Nerd at Large Robert Wadlow giant chair

Also at the site is a replica of Robert’s chair that a furniture company made specially for him. Every giant knows it’s important to have a comfortable chair to curl up in, amirite?

Disclosure and acknowledgements: On this trip I was a guest of the Illinois Office of Tourism. Many thanks to Steven Glynias for snapping the photos.

Bullwhacker Helena

Foto Friday: The Bullwhacker

He stands in the middle of Last Chance Gulch, the main drag in Helena, Montana. The Bullwhacker wields his whip, the tip undulating skyward, caught mid-flick.

Bullwhacker Helena

The Bullwhacker earned pride of place in Helena by the pivotal role his namesakes played in settling the area. Helena was founded in the gold rush when four men struck gold during their last-ditch attempt to make it as prospectors and miners. A town soon grew around the mining activities and Helena later became Montana’s capital.

The train is what made Helena’s growth possible and kept the town going. Who kept the trains going? The bullwhacker.

The badass, whip-sporting bullwhacker wasn’t for show. We’re not talking railways here. Wagon trains pulled by oxen were the lifeblood of western communities. These trains carried supplies, people, and communications, without which these mountainous settlements would be cut off from the outside world. They simply had to get through, and it was the bullwhacker’s job to keep the train moving.

So now a statue of a bullwhacker stands in the lovely, historic Helena town centre, reminding everyone how we got here.

bullwhacker helena montana

Pontiac Oakland Museum Illinois

Five Kinds of Awesome You Can Experience in Illinois

“Wow! You’ve seen more of Illinois than most of us who live here ever have!” exclaimed my new buddy, Mike. While we were having a quintessential Chicago experience — waiting out an enormous delay at O’Hare airport — I’d told him all about the road trip I’d just taken exploring various regions of Illinois.

The intent of the road trip was to discover amazing things to do in Illinois outside of Chicago, and we had accomplished this mission with gusto. I’ll eventually post about most of these attractions individually, but for starters here are a few highlights of the varieties of awesomeness you can experience in Illinois:

Farmtastic Awesomeness

Having grown up on a farm, I forget what a novelty it is for most people to visit one and spend time in the countryside. Admittedly, the stereotype of Illinois is that it’s nothing but farmland outside of Chicago. Even though that’s not true, would it really be such a bad thing?

The Great Pumpkin Patch Arthur Illinois

There is a huge variety of agricultural attractions in Illinois. There’s the typical agritourism of corn mazes and The Great Pumpkin Patch that are perennially popular with families. At the Visitor Center in Arthur you can arrange to visit an Amish or Mennonite farm and learn about their way of life first-hand. If you’re fascinated by industrial agriculture, many conventional farmers will show you around their farms and let you see their big, expensive machinery. Arrangements of this kind can often be made through the local visitor centre of the area you plan to visit.

Amish milking parlour Arthur Illinois

Some farms, such as Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery in Champaign, offer regular tours of their farm on a pre-arranged or drop-in basis and have events throughout the year. In the case of Prairie Fruits, they host farm-to-table dinners in their garden every few weeks. Guest chefs prepare a gourmet meal from local produce, and the tickets for these culinary experiences are in high demand and extremely hard to come by.

Prairie Fruits Farm Creamery Champaign Illinois

Thankfully, farm-to-table cuisine is incredibly popular in Illinois and there are lots of restaurants serving locally-sourced meals every day, such as the Firefly Grill in Effingham or Big Grove Tavern in Champaign. Farmers markets and roadside farm stands are also abundant in Illinois and offer oodles of treats for the wandering locavore.

Firefly Grill Effingham Illinois

We tend to think of the farm-to-table movement as a big-city phenomenon, but it stands to reason that the folks out in the countryside have an even greater connection to, and sense of pride in, their local farmers and the food that they produce!

Rhubarb carrots Urbana Illinois farmers market

Wine-licious Awesomeness

My preconceptions of Illinois certainly didn’t include wine-tasting holidays. I’m not exactly a oenophile, but Illinois was not somewhere from whence I knew that wine came.

Tasting Blue Sky wine Makanda Illinois

Well, it does. There are over 100 wineries and 450 vineyards in Illinois. We visited two of them in Southern Illinois.

Blue Sky vineyard wine shelf Makanda Illinois

At Blue Sky Vineyard in Makanda they grow many of the varietals of grapes used in their wines, of which there is a broad range. Their specialty is sweeter wines, and I loved that we weren’t looked down upon for preferring many of the sweeter ones. In general I find wine-tasting can be a very intimidating experience, but in Illinois the absence of any sort of snobbery was most refreshing and allowed us to be comfortable and actually learn about wine.

Blue Sky vineyard tasting Makanda Illinois

We had a similar experience at Grafton Winery, where they also have a bistro with a fantastic waterside view and a patio that’s perfect for whiling away an afternoon or evening in Grafton. For those who prefer beer, there’s a brewpub on the premises. As we know, I’m not one of those people.

Grafton winery bottle Illinois

Mega-adventurous Awesomeness

Those midwestern prairies are great for growing corn and raising livestock but, unbeknownst to many, there’s a whole region of Southern Illinois with a totally different topography. Due to the eccentricities of glaciation, the glaciers that flattened large swathes of the midwest were never present in Southern Illinois, and thanks to this, the unglaciated area is a playground for adventure seekers and outdoorsy types.

Giant City Lodge Makanda Illinois

We stopped for a lovely hike in Giant City State Park (five minutes into which my camera battery died. Oops!), just one of several state parks in the region, which is also popular with rock-climbers and water sports enthusiasts. Besides the natural beauty and interesting terrain, one of the reasons that Southern Illinois has long been a draw for these sorts of escapes is the presence of gorgeous lodges built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Rather than pitching a tent after the exertion of a day’s adventuring, you can stay in the comfort of a rustically luxurious lodge or cabin and enjoy a hot meal, such as the famous fried chicken dinner at Giant City Lodge or Pere Marquette Lodge.

Giant City Lodge fried chicken dinner Makanda Illinois

My favourite activity was the Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour where I had a blast trying ziplining for the first time. The zipline course is on private property next to Shawnee National Forest and therefore shares the same terrain and environment. The operators have gone to great lengths to minimize the impact of the canopy tour on the forest and the patented infrastructure was designed so that it can be readily removed from the trees and the forest restored to its natural state if ever the time comes. They have a combination deal going with Blue Sky Vineyard that lets you combine ziplining with wine-tasting at a special price, and it’s recommended that you zip before you sip, as opposed to vice versa.

Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour Makanda Illinois

Road-Trippin’ Awesomeness

Since this was a road trip, obviously that’s something that you can do in Illinois. There are many scenic byways to enjoy and they truly are scenic (unlike some destinations where so-called scenic routes are only mildly more interesting than the interstate.) The piece-de-resistance for road-trippers, however, is the world-famous Route 66, which starts in Chicago.

Route 66 pavement Pontiac Illinois

Some of the attractions along Route 66 have gradually died out or been destroyed in recent decades, but one place that has zealously embraced its Route 66 heritage is the town of Pontiac. Not only is it home to the Illinois Route 66 Museum and Hall of Fame, it also boasts scores of murals, and the school-bus-turned-road-yacht that was the home of Bob Waldmire, a notable counterculture figure who drew one of the most recognizable maps of Route 66. You constantly see beautifully preserved or restored classic cars cruising the streets of Pontiac, and if that’s your thing then the Pontiac-Oakland Museum is a must-visit attraction.

Pontiac Oakland Museum Illinois

One of the reasons I found our road trip in Illinois so enjoyable is that, unlike elsewhere, many towns still have a viable, vibrant downtown with independent businesses, many of which are a huge part of the town’s heritage. It’s delightful to go down Main Street USA and browse local shops and establishments, many of which are family businesses that have been passed down over several generations, like Flesor’s Candy Kitchen in Tuscola.

Flesors Candy Kitchen Tuscola Illinois

Historic Awesomeness

We uncovered so much history on this trip. It’s difficult to describe it all concisely. There’s a huge range that has something to appeal to just about everyone. Architecture geeks can go nuts. There are Frank Lloyd Wright buildings here and there all over the place, with the Dana-Thomas House in Springfield being an especially impressive example. Not to mention structures and feats of engineering of all sort of other periods and styles.

Lovers of kitsch and vintage advertising have surprises awaiting them around many a corner, with muffler men, nifty retro signage, and roadside attractions lurking in unexpected places.

Frank Lloyd Wright glass Dana Thomas House Springfield Illinois

There are so many Lincoln attractions that they’ve been strung together into a trail that has become a popular road trip route. Locations of the many debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas dot the map, while the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield is a must-see attraction for anyone with even the slightest interest in history.

Disembodied head Lincoln Library and Museum Springfield Illinois

Besides being named the most haunted town in America and having a statue of the World’s Tallest Man, Alton is home to nearby Camp Dubois. This is the site of the encampment where Lewis & Clark mustered their expedition team and made preparations for their long and arduous voyage exploring and mapping the western frontier lands of the United States. Since the area was investigated by archaeologists and historians, replicas of the buildings have been erected and crops planted to simulate the camp’s environment and educate visitors in what is now known as the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site.

Camp Dubois Lewis and Clark State Historic Site Illinois

Then there are the museums. Don’t get me started about the museums. We’d be here for a very long time.


So what do you think? Did we accomplish our mission to uncover awesomeness in every corner of Illinois? Mike was impressed, anyway.


Acknowledgements and Disclosure: I was hosted on this trip by EnjoyIllinois. Thanks to our guide Jose Botello for taking the ziplining photo. Huge thanks to Steven Glynias of Fleishman Hillard for doing all the driving and ensuring we had a continuous supply of Wi-Fi, fun facts, and Chex Mix.

Foto Friday: To Telescope

Priffith Park Observatory sunset telescope

According to Roseitta’s research, The grounds at Griffith Observatory are the best place to get a view of the Hollywood sign as well as to watch the sun set over Los Angeles.

What drew me to this scene was the typography of the sign and the sweeping line of the art deco staircase. Doesn’t it make you want to climb up and check out the view?

Not only is the view spectacular, but the Griffith Observatory is a fascinating, ultra science-y place whether or not the sun happens to be setting. It’s also rathe tempting to take that telescope for a spin.

A black-and-white version of this image was featured as the Photo of the Day on Discover Los Angeles

St. Theodosius Church

Go Ahead. Mock Me For Loving Cleveland.

I can take it. It wasn’t love at first anyway. Cleveland and I had some bad blood for a while.

The first time I was set to go there was on a FAM trip, but I was laid off the day before departure, so the trip was off.


The next time I’d planned to spend a day there during the last leg of an Ohio road trip. We arrived at the B&B at sundown, after a long and frustrating drive from Columbus fraught with navigational boondoggles, only to find that the proprietor had accidentally double-booked our room and it was already taken. We were so tired and grumpy that we impulsively chose to drive all the way home to Ontario rather than search for new accommodations.
I could have been forgiven for filing Cleveland under Not Meant To Be.

Then in 2010 it happened.

My BFF Jane and I love to take road trips. We’ll go anywhere, just for the sake of going. We drove all the way to Kalamazoo once just because it has a cool name.

We were contemplating potential destinations for our next road trip and Cleveland came up. Since we’d already covered most of the major cities within a six-hour drive, we went for it, despite harbouring suspicions that the city might have it in for me.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument
Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument – photo: Stephanie Spencer

Finally, I made it to Cleveland. I had no idea what to expect. With the way that people love to ridicule and denigrate the place I half expected it to be grim, but I knew it had the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and at least a couple good places to eat, which was good enough for us.

Here are some of the reasons I love Cleveland:

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Musem
photo: Stephanie Spencer

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is worth the trip in itself if you’re a fan of music and history like me. There are artifacts representing all aspects of the history of rock and roll, many from big names that give you a thrill to see face-to-face, but also lots of exhibits about people and organizations you’ve never heard of but had a huge impact on popular music. Even if you don’t enjoy anything inside, the building is a sight to see, since it was designed by I.M. Pei, and is an important architectural work.


Lilly Handmade ChocolatesWhen I met the proprietors of Lilly Handmade Chocolates (neither of them are named Lilly BTW) I said to them, “You have a lot of nerve living my dream life!” If I could stand a bricks-and-mortar existence then this is likely what I would aspire to. Their business model is brilliant. Not only do they sell scrumptious and sophisticated handmade chocolates with inventive flavour combinations, the shop also has a liquor license, so they can offer chocolate tasting events where each delectable morsel is expertly paired with a wine, craft beer, or liqueur to enhance the flavour. Genius! My personal fave is the Terrapin Slider.


This charmingly artsy neighbourhood is home to lots of great but unpretentious restaurants, art galleries, curio shops and fun boutiques. Plan your visit to include the second Friday of the month and you can enjoy the monthly Tremont Art Walk. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out The Christmas Story House, which is the original house from the movie that was bought on eBay in 2004 and turned into a museum. Other neighbourhood landmarks include St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral with its outstanding onion domes and whose interior was used to film the wedding scene in The Deer Hunter. And Literary Road has to be one of my favourite street names ever!

St. Theodosius Church
St. Theodosius – photo: Stephanie Spencer

The Locals Are Friendly

This may sound weird but one of the things that struck me most during my first visit to Cleveland was how friendly people are there. Average people would stop us in the street and strike up a genuine conversation. I must spend too much time in Toronto where everyone ignores each other all the time because I was suspicious at first. It took a few of these interactions to realize that nobody had an agenda in talking to me, they were just really friendly and pleased to have someone take an interest in their city.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument

It’s nearly impossible to miss this monument if you visit Downtown Cleveland as it is prominently situated in Public Square. What you might not realize when you see this imposing and ornate Civil War monument, is that you can go inside. What at first glance may seem to be a base of solid granite, actually contains a tiny museum. By chance it was open on the day we were exploring the area and the two volunteer docents were very proud to enthusiastically tell us all about the history of the monument, which was funded entirely by public subscription, and at the time it was built in the late 19th Century it was one of the largest structures in America.

The World’s Largest Rubber Stamp

World's Largest Rubber StampThe world’s largest of anything is enough to get my attention, but even moreso when it’s the world’s largest rubber stamp and it was created by Claes Oldenburg and says “FREE” Unfortunately when I got my photo taken it was windy and raining and my hair was plastered across my face making me look like the lovechild of Cousin It and Medusa, so we’ll go with a stock image on this one.

Michael Symon

When Chairman Kaga asks the question, “Whose cuisine reigns supreme?” the answer is often Iron Chef Michael Symon, and this hometown boy has stayed true to his Cleveland roots by having his two signature restaurants, Lola and Lolita, here. I ate at Lolita and it was fantastic. Beyond the big names from Food Network, Cleveland is most definitely a city for good eating and needs to be explored.Cleveland Museum of Art

Cleveland Museum of Art

Part of the museum was closed when we visited and it was still a tremendously worthwhile experience. Their collection is quite massive and includes the gamut of historical artifacts, decorative works, and fine art. The Cleveland Museum of Art is located in the University Circle neighbourhood, and I wish I had had more time to explore as its treed spaces and historic buildings were so inviting.


Melt Bar and GrilledEven people who don’t like Cleveland concede that Melt is da bomb. The evil geniuses behind Melt Bar & Grilled have taken a simple dish that is universally loved, the grilled cheese sandwich, and taken it to every conceivable extreme. Their creations have names that pay homage to the local geography and popular culture. For instance, The Dude Abides contains meatballs, marinara and mozzarella sticks and invokes The Big Lebowski, whereas Parmageddon pays tribute to the nearby Polish enclave of Parma and features pierogi, kraut, grilled onions, and cheddar. Die-hard Melt fans get a 25% discount for life, but only if they are committed enough to get a Melt logo tattooed somewhere on their bod. As a printmaking aficionado, their gloriously zany collectible posters depicting the monthly special are the most tempting of all. Despite having three locations now, Melt is always busy, so going at an odd time is a terrific way to avoid having to wait a long time for a table.

Westside Market

Although it’s a marvellous place to stop in, there isn’t a lot to say about Westside Market. It’s a typical example of the kinds of markets you find in many cities, housing dozens of independent businesses and producers of artisanal food products. There are lots of scrumptious baked goods, fresh produce, prepared foods and deli selections and it’s an excellent spot to pick up a few provisions. Since we were on our way out of town, provisions were superfluous, but we did pick up a delightfully perplexing little bundle for the road. Dichotomy corn is better experienced than described. It sounds so wrong in theory, but in practice it is delicious and moderately addictive. Dichotomy Corn is what happens when the diabolical minds at Campbell’s Popcorn Shop level up your garden-variety cheesy popcorn by making it into caramel corn, thereby creating a sweet and salty dichotomy to ponder while your sugar and sodium levels spike simultaneously.

Dichotomy corn

So go ahead and mock me all you want, but I know Cleveland is a great destination. I’ve been there twice now and would happily make a return visit. There’s lots more stuff in and around Cleveland that I’d love to check out, such as the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Chagrin Falls, another visit to the B.A. Sweetie Candy Company, or trying the duck frites at The Greenhouse Tavern. Anyway, that’s just a few things that all the haters out there are missing out on.