Thursday, July 30, 2015

Kayaking: Lake Erie and the Black River in Lorain, Ohio

Tuesday morning we launched our boats at a small, driftwood-covered beach in Lorain, Ohio, just east of Spitzer's Lakeside Marina. The weather was calm and sunny. We had a great paddle out into Lake Erie, around a rocky riprap, past a fishing pier, and up the mouth of the Black River.

It crossed my mind that the return trip would be extremely easy since on the way back we'd be going with the flow of the river as it moved toward Lake Erie and with the small waves of the lake as they rolled toward the beach.

Then the wind kicked up. The downstream trip on the Black River was about as strenuous as the upstream one -- in other words, still easy because the river is slow. Once we got back into the lake, however...well, the waves were bigger than I like to see/feel them. 

The best way to kayak in rough water is to keep your boat's bow and stern perpendicular to the waves. But at a couple of points we just had to paddle parallel to the swells. So we did. And we got tossed around a bit. And we were fine. The most water either one of us took in was when I (Bev) got to shore and was immediately hit with a wave that rolled over my backside, legs, and the kayak's open cockpit .  

We may stay off Lake Erie for a while.

As for the Black River, however, we'd both go back. A few photos and words below describe the trip, except for that last section back on Lake Erie. I had to keep my hands off the camera and on the paddle.

Jim putting his boat in the water at the Lakeside Marina in Lorain, Ohio. Lorain is about 30 miles west of Cleveland.
Jim paddling out into Lake Erie, around a riprap and toward the mouth of the Black River.  It was calm when we put the boats in about 10 a.m., but pretty darn choppy when we returned at 2 p.m.
Lorain, Ohio, as seen from the mouth of he Black River.  Lorain flourished in the early 1900s and was home to ship building, iron ore plants, steel mills, and other rust belt industries -- in fact William McKinley Sr., father of the US president -- was the superintendent of Lorain's first iron furnace business. As the rust belt cities got even rustier, Lorain's fortunes took a downward turn. Its Ford Assembly Plant (where the Econoline van was built) shut down, plus steel plants slowed and finally stopped production. Lorain has a beautiful location, however, and could be a great city once again.
Bumpers made of huge logs chained keep a wall from damaging boats in parts of the Black River. The 12-mile-long river begins where its east and west branches meet in Elyria, Ohio. The branches travel further south into Ohio's Lorain and Medina counties.
Bev's boat headed for the The Charles Berry Bridge (named for a Lorain native and Iwo Jima hero) which crosses the Black River on Erie Avenue in Lorain. Built by the WPA in the 1930s, it's a drawbridge-type bridge. A nearby sign said the bridge opens every 30 minutes on the hour and half hour with a few exceptions.  We were there at bridge opening time, but it didn't budge. 
Jim about to kayak under the second bridge we cane to on the Black River in Lorain, Ohio: a vertical lift rail road bridge.
The same bridge as above ...except now it's been lowered and a train is on the tracks.
This vehicle and passenger ferry was tied to the side of the Black River just before the Lofton Henderson Bridge, the third bridge we saw on the river. A local newspaper article said the 90-foot vessel was Canadian made and operated and that it "mysteriously showed up on the Black River in the early 2000s having run aground..." The article also said no one knows who it belongs to. Instead of cars, it's now is full of swallow nests.

Lorain hosts an annual International Festival honoring the many nationalities who live in the city. It's held at the above-pictured Black River Landing. As we paddled, our view changed from parks like the above to gravel pits and heavy equipment.
A Great Blue Heron near the mouth of the Black River. You can tell it's a Great Blue by the black stripe on its head... and the fact that it's so freaking big. Blue Herons are the largest of the North American herons.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Kayaking at Ohio's Findley State Park

Since we got to Ohio, our kayaks have been sitting on my Mom's driveway next to the rig.  They (and we) haven't been in the water since late March when we kayaked on Lake Pleasant just north of Phoenix.

So yesterday we decided to take a spin on the lake at Findley State Park near my Mom's in Wellington, Ohio.

Findley isn't a challenging paddle, but it has enough inlets, overhanging trees, and wildlife to make it interesting. Since it was a Saturday, we had company -- probably two dozen other kayaks, canoes and paddle boarders were on the water, plus a lot of folks were fishing along the shore. The lake is big enough that it didn't seem crowded.  

To get in the water we used a boat launch that put us in the lake with dry feet -- the first time that's ever happened.  With all the kayaking we do, we've only seen this particular launch (called an EZ Launch and which also allow folks in wheel chairs to get in/out of kayaks or canoes) twice; both are just a few miles from my Mom's.
Jim using the EZ Launch, which is like a pontoon boat with a ramp.  If you are in a wheel chair, there's a bench you can use to slide into your canoe or kayak.  Sans wheel chair, first you put your boat on the rollers then (photo 1) stand over the boat; (photo 2) get in the boat; and (photo 3) and grab the handrails and push yourself into the water.
An earthen dam completed in 1956 created the lake at Findley State Park.  Per the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the lake has 4.2 miles of shoreline and 83 acres of fishing water.

A Great Blue Heron sat on top of a tree long enough for Bev to get some good photos.  We also saw lots of little fish, the usual Canada Geese, an egret,and  a kingfisher. Plus we heard lots of cicadas.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Ohio's only national park: Cuyahoga Valley

Tuesday we went to Ohio's only national park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park. 

Ohio has 11 other memorials and historic sites run by the National Park Service but CVNP is the only full-fledged national park. It became national recreation area in 1974 and a national park in 2000.  

The other national sites in Ohio are the William Howard Taft Home in Cincinnati; Fallen Timbers Battlefield and Fort Miamis in Toledo; James A. Garfield Home in Mentor; the First Ladies National Historic Site in Canton; the David Berger National Memorial (in honor of an American citizen who was one of 11 Israel athletes killed at Munich's 1972 Olympic Games) in Beachwood; Hopewell Culture Earthen Mounds National Historic Site in Chillicothe; the National Aviation Heritage Area and the Aviation National Historical Park, both in Dayton; Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial in Put-in Bay; the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Xenia; plus the North Country National Scenic Trail which runs though seven states including Ohio. I've been to the Garfield home, and we've both been to Put-in-Bay, so we've got some exploring to do.

Jim said I really didn't need to list all those parks -- but I really just did it for me as a kind of  "to do" list.

Part of Cuyahoga Valley was once a superfund site (now cleaned up). Another section was once home to the Richfield Coliseum, where the Cleveland Cavaliers played from 1974 to 1994 (now torn down). Now the entire park is 33,000 protected and beautiful acres along 22 miles of the winding Cuyahoga River between Akron and Cleveland.  

We stopped at one of the visitors centers, walked some trails, went to Brandywine Falls, and then drove through part of the park. There's farmland, forests, meadows and it's very pretty. Afterwards we went to a brew pub called the Brew Kettle in Strongville.  We highly recommend both CVNP and the Brew Kettle. 

The Cuyahoga River as seen from near the Boston Store Visitor's Center.  That's I-271 crossing the river, which begins in Burton, Ohio -- about thirty miles due east of Cleveland as the crow flies -- and winds for 85 miles to it's mouth on Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland. There might be big freeways nearby, but  much of the park seems remote, quiet, and has 125 miles of trails.
Jim near the Tow Path Trail (that's the trail to the left) which follows the historic Ohio & Erie Canal, which opened in 1827.  The canal launched commercial development, allowed farmers to get agricultural products to eastern markets, and helped the entire area boom. Water was diverted from the Cuyahoga River to fill the canal. At the peak of the canals, Ohio had 1,000 miles of them in 44 of its 88 counties.  The ranger told us boats were towed up the canal by donkeys and horses.

The Boston Store Visitors' Center was once a store and post office that advertised selling "clothing, flour and feed."  In 1905 it became a private residence until it was purchased by the National Park Service in 1980.
This is Bev's family visiting the parks Brandywine Falls around -- from the looks of us and the fact that Brooke (back row second from right) is shorter than her cousin Ashley -- about 25 years ago.  Missing from the shot are Toby (not yet born to Don and Trudy) and Jim (not yet married to Bev).  Bev must have been the photog. Jim and I visited the falls this trip too, because the park ranger told us "that's what you do at this park."

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Rock and Roll

Museum overload, thy name is Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There are enough displays, movies, interactive exhibits, photos, and stuff to look at that you could spend spend two to three days there. Instead, we spent one big day at the Rock Hall, as it's known, on the shore of Lake Erie in Cleveland. We actually went there even before our several day stay in Cleveland that we wrote about two posts ago.

Jim knows the musicians, history, and song lyrics of every band past and present. My knowledge is more like Beatles, Rolling Stones, Monkees (the latter of which has yet to be inducted). But we both really enjoyed what was our second trip to the Rock Hall.

I seldom remember watching American Bandstand as a kid, but there was a great 30-minute movie of Dick Clarke introducing nearly every band known to man, followed by a snippet of each band's music. Very well done.

Also great were the photos of the late Herb Ritts, a still photographer known for his "anti glamour" black and white shots, and who later directed music videos and TV commercials. His first photos that garnered attention were of friend Richard Gere when Gere was an aspiring actor. Ritts went on to shoot Michael Jackson, Elton John, Cher, Diana Ross, and other music icons. Per the display, Ritt's first music video was for Madonna, who talked him into directing because she loved his stills.

Great museum.  Pictures can't do it justice. Don't miss it when you get to Cleveland.
Front of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Per the museum, Cleveland DJ Alan Freed coined the term "rock and roll" in 1951 and put together the first rock and roll concert in 1952.  
The Rock Hall as seen from behind the museum from the shore of Lake Erie. The museum was designed by architect I.M. Pei, who has designed buildings for cities all over the world.
From top left going clockwise, onstage clothing by Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Keith Richards, and Katy Perry. 
Madonna portraits taken by Herb Ritts. 
Part of an exhibit about exactly what it says at the top of the pic. 
The Beatles exhibit included a video wall of interviews and music from their albums.
Another exhibit about people and organizations who have protested rock and roll and/or its singers and lyrics over the years.  Guess it seemed like a good idea at the time, Tipper Gore.
Janis Joplin paid $3,500 for this 1965 Porsche and had it customer painted.  It was stolen while she was playing a gig in Sand Francisco; when recovered it was partially painted over with primer.  Joplin had it restored.
This inflated guy (and the two smaller creates to the right) had to do with Pink Floyd's album "The Wall." By the time I got to this floor I was on brain overload, so I don't have much to say.  If you are a Pink Floyd fan, it probably needs no explanation.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Guano, guano, everywhere

Update July 14, 2015:  The picture above was taken this morning just before the swallows tested their wings and flew the coop. They and their parents were gone all day but everyone is back tonight and tucked in for the evening.

When Jim and I got to Mom's in northeastern Ohio about Memorial Day, two swallows were building a nest on an outdoor light attached to her garage.  How pretty, we thought. How nice to be so up close and personal with nature. How fun it will be to have little baby birds peeking over the edge of the nest. How graceful to see swallows swooping about like in the movie Cinderella. 

Well it's all that. But it's also a a whole lotta bird poop all over the light fixture, the side of the house, and on the driveway below. Plus we get dive bombed every time we walk out the garage, which for me and Jim is many times a day. Those birdies literally come within inches of our heads, all the time squeaking something that sounds like "Get away, get away!"

Get away yourselves little birdies. You are lucky that the residents of this house are soft hearted.  
A swallow parent stands guard while two babies hope for food.  You can see the beak of a third baby t0 the right, and there may be one other hatchling in the nest as well.  We read that swallows have two broods per year and return to the same nest year after year.  Great.

Sunday, July 12, 2015


We're doing the rust belt tour. Went to Pittsburgh last week. Had plans to leave for Buffalo tomorrow but Cooper Dog has pneumonia so we're staying close to Mom's in Ohio for now.

Last month we spent a couple of nights in downtown Cleveland at a cool hotel. We went to the West Side Market, Great Lakes Brewery, and the observation deck of the Terminal Tower. We bought Cavaliers shirts at "The Q," admired Cleveland's architecture, had fun at our hotel's bars, and walked all over the city. We also spent time in the wine, beer, and coffee departments of Heinens, an upscale grocery store next to our hotel. 

Downtown buildings are behind restored/renovated. Condos/apartments are in demand. Public Square is being redesigned by a man said to be America's leading landscape architect. Playhouse Square -- the largest theatre district outside of New York City-- has been revived and reopened.  

And Cleveland is attracting a diverse crowd. Last year the city hosted the 2014 Gay Games. Next year it will host the 2016 Republican National Convention. Can't get much more diverse than that. 
Bev in Playhouse Square near what the city says is the world's largest outdoor chandelier. As I walked to get coffee one morning I saw two guys on a cherry picker hand polishing the crystals. 
Jim at Great Lake Brewery in the Cleveland area called "Ohio City."  We liked the beer at Great Lakes; the food not so much, but the place was packed.

In February 2015 Heinens Fine Foods opened an upscale grocery store in the restored Cleveland Trust Company bank, which was built in 1908. The second floor has an automatic wine sampling machine and beer tasting.  The hotel where we stayed -- the Metropolitan at the 9 -- is in the building to the right.    
The centerpiece of Heinens grocery store is the former bank's beautiful glass rotunda.   That's Bev's wine in the foreground.
The lobby of the former Cleveland Trust Company bank is now a lunch spot for downtown Clevelanders. Heinens operates 23 grocery stores in northeastern Ohio and the Chicago area. It seems funny to post three photos of a grocery store -- but it's right next to our hotel and we went there for something every day.
Our hotel room. When we first walked in, I thought the room had a glass partition.  If I had noticed the towels I would have realized it's a glass-enclosed shower.  
We bought cannoli at the West Side Market not pig heads.  Besides pork and pastries, the Ohio City market sells, veggies, fruits, meats, periogies,  flowers,  pasta, herbs, olive oil, maple syrup, honey, fish, popcorn, prepared foods, you name it. It began operating in 1840 and is the oldest indoor/outdoor market in the state.  It's a fun place to visit and in a great neighborhood with lots of restaurants and shops.
Two standout buildings in Cleveland's skyline:  The Key Bank Building, left, and the Terminal Tower. The Key Bank Building was completed in 1991; it's the tallest skyscraper in Ohio and the 23rd tallest building in the US. You can see the being-redesigned public square at the bottom of the photo. To the right is the Terminal Tower, the fourth tallest building in the US when it was dedicated in 1930. The Terminal Tower was opened as office space above a rail hub, and has  an observation deck on the 42nd floor.  Today the complex includes a shopping mall.

We visited Cleveland during the NBA finals while the Cavs were playing in Oakland.  Cavs signs like the two above were all over the place. It was a fun atmosphere.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pittsburgh is a happening place

It seems like 90 percent of Pittsburgh's residents cross the street no matter what color the stoplight. And by the end of four days in the former Steel City (now a center for education, health care, technology) we were crossing against the light and in the middle of the block with the rest of them because we had places to go and things to see.

Other than the Andy Warhol Museum and the City Cafe, mentioned in previous posts, here's a run down of what we did:

--Walked, walked, walked, and walked some more. We never got our car from the hotel parking garage. Nor did we use public transportation. We decided to concentrate on the business district and nearby neighborhoods and walked them to the tune of 30 miles in four days. 

--Gaped at the wonderful architecture. This is the city of Mellon, Carnegie, Frick, Heinz, and other industrialists, and a lot of money went into some beautiful buildings. 

--Visited the warehouse or "Strip" district, a ribbon of land between the Allegheny River and a hillside.  The Strip used to be home to mills and factories. Now it's indoor markets, outdoor markets, bakeries, coffee shops, a fish market, Pittsburgh sports teams memorabilia stores, restaurants, apartments and lofts.

--Went to pubs/brew houses/restaurants. Some faves: East End Brewery Tasting Room on the Strip; Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville (just past the Strip); Ten Penny in the city's cultural district; and Market Square, a park outlined with restaurants. We also went to the Capital Grille at the recommendation of a bartender at Ten Penny; turned out to be way expensive, so we just had soup, salad and dessert. Get the flourless chocolate cake. And the French Onion soup or clam chowder. Maybe in that order. OMG.

--Visited Point State Park, the triangle of land where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet and become the Ohio River. It was Fort Pitt during the Revolutionary War, then it became a hub of industry and  transportation. By the 1920s it was full of warehouses and railroad yards. Then the Depression hit, there was a flood, and the area was in bad shape.  A state park was created in 1974 and renovations started in 2007. A lovely park.

--Took a narrated paddle boat tour on Pittsburgh's three rivers.

--Road the Monongahela incline, built in 1869 and the oldest cliff railway in the country. Pittsburgh used to have 17 of these hill-climbing machines (technically called "funiculars") but is down to two.

--Visited the Heinz History Center, a affiliate of the Smithsonian and the largest history museum in the state.  Very well done.
Pittsburgh's downtown business district as seen from Mount Washington  across the Monongahela River.
To get to the top of Mount Washington we took the Monongahela Incline, built in 1869 and part of the city's transportation system. It's a cross between a railroad car and a gondola that climbs a set of tracks.
The Andy Warhol Bridge, seen here,  has two "sister" bridges on either side: The Roberto Clemente, named for the right fielder who played 18 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates;  and The Rachel Carson, for the Pennsylvania native, author and environmental activist. The city recently sponsored a survey to see if the bridges should be repainted separate colors.  Pittsburghers said "Keep 'em all Pittsburgh gold." I read that Pittsburgh has 446 bridges. It certainly has a lot, but how can that be possible?
Midtown Towers building is the one with the red dome; the owner of the Pittsburgh Press once lived in a penthouse in the dome.  Formerly known as the Keenan Building, when built in 1907 it was the tallest building in the city. 
The Omni William Penn Hotel, where we stayed. Not quite the same as sleeping in the rig.  I read that an Omni staffer invented Lawrence Welk's bubble machine.  We once put dish washing soap in our RV's black tank and bubbles came out the vent pipe on our roof.  Similarities end there.
The fountain (lower center) is at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, and where the Ohio River begins. Point State Park is right behind the fountain.  In 2011 we visited the area where the Ohio River ends in Cairo, Illinois; sadly it's a trashy, weedy field with a dilapidated observation tower.  Get with it, Cairo.  
There was so much to see at the  Heinz History Museum, that when it came to taking a photo I went for the obvious.  But the museum is so much more than ketchup and the Heinz family.  It's the history of what was discovered/invented there like the Salk polio vaccine, Big Mac,  Ferris wheel; its famous people (Mr. Rodgers, George Westinghouse, and of course Carnegie and Mellon); Pittsburgh's sports traditions of the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins; natural history; city history, and on and on. 
Bev at the Church Brew Works, a brewery at the former St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church. I'm thinking St. John would approve.
This was built as a bank, not a church. It's the currently-being-restored Union Trust Building, originally organized by wealthy Pittsburgh businessman Andrew Mellon. It's a great example of some of the architectural details we saw in Pittsburgh. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Dine if you dare

We like interesting restaurants.  So when we read about City Cafe in downtown Pittsburgh, we knew we had to visit.

Here are some direct quotes from reviews:

“...charming little place with a warm ambiance... marble table tops, classical music in the background, softly lit, tasteful little pictures adorn the walls.”

“I loved this place. Had the huevos rancheros and a latte and both were delicious. Great service and a really pleasant atmosphere.”

“Dude told us to sit at the one table in the restaurant that hadn't been bussed. Then he acted like a pompous ass. We left.”

“STAY AWAY! The owner is an insane man! He locked me and my fiance in the restaurant. I had to call 911 to get out.”

How could we resist? Especially after that last review.

The server -- who is also the owner, cook, dishwasher, table busser and everything else -- told us “It'll be a while” when we walked in, even though there were people at only one other table. The next two couples who wandered in were told “Go somewhere else if you want food.” Two women came in and sat down while Mr. Restaurant was in the back cooking. After a while the women left.

I had a Greek omelet; Jim had the huevos rancheros. Both were great. So I'd recommend this restaurant. Just don’t be in a hurry. Don't go in if more than two tables are full. And I don’t think I’d ask for any substitutions. That didn't cause the "we had to call 911" event described earlier, but you can't be too careful. 

Jim with his huevos rancheros. That's my Greek omelet in front. The owner said he bakes the omelets "like the French do." They were fluffy and very good. 
Wouldn't you want to try this place just by looking at it? The restaurant had just seven tables, was nicely decorated, and violin music played in the background.  While the owner was brusk with us when we first arrived, our service was good.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Uncle Andy Warhol

We've done a lot since we parked our RV in my Mom's driveway in Wellington, Ohio about a month ago.  So I've got some catch-up posting to do. But first I want to talk about our most recent adventure: Pittsburgh, PA.

I haven't been to Pittsburgh since my high school marching band played at a Steelers game. Jim had never been there. So we took Cooper to the dog spa aka kennel, got in the car, and took a road trip. 

One of our standout activities was a visit to the Andy Warhol Museum. The entire building is devoted to the art and life of the man who was born in Pittsburgh in 1928, attended Pittsburgh's Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), moved to New York City in 1949, and became a pop art icon.

Before the tour I thought of Warhol as odd and “out there” painter of Campbell soup cans who hobnobbed with celebrities and pushed the art envelope. Then we met  Donald Warhola, a Pittsburgh resident, museum board member and staffer, and one of Andy Warhol’s ten nieces and nephews. 

Donald gave a talk before we started our tour, and portrayed Andy Warhol as an involved, generous, and interested uncle  

Donald told us about spending week-long vacations with his uncle in New York City, where he and his cousins played in an attic filled with art and vast collections. He told of sitting in a very fancy chair that Uncle Andy told him once belong to Napoleon. He said his cousins were delighted with a huge chocolate Easter rabbit their uncle game them. And Donald looked forward to getting Uncle Andy's used Levis 501 button-fly jeans -- the jeans were not only hard to get in Pittsburgh but a real fashion statement, especially when they had Andy's paint on them. Andy also gave Donald a job after college when Donald suggested he could help his uncle install computers.

Donald said as children he and his cousins didn't understand their uncle's celebrity, but they did understand how famous some of Uncle Andy's friends were.  When they realized their uncle knew Mick Jagger, for instance, they asked him "How's Mick?"  "Oh he's fine," his uncle replied, turning the subject back to the kids. "How are you doing in school?"

Someone in our group asked Donald why Andy dropped the last letter of the Warhola family name. Donald said he thought it was probably done for a variety of reasons, including dropping the last letter a made it more difficult to tell Warhol's ethnicity as there was discrimination against Slovaks at the time, and because the inability to determine his  ethnicity made Warhol seem more mysterious.

Each floor of the seven-floor museum had art and memorabilia from different decades of Warhol's life. The top floor contained information and photos of Andy's family and his life as a young man. Other floors displayed Warhol's drawings, paintings, portraits  photos, collections, movies, time capsules, and stuff, stuff, stuff, created by this very prolific artist. He had so any items he purchased a former New York City electric substation as a studio and a place to store his art.
The outside of the Andy Warhol Museum. Photography was not allowed inside, otherwise I might  have some crazy and/or beautiful photos in this post. Before Andy's father died, Andy's dad asked older son John to make sure Andy (who was only 13 at the time) went to college because he was going to be something special. John did so.  After Andy's death in 1987, John (who was Donald's dad) was named to the foundation that oversaw Andy's legacy and a was a key player in creating the museum. 
Walking from the museum back to Pittsburgh's downtown business district via the Andy Warhol Bridge.