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Rock on... in Cleveland

Jonathan van Bilsen



September 15, 2019

Rock on... in Cleveland

Flying from country to country is fun and exciting, but every now and then, the prospect of a road trip is thrilling. Last month I decided to hit the pavement in search of a new adventure.

In my mind, Cleveland ranked right up there with Buffalo, when it came to 'Why would I want to travel there?' I decided to go because if nothing else, it was home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I must confess, I was pleasantly surprised by the entire city.

As in most cities, the first thing I do is find a trolley tour, to get a good overview of sights, as well as a narration of history and architecture. The Lolli Trolley Company did a fantastic job, and offered a tour which lasted just shy of two and a half hours. At its completion, I felt I knew everything Cleveland had to offer.

The drive from Port Perry is about five and a half hours, allowing about 30 minutes to cross the border at Fort Erie (unless you have Nexus), and of course another 45 minutes for lunch. I considered flying, but with check-in, parking, driving to the airport, etc. I would not have saved any time, and certainly would have spent more money. There is an airport in downtown Cleveland, but it does not cater to commercial traffic.

I would suggest staying right downtown, as you can walk most anywhere. I found a Holiday Inn on Euclid Avenue, (the main drag). The hotel is in a transformed bank building, built in the 1890s. It was nice, albeit a bit noisy at night. There is a Hilton and a Renaissance hotel in the same general area. Once I arrived, I parked my car and did not use it again until it was time to come home.

So what did I discover? First off, the city itself has a population of 430,000, with another four million in the greater metropolitan area. Overall the metropolis is safe and very clean, as long as you stay away from the east side.

The local history is quite amazing. Cleveland was the very first city in the world, to use outdoor electric lights. People were terrified, as they anticipated permanent blindness from the newfangled invention. The switch was flipped; a few horses reared, and guess what? No one went blind.

Cleveland also has Rockefeller Park, a giant 130 acre area, once owned by the Rockefeller family. A former golf course, it has been transformed into multinational gardens. Soil, trees, shrubs and artwork, from dozens of countries, has exposed tourists and residents to the likes of Ethiopian gardens, Armenian landscapes, French manicured lawns and so forth. The area is great for walking, biking and just enjoying a peaceful experience.

Of course, a big draw to the city is the Cleveland Clinic, a world class health facility, built on 176 acres. The medical complex is known for its research and treatment of heart disease and cancer, and attracts patients from all over the world. In total there are 18 hospitals, 6,000 beds, 5.5 million outpatients annually, a quarter of a million surgeries per year and 7,000 physicians and scientists. The annual revenue is 10 billion dollars and the clinic employs 120,000 people. There are even three hotels for visitors to stay on site, as well as the largest Ronald McDonald House in the country.

The concept was started by a few doctors, who thought it might be better to have different services under one roof. The concept grew, and the Cleveland Clinic is considered at the top of global healthcare and research.

A visit to the art gallery blew me away. The grandeur of the building, complimented the nearby music hall where concerts are offered at no charge. The theatre district has many fine shows, and boasts the world’s largest outdoor crystal chandelier. Malls such as the Arcade and Tower City cater to high end shops, and are both located on Euclid Avenue near 9th Street.

If you enjoy eating, as I do, you will have to extend your stay. Corner Ally is home to many restaurants and in the summer, outdoor patios are everywhere. From fine dining to casual bistros to small pubs, most of which feature local craft beers, eating becomes a great experience. I enjoyed a fine Italian dinner at Muranos, where I had the best spaghetti with meatballs I have had in a long time.

The main attraction, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is located at the foot of 9th Street by Lake Erie. The building is six stories tall, and if you look at it from the top, it is in the shape of a record player. A giant glass pyramid was designed by the same architect responsible for the famous pyramid at Paris’ Louvre.

I would suggest getting tickets on line, although there was no line up when I was there, which was rare. Once inside, head for the lower level, as it has the most exhibits. You will be mesmerized by the sheer volume of what you will see: jackets worn by Elvis and Michael Jackson, suits the Beatles wore on Ed Sullivan, and guitars and paraphernalia reminiscent of days gone by. 

Flat screen monitors are everywhere, showing hundreds of clips of musicians dating as far back as the 1930s. Hank Williams crooned, Elvis swung his pelvis and the Beatles performed on Ed Sullivan. Stevie Nicks sang without Fleetwood Mac and Mick Jagger, Ozzy Osbourne and Keith Richards defied time itself.

Each year since 1983, (the year the hall was built), anywhere from six to around twelve inductees are chosen. A fountain of memories overflowed and it became apparent I have forgotten more musicians than I remember. Be careful not to sing or dance too loud to Herman’s Hermits or the Dave Clark Five, as it will date you instantly.

Outside the building is a stage where performers are constantly entertaining visitors at no charge. It’s a great venue to grab some food and sit and tap your toe to your favourite tunes.

Cleveland has certainly been elevated on my list of cool cities to visit. If you have a few days and are not sure what to do, add it to your GPS, grab some snacks and hit the road.

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

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