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Cleveland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh--Road Trip Questions

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I know, I know, how much luckier could we get? Three of the most-oft maligned American cities in ONE TRIP! In all seriousness, we’re looking forward to this unexpected road trip. The plan had been for our son to fly, but the logistics became too costly and convoluted, so I’m driving from DC to Ann Arbor later this month to take our son to and from pitching camp, with afternoon/overnight stops in Cleveland and Pittsburgh to break up the drive.

The travelers are one adult, two children (9, 14). We wanted a whole-family trip, but dog-friendly lodging posed too much of a challenge so DH and the hound are staying home for quality guy time. The lodging has been bought and paid for with miles, so hopefully I really, really, really don’t need to reconsider my choices? In Cleveland it's the Wyndham at Playhouse Square; Pittsburgh, Doubletree Suites City Center; and Ann Arbor, Holiday Inn (North Campus near the UM)

All three cities have very similar offerings (Art Museums, Science Centers, and Zoo/Aquariums), making it a challenge to plan the itinerary. There are some must-dos, though. In Cleveland the teenage DS wants to see the Rock Roll Hall of Fame Museum, but the 9 year-old DD doesn't. We thought about the Great Lakes Science Center as an alternative for DD, but there are also Science Centers in Detroit and Pittsburgh. Anyone know which might appeal more to a 9 year-old (who likes science)? The Cleveland Botanic Garden sounds like a lovely place to visit, as well.

In Pittsburgh the National Aviary was given a thumbs-up, especially for its interactive penguin program. Is it worth the extra cost?

In Detroit votes were cast in favor of the Motown History Museum, the DIA, and the Henry Food Museum/Greenfield Village. Any other must-dos? Belle Isle, for instance?

Eating in Cleveland. I saw momocho on Diner, Dives, and Drive-ins, but it's been nixed by both children. They're adventurous eaters, so suggestions for other fun, casual places would be most appreciated.

A colleague suggested Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh, and from what I’ve read I’m thinking we can’t go wrong eating here?

As for dining in the Detroit area, I’m stuck. How is the dining at Greenfield Village? I can navigate my alma mater’s campus area well, so eating in Ann Arbor will include some old favorites. I just don’t know where I’ll get my cheese fries, though, with Red Hot Lovers closed!

In advance, thanks for your suggestions. I promise to let you know how the road trip goes when we return!

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    Cedar Point is not on your agenda. Cedar Point is the roller coaster capital of the country. Worth a visit on a summer road trip.

    Toledo has Tony Packo's famous dog joint. It's close to the highway.

    Detroit has a Greek chili dog restaurant in every strip center. I can't say which one is close to Greenfield, but hopefully a local speaks up.

    Hope you are doing the Ford Museum with the visit to Greenfield. Very good.

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    What about going to a baseball game in 1 of the cities? PNC Park in Pittsburgh is a phenomenal stadium. Also really enjoyed Comerica Park in Detroit. Haven't been to Progressive Field yet. There are also a lot of minor league baseball stadiums around there. Could go to Canton for the Football Hall of Fame.

    Take the incline up Mt Washington in Pittsburgh. I enjoyed Primanti Bros when I was there.

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    We've been to the Carnegie Science Center and thought it was great. Admission includes the Highmark SportsWorks (a separate building next to the science museum) which has interactive exhibits on the science of sports. It is very popular with kids the ages of yours.
    Try to make a stop in Oakland, the area of Pittsburgh where the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are located. If your kids enjoy the Harry Potter books, they'll like going into the impressive Cathedral of Learning on the Pitt campus. The main floor is like walking into Hogwarts. For an ice cream stop, go to Dave and Andy's and enjoy their award-winning ice cream (207 Atwood, just a few blocks from the Cathedral of Learning). Also in Oakland is a Primanti Brothers (3803 Forbes Avenue). Primanti Brothers is certainly iconic of Pittsburgh, but there are a lot of other choices in Oakland too. My daughter, a Pitt student, enjoys the hamburgers at Five Guys (117 S. Bouquet) and the pizza at Joe Mama's (3716 Forbes Ave.)

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    If you want to try a coney island near The Henry Ford, there's Senate Coney Island at 3345 Greenfield Rd (at Rotunda)or Kerby's at Ford Road and Mercury Drive, just behind Ford Motor Headquarters. Are you planning to do the whole museum and village? If so, how much time are you planning to spend? What about the factory tour? If you're going to do everything, it may be a multi-day affair.

    You can also check menus for the restaurants in the village and museum on their site at www.hfmgv.org. If you kids are adventerous eaters, you could try one of the many Arabic restaurants around Dearborn. Another good option would be Buddy's Pizza on Michigan Avenue at Mason (www.buddyspizza.com). They're known for their deep dish pizza and also have sandwiches and pasta.

    I'm not sure what shape Belle Isle is in these days. The large zoo and aquarium closed a couple years ago because of budget problems. The Dossin Great Lakes Museum is only open Sat & Sun and the zoo/nature center is open, but has limited programs.

    If you go to the DIA, walk across the street to the Library and check out Adam Strohm Hall and some of the rooms on the third floor and the fireplace in the former children's room immediately to the right of the main entrance.

    Would any of the auto barons' estates interest your kids? The Henry Ford Estate is in Dearborn and the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House is in Grosse Pointe Shores. You can walk around the gardens for admission. Your 9 y.o. may enjoy Josephine Ford's playhouse at the Edsel Ford Estate where everything is child-scale. Info is at www.fordhouse.org.

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    Great suggestions—I really appreciate them. Although I grew up in the Detroit area, visits now are mostly to Ann Arbor, so I’m feeling more like a semi-knowledgeable tourist than a “local” visiting “home.” This will be the first time in about fifteen years that I’ll have real time in the area; hence, the many questions.

    Cedar Point would be awesome (I had completely forgotten about it), so it might come down to Rock and Roll or perhaps just the Roll!

    We tried to schedule in a Tigers game, but the only home game during our stay conflicted with camp. We’re Tigers fans, but DS would have never forgiven me if I went to the game without him.

    Teenage boys and Coney Island hot dogs—what’s not to like! I looked at the GVHFM menus very quickly and they seemed fine, if not a little ordinary—good to know there’s a couple of hot dog places nearby. Living in Metro DC provides us with lots of ethnic food selections, so I’m thinking Coney Islands could be novel.

    Right now we’re visiting just the Ford Museum; given that the children have been to Williamsburg a few times I was concerned there might be too much overlap with Greenfield Village (in concept, not in time period)?

    On this trip we won’t get to the Ford Factory tour; DH wants to go so we have to save it for another time. I very much like the suggestion for the Eleanor & Edsel Ford Estate—I’m sure our daughter will, too.

    The Cathedral of Learning is beautiful—our daughter is reading the Harry Potter series right now so this would fit in nicely. We’re planning to go up Mt Washington, as well.

    Am I correct in thinking that the Carnegie Science Center might be an all-day kind of activity?

    Thanks again.

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    If you come to Pittsburgh, the Zoo and Aquarium is offering 20 different shows daily. You can see a sea otter feeding, talk with a scuba diver while he's under water, watch the sea lion show or meet the crocodile keeper. Check out the web site under Plan Your Visit/encounters. You will have a great time in Pittsburgh!

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    Detroit/Ann Arbor: If you're headed to the Henry Ford Museum/Greenfield Village and the weather is nice, do the village. I don't think there will be too much overlap with colonial Williamsburg since the village has things like Thomas Edison's lab, the Wright brothers' workshop, Model T rides etc. If it's pouring, the museum is always terrific. Henry Ford's Estate, Fairlane, is a stone's throw from Greenfield Village/HFM. If you take the full tour, you get to go through the whole house in addition to the powerhouse; it's a great experience. You'll be right near I-94 so access to Ann Arbor is really easy and relatively quick. The Edsel and Eleanor Ford Estate is in Grosse Point - all the way on the east side - doable but much further away.
    Some of the best middle eastern food available anywhere can be had in Dearborn. Since you said your kids are adventurous, they might enjoy that.

    I don't know how much time you'll have, but I don't think I'd mess around with Bell Isle. Maybe the Riverwalk instead of you want downtown Detroit. I really like the DIA and the Detroit Zoo is also nice.

    As you probably remember, there is a natural history museum and art museum on the UM campus. Ann arbor has a good hands' on museum.

    Since the Tigers schedule doesn't work, have you checked on the Mud Hens in Toledo? Minor league, but lots of fun. It's about an hour from Ann Arbor to Toledo, so doable.

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    Great suggestions so far. I would have to add that I really really think you should do Cedar Point. No other amusment park beats it for roller coasters. Henry Ford is one of my favorites and I think that Greenfield Village has enough variety to keep it fun and interesting. I love the Buddy's pizza suggestion. Also in the area is pizza papalis if you like Chicago style deep dish. I'm sure you know all about Zingermans in AA? Depending on how long it's been since you were here, they also have a sit-down restaurant called Zingerman's Roadhouse. Great farm to table food.

    DH and I just spent a weekend in Cleveland. Perhaps you could catch an Indian's game? You must go to Melt if you're going to be eating in Cleveland - the kids would love it. They were also on DD&D and recently on Man v. Food. Just be prepared for long waits or go at an off time. The Science Center in Cleveland is pretty neat - and we really liked Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I know you said your kids ruled out Momocho but if you ever find yourself in Cleveland again...do go. It was awesome!

    I think the zoos in Cleveland and Detroit are about the same. DIA is pretty neat in Detroit.

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    Finally...


    $16 worth of “road food” from the Travel Oasis in Breezewood, PA (once the children were awake); lunch courtesy of the Golden Arch Steakhouse (at what is hands-down the finest, cleanest turnpike service area I have ever stopped at, food choice aside); and pizza delivery from the least worst delivery place that dared to come into downtown Cleveland on a Saturday night. Day One of Tour of The Midwest’s Most-Oft Maligned Cities was underway!

    How did we get to hotel room pizza delivery from all of the great suggestions? It was inevitable, really. The MomMobile pulled out at 5:38 AM, much earlier than the children had been up in weeks; add to that the excitement of two hours on the Penna Turnpike (deer! windmills! the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel!); foreign-car counting once we hit the Ohio frontier line (7, including mine) and driving past both a Government Motors (GM) plant as well as the confluence of the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay Watersheds (so said the sign), followed by sightseeing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum (DS) and the Great Lakes Science Center (we girls) and a late afternoon swim in the hotel pool, and moving them from the beds and the TV wasn’t going to happen.

    Unfortunately the hotel was in the business part of downtown, which meant the weekend restaurant pickings were slim. Further, I had surrendered my vehicle to the valet when we checked in, and the public transportation in downtown Cleveland didn’t seem readily available. Room service was out, too. Although the hotel restaurant was well reviewed in local magazines, surprisingly there was nothing interesting any of us on the menu.

    The concierge offered three pizza flyers when I asked her for suggestions, and being who I am, I went out on the all-knowing Internet to read a few reviews. Two of the three places received “greasy cold slop in a cardboard box” accolades, and the third, a “better than Hungry Howie’s, but not nearly as good as Angelo’s.” I called Angelo’s, but they were out in a western suburb and only delivered to downtown with a ginormous minimum order. Sigh. Back to the food boards for suggestions. Next we found a place called Tea Noodles, or something like that--decent reviews, seemed like an Asian version of Noodles & Co. Sigh--their downtown restaurant was closed on the weekends, and the suburban one--wait for it--didn’t deliver downtown. Fatigue and hunger had begun to sink in, so we voted for delivery pizza from Contestant #3, Rascal’s. Thankfully the one hour delivery wait time was only 30 minutes, and before we knew it a hot, deep dish, fresh-looking cheese pizza, complete with the little plastic pizza stand (that keeps the top of the box from sticking to the pizza) and a fresh green salad for mom arrived at our room. Yes, at our room. (The concierge did mention in passing that they don’t always catch the delivery guys in time to give guests a courtesy ring, but I thought she was joking. Hotels wouldn’t let pizza delivery guys roam freely throughout, would they?) All in all, the pizza was rated a “pretty good” by the children and a “not too bad” by me. I’m certain the hunger and fatigue had nothing to do with the ratings.

    To be continued...

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    A little after 8:00 the following morning we headed out in search of the house used in The Christmas Story. Got a little turned around, but I still speak the Eastern European dialect of Midwestern enough to understand the kindly gentleman sweeping imaginary dirt from his sidewalk’s directions to go, “two, "tree," streets up to da light at Clark, turn right” and we found the house. The gentlemen across the street from the house even recommended a great diner for breakfast when I asked, where DS cleared his plate (no surprise, there), DD was amazed at the fact that the buttermilk pancakes were the size of the entire plate, and I was called “honey” only four times. It felt good to be close to home.

    The drive from Cleveland to Detroit was a long series of cornfields and beet farms punctuated with signs for fireworks and beef jerky stores. At some point on I-75 we passed a sign that read, “Welcome to Michigan. Brought to you by Some Association.” Turns out that was the “official” greeting. Perhaps Michigan is too economically depressed to have a sign from the governor like other states? The downriver area is as depressed as it's always been, and was sadly the first course for Detroit itself. My old Catholic school is now abandoned and boarded up; the church no longer part of the archdiocese. A spray painted “Stay Out” on one of the boarded up homes across the street pretty much described it all...

    The grey cloud of Detroit over our heads withered quickly as we edged past Dearborn and Romulus and onto Michigan's campus. The children were genuinely in awe; I guess they each had their own idea of what the campus would look like, and were surprised by the sheer size and urban character. And at South Quad, we parents were all doing the same thing--pointing this way and that, clearly boring our children with our co-ed memories.

    We settled DS in South Quad and then went to Brown Jug for Nachos Gigantus Maximus (gotta feed the boy) and the Tigers/Blue Jays game on the 15 televisions. Afterward we shopped for spiritwear--good thing we saved money by using points for the hotels because we certainly made up for it at the M Den! Showed the children the shabby little apartment where Dad proposed to Mom (it’s not condemned!), peeked through the gates of the new Michigan stadium, and just had a really great afternoon. DD and I dropped DS off as he needed to report for workout at 5:30 and checked in at our hotel for some pool time before our very ordinary, no frills supper of macaroni and cheese and a “Caesar” salad at the hotel restaurant. As a food-lover I really hope things improve tomorrow...

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    Finally, some real food. Michigan food. This morning we picked up Krakus Polish Ham from a nearby grocery store and made sandwiches for breakfast. Yum.

    Have I mentioned how much I LOVE driving in Michigan? I’ve been averaging 75 mph on the interstates among some of the most orderly, sane drivers ever. They use the left lane for passing! Trucks stay in the right! They use their indicator lights! It was depressing to think about the drive home.

    But I digress. Today’s outing was to Greenfield Village and The Henry Ford Museum, accessible, naturally, via the Edsel FORD freeway. Once there, I parted with an obscene amount of money for the Village/Museum combo ticket. One gets spoiled with the Smithsonian in their backyard, I guess.

    We began with the Village, thinking that we’d enjoy the cool museum in the afternoon when the temperatures rose. Greenfield Village is like Williamsburg or Jamestown except that the “theme” is American Innovation. All of the building are the real deal, too! We toured Ford’s boyhood home, Edison’s lab, the Firestone Farm, the Wright Brothers Bicycle shop (where they built their first plane) and home, and so on. One way to see the Village is, of course, by walking the 90 acres. But why do that when you can choose from a 100 year old restored steam locomotive, a horse-drawn carriage, or even an authentic Model-T? DD and I had great fun moving about the Village--what a treasure!

    A quick stop for an all-American lunch of Koegel’s (Michigan made!) hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, and a shared Faygo Red Pop (42 grams of sugar, Michigan made!), and then it was on to the Henry Ford Museum. There’s a lot to see at the museum, cars aside. We enjoyed our visit a great deal.

    Following the requisite pool time at the hotel we spent part of the evening strolling through the Kerrytown Shops in Ann Arbor and then quaffing olive oils with the olive oil “sommelier” at Zingerman’s as if we knew what we were doing. We sampled enough bread and cheese to call it dinner, picked up a small late harvest Spanish oil with pepper tones and a jar of bagna cauda and went back to the hotel only to find that we were still hungry. A quick trip to the grocery store turned up Amish free-range rotisserie chicken dinner from a nearby farm, complete with mashed potatoes and corn (all Michigan made!) Plus a cart full of Michigan-made non-perishables to bring home. Buy Michigan, indeed! Had a great conversation with a store clerk about how we could not possibly be Redskins fans.

    More A-squared to follow...

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    Tuesday morning my DD sleepyhead did not rise and shine until 8:30. No matter, though, our to-do list included only meandering the campus. We started in Nickels Arcade on State Street, popping in a couple of the stores. The next stop was Betsy Barbour House, and we posed for photos on the steps. A campus delivery person was coming out of the house and I asked if we could go in. He nodded, and told us to just say “it was open” if anyone caught us. How fun—sneaking into my old dorm! The bedrooms were closed, of course, but DD got to see the dining and living areas, and even posed on one of the sofas for a photo (which, I think, was exactly the same from my days there.) From there DD spun “The Cube” to get the campus started and stood on the steps of the Michigan Union where JFK stood when he announced the formation of the Peace Corps. All of the reliving mom’s co-ed days made us thirsty; thankfully there is a coffee shop every 23 steps in and around campus (there’s even one at the UGLi!) at which we could stop.
     
    The Art Museum was next. Don’t know how I feel about the gleaming modern addition squeezed in between the columned and marbled “old” art museum and the majestic, equally as columned and marbled Angell Hall. But we did enjoy seeing all that famous art.
     
    Crossed South U. and wandered through the Law Quad—yep, still looks like the Harry Potter campus. I explained the legendary purpose of the Martha Cook dorm to DD—no shortages of questions there!  South U. east of the old engineering arches hasn’t changed too much—sure, there’s now a hookah bar and a safe sex store, but old friends like Village Apothecary and Brown Jug are still around. So is the ever-grungy Village Corner.  Middle Earth was a landmine to navigate with a 9 year-old—thankfully there were no questions there! Red Hot Lovers is gone, replaced with Ray’s Red Hots, but virtually nothing else has changed about the dive.
     
    My old academic stomping ground, the anthropology building and museum, was next. Walking past the School of Dentistry hadn’t changed—in the air was still the faint aroma of anesthetic medicine. The Museum of Natural History is under construction, and hopefully the delightful old-school style sweeping musty halls filled with interesting things to touch and look at won’t be replaced with gleaming, hi-tech interactive “teaching” devices at every turn.
     
    We completed our circle with a quick walk through the Michigan League garden and past the Bell Tower and did a little shopping in State Street’s quirky stores before heading to S’Quad to collect DS.  The gaggled swagger of teen boys who’d just spent three days hanging with college guys soon began streaming up from the athletic campus, and within minutes my teen had grabbed his bag, checked out and hopped in the car. All sweaty like a teenage boy.
     
    At the Michigan/Ohio border we went Kroger-ing for dinner, as mom had reached her limit of hot dogs, pizza and chili cheese fries and needed to eat something different. And different I got at the rural Kroger deli—chicken fingers! The drive to Pittsburgh was speedy, but we arrived at the hotel 10 minutes after the pool closed. Darn. At least there were warm cookies when we checked in.
     
    Time was spent at the hotel’s pool after breakfast the following morning, an “indoor” structure with a glass roof to view Pittsburgh through. Later we rode the incline up Mt. Washington (the story from the ticket taker about the one time he visited DC in the 70’s for a friend’s wedding but got too high on something that he forgot to go to the wedding was free) to view the city. I pointed out the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela Rivers, and DS said, “Ohhhhhhhh! That’s why they call it Three Rivers Stadium.” Funny.

    Down from the incline we collected the car and drove a little east to the Pitt campus and its Cathedral of Learning. I wish we'd planned for more time there. Next up was the National Aviary, far and away the highlight of our roadtrip. We participated in the interactive penguin activity and it took all we had not to tuck one of those amazingly cute little mammals into my tote and take them home. Penguins are adorable!

    Our final stop was for a late lunch at Primanti Brothers. The sandwiches were piled high with kielbasa, salami, and French Fries; and the dill pickles that accompanied them were top-notch. Good eats.

    The return to the DC area we call home was as expected. Lots of road work, and lots of less-than-Michigan-style drivers. We pulled into the driveway around 9:45, and I was greeted to a new dishwasher and a shower with with fresh caulking (I need to leave DH home more often!) Not to mention an order of my favorite spicy tofu from the local Thai restaurant waiting for me. Aaaahhhh, good to be home.

    In the end it was too short of a roadtrip to see everything, to eat everything, and to experience everything. But it was just enough to make us want to do it again. We can't wait.

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    Sounds like a fun road trip. We certainly don't get many trip reports that follow your route. Many familiar stops for Ohioans. I often drove to Connecticut when my children were preschoolers and had to drive almost all the way through Pennsylvania--my children used to cringe when they heard someone was from Pennsylvania--after a couple years, the drive just didn't endear Pennsylvania to them. And then of course there is Pittsburgh--pretty tough to get Cleveland Browns fans to like Pittsburgh--not to mention Michigan, a state we love to vacation in, but a university that we often bet against.

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    I smiled at your telling of visiting your old dorm. On one trip back to OSU campus we "charmed" our way into our old North Campus dorm. What seemed palatial back in the day now seemed small and crowded. Thanks for the report.

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