Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cleveland Rocks (As does Toronto)

Dayton, OH

The last few days have been miserable weather-wise, but I've had a blast when I'm not riding.  On Labour Day (spelled that way because I was in Canada for it), I went with my couchsurfing host and his two other surfers on a walking tour of Toronto.  You'd think, after my 12-mile tour of New York, I'd have learned my lesson about hiking around on concrete in my sandals, but no - I did it again.

We had been out pretty late the night before, so while I pulled an old man and woke up at 8, unable to fall back asleep, we didn't end up going anywhere until around 1pm.  One of the guys with us, Alex (from the Netherlands) was starting classes at the University of Toronto soon and was following leads on a place to stay, so while he went to check that out, Michael (the host, originally from Hong Kong but a Toronto resident for about 15 years now) and Thilo (from Germany) and I walked down towards the lake.  We relaxed on the boardwalk for a little while until Alex caught up with us - using a rented bike - and then walked over towards the Distillery district.

The Distillery district is a cool little area that was (surprise) once a distillery - in the mid 1800's (actually a surprise).  The whole area is brick industrial architecture, with conveyor belts and pipes running between buildings and around the insides of them.  The whole area has been converted into a shopping area now, with restaurants, stores, and sculptures fitting into and in between buildings wherever they can.

We started by making a trip to the Mill St. Brewery for a late lunch.  I picked up a sampler there, and after some good food, the four of us went on a brewery "tour."  I use the quotes, because the tour consisted of one of the brewers taking us into the room with the tanks and then talking to us for half an hour - and it was the best brewery tour I've been on.
My sampler as well as Alex's

Mill St. Brewery makes beer and ships it all over the place, but at the restaurant location we were at, they only brew for the restaurant.  It's also where they do their R&D and test batches, and if they do any one-off special releases they're usually only available in the restaurant.  All that means that (a) there's only two brewers that work at the restaurant, since it's low volume, and (b) they really know their stuff.  The woman who talked to us REALLY knew her stuff.  She had gone to school for wine making, done that for five years, and then switched to beer making a year ago, so she knew all of the chemistry, and wasn't shy about telling us.  One of the guys said afterward that he didn't catch much of it because there were so many technical terms.

The tour was the four of us and another couple, so it was very personal, and as she rattled off some complicated chemistry stuff, she showed us malt, let us taste a few varieties, gave us a sample of fresh beer straight out of the tank, and even let us try some "green" beer - beer that hasn't yet been aged the full amount.  It was honestly the best brewery tour I've been on, and I've been on a lot on this trip.  She even pointed out cool things like the fact that the building they're in has skylights.  They were put in when because that building was storage for high-proof (a.k.a. flammable) grain spirits, and in case of an explosion the skylights would blow out rather than the building exploding.

After the tour we went down the street a bit to "Soma" - a chocolate store.  Things ain't cheap there, but they're worth it.  For a little over six dollars, I purchased three small candies - an almond cluster dipped in Venezuelan dark chocolate, an espresso truffle (with espresso-chocolate mousse inside), and a candy that was a dark chocolate shell around some pop-rocks.  All three were absolutely amazing, and it's hard not to be in amazing mood after good beer, a fun tour, and some really good chocolate.  On the way back out of the Distillery district, we stopped in a couple of stores, including one that made art out of Rubik's cubes.

Yup - Angry birds made out of Rubik's Cubes
e wandered around the city some more, stopped in a coffee shop, and generally killed time until about 8pm.  Michael had a coupon that let you go up the CN tower for $10 after 8pm, instead of the usual $30.
It's tall
After checking that out we headed back to the room, stopping to get some poutine on the way.  For those who don't know, poutine is a Canadian... delicacy.  It consists of french fries with gravy and cheese curds on it.  We got our from the "Poutinerie," which has many different kinds of Poutine - for example, I got Philly Cheese Steak poutine.  For the record, that had steak, mushrooms, onions, peppers, and cheese whiz on it - along with the usual fries, gravy, and cheese curds.

I promise this tastes better than it looks.  By a little bit.
I woke up pretty early and left Toronto, heading towards Niagara Falls.  I only stopped there briefly because the weather was horrible - rainy and wet, on top of the usual Niagara Falls mist - before heading on down around Lake Erie.  After a quick stop at a brewery, I camped out for the night, and got rained on of course.  I slept in a little bit - having gotten four hours of sleep each of the two nights before, I was ready for a solid night's sleep.

Once I got moving, I headed to downtown Cleveland to check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - and that was definitely a good decision.  (No pictures though, as you're not allowed to take cameras in at all.)  I really regretted sleeping in though, because I ended up not being able to spend anything close to the amount of time I wanted to there.  After wandering through a few of the exhibits, I got stuck at a video that went through each of the Beatles albums with quite a bit of commentary from the guys themselves and from other people, as well as clips and outtakes from recording.  I left when they got to Revolver because I had to head upstairs for the U2-3D show - honestly, it's the first time I've watched a 3D movie and thought "This is far better in 3D than it would be otherwise.  It was really just a recording of a live concert, but the 3D makes it a ton better.

I had to leave part way through the U2 show to give me a few minutes to check out other stuff before leaving the museum - but I'll definitely be going back if I ever have time, because I barely saw any of the exhibits.  I headed a few blocks over to catch lunch at Great Lakes Brewery, which was awesome.  They have some really good beers, and I had fun talking with a few of the regulars and the bartender - surprisingly, it was somewhat busy at 3:00 on a Wednesday.

And on to Dayton I went - more crappy weather, more getting wet despite not getting rained on (spray from the road), more riding through pouring rain, and to top it off, my phone was dead so navigating became much more difficult.  The riding the past few days has probably been the worst of the entire trip, but I still had a heck of a good time in both Toronto and Cleveland, so that has made up for it.

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