When we crossed Turkey last year, we took a couple of overnight trains and buses in upright seats and promised ourselves: never again. We were so tired that we repeatedly wrote off the following day and we may as well have travelled during the daytime! Anyway, I’m sure you can see where this is going: obviously we got tempted into doing it again.
Having taken a couple of very comfortable but extremely expensive Amtrak journeys in sleeper compartments (on the Empire Builder from Seattle to Whitefish and then Whitefish to Minneapolis), it was time to claw some budget back. So, after a brilliant couple of days exploring Chicago, we hopped on the Lake Shore Limited in coach class for an overnight train east to Cleveland, OH.
Amtrak’s coach seats give a decent amount of room (more akin to a business class seat on an aircraft), but still, there was plenty of noise and action on the packed train so we were very glad of our eye masks and noise-cancelling headphones. All too soon, we rolled into Cleveland at 05.30 to a beautiful sunrise.
We’d moved from central to eastern time overnight, so 05.30 felt like 04.30 and I was in no mood to enjoy the scenery! With check in to our apartment at 15.00 and having found nowhere to store our big backpacks (we’d considered asking at the station until we realised it is only open between midnight and 07.30 each day – seriously, you read that right!) we loitered in the station for as long as we could before moving on into the city to find somewhere else to wait. It seems bizarre that a city of 1.7 million people could have only four passenger trains passing each day, but it starts to make sense when we consider the number of people we’ve met who have responded with, “Oh yes, I took a train once…” when we mention that we’re crossing the country by rail.
Our next stop was a traditional diner, where we took our time over our breakfast but were still finished by 8.30. Six and a half hours to go until check in!
Finally, we hit the jackpot when we settled down in the corner of a Starbucks that was upstairs in a huge casino. Yes, it was a very dingy place to be on a beautiful sunny morning and the casino’s security staff were definitely confused by our strange accents and big bags, but we bought coffees and weren’t causing trouble, so we were left unbothered for the next four hours (!) until it was time for lunch. Lunch, of course, was at Dave’s Cosmic Subs (what a name). I liked mine so much that I decided to wear it – it was high time to check in.
We were only really in Cleveland as it was a convenient stopping point on our way to Amish Country, and I’d expected it to feel either quite bland or very industrial – it is, after all, a Rust Belt city – but it was neither. Instead, we found an attractive and walkable small city, with shopping arcades, arts venues and outdoor spaces aplenty. The downtown area had a nice buzz and was hosting a series of free live music events over the summer months.
The city has a couple of star attractions, including the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but it was another beautiful day so having spent so long inside the previous day, we instead headed to the western neighbourhood of Ohio City for some al fresco exploration. In fact, our first stop was the West Side Market, which was actually indoors, but we bought ourselves a huge lunch and ate in the adjacent Market Square.
Next, we headed for a walk but soon got distracted again when Oli saw a barber college offering $6 haircuts. He’s been looking increasingly shaggy, so in he went and spent the next two hours waiting in a line that was much longer than it looked and then making friends with his student barber and the chap who was supposed to be supervising (but who mostly wanted a chat). He emerged with mostly neat hair and full of local recommendations, so we headed off for Mitchell’s Ice Cream and then to Great Lakes Brewing Company so he could try their Vibacious Double IPA (“Strong, hoppy and delicious: 4.5 ⭐️,” I am told).
That concluded our brief visit to Cleveland, and the next morning, we headed south into rural Ohio to explore Amish Country.