Today we arrived in the capital of the United States! Finally we have crossed from sea to shining sea—it’s been a crazy, wonderful trip and we aren’t even finished yet. We were eager to see the city and started with a tour of the Smithsonian Museums. The Visitors’ Center is a red castle at the center of the museum area, and it’s worth a visit to orient yourself and grab some maps. Finding street parking can be a nightmare, but there are some paid parking spots at various locations and the visitors center staff can assist you in your search.
The Smithsonian Museums take accessibility seriously. Today we saw the Air and Space Museum. Though there are a couple model spacecraft that are not accessible as they are only reachable by stairs, for the most part the museum is thoughtfully crafted and is almost entirely reachable by wheelchair. We particularly enjoyed the exhibits on Mars and space travel, and felt staring at pictures of alien worlds that we were once again children.
Afterwards we drove to George Town, a historic DC district about 20 minutes from downtown, to do some exploring. The streets are a little bumpy, but the district is largely accessible and there are many shops and cafes to make for an enjoyable afternoon.
Today was a driving day. We started driving at 12pm, stopped by a drive-through burger place for lunch and arrived in DC at 7pm.
Just as we thought we were leaving the Buffalo wings behind us, we met up with Daniel (Kunho and You’s friend) for dinner. All of the other places we wanted to go to were closed so we had Buffalo wings again.
We arrived in Pittsburgh very late at night. Kunho’s tailbone was hurting him, so he had a good rest in the hotel while the rest of the team explored Pittsburgh. We went to the Cathedral of Learning and found their 24 cultural rooms very interesting. We also learnt that some parts of the lower floor were not accessible as there was an area only reachable by steps, which could not have a ramp added due to renovation restrictions on historical buildings. We took the elevator to the 32rd floor and enjoyed a nice view from the top. We then found a smaller elevator which took us to the 37th floor where there were less people but smaller windows.
Afterward we walked to the museum of Art and Natural History. These two museums are housed in the same building. We also passed by the library before heading back to the car.
We ordered Chinese take out to bring back to the hotel and had lunch with Kunho. After a nice rest, we headed out again for the Andy Warhol Museum. It was a seven story building full of fascinating masterpieces by Warhol. I particularly liked the floating silver pillows exhibit.
After we left the museum, we went to the Duquesne inline for a nice early evening view over the city. We found out that the cable car was not accessible, though the viewing deck was. We Yelp-ed for dinner and found an exquisite French restaurant. Their food was delicious and very affordable, but be sure to reserve early in advance as they sell out quickly.
We woke up bright and early to see Niagara Falls. We wanted to hit a lot of the attractions, so we bought a bundle of tickets. Although we wanted to get a full day tour with most of the attractions included, none of the tour bus companies offered a wheelchair accessible tour that day. Although one company, Greyline, operates one wheelchair accessible van, it is necessary to book 24 hours in advance to secure an accessible tour. We learned this the hard way.
We went out to the observation deck and the view was about as stunning as you’d imagine. The deck was accessible by elevator. Buying tickets in bundle is a good deal if you’re visiting more than two attractions; in addition, you won’t have to wait in each line for tickets. At the top of the deck an elevator leads down to the Maid of the Mist, a tour boat that brings tourists right under the falls. We were given blue raincoats to protect our clothes from a due soaking. Though the ramp onto the ship was steep, the staff capably and efficiently helped Kunho on board. We stood towards the front of the ferry and watched the boat approach the falls. You could feel the thunder of the falling river in your limbs, and the top of the wall of water hung in the air as if by ordinance of God.
After the ride, we went back to the visitor’s centre to catch a park trolley to see the Cave of the Winds. The trolley was accessible by lift. Remember to change your bundle tickets for a pink wrist band before you line up for the trolley or you’ll have to go back to the ticket booth to exchange it there.
When we got to the Cave of the Winds, we were given sandals and yellow raincoats. We waited 45 minutes in the queue before the elevators leading down to the Cave and came out near the bottom of the Falls through a tunnel in the rock face. The approach to the “Cave” consisted of several wooden decks. The lower decks are wheelchair accessible but the higher decks are only reachable by stairs. At the top is the Hurricane Deck, which delivers what it says on the tin.
After we tried drying ourselves under the sun, we caught a return trolley and went back to the visitors centre. We picked up our car and headed for Pittsburgh in the evening.
We left Cleveland midmorning and decided to drop by Lake Erie for lunch. We made stir-fried beef and onion by the beach on a picnic table. It was a warm and sunny day for an outdoor lunch.
After lunch, we carried on driving and arrived in Buffalo in the afternoon. There was an indoor balcony in our room overlooking the pool, and we decided it was a good spot to have a meeting.
Since we were in Buffalo, we had to eat the famous wings at least once! Thanks to Yelp!, we found Duff’s Famous Wings not too far from our hotel.
Kunho and You, as true Koreans, are super fond of spicy food. Duff’s Famous Wings ranks their hot sauce on a somewhat different scale from most places. “Medium is hot,” proclaims the front door, the menus, the napkin holder, and even a sign over the bathroom, “hot is very hot. Very hot is very, very hot.” Kunho and You decided to try one of the hot sauces on the side menu. “Suicide sauce” was very, very, very hot. “Death sauce” was very, very, very, very hot. We ordered 10 wings of the Death sauce variety. Kunho took one bite and coughed. He began to sweat. He drank many gulps of water and we ordered a glass of milk. He was still sweating after the milk came and the sweat was visible all over the top of his head. Afterwards You tried several, and Brad tried one too. Surviving a “Death sauce” wing consists of 3 phases: stage “ok, I suppose this is hot,” stage “oh my god this is hot,” and stage “please get me a towel for the sweat coming off my face, and also I cannot feel my ears.”
Kunho and You made a bet to see who could finish 4 “Death sauce” wings and not reach for any form of liquid for 10 minutes. Neither did!
Today we stayed in Cleveland, which is super famous for being Brad’s birthplace. Another interesting fact: the city’s nickname is “the mistake on the lake.” Cleveland is a charming, clean city with a midwestern vibe. Cyn particularly enjoyed it as a contrast to the derelict neighborhoods in Detroit where we stopped.
The biggest attraction in Cleveland is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and we spent a good couple hours there. The Hall of Fame starts with an elevator to the basement, where a short video on the history of rock ‘n roll plays to orient the uninitiated and charge up the rock fans. Inside the museum has many exhibits with headphone booths for listening that are accessible and at a good height for either a standing or sitting person to use. The museum carpet can make it a bit tough at times to push a manual wheelchair, and one or two exhibits have enough of an incline that it was necessary for Brad to push Kunho. The museum is a line, one after the next, of some of the greatest names in music’s history, and it was inspiring and moving to cross from one to the next.
We also saw a couple other attractions, including the Cleveland Great Lakes Science Center and the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. Cyn learned a lot about planes and space in particular at the Science Center and there was a nice terrace view over Lake Erie. You and Brad hurried through the gardens to measure all its accessibility metrics on time, though they were able to stop for some nice moments to appreciate a luminous butterfly, or the tongue of a yellow bell flower. The Botanical Gardens are partly accessible, but some exhibits clearly put accessibility as an afterthought as the way around is a large detour with a sloped wooden ramp. Some gardens are simply inaccessible.
On our way back we passed through some sort of festival in a park. There was a jazz band playing and a long, long line of food vendors. We stopped for some BBQ and chowed down. Hot and smoky, with a foot-tappin’ variety of music? Mm-mm.
Finally, we stopped by the hospital where Brad was born to take some photographs. It was a regular old sort of hospital and we took several pictures and then we were gone.
This morning was different. We were greeted with a luxurious in-room service breakfast. This would be one of the very few times, or perhaps the first time, we had 8am breakfast during the trip. Of course, packing takes forever. Everyone had a bag of laundry that should have been done many days ago and many more “necessary” things to carry.
We went to the fisher building in Detroit. Decorated with extraordinarily elegant patterns, this building represents the heyday age of the Detroit Renaissance. After that, we found another building that also elaborately depicts the decline of Detroit: Detroit Train Station. It was spooky. A giant building of broken windows and fences with No Trespassing signs like ghost houses as seen in horror movies. But, there we saw prince charming on a white horse coming to protect us from this evil spirits. This man voluntarily explained, after requesting a little bit of cash, the history of Detroit Train Station and the collapse of it. He hopes to have this building rebuilt and revive Detroit again.
Less than a five minute drive away, surprisingly modern buildings such as GM Renaissance Center greeted us. We saw the Canadian side of the river on the observation deck of the building.
Of course touring around such an interesting city will make us forget about lunchtime, Not. Our clocks in our stomachs were more accurate than our smartphone clocks. Luckily we found a nearby park and cooked tacos for lunch.
We are off to Cleveland!