HOW DO YOU SPEND A COLD WINTER NIGHT IN CLEVELAND… WITH THE CAVALIERS

About three hours into a text thread with my brother and cousin to try and get tickets to the Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics game, I was seriously beginning to regret my decision to take part in this Thursday night sports venture. I mean it’s a basketball game, early in the season, against the Celtics – not worth the money or hassle, right? Oh, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Over the past few years since Lebron James has come back to Cleveland, being a Cavs fan has turned into a global phenomenon. Celebrities now descend upon our little city on Lake Erie in May and June to watch the NBA playoffs; Usher is a minority owner; and one of the Kardashians is dating Tristan Thompson. Cleveland and our sports teams (well the Cavs and Indians) have gone from a joke to being considered ‘cool’. And Cavaliers’ games have gone from heading down to Quicken Loans Arena an hour early to get your game giveaway to a full blown event.

View from the floor seats at Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics game Dec. 29, 2016
View from the floor seats at Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics game Dec. 29, 2016

PRE-GAME: DRINKS & FOOD

After five hours searching for floor seats via Flashseats – because if you’re going to go, go big – I met my brother, sister-in-law, and three cousins for cocktails and a bite to eat. The Cleveland culinary scene has blown up in the past ten years with chefs like Rocco Whalen, Dante Boccuzzi, Michael Simon, and Jonathan Sawyer opening up restaurants throughout the city and nearby suburbs, and going to one before a game has become a must. We decided on meeting at RED Steakhouse in the trendy East 4th District. RED has been named one of the 10 Best Restaurants in the country, and though a most-of-the-time vegan, I can appreciate the menu’s options of quality steaks, cauliflower hash, truffle tator tots, and au gratin potatoes (seriously I praise the genius who put them on the menu).

My cousin had the classic Caesar salad, while my brother and sister-in-law shared the truffled tator tots and filet. I treated myself to some animal and had a perfectly cooked salmon and grilled asparagus (the asparagus comes with bolognaise if you prefer). We all finished our meals extremely satisfied. The atmosphere is upscale casual without any stuffiness, and the décor is simple dark woods accented with red seats and clean lines. The bar was staffed with three friendly attentive bartenders so that you never had to wait long for service.

After food and drinks, we headed across the street to The Q for the game. Though there are some great restaurants throughout downtown and just across the river, if you’re able to get into one along Prospect or anywhere in the East 4th District then you’re only a few minutes’ walk right next to the arena. This is definitely a bonus during the bitter cold winter nights in Cleveland. And if RED doesn’t sound like your scene, there is Flannery’s Pub a traditional Irish pub that has been a staple in Cleveland for nearly 20-years, Barrio serving up tacos and whisky in a hipster casual scene, local brewery and restaurant The Butcher and the Brew, or Michael Simon’s newest venture Mable’s BBQ. There’s also a dozen more spots you can check out.

NO LONGER THE GAME OF OUR CHILDHOOD

As a kid, I remember going to games at what was then Gund Arena, and watching Mark Price, Larry Nance, Brad Doughty, Craig Ehlo, and Danny Ferry play against the likes of Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Scotty Pippen, Michael Jordan, John Stockton, and Carl Malone. You got to the game a little early to buy your pop and hotdog and then you sat and watched ten guys run around the court playing a game. During time-outs you chatted with your neighbor and that was pretty much it. Not anymore.

Once we made our way across the street, through the concourse and crowds buying beer, food from B Spot, jerseys, and one kid getting his hair spray-painted, we came out to our seats four rows behind the basket. I was immediately taken aback by my proximity to the players and the fact that the court looked so small in person. Being that close you realize with all the chaos around you, these guys are playing a game you once played as a kid on the same size court. But let’s be honest, it’s not the same basketball we played as kids. Now there are 360-dunks and a physicality that has grown with the global popularity of the sport.

Gold and wine sprinkles throughout the arena, kids hold up signs for Lebron and a few for the Celtics, while Moondog runs around rallying up the crowd. The noise level is borderline deafening when the Cavs come out for warm-up and somehow gets even louder when the starting line-up is announced.

The one moment of calm and quiet comes when the national anthem is sang by the 20,000-plus crowd led by a local police sergeant. Simple, melodic, and in-tune it was quite beautiful, but then someone yelled ‘Go Cavs’ and the crazy started back up.

FROM A GAME TO AN EXPERIENCE

The next two and a half hours were filled with horns, chants, screaming fans and players, Scream Teams and Cavs Girls dancing during time outs. Speaking of timeouts – they’re no longer a twenty or sixty-second reprieve from the game – but a manic frenzy of flying balls and t-shirts thrown into the crowd, dance parties, and percussion teams plying garbage cans, ladders, and cymbals.

We got to watch a Christmas home video of two brothers from Iowa (Karson(11) and Kole (14) Wehde) opening up tickets for this game and screaming in sheer joy that they’re going to a Cavs game in Cleveland. Those same boys led us through the dance cam during a timeout.

Oh, and there was a pretty good basketball game going on during this spectacle. The Boston Celtics were able to make a game of it with a fourth quarter rally from 18-behind to bring it to a one point game in the final two minutes. But, our mighty Cavs were able to pull out a four-point victory with Richard Jefferson’s final-seconds rebound and two free-throws.

Lebron James warming up
Lebron James warming up

You’re not just going to see a basketball game in Cleveland, you’re going to experience an event. You’ll cheer on your fellow fans trying to win money and tickets playing games stolen from The Price is Right just as loud as you cheer for Kyrie; experience Christmas wishes of two boys coming true; and witness grown men screaming like children while other grown men play a game we all learned as children.

For a few hours you will embrace your inner child and the insanity of an NBA basketball game. Well, at least until you go back outside and Cleveland smacks you in the face with an Arctic wind off Lake Erie.

Dodging the Schoolies While in Byron Bay

So when I first started researching places to visit in Australia, I thought Byron Bay was going to be my favorite. An easy-going surfer town with beautiful beaches and bushwalks,img_1808 I figured this is right up my alley and a great place to end the trip. I booked five nights and was looking forward to lounging on the beach.
Then I got there and realized I was smack in the middle of Schoolies. What is Schoolies? It’s the end of term party week for Year 12 graduates in all three states – Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria. I mean there’s an actual website where they book trips to party for a week post-grad and each state is assigned a specific week. So what was supposed to be chill was basically a high school graduation party.

That being said, I didn’t not enjoy my stay, I just had to modify where I went a bit.

Most of the kids were staying right in the center of town. I had already booked my stay just outside of town on Belongil Beach. This worked out perfectly as I was able to hang out onimg_1800 the beach across the street and avoid Main Beach. Belongil is less busy and caters to more of the local crowd. There were two restaurants at the corner of the street. Each morning I visited Belongil Bistro  for breakfast and a couple nights at the Treehouse at Belongil for dinner. Both had great food, super relaxed atmosphere and friendly staff.
My afternoons were spent in town shopping or having lunch. I usually could only handle the city kids playing hippie in their barefeet and twirling balls on strings for a couple hours before heading back to Belongil.

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Cape Byron Walking Trail was a great day excursion. There is also The Farm, which is a working farm that hosts a farm-to-table restaurant and a few other small businesses, and then the Byron Arts and Industry Estate housing over 30 local artists’ studios and galleries.

When I mentioned going to Byron Bay earlier in my trip people mentioned backpackers and gap year kids, so I’m not sure if it was just the time of year or there’s always such a mass amount of kids wanting to party and pretend to be a hippie for a week. I suppose it’s like any town – the center is hectic and lively – with the outer limits more tame and local oriented. I feel a bit like an old lady writing this and caught myself a few times wanting to tell these kids to put their sunscreen on already!

Byron Bay is definitely worth the visit for scenery, beaches, art, and food. I would still recommend staying either in Belongil or if you can afford it Wategos Beach. Both areas are quieter with local spots for food and entertainment with more of an authentic vibe, and only a short walk to town.

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Guess I’ll just have to go back during fall or spring to see how it is in the off-season!