Further afield–Megabus adventure to Indianapolis and Bloomington

18 Oct

Gorgeous restored building, but seedy feel nonetheless

I hadn’t been back to Bloomington, IN, site of my grad education at Indiana University, in a very loooooong time, and while there I’d rarely been to Indianapolis, only an hour away (Rick James concert excepted). But there were some critical exhibitions I needed to see at the Indianapolis Art Museum, and a trip was in order. Megabus time! Unfortunately, the Megabus to Indy leaves only from Columbus, so some Greyhounding was necessary. The taxi driver who dropped me at Greyhound after work said it best: “I don’t know you, and I’m not a psychotic, but you could be my wife, sister, daughter, mother–I wouldn’t want you to be in that Cleveland Greyhound station. It’s just seedy!” Remarkable how a building that is an Art Deco cherishable, and kept quite clean, is indeed seedy. It’s the people, I suppose–many of whom aren’t travelers. It’s also the price gauging at the snack bar, the poor lighting, the gritty block, the tired-looking, mussed-hair travellers and weeping children–just something about Greyhounds generally (although I must compliment Columbus on a su

perior and cheery, well laid-out station with seats by the traveling


Booking with Greyhound these days is much like booking a flight. When you’re online, you have advance pay, online and regular options, some refundable, some not. I went for the cheapest fare for the round-trip Cleveland-Columbus jaunt. My work timing and theirs didn’t jibe, so I decided an overnight stay in Columbus was the best option. I’m happy to report

Columbus's fabulous Book Loft--alas, for another trip

that Rascal House Pizza DOES deliver to the Cleveland Greyhound station, so I had my dinner while I waited in line for a bus that way nearly an hour late. My feet weren’t happy, but my stomach was satisfied. Columbus included one other stop, and was about two and a half hours away–just about the perfect maximum bus ride length. Pleased to report that some of the Greyhounds on the Cleveland route now have plugs and wifi–this one did, and what a difference it can make to a journey.

Double decker Megabus to Indy, where patrons to Chicago filled it up

I didn’t know Columbus at all, and used the Hotwire/Priceline lottery system to get a hotel. As it happened, it was the Sheraton Capitol Square, about a block from Greyhound–travelling light allows these happy coincidences to be taken advantage of. Unhappily, the lateness of the hour and some rain kept me away from German Village and the Brewery District. I’d wanted to stroll there and take in the bookstore I’d heard so much about in German Village–The Book Loft, an independent that takes up an entire block and is clearly a charmer. Despite its accommodating 11 pm closing time, there was no time. Sigh. Another trip, maybe–Columbus certainly has none of the depressed look of our downtown area (yes, it’s improving, but facts are facts), and I would have loved a look around. An LGBT event was going on, and the elevator was filled with 6 foot redheads and attractively made-up men; the rooms were lovely, all was well. The morning saw a quick stroll to Au Bon Pain–I like to stay away from chains, but their croissants are tasty, and I knew I could pick up a sandwich for the lunch-bridging trip (plus, it was just around the corner). Reasonable cab ride to the corner for Megabus leavetaking; it was a kind corner with two park benches. Though our bus was twenty minutes late, we made up the time. There’s a cheery fellowship amongst Megabus riders, who are predominantly students. A cheer went up at the sight of the double-decker. It’s handy to note that these have some facing seats with tables on the lower level; perfect when traveling with friends or using a laptop. Columbus has a second stop on

Copper mask from Ife, Nigeria, 11th-15th c.

the OSU campus–very handy.

Gorgeous terracotta head of a female royal from Ife, Nigeria

The trip to Indy was quick, through as many cornfields as I remembered. Not much in the way of brilliant foliage, which is just a weather factor–it can be a glorious season on this trip. The hotel lottery had resulted in the University Place Hotel on the IUPUI campus, a respectable choice. One of their pleasant features consisted in bowl fruit in the lobby and elsewhere in the hotel–as pretty as flowers and tasty as well. I hadn’t realized Indy has a monorail, but there was no time to take a ride. After meeting up with friends, it was a quick trip to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, handily open till 9 on a Friday night. The museum is free–a rarity like our own Cleveland Museum of Art–and the special exhibition on Ife art was $8 and well worth it. These bronze, terracotta and stone beauties from the 11th-15th century were all rarely-travelled masterpieces from Nigeria. The few that have been in the US before were here 21 years ago, and most had never travelled. They are exceptional, rare examples of highly naturalistic (though idealized) African art, many depicting royals. The excellent exhibition, “Dynasty and Divinity,” included not only royal heads and figures, but also shrine images depicting elephantiasis and grotesqueries linked to supernatural medicines, as well as comparative early artworks from the Benin Kingdom, Ijebu, Esie, and Nupe villages. Besides this special exhibition, there was a great internal show of worldwide textiles, and an extremely fine African collection, as well as wonderful-looking galleries we didn’t have time to see.

Huge hanging by El Anatsui, made from liquor bottle caps

Afterwords? Dinner courtesy Urbanspoon. Urbanspoon is a godsend in a strange city. A free app for phone or iPad, it allows you to lock in combinations of region, food type or price, then spin the dial for choices. The reviews are fabulously practical and useful, and patrons often take pictures so you can see the menus as well. At 92%, we stuck to the spirit of the evening and went to Jiallo’s, a Senegalese/Caribbean restaurant in a strip mall. Ambiance? No. But the chef/waiter/owner was as spectacular as the reviews had said. He bent over backwards to make sure everyone was satisfied with their delicious meals–frankly, each plate could have served three, and there were many leftovers. Two members of our party had baked tilapia, and declared this unboned fish the best they’d had

Antique room at IU's Biddle Hotel, conveniently on campus

anywhere. The other two had jerk chicken–oh, it was wonderful.

Great food, international university atmosphere at Cafe Turkuaz

Urbanspoon led us to a great lunch space on the Indianapolis outskirts–Rick’s Cafe Boatyard, where the briskness of the day made it a happy time to be a flag. With a lovely view of the river, my companions made short work of fish stew and a highly reasonable lunchtime menu in a spot that was pricier at night (we thrifty bon vivants must do research to relax and enjoy such places at the appropriate time). We then took the one-hour trip to Bloomington the next morning. Greyhound services the route, but with only one trip a day, it makes for a screwy schedule; had I but known, there’s a shuttle from Bloomington that travels several times a day. I had booked the Biddle Hotel at the IU Student Union, sinceI’d admired it since I was a student. It’s the largest student union in the world, equipped with hairdresser, movie theater, billiard, bowling alley and delicious bakery, as well as plenty of  places to drink coffee and carb load. The rooms are of varied sizes and prices–I went for the antique room. Though my priciest choice at $122, it had free parking, even for your guests (unlike most hotels–and this can add a hefty pricetag on a stay, since some hotels in urban areas don’t have in-and-out privileges). The room was lovely, and the convenience priceless. I took a stroll to my old department and revelled in this very beautiful campus. When everyone was ready, we dined out at a funky Turkish

Showalter Fountain and the Arts Plaza, one of many beautiful spots on the IU campus

restaurant, Turkuaz Cafe. I wasn’t very hungry, and just opted for hummus and pita–but what pita! It was flaky like a proper croissant, and I just wanted to eat bushels of it. Friends had pide, a pizza-like dough “boat” with varied fillings, as well as grilled fish, and all were deeply satisfied. Then off to Cafe Django, a jazz club where the Keith Karns trioplayed Hancock and Monk and other pillars of the genre in a highly-satisfying manner and great atmosphere.

Nafana mask from Ivory Coast at IU Art Museum

The next day meant breakfast at the Runcible Spoon, an adorable, flower-filled spot that was there when I was a student. For the second time in my life (the first being the day before), I had applewood bacon–you could really taste the difference in the smoked flavor. Then a trip to the Union’s Sugar and Spice bakery, where I rushed to be sure that the heirloom gingerbread men were still available. They were! And just 99 cents each. The website advised (paraphrase here) that “if you eat them feet first, they can’t run away.” Their little cinnamon buttons…mmmm. We spent hours in IU’s Art Museum, with its particularly strong collection of African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian art, and back to Indy. Because of previously planning the Megabus to match the Greyhound schedule, the bus wasn’t going to leave till 2:20 am; the kindest of friends decided they were booking a Hotwire hotel and a cozy space could be had till they drove to the Megabus spot–bless them! Hotwire delivered a fantastic choice–less than $75 with tax. It was the Crowne Plaza Union Station, right downtown. Built in the old railroad station, it had “ghost” sculptures scattered throughout–images of passengers in days gone by. Best of all, some of the rooms are restored Pullman car suites! A special site, and a hotel restaurant with the best chicken fingers I’ve ever tasted.

Ghost rail hoppers at the Pullman suites at Indy's Crowne Plaza Union Station

The Megabus was packed with students heading for Cincinnati, another city I’ve only seen once, and which is plainly pulling development from Cleveland. We have the advantage of being able to use creativity and imagination, since there are plenty of blank spaces downtown waiting for innovative infrastructure. Disembarkation in Columbus, a walk across the street to the Hilton for a cab, and an early morning ride to the Holiday Inn for breakfast and a restroom stop, since it’s right across the street from Greyhound. Again, the apps led me to the right spots. Trip back to the CLE, and a nap.

Verdict? Fairly economical, highly enjoyable, delicious and ultra-reasonable dining. Great time!



2 Responses to “Further afield–Megabus adventure to Indianapolis and Bloomington”

  1. Your Sister October 19, 2011 at 2:07 PM #

    Sounds like you had a wonderful time. Did you get to see any of your friends at IU?

    • Thrifty Bon Vivant October 19, 2011 at 3:11 PM #

      It was loads of fun! No, unfortunately not–our annual meeting is going on in DC, but I didn’t even try. With three other people to show around Bloomington, it just seemed too problematic. I really only would have wanted to see them by themselves, so we could reminisce and talk shop. And two of the Bloomington friends don’t get along with the third, so…

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