Sunday, July 31, 2011

Down the coast of Lake Michigan

Sleeping Bear Dunes State Park is a beautiful spot; it is the pinky finger of the state. It was the first campsite we arrived at without a reservation.  We got a spot with no amenities (no water, electricity or sewer) that were OK as we are equipped for the wilderness. The beach was a mile away over dunes to which we never found a short cut or a road. When we got to the beach it was spectacular, isolated and almost devoid of people although we could see some people in the far distance. We needed a swim after hiking the dunes; we kept thinking the beach must be over the next dune…a touch of “Lawrence of Arabia”. The lake was cool, crystal clear, I could see little fish swimming around my feet, and the dunes were golden and stretched as far as the eye could see.   

Next day we drove further north to Sleeping Bear Dunes.  These are large dunes that are considered to look like a sleeping bear.  Dunes shift over time and it did not look like a sleeping bear to me but the dunes were big and it was a long drop down to the lake about 400 feet.  Some people were climbing up a particularly steep dune from the lake; we watched them struggle up and wondered what had possessed them to go down the dune in the first place.  This was one of the stops on the very nice Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive”.
We played our Michigan golf here on a very nice course called “Mistwood” - $43 cart included and had one of the best hamburgers in their restaurant afterwards. Generally, we like to walk but it was way too hot and muggy - we didn’t think of that when we were planning this trip

Our next stop was Grand Haven and we were able to pick our spot in the RV Park, I picked a site under a canopy of trees as by now the temperature was uncomfortably hot, the downside was we had to put up with traffic noise. Immediately after we had settled in we headed for the nearby beach.  Most of Grand Haven must have been on the beach or in the water - it was like a beach in France, pretty girls walking along the edge of the water in “almost” bikini’s and all the men dreaming their usual beach dreams!  ATM time boys?
That night we went down town for a stroll along the river and to see the Grand Haven Musical Fountain Show – Music, Water, Lights – pure magic! Since 1962 this show has been held every night from Memorial Day until Labor Day at 10pm. Wonder if Bellagio got its inspiration here? Spectators sit on bleachers on one side of the river while on the other side enormous fountains pulse water high into the night sky lit from below with changing colors all choreographed and synchronized to music. The show lasts half an hour and is an absolute must see for anyone visiting Grand Haven; it’s so good we went again the following night and saw a completely different show. 

3 people at the camp site told us that one of “bluebugs” bulbs needed replacing; the speed limit in RV Parks is 5mph enabling conversations with pedestrians at that speed.  We tried 2 nearby garages but popping the headlight out on a VW requires an expert’s touch which meant that we had to drive to a town 20 miles south called Holland which was lucky for us. We had the bulb replaced and decided to explore the town which was founded by the Dutch. To our great delight we learned that every Thursday in Holland street entertainment starts at 6pm. Literally on every street corner was a different form of entertainment, a Jazz Band, a Crooner singing my kind of music (60”s), a Barbershop group, a man making balloon animals and best of all a Magician. Holland is a lovely town.
We were quite tickled as we drove along the roads in Michigan by the sight of signs for Blarney Castle Oil on gas stations and on oil trucks, all with a big shamrock logo – Tom is from Cork, just 5 miles from The Blarney Castle.  A visit to Grand Rapids was in our plan; however it was so hot by the Lake we just couldn’t fathom how hot it must be in a big city and decided to give it a miss - another time.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Mackinac Island & Lower Peninsula

1 Cycling on Mackinac Island
2 Tom paddling in Lake Huron
3 Carriage heading for the Grand Hotel
4 Grand Hotel Mackinac
5 Elevator rail bridge lowers to let the train go by.
6 Coffee shop, Funny name ?
7 Tom on a date in Harbor Springs
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Visiting Friends in Michigan

The Upper and Lower peninsulas of Michigan are connected by a 4 mile long suspension bridge over the Mackinac straits. When crossing the bridge Lake Huron is to the East and Lake Michigan to the West.  In the winter the waters of the strait between St Ignace and Mackinac Island freezes over and people are known to have loaded houses and churches on sleds and moved them across the ice. A few of the older building on Mackinac Island are known to have been moved in this manner. Historic mobile homes!

From St Ignace our journey to Petoskey was only about 60 miles. We based ourselves there in order to visit a friend from CA who summers with her extended family in Harbor Springs. What a wonderful time we had with them…on Saturday they embraced us right into the center of all their family activities which included a BBQ on the beach of Hot dog and Smores, I will be taking the Smores recipe to the UK for my grandchildren.
After lunch I went for a paddle but brave Tom (under orders from Place’s Mum) went for a swim so I had to match that and swim also (the first of many in Lake Michigan), then Place had her first swim of the season. Of course children being children they were in and out of the water all the time. The lake is quite shallow at the edges so the water heats up to a “refreshing temperature”.  The Midwest is having a heat wave 98 farenhite and even the locals are complaining and it looks like it will last for a while.

That night Place treated us with her sister Ann to dinner, for dessert I had a “hummer” a mixture of Kahlua, Crème de Cocoa and French vanilla ice cream,  served in a large wine glass and sucked through a straw, another delicious recipe this time for Jennifer. 
On Sunday we went to Mass in the local church as we had 3 phone calls from my friend Barbara explaining precisely where the church was and the times for Mass. The church was over-full, no AC and the doors were closed, I don’t think I said one prayer but we certainly get points for suffering the heat and humidity.  We crossed the road to join Place’s family once again for a brunch at the local club.  At brunch we met another relative Dan, who had traveled the USA in an RV with his wife when they were much younger; he regaled us with many stories.  His best being: their RV ran out of gas, luckily they were towing “four wheels down” and knew the car had gas, having unhitched the car they used it to push the RV to the a nearby gas station. What a hoot only the young would try that trick. One for the book!

After lunch we went boating on the Lake in Place’s cousin Jacko’s boat; once the word was out that the boat was going out with guests invited there was a rush of relations to get on. We anchored off a beautiful beach and spent the afternoon swimming off the boat. We were thrilled as it is years since we last had an opportunity like this; and the lake was still at that refreshing temperature!  Towels onboard were communal, at least as far as the children were concerned – we were just part of the family to them.
That night we returned to the veranda of the same restaurant as Saturday night with Place for a more casual meal.  I was tasked with picking the restaurant and as I wanted another hummer - Place and Tom didn’t realize this until it was time for dessert.  I really enjoyed having a “drink” I miss my glass of wine.

On our way to and from Harbor Springs we saw beautiful cottages and wonderful shops, including a fudge and ice cream shop where I had a delicious cherry ice cream cone.  
This was a lovely and welcome break in our trip as we had no planning to do, all we had to do was turn up, be entertained, enjoy ourselves and leave with wonderful lasting memories of Place’s family.

Our next stop was Sleeping Bear Dunes State Park…Blog coming!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Upper Peninsula of Michigan & Mackinac Island

From Wisconsin we traveled east into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan making our first stop in Munising a town on the southern shores of Lake Superior; its attractions include the Painted Rocks on which we took a rain check, primarily as we had our rock tours in Arizona, Utah and the Black Hill of South Dakota…enough already! On our way to Munising we had not turned Matilda (the GPS) on and took a wrong turn which we realized after 8 miles down the road, so Tom did a U turn with the car in tow. I should have taken a video but was too intent on crossing my fingers and keeping my seatbelt buckled.  Now Matilda talks to us on all journeys. The Munising RV Park was right on the beach, it was the first hot day on the UP so after we had both paddled in Lake Superior I ventured in and had my first swim in the now warm clear blue waters of Lake Superior. Tom said he would wait until the following morning, but overnight there was a storm and high wind so he missed his chance. And, we were so close to the Lake.

Our next stops was in St Ignace-  a short version of St Ignacio’s - these people have never been to Ireland where we shorten  the name to Iggy, now you can’t get shorter than that. Town was about a short mile away and much to the horror of our Texan neighbors we walked into St Ignace each evening to enjoy pier side music on both nights. Smoked fish is the food delicacy of the region and we bought three different types and it is very tasty and better yet no cooking, just carve and eat. Lucky for me in this RV life most meat cooking is done on the BBQ; so I don’t cook meats as only men can work BBQs. Right? 
From St Ignace we took a ferry trip to Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Island a beautiful and unique island in Lake Huron, as no cars are allowed on the island everything is transported by bicycle or horse.  On the buggy rides the poor horses have to pull a lot of weight, with anywhere upwards to 20 people and the driver being pulled by 2 horses. There are 60 horses on the island which means that the horses only work a 4 hour shift daily. One would think that the resulting organic material would result in Roses and Rhubarb growing in abundance on the Island. Needless to say I got chatting to a man with a very large bucket whose job was shoveling you know what (I’m being sensitive!). I asked him if they used the contents of the bucket on the Roses seeing as there were beautiful parks and gardens with lots of Roses on the island.  No, was the answer they just pile it up in a heap at the back of the island and ship it (oops) over to the mainland. What a pile that must be from 60 horses?? For those of you who have heard my Niall Tobin tape of jokes about Noah’s Ark.  It’s all true!!

I wonder which peninsula Mackinac Island shipped their organic waste to Upper or Lower? 
We had heard before traveling over that the locals refer to tourists as “fudgies”. It did not take us long to work out why… the Main Street must have had at least 10 shops all with people making fudge in the  shop window. On the way back on the ferry most passengers were laden with bags upon bags of – you guessed it - fudge. We brought our bikes with us on the ferry and cycled the whole way around the island, all 8 miles taking in all the highlights, paddling in Lake Huron and Tom built a cairn of stones on the shore. There were numerous Cottages, some quite magnificent.  Up on a high bluff overlooking the town and harbor the Grand Hotel is the piece de resistance, quite large and painted white with yellow awnings over a wrap-around porch it’s magnificent. A drawback is that it costs $10 per person just to enter the foyer, so as you may imagine not too many “fudgies” are seen walking around in the Hotel. To reach the hotel one can walk (heaven forbid), bike, rent a horse and buggy or take the hotel carriage driven by a horseman dressed in Victorian hotel uniform topped off with a top hat. This is a popular venue for weddings, with a nearby picturesque little church on the way up to the hotel. The Grand Hotel is popular with honeymooners too. Before embarking on the ferry for our return we sat below the English Fort and watched the crowds perspire by; we were too tired to climb up the hill that’s our Irish excuse…and we’re sticking to it. 

Next day we drove north to Sault Ste. Marie to take a boat ride through the SOO locks from Lake Huron to Lake Superior and back via Canada. As Lake Superior is 21 feet higher than Lake Huron the locks were constructed in the late 19th century to allow ships small and large including now very sizeable tankards navigate all the way from the Atlantic to the US and Canadian ports in Lake Superior. The US has four very large locks; we saw one large tankard go into a lock beside us very slowly. When we entered the lock we were about 25feet below the quay, it took about 10 minutes for the lock to fill with 21feet of water and as we were sailing out the other boat was just about in in its lock.  We sailed around and heard about the steel works and the train that passes over the locks 4 times a day facilitated by swivel bridges and elevator bridges - I will post photos. We returned through the Canadian lock, yes just one, when built it was the biggest in the world however, on its opening day an American tankard hit the lock gates and it has never been the same since, down we went the 21 feet and sailed back to Sault Ste. Marie.  We drove back to St Ignace looking forward to crossing the Mackinac Bridge on our way to Harbor Springs and meeting up with my friend Place.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Wisconsin, Golf & Lightning

Wisconsin is a state we need to return to at some time as we just travelled across the top of state along the shore of Lake Superior. Our RV Campsite reservation was in a place called Cedar, on arrival we discovered there’s no town of Cedar; the RV Park is it and the nearest town is Saxon.

While in Wisconsin we did manage to play golf on a very nice course called Eagles Bluff where it was so humid we decided to splurge on a cart which brought the price over my magical $50 but what could I do? I reckon my golf is not worth more and other golfers may think I shouldn’t even pay the $50. The golf was $38 and the cart was $18 per person - a very expensive cart!  It was a beautiful course and as we generally play after lunch we had the golf course almost to ourselves.  This was the first time on our odyssey that we broke the rule of $50 a round.  We will be spoiled and not want to play CA golf again, where the” foursomes” rule. We now have played golf in 12 states and have the balls to prove it!!
These nights it’s hard to sleep it is so hot and humid; thankfully we have AC to cool the RV down but must turn it off (RV Park rules) by 10 PM as AC is too noisy. It rains a lot at night which is OK with us and we have been lucky with the weather by day. Nature has treated us to some absolutely wonderful lightning storms on several nights which we can see even with the curtains closed, the sky lights up and the thunder is a great soundtrack as good as in the cinema. BOOM!!

With South Dakota plates on the car and RV we now have to explain the Irish accent and what we’re doing. RVer’s walk around the campsite in the evenings and check the number plates to see who is from their home state, we do get to meet very nice people that way and know that people do live in SD. We have met very nice families who live there; of course we have to confess that we really are from CA, well via Ireland.
Just like our stay in Wisconsin this is a short blog. Next UP Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; UP to those in the know!

Scenes from the Duluth & Ely area

Spot Adele!
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Friday, July 22, 2011

Up North!

We know that many of you are wondering if maybe we’d taken the last NASA shuttle as it’s quite a while since we posted anything. It’s as busy life for us on the road…so much to see, explore and enjoy, add to this the fact that we were driving into, for us, unchartered territory; we went as high up as you can go in the USA just below the Canadian border in Minnesota.

From Red Wing, MN we travelled to Pine City south of Duluth where we stayed for the 4th of July in a big RV park, so big that most people rode around the campsite in golf carts. The 4th was celebrated with a golf cart parade with prizes for the best decorated cart. As the participants passed by they threw candy, balloons and whistles to the spectators which, in turn meant that most of the children wanted to be spectators, definitely not participants. In all we had 2 nights of Fireworks on the 3rd and 4th and, in the woods!  I was a little nervous but everyone else seemed to think it was OK. For the first time since October last year we were in a full campsite, however, early Monday there was a mass exodus with only 2 RVs left where there had been 30 Sunday night - one would think there had been a fire during the night.
Our base for the Duluth area was in Ogston which is 12 miles west of Duluth - this was a beautiful campsite which had 3 lakes and we heard the loons calling each other in the evenings, it was lovely to hear them as they have such a mournful cry. We drove north from Ogston in “bluebug” to Virginia, MN and then to a town called Ely which has a wolf center and a bear center. Even though it was lunch time when we arrived we opted to go see the wolves.  The center which is on several acres is, in essence, a big enclosure where the wolves roam freely.  Shortly after we arrived there was an announcement that the wolves would be fed at 2pm, so we watched a movie, looked at the exhibits and watched 2 male wolves wait for their food.  This feed is purely for the spectators and is really only a snack.  Wolves like to gorge and fill their bellies so they get one big meal a week to simulate the wild and the snacks are for show for the visitors.  It was a wonderful experience to see the wolves just the other side of the glass but very much in their own territory.

We then went back to downtown Ely, a busy town where we had lunch, a delicious sandwich, in Northern Grounds a café recommended by a girl in a souvenir shop.  Then onto the Bear Center which we thought was just an information center (that’s what our book said) to our surprise there were 3 bears – all together now…Mammy Bear, Daddy Bear and Baby Bear…not really; 3 bears, but unrelated one of whom was heaviest bear in the world at one time and at 450lbs still on a diet!! The others were a female and a little bear that had been rescued - none of these animals could survive in the wild. Our luck was in again as they were feeding the bears at 4pm. The big fat bear was fun to watch, he sat in his den most of the time and one could see his rump through the glass, food arrived and out he went then reversed back into his den (not enough room to turn around).  We drove back to Ogston down along Lake Superior and stopped for pasties and pie at Betty’s Café, justifiably famous for her pies. Along the way we stopped at Gooseberry Falls on one of the many river that feeds the lake, the falls has 4 separate falls and was very pretty, the water was so brown that the falls made it look like beer - it should be renamed Beer Falls. 
Next day we spent in Duluth where we visited the Aquarium which is modeled on Monterey Aquarium but a lot smaller – do I sound like a Texan? They had a big tank of the fish indigenous to Lake Superior.  A tank of otters that were fed while we were there (such luck). There were Turtles, it was nice to see them because I could hear them when I went near the lakes but I cannot see them.  I rescued one who was heading across the road in a campsite and put him back in the lake.  Boy! can those little fellows run when they think they are in danger.  I think I had to bend down 4 times before I caught him.

We took a boat trip of the harbor and the lake in the afternoon.  We were floating on beer, the locals tell us it is all the iron in the soil and there are a lot of mines up here. Lake Superior is 360 miles long and 150 miles wide this of course amazed us as that is a little smaller than the Island of Ireland. So if the USA is looking for a cover for Lake Superior they can talk nicely to the Irish Government and Ireland troubles will be over.  Or will they??
Next day we took a stroll down town there was a sidewalk sale.  We browsed  and bought a T-shirt, we had to leave a few bargains behind as we have no room in the RV.  In the afternoon we went on a train ride.  Duluth is 25 miles long and 4 blocks wide on a bluff overlooking Lake Superior.  We sat in an old fashioned carriage the kind you can pull up the windows and stick your head out.  The AC was too cold in the newer carriages. It was a pleasant and relaxing journey and the ticket man looked just like Sir Topham Hatt from Thomas the Tank Engine.

Next stop Wisconsin! Next Blog? Soon…

Friday, July 8, 2011

Photos of friends and bagpipes

Wall, South Dakota - famous for its "Free iced water" slogan to attract customers

Tom "chatting up" a long term resident of Wall!

The Bad Lands - awesome!

The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota

Ann, Tom and Mike boating on Clear Lake, Iowa

Tom outside the Hobo Museum in Britt, Iowa

A Texan bagpipe player in Clear Lake, Iowa

Gulliver's Boot in Red Wing, Minnesota
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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"Ole Man River"

As we had made arrangements to meet up with Ann and Mike from Los Gatos in Iowa we booked into an RV Park at Clear Lake, Iowa as it looked like a nice place.  The RV Park was about 5 miles from town surrounded by cornfields, just a short walk to the lake and I took my nightly walk in the neighborhoods by the lake. It turned out to be a beautiful town on a shallow lake with houses all along the edge. The town is notable for the “Surf” dance hall where Buddy Holly last performed before being killed in a plane crash the “Surf” is preserved just as it was back then and there’s a Buddy Holly remembrance festival every year on the 3rd February. I saw we could take a trip on the lake in a paddle boat “the Lady of the Lake” and as the weather was a bit changeable I went to check it out. The boat was not at its dock so I couldn’t explain to Ann the size of the boat; poor Ann she had visions of peddle-paddling the boat herself – it was a Paddle Boat! When we arrived back from the cruise a Christian Group was singing in the town square, “Music in the Park” performed by a group of Evangelical Christians and Mike explained that we were in a very conservative Christian area.  We walked around the downtown area and later had afternoon tea back at our RV.  It was lovely to see Ann and Mike. 

There was a little Old Church on the RV Park and we were told there would be a Nondenominational Service on Sunday morning. So…as we had not gone to Church for a while we decided to go. Quite an experience – the Pastors interpretation of the Bible was very, very unusual. His talk centered on the Book of Revelations, Chap 13, he cited support in the Book for the 2nd Amendment; we are in the End Days – Europe is going to take over the world within the next 7 years (you could have fooled me); – then the Anti-Christ will emerge from among the original 10 countries of the “European Union” most likely Germany, with Britain as the spokesman!. So be prepared and keep your guns ready. I thought about walking out but decided that it was all too interesting. There’s a dragon in the text but, but this was conveniently glossed over, he referred to China as a great country because there are 100,000 converts to Christianity every day - how funny?   Have a peep at the Book of Revelations, Chap 13 and see what you get out of it.
That night as we were returning from our walk we could hear Bagpipes being played at the campsite.  There was a man dressed in a yellow sleeveless tee-shirt and shorts, almost in the cornfields at the edge of the park blowing his heart out on the bagpipes..  Needless to say I just had to listen and talk to him.  He ended up with an audience of one, me!! (I have a photo)  He was from Texas and he was self-taught and he was good. Then he told me he also played the Bodhran (Irish drum) so off he went, got it and played it for me. As I walked back to our RV I met a woman with a 3 legged Dalmatian who said her maiden name was Reilly and her parents were from Ireland, her late father was a famous Radio and TV personality – Bill Reilly; there’s a statue of him in Iowa Falls.

The following day we had a tour of the Winnebago Factory in Forest City, Iowa. We both found it very interesting and are happy we have a Winnebago.  Wanda suggested Route 66, Eileen challenged us to visit some silly places, so on our way home we did a side trip to a town called Britt, Iowa and visited the Hobo Museum. The town of Britt has a Hobo festival, in July, every year when the new King and Queen are selected. Hoboes are a dying breed as there are only about 10 genuine hoboes living. Having read “Water for Elephants “and seen the movie, I enjoyed reading about the lives of these men. One guy “Gas can Paddy” had all his worldly belongings in a converted gas can; he would stand at the side of the road pretending to be out of gas, hitching for a ride; and yes people did stop and pick him up thinking he had run out of gas and was walking to the nearest gas station.
We are now In Minnesota and travelling along the Mississippi in a northern direction. We stopped at Winona, Red Wing, Pine City and now in Duluth.  We are both enjoying the Minnesota accent.  We can say “Yeeaa” and “you know” inserted in a sentence wherever you like and put the Swedish lilt into our speech.  All the State Parks and Rest Stops are closed in Minnesota.  The State legislators have not agreed on a budget so the tax payers suffer. We tried to buy a Mega Millions lottery ticket and all the machines had been closed down at 3pm on Friday 3rd July.  What a way for the people of Minnesota to celebrate Independence Day?

From here on we are truly moving into unknown territory so there’s a lot of planning to be done with various maps to be pored over.  We also need to keep an eye and ear on the weather, as we’re in tornado country. The last few days have been very hot and humid - we like the cold better!  And, we have also witnessed some really spectacular thunder and lightning storms; much better than any fireworks!