We have finished lunch, with a bag of chocolate and a hot cup of coffee we continue our journey on South Bass Island; time to check out downtown. Back on Catawba Street, Kris points our trusty little green cart towards the business district; most of the tourists and summer residents will not arrive until Saturday, there are no crowds and getting around is a breeze. Cafe’s and bars are prevalent, patios are decked out with pots filled with colorful flowers, patrons linger over ice-cold beer at the Put-In-Bay Brewing Company. Buildings are a mix of Victorian and modern structures, souvenir t-shirts and hats hang on racks outside storefronts, a tiki bar complete with sand is doing a good business this afternoon.
Delaware Ave serves as main street; boutiques, restaurants and bars facing the harbor give visitors an amazing water view. The first thing I notice when we make the turn is the line of golf carts parked along the curb, ours blends in with the other rentals, many independently owned carts are customized to the owners liking. Walking down the street, each establishment we pass has some variety of live music; a row of artificial Palm trees decorate a patio, tourists can indulge in ice cream and pizza. The Round House Bar is intriguing, we have to poke our heads in to check it out; opened in 1873 as the Columbia Restaurant, it remains an island favorite. Built of wood, it is all original except for the interior floor and front porch; inside a red, white and blue canopy is suspended from the ceiling, the round bar sits at the far end of the space, lovely wood moldings still surround the windows and doors, the neon “Whiskey” light above the front door is cool–clearly the ‘chicken patio’ is a new addition. The waterfront is active, a series of construction projects are in the works, the Jet Express has just delivered another group of folks to the island; yes, the summer season has begun!
With time left before our ferry leaves, Kris is taking the scenic route back; after passing the excitement on the waterfront he turns on to Bay View, the scenery is gorgeous. On the left, a large estate features an elegant yellow house with a three-story tower overlooking the smallest of the Great Lakes. Built in the 1800’s, the Doller House belonged to Valentine Doller, PIB’s wealthiest citizen, it is now home to Put-In-Bay Winery; a glass of wine would be perfect about now. Making our way to the back of the house, we enter the sales and tasting room. Glass in hand we have a seat at one of the tables that sit on the front lawn, we sip our wine and watch the boats, aaahhh, this is the life.
The rest of the drive takes us through the residential area; tiny cottages are nestled next to modern vacation homes with private beach fronts. Fishing is popular, charter fishing boats do a good business at PIB. The island offers golf, hiking trails, biplane rides, helicopter tours and para-sailing.We find ourselves back where we started, turn in the golf cart and wait to board the ferry; the group headed back to the mainland is small. Back at Catawba the line of cars heading to the island is super long, cars are turned off, people stand near their vehicles taking cold drinks from coolers, talking to others while they wait. We are headed south then east on 163 along the coastline.
Sitting in Sandusky Bay, off the coast of Marblehead Peninsula is Johnson’s Island; a causeway takes us to the island for a $2.00 fee. Driving around, we come across a group of homes surrounding a cove; perched high above the water they are expansive, elaborate winding staircases lead from backyard to marina below. Continuing our exploration we spot an old cemetery; a large sign explains that Johnson’s Island was a Confederate Prisoner of War Depot in 1861. This is actually a Confederate cemetery holding the remains of more than 200 men who were imprisoned on the island. The lawn is freshly mowed, slender white headstones form long straight rows, a black iron fence runs the perimeter of the cemetery. We walk over to the statue of a Confederate soldier atop a pedestal, the sun is low in the sky, the statue casts a long shadow across the open gate, a banner reads: Confederate Soldiers 1861-1912. From reading I learn the first prisoners arrived here in April of 1862, captured at battlefields such as Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, they came from the states of Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi. In 1864 rations were cut, the prison was overcrowded, in closed in September of 1865; this is considered Ohio’s most significant Civil War site.
We are back in the car and crossing Sandusky Bay, so far our journey has led us over bridges and causeways crossing bays and lakes; we are not done…. This time we pay the .50 cent toll for the pleasure of driving on yet another causeway: Cedar Point Road; the homes are amazing, as is the lake view. Back on Route 6 we hug the shoreline through tiny beach towns, when we reach Vermilion we stop for a late dinner. I can’t tell you how many times we have passed The Old Prague restaurant, it just so happens it was never at meal time, that is until tonight. Inside the door we are welcomed and seated at a table near the window; I am extremely hungry and thirsty, our server recommends a Primator Premium Dark, a Czech dark lager, how can I go wrong? After quickly scanning the menu and placing our order we watch as heaping plates of food arrive at nearby tables, the place has the feel of an old-fashioned family restaurant, servers are on first name basis with customers. First to arrive is the sampler plate: breaded sauerkraut balls, deep-fried slices of meatloaf, cheese sticks, fried potatoes, applesauce and a horseradish-type sauce; every single thing is delicious! The chicken paprikash and dumplings is outstanding, the chicken is moist and just falls apart, the sauce, a creamy goodness, the dumplings, some of the best we’ve ever had. We are still a good hour or more from Cleveland (via the scenic route) where we will be staying with a friend for the next couple of days. The remainder of the ride on the Lake Erie Circle Tour is an old familiar one for us, but one we enjoy each and every time.