Up North: Random Acts of Leisure…

18 Jun

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We start our morning on Sturgeon Bay  It’s Tuesday, a normal day for the rest of the world, kids are in school, folks are at work, there’s not a soul around. We park along the side of the road and walk out to the lake, the only sound we hear are waves lapping at the shore. I reach down into the crystal clear water, it’s cold. Yellow butterflies flutter around our heads then cluster together on the sand. After a time we drag ourselves back to the car and make our way south.  We drive through the Tunnel of Trees, M119, one of the most scenic drives in Michigan; high upon a bluff, Lake Michigan on our right, a sea of Trillium on our left. There’s something in the road ahead, Kris comes to a stop, it’s a fox, he trots casually across the narrow road, finds a comfy spot in the tall grass and makes himself at home. Just ahead is Trillium Woods Vintage Boutique and coffee shop, we grab a couple of espresso’s and continue. 

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Pond Hill Farm is home to a winery, brewery, cafe and farm store; open year-round it has become an agritourism destination. We turn in off of M119, parking is plentiful. Walking toward the rustic buildings we stop and watch as a group of girls pick, rinse and pack fresh rhubarb. Look at those stalks, the fade from green to red, we stop to talk, when offered a taste I eagerly accept; it’s kind of tough on the outside but I manage to bite through, the inside is tart but pleasant, not bad. The market is loaded with goodies; fresh produce, wine, beer and rows and rows of canned goods made from scratch. You’ll find the usual jams, salsa and veggies but have you ever seen IPA Beer Jelly or Cherry Wine Jelly?

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I pick up some blueberry jam and a bottle of Spicy Peanut Sauce then join Kris upstairs. Cafe diners are eating on the deck on this beautiful day, we round the corner to the tasting room and take a couple of seats at the bar. Today’s beer list has some interesting offerings, we’re here for the wine. We taste several then order a glass of the Schoolhouse Red, it’s so good we buy a bottle for home. Outside we walk over to the vineyard, the vines are just coming to life as new leaves emerge on woody vines. Fields are mostly bare, greens grow robustly in the greenhouse. Baskets of flowers are everywhere, customers come and go in a constant stream carrying away Petunias, Geraniums, Begonias and Lobelia.

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About 5 miles down the road we find ourselves in downtown Harbor Springs. There’s this amazing area we keep wanting to check out called Wequetonsing, today is the day. Back in the late 1800’s We que ton sing (as they wrote it then) was originally a Presbyterian summer resort, in 1880 it changed hands so-to-speak and became a private association. I found the original By Laws of the association online, I love some of the descriptions, “the water approach to the grounds presents a picture of rare beauty; they rise from the water in gentle terraces, and are covered with a luxuriant growth of young trees in great variety…” how about “a safe and healthful place for families to reside during the heated season”. All are true. By 1888  12 trains passed daily during resort season between Petoskey and Harbor Springs with a stop at Wequetonsing, they had a train depot and a pier for small steamers, a large hotel had a dining hall that could seat 200; there were about 40 cottages built by that time. I imagine women with parasols and large hats, kids splashing in the water, men in suits and ties strolling the sidewalks. Though many things have changed, the beauty and the elegance, not to mention the magnificent cottages, still remain.

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A walk along Beach Drive is like going back in time. Going south you have a panoramic view of the north side of Little Traverse Bay on the right and stunning, historic cottages on the left. The cottages are immaculately kept; freshly mowed grass, porch boxes and planters filled with newly planted annuals, an American flag billows in the breeze. I will generalize and say most buildings are built in the Victorian style of architecture, there are definitely exceptions. Porches are large and can support several seating areas for optimal water views. Some cottages are still wearing their winter clothing, closed off with heavy visqueen sheeting. Craftsmen are hard at work making repairs or renovating before the summer season officially begins. White is the exterior color of choice, you’ll find some houses with a splash of color; spruce green, navy blue and a few in yellow. Lawns are deep green, trees and shrubs are filling out after the long winter; I find myself looking from side to side, lake-cottage, lake-cottage.

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Each home is unique; balconies, turrets, wide staircases, stone, fancy railings, look at that one with the bunting, oooh, this one has Geraniums lining the lengthy walkway, that yellow house is different, low and wide, look at that eyebrow window with the portholes. Some of them have names, I think Cedarmere is my favorite; a majestic beauty overlooking the shoreline. Common areas include a croquet court, I recognize the familiar sound of the mallet striking the ball. Three gentlemen dressed in white and wearing hats have just finished a game; now that it’s empty I can get a closer look, they have the same grass as a golf course for the court area, fancy white wickets pushed into the ground are all that remain of the game. This community was built during America’s industrial dynasty, I’m so happy to see it preserved.

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Our next stop on the tour is Boyne City  There have been a lot of changes over the last decade. Despite being located at the southeast end of Lake Charlevoix, the quaint little town had become stagnant. Local small businesses in the southern section of Boyne City came together and created the SOBO District, the city invested in itself and became a Main Street Community; downtown was revitalized, buildings restored, new development came in retail and residential. Boyne City is once again vibrant and active. There are 11 miles of lake frontage, parks, beaches and a boardwalk. Downtown is home to boutiques, restaurants, a bookstore, galleries and coffee shops.

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It’s getting late, most of the shops have closed. Freshwater Art Gallery’s doors are still open, fabulous things are everywhere. The one-of-a-kind bed is a real attention grabber, look at it, all handmade from wood and branches, imagine the dreams you’d have sleeping in it. Metal art, jewelry, glass, baskets, clever lamps. Kris likes the painted Up North scenes, the Northern Lights photos are very cool. The gallery also doubles as a concert venue.

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We walk around taking note of the lovingly restored buildings and public art, I’m thirsty so we drop in at Lake Street Market. This place has everything, food, drinks, cheese, baked goods, wine, art, and it has great rustic charm. Before we go we visit the Alpine Chocolat Haus, it’s just not vacation without ice cream. I can see we need to come back and spend more time here.

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Time to get back to Charlevoix The Beautiful. The shortest way to get there is to take the Ironton Ferry from Boyne City to Ironton; it crosses the south arm of Lake Charlevoix at a very narrow point. The 4-car ferry has been in operation since 1876, in those early days it was powered by horses; the onboard gates were electrified in the late 1970’s. We’re in luck, the ferry is on its way back and we’re first in line. The fare is only $1 today and worth every penny. I love that this ferry still exists. We reach Ironton on the other side, we’re about 5 miles from Charlevoix.

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Back at Abide we freshen up and put on nicer clothes for dinner at Grey Gables Inn Restaurant. Grey Gables is located in the Belvedere Club, like Wequetonsing, the Belvedere Club started out as the exclusive Charlevoix Resort Association in 1878, cottages continued to be built and in 1923 the name was changed to The Belvedere Club. The restaurant and Inn are original cottages from the 1930’s. Tonight is sushi night at Grey Gables. The restaurant is lovely, decked out to the max in Victorian decor; floral wallpaper, bold colors, frilly crystal chandeliers. The staff is friendly, servers attentive, at this time of year most of the patrons are local. We order 3 sushi rolls, while we wait our server brings us a bread basket, clearly he could tell we were hungry. We polish off the bread just as the sushi arrives; nothing fancy, a veggie roll, Sunny and an M-80, all was fresh and good. It has been a full day of beauty and delight. 

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