Tag Archives: Great Lakes

Up North: Bay View Wine Trail

28 Jun

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Today’s excursion takes us to northwest Michigan’s Bay View Wine Trail. We picked up a brochure in town with a list of all of the wineries and an area map, let’s go. Heading east out of Charlevoix we quickly find ourselves looking at beautiful countryside, roads are smooth and absent of traffic. Rudbeckia Farm and Winery is tucked away on 190 acres of farmland and open fields, a small metal building welcomes visitors. You can sit outside, have a glass of wine and something to eat, play Bocce or corn hole, go for a walk, you can even fly a kite. We’re here to do a tasting. Inside we have the pleasure of meeting one of the owners, he tells us the story of how he went from living on the east coast to having his own winery here in northern Michigan; let’s just say it’s a dream come true for he and his wife. We taste wines and continue our chatter, they serve both wine and beer in Riedel Crystal tasting glassware. We enjoy everything we try, decisions made, we make our purchase and it’s on to the next place.  

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Walloon Lake Winery is family owned with 7 acres of grapes on the 36 acre farm; they produce boutique wines made from cold-hardy grapes. I really like this place and always look forward to coming back. The building is unique, made from stacked cordwood, it’s pretty inside and out. Sunlight floods the tasting room, it has an open, airy feel, lots of wood, Michigan-themed artwork, wooden crates hold bottles of wine and Walloon Lake Winery merchandise; their logo, of course, is the shape of Walloon Lake. The resident dog greets us at the door, he checks us out then finds a place on the floor to take a nap. We begin the tasting process, I find I like everything they produce here; before long I realize we’re going to need a box… We go out to the patio to take in the view, it’s absolutely gorgeous; vineyards, rolling hills, valley’s, wooded areas, check out their tractor–sweet! 

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The drive to the next winery rewards us with stunning vistas, changing elevations, farms and plenty of fresh country air; Kris could drive forever up here. Up ahead we see a historic red barn with the American flag painted on the side, this is Resort Pike Cidery And Winery. The petite red building in front of the barn is the tasting room, white lights and flags dangle from the pergola that covers the patio. Their logo is part apple, part grape, love it. The interior is compact, rustic and casual feeling. The back bar is home to 20 taps delivering sparkling wines and ciders, they make root beer too! We have the place to ourselves so we can take our time tasting and talking, that’s one of the perks of coming up north before the tourist season is in full swing. One more bottle to add to our box…

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We traverse inclines and slopes, twists and turns through tranquil surroundings, Mackinaw Trail Winery is next. The building is larger and fancier than the previous wineries, situated on 30 acres, 15 of them are dedicated to growing grapes. Family owned, the winery is best known for its fruit wines. Having been awarded over 50 medals and 6 Best of Class awards it is one of Michigan’s most awarded and recognized wineries. The tasting room is spacious, there are tables and chairs, multiple shelves filled with bottles of wine and a large bar for tastings. At this point we’ve had a lot of wine and we’re starting to get hungry so we get an order of pretzel bites, served with mustard and a cheese sauce for dipping I find myself wishing we got 2 orders. I’m not really fond of fruit wines but I have to admit Michigan wine-makers produce some really excellent varieties. We go down the list choosing and tasting, I like to try and get something different at each winery we visit; we’re bringing home a bottle of their Estate Grown Frontenac Gris.

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Petoskey Farms Vineyard and Winery will be our last stop before lunch. We turn in off of Atkins Rd to find a farmhouse-looking-building in saddle brown with red trim with a breathtaking view of  22 acres of farmland, an 11-acre vineyard and lush green pastures. The 60′ long outdoor patio is empty today, I imagine it’s in high demand on the weekends. The quaint interior is done up in wood, stone and warm colors. One of the owners is behind the bar, we strike up a conversation immediately; turns out they relocated from Rochester MI to Petoskey to take on this amazing adventure. You can’t go wrong with a Michigan Riesling, the 2016 Whitecap is really nice too, but the 2017 First Crush, an Estate Sweet Rose is the one we’ll take home. 

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Walloon Lake Village is just a hop and a skip from here, when we asked for local restaurant recommendations Barrel Back was suggested every time. This is our first visit to Walloon Lake, I’m looking forward to checking it out after we eat. Barrel Back Restaurant sits on the shore of Walloon Lake, the building is shared with a marina; the restaurant is on the upper level, the lower level is Tommy’s, a water-skiing and wake-boarding Pro Shop. The term ‘barrel back’ refers to the boat design of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s wooden boats, think Chris Craft. The restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating, we opt for the patio, looking around I think you have a view of the lake from anywhere you sit. Food is prepared using a number of wood-fired appliances including a pizza oven, grill and a rotisserie smoker. We order off the happy-hour menu and are eating in no time. The black bean nachos are topped with tomato, sweet onion, pepper jack and provolone cheese, salsa and cilantro-lime sour cream, yum! The Asian lettuce wraps are equally delicious, Asian-spiced ground chicken, peppers, cashews, black sesame seeds and romaine lettuce to scoop it into. I’m so glad we found about this restaurant.

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A little Walloon Lake history. The lake itself is glacier formed, they say the water is so clear you can see the bottom 30′ down. The late 1800’s were the heyday of Northern Michigan’s lumber industry, over a 20-year period all of the White Pines were cut down, the industry then moved south to hardwood forests. That left railroads with trains and nothing to transport, hey, how about people? The railroad companies turned northern Michigan into “Vacationland”, they built hotels and resorts creating a destination for city folk to escape the summer heat. They ran publicity campaigns drawing people from Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St Louis, Kansas City and Chicago. They touted crystal clear water, beautiful views, great fishing and boating. In 1891 Walloon Lake Village was accessible by a spur from the main trunk line of the railroad. People came, and they continued to come, year after year, many built their own cottages, visitors became residents. Ernest Hemmingway’s family had a cottage here, he spent his first 22 summers at Windemere on Walloon Lake. He often used the area as a setting in his short stories featuring Nick Adams. The cottage is still owned by the Hemmingway family.

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The village was hit hard by the most recent recession and a number of other ongoing factors. Developer Jonathan L Borisch stepped in and rescued the village where he spent his childhood summers. He and his son have opened retail shops, Barrel Back Restaurant, many businesses and the 32-room Hotel Walloon; let’s go inside. From the street you’d swear this was a historic hotel, the architect did a marvelous job capturing that back-in-time elegance that’s so sorely lacking today. The lobby is a wonderful blend of old-fashioned opulence and modern flair. To the right is a lovely seating area with turquoise-painted wood panels and ceiling, bold fabrics and a red-clad chandelier, I feel like I’m on Mackinac Island. The hotel manager spots us and comes over, we explain that we’re ‘just looking’, we are offered a tour. The hotel is stunning, everything is gorgeous, impeccable, every last detail has been thought of. The hallway to the elevator features wainscoting and tin ceiling. Rooms are spacious, comfortable and inviting, there’s an underlying historical feel in the space. Lots of painted wood, wainscoting and serene water views. Instead of taking the elevator to get back to the main floor we opt for the stairway through the hall of mirrors. We’d love to come back and stay at the hotel.

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Across the street are a few small businesses, the antique and sweet shop are both original cottages from back in the day. We take a look through  Vintage Mercantile, they have an eclectic mix of items from vintage toys to glassware, metal signs to furniture; I like the old wagon out front. Sweet Tooth lives up to its name; candy, ice cream, fudge. There’s an old-fashioned ambiance here; glass jars filled with colorful candies, pretty wooden shelves, antiques here and there; a black and white photo shows the cottage back in the 1940’s. You can even purchase a shovel and pail for playing in the sand. Of course it wouldn’t be vacation without ice cream… We take one more look at Walloon Lake, the sky has become overcast, the sun hidden behind the clouds, the water placid. Northern Michigan is filled with treasures from charming small towns and magnificent lakes to picturesque landscapes and did I mention wine?

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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PORT HURON: I Cover the Waterfront

5 Jun

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It’s hot! When Mother Nature turns up the heat Port Huron is a great escape. Known as the Maritime Capital of the Great Lakes, Port Huron offers waterfront parks, beaches, a river walk and breathtaking views of Lake Huron on 7 miles of shoreline. We drive straight to the Thomas Edison Parkway, this is where the St. Clair River and Lake Huron meet, the iconic Blue Water Bridge provides a spectacular backdrop for photos as it connects the United States to Canada. We park the car and begin our walk toward the bridge; it’s a gorgeous, sunny day, a cool breeze blows in from the lake. Fishermen have baited their poles and locked them into place, a bell will signal them if there’s activity on the line, a net is kept close by in anticipation of catching a big one. We pass the lightship Huron, once a floating lighthouse, now a museum ship. Power boats wearing fancy paint jobs zip by at speed, there’s some pretty big ones out here today. The girls on the Jet Ski look like they’re having a blast. 

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Signs are posted here and there along the riverwalk filling us in on interesting facts about the area. Did you know Port Huron is located at the 43rd Parallel? That means when I am standing here I am actually closer to the Equator than I am the North Pole. Thomas Edison moved to Port Huron with his family when he was 7 in 1854, the St. Clair River is 39 miles long, oh, and the water that flows through the Great Lakes ends up in the Atlantic Ocean. You can also read about native fish, shipwrecks and sacred grounds. A Coast Guard boat is keeping an eye on all of the activity, a diver down flag bobbing on the river’s surface tells us a scuba diver is looking for sunken treasures below. A train moves slowly down the waterfront track, I bet it just came from the Domtar paper mill. The anchor is from the John S Martin which sank in 1900. A monument dedicated in remembrance of the Great Storm of 1913 stands on the other side of the train tracks; 19 ships and 250 lives were lost in the storm, an additional 50 ships were damaged. On the north end of the parkway is my favorite statue, the Blue Water Maiden, she was moved here in 2010 and greets all who travel the waterway.

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The Midwest Sculpture Initiative (MSI) has put together a sculpture exhibition along the riverwalk for the last 3 years. Ken Thompson, an artist and sculptor himself, formed MSI to provide innovative exhibitions that feature outdoor sculpture throughout the midwest. Let’s take a look. I stand in one place and look out over the open-space gallery, bright colors, geometric shapes,rusty, shiny, large forms and goats fill my sight. In no particular order Kris and I traverse the landscape to see each piece. 6 metal forms are grouped together to form Old Orchard, I think they’re apple trees. Crescent Song has a coyote howling at the moon, I follow the sound of wind chimes to Madame Butterfly, look at all the butterflies gathered around her head, she looks happy.

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Each sculpture has a plaque with the name of the piece, the name of the artist and the price, some names are obvious; Curves, Falling Pyramids, R&B. I like the colors of Red Green Construction, I totally follow the yellow bounce of bouncing ball. A close look at the goats reveals found objects integrated into the sculpture; chains, wrenches, a hood hinge, what do you see? Icarus is a complex piece, a figure hangs by delicate fingers from a bar, unattached wings to the sides, the expression somber. There’s a horse on a rainbow and a whimsical figure named Daphne who has a tree growing from the top of her head, I bet the kids love to play on the Morning Glory Whisper Bench II. If you like sculpture be sure to check out MSI’s website to see other exhibitions in the midwest. If you’re looking for more Michigan art, check out the MI Amazing Art Tour app, available for iPhone and android. 

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We’re having lunch downtown at the Port Huron Office Center building. Rix’s Roof Top restaurant owned and operated by a local family, is located on the 6th floor, this is actually the old Fog Cutter space, ring a bell? The elevator takes us to the top floor, the dining room is surrounded in glass, chandeliers of electric candles glow dimly, ceiling panels are black, the floor is dark, the decor is the panoramic view outside the windows. We’ve arrived during Happy Hour, well drinks are just $2. When the cocktails arrive we place our order, we watch freighters pass while eating warm bread slathered in butter. The burger and steak bites arrive together as we requested, the food is good; steak bites are tender, burger is prepared well. The service was great and the view unbeatable.

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The Exquisite Corpse Coffee House opened in 2012, last December new owners Maggie and Nathaniel took over and have really made the place their own. The space is beautiful, warm, welcoming, the coffee is excellent; they have added baked goods, light sandwiches and bagels to the menu. Art is still in the front part of the space, works are by local artists, a counter in the front window allows patrons a glimpse of the goings-on outside. Choose a seat at the large community table or relax in a comfy chair, play one of the many available board games with friends.

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There’s always something going on in the coffee shop these days; ballroom dancing lessons, yoga, magic shows, music and hypnosis demonstrations.  We’re here for the coffee and the company. We drink our cold brews as we catch up on the latest Port Huron news; they’re making progress on the new City Flats hotel, new businesses are coming soon, Boat Night is July 13, the Port Huron to Mackinac Race is July 14, the International Boat Show is September 14-15. We prefer coming on just an ordinary day, the water is always blue, the breeze is cool, the food is good and the people are friendly.

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Port Sanilac

30 Oct

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Michigan’s thumb coast is often overlooked, underappreciated and ignored by potential tourists residing in southeast Michigan. Meanwhile generations of families have built or maintained cottages along the St. Clair River and Lake Huron, enjoying the deep blue water, numerous beaches, quaint towns, ice cream shops, restaurants and camping… not to mention the availability of bait on nearly every street corner in town. The thumb has its own unique culture. Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley recently gushed to readers about her visit to Marine City; with so much to offer, why don’t more Detroiter’s take advantage of  the close proximity of this water-wonderland? Today we’re headed about mid-way up the thumb coast.

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The Village of Port Sanilac sits snugly on the shores of Lake Huron. About 90 minutes northeast of downtown Detroit, it was originally a lumberjack settlement; the village is home to restaurants, beaches, marinas, the Port Sanilac Lighthouse (1886) and the oldest, continuously operating hardware store in Michigan, Raymond Hardware (since 1850). We’re in town for the Antique Boat Show and Vintage Festival. Old cars, boats and trailers fill Main Street, the harbor and the park. A steady stream of sandal-wearing pedestrians gravitate toward the activity; live music is playing in the distance, the aroma of food fills the air.

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Classic cars are parked on both sides of Main St. I follow Kris’s lead and walk over to the 1961 Dodge Phoenix, this one is white with a fire engine red interior, lots of chrome, glass and push buttons, great upholstery too.  The late 1950’s Galaxie Skyliner has a retractable top, it looks great in powder blue and white. Vehicles span the decades, there’s a beautiful Model A, I like the yellow wire wheels, the 1976 black Trans Am is a limited edition celebrating Pontiac’s 50th Anniversary. The metallic orange paint on the custom Chevy truck glows in the sunlight, the mid-60’s Ford Ranchero is pretty cool too.

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We walk directly down to the water, the lake is gorgeous today, people mill about checking out the antique boats. As usual, I like to read all the names; Chrissy, Alibi, Tight Lines, oh and a boat I think is stunning, Tiger Lily. We’ve been to a lot of these antique boat shows, many of the them have become familiar but I never get tired of looking. Chris Craft seems to rule the water in this area, all of that lovely wood, simple interiors, they truly are classics.

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I have lost Kris for the moment, then I see him on a dock, City Slicker has caught his attention. The long, black off-shore is a Stinger by Chris Craft; graphics in shades of red hug the sides, loop the arch and come to a point on the ‘hood’, not to be left out, bold stripes continue across the white upholstery, slick indeed… We pass more wooden beauties, larger cabin boats are further down in the marina, they have a nice turn out today, the weather is perfect too. Tables are set up by one of the buildings, model boats are on display; I can’t get over the detail! Replicas of boats from African Queen and Jaws get a lot of attention, I think they’re all pretty amazing.

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Members of Tin Can Tourists are set up in Harbor Park, not only are the trailers kitschy-cool, the owners let you go inside–I love that. Airstream, Shasta, Trotwood, just a few of the brands present today. Generally speaking, people who have vintage trailers seem to enjoy all things vintage; bicycles, furnishings, accessories, linens, electronics, they do a great job assembling items and incorporating them into their home-on-wheels.

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Many of the trailers have beautifully restored wood paneling, along with original features people add modern conveniences and their own personal touch. One of my favorites looks like a family room out of a 1950’s home decorating magazine. Mid-Century decor is probably the most prevalent. Theme’s are always popular too, the western one with the desert mural or the 70’s style with shag carpet.  Here’s something different, a newer motor-home (relatively speaking) with the original interior; dark wood, hammered copper tabletops, back splash and accents, stained glass inserts in the cabinet doors. I really like the leaf pattern on the couch and the tropical bedspread. The couple lives in the motor-home full-time, they travel from place to place like the wind.

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We drive over to The Portly Pig for lunch. The restaurant is located in a pretty blue house trimmed in white with orange accents. There’s a definite animal theme inside; meat, of course, is the main attraction. We order at the counter then have a seat near the large front windows, teal-colored walls remind me we’re right off Lake Huron. Large quantities of food arrive, I can’t wait to dig in. The Pork Stack is a generous heap of flavorful pulled pork resting on an amazing cornbread pancake topped with coleslaw and bbq sauce, every forkful is spectacularly delicious. Sharing table space is a side of fries and coleslaw, both excellent. They have full ice cream service too; cones, cups, malts, sundaes, not possible after the lunch we just had..

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At the public beach we park the car and take a walk on the pier, the scalloped edges are unique. It feels like we’re far out into Lake Huron; we watch sailboats and pleasure boats out for a cruise, wooden boats from the show are out enjoying the lake too. Swimmers, sunbathers and beachcombers are caught up in their surroundings, waves are rolling in, sunlight sparkles off the water, it’s like a picture in tourism brochure. You don’t have to drive all day and spend a lot of money for a trip to be a vacation, in Michigan you just follow the water.

Charlevoix The Beautiful

16 Jun

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We are in the picturesque town of Charlevoix nestled between Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix. We’re spending a few days checking out everything the area has to offer while staying in an Earl Young cottage. After breakfast the first thing we do is walk down to the beach, we have easy access as stairways are built into the bluff on the other side of the road from our cottage. The white sand is already warm, we discard our shoes and walk the shoreline. Lake Michigan’s sparkling water is still frigid, we take turns walking from water to sand. The water is so clear you can perfectly see rocks nestled into the bottom, looking out, the water changes shades from clear to turquoise to deep blue. Pleasure boats  skip across the waves, beach combers are preoccupied looking for the coveted Petoskey stone, paddleboarders head out into the lake. Sunbathers are already set up as we walk out to the boardwalk, the South Pier Lighthouse is owned by the city of Charlevoix, restoration has been ongoing, the Coast Guard still operates the light. From here we have a spectacular view of the lake and our surroundings, far to the left is the cement plant, to the right a fancy boat follows the Pine River into Round Lake; it’s staggeringly beautiful here.

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Next we amble towards town, we make a stop at the Charlevoix Historical Museum inside the Harsha House on State Street. This splendid Victorian home was built by Charlevoix businessman Horace Harsha, his daughter Irene married Earl Young. The house is decorated in high Victorian style, bright-colored, patterned wallpaper covers the walls, doilies are everywhere. There are 3 period rooms filled with graceful, decorative items, exquisite fireplaces, artwork created by local artists and pianos. The next section concentrates on the settlement of Charlevoix from the 1850’s through the 1880’s; we learn what life was like in this tiny lake town; the kind of businesses that were here, the modes of transportation. They have a working player piano, a huge safe from the Charlevoix Lumber Company and an Edison Gem phonograph, I especially like the weathered wood fish market sign, Kris is fascinated by the historic photos. The gift shop offers a nice selection of Charlevoix-esque things including books on Earl Young and his mushroom houses.

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In town we park on Bridge Street in the snug, 4-block business district. We make a beeline to That French Place, a quaint little creperie and ice cream shop to get a quick lunch. Studying the pastries in the glass case our hunger is apparent. We order at the counter from a chalkboard menu and grab the remaining table in the front window. Moments later our crepes arrive in cardboard crepe cones just like you would get on the street in Paris. The ham, egg and cheese is served in a buckwheat crepe, it’s delicious, the butter and sugar crepe— ok, butter and sugar folded up in a delicate crepe wrap, tres bon! This is a nice change from the standard menu offerings in town.

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Now we can take our time walking both sides of the street, we wander in and out of galleries, clothing boutiques home goods stores, shops selling Michigan themed items housed in cute storefronts. We grab an iced coffee from a corner bakery, fill a bag with dozens of different flavored taffy from The Taffy Barrel. Gourmet food shops such as Kilwin’s, American Spoon, Murdick’s Fudge and Cherry Republic are Michigan staples, I can’t resist stopping in no matter how many times I’ve been. The streetscape is so pretty; beautiful blue water, miles of Petunias and the drawbridge that opens every half hour. The year-round population of Charlevoix hovers around 3,000, that number swells dramatically in the summer months. This small town offers big-city conveniences such as a municipal airport, marina, skate park, farmers market, performance pavillion and waterfront parks. And one of the most beautiful natural harbors in the country.

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After eating and shopping we take a field trip a little south off M-66 to Castle Farms. I really didn’t know much about Castle Farms until I read a few things once we had our trip planned; intrigued by the story and photos we put it on our list of things to see while we’re here.The farm was built in 1918 by Albert Loeb, the acting president of Sears and Roebuck at the time. Loeb was fond of the stone barns and castles found in Normandy France, he decided to build his own French-inspired model dairy farm right here in Charlevoix. The farm was home to over 200 head of prize-winning Holstein-Friesian and 13 pair of Belgian draft horses. At one time the farm employed over 90 people and was the largest employer in the city; surrounding residents would come to the farm to buy milk, cheese and ice cream. Loeb would try out new farming equipment here to decide if Sears should sell it. It must have been quite a sight back in those days, all those cattle roaming around the castle…

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From the 1970’s to the 1990’s the property became a music theater and summer concert venue: Castle Farms Summer Music Theater. Rock was the main genre, big names like Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol, Stevie Nicks, Cheap Trick, Peter Frampton and Def Leppard all played here. Maybe you saw a concert here. In 2001 Linda Mueller purchased the property and began an extensive renovation of the property and buildings. What had been removed was rebuilt, what was here was restored, one of the largest model railroad layouts in Michigan was added in 2008. Today it’s a unique, lovely, wedding and event destination. Let’s go for a walk…

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We meander in and out of gorgeous stone buildings alongside  gardens organized by theme, a rose garden and a formal garden.  We get our first look at the model railroad, wow! G-Scale trains run on seven levels through tunnels, over bridges through hedges and past waterfalls. There are more than 60 trains that glide past little buildings, water towers, animals and people. An observation tower overlooks the railroad giving us a great view, guess what? Tracks line the inside of the tower, trains chug by making their way to the top.

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We traverse the grounds stepping into the Round Office with historic photos and blueprints of the farm, the Octagonal building was once used as an ice house. The Carriage Hall originally had open sides, it was used to house the Loeb’s wagons, carriages and cars. Two antique vehicles are on display along with showcases filled with toys from 1860 through the present. Each building houses one of the owners many collections such as glass, toys, royal commemorative pieces honoring royal families from around the world, wedding cake toppers, you get the idea. The original blacksmith shop is now the 1918 Museum featuring WWI memorabilia and items from the 1918 Sears catalog. Shelves of items such as toys, trains, hats, boots, plates and tools are displayed next to the actual catalog page description. WWI uniforms and posters are treasured collections of the owner.

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One space after another offers an elegant, opulent, dazzling space to hold a wedding or special event. Some such as the Great Hall have soaring wood-beam ceilings, stone walls, wrought iron chandeliers; the King’s Balcony overlooks the grounds. Each space is a little different in size and decor but all are awe-inspiring. Four towers were originally built as silos, original glazed tiles still line the silo walls; there’s a nice blend of old and new. Speaking of new, Norm the dragon found a home here in 2013 after being purchased in 2012 at ArtPrize, now he has his very own garden. We say good-bye to Norm, watch the ducks in the reflecting pond then make our way back to our cottage. We’re back at the beach in time to watch the sunset, what a magnificent one it is. Goodnight.

PORT HURON: I Saw the Light…..

14 Jul

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After a long, cold, winter we have consistently been rewarded with warm, sunny weekends. To us, summer = water; fortunately, living in southeastern Michigan, Lake Huron is just a short drive away. Today we are taking the scenic route, M-25, along Lake St Clair, around Anchor Bay then hugging the shoreline of the St Clair River, gorgeous! The ride itself is a treat, but we have more planned once we reach Port Huron. The city itself is the eastern most point in Michigan, it is also the eastern terminus of both I-69 and I-94. In the 1850’s the town was hopping because of the successful lumber trade and ship building, which in turn resulted in a picturesque downtown; Victorian style brick buildings line Huron Ave. In 1890 the world’s first international under-water tunnel was built here under the St. Clair River to connect the US and Canada, pretty fascinating stuff!

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The city is also home to the first lighthouse established in the state of Michigan: the Fort Gratiot Light Station. Built in 1829, it is the second-oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes after Marblehead. Just north of the Blue Water Bridge, it resides on five acres that also include a lighthouse keeper’s duplex, fog signal building, crew quarters, former coast guard station and equipment building. In 2008, the Coast Guard closed the building to tours due to disrepair. Lucky for us the complex was transferred from the US Coast Guard to St Clair County Parks; with lots of money and hard work, restoration was completed in 2012, the building was once again opened to the public. We are here today to take a tour; we purchase our tickets in the gift shop, it is just the two of us so we get our own private tour, cool. Walking through the grounds there is much work going on, projects near completion as money allows. Our first stop is the fog signal building; a fresh coat of white paint covers the door and windows, the buildings are matching in red brick. Inside, our guide tells us a bit of history before moving on to the duplex building. Groups of 20 or more can stay overnight here; a friend of mine recently did a sleep over with her daughter’s Girl Scout troop. Tables and benches fill the main floor, pictures and newspaper articles hang on the walls, rows of bunk beds fill the upstairs space.

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On to the main attraction……This lighthouse actually replaced an earlier one destroyed by a storm; built of red brick and painted white, the 84 foot tower is newly bricked, it’s beautiful. The old circular cast iron stairway is very narrow, be careful as you make your way to the top, it’s kind of creepy/cool. We pass a few random windows on the way up, I can’t wait to see the view from the top. Emerging from the stairwell we walk through the doorway out into the open; a slender observation balcony rings the tower, the big lake is stunning! A sandy beach gives way to turquoise blue water, the deeper the water, the darker the shade of blue, straight across, apartment buildings rise from the shore in Sarnia. To the left, Lake Huron opens up as far as the eye can see, to the right sits the new Coast Guard Station, further on, the double span of the Blue Water Bridge and the entrance to the St. Clair River. The wind is gusty but it feels wonderful. Kris makes his way around the tower taking pictures; you get a complete lay of the land from this height, he even gets a pic of the light itself which was automated in 1933.

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We are having lunch at Fuel Woodfire Grill in downtown Port Huron. Housed in a building more than a century old, the restaurant serves Texas-style BBQ. The tin ceiling, brick and mortar are original, the hardwood floors have been restored. Decorated with vintage artwork of old fuel pumps and service stations, the place has a comfy, casual feel. The menu is full of things you’d expect to find like brisket, ribs and pulled chicken, they also serve up wonderful salads with house-made dressings, steaks and seafood…….did I mention their wide selection of craft beer? I am having a limited edition beer from a Michigan brewery, Kris takes a long pull and we decide to order another. The mixed green salad arrives, the honey white balsamic vinaigrette is delicious. Our server brings the entrée, sides and an extra plate, we taste as we divvy everything up. The brisket is outstanding as is the pulled pork, the jalapeno mac and cheese is excellent, it has a nice kick without being too hot. For the other side we took the sweet potato tots, oh yeah, shredded sweet potatoes with cinnamon, shaped into crunchy tater tots and deep-fried, they’re really good! 

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Good things are starting to happen in Port Huron; new restaurants are opening, a hotel is coming to the old Sperry’s department store space, things seem to be moving towards a more tourist-friendly destination, that’s great! Hey, they even have two places to get coffee, the Raven and The Exquisite Corpse, which is where we are going. Located at the other end of downtown in the Desmond District, the Exquisite Corpse and Gold Rodent Gallery share a space in a lovely historic building. The owner, an artist herself, has done an amazing job transforming the shop. Through the front door hardwood floors gleam, cozy seating areas combine with an extra-large table connecting the two spaces. Original artwork hangs on the wall, works are creatively displayed; we recognize some of the pieces from studios and galleries in Detroit. We walk through to the back and order coffee at the counter, this area also has its own entrance on the side of the building. Taking a seat at the big table we drink our coffee and nibble on chocolate covered coffee beans as we chat with the barista. The day has given us the illusion of being much further away than we actually are. Next time you want that Up North experience without the drive, give Port Huron a try.

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