Tag Archives: Lake Michigan

MICHIGAN: Coasting…..

24 Jun

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It’s our last full day up north, we’ve got things to do! We pack up the Jeep with beach towels, food, cold drinks and head toward Sturgeon Bay.  After a picnic lunch we cruise through tunnel of trees on our way to Harbor Springs; we park by the water then explore the quaint little town on foot. More than a century old, this waterfront community was once a thriving port-of-call for steam ferries and passenger ships carrying people from Detroit and Chicago to Little Traverse Bay. At one time a lumber mill, gristmill and toothpick factory took up real estate at the head of the harbor. Today beautiful historic structures grace the community, people come from all over to enjoy swimming, sandy beaches, boating, fishing and golfing.

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The downtown business district follows the course of the bay, boutiques, bakeries, restaurants and galleries fill cute little storefronts. We meander in and out of shops selling designer fashions, glassware, cookware, artful pieces and home goods. The whimsical entrance at Boyer Glassworks draws us inside, a bevy of colorful glass pumpkins in orange, purple and blue fill gallery shelves. At Knox Gallery beautiful paintings line the walls, most impressive are the life-sized, phenomenally detailed bronze works. In the outdoor sculpture garden, bronze children hold hands and laugh, I really like the donkey, kinetic sculptures are active. We grab a cookie at Tom’s Mom’s Cookies on Spring Street, yum! Houses with roomy porches rest on hills, a red-brick church is adorned with Gothic windows, the hexagonal-shaped house was built in 1890 by Ephraim Shay–the guy who invented the Shay locomotive, the most widely used geared steam locomotive, the old Bar Harbor neon sign is cool. The view of Little Traverse Bay is exceptional, the water a deep blue today; we watch a sailboat glide past.

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Going south on M 119 we then turn west on 31, Stafford’s Bay View Inn is our landmark, making a left on Encampment, we are now in Bay View. Founded in 1875 the Bay View Association of the United Methodist Church  is nestled into 337 terraced acres featuring more than 30 public buildings, nearly 450 cottages and 2 inns that have been in operation since the early 1900’s. Originally formed as part of the Methodist Camp Meeting movement, it is now part of the Chautauqua movement. Educational programs of lectures and music began in 1886, in time programs for children and classes were added. By the late 1800’s Bay View Association had a Chautauqua series summer university attracting tens of thousands of visitors to the “intellectual and scientific culture and the promotion of the cause of religion and morality.” During this time the early “tent city” was transformed into the lovely Victorian resort community you see today.

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The best way to experience Bay View is to stroll the shady, tree-lined lanes, taking in gingerbread laden cottages finished with crisp white trim, screen doors and lacy curtains. Each cottage is a different color; sunflower yellow, navy blue, white, grey. Rocking chairs and wicker furniture fill expansive porches, baskets of flowers hang from fancy trim, red geraniums fill a flower box. A sky blue beauty literally matches the sky today, the third floor of the turret is open to the outdoors, the view must be spectacular. Grand cottages are reached by concrete steps built into the hill, fish scale siding, ornate railings and gobs of spindles adorn the residences. Leaseholders are here from May through October, the community is closed November through April and the cottages must be vacated.

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Our walk continues, we pause at the Happiness Is….. cottage decked out in bright yellow, orange and green, just looking at it really does make you happy. American, state and college flags shift in the breeze, many cottages are in the hands of third and fourth generations of a family. We come to the cottage I consider the Queen of all the Victorians, you can see it from 31, it’s this rambling, gorgeous, burgundy and cream doll house plastered with fine Victorian details, the wrap around porch is stunning. In the campus area all is quiet at Evelyn Hall and the John M Hall auditorium. A small group of tuxedo and gown wearing teenagers have gathered at the Terrace Inn. The front doors are open, we follow the trail of concrete stairs to the lobby, tonight is the local prom, it’s being held in the 1911 restaurant inside the Inn. The room is magnificent; the wooden floor gleams, columns are wrapped in white lights, wooden beams criss cross the ceiling, crystal chandeliers glow, they’re going to have a wonderful time.

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Although the Bay View Association is only open to Christians, all of the programs are open to the public including the nationally renowned Music Festival which has been running for over 100 years. You are welcome to attend Sunday morning worship services, weekday religion and life lectures and musical performances.  There’s a real sense of tranquility here, folks work in their garden, sit in a comfy chair drinking lemonade, everybody waves or says hello. The view of the bay is stunning. It’s exactly the way I imagine summers were a century ago.

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A little further west is Bay Harbor. For more than 100 years, a cement plant and mining operations filled over 1,200 acres and 5 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline; industry left leaving a no-mans land of vacant, scarred property some described as a moonscape on Little Traverse Bay. In 1993 David V Johnson began the task of turning this forgotten land into one of the most luxurious residential communities in existence, it became the largest land reclamation project in North america. You’d never imagine it to be anything other than the extraordinary, year-round resort we see today. The greater community is made up of low-density neighborhoods, nature preserves, a marina, golf course and business district, all on the water’s edge. The Village Hotel offers boutique hotel rooms with a panoramic view of the bay. A small shopping area includes high-end boutiques, eateries and a coffee shop. The water is a deep turquoise, perfectly landscaped homes are carved into the natural setting, it looks like a postcard.

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After a little r & r back in Charlevoix at the Earl Young cottage we are renting, we follow the tribe of sunset worshipers to the beach. I never tire of a Lake Michigan sunset, no two are the same. Sitting on a brick wall we watch as the sun descends, a lone wooden boat passes in the horizon. As the sun drops out of view the sky takes on the warm hues of summer; splendid, dazzling, memorable, as this whole trip has been. We close the night out in town at the Bridge Street Tap Room. Offering 32 taps of Michigan craft beer it takes us a few minutes to decide. Kris is having Short’s Soft Parade and I’m drinking Right Brain CEO Stout. We have fun thinking back over the last few days; the beautiful sights, tasty food and friendly people have made this a trip to remember.

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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.

Charlevoix: Rock On!!!

8 Jun

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Our travels have taken us to the northwestern edge of the mitten, the city of Charlevoix to be exact. You may know Charlevoix by reputation; quaint, small town surrounded by water: Lake Michigan, Round Lake and Lake Charlevoix, magnificent views, stunning harbor, pristine sandy beaches, fresh whitefish and fudge. What you may not know about the city is its one-of-a-kind stone “mushroom” houses built by famed local architect Earl Young. We have the good fortune of spending the next 4 days at one of his cottages on Park Ave called Abide. Check in is at 4:00 pm, so we have some time to explore the neighborhood.

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Earl Young built more than 30 structures in the city of Charlevoix. In 1908 he enrolled in architecture school at U of M, bored with the study of traditional architecture, he left after one year; he learned about construction and architecture on his own by reading books and magazines, he was an apprentice stone mason to gain understanding of how things were built. He became a realtor and insurance agent, never a registered architect. Young had his own way of doing things, he never made blueprints, he designed the structure to fit the landscape, it is said he was difficult to work with, he designed on-the-spot using stones that ‘spoke to him’. His wife Irene, an artist, would refine his sketches and bring them to the job site describing Young’s vision to workers. 

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We begin our walk in Boulder Park, Young purchased this large piece of land in 1924, partitioned it into 85 irregular-shaped lots, he sold them for $100 each with the stipulation that the first floor of any house built had to be made of stone or stucco; Young built 10 homes in Boulder Park. He first worked on a house with green mortar between the stones, entryways to his homes are in unexpected places, almost hidden, some without a walkway to the entrance. Chimneys are remarkable, giving the impression of randomly placed stones, often chimney-tops appear to be slathered in frosting or snow (I prefer frosting…). Houses are built of stone and timber, some have rolled eaves, colored mortar, stucco. All are playful, whimsical, looking as if they sprouted from the place in which they sit. One looks like an English cottage, another resembles a Swiss Chalet, they have Arts and Crafts characteristics. There’s the Owl House, the Enchanted Cottage, the Norman Panama House, the Pagoda House. 

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The most well-known house in the park is Boulder Manor, it’s amazing. Young had a habit of saving boulders, he would hide them underground, in the woods or in Lake Michigan, always remembering each one, waiting for an opportunity to use it. Boulder Manor would be the recipient of many of these stone treasures. He began work on the home in 1928, it was to be his family home, the playhouse in the backyard was finished first. Before the home could be completed the Great Depression hit, Young lost the house to the bank in 1929. Finally in 1937 he regained possession, finishing it in 1939. You can’t miss it, the front of the house has a huge arched window that looks out over Lake Michigan, the boulders used in construction are massive. Pictures of the interior feature a magnificent fireplace. You do not simply look at these homes, they literally stop you in your tracks. Combinations of stones, uniquely shaped exteriors, roof lines, all cause us to pause, study, and admire the structures.

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The temperature hovers in the mid 80’s as the afternoon sun blazes overhead, the breeze off Lake Michigan provides relief. We head northeast following Lake Shore Dr to East Park to see some of Young’s later houses,  He started building in 1919 and continued into the 70’s. On the left perched above the lake is one of the most photographed of Young’s houses. This one appears to resemble an elongated  mushroom, glass panels afford us a view straight through the house to the turquoise water below. The house is irregular in shape, the chimney made up of 3 stone stacks, flat stones are layered to create borders and fences, it’s pretty spectacular.

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Park Avenue is home to some of Young’s  later houses, referring to these structures he is quoted as saying he “built roofs and then shoved the houses underneath”. Indeed Young’s creativity flows here; roofs meander, buildings are built into hills and trickle down slopes, I can picture Tinkerbell or perhaps Snow White and the 7 dwarfs living in Half House, Hansel and Gretel in Abide, they’re interesting, inviting, they pique our curiosity, I want to peer inside the funny shaped windows, sit on the rock steps, drink hot chocolate by the fireplaces. In 1945 Young built a large cottage with a thatched roof from Europe, later the roof was changed to shingles, the new owners of the house have returned the roof back to thatch as originally constructed. 

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We walk to downtown for lunch at the Weathervane. Originally built as a gristmill in 1871, Young purchased the property and converted the building into this iconic restaurant in the mid-50’s. There are 5 fireplaces in the restaurant, the main one is topped by a 18,260 lb. glacial boulder found by Young years back. We are seated on the deck overlooking the Pine River channel and Lake Michigan, not a bad view! We eat a lunch of today’s special whitefish sandwich, very tasty and a caprese salad, I wash it down with a Belgian Dubbel from Petoskey Brewing. We are entertained by all of the activity; boats come and go through the channel, tourists walk waterside out to the beach. 

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When we are finished we take a self-tour of the restaurant, checking out the fireplaces, the main bar constructed of shipwreck planks, the view. A circular stairwell leads to the lower level where Young once had his office, we find massive timbers and boulders, another fireplace. Displays pay tribute to Young and his work, old photos and memorabilia tell the history of the buildings and Charlevoix. Outside we cross the parking lot to the Terrace Inn nestled into the landscape, Young’s signature turrets obscure stairwells that lead to the second floor rooms of the hotel, it’s enchanting. We peek into the lobby to get a look at yet another sensational fireplace.

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Across the road, Young built another hotel called The Lodge, which opened in 1959, a huge rock out front bears the name of the hotel. Two-stories tall, constructed of wood and stone it looks very lodge-like, here again we have the castle-like turrets that enclose stairways. We enter the lobby, the desk clerk is not surprised to learn we are here to see the fireplace. It’s unique in its vertical design, the wood mantle is very attractive, we learn the sawn-log end tables are original to the lobby too. When you come to Charlevoix you have many options of Earl Young designed accommodations available to you, in addition to the hotels many of his cottages are available for rental privately or through VRBO. Which leads us (finally) to Abide, the cottage we have rented for the long weekend.

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It doesn’t get any more charming than this. Abide was built by Young in 1938 as a rental cottage, it’s darling. A curved pathway leads us to the arched wooden door which is unlocked, waiting for our arrival. Inside a landing of rock makes way to a wood floor, in fact the whole interior is wood, stucco and stone. The square footage comes in at 620 sq ft, every single inch exudes warmth, beauty and coziness. The fireplace is the first he built of Onaway stone, an easy chair is pulled up close. The living space is wide open, one area easily leading to the next. A large table with a bench on each side fills the dining room, wood beams line the stucco ceiling, windows give us a view of the outdoors from every angle. A single bed is tucked into the sleeping porch, a queen bed takes up most of the main bedroom. A narrow hall leads to a galley-style kitchen, all of the modern conveniences are found in this sweet space. As I unpack and explore Kris plays Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on the CD player, I feel as if I have gone back in time. The evening breeze shuffles the curtains, as evening falls people walk past on their way to catch a sunset on the beach, what a wonderful idea. We immediately feel at home, and we are, at least for the next few days that is…… 

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UP NORTH: Old Mission Peninsula, can’t we just stay ……

25 Aug

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 We arose to the peace and quiet of the country, out the back window the cows were already grazing. After a quick breakfast ourselves, we were out the door; we had a full day ahead. Between the place we were staying and the place we were going, is a historic Traverse City landmark now known as The Village At Grand Traverse Commons. One of the largest historic preservation and mixed-use projects in the nation, it took a former mental health facility and turned it into a unique place to shop, eat and live; both cool and creepy at the same time. The size of the complex is daunting; Victorian-Italianate structures are expansive in size and number.We had very little time to investigate; we parked the car and did a quick walk through of one of the buildings, it’s remarkable what they have done. Once abandoned property is now home to thriving restaurants and bakeries, artists sell their creations in individual galleries, entrepreneurs give their dream business a go, it’s all very grass-roots. We passed a coffee shop and winery in one building, a cheesecake shop in another, there’s so much to see; it will have to wait until our next visit, the big lake was calling……..

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Narrowly situated between the east and west arms of Grand Traverse Bay is Old Mission Peninsula (sigh). I think of it as Michigan’s own little piece of paradise. As opposed to using Center Rd (37) take the lesser traveled routes like Peninsula Drive, Smokey Hollow Road and Bluff Rd, they offer spectacular views; for much of the drive the sparkling turquoise water of Lake Michigan is in sight. Lush vineyards heavy with grapes grow on slopes of land as far as the eye can see; apple orchards are getting ready for their big show in the fall, roadside stands offer ripe peaches and “washed” cherries. Fertile farmland is home to tall stalks of corn, ripening tomatoes and lovely red barns sitting in fields. Plots of land are filled with hundreds of leafy green hops climbing up support wires, cherry trees are hoping for better luck next season. From the road we see an amazing array of homes; a tall, narrow, glass house in contemporary design sits right at the shoreline, long modern ranches are terraced into the bluffs, perched way up high grand homes get a panoramic view of both bays. There are no traffic lights, fast food restaurants, gas stations or billboards; a welcome change from city life. A seasonal road invites us to take a ride through the dense woods, two dirt tracks lead the way. Before long, large rocks make it impossible to continue, we park and walk the rest of the way. The terrain of course, is deep sand, bits of sticks poke out so we keep our shoes on, we emerge from the cool shade of the woods into the heat and sun on the beach. The lake is magnificent; the color varies from the clear sandy shore to the azure of the deep water, it is breathtaking. There is not another soul in either direction, the scene is ours for the keeping. Gentle waves lap the shoreline, the air is still, I find a rock to use as a chair as Kris tries to capture the serenity of the setting in photos.

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You may have heard that Michiganders know a thing or two about making wine; seven wineries call Old Mission Peninsula home, giving us the opportunity to see for ourselves what all the buzz is about. Our first stop is Bowers Harbor Vineyards, I love the drive to the parking area; it gives you a up-close look at the vines. Inside our senses are awakened with the aroma of wine; visitors mill about selecting bottles from racks, we head to the bar to indulge in a tasting. We go down the list from dry to sweet, enjoying every pour, making note of the ones we like best, conversation flows easily, you can’t help but enjoy the experience. We carefully place our purchase in the Jeep and make the drive to 2 Lads. Positioned high on a bluff, the building’s design is purely contemporary, the wall behind the tasting bar is all glass, offering an incredible overlook of land and lake. Not usually white wine drinkers, we find the Michigan whites irresistible; we carefully place our bottles besides the others in the Jeep.

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When we are on the peninsula we make it a point to pick up lunch at the Old Mission General Store in Old Mission. Put the store on your list of places to visit; built in the mid 1800’s it has always been a trading post of sorts. Pass through the doorway and back in time; if the owner is there be sure and say hello, if you’re lucky he’ll tell you a few stories. The interior is a hodge podge of things old and new; a black pot-bellied stove sits front and center, antique lanterns and signs hang from the rafters, the wood plank floor creeks as shoppers wander around. Wooden barrels contain ginger snaps, and dill pickles, old-fashioned glass jars tempt with red and black licorice, Moomers ice cream is being scooped onto cones. We head over to the prepared food counter, we order their awesome Italian sandwich and pick up a few sides. With cold root beer from the cooler and a handful of napkins we have all the fixings for a picnic on the beach. Haserot beach is just down the road; picnic tables reside in the sand facing the east arm; kayaks, swimmers and boats all compete for space off shore. We unpack our brown paper bag of delicious edibles and devour our lunch.  There are still five more wineries to visit…..

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Old Mission Peninsula is located at the globe’s 45th parallel; an ideal wine growing region which also includes the Bordeaux region of France and the Piedmont and Lombardy region of Italy. Grapes grown here consist of Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Riesling and more; the local ice wine is excellent. Next on our list was Chateau Chantal; high atop a ridge, it offers the most exquisite view. After our tastings we take a stroll on the patio; both east and west bays can be seen from this vantage point, the land between green with vineyards and orchards, breathtaking. We drop by Brys Estate and Chateau Grand Traverse; the tasting room of each unique, we always find something we like. Peninsula Cellars is a converted one room schoolhouse built around 1896; with the original windows, floor, slate boards and bell still in place it has a great atmosphere. The staff that does the pouring is super friendly and knowledgeable, this was the place we liked the most wines; as a matter of fact, we needed a box to get our selections to the car! At the southern end of the peninsula is Black Star Farms, we make our way to the tasting bar which is made from wine barrels, of course! We sample wine, eat crackers and have nice conversation, not a bad way to spend a day right? I like walking around the ‘showrooms’, as I call them; each winery has its own personality, wine bottles are displayed with award-winning ribbons, some offer fruit and cheese to go, chocolate is always available. The vines themselves are lovely; tight clusters of grapes hang gracefully waiting for the harvest, it is all so picturesque. 

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After resting at the condo we drive to downtown Traverse City for dinner; it’s a perfect evening to be outside, the film festival has come to an end, people are out on the sidewalks in great numbers. Again eateries are staying open late to accommodate the influx of tourists; we are hoping for an open table at Poppycock’s. When we arrived there was a short wait, at 10pm the place was still buzzing with patrons. We were famished, so we swiftly made our selections. The Front Street salad comes with chunks of cherry jalapeno glazed chicken breast and a lemon cherry vinaigrette, quite good. The cherry almond salmon is also a tasty dish; almond crusted salmon is served over a bed of orzo and a side of grilled asparagus, yum.  After dinner we spent some time just walking around, the later it got the quieter the town became; at some point we were two of the very few people left on the streets. Each night as we drive back to the condo we are treated to a star-studded sky, tonight’s was extraordinary. As we drove along the now familiar Cedar Run Rd it hit me that this was our last night here, but I am content, I know that when I leave I will be taking with me the unforgettable experience that is “up north”.

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More road trip……..Saugatuck MI

6 Jun

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Leaving Grand Rapids we had one goal in mind; Lake Michigan, through the years Kris has refined a scenic route. We leave Grand Rapids going west on Leonard Street, this is a beautiful road that winds along mimicking the Grand River.  The roadside abodes are charming, many have elaborate gardens, it is a lovely drive.  Leonard will take you into Spring Lake where you have to get on 31 to cross the Grand River and go into Grand Haven. The traffic in Grand Haven was alarming, we couldn’t get near the lake, the town appeared almost vacant as everyone was at the beach. At last we made our way to Lake Shore Av and zigged and zagged as necessary before arriving in Holland. A lap around the north and east side of Lake Macatawa and we were back on South Shore Dr, aka the scenic route. Our habit is to take that to 64th street all the way to Blue Star Highway(A2), once you are there Saugatuck is just a hop and a skip away. As soon as we made the turn towards town we could see the crowds of visitors, our chances of getting a place to park and then go eat were looking slim when we gratefully came across a vacant spot right along the river.

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We have been regular guests of Saugatuck for almost two decades now, it is one of our favorite escapes. We walked the town going in and out of shops, there’s a nice balance here of souvenir type items, art galleries, and boutiques. There is no shortage of places to eat; Kilwins has amazing chocolate, caramel corn and ice cream,  American Spoon has a storefront here as well, restaurants and cafes are everywhere, and of course there is waterfront dining.  We ate on the porch of a little cafe and did some people watching as well, afterwards a walk on the boardwalk gave us a chance to check out the boats. There is a pretty little park, Wicks Park, with benches and a gazebo that also makes for a great place to watch the boaters go to and from the big lake. We stopped in at Uncommon Grounds for a little break, I had an espresso shake, yummy, and Kris had an iced coffee with a delectable piece of coconut cheesecake. They have a nice deck with cafe tables to sit and overlook the activity on Hoffman St.

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On the other side of Blue Star Hwy is the city of Douglas, you can’t go see one and not go see the other, the area is routinely referred to as Saugatuck/Douglas, both have that small town America feel, with that laid back, friendly attitude. Recently the National Trust For Historic Preservation selected these cities as one of the Dozen Distinctive Destinations in the United States.

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Oval Beach is ranked one of the top 25 beaches in the world by Conde’ Nast, and one of the top two in the USA by National Geographic Traveler. Needless to say it is stunning! You can walk the white sand shoreline taking in the towering sand dunes, boats, and sand castles, time seems to stand still as you gaze out at the shimmering blue water. The road going into Oval Beach can be a madhouse, so be prepared. A lesser known alternative is Douglas Beach, parking is very limited, but we went late enough in the day that we secured a spot. Here you are on a bluff, so there is a set of wooden stairs that leads you down to the soft sandy beach. We ditched our shoes and started walking, after nearly two hours we knew we had to start the journey back home.

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It’s always hard to leave such a beautiful place, but the time had come. If you don’t enjoy white sandy beaches, gorgeous sunsets, quaint shops and tasty food, Saugatuck is not for you. Otherwise, come on out!!