Tag Archives: Road Trip

OHIO: Walnut Creek

13 Jan

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Traveling during the holidays we find everywhere we go, big cities or small towns, buildings, homes, cafes and shops are lavishly decorated in holiday style. This year we begin our adventure in Holmes County Ohio, home to a large Amish settlement spread out among quaint little villages with names like Berlin, Walnut Creek, Charm and Sugar Creek; Ohio has the largest Amish population in the world. A drive on scenic backroads dotted with Amish homes, farms and picturesque scenery is the perfect way to wind down after the excitement of Christmas.

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We land in Berlin, have a late lunch at Boyd and Wurthum then head over to the Berlin Village Antique Mall, this place is huge. Here we find a large array of kitchen items from cookie jars, salt and pepper shakers and glasses to canning jars in blue, red and gold. A tall cabinet holds old automotive items; oil cans, license plates and vendor signs. Shelves are filled with beautiful colored glass and figurines; if you need a lamp they have dozens to choose from. The antique window frames are attractive, retro-fitted with metal designs they’d look right at home in my garden. Vintage board games by Ideal look familiar. We come across a few old television sets, how did we ever get by watching TV on such a small screen?

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Next door we pop into the Berlin Village Gift Barn, it’s a giant, fancy barn filled with lovely things to decorate your home or cottage. In addition to shelves of merchandise, areas are set up like rooms, my favorite was the cozy living room complete with brick fireplace, knotty pine floors, comfy couches and plenty of pillows–gorgeous. There’s an abundance of accessories like clocks, wine racks, stoppers and serving pieces. We stop in at Heini’s Cheese Chalet, it’s almost closing time, so we have to move quickly. If you like cheese, this is the place to be; rows of refrigerated cases offer you a world of varieties from Asiago, Swiss, Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Colby, Marble–well, you get the idea. You can choose from smoked or traditional, the best part? You can try ’em all!

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We go east out of Berlin to Walnut Creek, we’re staying at the Wallhouse Hotel; 6 stories of upscale, modern elegance smack-dab in the middle of farm country. As we step foot in the lobby the towering white Christmas tree steals my attention, behind it a lime green wall, how about the sparkly black floor, it that granite? Checked in we take the elevator to our room, very attractive in shades of gray and a touch of lime green; we’ll sleep in luxury tonight on our pillow-top mattress. There’s a kitchenette and seating area, we even have a private balcony. As we head out for dinner we check out the rest of the place; there’s an indoor saltwater pool on the lower level. On the opposite side of the lobby we find a seating area surrounding a fireplace, bright blue sequined pillows rest on white leather couches; the dining room is dark and still, pots of coffee and fresh-baked cookies are waiting for guests.

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It’s a short drive to Der Durchman where we are having an authentic Amish dinner. On any given day you will find both locals and out-of-town visitors dining on platters of chicken, ham and roast beef along with fresh vegetables, homemade side dishes and hot biscuits. A wall of windows curves around the vast dining room, from this hilltop location they say there’s a 5-mile panoramic view of Goose Bottom Valley and the surrounding farmsteads, unfortunately for us night has fallen and all we see is darkness. Our dinner is delicious; juicy broasted chicken, homemade egg noodles and stuffing with gravy. When we’ve finished we head back to the room for some rest and relaxation.

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In the morning we dine on farm-fresh eggs, crisp bacon,  biscuits and gravy and fruit; they put out quite a spread here in the hotel. Out the window the sun shines in a powder blue sky, we watch cows head out to pasture, what a serene way to start the day. After check out Kris takes us on a leisurely tour of the area, everywhere I look is picture post-card perfect. The terrain a patchwork of gentle rolling hills; houses reside on hilltops, farms sprout out of valleys, fields have been turned over, they will lay dormant until spring. The grass is still green, cows and horses amble through fenced in fields eating as they go. Majestic horses pull Amish buggies, passengers are bundled in blankets, I love the clip-clop sound of the horses. 

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Walnut Creek has a tiny business district we’re going to explore, Coblenz Chocolate Company is family owned and operated; caramel is their specialty. The shop is beautiful inside; tin ceiling, dark woods, Christmas trees and garlands. Tables hold stacks of boxed candy already wearing ribbons and bows. What’s your pleasure? Swiss-style truffles, Milk, dark, nuts, caramel, it’s a chocolate lovers paradise. You can even watch it being made! I’m getting some dark chocolate caramels to take home. We browse through tiny shops ending up at a lovely Victorian store known as Carlisle Gifts. A grand curving staircase connects the first and second floor, huge chandeliers hang from the open ceiling. The store is divided into sections by the type of item, for example clothing is in one area, candles another, they offer quilts, greeting cards, purses by Vera Bradley, Annaleece Jewelry, Republic of Tea, bringing a little bit of city to the country.

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There’s nothing quite like the gentleness of Amish country; the blend of agriculture, cheese making and hardwood furniture. Everything here is done the old-fashioned way, by hand and in time. Visiting is a nice reminder for us to slow down and enjoy the simple things.


Road Trip: Dayton

6 Jan

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Weekends are made for adventures. Often we have only 2 or 3 days at a time to get away, making Ohio an obvious destination. In about an hour we can be looking at Masterpieces at the Toledo Museum of Art, in under 3 hours we can be walking around Westside Market in Cleveland, just over 3 hours gets us to Historic German Village in Columbus where we can roam quaint neighborhoods with brick streets and sidewalk cafes. Today we are headed to Dayton, about a 3 1/2 hour ride from the D; it’s just the first stop on our extended getaway spanning the time between Christmas and the New Year. The Jeep is loaded and ready to go, climb in and come along as we explore southern Ohio.

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We haven’t spent much time in Dayton, we’ve visited the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, which is pretty awesome; this time we’re hitting the streets of downtown Dayton, first stop 2nd Street Market. Who doesn’t love a market? Local vendors selling fresh produce, baked goods, wine, chocolate and handmade items line the interior of this historic block-long building. Built in 1911 for B & O Railroad the former freight house was saved from demolition and renovated in 2001, giving the market a year-round presence. Home to about 50 vendors the rustic space is quaint, holiday decorations make it festive today. We stroll the single aisle, grabbing a peanut butter cookie along the way, checking out Ohio-centric items. Artisans offer goods such as jewelry, leather pieces, Alpaca sweaters, scarves and hats, some good old-fashioned Maple syrup. Light seeps through roll-up glass doors, it must be wonderful to have them open in the summer. Cafe tables are full of diners enjoying a snack or lunch from one of the many food stalls.

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A short drive away is the Oregon District, a historic neighborhood and business district in the heart of downtown Dayton. Art displays and colorful graffiti fill the space between the market and the district. The city of Dayton is on the banks of the Great Miami River, the Miami-Erie Canal opened in 1829 bringing wealth and prosperity to the city. The 12-block Oregon Historic District is Dayton’s oldest surviving neighborhood, homes range from simple the architecture of early German settlers to the mansions of prominent citizens on Jackson Street. It has just started to drizzle, we grab our umbrellas and set out for a walk. Red brick Victorian’s and Queen Anne’s grace the streets along with Italianate, Federal and Greek Revival styles.

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Large covered porches are common, quite lovely. Stained glass windows are surrounded by ornate window pediments, gorgeous wooden doors welcome visitors. Here it is common practice to paint the brick, giving owners a wide pallet to choose from; blue, gray, taupe and red all make an appearance. One of the most unusual was a red-brick-beauty decked out in fanciful white trim, a center section of the house is inverted, kind of like a reverse turret, haven’t seen that before.We make our way to the business district, we stop in at Press Coffee Bar to have a coffee and dry out. The space has an open airy feel to it; light wood accented with a painted tin ceiling adds character. The shop roasts and serves Wood Burl Coffee. We order at the counter, before we know it were back outside, cups in hand, meandering down 5th Street.

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5th Street is the heart of the Oregon business district between Patterson and Wayne. Here historic architecture is brought to life with restaurants, bars, galleries and shops. The vintage glass display in the front window of Jimmy Modern draws us inside, a Tulip table and chairs set, fabulous light fixtures and Mid-Century Modern furnishings bring smiles to our faces. The shop has a wonderful array of lighting, furniture, glassware and accessories. Old-fashioned lamp posts line the street, most buildings are three-stories tall, tables and chairs are holding out for one more nice day in front of a cafe; businesses are locally owned. We traverse both sides of the street, in and out of shops, lingering the longest in vintage stores Feathers, Eclectic Essentials and Clash.

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Back in the Jeep, we drive to Carillon Historical Park, a 65-acre park and museum built in 1940 containing historic buildings and exhibits telling Dayton’s history from 1796 to the present. Getting out of the car we direct our attention to the 151 foot-tall Deeds Carillon, an Art Moderne style carillon tower built in 1942. Ohio’s largest carillon it has 57 bells and from May to October you can catch a live concert every Sunday. Currently it is draped in lights for the holidays, it must be quite a sight when it gets dark. Inside the Heritage Center Museum the history of Dayton unfolds in exhibits featuring the people and manufacturers that developed the city in the early years. One of the first exhibits features old-fashioned cash registers, you know, the kind you see on all those antique and picker shows. These are amazing. Turns out John H Patterson founded the National Cash Register Company right here in Dayton Ohio, he was the maker of the first mechanical cash register. These stunning cash registers are found throughout the museum, I have to stop at each one and marvel at the different cabinet styles, the press down keys, the patterns on the brass, bronze and nickel models; fine scroll, wide scroll, fleur-de-lis and Art Nouveau, they are magnificent!

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I read placard after placard trying to take it all in; I recognize names like Patterson, Deeds and Kettering from street and building names in town. Dayton has a pretty impressive resume, Huffy, Delco, Frigidaire, NCRC all called the city home. Manufacturing was huge; Kramer Brothers Foundry, Dayton Malleable Iron Co., Dayton Wright Airplane Company, General Motors Engine Plant, just to name a few….. The museum is fascinating, so well done, so enjoyable to visit. Full size displays of automobiles, appliances, toys, novelties, bicycles, even a carousel. The Ohio-made Carousel of Dayton Innovation is truly one-of-a-kind, in addition horses you can sit on a cash register-style bench, a bicycle, streetcar or locomotive, gaze at hand-painted murals depicting the Wright Brothers, all to the sound of 1930’s tunes, very cool. 

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12 Nov

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Today we are just east of Cleveland in the city of Mentor, Ohio to visit the James A. Garfield National Historic Site. James A. Garfield was our 20th President, one of four assassinated US Presidents, he served only 200 days before his death. Garfield came from humble beginnings in rural Ohio; a good student he graduated from Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, then two years later from Williams College in MA. He married Lucretia in 1858, was elected to the Ohio Senate in 1859, entered the Civil War in 1861 as a lieutenant colonel, and was elected to Congress in 1862. It was in 1876 that the Garfield’s purchased this home and farm, at that time it was a modest nine-room home, by 1880 it had grown into a 20-room, 2 1/2 story structure nicknamed Lawnfield.

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The former carriage house is now the visitors center complete with exhibits chronicling Garfield’s life. We purchase tickets for the next tour then spend time browsing through displays. We follow the timeline from his days of poverty as a young boy to his adulthood as a teacher, principal, legislator, lawyer, Civil War general, congressman and senator-elect. Glass cases contain personal items such as shoes and clothing, documents and photos. We read about his unexpected presidential nomination, his election, view items from the inauguration in March of 1881. On July 2, 1881 James A. Garfield was shot twice by Charles Guiteau while boarding a train in Washington D.C. The first shot grazed his arm, the other pierced his back and was embedded in his abdomen; the bullet could not be located, infection set in. The President died on September 19, 1881 at the age of 49.

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Our tour guide leads us up to the house, Victorian in style it’s quite large, the front porch extends the length of the house. It’s this front porch where Garfield would meet with the public. People came from near and far to hear him speak about his political intentions and important issues of the day; he basically ran his campaign right from his home. Inside we are welcomed by the foyer, a fireplace rests at the back of the room, the furniture is original to the Garfield family and sits in the same place as it did when they lived here. The family kept the home until 1936, then donated it, complete with furnishings, to the Western Reserve Historical Society. In 1980 Congress authorized it as a Historical Site, it is now owned and maintained by the National Park Service. It has undergone a complete restoration. 

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We move through the main floor, portraits hang on the walls, the parlor is cozy. Stained glass decorates the dining room bay window and door, it’s glowing in today’s sunlight. The fireplace is surrounded by tiles hand-painted by the Garfield family, the china used in the White House rests on shelves– in those days you brought your own and took it home when you left. There are pretty decorative pieces throughout the room. James was his mother’s favorite child, she was quite devoted to him and he to her; she had her own suite of rooms on the main floor, photographs of her son adorn her room, a gorgeous stained glass window of the President sits in front of a window catching the natural light.

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Upstairs we enter the presidential library, Lucretia added this wing to the main house after the assassination to honor her husbands memory and store all of his presidential items and papers. The room is magnificent; white oak covers the walls and ceiling, a large fireplace anchors one wall, elegant brass fixtures and a chandelier provide soft lighting, book shelves are packed with volumes; Garfield was an avid reader, we are told there are 1,000 books in this area alone. The room is filled with photographs and memorabilia, the desk Garfield used while in Congress is in the room along with other attractive pieces of furniture. In the back section is the vault built special to hold the presidential papers, a wreath from the funeral has been dipped wax, framed and hangs on the wall; I find being among his personal things both amazing and eerie.

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Continuing through the second floor we peek into the room Garfield used as a home office before being elected President; the room sits exactly as it did the day the family left for Washington, that was the last time he was in this room. The rest of the floor is family bedrooms and servants quarters. The Garfield’s were not wealthy people, in fact when the President died friends and family were worried Lucretia would lose the house and farm. A fund was set up for donations so the house could be paid off; Garfield left a wife and five young children along with his mother whom he also supported. Over $300,000 was raised–we’re talking 1881 here–this allowed the family to keep the house, add the Memorial Library and make other improvements to the property. The family was able to live comfortably thanks to the contributions.

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Outside we walk the grounds and check out the other buildings on the property. It’s pretty amazing to be able to come here and really experience history. Lucky for all of us the family was generous enough to leave the house, the contents and so many of Garfield’s belongings for future generations to see.

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Back in Cleveland we stop in at the Barking Spider Tavern for a beverage and some live music. The tavern is an old carriage house located behind the Case Western Reserve University Alumni House over in University Circle. It’s a little tricky to find, be sure and look at the map before you head over. The building is quaint, the main listening room has wood-lined walls, a fireplace, several tables and a long bar; today strings of orange lights are draped behind the stage. The Spider is known for its live music; 7 days a week you can stop in and listen to musicians playing Jazz, Blues, Folk, Bluegrass and Rock, free of charge. George Foley and Friends are playing Jazz when we arrive; we sit back and chill to the sound of old school tunes.

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Stone Gables Bed & Breakfast is our home away from home whenever we’re in Cleveland, we stop in to freshen up before heading out for a late dinner at Heck’s Cafe. Located in Ohio City the restaurant opened in 1974, the building is an 18th Century red-brick townhouse, it’s just a few blocks from Stone Gables. The front section is a dark paneled pub, the back opens up into a spacious, airy atrium, this is where we sit. The menu has something for everyone; we’re having the Hipster Burger: a house made veggie patty, arugula, tomato aioli and mozzarella on a wheat bun with a side of Heck’s fries, yum! We’re also sharing a house salad: greens, tomatoes, red onions, walnuts, dried cranberries and crumbled blue cheese; a nice combination of flavors and textures. As we finish our meal we finally relax, it has been a day full of fun and adventure.



CLEVELAND: Art, History And A Grilled Cheese Sandwich…….

10 Jun

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We’re in Cleveland where new and exciting things are going on all over the city. Today we’re on the East side, University Circle, re-visiting a couple of museums that have undergone recent renovations. The Crawford Auto Aviation Collection of the Western Reserve Historical Society was founded by industrialist Frederick C Crawford of TRW and opened in 1965. Exhibits trace the automobile through its development in Ohio and across the nation. John D Rockefeller, who attended Cleveland Central High School and is buried in Lakeview Cemetery, founded Standard Oil in Cleveland, the city comes by its automotive history naturally. We begin our visit on the lower level, with the newest exhibit, REVolution. With about 50 automobiles on display we see the evolution of design and technology from the 1890’s to the 21st century. 

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Paint jobs gleam under halogen lights, vehicles are gathered into groups, a replica Standard Oil Company gas station complete with vintage gas pump is off to one side, historic photos of Cleveland have been enlarged big enough to cover walls. We meander through the maze of cars, chrome bumpers are huge, hood ornaments elaborate, all the cars in one section are made of stainless steel. Vehicles wear name badges of Studebaker, Pierce Arrow, Auburn, Hupmobile and more familiar ones such as GTO, Impala, Cadillac and Belvedere. The wood on the Chrysler Town & Country is beautiful, the concept AMX is really cool.

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The ‘Road Trip’ display includes the Jordan House car, an early version of a camper, there’s an old trailer too; the Need for Speed section highlights race cars. The World Touring Hupmobile has survived its travels, we see a Stanley Steamer, a turbine car engine, vehicles that ran on alternative fuels; we learn about tires and check out accessories that at one time had to be purchased separately but are now standard equipment, I’m talking bumpers, headlights, even windshields!

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Upstairs, Setting the World in Motion is all about northeast Ohio’s impact on the automobile and aviation industries in the first half of the 20th century. By the 1930’s over 100 automobile manufacturers called this area home. There are about 50 vehicles on display, each manufactured in Cleveland. Roscoe Turner’s only surviving Wendell Williams model 44 looks as though it’s flying through the room, Turner broke the world speed record in 1933. The gondola from the “Spirit of Goodyear” blimp was active for 31 years and flew over such events as the Kentucky Derby, the US Open tennis matches, NFL and MLB games, you wouldn’t get me up in that thing!

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In the old days, entertainment was often based on transportation; air shows, car races and the like. Cleveland was home to National Air Races and the Great Lakes Exposition in the late 20’s and 30’s with Lake Erie serving as a stunning backdrop. Free tickets for the air shows were dropped from planes with little parachutes attachedI love the collection of souvenirs on display; programs, posters advertising Billy Rose’s Aquacade, drinking glasses, spoons and numerous trinkets. We have reached the newest addition to the museum, a glass pavilion built to house the newly restored Euclid Beach Grand Carousel.

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To me nothing defines the mood or character of the early 1900’s better than an old-fashioned carousel; this one is gorgeous! We received tokens to ride when we paid our admission, now we choose from 58 hand-carved, hand-painted wooden horses. The ride begins, we rise and fall to carnival-type music while passing scenes depicting Euclid Beach Park and other Cleveland icons, a smile crosses the face of every rider…..Come to think of it even the spectators are smiling. This is one of only a few carousels to return to the city where it was originally located, how cool is that?

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Next we make our way to the Cleveland Museum of Art, this will be our first visit since the renovation and expansion project has been completed. The original Neo Classic building opened in 1916, there have been several expansions through the years but nothing like this. Gallery space has been increased by 33%, a 39,000 sq ft glass enclosed atrium has been added to connect the new to the old, there’s a cafe and a 76-seat fine dining restaurant called Provenance; welcome to today’s art museum.We head directly to the atrium and are in awe of what we see, it resembles a plaza or a town square. The glass ceiling allows the light in and affords us a view of the outdoors. Rectangular beds are filled with ground cover in varying shades of green, wood benches give a park-like feel to the space. In the distance dwarf trees bask in sunlight of the day, cafe tables are filled with hungry visitors, a mezzanine level overlooks the activity, the existing 1916 building makes up the south side. 

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Our main focus of the day are the new galleries, we visit the East Wing first. Home to Contemporary and Modern art along with Impressionism, Abstract and Photography, all of our favorites are in the same section. Hardwood floors lead us down long hallways, in and out of spacious galleries, past Picasso, Monet, Warhol, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin and Anselm Kiefer. We check out Rebecca Norris Web’s photography exhibit, My Dakota, before moving on.

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Though we have visited the museum a number of times, no visit would be complete without walking through the Armor Court, we have great affection for the original building and the rotunda, it’s wonderful. While we’re here who can resist Tiffany or Faberge? The West Wing is also new, the ‘glass box’ is a gallery in which all four walls are entirely glass; it’s like being in the middle of an amazing garden that just happens to have spectacular Indian and Southeast Asian sculptures set about on pedestals, wow! Kris and I are extremely impressed with the transformation, if you’re in Cleveland you have to check it out. 

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Time for lunch, we are headed to another Cleveland original: Melt Bar and Grilled on Detroit Ave in Lakewood. The restaurant space is decked out in quirky, eclectic items like vintage outdoor lighted decorations such as snowmen, pumpkins, penguins and the Easter Bunny; it works great with the antique tin ceiling. Owner Matt Fish takes ordinary grilled cheese sandwiches and elevates  them to gourmet with combinations like the Parmageddon with potato and onion perogi, kraut, sauteed onion and sharp cheddar or the Lake Erie Monster with crispy battered jumbo cod, sweet slaw, jalapeno tartar sauce and american cheese. There are dozens of combinations to choose from or create your own.

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We are seated at a table near the bar, we’re hungry so we concentrate on the menu and make a quick decision. First out is the Attack of the Green Tomato: battered, fried green tomatoes covered with an outstanding southern herb remoulade, topped off with fire-roasted corn salsa, delicious. Our Hot Italian Grilled Cheese arrives, it’s huge! Honey ham, pepperoni, salami, basil marinara, roasted garlic, banana peppers, provolone and romano on fresh-baked grilled bread sprinkled with herbs and grated cheese, excellent. If you’re a beer drinker, you may be interested to know they also offer 150 beer selections—-seriously. It’s been another great weekend in Cleveland, the city has a lot to offer without all the hassle and expense of those bigger cities people flock to. Only about 3 hours from Detroit it makes for a fun, easy get-away.


ROADTRIP: Madison Indiana

28 Jan

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We’re on the road, deep down in southern Indiana. The scenic byway twists and turns through rolling hills and limestone bluffs; Pine trees look like picks stuck into the terraced roadside, signs warn us of road slides. We snake back and forth, the Ohio River comes into view, at last, we have arrived at our destination, the historic rivertown, Madison Indiana. This is one of those places you’ve either been to or never heard of, it’s not a place most folks commonly know of, until today that is….

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Nestled along the banks of the Ohio River, the city was platted in 1810, it consists of historic commercial and residential buildings, quaint streets, public parks and 133 blocks of the downtown area known as the Madison Historic Landmark District; picture wonderful characteristics of New Orleans, Savannah and Charleston brought together in one lovely little town. Madison’s early years were spent as a bustling steamboat town, heavy river traffic brought residents and wealth to the area, located between Cincinnati and Louisville on the mighty Ohio, industry, transportation and culture flourished, it was also a stop on the underground railroad. Federal style is the most common architectural style in the district with over 400 buildings represented, but there’s a little bit of everything.

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We begin the day with a tour of the Lanier House, a grand Greek Revival mansion designed by Francis Costigan and built in 1844. James F D Lanier was a businessman, banker and entrepreneur of such great wealth he actually loaned the state of Indiana money, saving it from bankruptcy TWICE! The home remained in the family until 1917, the State took control of the home and opened it publicly as a historic house museum, it became a National Historic Landmark in 1994. Let’s have a look….The exterior wears its original color of gold, Corinthian columns, Doric pilasters, dentilated cornice and ornamental pediments over doors and windows shout Greek Revival. The interior has been restored to its former grandeur, original colors on walls and plaster moldings are covered in a high gloss varnish just like in 1844. Standing in the hall, we notice there are two front doors, one facing the street, the other faces the river, from here we see just a tease of the circular stairway. We start in the dining room, the table is set, it looks as if dinner is ready. Elegant glass lamps rest on the fireplace mantel, heavy drapes cover the windows, Oriental floral design wallpaper wraps the walls. Crossing the hall I take notice of the dentilated molding as we enter the parlor. Wallcoverings and carpets are heavy with patterns, all are reproductions, above the fireplace hangs a very nice oval mirror; the room is decorated for the holidays, an old-fashioned Christmas tree stands near a window. The other side of the room features an antique piano with fancy carved legs, a harp sits nearby, this is where guests would be entertained. The family would gather in a less formal room, here the children would play with their toys or do homework at the desk. Gorgeous chandeliers hang in each room, beautiful pieces and glass lamps rest on tables and shelves.

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Before we ascend the stairs we take a good look at the circular stairway, it seems to hang in mid-air, standing at the bottom you can look straight up to the cupola, light fills the tunnel-like space. Funny, the last three historic homes we’ve visited each had a spiral staircase, I can’t remember a single one we’ve seen before that.  Upstairs a thick wood bed fills the master bedroom, drapes, carpet and walls each wear a unique floral design, somehow it all works. River facing windows offer an unobstructed view of the formal gardens, I’d love to see them in the summertime. The spiral staircase continues up to the third floor, steps are bare wood, round windows are reminiscent of portholes and give a 360 degree view of the city. We thank our guide and hit the streets of Madison.

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One of the city’s most famous attractions is the Broadway Fountain, with good reason, it’s stunning. Designed by French sculptor J P Victor Andre and created by Janes, Kirtland and Company, the fountain was originally exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (think Freemasons) purchased the fountain several years after the exposition closed and presented it to Madison in 1886. Originally cast in iron, time and the elements eventually took their toll, it was recast in bronze as a bicentennial celebration of the citizens of Madison, it should be safe for a very long time. I stand and look, taking in the details, created in the neo-classic design, the top basin features a robed maiden holding a rod, two large birds surround the second basin, the base is surrounded by four horn-blowing Tritons. Ornamental urns rest upon the top wall of the reflecting pool, today miniature lights dangle from the upper and lower basin. The fountain has that perfect patina, it’s ideally placed right off Main Street among larger homes, it’s the perfect setting for live music and festivals.

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With so much to see we only have time for a quick lunch, The Red Pepper, will suit us just fine. We order the daily special at the counter and have a seat in the dining area, we’ve done a lot of walking, it feels good to relax. Our lunch arrives in minimal time, we’re having a roast beef sandwich slathered in horseradish mayo, topped with lettuce, tomato and red onion, tasty. Along with chips we ordered a side of pasta salad, it’s a nice combo of noodles, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil, chopped garlic and dressing, yum! 

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We leisurely stroll Main Street, it’s picturesque, quaint, old-fashioned, attractive. Narrow buildings of varying height line the street, window pediments, awnings and vintage signs decorate storefronts; church steeples pierce the skyline. Longtime businesses share the street with the new; the Ohio Theatre has been showing movies since 1938. We stop in at Village Lights Bookstore, the Twain Room makes me want to get comfy in a chair and read, it is the ultimate in cozy. We browse through Something Simple, a home goods store, gift shops and best of all a chocolate shop called Cocoa Safari Chocolates, hands down the best dark chocolate, malted milk balls I’ve ever had! There’s a wonderful mural of a steamboat floating down the river on the side of Shipley’s Tavern on West Street. The Art Deco style Brown Memorial Gymnasium built in 1924 stands apart from the rest of the buildings.

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We spend the rest of our time here walking neighborhood streets, the homes and streetscapes are very different from back home in Detroit. While the majority of houses are Federal style, they vary in size from tiny to sprawling; mainly constructed of brick, many owners choose to pain the exterior in a variety of colors, highlighting architectural details. Iron fences with ornamental gates are the norm here, so pretty. We cover Second Street, First Street and the riverfront; hotels, taverns and mills once lined the streets along with stables, slaughterhouses and a tobacco prizing house. Today this area is primarily residential, many of the homes have historic significance, a placard placed in front details the importance.  Holiday decorations linger, wreaths and garlands are festive, doors and entryways are notable, porch lights and sconces are extraordinary. A surge of restoration is taking place throughout the neighborhood.

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We linger on the riverbank, barge traffic is brisk this afternoon, up ahead a bridge leads from Indiana to Kentucky, in the sky clouds seem to be putting on a show, quickly changing formations, in spite of all the activity, the surface of the river is calm. Before leaving town  we stop in at the Thomas Family Winery on Second Street. The old 1850’s stable and carriage house has been transformed into a pleasant tasting room complete with wood burning stove and board games. Sitting at the bar we enjoy the complimentary tasting of wines and old world ciders, we buy a few to take home and enjoy later. The sun is beginning to set, the sky and water enjoy a pinkish glow. Kris points the Jeep east toward Cincinnati where tomorrow our adventure will continue.

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Bay City: Time Travel…

14 Oct

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Today we are about an hour and a half north of metro Detroit in the waterside town of Bay City. The annual River Of Time event is taking place this weekend, we’re here to check it out. For three days re-enactors from around the Midwest show up dressed in period costumes to live as people did in earlier times. Spanning 300 years of history, period camps are set up along the bank of the Saginaw River in Veteran’s Memorial Park creating a time-line history. From the Native Americans through the Revolutionary War to Vietnam, we get a glimpse of both everyday life and American history through music, skill demonstrations, church services and skirmishes.

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Making our way to the west side of the river, we park the car on a grassy expanse and walk to the park. The first thing I notice is the amount of white tents scattered throughout, I pick up the scent of logs burning on an open fire, a woman in a hoop dress passes by, a man in a Civil War uniform seems in a hurry to get somewhere; so much going on. Individual camps are roped off, there are no signs or placards with descriptions of the camp or era it represents, just men, women and children going about their business like they would have at the time. It is noon, almost time for the mid-day meal; fires dance under cast iron cookware, steam rises from pots, tables are being set. A costumed player is telling stories to folks gathered around, I see what appears to be ancient medical instruments spread out on a table, by the looks on people’s faces, I’m not so sure I want to hear what he’s saying. A group of men representing the 1st New York Regiment wear Revolutionary War costumes, it’s nearly 80 degrees outside but they don’t seem to mind. An asphalt path leads us through the park, the river is on one side, grass on the other; camps are spread out on both sides. On the left, a huge variety of food covers a table, Indians with face paint and mohawks look anxious to dig in. Every camp has something cooking; kettles rest on metal grates, bread bakes in a clay oven, a deep, oversize cast iron pot is stuffed with simmering meat, potatoes and vegetables, all eyes are focused on the stew.

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A young man stops among the crowd and begins to play his fiddle, a gentleman smoking a pipe taps his foot to the music, a woman in a rocking chair carves something out of bone. The Folk Music Society of Midland plays under a canopy along the Saginaw River, Weeping Willows dot the shoreline, the water is as smooth as glass, the sky flip-flops between powder blue and a grouchy gray. From their hats to their shoes, soldiers look so formal, everything appears authentic, right down to the buckles. A metal worker has built a makeshift chimney, roaring flames heat wrought iron that will be formed into hooks and tools, we all watch with fascination as he works. Many have sat down to take their meal, others have finished and trade lively conversation around the table. The World War I, II and Vietnam camps are expansive; here the tents are green, military vehicles are randomly parked, bed rolls, rifles, helmets and rations are displayed. Off to the side a man is sitting in a foxhole reading a book, he seems happy enough…. Soldiers answer questions, a group of men sporting different uniforms have pulled up chairs and share stories. 

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One thing that becomes clear very early in our visit is how simple, yet difficult, life was. Before there was refrigeration, running water, electricity for goodness sakes; food was prepared as it was needed, washing was done in the river or in a large bowl that was filled with by a pitcher, clothes were cleaned in a tub on a washboard and hung to dry, you had to hunt for meat, grow your vegetables; this is big news to the current generation. The Trombley House is open today, the oldest surviving building in Bay City, it was built about 1836. A crowd has gathered near the Log Cabin, on the porch Abe Lincoln is about to deliver the Gettysburg Address, how cool is that? The Fife and Drum Corps is approaching; fifers, drummers and flag bearers perform authentic songs written before 1800, Sutler’s Row offers goods for sale: animal pelts, antlers, beads, pouches and the like. We continue to zig zag through time; bacon cooks over an open flame, a woman spins wool into yarn, a young girl plays the bagpipes, visitors are walking to the cannon….

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We follow the crowd to find the cannon pointed toward the river, men work together stuffing something down the barrel, when they cover their ears, we cover ours; I jump about a foot in the air when it goes off, Kris just laughs….. I’m glad that’s over. We take a stroll on the River Walk Pier, from here we can see all the activity on both sides of the river, there’s a lot of building happening on the east side, new construction too. As we get back to the park a Colonial skirmish is taking place, it’s very intense, one does not want to get in the way. We move in the opposite direction for one last look around. They say this is Michigan’s largest living history encampment, it is definitely unique, from the people to the cannon and canoe, the costumes, housewares, instruments and campsites, indeed, it is history come alive.

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The sky has returned to a lovely shade of blue, walking back to the car we notice the elevated River Walk, looks like fun. An elegant white crane stands in the shallow water, ducks paddle along at a leisurely pace, the boardwalk leads us to Middle Ground Island. A party is taking place under the pavilion, friends gather on benches in the park, we admire the panoramic view. We make quick work of the walk back, it’s time to eat!

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Kris and I are both fond of restaurants that have been part of a city for generations; Krzysiak’s House on Michigan Ave is just that sort of place. Started in 1979 by husband and wife team Don and Lois they have been serving authentic Polish and traditional American cuisine for decades. So popular, the building has been expanded 5 times; their website states they serve 700-900 customers per day, wow! Walking in the front door we find ourselves in a little retail space selling an assortment of items, the hostess greets us and takes us to a table in the dining section. Krzysiak’s is known for their outstanding buffet, today is Sunday so it is filled with Polish specialties in addition to an assortment of salads, soups, side dishes, desserts; it’s really quite remarkable! As tempting as the buffet is, we order off the menu instead.
As we wait for our meal to arrive we take a look around; hand painted murals cover most walls, one features family members, the cathedral wall reflects photographs taken in Poland, the scenery is quite lovely. Everywhere I look photos and mementos cover the walls, pretty stained-glass windows made specially for Krzysiak’s are aglow in the sunlight; it is apparent the heart and soul of the family has gone into the restaurant. I dig into a bowl of chicken noodle soup, the homemade noodles are outstanding. Huge platters of food follow; the Polish plate comes with Golabki, Pierogi, Polish potatoes (fried with cabbage and other tasty things), Polish sausage and Kraut, you could feed a whole family from this plate alone! The potato pancakes are large and delightful, sour cream is the perfect addition. The food is authentic, made from scratch, hearty and delicious. The experience of eating here is a treat.

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Before we head south we take a drive through downtown, Bay City is definitely on the move, new stuff is happening all over town. We park on Saginaw St and notice a new artisan cheese shop has opened. Artigiano sells cheese, wine and craft beer, not to mention specialty items and condiments from local businesses. The shop adds an urban flair to general feel of Saginaw St, very nice. Across the street we stop in at Brewtopia to get a couple of coffees for the road. Sticking with the urban flair, the shop has exposed brick and a white painted tin ceiling, large windows give it a light and airy feel. Coffee beans are roasted in house, they provide a nice selection of teas, fruit smoothies, muffins, cookies and desserts. At the counter we meet the new owners, friendly and ambitious they are excited about the positive momentum in Bay City; so are we.

YPSILANTI: Fire Trucks & Food

14 Apr

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There is a wonderful ritual that takes place each spring; no it’s not the Tulips and Daffodils emerging from the cold ground or the blossoms and sweet scent of flowering trees….It’s the official opening of our beloved Drive-In restaurants! If you have ever eaten at Bill’s Drive-In located in Ypsilanti, you totally get what I am talking about. Though Bills had been open for a few weeks, it was our first opportunity to make the trip out to Ypsi.

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Best known for being the home of Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti has a lot to offer; from beautiful historic neighborhoods and a downtown on the comeback to independent shops and restaurants that have called Michigan Avenue home for decades. Our first stop in Ypsi was the Michigan Firehouse Museum located on Cross St. This gorgeous building was the original 1898 firehouse, in 2002 a multi-level addition was added. The museum takes you through the history of firefighting; from technology used to fight fires to the equipment and tools. When you step into the main exhibit space you are greeted by rows of impressive vintage fire trucks. There are no ropes to prevent you from getting right up close to these magnificent vehicles; it’s fascinating to see the evolution of the equipment through the years. The museum possesses the largest collection of fire truck bells in the country, and you know what else? You can try them out! Glass cases line the walls detailing the evolution of helmets and breathing apparatus, some of them are pretty creepy looking….The second level overlooks the main floor giving a wonderful overall view of the firetrucks. You will find display cases filled with hats, toy fire trucks and other interesting memorabilia, remember Smokey The Bear? From here cross over into the original building; this is the original bunk area complete with brass pole! Unfortunately, the pole is off-limits, so you have to take the stairs back down to the main level. Being someone who loves old things, this is my favorite area. Large wood cabinets hold vintage lanterns, it seems everything from the trucks and decoratively painted wheels to the accessories are he handsome and elegant. An original switchboard hangs on the wall, there’s a stunning 1910 ladder wagon, and an amazing example of a 1878 fire engine steamer complete with horses. The lower level is host to a group of original vehicles belonging to fire chiefs and a children’s area. The museum brings back the old childhood fascination of fire trucks!

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The short drive down Michigan Avenue to Bill’s Drive-In was filled with great anticipation; would it be as good as we remembered? The small wooden building is appropriately painted Mustard Yellow and Root Beer Brown, you eat from a tray that hangs on your car window, or a picnic table in the lot. I read that Bill’s has been around since the early 50’s and the recipe has always stayed the same, why mess with perfection? As soon as we were parked a car-hop came over to take our order; there are no menus here, they only serve coneys, plain potato chips and their own homemade root beer, perfect for the indecisive diner. I’ll start with the coneys; the hot dogs are made with a special recipe by Dearborn Sausage, they are placed in perfectly steamed buns and given a blanket of, in my opinion, the perfect chili topping. I would describe it as a more mild, sweet and smooth chili sauce, dressed with yellow mustard and minced onion, it arrives wrapped in white tissue. It is the tastiest coney I’ve ever had, they’re one of Kris’s favorites too. Then there’s the Root Beer, if you like Root Beer, you have to try Bill’s. With one big pull on the straw your mouth will be in Root Beer heaven; it’s like drinking one of those old-fashioned root beer barrel hard candies that has been rolled in superfine sugar…..outstanding! Many patrons buy a gallon of the stuff to take home. The day was mild so we ate our dogs outside using the trunk as a table, they were even better than I remembered!

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It’s always worth a drive through downtown Ypsi to see what’s new, we noticed a couple of new things so we parked to take a look. We first checked out a retail shop named Mix, it has a wonderful blend of new and used items; women’s clothing, furniture, accessories, household goods and even some art. The shop is laid out attractively and is fun to browse through. Across the street is Mix Market Place, as you may have guessed, it is owned and operated by the same owners as the retail Mix. The marketplace is an indoor collection of local entrepreneurs in a farmer’s market type setting. There was a definite buzz of activity when walked in the door; food vendors offered up samples of their specialized goodies, The Ugly Mug Cafe filled the air with the aroma of fresh brewed coffee. From gourmet food and hand-made stationery to antique goods and artisan soaps there was a little bit of everything. Vendors vary from week to week, so you never know what you may discover.

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There was one more new place we wanted to check out: B-24’s Espresso Bar, just a little way up Michigan Ave. Named in honor of Ypsilanti’s heritage, B-24’s were built locally at Willow Run, the cafe features coffee, tea, fresh-baked goods and Guernsey Ice Cream. The cafe seems to be a popular gathering spot for locals of all ages. Though the baked goods looked very good, between the coneys, root beer and free samples at the marketplace, we were unable to partake in any of them. Instead we got our beverages to go and began the journey home.